Yearly Archives: 1977

The Solitary Pleasures of STAR WARS

From the Autumn 1977 Sight and Sound.– J.R.

“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away . . .” reads the opening title, over vast interstellar reaches of wide-screen space. “I’ve seen the future and it works!” declares a happy teenager on his way out of the movie to a TV reporter in Los Angeles — oddly parroting what Lincoln Steffens said about Russia over fifty years ago, before Ford Motors gave the slogan a second lease on life. “Another galaxy, another time,” begins the novel’s prologue more noncommittally, carefully hedging all bets. But confusion between past and future, however useful to the tactics of George Lucas’s STAR WARS, seems almost secondary to the overriding insistence that whenever this giddy space opera is taking place, it can’t possibly be anywhere quite so disagreeable as the present.

“Rather than do some angry, socially relevant film,” Lucas has said, “I realized there was another relevance that is even more important — dreams and fantasies, getting children to believe there is more to life than garbage and killing and all that real stuff like stealing hubcaps — that you could still sit and dream about exotic lands and strange creatures.” Although garbage and killing are anything but absent from STAR WARS, and stealing hubcaps is around in spirit if not in letter, Lucas’s aspiration is easy enough to comprehend, even after the social interests of his THX 1138 and AMERICAN GRAFFITI.… Read more »

The Major Film Theories: An Introduction

From Sight and Sound (Summer 1977). -– J.R.

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THE MAJOR FILM THEORIES: AN INTRODUCTION

By J. Dudley Andrew

OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS, £2.50(paperback)

The widespread distrust of film theory still persisting in mainstream criticism is scarcely confined to Anglo-American film culture. Less than a decade back, when Noël Burch’s Praxis du cinéma -– later translated as Theory of Film Practice –- first appeared in France, someone at Gallimard hit on a rather demented sales pitch, and the book was marketed with a wraparound banner boldly proclaiming, ‘Contre toute théorie.’ The curious science fiction tone of this declaration highlights a subterranean bias which informs most film reviewing on and off the continent: the idea that theory is an option best left to dusty academicians, while everyone else is better off operating on free-floating intelligence and intuition. Ironically, this is an assumption which expresses a theory of its own: that knowledge is essentially empirical. And the definition accorded to ‘empiricist’ by the Concise Oxford may be worth at least considering:’(person) relying solely on experiment; quack.’

In all fairness to ‘anti-theorists’, it should be conceded that science and art are hardly the same thing. If a sizeable part of our knowledge of the former is grounded in theory, the parti pris underlying our knowledge of cinema tends to be a much more random affair, a generally murky blend of half-examined predilections and working hypotheses.… Read more »

Letter from London (1977)

From American Film (April 1977). I got this assignment because I had just left two and a half years of London employment at the British Film Institute when I wrote it, so that I had been directly involved in some of the events described, having prepared the U.K. pressbook for Celine and Julie Go Boating, written about the Edinburgh Film Festival’s Screen events for Sight and Sound, and written the programme notes for the National Film Theatre’s Altman retrospective. -– J.R.

It sounds like hyperbole, but London seems well on its way toward becoming a livelier haven for “serious” film buffs than New York City. How did it happen? After all, the world’s third largest city has never seemed like the most bustling of movie towns.

Despite the celebrated resources of the British Film Institute and the prestige of some of the film schools, theater has always had a much firmer grip on the cultural life here; a casual look at any of the three television channels will prove it. This fact hasn’t been altered in the slightest by what’s been happening lately within the filmgoing community — a sharp increase in activity.

Consider some of the evidence.… Read more »

Cooley High (1977 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977. — J.R.

