Monthly Archives: May 2024

Coilin & Platonida (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 515). — J.R.

Coilin & Platonida

Great Britain, 1976
Director: James Scott

The 1920s. Thrown out of the house by her uncle, Aksinya marries her lover, a sexton, and five months later gives birth to a son, Coilin. After the sexton drowns in a stream, she works as a servant to nuns, introducing and dressing Coilin as a little girl. Entering school at the age of twelve, Coilin is expelled for backwardness, and finds work as an apprentice to various craftsmen. After three years in the army, he returns to find his mother dead and is turned away from his uncle’s house. Visiting two orphaned boys who are distant relatives and finding them hungry and maltreated, he takes them under his wing and persuades his cousin Platonida to give them clothes. Settling in with the children in an unused room at Granny Rochovna’s cottage, he sells home -made polishand ink, does odd jobs, and applies unsuccessfully for work at the postoffice. Given an island by the town council, he builds a hut and teaches the boys to read. Four years later, Platonida’s husband dies, and her father-in-law promises to leave her his fortune. One night, she finds her father-in-law crouching outside her bedroom window; after she lets him in and he tries to rape her, she strikes at him with a cleaver and runs away, believing that she has killed him. Read more

TONI (1974 review)

From Time Out (London), September 13-19, 1974. –- J.R.

 

For Godard, French neo-realism was born with Jacques Tati’s ‘Jour de Fete’ in 1947. An even likelier candidate might be Jean Renoir’s ‘Toni’ (Everyman to Saturday), shot in southern France in 1934 with a cast of unknowns, and dealing with a community of immigrants who work in a stone quarry. Actually, it’s a melodrama about love and sex, jealousy and murder -– the sort of staples that have kept the cinema going for seventy years or so -– but Renoir invests it with a sense of character and place that gives it an unusually blunt and sensual impact. Neither romanticizing his workers nor turning them into rallying points, he accepts them as they are and follows them where they go. The plot is based on a real crime that occurred in Martigues (where the film was shot) in the early Twenties, Jacques Morier, an old friend of Renoir’s who was the local police chief, assembled the facts, and Renoir wrote the script with another friend, art critic Carl Einstein. The results are both stark and gentle, as well as sexy: Toni sucking wasp poison from Josefa’s lissome neck is a particularly fine moment. Read more

A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 43, No. 504, January 1976. As with some of my other reviews from this magazine reproduced on this site, the credits and synopsis are omitted.– J.R.

Woman Under the Influence, A

U.S.A., 1974
Director: John Cassavetes

Beginning with Shadows, the films of John Cassavetes have been at once limited and defined by their anti-intellectual form of humanism, an unconditional acceptance of the social norms of his characters that exalts emotion and intuition over analysis and, in narrative terms, looseness and approximation over precision. Used as an instrument for delivering a thesis (as in Faces) and/or allowing actors to indulge themselves in fun and games (as in Husbands), it is a style which characteristically operates like a bludgeon, obscuring at least as much as it illuminates while confidently hammering home its proud discoveries. But when it serves as a means for exploration, as in Shadows or A Woman Under the Influence –- however halting or incomplete a method it may be for serving that function — it deserves to be treated with greater credence. Read more

Letter from London (1977)

From American Film (April 1977). I got this assignment because I had just left two and a half years of London employment at the British Film Institute when I wrote it, so that I had been directly involved in some of the events described, having prepared the U.K. pressbook for Celine and Julie Go Boating, written about the Edinburgh Film Festival’s Screen events for Sight and Sound, and also written the programme notes for the National Film Theatre’s Altman retrospective.

For better and for worse, I suspect that the main interest of this piece today, 43 years later, is as a time capsule. -– J.R.

It sounds like hyperbole, but London seems well on its way toward becoming a livelier haven for “serious” film buffs than New York City. How did it happen? After all, the world’s third largest city has never seemed like the most bustling of movie towns.

