The World as Media Screen: Tarantino and Trump as Soul-Brothers

The Spanish monthly film magazine that I write for, Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, invited me in the summer of 2019 to expand on my latest column for them as well as a few Facebook posts about Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Here is the result. — J.R.

once-upon-a-time-in-hollywood-poster

Has 9/11 or the war on terror had any impact on you personally or creatively? 

9/11 didn’t affect me, because there’s, like, a Hong Kong movie that came out called Purple Storm and it’s fantastic, a great action movie. And they work in a whole big thing in the plot that they blow up a giant skyscraper. It was done before 9/11, but the shot almost is a semi-duplicate shot of 9/11. I actually enjoyed inviting people over to watch the movie and not telling them about it. I shocked the shit out of them. But, again, I was almost thrilled by that naughty aspect of it. It made it all the more exciting.

But on some level you must have been caught up in the reality of 9/11.

I was scared, like everybody else. “OK, what is this new world we’re going to be living in? Is it going to be fucking Belfast here?” And I didn’t want to fucking fly nowhere.… Read more »

Faithless Re-creation [the GLORIA remake]

From the Chicago Reader (January 29, 1999). — J.R.

gloriakid

Gloria

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Sidney Lumet

Written by Steven Antin

With Sharon Stone, Jean-Luke Figueroa, Jeremy Northam, Cathy Moriarty, Mike Starr, Bonnie Bedelia, and George C. Scott.

gloria-longshot

I don’t much relish remakes, especially of movies I like — I’ve avoided seeing the new Payback, a retooling of John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) — but the idea of Sidney Lumet remaking John Cassavetes’s Gloria (1980) with Sharon Stone seemed to offer possibilities. After all, Cassavetes wrote the script for MGM thinking someone else would direct it; he wound up directing it himself for Columbia only because his wife, Gena Rowlands, was the star and the studio asked him to. “Look, I’m not very bright,” he insisted in an interview. “I wrote a very fast-moving, thoughtless piece about gangsters. And I don’t even know any gangsters. Gloria has a wonderful actress and a very nice kid [John Adames] who’s neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic. He’s just a kid. He reminds me of me — constantly in shock, reacting to this unfathomable environment.” Later he added that when he began shooting Gloria, “I was bored because I knew the answer to the picture the minute we began….All… Read more »

THE WILD PARTY (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 500). I’m not sure why I neglected to mention Fatty Arbuckle in this review, but I obviously should have. (I also might have mentioned that another  long narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March, The Set-Up, provided the basis for a more enduring 1949 Robert Ryan/Robert Wise feature.)– J.R.

U.S.A., 1974

Director: James Ivory


Cert–X. dist–7 Keys. p.c–The Wild Party.A Samuel Z. Arkoff  presentation. exec. p–Edgar Lansbury, Joseph Beruh. p-Ismai Merchant. assoc. p—George Manasse.asst. d–Edward Folger. sc–Walter Marks. Based on the narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March. ph–Walter Lassally. col–Movielab. ed–Kent McKinney. a.d–David Nichols. set dec–Bruce David Weintraub. set artist–Pamela Gray. sp. effects–Edward Bash. m/m.d–Larry Rosenthal. dance m–Louis St. Louis. songs–“Wild Partv”, “Funny Man”, “Not That Queenie of Mine”, “Singapore Sally”, “Herbert Hoover Drag”, “Ain’t Nothing Bad About Feeling Good”, “Sunday Morning Blues” by Walter Marks. musical sequences staged by–Patricia Birch. cost–Ron Talsky, Ralph Lauren, Ronald Kolddzie. make-up-Louis Lane. titles— Arthur Eckstein. title poster art–Peter Diaferia. sd. ed–Mary Brown. sd. rec–Gary Alper. sd. re-rec–Richard Vorisek. stunt co-ordinator–Teri McComas. l.p–James Coco (Jolly Grimm), Raquel Welch (Queenie) Perry King (Dale Sword), Tiffany Bolling (Kate), Royal Dano (Tex), David Dukes (James Morrison), Dena Dietrich (Mrs.Read more »

Red Desert

From the Chicago Reader (October 5, 1990). — J.R.

