Yearly Archives: 2024

Workingman’s Death [R.I.P. Michael Glawogger, 2014]

From the Chicago Reader (February 24, 2006). I was shocked and upset to learn that Michael Glawogger, the visionary Austrian filmmaker and world traveler, died from malaria in Liberia at age 54. The film of his that left the most lasting impression on me was the remarkable Megacities (1998, see first still below), which filmed people living on the edge in Mumbai, New York City, Moscow, and Mexico City — the first part of an epic documentary trilogy that was followed by Workingman’s Death (2004) and Whores’ Glory (2011, see second still below). I’m sorry to say that this capsule review below is the only time I had occasion to write about his work. — J.R.

megacities

whores-glory

Workingman's Death - Workingman's Death (2005)

In Megacities (1998), Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger emulated the city symphony films of the 1920s, and for this 2005 documentary about manual labor around the world he also references film history with clips from Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm and Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts during the opening credits. Glawogger shoots coal miners in the Ukraine and sulfur miners working a volcanic crater in Java, the slaughter and rendering of goats and bulls in Nigeria, and the dismantling of tankers in Pakistan, emphasizing the workers’ small talk along with their physical activities. Read more

Il Cinema Ritrovato DVD Awards 2014

DVD AWARDS 2014

XI edition

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli [absent from photo], Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum, chaired by Peter von Bagh

DVD Jury 2014

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON BLU-RAY:

LATE MIZOGUCHI – EIGHT FILMS, 1951-1956  (Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan)  – Eureka Entertainment

The publication of eight indisputable masterpieces in stellar transfers on Blu-Ray is a cause for celebration. If Eureka is not exclusive in offering these individual titles, what makes this collection especially praiseworthy and indispensable is the scholarship, imagination and care that went into the accompanying 344-page booklet. Over 60 rare production stills are included, many featuring Mizoguchi at work. Striking essays by Keiko I. McDonald, Mark Le Fanu, and Nakagawa Masako are anthologized along with extensively annotated translations of some of the key sources of Japanese literature that inspired some of Mizoguchi’s late films. The volume closes with tributes to the great director written by Tarkovsky, Rivette, Godard, Straub, Angelopoulos, Shinoda, and others. Tony Rayns provides spoken essays and some full-length commentaries.

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON DVD:

PINTILIE, CINEAST (Lucian Pintilie, Romania) – Transilvania Films

An impeccable collection devoted to eleven films by an important and neglected maverick Romanian filmmaker, masterful and acerbic, with invaluable contextualizing extras concerning his life, work, and career drawn from ten separate sources. Read more

En movimiento: Welles in Woodstock

A column for the Spanish magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. I believe it was written circa May 2014-.  J.R.

En movimiento: Welles in Woodstock

Jonathan Rosenbaum

woodstock-banner

I’ve recently returned from Woodstock Celebrates Orson Welles, a delightful two-day event in Illinois (16-17 May) organized by Kathleen Spaltro and commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Todd Theatre Festival held at the Woodstock Opera House in 1934, orchestrated by Welles at the age of 19 and sponsored by his mentor and one of his lifelong best friends, Roger Hill — headmaster of the Todd School for Boys, which Welles attended from 1926 to 1930.

Woodstock display

When Welles graduated from Todd, Hill wanted him to attend Harvard while Welles’ guardian, Dr. Maurice Bernstein (whom Everett Sloane’s character in Citizen Kane was named after), hoped he would go to Cornell. But Welles, still under the spell of an article published by one of Chicago’s leading drama critics, Ashton Stevens (who wrote for the Chicago Herald-American, a Hearst newspaper, and was the model for Jed Leland in Kane), predicting that the young genius was destined to become a major actor, didn’t want to go to college. So a compromise was struck:  Welles would travel to Scotland, Ireland, and England on a sketching tour before embarking on any formal education, writing letters home to chart his progress and his adventures. Read more

Tribute to Jancsó Miklós

The great Hungarian filmmaker Jancsó Miklós  (or Miklós Jancsó, as he is known in the West) died peacefully in his sleep on January 31, 2014. Mehelli Modi, who has released excellent DVD editions of some of his films on Second Run in the U.K. (and has more recently brought out a Blu-Ray of his remarkable 1974 Electra, My Love), emailed me a couple of weeks later, asking, on behalf of Jancsó’s sons Nyika and David, if I could write something to be read at his memorial service on February 22. Here is what I sent back. — J.R. 

