Monthly Archives: May 2024

Stavisky

From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.

Stavisky. Arriving on the crest of the nostalgia boom, Alain Resnais’s new movie — his first in six years — is already destined to make a voluptuous splash. With a script by Jorge Semprun (who collaborated with Resnais on La Guerre est Finie) , a bittersweet score by Stephen Sondheim, and Jean-Paul Belmondo in the title role, Stavisky serves up the glitter of Thirties glamor in a style both graceful and elegiac. Its subject is Alexandre Stavisky, the celebrated high-finance swindler whose exposure led to the collapse of two French ministries. Before the law caught up with him, Stavisky held Paris in the palm of his hand, living in a kind of extravagant luxury from which legends are born. And it’s mainly the legend that fascinates Resnais in his ironic tribute to a certain vanished elegance: a roomful of white flowers, recruited at six A.M. to greet the awakening of Alexandre’s wife Arlette (Anny Duperey) in Biarritz; a continuous flow of champagne and jewels to spark the afternoons. Fans of Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad and Muriel may regret the absence of narrative innovation here. But Resnais still knows a lot about beauty, Belmondo has bushels of charm to spare, and together they paint a memorable portrait of bygone days — a historical fantasy tinged with sweet dreams and sad awakenings. Read more

IL CINEMA RITROVATO DVD AWARDS 2012

IL CINEMA RITROVATO

DVD AWARDS 2012

IX edition

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Mark

McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti, Jonathan Rosenbaum

 

 

BEST DVD 2011 / 2012

THE COMPLETE HUMPHREY JENNINGS (BFI). An ongoing

series that has recently released the second of its three prefigured

volumes. Jennings was the documentarian who witnessed

British history with a deep and poetic gaze during the 30s

and the 40s.

***

 

BEST BLU-RAY 2011 / 2012

A HOLLIS FRAMPTON ODYSSEY (Criterion). Including

early films from1966 to 1969, films from 1966 to 1969,

films from HAPAX LEGOMENA, and selected films from

the unfinished MAGELLAN series.

***

 

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES (BONUS)

 

GODZILLA (Criterion), for its historical contextualization.

 

MOSES UND ARON (New Yorker Video), especially for

inclusion of the libretto in German and English).

 

 

THE DEVILS (BFI), for documentation of the various

 

controversies surrounding the film.

***

 

 

 

BEST REDISCOVERIES

 

PROVOKING REALITY: DIE “OBERHAUSENER”(Editions

 

Filmmuseum München), for a “famous” moment in film history

 

–- The Oberhausen Manifesto of 1962 –- a presentation of 19

 

forgotten shorts made by artists who signed this manifesto.

 

 

LANDSCAPE OF POSTWAR PERIOD (Korean Film

 

Archive), for four Korean features (THE WIDOW,

 

THE FLOWER IN HELL, THE MONEY, A DRIFTING

 

STORY) by four major directors during a very

 

troubled era–an era which is analyzed in the

accompanying booklet.

Read more

Looking for Nick Ray [upgraded, 1/23/2012]

From the December 1981 issue of American Film. I was quite unhappy with the way this article was edited at the time, but having discovered my original submitted draft quite recently (in mid-November 2011, 30 years later), I’ve decided to resurrect it here, including my own title. (Theirs was “Looking for Nicholas Ray”.)

My working assumption in restoring original drafts on this site, or some approximation thereof, isn’t that my editors were always or invariably wrong, or that my editorial decisions today are necessarily superior, but, rather, an attempt to historicize and bear witness to my original intentions. It was a similar impulse that led me to undo some of the editorial changes made in the submitted manuscript of my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980), when I was afforded the opportunity to reconsider them for the book’s second edition 15 years later (available online here) — not to revise or rethink my decisions in relation to my subsequent taste but to bring the book closer to what I originally had in mind in 1980. — J.R.

By and large, the last three decades in the life of film director Nicholas Ray can be divided fairly evenly into three distinct parts. Read more

The Long Day Closes

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1993). — J.R.