Michelangelo Antonioni’s first feature in color (1964) remains a watermark for using colors creatively, expressionistically, and beautifully; to get the precise hues he wanted, Antonioni had entire fields painted. A newly struck and restored print of the film makes clear why audiences were so excited a quarter of a century ago by his innovations, which include not only expressive uses of color for moods and subtle thematic coding but striking uses of editing as well. This film comes at the tail end of his most fertile period, immediately after his remarkable trilogy consisting of L’avventura, La notte, and L’eclisse; Red Desert may not be quite as good as the first and last of these, but the ecological concerns of this film look a lot more prescient today than they did at the time. Monica Vitti plays an extreme neurotic married to industrialist Richard Harris, and Antonioni does eerie, memorable work with the industrial shapes and colors that surround her, which are shown alternately as threatening and beautiful; she walks through a science fiction lunar landscape spotted with structures that are both disorienting and full of possibilities. Like any self-respecting Antonioni heroine, she’s looking for love and meaning — more specifically, for ways of adjusting to new forms of life — and mainly finding sex.… Read more »

Introduction to a Proposed Collection

[IN DREAMS BEGIN RESPONSIBILITIES: A JONATHAN ROSENBAUM READER]

This is an introduction to a proposed collection of mine that hasn’t yet found a publisher. I’m posting it now in order to use it in a workshop that I’m conducting at Kino klub Split (June 17-22) in Croatia that’s based on certain concepts proposed in this book. –- J.R.

So complex is reality, and so fragmentary                                      and simplified is history, that an 
omniscient observer could write an 
indefinite, almost infinite, number of 
biographies of a man, each emphasizing 
different facts; we would have to read 
many of them before we realized that 
the protagonist was the same.
               Jorge Luis Borges, 1943

I get a great laugh from artists who 
ridicule the critics as parasites and 
artists manqués —- such a horrible joke. 
I can't imagine a more perfect art form, 
a more perfect career than criticism. I 
can't imagine anything more valuable to 
do, and I’ve always felt that way.
                     Manny Farber, 1977

First, a few ground rules. Because most of us live in a culture where our marketers also tend to be our preferred epistemologists, editors, and censors, I want to override their usual restrictions that govern collections of this kind by drawing upon my literary criticism and my music criticism (mostly of jazz) as well as the film criticism that I’m usually known for, meanwhile charting some of the potential and actual interactivity between these arts in order to define some of the attributes of my own particular niche-market, at least as I’m defining and addressing it here.… Read more »

I, Robot

From the Chicago Reader (July 16, 2004). — J.R.

i-robot

It’s much more of an action flick than either Metropolis or Blade Runner, but there’s a provocative and visionary side to this free adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s SF classic that puts it in the same thoughtful canon. The story is set in Chicago in 2035, and the cityscape, designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, is futuristic yet Victorian around the edges. Built into the mystery plot are reflections about robots as extensions of human will that build up to a wide-ranging but unpreachy critique of everything from corporate malfeasance to the Patriot Act. Will Smith plays an old-fashioned homicide cop investigating the ostensible suicide of a scientist; Bridget Moynahan is an expert in robot psychology. Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) directs a script by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldman that’s lively enough to justify a few hokey flourishes. R, 100 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Village North, Webster Place.… Read more »

Bene’s Salome and Chabrol’s Nada

From Oui (June 1974). –- J.R.

Salome. Meet Carmelo Bene, a vital figure in the Italian avant-garde

whose introduction to American moviegoers is long overdue. Salome,

freely adapted from the Oscar Wilde play, is the latest and perhaps the

most ravishing of his lavish camp spectacles. (Earlier efforts include

Our Lady of the Turcs, Don Giovanni, and One Hamlet Less.)

The title role is played by Veruschka –- the high-fashion model who

writhed under the photographer hero at the beginning of Blow-Up

–- appearing bald, nude, and zombielike as she steps out of the water,

decorated from head to foot with multicolored gems. Bene as Herod

upstages everyone with his hysterical nonstop monologues and

Woody Woodpecker laughs. Visually, it’s a riot of extravagant colors

(fluorescent costumes, Day-Glo sets) and opulent debaucheries

flashing by so quickly that everything remains in delirious flux, and

none of the fancy scenic splendors stands still long enough to be

contemplated. Try to imagine Orson Welles’ Macbeth colored in

with a Fellini paintbox, recut by Kenneth Anger, accompanied by

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and the Beer-Barrel Polka,

and you’ll get a fraction of a notion of Bene’s giddy madness.

