Monthly Archives: May 2024

Two Early Chicago Reader Capsule Reviews

I’m pretty sure that my very first contributions to the Chicago Reader were these two capsule reviews, commissioned by Dave Kehr for their November 5, 1982 issue when these films were playing at the Chicago International Film Festival. — J.R.

The Night of the Shooting Stars.

The seventh feature written and directed by the talented Taviani brothers – Vittorio and Paolo, born respectively in 1929 and 1931 in San Miniato, Italy – and the third to open in America, The Night of the Shooting Stars is an Italian memory film that belongs to the same respectable company as Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategm, Fellini’s Amarcord, and Scola’s We All Loved Each Other So Much. The Tuscan town of San Martino during the last days of the war in 1944, as recounted by a woman who was six at the time to her daughter, provides the framework for this passionate and volatile fresco-in-motion, which radiates with unexpected and even startling moments of bucolic poetry. The actual war sequences contain some of the shocking beauty and giddy surprises one associates with the great Soviet directors, Dovzhenko in particular. Read more

Raintree County

From the April 1, 1988 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

A memorable if generally unsuccessful attempt (1958) by MGM to bring back the glory of Gone With the Wind, adapting Ross Lockridge’s best-selling novel about the Civil War as a 168-minute blockbuster with Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift (who suffered a nearly fatal car accident during the filming and had to have his jaw wired). Edward Dmytryk’s direction gets ponderous over the long haul, but nice visuals (Robert Surtees) and a pretty good secondary cast (including Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, and Agnes Moorehead) help to alleviate some of the slow patches. (JR)

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The Territory

From the April 1, 1990 Chicago Reader (I think). — J.R.

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Something of a film maudit for director Raul Ruiz, whose career is already pretty subterranean. Done in English (coscripted by the English novelist and film critic Gilbert Adair), shot in Portugal (though set in southern France), and coproduced by Roger Corman, it concerns a group of Americans who wind up in a small medieval town, get lost when they go on an excursion, remain lost for several months, and eventually revert to cannibalism. In the middle of the shooting, Wim Wenders turned up at the same location to start filming The State of Things, and a good many of the cast and crew members decamped for the Wenders film. That meant Ruiz’s film had to be completed well ahead of schedule, and unfortunately the picture suffers from the haste. But the plot and ambience are still intriguing, and the picture is certainly recognizably Ruizian in both its metaphysical framework and its dark humor (1971). (JR)

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Imposters

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1988). — J.R.

Apart from offering what is likely the best stretch of the late, great Charles Ludlam (of New York’s Ridiculous Theater) on film, Mark Rappaport’s dense and fascinating 1980 independent feature — a tragicomic melodrama designed to stick in the throat (and brain)surely qualifies as one of the wildest and wittiest American movies of its decade. The structure is basically confrontational: gay and/or straight couples, twins and/or lovers, crooks and/or romantic heroes, doppelgangers all, try to ridicule one another out of existence, with enough deadpan bitchy dialogue to choke a horse, and a plot derived equally from The Maltese Falcon and Proust’s Albertine disparue. Rappaport’s ingenious low-budget strategies for suggesting big-budget opulence are particularly disturbing and suggestive. Magic, stolen jewels, jealousy, paranoia, and torture parade through this hysterically convoluted, elegantly mounted tale of wisecracks and woe like a Hollywood funeral procession for American romanticism: the results are nightmarish, hilarious, and indelible. With Michael Berg and Ellen McElduff. (JR)

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Free to Roam [DR. AKAGI]

From the Chicago Reader (May 7, 1999). — J.R.

Dr. Akagi Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed by Shohei Imamura

Written by Imamura and Daisuke Tengan

With Akira Emoto, Kumiko Aso, Jyuro Kara, Jacques Gamblin, and Masanori Sera.

