From Time Out (London), Sept. 27—Oct. 3, 1974. –- J.R.
‘Amarcord’ (Curzon, Warner West End) is Fellini at this ripest and loudest, which is not to say always at his best. Recreating a fantasy vision of his home town during the fascist period, with generous helpings of soap opera and burlesque, he generally gets his better effects by orchestrating his colorful cast of characters around the town square, on a boat outing, or at a festive local wedding. When he narrows his focus to individual groups, he usually limits himself to corny bathroom and bedroom jokes which produce the desired titters but little else. But despite the ups and downs, it’s still Fellini, which has become an identifiable substance like salami or pepperoni that can be sliced into at any point, yielding pretty much the same general consistency and flavor. There are the expected set pieces (family dinner, fascist rally), the customary cartoon cut-outs (a blind accordionist, a tobacconist with breasts the size of watermelons), and the tearful tones of Nino Rota, as evocative as ever. Fellini’s home town would have liked it. (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
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From Time Out (London), September 13-19, 1974. –- J.R.
For Godard, French neo-realism was born with Jacques Tati’s ‘Jour de Fete’ in 1947. An even likelier candidate might be Jean Renoir’s ‘Toni’ (Everyman to Saturday), shot in southern France in 1934 with a cast of unknowns, and dealing with a community of immigrants who work in a stone quarry. Actually, it’s a melodrama about love and sex, jealousy and murder -– the sort of staples that have kept the cinema going for seventy years or so -– but Renoir invests it with a sense of character and place that gives it an unusually blunt and sensual impact. Neither romanticizing his workers nor turning them into rallying points, he accepts them as they are and follows them where they go. The plot is based on a real crime that occurred in Martigues (where the film was shot) in the early Twenties, Jacques Morier, an old friend of Renoir’s who was the local police chief, assembled the facts, and Renoir wrote the script with another friend, art critic Carl Einstein. The results are both stark and gentle, as well as sexy: Toni sucking wasp poison from Josefa’s lissome neck is a particularly fine moment.… Read more »
From the Village Voice (October 10, 1974). — J.R.
A book by Dwight Macdonald
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Dwight Macdonald’s latest collection of articles is a sequel of sorts to his Politics Past — political-cultural and incidental literary criticism that composes a loose chronicle of the times, taking in a span of nearly five decades.
I blush a little to admit it today, but Dwight Macdonald was the first film critic I ever took seriously. He liked Citizen Kane, Breathless and Shadows and so did I, but I think the clincher was his prose — a rare kind of magazine writing, bursting with energy, that danced or sang or clowned regardless of what it was saying, with a fine ear for polemics and invective. This latter talent has gradually become known as his specialty. More humanistic and less of a school marm than John Simon and a lot more folksy and homespun than Gore Vidal, he shares with them the status of Master of the Chopping Block. (For the best whacks, see my favorite Macdonald collection, Against the American Grain [much of it recently reprinted, in 2011, as Masscult and Midcult: Essays Against the American Grain].)
But he usually takes on a different coloration in his political writing, where his loves and hatreds become more personal and complex — more mutable and prone to reversals or other kinds of second thoughts.… Read more »
From Oui (September 1974). –- J.R.
Piaf. In her life and in her music’ Edith Piaf is probably the closest thing France has had to a Billie Holiday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that a feature-length fiction film based on her life gives her the same kind of treatment that Lady Sings the Blues gave to Billie. We begin with Edith’s birth in 1915 in a red-light district of Paris. Abandoned by her mother, she grows up in a provincial whorehouse, Edith starts singing for centimes in street acts with her acrobat father. Then she goes independent and sings on the street while her half-sister, Momone, accompanies her on harmonica.Piaf is menaced by a Montmartre pimp who sells her “protection”. After she gives birth to a bastard daughter who dies in infancy, she gradually makes her way up the ladder from a dive in Pigalle to a Champs-Elysées niqht club. The plot is taken from a “fictionalized” biography by Simone Berteaut, the real-life Momone. Newcomer Brigitte Ariel plays Piaf, although the singing voice belongs to Betty Mars in both the French and English versions of the film. Guy Casaril, the director, serves it all up in something akin to the American bio-pic Style: Edith sings her heart out as the camera sails up into the sky.… Read more »