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It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that I regard Jancsó Miklós as one of the great lost continents of world cinema, especially outside Hungary — and largely, I suspect, because Hungarian history, which forms a major part of his oeuvre, is another lost continent from the vantage point of the West.  With the possible exception of Sergei Eisenstein, I suspect that Jancsó remains the supreme example of a film artist who views history as a multilayered and passionate form of pageantry, something to be sung and danced, by the camera as well as by the actors, and, speaking more figuratively, by the audience. Read more

Global Discoveries on DVD: First Looks, Second Thoughts

From the Summer 2018 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

1. Second Thoughts First

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In the introduction to my forthcoming collection Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues, I make the argument that although Truffaut’s book-length interview with Hitchcock doesn’t qualify precisely as film criticism, it nonetheless had a decisive critical effect on film taste. By the same token, on Criterion’s very welcome Blu-ray edition of Frank Borzage’s Moonrise (1958), Peter Cowie’s interview with Borzage critic/biographer Hervé Dumont — whose book on the director should be shelved and considered alongside Chris Fujiwara’s book for the same publisher (McFarland) on Jacques Tourneur — primed me perfectly for my second look at this masterpiece, and made it register far more powerfully this time. It certainly performs this task better than Philip Kemp’s accompanying essay, which, in spite of much useful information, falters in its insistence on framing Moonrise through the lens of film noir, and even more when, while rightly praising the character of Rex Ingram’s Mose, the author remarks that “It would be hard to think of another American film of the period where a black man acts as adviser and mentor to a white Southerner.” It’s not so hard, really, if one thinks of Clarence Brown’s Intruder in the Dust (1949) and/or Tourneur’s Stars in My Crown (1950); and it’s even quite easy if, following Dumont’s lead on Moonrise, one regards the Tourneur masterpiece neither as a noir (a lazy escape hatch) nor as a western (as Jacques Lourcelles does), but as a discreet form of German Expressionism, implicitly favouring thoughtful philosophy and metaphysics over simple gloom and doom. Read more

Recommended Reading: Adrian Martin’s MISE EN SCÈNE AND FILM STYLE: FROM CLASSICAL HOLLYWOOD TO NEW MEDIA ART

MisenScene&FilmStyle

It’s a genuine pity that this remarkable new book — a kind of summation and extension of Adrian Martin’s work in film analysis and the history of film criticism in Australia, France, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. over the past two decades — is commercially available only at the whopping price of $80.75 on Amazon — or $76, if you’re willing to settle for a Kindle edition. As a longtime friend, colleague, and collaborator of Martin’s, I was fortunate enough to receive a free inscribed copy, but most of the rest of you will have to either shell out a fortune or wait for a softcover edition. All I can do now, really, having received this book only yesterday, is signal just a few of its many riches. Girish Shambu, Adrian’s irreplaceable coeditor at LOLA, has already posted a helpful summary of the book’s “four [interests] that animate the work” on his web site, so the most I can hope to do here is cite just a few treasured and brilliant passages that already have either sent me back to the films and texts being discussed or extended my current (re)reading and (re)viewing lists:

teaandsympathyG. Cabrera Infante writing in 1957 about Tea and Sympathy (Vincente Minnelli, 1956), pp, 6-7. Read more

Auto Focus

From the Chicago Reader, June 1, 2002; slightly tweaked in 2014. — J.R.

