Lies of the Mind [TALKING TO STRANGERS]

From the November 4, 1988 issue of the Chicago Reader. This piece is also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies.

The absence of Rob Tregenza’s three features — Talking to Strangers, The Arc, and Inside/Out— on DVD continues to be a major cultural gap, although he says that does have plans to release them all when he can. (Regarding Inside/Out, here are two more links.) And there’s a fourth feature that he shot more recently in Norway, called Gavagai, which was shown in Chicago at Facets.

Before Godard produced Tregenza’s third feature, Inside/Out, he selected Talking to Strangers as his “critic’s choice” for the Toronto International Film Festival and even wrote an extended review of it for their catalog, the same year that he showed For Ever Mozart; I interviewed him about Histoire(s) du cinema at the same festival after he showed me the three latest episodes in his hotel room. — J.R.

TALKING TO STRANGERS

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Rob Tregenza

With Ken Gruz, Marvin Hunter, Dennis Jordan, Caron Tate, Henry Strozier, Richard Foster, Linda Chambers, and Sarah Rush.

Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid.Read more »

HALLOWEEN (1979 review)

From Take One (January 1979). — J.R.

In order to do justice to the mesmerizing effectiveness of Halloween, a couple of mini-backgrounds need to be sketched: that of writer-director John Carpenter, and that of the Mainstream Simulated Snuff Movie —  a popular puritanical genre that I’ll call thw MSSM for short.

(1) On the basis of his first two low-budget features, it was already apparent that the aptly-named Carpenter was one of the sharpest Hollywood craftsmen to have come along in ages — a nimble jack-of-all-trades who composed his own music, doubled as producer (Dark Star) and editor (Assault on Precinct 13), and served up his genre materials with an unmistakably personal verve. Both films deserve the status of sleepers; yet oddly enough, most North American critics appear to have slept through them, or else stayed away. Somehow, the word never got out, apart from grapevine bulletins along a few film-freak circuits.

Dark Star proved that Carpenter could be quirky and funny; Assault showed that he could be quirky, funnu, and suspenseful all at once. Halloween drops the comedy, substitutes horror, and keeps you glued to your seat with ruthless efficiency from the first frame to the last.… Read more »

Moving (July-August 1978)

From the July-August 1978 Film Comment, only slightly tweaked in March 2014. In retrospect, it must have been an act of sheer defiance and perversity for me to have structured the order of the films discussed here in alphabetical order, perhaps as a way of further brandishing all my globetrotting at the time. Thirty-six years later, I regret some of the swagger here, including the facile wisecrack-putdown of Jean-Pierre Gorin. I was still under the excessive influence of Manny Farber at the time -– a great writer whose style one imitates, consciously or unconsciously, at one’s peril –- combined with some of the early stirrings that led to my 1980 memoir Moving Places. — J.R.

 BackandForth

Back And Forth (London, 1/10/78), in Pam Cook and Simon Field’s avant-garde film course. Each time I encounter Michael Snow’s crisscrossed classroom, I learn a little bit more about how to watch it. Following those relentless, oscillating pans with the eyes — equating one’s head and ego with the camera or vice versa in some sort of anthropomorphic/illusionist perversion conditioned by Hollywood — turns out to be about as useful as climbing into a Mix Master and throwing the switch. Sitting still, in your head as well as in your seat, affords a smoother, subtler, and more contemplative experience.

Read more »

Sound Thinking (1978, with Carrie Rickey)

From The Thousand Eyes, Fall 1978. Carrie Rickey and I embarked on this film series and article shortly after we became flat mates, but lamentably it didn’t pan out as we hoped it would; our program notes, for starters, never got distributed. — J.R.

Sound Thinking

By Carrie Rickey and Jonathan Rosenbaum

One of the consequences of describing the world around us is that language separates into different senses what we often experience as a unified whole. Language, an instrument — perhaps the instrument — of’ culture, overvalues the visual at the expense of the other four senses. Our language for the way we see is more precise: looks are eminently describable, we discuss color, dimensions, surface.

