The following is from the [London] National Film Theatre’s program guide in December-January 1975-76, introducing a retrospective that I curated. If the valuation that I placed on Altman seems more idealized to me now than it did at the time, the fact that it came shortly after his best run as a filmmaker explains much of my enthusiasm. But my disillusionment with the media support of Altman already began to sour after I described at length the use of sound in a particular sequence from California Split to a BBC-Radio interview, only to discover that the broadcast version blithely substituted a different sequence from the film to illustrate my point, thereby reducing my analysis to gibberish. -– J.R.
While most commercial American streamliners turn all members of an audience into second-class passengers following the same route from an identical vantage point, Robert Altman’s multilinear adventures oblige us to take some initiative in charting out the trip -– supplying one’s own connections, and pursuing one’s own threads and interpretations in order to participate in a game where everyone, on-screen and off, is entitled to a different piece of the action.
Admittedly, this is a somewhat idealized description of an approach that is still in a state of development, and not every Altman film conforms precisely to this model.… Read more »
This synopsis and review appeared in the December 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin.
I’ve only just begun to familiarize myself with Moana with sound (see first still below), put together by the Flahertys’ daughter Monica, restored by Bruce Posner and Sami van Ingen (the Flaherty’s great-grandson), and posthumously released on Blu-Ray today by Kino Lorber. But I’ve already sampled enough of it — as well as all of Posner’s “short” (39-minute) history of the project, included along with other extras on the Blu-Ray — to view it as a major achievement, hopefully leading to a major reassessment of what I regard in some ways as Flaherty’s most neglected masterpiece. — J.R.
Directors: Robert J. Flaherty, Frances Hubbard Flaherty
Savai’i, a Samoan island. Near the village of Safune, Moana pulls taro root from the ground and peels it while his betrothed Fa’angase bundles leaves, his mother Tu’ungaita carries mulberry sticks and his younger brother Pe’a helps them. Setting off for the village, they set a trap for wild boar, the forest’s only dangerous animal, which they subsequently capture. Moana, Fa’angase, and Pe’a go spear-fishing, along with Moana’s older brother Leupenga. Back in the village, Tu’ungaita makes back-cloth for a lavalava, a native dress. … Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 503). — J.R.
Director: Phil Karlson
In films as diverse as 99 River Street and The Phenix City Story, Phil Karlson has shown a striking aptitude for the dynamics of seedy crime melodramas — particularly those which deal, in Andrew Sarris’s phrase, “with the phenomenon of violence in a world controlled by organized evil”. Working, however, in slicker settings and with a plotline at once as hackneyed and as confused as the one in Framed, he appears no better than anyone else at handling the hysterical revenge theme that has often seemed his stock-in-trade.
Discounting some lamentable lab work and five minutes of censor’s cuts in the version under review — which apparently include a rape and some protracted pre-murder mayhem perpetrated by the hero against a failed kidnapper (shooting one ear off and prodding the other with hot wire, until he gives out information) — it is difficult to imagine what could have been salvaged from such a nonsensical collection of plastic characters and cardboard stances, where the narrative proceeds as if by hiccups and the film’s dramatic highlight is provided by the hero remarking of a minor villain, “First time I ever saw a tub of shit in a suit”.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1975 (vol. 42, no. 502). –- J.R.
Tod eines Fremden (The Execution)
West Germany/lsrael, 1972
Director: Reza S. Badiyi
Returning to Hamburg from a business trip, corporation lawyer Arthur Hersfeld is mistaken for Baruch Herzog, a non-existent Israeli agent invented by Israeli intelligence, and his cab from the airport is run off the road. He is given a lift into town by Amina, a French journalist calling herself Janine who works in the Arab underground and proceeds to investigate Hersfeld after dropping him off. Meeting her again, Arthur tells her that he knows she’s a spy, but a mutual attraction nevertheless develops between them. After a man named Zui Adam is murdered outside his home, and his office and house are ransacked, Arthur is questioned at the morgue by Inspector Barkan, who has been investigating Arab terrorist activity. Ordered to Berlin to kill Herzog, Amina buys a plane ticket for Hersfeld as well, and they have an affair; she talks about her family having been driven out of their home by Israelis and he tells her about his Jewish background, having been raised in New York after his father was killed by the Nazis.… Read more »
From the Monthly Film Bulletin, no. 502, November 1975. — J.R.
