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)

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Highly Recommended Reading

This article has taught me a lot about how and why dictators appear to be taking over the world, including especially the roles played by China, Russia, and Iran as well as Trump and his followers in this process. I highly recommend it. Anne Applebaum has become my favorite source of information about what’s happening. [5/18/24]

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2024/06/china-russia-republican-party-relations/678271/?utm_source=feed


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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.

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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

The Long Day Closes

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1993). — J.R.

The 1992 conclusion of Terence Davies’s second autobiographical trilogy may not achieve the sublime heights of parts one and two (which comprised 1988’s Distant Voices, Still Lives) , but it’s still a powerful film, possibly even a great one — the sort of work that can renew one’s faith in movies. Part three chronicles his life in working-class Liverpool between the ages of 7 and 11, a period he compresses into the years 1955 and 1956, but Davies focuses less on plot or memory as they’re usually understood than on the memory of emotions and subjective consciousness. Music, lighting, elaborate camera movements, and the sound tracks of other films are among the tools he uses in relation to the basic settings of home, street, school, church, pub, and movie theater. Davies emphasizes the continuities and discontinuities between these places and the emotions they evoke, creating a consistent sense of religious illumination and transfiguration. What he does with the strains of “Tammy” in one climactic sequence and with the drift of moving clouds in another are alone worth the price of admission. (JR)

Original Cinema 1-Sheet Poster – Movie Film Posters
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Teenage Wasteland [BATMAN RETURNS]

From the Chicago Reader (June 26, 1992). — J.R.

BATMAN RETURNS

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Tim Burton

Written by Daniel Waters and Sam Hamm

With Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, Michael Murphy, Cristi Conaway, and Andrew Bryniarski.

Even the title of Batman Returns is something of a lie, referring not to the fictional world of the story — where Batman can’t be said to return because he’s never been away — but to the dent this sequel is supposed to make in our lives. But how much of a dent can it make when it has virtually no characters, no plot, no fictional world, no mise en scene, no ideas, no developed feelings, no inspiration, no adventure, no sense of inner necessity beyond its status as an investment and marketing tool? It’s arrested development on every possible level.

Like everyone else who squeezed into Webster Place’s after-midnight shows on opening night, I was primed for some sort of revelation, however minor. It didn’t have to be elation; a good dose of mean-spirited negativity might have sufficed. I was ready for anything that could qualify as a mood changer — or barring that, a simple harking back to the original Batman, which had plenty of flaws but at least could boast the demonic vigor of Jack Nicholson’s Joker and his nihilistic media crimes, and a certain obsessional uniformity of mood and decor. Read more

SEELAND as Decolonized Nonnarrative

Commissioned for a 2011 collection in French devoted to the work of Marylène Negro. My friend Nicole Brenez, who engineered this commission and who translated this piece into French, added a couple of footnotes that I’ve adapted and appropriated here. — J.R.

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“I don’t believe in a cinema of literary narrative,” Abbas Kiarostami says in Around Five (2005), “but I don’t believe that cinema can exist without telling a story.” He elucidates this paradox by arguing that viewers consciously or unconsciously impose their own narratives, even on still photographs. And indeed, Roads of Kiarostami [see illustration below], a 32-minute film which Kiarostami also made in 2005, largely consists of imposing his own narratives on his own black-and-white photographs, all of which show roads passing through landscapes. The imposed narratives in this case consist of zooming in and out of or panning across these photographs, which are initially connected to one another by lap dissolves, and then of Kiarostami speaking in voiceover about how and why these photographs came to be taken.

 

To contemplate roads passing through seemingly uninhabited landscapes — which is what Kiarostami mainly does, and is what Marylène Negro does in her 22-minute film Seeland, also made in 2005 — is fundamentally to ask two different questions: what is nature with and without mankind, and what is narrative? Read more

Waking Up to the World [30 FRAMES A SECOND: THE WTO IN SEATTLE]

From the Chicago Reader (August 18, 2000). More recently, Naomi Klein, one of my heroes, has written about some of the more salient differences between the WTO demonstrations and the more recent ones on Wall Street: see, for instance, this article, as well as others on her website.  — J.R.

30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Rustin Thompson.

If I had to review Rustin Thompson’s video documentary 30 Frames a Second: The WTO in Seattle in only three words, I’d say it’s honest, energizing agitprop. Some readers may regard this as an oxymoron, but it’s one account of the Seattle events I’ve been waiting for, receiving its world premiere at the Chicago Underground Film Festival this Sunday at 1:30 PM. Yet the information it has to convey is almost entirely of the you-are-there variety — there’s no genuine analysis. It evokes 60s demonstrations in a number of ways — including such standbys as bare-breasted, body-painted teenyboppers and burning dollar bills — and pays particular attention to the music performed by demonstrators (one folksinger even sounds like Arlo Guthrie), coming much closer in feeling to something like Woodstock than to radical 60s documentaries produced by Newsreel. Read more

Adrift in the Wasteland (NAKED)

From the February 25, 1994 Chicago Reader. It seems that a good many colleagues have ranked this film higher in Mike Leigh’s oeuvre than I did at the time; perhaps today I’d agree with them. — J.R.

*** NAKED

(A must-see)

Directed and written by Mike Leigh

With David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, Katrin Cartlidge, Gregg Cruttwell, Claire Skinner, Peter Wight, Deborah Maclaren, and Gina McKee.

Mike Leigh’s virtuosity as a writer-director and the raw theatrical power of David Thewlis, his lead actor, combine with the sheer unpleasantness of much of Naked to make it a disturbingly ambiguous experience. The apocalyptic, end-of-the-millennium rage of Thewlis’s Johnny — an articulate, grungy working-class lout on the dole who abuses women and spews negativity — registers at times as Leigh’s commentary on the bleak harvest of Thatcherism. But at other times it registers as the ravings of a malcontent too frustrated and paralyzed to even know what he wants. Sorting out the intelligence from the hysteria is no easy matter, and the picture rubs our noses in this uncertainty so remorselessly that we sometimes forget that what we’re watching is largely a comedy.

The first glimpse we get of Johnny, he’s having some very rough sex with a nameless woman in a Manchester alley. Read more