Monthly Archives: July 2024

Erich von Stroheim on GREED

My thanks to Joseph McBride, who originally posted this text on December 8, 1999, at the tail end of an interview with Rick Schmidlin about his expanded version of Greed on a now-defunct website, CreativePlanet.com. I’ve omitted the Schmidlin  interview here, but hope that Rick’s version (as well as the original MGM release version) will become available in this country on DVD and/or Blu-Ray — releases that are scandalously overdue. — J.R.

Greedgold

In the June 12, 1927, Directors’ Number of the Hollywood trade publication The Film Daily, each of the 10 directors chosen as the leading directors of the day selected his favorite film. The following is Erich von Stroheim’s contribution:

Greedweddingbanquet

Erich von Stroheim selects Greed.

TheWeddingMarchposter

Of course, the picture on which I have my heart set the most at present is The Wedding March  on which I have been working the past year and a half, but inasmuch as this picture has not been released, I will only dwell on past performances.

Looking back over the few productions I have done and endeavoring to calmly and dispassionately analyze each, there is just one that presents itself to my mind as being worthy of classification in your “What I Consider My Best Picture — And Why.” Read more

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

THE STORY OF THE LAST CHRYSANTHEMUMS

StoryoftheLastChrysanthemums-Kabuki

storyofthelatchrysanthemums

Though not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi’s period masterpieces, this 1939 feature is conceivably the greatest. (For me the only other contender is the 1954 Sansho the Bailiff.) And according to film analyst Donald Kirihara in his book Patterns of Time: Mizoguchi and the 1930s (The University of Wisconsin Press, 1982), Mizoguchi himself regarded it “as a creative turning point in his career”. A film set in the 1880s that lasts 142 minutes and contains only 142 shots, it resorts to the more rapid editing style of Hollywood only when Kabuki performances are featured.

 

The plot, which oddly resembles that of the 1950s Hollywood musical There’s No Business Like Show Business, concerns the rebellious adopted son of a theatrical family devoted to Kabuki (Kiku, played by Shôtarô Hanayagi in his film debut) who leaves home for many years, perfects his art, aided by a young working-class servant who loves him but also dares to criticize his acting (Otoku, played by Kakuko Mori), and eventually returns. Read more

The World Is Not Enough

From the Chicago Reader (November 16, 1999). — J.R.

Thewordisnotenough

James Bond will return, says the closing title of this somewhat better than average 007 adventure, but the bottom line is that he’s never been away. The cold war may be dead and buried, but British intelligence needs to be kept busy, even if this means — as the script briefly and wittily suggests — creating its own enemies. With an appropriately imperialistic title (does it apply to the villains or to Anglo-American intelligence? does it matter?), a better than average director (Michael Apted), and locations ranging from Spain to Azerbaijan to Turkey, this keeps one reasonably amused, titillated, and brain-dead for a little over two hours. The principal Bond babes this time around are Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards, not counting Judi Dench as Bond’s boss; Bruce Feirstein and Michael France had something to do with the script (1999, 127 min.). (JR)

the-world-is-not-enough-christmas-elektra-and-bond

the-world-is-not-enough-james-bond-pierce-brosnan-sophie-marceau-robert-carlyle-spy-thriller-007-action-film-movie-review-2015-spectre Read more

Two Hack Reviews from 1976

Both these reviews appeared in the June 1976 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 43, no. 509). — J.R.

TheDevilsRain-poster

Devil’s Rain. The

U.S.A., 1975

Director: Robert Fuest

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devil's rain

In a heavy storm, Steve Preston returns to his ranch-house on the brink of death, dissolving into a waxy liquid as he utters the name of Jonathan Corbis. His wife Emma subsequently disappears, and their son Mark [William Shatner] takes an amulet left by her (supposedly protection against Corbis’ power) and drives to the ghost town of Redstone. There Corbis [Ernest Borgnine], the leader of a Satanist cult, renders Mark defenseless by turning the amulet into a snake after Mark discovers that Emma his been enlisted into the sect. When Tom [Tom Skerritt], Mark’s younger brother, arrives in Redstone with his wife Julie [Joan Prather] to look for his family, Julie is captured and Tom witnesses a diabolical rite during which Mark, having undergone tortures, is initiated into the cult and Corbis is transformed into the devil himself. Tom returns to the Preston ranch, where Dr. Richards [Eddie Albert], a friend. of the family, explains that Corbis is the reincarnation of a 17th century witch betrayed by ancestors of the Prestons and burned at the stake, and that the Preston family has secretly preserved the ‘sacred book’ of names of people sworn to the devil which once belonged to Corbis and without which he cannot deliver those souls to Satan. Read more

