Monthly Archives: May 2024

Preface to the Iranian Edition of ABBAS KIAROSTAMI (July 2014)

Written in late July, 2014  for this recently published volume. — J.R.

Kiarostami with AK book

JONATHAN ROSENBAUM: Having by now covered practically all of the films of Abbas Kiarostami between us — starting with our book about him published in 2003, which dealt with all the films up through 10 (2002), and then continuing with further articles and dialogues since then, all the way up through Like Someone in Love (2012) -– it’s hard to know what we can add in the form of a Preface to the Persian translation of all of the above. Broadly speaking, I suppose one could say that over the past decade, Kiarostami has shifted from being an arthouse director to being a sort of gallery artist who worked in both film and still photography before finally, in more international and less Iranian terms, becoming an arthouse director again. Does this overall description of his evolution strike you as being accurate? And do you think Kiarostami has gained or lost anything in the process?

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Like Someone in Love

MEHRNAZ SAEED-VAFA: Your description sounds accurate to me, and I think Kiarostami has definitely gained something. He’s made several shorts and features going in different directions and styles that continue to challenge the expectations of his fans and followers.   Read more

Character Flaws [MAJOR PAYNE]

From the Chicago Reader (March 24, 1995). I must confess that I’m immensely grateful that I no longer remember anything more than a stray detail or two about the dozen movies cited in the first paragraph, including the film under review. — J.R.

Major Payne *

Directed by Nick Castle

Written by Dean Lorey, Damon Wayans, and Gary Rosen

With Wayans, Karyn Parsons, Steven Martini, Andrew Harrison Leeds, Joda Blaire-Hershman, Stephen Coleman, and Orlando Brown.

It’s hard to remember when the mainstream releases have been as dismal as the offerings of the past few weeks. Admittedly, I haven’t seen everything, so it’s possible I missed the odd trick or two. But the rewards of The Quick and the Dead, Federal Hill, The Walking Dead, Losing Isaiah, Outbreak, Shallow Grave, Tall Tale, Circle of Friends, Bye Bye, Love, Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Muriel’s Wedding, and Major Payne have been so paltry that I’ve been reluctant to search out further punishment. If there’s an element that unites this disparate dozen, it’s an absence of characters — an absence stemming from a lack of consistent vision of what characters are supposed to be. Read more

A Force Unto Himself [on Hou Hsiao-hsien]

From the Chicago Reader (June 2, 2000).

On October 5, 2014, I had the pleasure of introducing The Sandwich Man at the Museum of the Moving Image’s exhaustive Hou retrospective in Astoria. My late friend Gilberto Perez came to the screening and we had dinner afterwards; it was the last time I ever saw him. 

For a Turkish translation of this article, go here. — J.R.

Films by Hou Hsiao-hsien

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. — Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Mother Night

How significant is it that neither of the two greatest working narrative filmmakers is fluent in English? Not very. But it might be logical. After all, most of the people in the world, including those in Iran and Taiwan, don’t speak English, even though that places them, in American eyes, in the margins, outside even the on-line global culture.

If being in the margins means being in the majority, it stands to reason that Abbas Kiarostami and Hou Hsiao-hsien, as chroniclers of what’s happening on the planet at the moment, should both be poet laureates of the sticks — though they don’t have much in common beyond a taste for filming in long shot, pioneering direct sound recording in their national cinemas (in both cases to honor the speech patterns of nonprofessional actors), and a general sense of philosophical detachment. Read more

Best Films of the Decade (2010-2019, for Caimán Cuadernos de Cine)

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1. The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr, 2011)
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2. Margaret (186-minute version, Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
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3. The Other Side of the Wind (Orson Welles, 2018)
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4. Adieu au Langage (Jean-Luc Godard, 2014)
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5. Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
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6. Horse Money (Pedro Costa, 2014)
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7. Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011)
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8. A Bread Factory (Patrick Wang, 2018)
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9. Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami, 2010)
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10. I, Dalio (or The Rules of the Game) (Mark Rappaport, 2015)
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Paris-London Journal [1974]

From Film Comment, November 1974. I suspect that one factor that may have kept me from scanning and posting this column until now, at least in its complete form, is my dissenting view of CHINATOWN and WHAT?, even before the former became fully canonized as Holy Writ. -– J.R.

