Daily Archives: May 29, 2024

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.



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.

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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.”
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



“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.


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