If you saw Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry you may recall a joke told by the Turkish taxidermist:    When a man complains to a doctor that every part of his body hurts — “When I touch my chest, that hurts; when I touch my arm and my leg, my arm and my leg hurt” — the doctor suggests that what’s actually bothering him is an infected finger. Similarly, when we think about Japan we may be prone to confuse what we’re pointing at with the finger that’s doing the pointing — especially given how much of a role our   country played in the rebuilding of Japan after the war. (Perhaps significantly, scant attention is paid to Japanese movies about — and made during — the American occupation, such as Yasujiro Ozu’s devastating and uncharacteristic A Hen in the Wind and Kenji Mizoguchi’s Utamaro and His Five Women, a period film whose theme of artistic imprisonment is clearly addressed to his contemporaries.)

Even when it comes to Japan before the occupation, we may tend to overlook or misinterpret American influences, seeing them instead as Japanese traits. Read more

Stuck, But Slippery [STUCK ON YOU]

From the Chicago Reader (December 19, 2003). — J.R.

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Stuck on You

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Written by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Charles B. Wessler, and Bennett Yellin

With Matt Damon, Greg Kinnear, Eva Mendes, Wen Yann Shih, Cher, Seymour Cassel, Griffin Dunne, and Meryl Streep.


One of my all-time favorite Japanese movies is Yasuzo Masumura’s A Wife Confesses (1961), which I’ve been able to see only once, in Tokyo with a live English translation. It’s a courtroom thriller about a young widow who’s being tried for her part in the death of her abusive older husband while they were mountain climbing, and it hinges on the haunting question of what she was thinking when she made the split-second decision to cut the rope connecting the two of them. She was attached at the other end of the rope to an attractive young man who had business ties to her husband and with whom she was in love, and she had to cut one of the men loose to prevent all three of them from plummeting to their deaths.

The story is a tragic allegory about the interdependence of individuals in Japanese society and how this conflicts with individual choice and desire, and I can’t imagine it being remade in this country, where the rightness of the heroine’s choice would more likely be regarded as self-evident. Read more

His 20th Century [HISTOIRE(S) DU CINÉMA & MONTPARNASSE 19]

From the Chicago Reader (July 16, 1993). For a more detailed commentary on the Histoire(s), including Godard’s own input, go here. — J.R.

HISTOIRE(S) DU CINÉMA **** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Jean-Luc Godard

With Jean-Luc Godard.

MONTPARNASSE 19 ** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Jacques Becker

With Gerard Philipe, Lilli Palmer, Anouk Aimee, Gerard Sety, Lila Kedrova, Lea Padovani, Denise Vernac, and Lino Ventura.

If you want to be “up to the minute” about cinema, there’s no reason to be concerned that it’s taken four years for Jean-Luc Godard’s ambitious video series to reach Chicago. After all, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, the artwork to which Histoire(s) du cinéma seems most comparable, written between 1922 and 1939, was first published in 1939, but if you started to read it for the first time this week, you’d still be way ahead of most people in keeping up with literature. For just as Finnegans Wake figuratively situates itself at some theoretical stage after the end of the English language as we know it — from a vantage point where, inside Joyce’s richly multilingual, pun-filled babble, one can look back at the 20th century and ask oneself, “What was the English language?” Read more

The Dreamboat With No Name [THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY]

From the Chicago Reader (June 23, 1995). — J.R.

It’s amazing what an Oscar can do. Clint Eastwood’s career as a filmmaker was viewed by many as a cranky, uneven enterprise until he was anointed by the academy for Unforgiven. Now it’s clear that in many quarters he can do no wrong, even though A Perfect World and The Bridges of Madison County show no particular improvement in his work. (For starters, both films are longer than they need to be.) His skill in realizing and giving shape to the scripts of others is sometimes praised so highly it’s as if people thought the movie had emerged full-blown from his Zeus-like head. Whatever the achievements of The Bridges of Madison County (and they aren’t to be sneezed at), there’s a strong temptation to credit Eastwood with resuscitating the star system, the Hollywood tearjerker, and classical mise en scene (as I’ve done in my own capsule review). Yet at best he’s performing yeoman service on a so-so adaptation of a lousy novel, plunking his customary persona in the middle of it as if that were all it needed to achieve greatness.