OHAYO (GOOD MORNING)
Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Cert — U. dist — Cinegate. p.c — Shochiku/Ofuna. p — Shizuo Yamanouchi. sc — Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda. ph — Yushun Atsuta. col — Agfacolor. ed —Yoshiyasu Hamamura. a.d —Tatsuo Hamada. m — Toshiro Mayuzumi. l.p — Chishu Ryu (Keitaro Hayashi), Kuniko Miyake (Tamiko Hayashi), Yoshiko Kuga (Setsuko Arita, Tamiko’s Sister), Koji Shidara (Minoru Hayashi, Older Son), Masahiko Shimazu (Isamu Hayashi, Younger Son), Keiji Sada (Heichiro Fukui, English Teacher), Haruo Tanaka (Pencil Salesman), Haruko Sugimura (Mrs. Haraguchi), Miyaguchi (Mr. Haraguchi), Eiko Miyoshi (Mrs. Haraguchi’s Mother), Eijiro Tono (Tomizawa), Teruko Nagoako (Tomizawa’s wife), Sadako Sawamura (Mrs. Okubu), Kyoko Izum and Hasabe (Couple with TV Set), Toyo Takahashi.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1975).
I was shocked to learn yesterday [in December 2011] of the death of Gilbert Adair, a close friend during the mid-70s (when both of us were living in Paris, and for some time later, after I moved to London ahead of Gilbert). This collaborative article, which I instigated, assigning the middle sections to Gilbert and to Michael Graham (also, alas, no longer alive), is being posted now in memory of our friendship. (With Lauren Sedofsky, Gilbert and I had also already collaborated on an interview with Rivette the previous year, which was posted here yesterday.) And because of the unusual length of this article, I’m running it in two parts; the first half, with sections by me and Gilbert about Duelle, appeared a few hours ago. — J.R.
Like any Rivette film, Le Vengeur (2) took shape gradually, drawing on a large number of deliberately chosen ideas and as many fortuitous circumstances. As important as Rivette’s interest in Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (drawn to his attention by Eduardo De Gregorio), and the curious traditions surrounding the period of Carnival, was the availability of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont together with that of a group of dancers from Carolyn Carlson’s company.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1975).
I was shocked to learn yesterday of the death of Gilbert Adair, a close friend during the mid-70s (when both of us were living in Paris, and for some time later, after I moved to London ahead of Gilbert). This collaborative article, which I instigated, assigning the middle sections to Gilbert and to Michael Graham (also, alas, no longer alive), is being posted now in memory of our friendship. (With Lauren Sedofsky, Gilbert and I had also already collaborated on an interview with Rivette the previous year, which was posted here yesterday.) And because of the unusual length of this article, I’ll be running it in two parts; the second half, with sections by me and Michael Graham about Noroît, will appear a few hours from now. — J.R.
In theory, from the vantage point of early spring, it would go something like this: four movies to be shot consecutively, each one an average-length feature to be filmed in three weeks; editing to begin after the fourth is shot, the four films edited in the order of their successive releases.… Read more »
Slightly tweaked from its original appearance in the Autumn 1975 issue of Sight and Sound. — J.R.
‘A dialectic collage of unreality,’ remarked pop singer Brenda Lee, emerging from the Nashville premiere in August. After a summer full of humourless rhetoric in the American press about ‘the true lesson of ‘Watergate’, ‘the failure of our civilization,’ ‘the long nauseating terror of a fall through the existential void,’ and equally grave matters — most of it implying that a movie has to be about ‘everything’ (i.e., the State of the Union) before it can be about anything – it was refreshing to discover that someone, at long last, had finally got it right. Even if Lee’s comment was intended as a slam, it deserves to be resurrected as a tribute. For if Nashville is conceivably the most exciting commercial American movie in years, this is first of all because of what it constructs, not what it exposes.
From the moment we begin with an ad for the film itself — a blaring overload of multi-media confusion — and pass to a political campaign van spouting banalities, then to a recording studio where country music star Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is cutting a hilariously glib Bicentennial anthem, Nashville registers as a double-fisted satire of its chosen terrain, and it would be wrong to suggest that its targets of derision are beside the point, even if the angle of vision subsequently widens to take in more than just foolishness.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1975. — J.R.
