Shaggy Dog Movie (CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING)

From Time Out (London), October 1, 1976. As I point out in my first collection, Placing Movies (1995),  my flip comparison of moviegoing and sex in the latter part of this article led Robin Wood in the Times Educational Supplement (22 October 1976) to virtually link me with the downfall of Western civilization: “The implicit trivialization of art and life is the ultimate stage in our alienation.” This was some time before he declared Celine and Julie Go Boating a masterpiece on his own terms, bringing in a feminist perspective that my own appreciation sorely lacked.–- J.R.

C&J-Montmartre chase2

C&J-whiterobes

The Plot Thickens

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Jacques Rivette is the most important director working in the narrative cinema today. And Celine and Julie Go Boating, while it may not be his most important achievement, is by commonconsent the most enjoyable and accessible of all his movies to date It is also the first of his films to open commercially in England In over a decade. The two movies he has made since, Duelle and Noroît, will both be shown at this year’s London Film Festival — along with Sérail, the first feature by Eduardo de Gregorio, Rivette’s scriptwriter.

Considering the fact that all of Rivette’s most exciting and innovatory work has been made over the past ten years, one might well ask why it has taken so long for any of this work to be released here.… Read more »

Buried Clues (LA PROMESSE)

From the Chicago Reader (August 22, 1997). — J.R.

La promesse

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne

With Jérémie Renier, Olivier Gourmet, Assita Ouedraogo, Frederic Bodson, Rasmane Ouedraogo, and Hachemi Haddad.

I’d never heard of Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne before I saw La promesse (1996), an important and highly involving movie playing at the Music Box this week. But given that they’re regional filmmakers working in an unfashionable country, this isn’t surprising. Based in Liege — a city in French-speaking western Belgium — the two brothers, both in their mid-40s, started out in the 70s as assistants to Belgian director and playwright Armand Gatti. They then made leftist videos about local urban and labor issues, followed by documentary films for TV about local anti-Nazi resistance, local workers’ struggles in the 60s, and a history of Polish immigration between the 30s and early 80s. In 1986 they turned to fiction, filming a play called Falsch, and their film made the rounds of a few international festivals. In 1991 they did a more experimental feature, Je pense à vous (“I’m Thinking of You”), cowritten by the distinguished New Wave screenwriter Jean Gruault, that apparently sank without a trace after playing at a few French festivals and being slaughtered by the Belgian press.… Read more »

Rediscovering ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL

This is one of a series of essays that I wrote in 2007 about four Fassbinder films for Madman, the Australian DVD label. The other three — on Martha, Katzelmacher, and The Bitter Tea of Petra von Kant — can be found elsewhere on this site. —J.R.

I’m still trying to figure out what I think of Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982). An awesomely prolific filmmaker (he turned out seven features in 1970 alone), he became the height of Euro-American fashion during the mid-70s, then went into nearly total eclipse after his death from a drug overdose –- reminding    us that the fates of the fashionable can often be precarious.

Openly bisexual, tyrannical on his sets, and habitually dressed in a leather jacket, Fassbinder cut a starlike figure in the firmament of New German Cinema, though he was hardly alone. If the French New Wave of the 60s was mainly about films, the New German Cinema of the 70s was mainly about filmmakers, and each of the best-known directors had a claim to fame that was mainly a matter of public image: eccentric exhibitionism crossed with German romanticism (Werner Herzog), existentialist hip crossed with black attire and rock ‘n’ roll (Wim Wenders), Wagnerian pronouncements (Hans-Jürgen Syberberg), a dandy’s stupefied worship of shrines and divas (Werner Schroeter), and so on.… Read more »

Fear of Feminism [FATAL ATTRACTION]

This is one of the first hatchet jobs that I wrote for the Chicago Reader, which ran on October 2, 1987.  — J.R.

FATAL ATTRACTION

no stars (Worthless)

Directed by Adrian Lyne

Written by James Dearden

With Michael Douglas, Glenn Close, Anne Archer, Ellen Hamilton Latzen, and Stuart Pankin.

“A profoundly uninteresting married yuppie lawyer (Michael Douglas) has a weekend affair with a profoundly uninteresting unmarried yuppie book editor (Glenn Close). The latter proves to be insane and makes the former’s life a living hell as soon as he ends the relationship, and the plot gradually turns into a sort of upscale remake of The Exorcist, with female sexuality (personified by Close) taking over the part of the Devil, and yuppie domesticity (personified by Douglas, wife Anne Archer, and daughter Ellen Hamilton Latzen) assuming the role of innocence. While billed as a romance and a thriller, the movie strictly qualifies as neither. The major emotions appealed to are prurient guilt, hatred, and dread; and with director Adrian Lyne shoving objects like a knife, a boiling pot, and an overflowing bath in the spectator’s face to signal that Something Awful’s Going to Happen, he can’t be expected to display any curiosity about the motivations of the spurned antiheroine, who eventually becomes, simply, an extraterrestrial robot killer.… Read more »

