From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 491).
I must admit that the hyperbole of the last couple of sentences here embarrasses me now. But readers can judge for themselves, because this first feature by Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen has recently become available as an extra on the BFI DVD of Riddles of the Sphinx. –- J.R.
Great Britain, 1974 Directors: Laura Mulvey, Peter Wollen
The film is composed of five sequences, each preceded by a quotation. 1: “Ghost white like a not yet written page” (Mallarmé, “Mimique” ): A mime of Kleist’s Penthesilea, filmed in long shot from a fixed camera position. 2: “The shadows sprinkled in black characters” (Mallarmé, “Quant au livre”): A lecture on Kleist’s play, the myth of Penthesilea and the theoretical basis of the film, delivered by Peter Wollen while moving about a terrace and adjoining living room, the camera tracing an independent trajectory within the same confined space and occasionally approaching the index cards of notes left behind by Wollen at various stages in his route. 3: “Blazons of phobia, seals of self-punishment” (Lacan, after Vico): A succession of images relating to Penthesilea and the Amazons — paintings, sculptures, artifacts, tapestries, etc., including frames from a Wonder Woman comic book — separated by animated wipes and maskings, and accompanied on the soundtrack by Berio’s “Visage”.… Read more »
From Oui (December 1974). – J.R.
Le Trio lnfernal. It’s the Christmas season and Michel Piccoli shoots
a man in the eye — straight through a newspaper he’s reading — while
downstairs, Romy Schneider is finishing off Andrea Ferreol with
similar dispatch. The bodies are stripped clean and plunked into
adjacent bathtubs, which Piccoli promptly fills with sulfuric acid.
Mascha Gomska, Schneider’s sister — who completes the infernal
trio of murderers who slaughter people for their life insurance –
barfs on the living-room carpet, while offscreen, excited by all
these gay and yummy events, Schneider is giving Piccoli an
impromptu blowjob in the bathroom. Later on, after the bodies have
decomposed, Piccoli dons a gas mask, ladles the slop into pails,
then empties the heady stew outdoors while one of the girls is
shown eating spaghetti. Excessive? This Grand Guignol comedy is
nothing but, as it chronicles the exploits of three glamorous
monsters butchering their way to wealth, with lots of kinky sex
on the way. Francis Girod, a producer-turned-director, exhibits an
unusual amount of expertise in his first film. But most of the show
belongs to Piccoli, who dances through all of the Thirties décor
performing a veritable concerto of comic invention.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 491). — J.R.
Popsy Pop (The 21 Carat Snatch)
Director: Jean Herman
Guiana. Plateau, Venezuela. In a ramshackle ‘boom town’, occupied by the natives who work the local diamond mine, the glamorous Popsy Pop arrives –ostensibly to divert the workers with her sexy cabaret act, but actually in order to distract Silva, the mine-company inspector, from a two-million-dollar diamond heist planned for the night of her arrival. Masterminded by Marcou, an ageing criminal who loves Popsy Pop, and carried out with the help of his henchmen Tormenta, Blanchette and Freddy -– who pilots the getaway helicopter — the robbery proceeds as planned: Silva is knocked unconscious in the singer’s dressing room and the diamonds are taken from the company office. But Popsv Pop and Freddy betray the rest of the gang by leaving without them. The angry workers kill Blanchette and Tormenta, but Silva persuades them to spare Marcou in the interests of recovering the diamonds — and offers the latter a cut of the reward in addition to a chance to avenge Popsy Pop’s double-cross. She has meanwhile taken a plane to Santa Domingo with Freddy, and places the diamonds in a safe deposit box, hiding the key in a jar of cold cream.… Read more »
I wrote this book review for The Village Voice shortly after I moved to London from Paris in 1974 (which helps to explain how I could cite the English paperback of Myra Breckinridge), so I was more than likely a little miffed when the Voice noted at the end of the piece, “Jonathan Rosenbaum is a film critic presently living in Paris.” Although I think this review suffers a bit from the Voice‘s overheated smart-alecky manner during this period, which I was only too willing to adopt (and which makes some of my gripes potentially open to the charge of the pot calling the kettle black), I was reminded of both this review and Myra Breckinridge/Myron while recently reading Vidal’s somewhat similar 1978 novel Kalki, which has a similarly formidable heroine-narrator with a comparably ambiguous relation to gender. — J.R. [4/3/09]
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
Random House, $6.95
Myra Breckenridge was a stunt: a clever gay trick pulled on a straight audience — or, if one prefers, a bisexual prank pulled on a unisexual audience — with kibitzers and spectators welcome on either side of the ironies, different jokes for different folks.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 490). — J.R.