Our language for the way we hear is a jumble, less precise. Ambient sound consists of so many simultaneous events: acoustics of a space., buzz of appliances, rhythm of a clock, crowd voices, footfall. We “focus” on a visual event; we “concentrate” on sound, which is more difficult to pinpoint. We screen out the rumble of the subway train to concentrate on a movie.

If movies themselves are a selective screening process, the ways we experience them often censor out other elements. The way we talk about films — referring to “viewers” and “spectators”, talking about “seeing” a movie, asking, “How does it look?”… Read more »

Letter from London (1978)

From American Film (May 1978). – J.R.

What’s been happening to British film production lately? If one tries to sort out the myriad confusions of financing patterns, it seems possible to arrive at two diametrically opposed conclusions — depending upon where one happens to be sitting and who one happens to be listening to. One conclusion says that things look bleaker than ever, with no genuine relief in sight. The other sees a renaissance of British filmmaking just around the corner.

On the one hand, toting up the investments of British capital in expensive feature productions, things seem to be unusually active. The brothers Lord Lew Grade and Lord Bernard Delfont seem to be leading the pack with their respective companies, ITC and EMI, preparing such extravaganzas as Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys From Brazil (ITC) -– starring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, and Uta Hagen — and Death on the Nile (EMI), another all-star special featuring Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jon Finch, Maggie Smith, David Niven, and Angela Lansbury, under the direction of John Guillermin. Even the long-restive Rank organization has been getting back into financial participation.

On the other hand, where’s the indigenous British product?… Read more »

THE WHITE BUFFALO (1978 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1978 (Vol. 45, No. 529). If memory serves, this was the last review I ever wrote for MFBdone on a trip back to London after I had moved to San Diego, although I believe I may have written a few features for the magazine after this, following its change of design and format somewhat later. (Postscript: This time, I’m afraid, my memory didn’t serve. I’ve just come across two more reviews I published in the MFB in 1984.) –- J.R.

White Buffalo, The

U.S.A., 1977Director: J. Lee Thompson

Cert–AA. dist–EMI. p.c–Dino De Laurentiis Corporation. p–Pancho Kohner. p. co-ordinator–Virginia Cook. p. manager–Hal Klein. location manager–R. Anthony Brown. asst. d–Jack Aldrvorth, Pat Kehoe. sc— Richard Sale. Based on his own novel. ph–Paul Lohmann. col–Technicolor; prints by Deluxe. process co-ordinator–Bill Hansard. ed—Michael F. Anderson. assoc. ed–Terence Anderson. p. designer–Tambi Larsen. set dec–James Berkey. sp. effects–Richard M. Parker. production sp.  effects–Roy Downey. m/m.d–John Barry. cost–Eric Seelig. set cost— Dennis Fill. make-up–Phil Rhodes, Michael Hancock. titles–Dan Perri. sd. rec–Harlan Riggs. sd. re-rec–William McCaughey, Lyle J.… Read more »

The Voice and the Eye: A Commentary on the Heart of Darkness script

From Film Comment, November-December 1972 and Discovering Orson Welles (California, 2007) — the latter of which includes the following introduction. My apologies for some occasional glitches in the formatting, which I haven’t managed to rectify. — J.R.

Preview of “FC cover”

The following article was inspired by my having been lent Welles’s first film script by the late, Cuban-born film critic Carlos Clarens while we were both living in Paris. This was supplemented eventually by my meeting with Welles, and initially by research in the library at that city’s American Center and correspondence with Richard Wilson, a longtime Welles associate who was probably unique among his close collaborators in his scholarly meticulousness (as evidenced in his suberb rebuttal to an article by Charles Higham about IT’S ALL TRUE, appropriately entitled “It’s Not Quite All True,” in the Autumn 1970 issue of Sight and Sound — an essay that lamentably had no sequels)

As a former graduate student at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in English and American Literature (1966-69) who had dropped out shortly before moving to Paris, I was still somewhat under the sway of that academic training when I wrote this piece, which partially accounts for its literary orientation.Read more »

Just Jost

From Film Comment (January-February 1982); reprinted in my book Film: The Front Line 1983. My thanks to Jon Jost himself for furnishing me with the frame grabs from Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Stagefright. — J.R.