Soft Censorship [THE WAGES OF FEAR and MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN]

One ironic footnote to the following article, which ran in the March 6, 1992 issue of the Chicago Reader, is that it was itself subjected to a kind of “soft censorship”. Specifically, my editors refused to allow me to allude to having known Chevy Chase personally as a classmate at Bard College during the mid-1960s, which I thought gave some additional weight to some of my reflections about the personal nature of Memoirs of an Invisible Man. (Since I no longer have access to my initial draft, I can’t spell this out here in any detail, except to note that Chase’s jazz piano now figures in the final draft only as a parenthetical detail.) Not only did Chevy and I share a course or two, but we also bonded in various ways through our mutual interest in jazz: in a few student jam sessions, I played piano while Chevy played drums (although he also played some piano even then), and we collaborated at one point with Blythe Danner (another Bard classmate, and a jazz vocalist at the time) on a successful project to bring Bill Evans and his trio to campus to give a concert. —J.R.

THE WAGES OF FEAR

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot

Written by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi

With Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Vera Clouzot, Folco Lulli, Peter Van Eyck, and William Tubbs.… Read more »

The Mosaic Approach

Posted in (or on) Moving Image Source on August 18, 2010. — J.R.

“Having provided over 30 audio commentaries for DVD releases,” Australian film critic Adrian Martin wrote recently in his column for the Dutch film magazine Filmkrant, “I feel I have earned the right to criticize the format. These voice-over commentaries provided by filmmakers, critics and historians are decidedly a mixed blessing. I sometimes wonder whether anybody, except the most dedicated and/or masochistic researcher, ever listens to them all the way through. No one can doubt that these voice-tracks sometimes give us splendid insight or information that we cannot obtain elsewhere in print. But are they really the best we can do in the quest to marry film criticism with the film-object itself?”

Martin is hardly alone in articulating this position. Many of my friends who collect DVDs, maybe even most of them, avow that they tend to skip audio commentaries entirely, and it’s difficult not to share their bias In most of these run-on spiels, the remarks rarely coincide with what one is seeing (or hearing), and one often feels that the commentator, whether it’s a critic or a participant in the filmmaking, is simply taking the easy way out — doing a free-form improv rather than bothering to write a carefully considered text.… Read more »

How To Live in Air Conditioning

From Sight and Sound (Summer 1985). This is a revised and expanded version of a lecture given at the Rotterdam International Film Festival’s Market in early 1985, the second year I attended the festival. Some of it’s obviously very dated now (hopefully in a way that’s historically instructive) and some of it anticipates a few of the arguments made in my book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See 15 years later. The late Huub Bals, director and presiding spirit of the Rotterdam festival, asked me to give this talk, and, as I recall, it was well attended; the audience members included, among others, Eszter Balint (the female lead in Stranger Than Paradise), Bernardo Bertolucci, Sara Driver, Jim Jarmusch, and Rudy Wurlitzer. –- J.R.

A feeling of having no choice is becoming more and more widespread in American life, and particularly among successful people, who are supposedly free beings. On a concrete plane, the lack of choice is often a depressing reality. In national election years, you are free to choose between Johnson and Goldwater or Johnson and Romney or Reagan, which is the same as choosing between a Chevrolet and a Ford — there is a marginal difference in styling.Read more »

Postwar Consequences: Tonino Guerra’s EQUILIBRIUM

Commissioned by MUBI in July 2020. — J.R.

Postwar Consequences: Tonino Guerra’s Equilibrium

                            Jonathan Rosenbaum

Postwar Consequences: Tonino Guerra’s Equilibrium

Jonathan Rosenbaum

Chances are, if you’ve seen many of the late films of Theodoros Angelopoulos, Michelangelo Antonioni (everything since L’avventura), Marco Bellocchio, Vittorio De Sica (Sunflower, A Place for LoversMarriage Italian Style), Federico Fellini (almost everything since Amarcord), Mario Monicelli, Elio Petri, Francesco Rosi, Andrei Tarkovsky (Nostalghia), the Taviani brothers, and/or Luchino Visconti, and paid much attention to their script credits, you know who Tonino Guerra (1920–2012) was and is—a ubiquitous presence in modernist European cinema, especially its Italian branches. Petri was his first cinematic employer, after Guerra started out as a schoolteacher and poet whose parents were illiterate; later on, he became a visual artist as well as a screenwriter with over a hundred credits.