Despite the celebrated resources of the British Film Institute and the prestige of some of the film schools, theater has always had a much firmer grip on the cultural life here; a casual look at any of the three television channels will prove it. This fact hasn’t been altered in the slightest by what’s been happening lately within the filmgoing community — a sharp increase in activity. Read more

THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 493). — J.R.

Land that Time Forgot, The

Great Britain, 1974
Director: Kevin Connor

A canister is tossed into the sea and discovered on the coast of Land’s End, containing a manuscript by the American Bowen Tyler which relates the following story: 1916. A British supply ship is sunk by a German submarine; the survivors include Bowen, biologist Lisa Clayton and a few members of the crew. Together they take over the submarine from Captain von Schoenvorts and Dietz and head for the U.S., but lose their way after their radio is destroyed in an attack by a British warship and their compass rigged by von Schoenvorts; Bowen orders the sinking of a German supply ship, only to discover that their last source of rations is destroyed in the process. Finally coming upon an island with an inhospitable coastline surrounded by icebergs — identified by von Schoenvorts as the legendary Caprona — they find an underground river and Bowen charts their path to dry land.

There they discover a prehistoric world occupied by dangerous beasts, early evolutionary forms of man, and a variety of curious life-forms in the river. They capture a primitive man who calls himself Ahm, conveys to them in signs that Caprona has large deposits of oil — needed for the submarine in order to leave the island — and reluctantly takes them north to the spot; on the way, after they are attacked by the Sto-Lu and encounter other, progressively more ‘developed’ tribes of ape-men, Ahm is killed and carried off by a pterodactyl. Read more

Vive la différence! A Guide to French Films on Cassette

The article from the October 1982 issue of American Film is so quaintly and absurdly dated now that I can’t resist reproducing it. -– J.R.

The prospect of choosing ten French movies that I’d like to own on videocassette is pretty hard to resist –- even for someone who still doesn’t own a cassette recorder. And when I consider the losses that any great film is bound to suffer on a home screen, I find myself consoled by the opinion of Jean-Luc Godard, expressed, twenty years ago:

”Even with films like Lola Montès and Alexander Nevsky, something comes through on television, despite the distortion, the rounded screen, the lack of definition, the absence of color. . .With Lola Montès, what you lost visually you often gained by having your attention focused on the dialogue. If only part of the film survives. It will be enough to bring it across.”

Admittedly, Godard was speaking here about old-fashioned network transmission — and French television at that, which offered a higher visual definition, and no time-slotting cuts or commercial breaks. Still, the overall thrust of his point, is true. Reproducing a classic film on cassette may do something drastic to its original purpose and format, but something essential remains. Read more

Blood for Dracula & The Wedding

From Oui (July 1974). I was able to make my dislike of Blood for Dracula more apparent here than I could when I interviewed Paul Morrissey around the same time in Paris (and for the same magazine), for what proved to be the March 1975 issue. -– J.R.

Blood for Dracula. A Dracula movie by the director

of Flesh, Trash, and Heat (all of which, incidentally,

are currently playing in Paris)? That’s what the credits

say. Blood for Dracula, a grisly number shot in Italy

by Paul Morrissey and coproduced by Andy Warhol,

combines Factory superstar Joe Dallesandro with a

host of authentic European weirdos, including a Count

Dracula (Udo Kier) who puts a lot of greasy stuff in his

hair and sets off for Italy in search of virgin blood.

Unfortunately, the first two damsels he samples aren’t

exactly chaste, leading to a couple of spectacular

vomiting fits. Dallesandro plays a revolutionary peasant

with a a Brooklyn accent who filches most of the available

feminine goodies before the count can get to them, and

then turns hatchet man for the Grand Guignol finale.

Directors Vittorio De Sica and Roman Polanski are also on

hand for comic cameos. Read more

A Slightly Pregnant Man

From Oui (April 1975). –- J.R.

The Slightly Pregnant Man is the English title of Jacques Demy’s latest film, although a literal translation of the French would be more appropriate — The Most Important Event Since Man Walked on the Moon. The event is pregnancy, and what makes it so important is that its baby’s carrier is not Catherine Deneuve, who plays the mother, but Marcello Mastroianni, who plays Poppa.