1. “This is a movie, a way to speak. It is bound, like all systems of communication, with conventions. Some of these are arbitrarily imposed, some are imposed by economic or political pressures, some are imposed by the medium itself. Some of these conventions are necessary: They are the commonality through which we are able to speak with one another in this way. But some of these conventions are unnecessary, and not only that, they are damaging to us, they are self-destructive. Yet we are in a bad place to see this. We are in a theater.” Jon Jost, addressing the camera and spectator in Speaking Directly (1974).

2. Despite five substantial and in many ways remarkable features under his belt since 1974, and nineteen shorts since 1963, Jon Jost at 38 is still a long way from becoming even an arcane household name in this country. Not that he makes it easy on anyone. His originality, technical virtuosity, and political sophistication have all tended to work against him by showing the rest of us up — thereby banishing him from most of the restricted genre and market classifications designed to protect us from his scorn, under avant-garde and mainstream umbrellas alike.… Read more »

Avant-Garde in the 1980s

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1984) -– designed as a sort of spinoff/update of my recently published book Film: The Front Line 1983. -– J.R.

Item: In assorted outdoor locations all over the US, from a Santa Monica pier to a park in lower Manhattan’s Soho, Louis Hock has been showing a silent, triple-screen film of his own devising called Southern California. The film’s imagery is of the colorful, mythical sort that its title suggests: placid neighborhoods flanked by palms; a San Clemente flower farm; fruit and vegetables in a La Jolla supermarket; downtown Los Angeles glimpsed from the rotating Angel’s Flight Bar or from the top of the Hyatt-Regency. Southern California is actually one strip of film run consecutively through three adjacent 16mm projectors which are aimed at the same wall.

There’s a gap of 22 1/2 seconds between the time that the first and second panels in the triptych appear, and again between the reappearance of the same images on the second and third panels. Every image, consequently, appears twice in each 45-second cycle.

Rather than promote his movie in any ordinary way, Hock usually finds a public site (like the University of California’s San Diego campus, or the street level of the South Ferry terminal in New York, where Staten Island commuters pass), sets up his gear, waits until nightfall, starts to show his 70-minute film on a continuous loop and waits to see what happens.… Read more »

Paris Journal (May-June 1973)

From Film Comment (May-June 1973). — J.R.

LES IDOLES, Marc’O’s film version of his theater piece, originally opened in Paris in May, 1968, when many of its spectators were out in the street and presumably had other things to think about. It was released again early this year; but after a nominal run in one of several new mini-cinemas that have springing up lately all over the Left Bank, it seemed to vanish into oblivion a second time, only to re-emerge in a neighborhood house in early February, where it is currently playing. Talent does usually seem to find a way to reassert itself. Marc’O’s sarcastic parody about the making and merchandising of pop has nothing particularly profound or original to “say” about its subject, but it happens to have three of the liveliest performances in the modern French cinema.

Bulle Ogier, Jean-Pierre Kalfon, and Pierre Clementi, as the three pop stars, dive into their parts with such enthusiasm and expertise that the screen comes alive with their electric energies, and one can only speculate on how much more spectacular they must have been on the stage. (Despite some clever attempts at adaptation, LES IDOLES stubbornly remains another variant of filmed theater — a good thing to have, under the circumstances, but like Shirley Clarke’s ingenious recording of THE CONNECTION, it cannot really offer an equivalent to the excitements of a live performance.)Read more »

Cannes Journal (1973)

Here’s my Cannes coverage for Film Comment‘s September-October issue in 1973, the fourth year I attended the festival.

A couple of apologies: (1) In my haste to defend Some Call it Loving against Andrew Sarris’s and Molly Haskell’s scorn, I managed to forget or overlook the fact that one sequence, in a nightclub, does feature some nudity; and (2) I no longer find my curt dismissal of History Lessons at all persuasive — in particular my claim that it duplicates the style and/or methodology of Othon. — J.R.

