Perhaps the closest I’ve come to writing theater criticism are the two reviews I did of the “American Film Theatre” productions of The Homecoming and The Maids in successive issues of the Monthly Film Bulletin in 1976 — a good filming and adaptation of a good play and a terrible filming and adaptation of what I consider an even greater play. So I’m reproducing these two reviews back to back. — J.R.
U.S.A./Great Britain, 1973
Director: Peter Hall
An attempt, largely successful, to approximate Peter Hall’s original stage version of The Homecoming in London (1965) and New York (1967), with only two cast changes: Cyril Cusack as Sam in place of John Normington, and Michael Jayston as Teddy in place of two previous Michaels –- Craig (New York) and Bryant (London). The outsized living room continues to function as a sort of masterpiece of hyper-realism, and the cast remains uniformly superb; if memory serves correctly, Paul Rogers has made Max somewhat nastier this time around while Ian Holm’s Lenny has become marginally more charismatic, and both of these changes seem to work to the play’s advantage in terms of overall balance. The only concessions to “opening out” the action are a few establishing or continuity shots of the street outside, some pointless glimpses of Ruth taking her walk, and brief forays into the kitchen.… Read more »
This review for the March 1976 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin was part of a larger project, tied to my position as the magazine’s assistant editor, to have other films by Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet that were distributed in the U.K. reviewed in the magazine — in that particular issue, History Lessons (by Yehuda E. Safran), as well as The Bridegroom, the Comedienne and the Pimp (by Tony Rayns) and Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene (by Jill Forbes). That same issue of the magazine inaugurated a back-cover feature that persisted for the publication’s remaining life and years, devoted in this particular case to a detailed bibliography that I compiled of interviews, scripts, and “other statements and texts” by Straub and Huillet, in half a dozen different languages. —J.R.
Nicht Versöhnt oder Es hilft nur Gerwalt, wo Gerwalt herrscht (Not Reconciled, or Only Violence Helps Where Violence Rules)
West Germany, 1965
Director: Jean-Marie Straub
“Far from being a puzzle film (like Citizen Kane or Muriel), Not Reconciled is better described as a ‘lacunary film’, in the same sense that Littré defines a lacunary body: a whole composed of agglomerated crystals with intervals among them, like the interstitial spaces between the cells of an organism”.… Read more »
Apart from Woody Allen, “the American filmmakers” discussed in this review — which appeared in the March 1976 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin (vol. 43, no. 506) — were apparently Frank Buxton, Len Maxwell, Louise Lasser, Mickey Rose, Julie Bennett, and Bryna Wilson, all credited jointly with Allen for the “script and dubbing” of the 1964 Japanese feature Kizino Kizi that was originally written by Hideo Ando. In recent years, Allen has routinely omitted this film from his filmography, but I persist in finding it one of his funniest. — J.R.
What’s Up, Tiger Lily? [Kizino Kizi]
[Director: Senkichi Taniguchi]
The wonderful surprise of What’s Up, Tiger Lily? — a modest exploitation exercise which predates Woody Allen’s career as a director, and has inexplicably taken a full decade to reach England — is how much mileage it gets out of what might seem to be a very limited conceit; for sheer laughs alone, it is arguably the most consistently funny film in which Allen has so far taken a hand. Undoubtedly a crucial factor in its success derives from the cheerful fashion in which the American filmmakers foreground their principal strategies. Unlike the dubious practice of an American TV cartoon series which slyly perpetuated the racist stereotypes of Amos ‘n’ Andy by assigning similar voices to animal characters, this 1966 jeu d’esprit avoids the chauvinistic possibilities inherent in a reverse procedure post-dubbing live-action Japanese actors with American voices, many of them evocative of cartoon animals — by beginning with material that is already reeking with American influence, and by taking care to remind audiences of what is being done every step of the way.… Read more »