U.S.A., 1975 Director: Norman Jewison
A classic demonstration of how several millions of dollars can be
unenjoyably wasted, Rollerball postulates an unlikely future society
from which war, poverty, illness and individual initiative have all
magically vanished, but then resolutely refuses to show it, reserving
all its heavy hardware for the brutal mechanics of an exceedingly
dull sport that is presumed to make this invisible anti-utopia
possible. Featuring a noble savage hero who stumbles clumsily
after an obscure mystery like a donkey running repeatedly into a
brick wall — James Caan reprising his performance in The Gambler
without the literary quotes, in a comparable embodiment of
mindless masochism-and a Sphinx-like villain (John Houseman)
who glowers occasionally to illustrate which side he’s on, this
glib fable seems to be aiming at a simplified version of A
Clockwork Orange without any intimations of wit or satire to
carry the vague moralistic message. Futuristic extrapolation, apart
from the central conceit, is mainly restricted to a couple of
streamlined buildings and the same lettering design recurring
whenever possible; humor, aside from an irreverent (if
implausible) scene with Ralph Richardson as a computer
librarian, usually figures only unintentionally, for instance
when Jonathan E is informed that Moonpie’s brain has ceased
to function — the first indication in the script that it has ever
functioned at all; the multi-track musical accompaniment
principally comprises an anthology of classical favorites
used in previous films.Notwithstanding the inconsistency
of racist gibes from the Houston team about their Japanese
opponents in a world where such sentiments are
supposed to be obsolete, the old-fashioned carnage of the
Rollerball matches is admittedly democratic in spirit, for given
the general lack of individuation it is frequently a moot point as to
who clobbers whom.… Read more »
James B. Harris’s second feature, which I discovered and saw several times in Cannes in 1973, continues to be a particular favorite among unclassifiable films, and it has finally become available digitally (and was even recently shown on TCM). My initial review of the film for Film Comment led to be getting invited to dinner once by Harris himself along with his French distributor, Pierre Rissient; this review appeared a couple of years later, in the Autumn 1975 issue of Sight and Sound, after the film opened belatedly in London. Note: This film has also sometimes gone under the titles Sleeping Beauty and Dream Castle. — J.R.
Some Call It Loving
On the face of it, a series of outlansish imponderables: Robert Troy (Zalman King), a moody white jazz musician, occupies a baroque mansion overlooking the Pacific with Scarlett (Carol White0 and Angelica (Veronica Anderson) who sleep together and devote their waking hours to acting out his erotic fantasies — pornographic emblems which become oddly chaste through their highly formalized enactments (dancing nuns, mistress-and-maid rituals) — while his “best” and only friend Jeff (Richard Pryor), a black derelict dying of drugs and drink, worships his saxophone playing at a local nightclub…At a carnival, Troy comes upon a Sleeping Beauty sideshow, where a depraved-looking hawker in a doctor’s suit (Logan Ramsey) invites the male spectators to try to wake Jennifer (Tisa Farrow) with a kiss for the price of a dollar.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1975, Vol. 42, No. 500.
It’s good to see Norman Mailer’s first three features just out in a two-disc DVD set from Eclipse (it would be great if Criterion could eventually do the same for Susan Sontag’s three fiction features), even though I regret that my two favorite Mailer films — his untitled, ten-minute experimental short from 1947 (recently discovered by archivist Michael Chaiken, who wrote the excellent and provocative notes for the Eclipse set, and which I saw last July at Il Cinema Ritrovato) and Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987) — aren’t included. (Admittedly, I haven’t yet seen all of Maidstone, which Chaiken makes the most claims for, so these rankings on my part are still subject to revision.)…In his Eclipse notes, Chaiken describes Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up? [sic] as “a filmed counterpart to The Armies of the Night“, which parallels my own observation here.… Read more »
From Film Comment (September-October 1975). Some of this article, especially the early stretches, embarrasses me now for its pretentiousness, but I think it still has some value as a period piece.
A few brief footnotes to my interview with Chaplin: (1) We shared a joint at one point while doing it; (2) her comments about working with Rivette made it seem a lot less fun and more difficult, at least for her, than working with Altman (she described it at one point as having to show Rivette various kinds of acting like a rug merchant to see which one he liked); and in fact (3) a few decades later, when I met her again at a film festival, reminded her of our interview, and asked her what she thought of Noroit, she told me that she’d never seen it. — J.R.