Moving across the Channel, a profound difference in the cinematic climate becomes immediately apparent. How could it be otherwise, considering that the lifestyles that go with each city are so strikingly antithetical? Paris is all adrenalin and shiny surfaces, hard-edged and brittle and eternally abstract, the capital of paranoia (cf. Rivette) and street spectacle (cf. Tati), where café tables become orchestra seats as soon as the weather gets warm — the city where everyone loves to stare. London is just the reverse, a soft-centered cushion of comfort where trust and accommodation make for a slower, saner, and ostensibly less shrill mode of existence: relatively concrete and prosaic, more spit and less polish, a city more conducive to eccentricity than lunacy. Relatively speaking, London isn’t a movie town. It’s considerably easier to go out to films in Paris and to be more selective about what one sees, because the area is smaller and the action tends to be more concentrated. Read more

Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut

From the Chicago Reader (October 2, 1992). — J.R.

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Far and away the best SF movie of the 80s, though a critical and commercial flop when it first appeared (1982), Ridley Scott’s visionary look at Los Angeles in the year 2019 — a singular blend of glitter and grime that captures both the horror and the allure of capitalism in the Reagan era with the claustrophobic textures of a Sternberg film — is back in a new version that more closely approximates the director’s original intentions, minus the offscreen narration and happy ending and with a few brief additions. Loosely adapted by David Webb Peoples (who later scripted Unforgiven) and Hampton Fancher from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the story mainly concerns the tracking down and killing of “replicants” (lifelike androids) by the hero (Harrison Ford), and much of the film’s erotic charge and moral and ideological ambiguity stems from the fact that these characters — Joe Turkel, Sean Young, Darryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, and Joanna Cassidy — are very nearly the only ones we care about. (We never know for sure whether Ford is a replicant himself, and one advantage to this version is that it makes this uncertainty more explicit.) Read more

Wayne Wang Isn’t Missing: The Return of CHAN

Written for MUBI in early August 2021. MUBI decided not to run it because of its borrowings from an earlier piece of mine that ran in Sight and Sound in 1983 (see link below: https://jonathanrosenbaum.net/2019/03/on-chan-is-missing-and-wayne-wang/), which is why I’m posting it here.– J.R.

https://jonathanrosenbaum.net/2019/03/on-chan-is-missing-and-wayne-wang/

 

It’s a sad fact that when certain filmmakers fail to perform the narrow tribal duties assigned to them by the marketplace, they risk floating off the map of our awareness. For the past sixteen years, ever since I reviewed one of his lesser efforts (Because of Winn-Dixie, 2005)Wayne Wang has drifted out of my consciousness, not because he’s been inactive but because I’ve seen none of his last seven features and his media profile has been too scattered to produce many ripples in the American mainstream. Yet in a culture where it’s still frowned upon to insist that Barack Obama is half-white, that two of Roman Polanski’s recent and undistributed and/or ignored movies (Venus in Fur and Based on a True Story) qualify as feminist antocritiques, and that Spike Lee’s most accomplished and affecting feature, 25thHour (2003), has nothing to do with being black, the failure of Wayne Wang to stick exclusively to his perceived roots (Hong Kong, American, Chinese-American) has prevented him from becoming or remaining a household name.

Read more

The Problem with Poetry: Leos Carax

From the May-June 1994 Film Comment; also reproduced in my collection Movies as Politics. (For some briefer and more recent comments about Carax’s Merde and Holy Motors, go here and here.) — J.R.

First come words. No, emotions . . .
— line overheard in party scene of BOY MEETS GIRL

Introducing André Bazin’s Orson Welles: A Critical View in the late 70s, François Truffaut registered his opinion that “all the difficulties that Orson Welles has encountered with the box office . . . stem from the fact that he is a film poet. The Hollywood financiers (and, to be fair, the public throughout the world) accept beautiful prose — John Ford, Howard Hawks — or even poetic prose — Hitchcock, Roman Polanski — but have much more difficulty accepting pure poetry, fables, allegories, fairy tales.” [Translated by Jonathan Rosenbaum, Los Angeles: Acrobat Books, 1991, 26.]