The 1992 conclusion of Terence Davies’s second autobiographical trilogy may not achieve the sublime heights of parts one and two (which comprised 1988’s Distant Voices, Still Lives) , but it’s still a powerful film, possibly even a great one — the sort of work that can renew one’s faith in movies. Part three chronicles his life in working-class Liverpool between the ages of 7 and 11, a period he compresses into the years 1955 and 1956, but Davies focuses less on plot or memory as they’re usually understood than on the memory of emotions and subjective consciousness. Music, lighting, elaborate camera movements, and the sound tracks of other films are among the tools he uses in relation to the basic settings of home, street, school, church, pub, and movie theater. Davies emphasizes the continuities and discontinuities between these places and the emotions they evoke, creating a consistent sense of religious illumination and transfiguration. What he does with the strains of “Tammy” in one climactic sequence and with the drift of moving clouds in another are alone worth the price of admission. (JR)

Original Cinema 1-Sheet Poster – Movie Film Posters
Read more

Teenage Wasteland [BATMAN RETURNS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 26, 1992). — J.R.

BATMAN RETURNS

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Tim Burton

Written by Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm

With Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, and Andrew Bryniarski.

Even the title of Batman Returns is something of a lie, referring not to the fictional world of the story — where Batman can’t be said to return because he’s never been away — but to the dent this sequel is supposed to make in our lives. But how much of a dent can it make when it has virtually no characters, no plot, no fictional world, no mise en scene, no ideas, no developed feelings, no inspiration, no adventure, no sense of inner necessity beyond its status as an investment and marketing tool? It’s arrested development on every possible level.

Like everyone else who squeezed into Webster Place’s after-midnight shows on opening night, I was primed for some sort of revelation, however minor. It didn’t have to be elation; a good dose of mean-spirited negativity might have sufficed. I was ready for anything that could qualify as a mood changer — or barring that, a simple harking back to the original Batman, which had plenty of flaws but at least could boast the demonic vigor of Jack Nicholson’s Joker and his nihilistic media crimes, and a certain obsessional uniformity of mood and decor. Read more

SEELAND as Decolonized Nonnarrative

Commissioned for a 2011 collection in French devoted to the work of Marylène Negro. My friend Nicole Brenez, who engineered this commission and who translated this piece into French, added a couple of footnotes that I’ve adapted and appropriated here. — J.R.

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“I don’t believe in a cinema of literary narrative,” Abbas Kiarostami says in Around Five (2005), “but I don’t believe that cinema can exist without telling a story.” He elucidates this paradox by arguing that viewers consciously or unconsciously impose their own narratives, even on still photographs. And indeed, Roads of Kiarostami [see illustration below], a 32-minute film which Kiarostami also made in 2005, largely consists of imposing his own narratives on his own black-and-white photographs, all of which show roads passing through landscapes. The imposed narratives in this case consist of zooming in and out of or panning across these photographs, which are initially connected to one another by lap dissolves, and then of Kiarostami speaking in voiceover about how and why these photographs came to be taken.

 

To contemplate roads passing through seemingly uninhabited landscapes — which is what Kiarostami mainly does, and is what Marylène Negro does in her 22-minute film Seeland, also made in 2005 — is fundamentally to ask two different questions: what is nature with and without mankind, and what is narrative? Read more

Waking Up to the World [30 FRAMES A SECOND: THE WTO IN SEATTLE]

From the Chicago Reader (August 18, 2000). More recently, Naomi Klein, one of my heroes, has written about some of the more salient differences between the WTO demonstrations and the more recent ones on Wall Street: see, for instance, this article, as well as others on her website.  — J.R.

30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Rustin Thompson.

If I had to review Rustin Thompson’s video documentary 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle in only three words, I’d say it’s honest, energizing agitprop. Some readers may regard this as an oxymoron, but it’s one account of the Seattle events I’ve been waiting for, receiving its world premiere at the Chicago Underground Film Festival this Sunday at 1:30 PM. Yet the information it has to convey is almost entirely of the you-are-there variety — there’s no genuine analysis. It evokes 60s demonstrations in a number of ways — including such standbys as bare-breasted, body-painted teenyboppers and burning dollar bills — and pays particular attention to the music performed by demonstrators (one folksinger even sounds like Arlo Guthrie), coming much closer in feeling to something like Woodstock than to radical 60s documentaries produced by Newsreel. Read more

Adrift in the Wasteland (NAKED)

From the February 25, 1994 Chicago Reader. It seems that a good many colleagues have ranked this film higher in Mike Leigh’s oeuvre than I did at the time; perhaps today I’d agree with them. — J.R.

*** NAKED

(A must-see)

Directed and written by Mike Leigh

With David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Gregg Cruttwell, Claire Skinner, Peter Wight, Deborah Maclaren, and Gina McKee.