Two Reviews of French Softcore Porn (1975)

Both of these reviews appeared in the July 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 42, no. 498). –- J.R.

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Bonzesse, La

France, 1974

Director: François Jouffa

LaBozesseBored with her life, Béatrice goes to work in Mme. Renée’s upper-class Parisian brothel, where she is given the name of Julie and quickly initiated into the tricks of the trade. Flashbacks suggest that she was sexually abused by her stepmother, and grew up believing that the life bf a courtesan was glamorous. On her second day at work, she is attracted to a client, Jean-François, a wealthy advertising man who chooses not to have sex with her but asks her for a date that evening. She accepts and winds up living at his flat, but he repeatedly avoids having sex with her. In desperation, she resumes work at the brothel in the daytime without telling him, then leaves him one night to go home with her friend Martine and her boyfriend. As she gradually saves up enough money to fly to Ceylon — where she hopes to attain spiritual peace — she becomes increasingly depressed by the grotesque needs of the clients who come to the brothel, the jealousy of a fellow worker, and the overall sordidness and sadness of the place. Read more

Tracking the Wild Movie: A Manhattan Guide for the Adventurous Filmgoer (with Carrie Rickey)

From American Film (May 1979) –- a collaborative venture with Carrie Rickey, written during the year when we were flat mates living on Soho’s Sullivan Street. I assume that its main interest now is as a sort of time capsule, and I apologize if some of the photos are anachronistic, which seems likely. -– J.R.

 

 

With Broadway theaters threatening to raise their top prices to thirty-five dollars a seat, the place where most natives of New York City go is to the movies. Not, by and large, to the ritzy East Side movie houses which charge five dollars a head, but to the neighborhood cinemas charging half as much — many of them featuring movies hard to find outside of Manhattan.

A filmgoer visiting the city who plans to see the same movies he can find anywhere else can expect a long line and the hurried ambience of a fast-food restaurant. But if he’s determined to sample fare that’s more adventurous and unusual, he should seek out one of the independent showcases that have sprung up in New York over the past decade.

Here, more often than not, he can talk to the filmmaker after the screening and share the movie with a community of regulars. Read more

Play it again: Review of THE CULT FILM EXPERIENCE

From Sight and Sound (November 1991). -– J.R.

Play it again

________________________________________________________

Jonathan Rosenbaum

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The Cult Film Experience: Beyond AII Reason

J. P. Telotte (ed), University of Texas Press,

$36, 218 pp.

Jonathan Rosenbaum

________________________________________________________

“It will be a sad day when a too smart audience will read Casablanca as conceived by Michael Curtiz after having read Calvino and Barthes”, Umberto Eco wrote in 1984. “But that day will come”. J. P. Telotte’s collection reminds us that Eco’s sad day is already well behind us — though it turns out to be Eco himself rather than Calvino or Barthes who provides the principal theoretical back-up.

Serious analysis of film cults can be traced back to a 1932 essay by Harry Alan Potamkin, but you won’t find Potamkin’s name in Telotte’s index. Indeed, apart from some cursory acknowledgments, the book fosters the impression that the arrival of film cults coincided with the burgeoning of film studies in the early 70s. This suggests that academic film study is itself an unacknowledged form of cult activity predicated on repeated viewings by a fetishistically inclined minority audience which reappropriates the film in question for its own specialized purposes.

One of these purposes is institutional, which accounts for the academics’ frequent recourse to the self- validating and ahistorical term ‘classical’ to dignify both mainstream movie-making and established film theory. Read more

Paris Journal (January-February 1974)

From Film Comment. — J.R.