I’m not at all sure about fables and allegories — think of Campion’s THE PIANO and Kieslowski’s BLUE for two recent examples, neither of which the public seems to have much difficulty in accepting — and the Disney organization churns out fairy tales on a regular basis. But when it comes to poetry, pure and otherwise, I think Truffaut had a point. Read more

Interactivity as Art and Vice Versa: A BREAD FACTORY

Published on Artforum‘s web site on April 18, 2019, under the title “Leaven Learn”.   — J.R.

“The justification for [a] pretense to disengagement,” writes Dave Hickey in Air Guitar, “derives from our Victorian habit of marginalizing the experience of art, of treating it as if it were somehow ‘special’—and, lately, as if it were somehow curable. This is a preposterous assumption to make in a culture that is irrevocably saturated with pictures and music, in which every elevator serves as a combination picture gallery and concert hall . . . All we do by ignoring the live effects of art is suppress the fact that these experiences, in one way or another, inform our every waking hour.”
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To some extent, Patrick Wang’s dazzling two-part, four-hour comedy A Bread Factory (2018) — shot over twenty-four days in Hudson, New York, after ten days of rehearsal with well over sixty professional or semiprofessional actors — is an epic anthology of performance art, filmed both inside and outside a Hudson art center housed in a former bread factory. What makes it special are the peculiar dots connecting “inside” and “outside.” Inside the eponymous, fictionalized forty-year-old Bread Factory we find theater, film, music, sculpture, and poetry, and inside a trendy, new rival art center with corporate financing is a pseudo-Chinese couple called May Ray doing minimalist, rebus-like performance pieces with prerecorded laughter and applause. Read more

En movimiento: Two Views of America, Two Views of Cinema (spoiler included)

My column for the Spanish monthly Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, submitted on July 25, 2019. — J.R

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“The strongest argument for the unmaterialistic character of American life,” Mary McCarthy wrote in 1947, “is the fact that we tolerate conditions that are, from a materialistic point of view, intolerable.” Two kinds of doublethink fantasy emanating from this, both deriving from media tropes, can be found in the best and worst examples of recent American cinema that I saw in Chicago in July. These are, respectively, the four seasons of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019), a musical sitcom created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, which I saw alone on Netflix via my laptop, and Quintin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which I saw in 70mm at the Music Box with a full audience shortly afterwards. Significantly, deranged women are the basis of what I find exhilarating in the former and despicable in the latter.

CEGcast

The deranged woman in the first is a high-powered, neurotic Jewish lawyer (Bloom) in New York who rejects her firm’s partnership offer in order to move to a nondescript California suburb “four hours from the beach” to work for a mediocre firm and chase after a former boyfriend, whom she met at a camp as a teenager, meanwhile remaining in denial that her romantic obsession motivated her move. Read more

THE BED YOU SLEEP IN: Notes for the CD (1993)

This short essay, originally published in December 1993,  was the first time I was ever commissioned to write liner notes for a CD — in this case, the soundtrack music for Jon Jost’s The Bed You Sleep In, composed by Erling Wold and released by The Table of the Elements. (The second time was this month, July 2019, when I was invited to write a short essay for a CD in the U.K. of Carlos Santos’ soundtrack score for Pere Portabella’s masterpiece Vampir Cuadecuc.)  — J.R.

The Bed You Sleep In is the twelfth feature of Jon Jost, one of the most independent of all American independent filmmakers, and in more ways than one. It can be regarded as a kind of summary of his preceding work. From a conventional standpoint, Jost’s first eleven features, made over the past two decades, fall into two loose categories: fiction (Angel City, Last Chants for a Slow Dance, Chameleon, Slow Moves, Bell Diamond, Rembrandt Laughing, All the Vermeers in New York, and Sure Fire) and personal, experimental essays (Speaking Directly, Stagefright, and uncommon senses). But Jost is far from conventional, and a closer work at his work reveals that such neat divisions can’t always be made. Read more

FLAMING CREATURES, Banned Again

Commissioned by Indiewire and posted on February 7, 2019. — J.R.

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Looking back today at the legacy of Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) as a pioneer of American independent filmmaking, we like to think that he paved the way for us to enjoy our current freedom as spectators. When he was arrested for screening Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures in New York City in March 1964, along with Ken Jacobs and Florence Karpf, we tend to suppose that this was eventually to ensure that we wouldn’t be penalized for watching the film today.