Let’s face it, the danger of the star system is that it’s predicated to some degree on a blind worship of power; we’re encouraged to rationalize imperfections, slide over contradictions, and go with the oceanic flow. Read more

Clip Art

From the Chicago Reader (August 6, 1993). — J.R.

LYRICAL NITRATE *** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Peter Delpeut

VISIONS OF LIGHT: THE ART OF CINEMATOGRAPHY *** (A must-see)

Directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels Written by Todd McCarthy.

I realize it sounds strange to put it this way, but the special pleasures to be found in Lyrical Nitrate -– a 50-minute compilation of fragments of silent films made between 1905 and 1915, showing this Saturday and Sunday at the Music Box -– are closely related to the voyeuristic appeal of pornography, specifically old-fashioned stag reels. The experience of watching these fragments is, like the fragments themselves, fleeting and therefore tantalizing, suggestive and therefore provocative -– and so far off the beaten track of what’s supposed to be viewer friendly in our culture that I’m reminded of J. Hoberman’s speculation in the second edition of Midnight Movies, a book we coauthored: “Imagine if one had to go out at midnight to some seedy theater to see projected tapes of The Simpsons. Read more

Declarations of Independents: Tenant Filmgoing

From The Soho News (May 20-26, 1981). I’m sorry that I still haven’t managed to see Vermont in 3 1/2 Minutes, a 1963 film made by a childhood friend of mine — and that I haven’t been able to find any more illustrations for the small-gauge films that I wrote about here….My expressed feeling of solidarity with Squeeze Play was no doubt inflected by the fact that I was living in Hoboken at the time. — J.R.

May 8: At Anthology Film Archives, to see a program in “Home Made Movies: 20 Years of American 8mm and Super-8 Films” — an intriguing and varied series selected by Jim Hoberman that runs through the end of next month, warmly recommended to everyone without money who nurtures fantasies about taking over the media. I learn straight away that Linda Talbot’s Vermont in 3 1/2 Minutes is being replaced by Bear and Jane Brakhage’s Peter’s Dream, a title glossed by Jonas Mekas as referring to Peter Kubelka.

This reminds me of a somewhat troubled notion that first reared its inglorious head when I had the occasion to view all the films in the Whitney’s previous Biennial. The idea is simply that a surprising number of North American avant-garde films seem to center on the same general obsession as The Deer Hunter or Manhattan — namely, a boastful inventory of male possessions: This is my hometown, my house, my rifle, my dog, my Bolex, my woman, my art. Read more

Exchange with Charles Wolfe on Claude Chabrol (1975)

From Film Comment (January-February 1975). This was a good eight years before I became a colleague of Chuck Wolfe at the Film Studies program University of California, Santa Barbara, where I found myself trapped in a dead-end adjunct job with no opportunity for advancement for four years before my 20-year stint at the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

To the editor:

Contrary to Jonathan Rosenbaum’s introduction to his interview with Jacques Rivette (Film Comment, Sept.-Oct.1974), the first major Cahiers critic to embark on a feature film was Claude Chabrol, not Rivette. Chabrol shot LE BEAU SERGE between December 1957 and February 1958, finished editing in May, and presented the film at the Locarno festival that year. Rivette began work on PARIS NOUS APPARTIENT in the summer of 1958 while Chabrol filmed his second feature, LES COUSINS. This information is confirmed in Claire Clouzot’s Le Cinéma Français depuis la nouvelle vague and Guy Braucourt’s Cinéma d’aujourd hui volume on Chabrol.

All this may seem trivial, but it reflects a general misunderstanding of Chabrol’s crucial role n the transition of the Cahiers critics from writers to filmmakers. Read more

The Paradoxes of BERNIE

Commissioned by a Spanish-language retrospective catalogue devoted to Richard Linklater. — J.R.