Director: Eddie Saeta
Before dying from an accident, Laura Saunders’ last words to her husband Fred are, “I’ll come back”. Unable to accept her death, Fred visits a number of fake spiritualists and death cultists until a classified ad (“Control your own reincarnation”) leads him to Tana, a friend and former lover of Dr. Death who brings Fred to one of Death’s ‘demonstrations’: a girl scarred by an accident is willingly sawed in half so that her soul can pass into the undamaged body of another women. Death dubs the reawakened corpse Venus and promptly becomes her lover, incurring the jealousy of Tana, who subsequently throws acid in Venus’ face. At a later meeting with Fred, Death explains that he discovered his power — based on a formula kept in an amulet around his neck — 1000 years ago, and his soul has survived ever since by passing into a succession of bodies of various races and both sexes belonging to his murder victims, He offers to revive Laura’s corpse with another woman’s soul for $50,000 and Fred agrees; but when Tana is garishly murdered for this purpose, Fred is appalled, and after Death fails to animate Laura’s body, asks him to keep the money and abandon the project. … Read more »
This appeared in the November 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. The ironic aftermath of the final sentence in my review is that another five years would pass before the release of Malick’s second feature, and then 20 more before the release of his third. — J.R.
U.S.A., 1973 Director: Terrence Malick
It would hardly be an exaggeration to call the first half of Badlands a revelation -– one of the best literate examples of narrated American cinema since the early days of Welles and Polonsky. Compositions, actors, and lines interlock and click into place with irreducible economy and unerring precision, carrying us along before we have time to catch our breaths. It is probably not accidental than an early camera set-up of Kit on his garbage route recalls the framing of a neighborhood street that introduced us to the social world of Rebel Without a Cause: the doomed romanticism courted by Kit and dispassionately recounted by Holly immediately evokes the Fifties world of Nicholas Ray -– and more particularly, certain Ray-influenced (and narrated) works of Godard, like Pierrot le fou and Bande à part. Terrence Malick’s eye, narrative sense, and handling of affectless violence are all recognizably Godardian, but they flourish in a context more easily identified with Ray.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 490). — J.R.
U.S.A., 1946Director: Mark Robson
London, 1761. Attempting to escape from the St. Mary of Bethlehem lunatic asylum, commonly known as Bedlam, a poet named Colby is forced by Sims, the apothecary general in charge, to drop from a railing, and he falls to his death. Lord Mortimer and his ‘protégée’ Nell Bowen, passing by in a carriage, question Sims about the incident, and are assured it was an accident. After subsequently paying a visit to the asylum, Nell is appalled by the living conditions and Sims’ sadistic treatment of the inmates, and appeals to Lord Mortimer to make a charitable donation. But Sims dissuades the latter from doing so. When Nell joins forces with John Wilkes to turn the cause into a political issue, Sims contrives to have her declared insane and committed to Bedlam. Frightened for her safety — and securing a trowel from Hannay, a sympathetic Quaker brickmason, for protection — she none the less elicits the respect and loyalty of the other inmates, and when Sims locks her in a cage with a supposedly dangerous lunatic, she successfully placates her cellmate.… Read more »
This is excerpted from my “Paris-London Journal” in the November-December 1974 Film Comment, written in August when I was starting work at the British Film Institute after living for five years in Paris.