The first question you or I might ask is how Mastroianni manages to get pregnant in the first place, which is something Demy declines to answer. Instead, he tries to coast along on a jaunty score by Michel Legrand (who composed the music for Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg). Without the basic question answered, The Slightly Pregnant Man doesn’t really work, but it is a weird kind of fun. We get to watch Mastroianni get sick in a movie theater, rush to the doctor and receive the wonderful-terrible news. He gets exhibited to a medical convention, marries Deneuve (in order to save the child embarrassment) and –as you can see — begins to model male pregnancy clothes for a maternity firm. The clothing manufacturers are overjoyed — they’ve just discovered a great new market for their products.

Mastroianni gives up his job as a driving instructor, since he’s forced to model full time. Read more

Sleepwalk

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

Sara Driver’s first feature — a luminous, oddball comic fantasy about ancient Chinese curses and Xerox machines, set in Manhattan’s Chinatown and its immediate environs — may well be the most visually ravishing American independent film of its year (1986). Set in an irrational, poetic universe that bears a certain relationship to Jacques Rivette’s Duelle, this dreamy intrigue breaks a cardinal rule of fantasy by striking off in a number of directions: an executive barks in the street, a young Frenchwoman (Ann Magnuson) loses her hair, and machines in a copy shop start to purr and wheeze on their own initiative. The moods that are established are delicate, and not everyone will be able to go with them, but Driver, the producer of Stranger Than Paradise, sustains them with beauty and eccentric charm. Suzanne Fletcher, who also starred in Driver’s previous 50-minute You Are Not I, makes a compelling (if unconventional) heroine, and Lorenzo Mans’s screwball dialogue develops some engaging hallucinatory riffs. (JR)

Read more

Reply to an article by Lucy Fischer about PLAYTIME

This appeared in the Autumn 1976 Sight and Sound, and I hope I can be excused for omitting the article that occasioned it, Lucy Fischer’s “’Beyond Freedom and Dignity’: an analysis of Jacques Tati’s Playtime,” that was included in the same issue. (In her subsequent book-length bibliography of writings about Tati, Fischer omitted this Afterword, along with much else, so I guess that this exhumation of my Afterword without her article could be interpreted as some form of tit fortat. But in fact, I don’t have the rights to her piece, which I don’t believe has ever been reprinted. However, even though I fully realize that most college students prefer to ignore texts that they can’t find on the Internet, this is a piece well worth looking up in a well-stocked library.)

Beginning with a quote from an article by B.K. Skinner entitled “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” -– “We attempt to gain credit for ourselves by disguising or concealing control” –- Fischer’s article sets about attempting to refute my claims that Playtime was a fulfillment of Andre Bazin’s claim that the “long-take style” accorded more freedom to the viewer by showing how Tati’s own style guides the viewer in various ways and towards certain details through his uses of color, camera movement, and sound. Read more

Sweet Movie

From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.

Sweet Movie. Get this: Miss World of 1984 (Carol Laure), a virgin, gets married to the richest man in the world, a vulgar Texan named Capital who’s hung up on hygiene, has a golden phallus, and celebrates his honeymoon by pissing on the bride, leaving her wet but intact. She’s whisked away to the inside of a giant milk bottle, where she confronts Jeremiah Muscle, a black specimen with bulging biceps in the service of Capital, who zips her into a suitcase, which he sends to Paris — still with me? – where she turns up on the Eiffel Tower. There she falls for a campy Mexican named El Macho (Sami Frey), who takes her cherry — only their bodies get stuck together in mid-fuck, and they have to be towed away by a crowd. While all this is going on, Captain Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), who is sailing down a canal in Amsterdam on a boat called Survival, picks up a sailor (Pierre Clementi) from another ship called Potemkin. Anna gives him a bath, screws him in an enormous vat of sugar, and then cuts him up with a knife, which he seems to enjoy. Meanwhile, Miss World has been adopted by a commune whose members like to scream, slobber, vomit, piss on each other, and shit into plates. Read more

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