 

A prefatory caveat

Bernie & Marge both versions

My favorite Richard Linklater feature, Bernie (2011), is many different things at once, some of which are in potential conflict with one another. How we ultimately judge it depends on either reconciling or suspending our separate verdicts on how we judge it as fiction (and art) and/or how we judge it as fact (and justice). Because I’ve chosen to suspend my judgment on how we can judge the film as fact, for reasons that will be dealt with below, I can enjoy the luxury of celebrating the film as fiction and as art at the same time that I would maintain that it opens up factual questions about truth and justice that it can’t pretend to resolve in any definitive manner.

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1. Background

The film was inspired by a lengthy article, “Midnight in the Garden of East Texas” by Skip Hollandsworth, that appeared in the January 1998 issue of Texas Monthly, about the confessed murder of Mrs. Marjorie Nugent, an 81-year-old widow and the wealthiest woman in town, by 39-year-old Bernie Tiede, a former assistant funeral director in the same town (Carthage, with a population of 6,500) who had become her paid companion and the sole inheritor of her considerable fortune. Read more

An Affair to Forget

From the Chicago Reader (October 28, 1994). Thirty years later, it’s hard to decide whether this stinker is as bad as Beatty’s Rules Don’t Apply or perhaps even worse. That some of the ads for Love Affair renamed it Perfect Love Affair sounds to me like an act of desperation. — J.R.

love-affair-beatty

* LOVE AFFAIR

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron

Written by Robert Towne and Warren Beatty

With Beatty, Annette Bening, Katharine Hepburn, Garry Shandling, Chloe Webb, Pierce Brosnan, and Kate Capshaw.

 

The writing and directing credits for Love Affair are legally correct but historically, aesthetically, and ethically wrong. A more accurate account of where the movie comes from, in terms of characters, plot, dialogue, and even camera placement, would have to cite the story written by Leo McCarey and Mildred Cram for Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, inspired by an extended trip McCarey and his wife took to Europe. According to McCarey, seeing the Statue of Liberty slide into view as the ship approached the New York harbor gave birth to the plot: a man and a woman, each engaged to someone else, meet on such a liner, bound for Europe from New York, and fall in love. Read more

THE ENCHANTED DESNA

Written for Sight and Sound on August 15, 2015. Since writing this, I’ve discovered that free access to a subtitled version is now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09J-oSZF9G4. — J. R.

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Desna-night

Desna-boyinfield

Desna-boy

Desna-interior

 

The Enchanted Desna (1964)

There are few masterpieces harder to access than this 70-millimeter, stereophonic poem by Moscow-born Yuliya Solntseva (1901-1989), widow of the great Alexander Dovzhenko, who devoted most of her filmmaking career, after playing the title role in Aelita (1924), to assisting her Ukrainian husband and then filming his unrealized projects after his death. I’ve never seen this subtitled, but Godard’s favorite film of 1965 was periodically screened at the Paris Cinémathèque over the following decade, and I’ve managed to fill in a few details by reading an English translation of Dovzhenko’s extended memoir of the same title. It’s a rambling but exalted account of his impoverished rural childhood, where, as in his best features, it becomes impossible to distinguish reality from fantasy or imagination, or pantheistic epic from a kind of music dreamt in images — a reciprocal dance performed by nature, family, and other eccentric local touchstones in perpetual, mysterious collaboration.  (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

Desna-crow

Desna-semicircle

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Desna-landscape

Desna-boy&tree

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Interview with Oja Kodar (2015)

oja-kodar-2005

My 2015 interview with Oja Kodar in Woodstock, Illinois:
https://vimeo.com/149237341

PASSWORD: Woodstock

Note: A book collecting my other interviews, starting with one with Orson Welles — CINEMATIC ENCOUNTERS: INTERVIEWS AND DIALOGUES — was published by the University of Illinois Press in December 2018. And my essay about THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WIND concludes its companion volume, CINEMATIC ENCOUNTERS 2: PORTRAITS AND POLEMICS,  published by the same press half a year later.

I’ve already posted this link on Facebook, but am reposting it here because I think everyone who cares about Orson Welles should see and hear it. — J.R. Read more