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Even after one acknowledges the exceptionally collaborative role played by multiple writers on Italian films, it seems that no one else was considered quite as essential by so many important directors. In Nicola Tranquillino’s documentary about Tonino (visible on YouTube), Tonino himself suggests that what he brought to their films was a certain poetry. Yet what that poetry consisted of has been less than obvious to me.… Read more »

Rosenbaum’s List [The Best Films of 1993]

From the Chicago Reader (January 7, 1994). — J.R.

One of the funnier remarks in Variety late last year came from a Universal Pictures executive who noted that because of the special nature of Schindler’s List his company wasn’t really promoting the picture, but simply informing people it was out. I’d wager that if the other movies on my ten-best list had been given the same amount of “nonpromotion” — one of those modest multimillion-dollar campaigns — you would have heard nearly as much about them. As it happens, only about half the items on my list have had — or are having — a normal commercial run in Chicago. Still, Bitter Moon, which has so far had only one fleeting engagement here (in the fall, at the Polish film festival), is expected to have a belated U.S. release early this year, and Silverlake Life: The View From Here was aired nationally on PBS.

The limited number of Hollywood films on my list and the prominence of Chinese language ones demands some comment. It used to be a truism that American cinema excelled in unpretentious entertainment but faltered when it came to art movies, while the standard line about foreign films — meaning the foreign films Americans saw — tended toward the reverse.… Read more »

Lost in Translation [THE LOST CITY]

From the Chicago Reader (May 19, 2006). — J.R.

The Lost City

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Andy Garcia

Written by G. Cabrera Infante

With Garcia, Steven Bauer, Richard Bradford, Nestor Carbonell, Lorena Feijoo, Bill Murray, Dustin Hoffman, Tomas Milan, and William Marquez

An intellectual initially associated with Castro’s revolution, G. Cabrera Infante (1929-2005) founded the Cuban Cinematheque and was known as both the Cuban James Joyce and the Cuban Laurence Sterne. He spent his final 39 years in voluntary exile in London, and his last screenplay was for The Lost City, the first feature directed by Andy Garcia. Among his works available in English are the novels Three Trapped Tigers, View of Dawn in the Tropics (the most succinct and measured, and my favorite), and Infante’s Inferno; his nonfiction includes Holy Smoke (a tribute to Havana cigars, his first book written in English) and A Twentieth Century Job, a collection of film criticism published under the pseudonym G. Cain (derived from his first initial and the first two letters of Cabrera and Infante). And there’s the screenplay for the 1971 Hollywood thriller Vanishing Point, also credited to Cain.

Sixteen years ago Garcia decided he wanted to adapt Cabrera Infante’s unadaptable, pun-packed, joyfully multicultural Three Trapped Tigers, an epic about Havana nightclub life during the late Batista period.… Read more »

To score or not to score

From The Financial Times (July 4, 1975); this was the first of my two annual weekly film columns for that newspaper, replacing Nigel Andrews as his “deputy” while he was away.

A couple of asides: I had attended the press conference at Cannes for The Panic in Needle Park, and recall being disturbed by the heartlessness with which Didion and Dunne described their dispassionate and seemingly indifferent “research” about New York addicts. And on the matter of Mizoguchi, I would no longer define Yang Kwei Fei as any sort of “masterwork,” and am still making up my mind about Street of Shame.–- J.R.

To score or not to score

The Panic in Needle Park (X)

Berkeley 1

Diagnosis: Murder (A)
Plaza 2

Brewster McCloud (A)
Electric Cinema

Ugetsu Monogatari (X)

National Film Theatre

Of the two new releases on offer this week, The Panic in Needle Park is the better of an impossibly gloomy choice. Arriving here four years after its premiere at the Cannes Festival (where its female lead, Kitty Winn, was awarded Best Actress prize) — a delay apparently caused by its graphic depiction of heroin rituals being deemed unfit for local consumption — it offers at least one potential source of interest which was less evident in 1971: Al Pacino in his first major movie role.… Read more »

MACHORKA-MUFF (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 492). — J.R.

Machorka-Muff

West Germany/Monaco, 1963 Director: Jean-Marie Straub

Germany, in the early 1950s. Colonel Machorka-Muff arrives in

Bonn to see his mistress Inn and continue his efforts to clear the

name of General Hürlanger-Hiss from disgrace after his retreat at

Schwichi-Schwalache during World War II. At his hotel the next

morning, after meeting and exchanging pleasantries with a lower

rank officer he commanded, he also sees Murcks-Maloche from the

Ministry, who informs the Colonel that he is to give the dedication

address at the foundation-laying ceremony to inaugurate the

Hürlanger-Hiss Academy of Military Memories. After the Colonel

spends the morning walking through Bonn, Inn picks him up in her

Porsche and they drive to her flat and make love. She wakes him a

few hours later to announce the arrival of the Minister of Defense,

who presents him with a general’s uniform and drives him to the

ceremony; there Machorka-Muff announces in his dedication that

Hürlanger-Hiss made his retreat after losing 14,700 men, not “only”

8,500 as previously-thought. At mass the next morning, Inn

recognizes the second, fifth and sixth of her seven former husbands,

and Machorka-Muff announces that he will be the eighth; afterwards,

the priest explains that there will be no problem in having a church

wedding because all of her former marriages were Protestant ones.… Read more »

HAPPY-GO-NUTTY (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, May 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 508).  — J.R.