Mike Leigh’s virtuosity as a writer-director and the raw theatrical power of David Thewlis, his lead actor, combine with the sheer unpleasantness of much of Naked to make it a disturbingly ambiguous experience. The apocalyptic, end-of-the-millennium rage of Thewlis’s Johnny — an articulate, grungy working-class lout on the dole who abuses women and spews negativity — registers at times as Leigh’s commentary on the bleak harvest of Thatcherism. But at other times it registers as the ravings of a malcontent too frustrated and paralyzed to even know what he wants. Sorting out the intelligence from the hysteria is no easy matter, and the picture rubs our noses in this uncertainty so remorselessly that we sometimes forget that what we’re watching is largely a comedy.

The first glimpse we get of Johnny, he’s having some very rough sex with a nameless woman in a Manchester alley. Read more

Unsafe at Any Size [THE CORPORATION]

From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 2004). — J.R.

http://thecia.com.au/reviews/c/images/corporation-1.jpgThe Corporation

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott

Written by Joel Bakan, Harold Crooks, and Achbar

Narrated by Mikela J. Mikael.

A month ago I attended back-to-back press screenings of two major documentaries, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Corporation, which finally opened here last week. Though it would have broken with industry protocol to have said so at the time, before both movies had opened, it was clear that The Corporation — a 2003 Canadian film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan — was a better film, and second looks at both movies has only confirmed this impression. Michael Moore’s movie probably startles people who rely mostly on TV for their news, but The Corporation will shock even those who keep close track of newspapers and magazines. In fact, it goes beyond shocking in obliging us to ask ourselves how far we’re all prepared to go in our defense of capitalism.

Far enough to jeopardize our health and the survival of the planet? Maybe not, but at the moment it’s corporations that appear to have the power to decide. And the stories this film uses to demonstrate that are chilling. Read more

David Holzman’s Diary/My Girlfriend’s Wedding: Historical Artifacts of the Past and Present

This essay was originally written as liner notes for a DVD released in 2006 in the U.K. by Second Run, an excellent label. (This DVD can be obtained here—a site well worth checking out for other films as well.) My thanks to Mehelli Modi for commissioning this piece as well as for allowing me to reprint it, both here and in my collection Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. I’m delighted, incidentally, that Lorber Kino’s recent DVD release of these films also includes not only My Girlfriend’s Wedding and Pictures from Life’s Other Side, but also McBride’s wonderful recent short, My Son’s Wedding to My Sister-in-Law (2008). — J.R.

 

In my mind, there isn’t as much of a distinction between documentary and fiction as there is between a good movie and a bad one. — Abbas Kiarostami

 

Artifact #1: A softcover book, The Film Director as Superstar (Garden City, NY:

Doubleday & Co.,1970)—-a collection of 16 interviews in three parts, each of

which has two subsections: “The Outsiders” (”Beyond the Underground,” “Their

Own Money, Their Own Scene”), “The European Experience” (”The Underemployed

Independent,” “The Socialist Film Schools”), and “Free Agents Within the System”

(”Transitional Directors,” “Independents with Muscle”). Read more

A Matter of Life and Death: A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Written for the 40th anniversary issue of the French quarterly magazine Trafic (Winter 2011). I subsequently introduced a screening of this film at the Centre Georges Pompidou on January 12, 2012 as part of a film series built around this issue, and my introduction (in French and English) can be accessed on video here.  For my original review of this film, go here. — J.R.

1

Am I weeping for the death of David’s mother, for the death of humans, for the death of photography, or for the death of movies?

James Naremore, On Kubrick

The scene in question, the final one in A.I. Artificial Intelligence, features a robot boy, David (Haley Joel Osment), and a cloned duplication of a human woman, Monica (Frances O’Connor), who died centuries before and whom David was still earlier programmed by Monica to love as a mother. These characters are shown going to bed together and falling asleep, the robot for the first time and Monica for the last time, after spending a happy day together. Read more

AITA (FATHER), LA VIDA ÚTIL, & ATTENBERG

Below are some images from José María de Orb’s Aita (Father), a very beautiful Basque film that was just awarded the best feature prize at FICUNAM — a new film festival in Mexico City, held at the enormous and very impressive-looking Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México, where I was privileged to be president of the international feature film competition jury. My fellow jurors were Sergei Dvortsevoy, Emmanuel Burdeau, Nicolás Echevarría, and Roberto Fiesco Trejo, and we viewed sixteen features in all.