Depravity, thy name is Salome.… Read more »

The Battle of Algiers

From the January 16, 2004 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Gillo Pontecorvo’s powerful and lucid 1965 docudrama about the Algerian struggle for independence in the 1950s was screened for Pentagon employees last August, though one wonders how helpful it might have been; the terrorists in this film aren’t suicidal or religiously motivated, and their orientation appears to be quite different from that of contemporary Middle Eastern terrorists in other respects. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see this — it’s one of the best movies about revolutionary and anticolonial activism ever made, convincing, balanced, passionate, and compulsively watchable as storytelling. The French aren’t depicted as heavies, despite their use of torture, nor are the Algerian rebels, who set off bombs in cafes. In fact the French colonel here (Jean Martin, the only professional actor in the cast) expresses admiration for the rebels, who ultimately achieved their goals when Algeria won its independence. In French and Arabic with subtitles. 123 min. Music Box.

Read more »

Phantom India

From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1999). — J.R.

phantomindia_01_original

Louis Malle’s seven-part, 378-minute 1968 documentary series is one of my favorites among his works. His upper-class misanthropy and morbidity usually alienate me, but this essayistic travel diary avoids any pretense of objectivity in order to present itself as a highly personal search — narrated in excellent English by Malle himself in the version I’ve seen, but in French with subtitles in this version. In the first episode he addresses the problem of everyone he meets in India describing the country in Western terms, then goes on to reflect on how his filmmaking affects his subjects; from there he takes in everything from a water buffalo being devoured by vultures to interviews with a few European hippies about why they’re in India. With his wide-ranging but rambling approach Malle undoubtedly misses or skimps on certain topics, but his mercurial intelligence keeps this lively and fascinating. (JR)… Read more »

Lost in THE FOG OF WAR

From the Chicago Reader (January 23, 2004). Although I don’t want to begrudge Errol Morris his Oscar, I  do wish he’d had more to say in this film about political choices with some bearing on the present. — J.R.

The Fog of War ** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Errol Morris.

In The Fog of War, Errol Morris interviews an 84-year-old Robert S. McNamara, who served as secretary of defense under presidents Kennedy and Johnson and is widely regarded as the architect of the American war in Vietnam. There’s something undeniably masterful about the film, which also includes archival footage, but that mastery is what sticks in my craw: it’s a capacity to say as little as possible while giving the impression of saying a great deal, a skill shared by McNamara and Morris. I’m not sure what we have to gain from this — the satisfaction that we’re somehow taking care of business when we’re actually fast asleep?

This sleight of hand takes many forms, including the film’s title, repeated shots of dominoes lined up on a map of southeast Asia, and the “eleven lessons from the life of Robert McNamara” dispensed in intertitles to introduce the various segments — portentous platitudes ranging from “Rationality will not save us” and “Maximize efficiency” to “Get the data” and “Be prepared to reexamine your reasoning.”… Read more »

At the Viennale: Chris Marker Lives!

Posted on Film Comment‘s blog, November 16, 2012. — J.R.

Much as Godard’s special brand of cultural tourism quickly became a dominant influence at international film festivals half a century ago, the literal tourism of the late Chris Marker became a major reference point in many of the edgiest offerings at the Viennale, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Fittingly, the last to date of the festival’s annual commissioned one-minute trailers, 19 of which were just issued on a DVD, was by Marker himself — a somewhat jaundiced view of the “perfect” film viewer as sought by Méliès, Griffith, Welles, and Godard, eventually and rather sadly achieved in the sad figure of Osama bin Laden watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on a TV set.

Museum-Hours

Marker’s more benign influence was especially evident in Jem Cohen’s magisterial Museum Hours, a luminous mix of fiction and essay set in Vienna itself, where it takes the form of a casual friendship developing between a guard at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum (played by Bobby Sommer — a familiar and friendly Viennale presence, who has worked for many years at its guest office) and a Canadian tourist (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who arrives to visit a dying cousin and turns up at the museum.Read more »

Love’s Labour’s Lost

From the Chicago Reader (May 29, 2000). — J.R.