auto_focus_l

One reason Paul Schrader’s Calvinist obsessions have become tiresome — even when someone else is partially responsible for the writing, as is the case here — is that he seems more invested in their perpetuation and exploitation than in their exploration. Yet I have to concede that he’s become an unusually skillful and sensitive director of actors, and the inventive performances — Greg Kinnear as Bob Crane (the wholesome star of Hogan’s Heroes who became a sex addict) and Willem Dafoe as his seedy sidekick and fellow pornographer — keep this story interesting in spite of its puritanical framework. Watchable, but not very insightful (2002, 107 min.). Written by Michael Gerbosi; with Rita Wilson and Maria Bello. (JR)

autofocus Read more

Footnotes to Out 1 [Chicago Reader blog post, 5/28/07]

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Posted By on 05.28.07 at 07:39 PM

 
 
 If I’d had my druthers, I would have seen Jacques Rivette’s masterpiece Out 1 for the third time this past weekend, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It’s still one of my all-time favorites, offering far more pleasure, enlightenment, and sheer stimulation over its dozen and a half hours than any dozen routine commercial releases (which would cumulatively last twice as long, and most of which I wouldn’t dream of seeing if my job didn’t require it). Thanks to work, I had to content myself with about three of the eight episodes, #3, #7, and #8. Still, it was  gratifying to see this much of it with such an appreciative and good-sized audience (about 140) who laughed in all the right places and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. (The experience was enhanced by a superb job of “soft subtitling” supervised by Sally Shafto, director of the last Big Muddy Film Festival.)

I realize this is the third post about Rivette in the past couple weeks (see Pat Graham’s Celine & Julie: The Typeface and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t), but he’s the kind of filmmaker who fosters obsessiveness of various kinds.

Read more

Rotterdam #2 [Chicago Reader blog post, 2007]

A post on the Chicago Reader‘s blog, Bleader. — J.R.

Still-Life

Film Rotterdam #2: Another venue, another timetable

Posted By on 01.29.07 at 06:11 PM

Still-Life-hole

It’s hard at many festivals apart from the biggest ones to determine whether a film is really “new” or not: “new” in relation to where? I was fortunate enough to attend the world premiere of Jia Zhangke’s Still Life in Venice last year and then resee it in Toronto a week or so later. It’s playing in Rotterdam now, and perhaps it will reach Chicago a year from now, or maybe a little sooner. In the busy cafe-bar of the Lantaren/Venster, the oldest of the festival’s three multiscreen multiplexes (where virtually the entire festival was taking place the first year I attended, 1984), between two programs, I buy a Chinese DVD of this film, priced around $10 in Euros from a clerk who assures me that this version has English subtitles, even though they aren’t mentioned on the box — something I may not be able to confirm until I’m back in Chicago next month. But then, just before a Chinese indy film called Weed starts a few minutes later, I find I’m sitting a row away from Chinese film expert and sometime Reader reviewer Shelly Kraicer, who assures me that (1) this version is subtitled, and (2) it can be bought on the streets of Beijing for about $1.10 — or 80 cents if it’s from a pirated source. Read more

Godard in the Nineties: An Interview, Argument, and Scrapbook (Part 2)

From Film Comment (September-October 1998).  This is a restructured and substantially revised, updated, and otherwise altered version of my “Trailer for Histoire(s) du cinéma,” which appeared originally in French in the Spring 1997 issue of Trafic. Among the more important changes are a suppression of virtually all of my multiple comparisons of Histoire(s) du cinéma with Finnegans Wake in the original (which, paradoxically, seemed more appropriate in a French publication than in an American one), an expansion of much of the interview material, and an extended quotation from Godard’s review of Rob Tregenza’s  Talking to Strangers.

My apologies for some format irregularities that I wasn’t able to fix. -– J.R.

histoire(s)2

GODARD AS CRITIC

 

JLG (at press conference): I still look at movies the same way today than I did [at the time of the New Wave], but I know it’s not the same world, exactly. Even if we enter the theater the same way, we don’t go out the same way.             