JULIEN: Have you ever thought that the true reverse angle, as one says in cinematography, of [Magritte’s] Madame Récamier, is the public much more than the painter at work?

— From the script of L’AUTOMNE

All but the last eight minutes or so of Marcel Hanoun’s L’AUTOMNE (AUTUMN) is filmed from a single fixed camera angle, which corresponds to the viewing screen in an editing studio. Read more

Kiarostami at Work [10 on TEN]

From the Chicago Reader (October 29, 2004). — J.R.

10 on Ten

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Abbas Kiarostami

With Kiarostami

Abbas Kiarostami’s recent features satisfy few of the usual expectations about narrative films. Yet in 10 on Ten — a documentary about his most recent feature, 10, showing twice this week at the Gene Siskel Film Center–he appears to be slavishly living up to those expectations.

Like 10, 10 on Ten is split into ten chapters, the last nine of which have labels that suggest topics in a master class: “The Camera,” “The Subject,” “The Script,” “The Location,” “The Music,” “The Actor,” “The Accessories,” “The Director,” and “The Last Lesson.” Kiarostami implies that this film — made for the French DVD of 10, released last summer (the U.S. version will be out November 2) — is his attempt to explain the rationale behind his working methods. The film never becomes as far-fetched as Edgar Allan Poe’s 1846 essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” which purports to explain rationally how he made creative decisions in composing “The Raven.” Yet there’s something suspect about Kiarostami’s cookbook-style lucidity — he may be sincere, but he seems to be overestimating the role rationality plays in his decisions. Read more

Short and Sweet: Kiarostami’s Experimental Origins

A sidebar for Film Comment (July-August 2000). –- J.R.

Viewers feeling flummoxed by Kiarostami’s features might have an easier time with his shorts. The most important are the nine he made between 1970 and 1982 for the film division of the Center for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, which he co-founded in 1969. Assigned to make educational films, Kiarostami scoured a ‘National Film Board of Canada catalog for ideas, regarding Norman McLaren as one of his guides. More than one of his shorts uses animation: So Can I (1975) juxtaposes the movements of cartoon animals with a live-action boy’s imitations. Kiarostami’s only previous gigs had been making commercials and credit sequences for features, and from what he told me recently, he didn’t consider himself a film artist at the time.

But he took the job seriously, and what emerged are experimental films in the best sense, without pretension, akin in form to what Brecht called “learning-plays”. I don’t mean that they offer political critiques of the state of Iran or the state of Islam, as some American commentators seem to feel all Iranian films should. They’re designed to help kids reflect on ethical, aesthetic, and practical issues ranging from the virtues of brushing one’s teeth (Toothache, 1980) to the specific properties of color and sound. Read more

THE MOST IMPORTANT AND MISAPPRECIATED AMERICAN FILMS (response to a mid-1970s survey)

From The most important and misappreciated American films since the beginning of the cinema, a coffee-table-size book of 150 pages published by the Royal Film Archive of Belgium in 1977. Two or three years earlier, when I was living and working in London, the great Jacques Ledoux (1921-1988) — whom I’d met back in 1968 when I first traveled to Brussels, to look at several of Murnau’s earliest films at his Cinematheque –- stopped by my office at Monthly Film Bulletin to ask me to participate in his eccentric but fascinating survey, which polled 203 participants around the world and then tabulated and cross-referenced the results in a number of ways.

By “misappreciated,” I’m sure that what was meant was “underrated”. I find that I still agree to a surprising degree with many of my judgments in the mid-70s –- including even my belief that Hollywood at the time was going through one of its more meager periods (even though Pauline Kael and many of her disciples seemed to think, and some of them apparently still think, that this was the richest period Hollywood has ever had in its entire history).

I made a point of mentioning Michael Snow at the end of my comments because I knew in advance that some European respondents would list him despite the fact that he is Canadian, not “American” (except in the “North American” sense). Read more

The restaurant scene in PLAYTIME

Written for the special 50th anniversary issue of the Finnish film magazine Filmihullu, published in November 2018. “The ‘rules of the game’ are simple,” wrote the editor-in-chief, Lauri Timonen. “Seize the day and choose your all time favorite film scene – just one scene, from any film ever made – and write a maximum of 2000 letters (i.e. one page / A4) about it and why that moment in time is so special to you.” — J.R.