Or should I call this my NASHVILLE Journal? On March 19, I saw a monaural print in London at a private screening. Writing over three months later, shortly after its New York opening and a projected five before it’s supposed to surface in the rural West End, I can only wish it well on its way. Regular readers of this column may froth at the mouth if I drag Tati and Rivette into the case once more; in that case, froth away, folks — I’m sorry, but it’s Altman’s doing, not mine.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1975. — J.R.
Director : James Parrott
Cert–U. dist–Kingston. p.c/p–Hal Roach. For MGM. story–Leo
McCarey. dial–H. M. Walker. ph–George Stevens. ed–Richard Currier.
l.p–Stan Laurel (Himself/His Son), Oliver Hardy (Himself/His Son).
732 ft. 20 mins. (16 mm.).
While Laurel and Hardy try to play checkers, they are repeatedly interrupted by the fights and antics of their two sons, miniature replicas of themselves; eventually they send them up to bed. After putting on their pyjamas, the kids continue to wreak havoc: as Hardy Jnr. looks under the bed for a mouse, it crawls on to his bottom, and Laurel Jnr. fires at it with a toy gun; Hardy Jnr. howls in pain, and Laurel Jnr. fills the bathtub to offer him relief, leaving both taps on. They spar with boxing gloves before their fathers appear once more, and Hardy is persuaded to sing them a lullaby; when one of the kids asks for a glass of water and Hardy opens the bathroom door, the room is flooded.
A clever use of double sets — each room scaled separately to match the respective sizes of fathers and sons — and a baby Hardy without a moustache aren’t really enough to make this more than a minor Laurel and Hardy effort, although there are a few compensations along the way, most notably Laurel’s adage that “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make a pencil lead”, and Hardy’s lullaby, which quickly gravitates into a scat-yodeling exercise.… Read more »
This review from the August 1975 Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 42, no. 499) probably features my first use of the word “diegesis“, which I must have learned about very shortly before. (As I recall, it was Laura Mulvey who explained to me what the term meant.) I’m not at all confident now that I absolutely had to use it.
An email sent on 9/4/09 from Adrian Martin: “Great to re-read your MFB pieces, which were among the earliest writings of yours I encountered as they appeared ! But your memorable NUMBER 17 piece raises a great historic mystery that has often plagued me, and which (I now realise) you may be at the centre of !! And that is the mysterious (mis)spelling of ‘diegesis’ – that is definitely the correct spelling, via the Greek root – as ‘diagesis’, which (as I recall) ran rife through FILM COMMENT and SIGHT AND SOUND for a while in the mid to late 70s (after a while, it seemed like some editorial superimposition by Corliss or Houston or whomever). It seemed to me, at the time, as the biggest symptom of the non- communication between film journalism and the theory academy! But maybe you have another version of where ‘diagesis’ came from ??… Read more »
I believe this is the last of my reviews of early Hitchcock films for the Monthly Film Bulletin that I’ve transcribed, after The Ring, Blackmail, and Number Seventeen; this one appeared in the July 1975 issue. –J.R.
Great Britain, 1930 Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Hitchcock has described Murder as his “first and only whodunit”, accounting for his antipathy to the form with the complaint that it “contains no emotion”, and bringing to mind Edmund Wilson’s comparison of reading several with unpacking “large crates by swallowing the excelsior in order to find at the bottom a few bent and rusty nails”. Certainly the most evident lack in this 1930 movie — apart from the creakier aspects of the play which it adapts — is the sort of emotional continuity and momentum of controlled viewpoints which sustained Blackmail so brilliantly the previous year, and the more dubious cerebral rewards offered in their place are not quite enough to fuse its comparable experiments into a consistently workable style. After an effective, rather UFA-inspired opening (prompted, no doubt, both by Hitchcock’s work at the German studio in the mid-Twenties and by the fact that he concurrently shot a German version of Murder entitled Mary), which features a lengthy dolly past the windows of neighbors responding to a mysterious commotion, the film mainly tends towards a stagier conception of dialogue units which the various stylistic departures often inflect rather than unify, thus usually registering as isolated “touches”.… Read more »