                                                                                                                                                         Q: How is it different?                                                                                                            Read more

Godard in the Nineties: An Interview, Argument, and Scrapbook (Part 1)

From Film Comment (September-October 1998).  This is a restructured and substantially revised, updated, and otherwise altered version of my “Trailer for Histoire(s) du cinéma,” which appeared originally in French in the Spring 1997 issue of Trafic. Among the more important changes are a suppression of virtually all of my multiple comparisons of Histoire(s) du cinéma with Finnegans Wake in the original (which, paradoxically, seemed more appropriate in a French publication than in an American one), an expansion of much of the interview material, and an extended quotation from Godard’s review of Rob Tregenza’s  Talking to Strangers.

My apologies for some format irregularities that I wasn’t able to fix. -– J.R.

 

histoire(s)

histoire(s)3

Part of the following derives from two film festival encounters — a panel discussion on Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma held in Locarno in August 1995, and some time spent with Godard in Toronto in September 1996. I participated in the first event after having seen the first four chapters of Godard’s eight-part video series; unlike my co-panelists, I’d been unable to accept Godard’s invitation to view chapters 3a and 3b, devoted to Italian neorealism and the New Wave, in Rolle a few days earlier. Read more

Response to a CINEASTE symposium about film criticism (2000)

From “Film Criticism in America Today: A Critical Symposium,” Cineaste 26, no. 1, 2000. This is the first of several symposia gathered in a new collection edited by Cynthia Lucia and Rahul Hamid, Cineaste on Film Criticism, Programming, and Preservation in the New Millennium, Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017. –- J.R.

 Cineaste

 

Here are my replies to the following questions from Cineaste:

1. What does being a film critic mean to you? (More specifically, why do you write film criticism? Whom do you hope to reach, and what do you hope to communicate to them?)

2. What qualities make for a memorable film critique? (Do you think such critiques tend to be positive or negative in tone? Is discussing a film’s social or political aspects as important to you as its cinematic qualities and value as art or entertainment?)

3. How would you characterize the relationship between film critics and the film industry? Do you think film critics could be more influential in this relationship? How?

4. What are the greatest obstacles you face in writing the kind of film criticism you wish to write? (For example, does your publication require delivery of your copy on a short deadline after only one screening, limit the space available for your reviews, or dictate which films you should review? Read more

Whose Cinema? (From Marketplace to Community)

Written for Whose Cinema?, a Critics’ Choice Slow Criticism Project booklet published at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, January 27 — February 7, 2016, and in the February 2016 issue of the online Filmkrant. — J.R.

Sneeze in Notfilm

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“Back then [in Hungary in the late 1970s], it was the censorship of the politics, and now we have the censorship of the market. What has changed? The climate is the same. If you are a filmmaker, it is always fucked up.”

                              –Béla Tarr at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), 2012

“Piracy isn’t a victimless crime,” is what we read at the beginnings of an inordinate number of DVDs and Blu-Rays — to which I’m often tempted to reply that capitalism isn’t always or invariably a victimless crime either, especially when the victim turns out to be the consumer. And the fact that piracy is usually regarded as a crime and capitalism usually isn’t should mark the beginning of any clear-headed discussion of who (or what) cinema should belong to.

If “Whose cinema?” is a question that needs to be answered, we first have to add another question, and an even thornier one — “What cinema (or whose cinema) are we talking about?” Read more

THE HOUSE IS BLACK

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.

thehouseisblack-mirror

The House is Black is the most acclaimed of all Iranian documentaries. It was directed by Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967), widely regarded as the greatest of all Iranian women poets and the greatest Iranian poet of the 20th century, who died in a car accident when she was only 32. It was Farokhzad’s only film, produced in 1962 by her lover Ebrahim Golestan (an important filmmaker in his own right, for whom she also worked as an editor, and who serves as one of the film’s narrators). The film observes the tragic life of lepers in an isolated leprosy hospital (a hell on earth and a nest of suffering and death) near Tabriz in northwestern Iran. The Society for Assisting Lepers commissioned the film, and the director’s intention was “to wipe out this ugliness and to relieve the victims.”

thehouseisblack2

Farrokhzad avoids infringement by creating a close relationship with the lepers, and by searching for the seeds of joy and vitality within the hopelessness. She depicts the inhabitants in their daily occupations, having meals, praying, the children playing ball and attending school. Read more