I can’t recall now whether it was this review or my inclusion of Cockfighter on my ten-best list in Sight and Sound — or could it have been both? — that led eventually to Charles Willeford sending me a note of thanks, along with his a copy of his self-published book A Guide for the Undehemorrhoided, a short account of his own hemorrhoid operation. Not knowing Willeford’s work at the time — today I’m a big fan, especially of his four late Hoke Mosley novels — I’m sorry to say that I didn’t keep this book, which undoubtedly has become a very scarce collector’s item.
But first, before reprinting the Film Comment review, here is my capsule review of Cockfighter for the Chicago Reader, written almost three decades later and published in mid-August 2003: “Except for Iguana, which is almost completely unknown, this wry 1974 feature is probably the most underrated work by Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop).… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974, Vol. 41, No. 490. — J.R.
Portiere di Notte, Il (The Night Porter)
Italy, 1973 Director: Liliana Cavani
Cert—X. dist—Avco-Embassy. p.c—Lotar Film. A Robert Gordon
Edwards/Esa De Dimone production. A Joseph E. Levine presentation
for Ital Noleggio Cinematografico. p—Robert Gordon Edwards. p. staff–
Umberto Sambuco, Dino di Dionisio, Roberto Edwards, (Vienna) Otto
Dworak. asst. d–Franco Cirino, Paola Tallarigo, (Vienna) Johann
Freisinger. sc–Liliana Cavani, Italo Moscati. story–Liliana Cavani,
Barbara Alberti, Amedeo Pagani. ph–Alfio Contini. co1–Technicolor;
prints by Eastman Colour. col. sup–Ernesto Novelli. ed–Franco Arcalli.
a.d–Nedo Azzini, Jean-Marie Simon. set dec–Osvaldo Desideri. m/m.d–
Daniele Paris. cost–Piero Tosi. sd. ed–Michael Billingsley. sd. rec–
Fausto Ancillai. sd. re-rec–Decio Trani. post-synchronisation d–Robert
Rietty. sd. effects–Roberto Arcangeli. l.p–Dirk Bogarde (Max),
Charlotte Rampling (Lucia), Philippe Leroy (Klaus), Gabriele Ferzetti (Hans),
Giuseppe Addobbati (Stumm), Isa Miranda (Countess Stein), Nino
Bignamini (Adolph), Marino Mase’ (Atherton), Amedeo Amodia (Bert),
Piero Vida (Day Porter), Geoffrey Copleston (Kurt), Manfred Freiberger
(Dobson), Ugo Cardea (Mario), Hilda Gunther (Greta), Nora Ricci
(Neighbour), Piero Mazzinghi (Concierge), Kai S.… Read more »
This appeared in the October 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. This was long before the silent version of Blackmail was rediscovered and restored. — J.R.
Great Britain, 1929 Director: Alfred Hitchcock
The extraordinary plateau attained by Hitchcock’s first sound film in relation to his overall development is the sum of many accomplishments: above all, a decisive mastery in moving back and forth between objective and subjective narrative modes. If the point-of-view is one of the cornerstones in Hitchcockian syntax, the film quite likely represents the first time in the director career that it is woven so seamlessly into a plot that all notions of stylistic “touches” gives way to a sustained psychological density. Beginning virtually like a documentary, Blackmail provides a quick foretaste of subjective truth in its early glimpses of the anonymous criminal, which subtly veer from the police’s viewpoint to his own – shifting, that is, from one kind of fear and apprehension to another. The complex overtones and ambiguities of the film are informed throughout by this kind of duplicity and intimacy, which oblige us to identify with rapist along with potential victim, murderer along with corpse, and detective along with blackmailer, at the same time as we are asked to regard them all with a certain amused skepticism.… Read more »
From Oui (October 1974). — J.R.
