From the March-April 1976 Film Comment. I’m somewhat irritated today by the hectoring tone of this, but I tend to think most of my arguments are sound — apart from my far-too-facile insistence that Barry Lyndon is a failure, which I would now dispute. — J.R.
So BARRY LYNDON is a failure. So what? How many “successes” have you seen lately that are half as interesting or accomplished, that are worth even ten minutes of thought after leaving them? By my own rough count, a smug little piece of engineering like a CLOCKWORK ORANGE was worth about five. I’m reminded of what Jonas Mekas wrote about ZAZIE several years ago: “The fact that the film is a failure means nothing. Didn’t God create a failure, too?”
Anyway, what most Anglo-American critics appear to mean by failure is that they were (a) bewildered and (b) bored by their bewilderment. To some extent, I was bewildered and befuddled too. So what? Who says we have to understand a film back to front before we can let ourselves like it? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
London critics got to see BARRY LYNDON at least a couple of weeks before their New York counterparts, so the contrasts and comparisons that were drawn were somewhat different: while most of the former chastised Kubrick for his beautiful images before going on to rave about HARD TIMES (known over here as THE STREETFIGHTER) or A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, the latter were usually more equitable in establishing that BARRY LYNDON and LUCKY LADY were both failures, leading the unwary to suspect that they might as well be equivalents.… 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 »
The reference-book entry was written in the mid-1970s for Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (1980). (A much-expended version appeared in the January-February 1975 issue of Film Comment.) And the review that comes after this was written for the Monthly Film Bulletin (May 1976, vol. 43, no. 508) — a publication of the British Film Institute, where I was serving at the time as assistant editor — and it follows most of the format of that magazine by following credits with first a one-paragraph synopsis and then a one-paragraph review. Mostly we covered features (all of those released in the country), but occasionally we also did shorts, such as this one. —J.R.
Tex Avery’s best cartoons seem to take off in one of two possible surrealist/narrative directions. A scattershot Hellzapoppin technique thrives on speed, multiplicity, surprise, incongruity, and paradox, with whatever plastic and thematic results ensue from this method. (Examples: Who Killed Who, 1943; Happy-Go-Nutty, 1944; Little Rural Riding Hood, 1949.) A more demonic-obsessive approach develops a single idée fixe to reductio ad absurdum proportions, maintaining roughly the same plastic and thematic concerns throughout. (Examples: Dumb Hounded, 1943; King Size Canary, 1947; Half-Pint Pygmy, 1948.)
With the aid of Heck Allen, Rich Hogan, and other collaborators, Avery provided indiscriminate audiences of the 40s and early 50s with neurotic miracles, bristling with energy and sophistication – and exclusively within seven or eight-minute formats.… 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 »