 

The restaurant scene in PlayTime

Jonathan Rosenbaum

playtime-restaurant

My scheme for cheating a little on your assignment is to select what I shall call “the restaurant scene” in Jacques Tati’s PlayTime — a scene or sequence, in short, that actually comprises almost half of the entire film, or at the very least more than a third of the running time. It’s not even certain when this sequence actually begins  — does it start with various street pedestrians watching the last-minute construction of the establishment, or does it begin more properly with the restaurant’s official opening? — but I will assume that it ends with one of the few antirealistic gags in the film, the early-morning crowing of a distant rooster, as various restaurant customers stagger out into the street. Read more

PENTHESILEA: QUEEN OF THE AMAZON (1974 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 491).

I must admit that the hyperbole of the last couple of sentences here embarrasses me now. But readers can judge for themselves, because this first feature by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen has recently become available as an extra on the BFI DVD of Riddles of the Sphinx. –- J.R.

Great Britain, 1974 Directors: Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen

The film is composed of five sequences, each preceded by a quotation. 1: “Ghost white like a not yet written page” (Mallarmé, “Mimique” ): A mime of Kleist’s Penthesilea, filmed in long shot from a fixed camera position. 2: “The shadows sprinkled in black characters” (Mallarmé, “Quant au livre”): A lecture on Kleist’s play, the myth of Penthesilea and the theoretical basis of the film, delivered by Peter Wollen while moving about a terrace and adjoining living room, the camera tracing an independent trajectory within the same confined space and occasionally approaching the index cards of notes left behind by Wollen at various stages in his route. 3: “Blazons of phobia, seals of self-punishment” (Lacan, after Vico): A succession of images relating to Penthesilea and the Amazons — paintings, sculptures, artifacts, tapestries, etc., Read more

UN STEACK TROP CUIT (OVERDONE STEAK) (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1976, , Vol. 43, No. 512. I believe that this is the first time I wrote about Moullet. — J.R.

Steack Trop Cuit, Un (Overdone Steak)

France, 1960
Director: Luc Moullet

Cert-U. dist–Connoisseur. p.c–Les Productions Luc Moullet/Les Productions Georges de Beauregard. p–Georges de Beauregard. 2nd Unit d–Pierre Guinle. sc–Luc Moullet. ph–André Mrugalski. 2nd Unit ph–Raymond Cauchetier. ed–Agnès Guillemot. 2nd Unit ed–Maryse Siclier. a.d–Luc Moullet. m–Frédéric G. Ploumepeux. English titles— Mai Harris. sd–Marielle Lesseps. cooking adviser–Alberta Laguioner. /.p–Françoise Vatel (Nicole), Albert Juross (Georges), Jacqueline Fynnaert (Françoise), Raymond N. Quinneseul (Samuel). 1,739 ft. 19 mins. Subtitles.

Returning home from school, Georges protests angrily to his older sister Nicole that she hasn’t yet prepared dinner. With both their parents away, she is in control of his pocket money, and threatens not to give him any for Sunday after he behaves boorishly. Claiming that the steak she has cooked is inedible, he goes next door and borrows sausages from their neighbour Françoise, which he gets Nicole to prepare. Afterwards, he plays footsy with Nicole at the table and talks to her while she puts on make-up and changes clothes, preparing to go out on a date. Read more

PLACING MOVIES, Part 5: Inside and Outside the Movie Theater (Introduction)

This is the Introduction to the fifth section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R.

PlacingMovies

From a journalistic standpoint, what movies are about is always important, but the roles that should be played by content in criticism are not always easy to determine. Ever since I started writing regularly for the Chicago Reader in 1987, my principal professional safety net — what helps to guarantee that I’ll remain interested in my work on a weekly basis, even if the movies of a given week are not interesting — is my option of writing about the subject matter of certain films. This almost invariably involves a certain amount of short-term research, because even if I already know the subject fairly well, a refresher course in certain specifics is generally necessary. (A good example of this would be the reading and listening I had to do in order to nail down many of my facts and examples for “Bird Watching,” in spite — or should I say because? Read more