But maybe we haven’t advanced quite as far in our freedom and sophistication as we like to suppose. Such, at any rate, was my thought when I found myself censored on Facebook last week and banned from posting anything there for 24 hours when I tried to post the following two images:
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FC

 

I assume it was the second image rather than the first that led to the censorship, but given the usual arbitrariness of what gets banned and why, how can I be sure? All I was doing was advertising the reposting of my own 1998 review of the film in the Chicago Reader (www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2019/02/sweet-outrage/), and this unexpected glitch raised the question of whether Facebook’s objections were to the single bare nipple being exposed or to the fact that one (apparent) woman was amorously clutching another (apparent) woman. Read more

Eleven Treasures of Jazz Performance on DVD

Commissioned and published by DVD Beaver in 2007. In 2015, Ehsan Khoshbakht and I put together a sidebar for Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Italy, “Jazz Goes to the Movies,” and then a reconfigured version of this a few months later at the Festival on Wheels in Ankara, Turkey, which led both of us to revisit many of these titles and releases.  — J.R.

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Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of jazz films — documentary records of particular jazz performances and narrative films that incorporate jazz in some fashion, in their soundtrack scores and/or in their stories. But in some cases, identifying which films belong in which category is simply a matter of personal taste. Consider, for instance, Black and Tan and St. Louis Blues, two landmark jazz shorts directed in 1929 by Dudley Murphy —- a fascinating figure who straddled the avant-garde and the mainstream, having both collaborated with Fernand Léger on Ballet mécanique and Paul Robeson on The Emperor Jones and directed several Hollywood pictures, and who’s been receiving some belated recognition lately thanks to Susan B. Delson’s excellent biography, Dudley Murphy: Hollywood’s Wild Card (University of Minnesota Press, 2006). I would argue that Black and Tan, which stars Duke Ellington, is important chiefly as a narrative film, whereas St. Read more

Godard’s Questions

As nearly as I can remember, the following, signed “Jon Rosenbaum,” was hastily written at Bard College in the mid-60s for Pierre Joris, presumably for a never-to-be-published campus publication.

In tearful remembrance of Anna Karina, 1940-2019. — J.R.

Godard’s Questions

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made-in-usa-HEALTHCLUB

Ideally, Godard would like 2 ou 3 Choses que je sais d’elle and Made in USA (which he made during the same summer) to be screened together, in a single evening. The ideal method of screening — which Godard sees as a kind of homage to William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms— would be to show them ‘contrapuntally, ” by alternating the reels. To any viewer who has seen even one of these films, the idea induces vertigo; the prospect seems not unlike that of sitting down with both Finnegans Wake and a critical commentary on it, one on each knee, immediately after breakfast. A somewhat sickening thought, but after all, Godard is a critic as well as a filmmaker –like Joyce, a critic chiefly (one is tempted to say exclusively) of his own work. Like a house of mirrors, like Nabokov, like Finnegans WakeNaked Lunch, and Becket’s trilogy, Godard’s work is largely an exercise in self-reflection: how does one make a movie? Read more

A Protest about the List Business

As pointed out by Elena Gorfinkel in a provocative recent polemic, the end-of-the-year movie lists that so many of us promulgate and live by are actually the handmaidens — or maybe we should say the whores — of consumerist capitalism. It’s possible that we’re always too eager to follow their bidding rather than our own (or, more precisely, to make their bidding our own).

One of the most obvious injustices of institutional dictates in this process is to demand “best” lists from many of us, perhaps even all of us, before any of us can properly comply in an educated manner. In my case, the following worthy contenders (among others) were all seen by me after I had to turn in a list of the best films of the year (in roughly descending order of presumed merit):

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An Elephant Sitting Still

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The Last Black Man in San Francisco

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Dark Waters

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Marriage Story

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

I hasten to add that this is still near the end of November. I’m expecting to receive and access even more Academy screeners and Vimeo links to consider over the days to come.

Last year, the same thing happened. I only caught up with my favorite film of 2018 —    Patrick Wang’s A Bread Factory, ignored by most of the official gatekeepers — long after all the lists had been due. Read more