Here is our statement about our selection:

“We would like to thank this brand-new festival for adopting the overall strategy of challenging viewers rather than following more traditional paths.

“The three films we have selected are very different from one other, but one important thing they have in common is the struggle and the uncertainties about living in the present in relation to the weight of the past.

“We would first of all like to give a special mention to a very original comedy from Uruguay that confronts the so-called death of cinema with charm, modesty, and precision. Our special mention goes to La vida útil by Federico Veiroj.

“Our selection of best director goes to a filmmaker whose story about the love between a father and daughter plays against the uncertainties of life, sex, and death in relation to the cataclysmic transition in Greece from peasant culture to industrialization. Read more

UNE SIMPLE HISTOIRE (previously unpublished, 1970)

Here’s a short piece of mine written for a glossy film magazine, On Film, that never survived past its first issue. It was prompted largely by a negative review of this film by the late Stuart Byron that appeared in the Village Voice after the film showed at the New York Film Festival in September 1970 — a review claiming, as I recall, that the film was a slavish, simplistic, and reductive imitation of Bresson. The fact that Byron was also my (putative) editor at On Film probably didn’t help to speed things along.

Une Simple Histoire can be seen now in its entirety and with English subtitles, for free, and in what appears to be a decent print, at https://ok.ru/video/2383975287406.  — J.R.

UNE SIMPLE HISTOIRE

Marcel Hanoun, 1958

In the frantic setting of a film festival, with an audience and press too eager to call “hit” or “miss” at the drop of a curtain, there is little chance of a masterpiece like Une Simple Histoire receiving the kind of attention it deserves. Although Marcel Hanoun’s first film was made over a decade ago, it is much too individual a work to have gone through any significant aging process; one suspects that it will continue to be as new and as unassimilated by other films ten years from now. Read more

Global Discoveries on DVD: A Few Peripheral Matters

From the Spring 2018 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

othello-828x1024

Let me start by paraphrasing and slightly expanding a comment of mine appended to my 2017 ten-best list for DVD Beaver. A major reason for listing Criterion’s Othello first is that it includes the digital premieres of not one, not two, but three Orson Welles features: both of his edits of Othello available with his own soundtracks, carried out respectively in 1952 and 1955 and heard for the first time in the US in several decades, and Filming Othello (1979), his last completed feature.

PARIAH

Fans of Mudbound (2017) like myself who want to get acquainted with Dee Rees’ previous work should check out the second of her three previous features, Pariah (2011), available inexpensively in both DVD and Blu-ray formats. This autobiographical look at the tribulations of a gay black teenager and her family, shot in a very different style from Mudbound (much more documentary-like), is beautifully and richly acted by its lead, Adepero Oduye — though I wonder if the use of Brooklyn rather than Rees’ native Nashville as a location (occasioned, I would guess, by the services of Spike Lee as executive producer) made any significant differences in terms of Rees’ script and/or characters. Read more

HOW TO LIVE IN AIR CONDITIONING (Introduction to MOVIES AS POLITICS)

My introduction to my 1997 collection MOVIES AS POLITICS. — J.R.

Movies as Politics

A feeling of having no choice is becoming more and more widespread                                                                                  in American life, and particularly among successful people, who are                                                                     supposedly free beings. On a concrete plane the lack of choice is often                                                                                a depressing reality. In national election years, you are free to choose                                                                        between Johnson and Goldwater or Johnson and Romney or Reagan,                                                                            which is the same as choosing between a Chevrolet and a Ford —                                                                                   there is a marginal difference in styling. Just as in American hotel                                                                                   rooms you can decide whether or not to turn on the air conditioner                                                                                  (that is your business), but you cannot open the window.

                                                      — Mary McCarthy, Vietnam, 1967

I await the end of Cinema with optimism.                                                                                                                               — Jean-Luc Godard, Cahiers du cinéma, 1965

Thirty years later, both these general sentiments describe an impasse in American life that is vividly reflected in the movies we see and the ways that we see them. If the range of cultural choices apparently available at any given time merits some correlation with the range of political choices, it is also true that Godard’s optimistic apocalypse heralds a new scale of values, though we don’t yet know enough about these to be able to judge them with any confidence. Read more