Happy-Go-Nutty

U.S.A.,1944

Director: Tex Avery

HappyGoNutty2

Cert–U- dist–Ron Harris. p.c—MGM. p–Fred Quimby. story–Heck AIIen. col–Technicolor. anim–Ed Love, Ray Abrams, Preston Blair. m–Scott Bradley. 260 ft. 7 mins. (16 mm.).

Breaking out of the confines of Moron Manor and deliberately rousing Meathead the watchdog, Screwy Squirrel flees from him through a series of violent adventures Running past the cartoon’s end title, the antagonists return to discuss other possible endings until Meathead goes mad himself, bursts through the end title, and runs away; Screwy praises this ending for its silliness. A little less impired than Screwball Squirrel, its immediate predecessor, Happy-Go-Nutty nevertheless registers as a kind of ode to dementia, particularly of the gibbering and Napoleonic-complex variety. After beglnning with its hero in a loony bin (“Through these portals pass the screwiest squirrels in the world”), it proceeds spiritedly through some familiar gags (a bomb momentarily turning Meathead into a pickaninnv), some more inventive surreal ones (Meathead goes over a cliff. only to be handed a newspaper by Screwy when he lands, with the headline “SUCKER!!” over a photograph of Meathead going over a cliff), and odd throwaway details (a trashcan labeled “for extra squirrels”). If it fails to scale the summits of imagination displayed by Avery’s team at MGM, it does allow everyone involved more scope for their talents than most cartoons.… Read more »

Vampyr

From the August 1, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

The greatness of Carl Dreyer’s first sound film (1932, 83 min.) derives partly from its handling of the vampire theme in terms of sexuality and eroticism and partly from its highly distinctive, dreamy look, but it also has something to do with Dreyer’s radical recasting of narrative form. Synopsizing the film not only betrays but misrepresents it: while never less than mesmerizing, it confounds conventions for establishing point of view and continuity, inventing a narrative language all its own. Some of the moods and images conveyed by this language are truly uncanny: the long voyage of a coffin, from the apparent viewpoint of the corpse inside; a dance of ghostly shadows inside a barn; a female vampire’s expression of carnal desire for her fragile sister; an evil doctor’s mysterious death by suffocation in a flour mill; a protracted dream sequence that manages to dovetail eerily into the narrative proper. The remarkable sound track, created entirely in a studio (in contrast to the images, which were all filmed on location), is an essential part of the film’s voluptuous and haunting otherworldliness. (Vampyr was originally released by Dreyer in four separate versions — French, English, German, and Danish; most circulating prints now contain portions of two or three of these versions, although the dialogue is pretty sparse.)… Read more »

FOOLISH WIVES (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 514). –- J.R.

 

Foolish Wives

U.S.A., 1922
Director: Erich von Stroheim

Cert—A. dist–BFI. p.c–Universal Super Jewel. p–Carl Laemrnle. asst. d–Edward Sowders, Jack R. Proctor, Louis Germonprez. special asst. to Stroheim–Gustav Machaty. sc–Erich von-Stroheim. ph–Ben Revnolds, William Daniels. illumination and lighting effects—Harry J. Brown. ed–Erich von Stroheim, (release version: Arthur D. Ripley). a.d—E. E. Sheeley, Richard Day. scenic artist—Van Alstein [Alstyn]. technical d–William Meyers, James Sullivan, George Williams. sculpture–Don Jarvis. master of properties–C. J. Rogers. m—[original score by Sigmund Romberg]. cost–Western Costuming Co., Richard Day, Erich von Stroheim. titles–Marian Ainslee, Erich von Stroheim. research asst-J . Lambert. l.p—Rudolph Christians/Robert Edenson (Andrew J. Hughes), Miss Du Pont [Patsy Hannen] (Helen Hughes), Maude George (“Princess”Olga Petschnikoff), Mae Busch (“Princess” Vera Petschnikoff), Erich von Stroheim (“Count” Sergei Karamzin), Dale Fuller (Maruschka), Al Edmundsen (Pavel Pavlich, the Butler), Cesare Gravina (Signor Gaston), Malvina Polo (Gaston’s Daughter [Marietta]), Louis K. Webb (Dr. Judd), Mrs. Kent (Mrs, Judd), C.J. Allen (Albert I, Prince of Monaco), Edward Reinach (Secretary of State of Monaco).… Read more »