Cooley High

U.S.A.,1975
Director: Michael Schultz

Chicago, 1964. Cochise, Preach, Pooter and another friend, students at Edwin G. Cooley Vocational High School, sneak out of class one Friday and visit the Lincoln Park Zoo; afterwards they play basketball, and Preach, who has been dating Sandra, flirts with the aloof Brenda. At home, Preach finds a letter informing him that he has received a scholarship; that night, he attends a party with his friends and re-encounters Brenda, who warms to him when she discovers his interest in poetry. After the party is broken up by a fight provoked by Damon, Preach and Cochise join Stone and Robert to go joyriding in a stolen car; Preach takes the wheel and drives recklessly, eluding the police after an extended chase. On Saturday, Preach and his friends study briefly for a history exam before going to the movies, fleeing the cinema after Pooter unwittingly provokes a fight. On Sunday, Preach takes Brenda home and they make love; after he casually lets drop that he bet Cochise money that he could sleep with her, she runs away and the next day at school kisses him in front of Sandra.… Read more »

Car Wash (1977 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977 (Vol. 44, No. 517). This is a movie I clearly went overboard about, even though I still might be inclined to defend it today, and I suspect now that I simply missed the boat by ignoring the screenwriter, Joel Schumacher — who, on the evidence of the subsequent D.C. Cab, surely qualified more as the auteur here than Michael Schultz. — J.R.

U.S.A., 1976
Director: Michael Schultz

Los Angeles. Lonnie arrives to open the gates of the Dee-Luxe Car Wash. Other workers turn up, including fancy dresser T.C. (“Fly”), who has a crush on Mona, a waitress at the restaurant across the street; Scruggs, who has just spent the night with another woman and is afraid to call his wife Charlene; Lindy, a flamboyant homosexual; and Hippo, Justin, Chuko and Goody. After Duane, an angry militant worker, arrives later, the white owner Mr. B drives up with his hippy son Irwin. A hooker escapes from a cab without paying her fare and hides in the ladies’ room. Irwin is ridiculed for hIs Maoist pretensions when he insists on joining the workers, and Calvin, a kid on a skateboard, turns up to pester everyone.… Read more »

Jacques Tati, by Penelope Gilliatts

From Sight and Sound (Winter 1976/77). -– J.R.

 

Jacques Tati, by Penelope Gilliatt

(Woburn Press, £ 2.95). A good example of Sunday supplement journalism, this thumbnail sketch — the first book in English devoted to Tati — shares roughly the same virtues and limitations as Gavin Millar’s Omnibus programme on him last spring: a warm, ample sense of the comic’s personality and opinions is coupled with a meagre grasp of his art. Basically derived from a New Yorker Profile, but decked out with a pleasant assortment of stills, Gilliatt’s slim volume hops from interview material to favourite recollected gags and back again without so much as hinting at the radical complexity of any single shot and its accompanying sounds in any Tati film, restricting its focus to a set of stray details retrieved out of context. To settle for this sentimental reduction of Tati’s genius is roughly tantamount to reducing [James Joyce’s] Ulysses to Joseph Strick’s greeting card version. But Hulot fans who feel that Tati’s importance rests chiefly on his charm as a performer should have little cause for complaint.

JONATHAN ROSENBAUM

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Noroît (1976/77 review)

This review of Jacques Rivette’s weirdest film, from the Winter 1976/77 issue of Sight and Sound, is one of the few pieces of my significant writing on Rivette from this period that hasn’t already been reproduced either on the excellent web site devoted to Rivette, “Order of the Exile,” or on this web site (e.g., my essay for Film Comment about Duelle). Having spent five very memorable days during the summer of 1974 watching the shooting of Noroît, in and around a 12th century fortress on the Brittany coast (see “Les Filles du Feu: Rivette x 4″, an article I wrote with Gilbert Adair and the late Michael Graham, reproduced on “Order of the Exile”), this was a film that I found in some ways even more compelling as a project than as a realized work.—J.R.

Noroît

If each new Rivette film marks a decisive break as much as a discernible development, Part III in the projected Scènes de la Vie Parallèle — the second film made in the tetralogy — reinforces this principle with a vengeance. Receiving its world premiere at the London [Film] Festival, immediately after a screening of Duelle (Part II of the cycle, discussed in my Edinburgh article elsewhere in this issue), Noroît has already occasioned the sort of extreme realignments provoked by Spectre after L’amour fou, or by Duelle after Céline et julie vont en bateau.… Read more »