Cannes Journal

Jonathan Rosenbaum

If TOUCH OF EVIL, as Paul Schrader has suggested, is film noir’s epitaph, jean Eustache’s LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN (THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE) may well turn out to be the last gasp and funeral oration of the Nouvelle Vague — the swan song of a genre/school that shatters its assumptions and reconstructs them into something else, and newer model that is sadder but wiser and tinged with more than trace of nostalgic depression. MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, for that matter, may be the Western’s epitaph, or at least one of the prettier flowers to have grown out of Tombstone Gulch. In very different ways, all three films tell us a lot about what growing older feels like and chide us both for what we are and what we used to be.… Read more »

Elia Kazan, Viewed from 1973

I wrote the Preface to this 1973 article in 2009 for its eventual reprinting in Kazan Revisited, edited by Lisa Dombrowski (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011). Note (early 2013): My favorite Kazan film, Wild River, has just been released on Blu-Ray, and it looks better than ever. — J.R.

Preface (2009): Rereading this essay 36 years after I wrote it for Richard Roud’s two-volume critical collection, Cinema: A Critical Dictionary – The Major Filmmakers (New York/The Viking Press, 1980), I can’t say that many of my positions or preferences regarding Kazan’s work have changed. But in a few cases I’ve been able to amplify some of my original impressions. For my 2007 essay “Southern Movies, Actual and Fanciful: A Personal Survey” (to be reprinted in my 2010 University of Chicago Press collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephila), for instance, I discovered that Kazan hired speech consultant Margaret Lamkin for his stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and then again for Baby Doll, to ensure that all the southern accents heard were letter-perfect. And the significance of Kazan having given the names of former friends or colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 — not in 1954, as my article stated — became a more prominent feature in his career profile when he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, almost half a century later, from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.… Read more »

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (1973 & 2016)

The following is taken from my “Cannes Journal” in the September-October 1973 issue of Film Comment and corrected in a few particulars in April 2016, after seeing the restored 128-minute director’s cut on a wonderful new Blu-Ray from Olive Films. — J.R.

deadpigeon5

In theory, the Marché du Film is merely one division of the festival out of many (official selections, Directors’ Fortnight, Critics’ Week, etc.); in practice, every film and every person attending is on the marketplace, to purchase or to be purchased, and all the rest is journalistic euphemism. It was there, at any rate, that I came across Samuel Fuller’s latest film.

DeadPigeon

deadpigeon-christa1

dead-pigeon-on-beethoven-4

DeadPigeon2

Not all of DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVEN STREET is peaches and cream, but the beginning is extraordinary — a brilliant burst of action that illustrates the title in lightning flashes — and the mad finale in a weapons room is not far behind. Fuller’s habitual obeisance to the title composer reaches an apogee of sorts in a scene set in the Beethoven Museum, where the head of one of the leads (Glenn Corbett) is cut off by the top of the frame in order to give one of the Master’s pianos a privileged place in the composition.… Read more »

The World as a Circus

I continue to find it astonishing that a film as important as Jacques Tati’s Parade continues to be ignored and unrecognized by most critics. This article about the film was published in the December 1, 1989 issue of the Chicago Reader. —J.R.

PARADE

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Jacques Tati

With Tati, Karl Kossmayer, the Williamses, the Veterans, the Argentinos, Pia Colombo, Johnny Lonn, Bertilo, Jan Swahn, Bertil Berglund, and Monica Sunnerberg.

1. Jacques Tati’s last feature, Parade (1973), is about as unpretentious as a film can get. One of the first films to have been shot mostly in video (on a shoestring budget for Swedish TV), it’s a music-hall and circus show featuring juggling, music, gags, pantomime, minor acrobatics, and various forms of audience participation. Though it might seem a natural for TV––and in fact has been shown on TV, as well as theatrically, in Europe––it has never been broadcast in this country. Most critics who have seen it, including many passionate Tati fans, regard it as minor and inconsequential. (A striking and valuable exception is Kristin Thompson, whose article on it appeared in the film journal the Velvet Light Trap three years ago.) When, in 1984, a severely mutilated version––missing at least 15 minutes, including the crucial and sublime epilogue––was released in England, London reviewers who scream bloody murder if slasher films are slightly trimmed couldn’t be bothered to raise even a minor protest.… 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 »