La Gueule Ouverte. A 5O-year-old Frenchwoman named Monique (Monique Melinand) is dying of a painful disease. She gradually loses the ability to communicate with any ease, and finally the power to speak at all. Eventually she’s moved from the hospital to the family’s house in Auvergne, where her husband Roger (Hubert Deschamps), along with her son Philippe (Philippe Leotard) and his wife Nathalie (Nathalie Baye), take care of her and wait for her to die. It’s a painful and less-than-inviting subject for a film, but somehow Maurice Pialat works wonders with it. Too recognizable and embarrassing to be strictly sentimental and too inventive and observant to be predictable. his story moves like a string of terse epiphanies, beautifully recorded by Nestor Almendros’s camera. The characters are neither bigger nor smaller than life: Roger is a drunken grouch whose idea of kicks is to cop a feel from a pretty girl while she changes sweaters in his clothing shop, yet he is the one most affected by Monique’s death. Philippe screws Nathalie and then goes hunting up prostitutes in his desperate flight from the fact of death. Father and son don’t like each other much, and when Philippe and Nathalie drive away at dusk– an extraordinary extended shot that encapsulates a lifetime into a few miles — we can be confident that they won’t be coming back again.… Read more »
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 »
From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1974). — J.R.
The first and perhaps the final question to be asked about Peter Bogdanovich’s adaptation of Henry James’ novella is simply why he chose to embark on it. A revealing interview with the director by Jan Dawson which appeared in Sight and Sound last winter affirms that he is anything but a Jamesophile (‘The social aspects of it don’t really concern me’), and one would imagine that taking up an admittedly minor — if commercially celebrated — work by the grey eminence would at least be dictated by an interest in the tale as ‘raw material’, an expedient for arriving at his own creation. But the confounding thing about his Daisy Miller is that it comes across as neither fish nor fowl: too indifferent to Jamesian nuance to qualify as appreciation, too faithful (in terms of the overall plotting and dialogue in Frederic Raphael ‘s script) to gain credence as an attack on the original — and yet too amorphous and uncertain in its own terms to register as an independent and autonomous work.
One suspects that the attractions of the project were the mythic elements: American innocence and charm in confrontation with European decadence.… Read more »
From Time Out (London), October 11-17, 1974. –- J.R.
Up to now, Richard Lester has been in the habit of either attacking genres (‘How I Won the War’) or mixing them (‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ –- in the case of ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ virtually inventing a new genre out of the mixture). In ‘Juggernaut’, a commercial job with relatively modest pretensions, he is simply conforming to a genre -– the Ocean Liner catastrophe –- and comes up with a better-crafted version of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, complete with multiple subplots and cornball heroics, but with smoother acting and sharper direction. The potential catastrophe is seven steel drums of amatol timed to go off and destroy 1200 passengers unless a ransom is delivered to the mysterious Juggernaut. Using such varied ingredients as the flamboyance of Richard Harris, the stolid inexpressiveness of Omar Sharif and the usual carrying on of Roy Kinnear, Lester milks the situation for all the suspense that can be expected and then some, pushing a few arch gags into the remaining cracks. The results: mindless entertainment of the first order, at least in the Ocean Liner Catastrophe cycle.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1974 (vol. 41, no. 489). –- J.R.
Drummer of Vengeance
Great Britain, 1974
Director: Robert Paget
The American West, shortly after the Civil War. A rebel soldier who goes over to the Union army returns home to find his Indian wife and his son murdered — the former after having been raped — and their house burned to the ground by vengeful Confederates. Coming upon a wind-up toy drummer in the ruins, he vows to track down and kill all the men responsible. His usual method of revenge is to wind up the toy, place it on the ground, and ask his victim to make his play — whether armed or unarmed – before shooting him. He pays a carpenter to make the necessary coffins in advance and quickly dispatches six of the men he is after. The angry townsfolk, eager to be rid of the avenger (known only as the Stranger) and anxious for Sheriff Mason to apprehend him, are spurred on by the fanatical Bible-spouting of the town’s gravedigger — actually the Stranger in disguise. The Stranger also impersonates an Indian in a lance-throwing act in O’Conner’s Travelling Show in order to kill his next victim.… Read more »