peines_d_amour_perdues_love_labour_s_lost_1999_portrait_w858

Whether Kenneth Branagh deserves to be regarded as the successor of Laurence Olivier — or even Franco Zeffirelli — when it comes to Shakespeare is far from settled, but this misguided version of one of the Bard’s best comedies strongly suggests he’s the successor of Ed Wood when it comes to musicals. Set in 1939, on the eve of World War II, his feeble attempt to do a 30s musical is so poorly conceived, staged, and edited that it nearly rivals Mae West’s last opus, Sextette. (Peter Bogdanovich’s reviled At Long Last Love is a masterpiece by comparison.) The only performer who emerges unscathed from the clunkiness is dancer Adrian Lester, and so many of Shakespeare’s lines are hacked away to make room for songs by Porter and Berlin that the play is enfeebled in the bargain. Others in the cast include Alessandro Nivola, Matthew Lillard, Natascha McElhone, Alicia Silverstone, Nathan Lane, Carmen Ejogo, Emily Mortimer, and Stefania Rocca. 93 min. (JR)

song-and-dance2Read more »

Outfoxing the Film Industry

From the Chicago Reader (July 30, 2004). — J.R.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

Directed by Robert Greenwald.

DVDs are bringing about rapid and substantial changes in the way we consume movies, and in film culture itself. A case in point is Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, which premiered July 13 on DVD and video rather than in theaters. You could have seen it at one of more than 3,000 “house party” viewings organized by MoveOn.org two Sundays ago, or you can just buy it online for $9.95 plus shipping as I did. There must be lots of others like me, because Outfoxed has been Amazon’s top-selling video title for over a week now, and the last time I looked it had 133 customer reviews.

Watching the muckraking examination of the Fox News Channel at home had its advantages: as soon as it was over, I was able to switch directly to Fox to see if it really was as awful as Greenwald’s documentary maintained. (It was.) There are also advantages to keeping a DVD like this on the shelf: you can refer back to certain points in the film for clarification. And facts aren’t all you might want to go back to: if it’s an art film, for instance, you can jump to a favorite passage — a camera movement, a facial expression, a composition, or the delivery of a line of dialogue — the same way you can open a book to revisit some favorite lines of poetry.… Read more »

Review of THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE, THE GOVERNMENT AND FILM CULTURE, 1933-2000

From the online Screening the Past,  issue 36, posted 17 June 2013. — J.R.

BFI Strike August 1974_NEW_0001

Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and Christophe Dupin (ed.)

The British Film Institute, the Government and Film Culture, 1933-2000

Manchester/New York: Manchester University Press, 2012

ISBN: 978 0 7190 7908 5

US$95/UK£65

288pp (hc)

(Review copy supplied by Footprint Books/Warriewood)

The most interesting job I’ve ever had was my two and a half years of working for the British Film Institute, between 1974 and 1977 –- as both assistant editor of the Monthly Film Bulletin (under Richard Combs) and staff writer for Sight and Sound (under Penelope Houston, who was directly responsible for my getting hired), occasioning at the time a move from Paris to London. This is what sparked my particular interest in this impressively detailed history, coedited and mostly written (apart from four of its 15 chapters) by the University of London’s Geoffrey Nowell-Smith and the International Federation of Film Archives’ Christophe Dupin after more than six years of research — and the fact that it retails for $95 at Amazon in the U.S. and 65 quid at Amazon in the U.K. meant that the only reasonable way I could acquire it was to ask to review it.… Read more »

The Screed We Need [FAHRENHEIT 9/11]

From the Chicago Reader (June 24, 2004). — J.R.

Fahrenheit 9/11

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Michael Moore.

It’s bracing to see the documentary coming into its own these days, generating some of the excitement and interest that accompanied foreign (mainly European) pictures back in the 60s, when there were far more independent theaters to show them. But the New Wave and its many tributaries were perceived by critics and audiences largely as a revolution in style; the new explosion of interest in documentaries has more to do with content. Think of the broad range of subjects covered in the past few years by ABC Africa, Bowling for Columbine, Oporto of My Childhood, Joy of Madness, Stevie, The Same River Twice, Capturing the Friedmans, and My Architect: A Son’s Journey. This year alone has brought such diverse explorations as El Movimiento, The Fog of War, Les modeles de “Pickpocket, Super Size Me, Ford Transit, Control Room, and Route 181: Fragments of a Journey in Palestine-Israel.

Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, the most explosive of the lot, has enjoyed the biggest buzz of any film released this year, especially after winning the top prize at the Cannes film festival in May (from a jury that was more American than French).… Read more »