From The most important and misappreciated American films since the beginning of the cinema, a coffee-table-size book of 150 pages published by the Royal Film Archive of Belgium in 1977. Two or three years earlier, when I was living and working in London, the great Jacques Ledoux (1921-1988) — whom I’d met back in 1968 when I first traveled to Brussels, to look at several of Murnau’s earliest films at his Cinematheque –- stopped by my office at Monthly Film Bulletin to ask me to participate in his eccentric but fascinating survey, which polled 203 participants around the world and then tabulated and cross-referenced the results in a number of ways.
By “misappreciated,” I’m sure that what was meant was “underrated”. I find that I still agree to a surprising degree with many of my judgments in the mid-70s –- including even my belief that Hollywood at the time was going through one of its more meager periods (even though Pauline Kael and many of her disciples seemed to think, and some of them apparently still think, that this was the richest period Hollywood has ever had in its entire history).
I made a point of mentioning Michael Snow at the end of my comments because I knew in advance that some European respondents would list him despite the fact that he is Canadian, not “American” (except in the “North American” sense).… Read more »
I recently had to retype this longish position paper — published in the November-December 1977 issue of Film Comment and never reprinted until now — in order to digitize it for the manuscript of my forthcoming collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia, to be published by the University of Chicago Press in Fall 2010. Going over every word of it again made me painfully aware of how many typos and other errors it had in its previous appearance. [8/14 postscript: My deepest thanks to Andy Rector at Kino Slang for adding the grubby still that originally ran with this article in Film Comment, thereby allowing me to add it here myself.]
This essay has a literal sequel, “Moullet retrouvé.” that will also be posted on this site in a couple of weeks. –J.R.
À la recherche de Luc Moullet: 25 Propositions
1. “Every film by Gerd Oswald deserves a long review.” — LM, 1958.
2. Many of you, perhaps most, have never heard of the man. So much the better. Not all news gets into newspapers, and not all movies get into theaters. The sculptor Paul Thek once proposed an interesting solution to the newspaper problem to me: Get rid of all of them, except for one edition of one daily paper (any would do), and pass this precious object from hand to hand for the next hundred years –- then the news might mean something.… Read more »
The second part of my reprinting of Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980); this part appeared originally in Film Comment, and for this appearance I’ve added several illustrations.
Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. – J.R.
What I Did on My Summer Vacation (September 1977)
Imagination believes before knowing constructs. Believes longer than remembers, longer than knowing even conjures. Knows believes conjures a highway in Mississippi, August 10, on the way to Faulkner’s home in Oxford, tracing a literary pilgrimage from Florence, my hometown in Alabama, part of whose route might approximate the pregnant journey of Lena Grove on the opening pages of Light in August.
What has any of this to do with cinema? First, the car’s languid progress up and down a straight road flanked by forest: a trick of suspended time, pure movie and pure Faulkner. Then the hot moist afternoon light filtering through the branches into a milky pool of delicate focus, like the last scene in Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud, making it easy to imagine in a tactile, even in a carnal way why Dreyer wanted to adapt Light in August, thinking Yes of course only Dreyer could have done it right, handled both sides of the dialectic, all the hot wood and cold flesh and embracing palpitant air, impregnable and inviolate.… Read more »
From Film Comment (July-August 1977). After I returned to the U.S. early that year after seven and a half years of living in Europe (Paris and London), my “Paris Journal” and “London Journal” column in Film Comment became “Moving,” a preoccupation that eventually yielded the title of my first book, Moving Places.
Note: the 35 mm screening of JEANNE DIELMAN alluded to here was set up by Manny Farber and Patricia Patterson on the University of California, San Diego campus while they were working on the last of their essays. -– J.R.
How to keep moving in the same way that this column must travel — from La Jolla, to Richard Corliss in Cannes, to Film Comment in New York, to wherever you happen to be reading it? Now that TV Guide generally has to take the place of Pariscope, [London’s] Time Out, the New York newspapers, shall I write about the breathneck beginning of Sirk’s SLEEP, MY LOVE, the parallels with Preminger’s WHIRLPOOL,a wonderful exchange between Don Ameche and Hazel Brooks (”Doesn’t sound like my girl…” “You have a lot of girls. This is one of them”), or scenes that unexpectedly and mysteriously take place in the rain?… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Summer 1977). -– J.R.
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 »
This book was published in 1977 by the British Film Institute and has been long out of print, although nearly all its contents has been reprinted on the excellent Jacques Rivette website, “Order of the Exile”. — J.R.
Rather than be considered in isolation, this book should be regarded as part of a general effort to make the work of Jacques Rivette available, in every sense of the term. This is not to imply that the following texts and interviews are being offered as a mere supplement to his films: if the entire body of Rivette’s work can be read as a series of evolving reflections on the cinema, the critical work contained in this volume is indissolubly linked with the critical work represented by his film-making. From this standpoint, it is not enough to say (for instance) that Rivette’s 1957 review of Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt helps to ‘explain’ — indeed, provides a veritable blueprint for — many of the preoccupations of his 1976 film Noroit. One of the assumptions of this collection is that it might be equally valuable to view Noroit as a key towards understanding Rivette’s important text on Lang.… Read more »
Written as a column for the May-June 1977 Film Comment. Some of the details here are dated, I think, in an interesting manner — especially the discussion of “Disco-Vision”. I should add that the only version of MIKEY AND NICKY that had been released in the mid-70s was an unfinished edit by Elaine May that the studio had taken away from her and put out without her consent. -– J.R.
The world had gone crazy, said the crazy man in his cell. What was nutty was that the movie folk were trafficking in illusions in the real world but the real world thought that its reality could only be found in the illusions. Two sets of maniacs.
– Walker Percy, Lancelot
Compare the ads for NETWORK and CARWASH. The former conjures up a hot exposé, a “real” behind-the-scenes glimpse of What Goes On behind the moneyed façade of big-time broadcasting; the latter suggests a frivolous, “irresponsible” fantasy to be seen for fun, not edification. Moving back to the U.S. after over seven years abroad — a sudden shift from reflective Paris chrome and ashen London gray to La Jolla baby-blue, from cinema to some medieval state of pre-cinema or post-Cinema — the foreignness and familiarity of the country both seem epitomized by the absurdity of that cockeyed distinction, which virtually gets it all backwards.… Read more »
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 »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977. — J.R.
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 »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977 (Vol. 44, No. 517). Over 30 years later, in my DVD column for Cinema Scope, I wrote, “Is it possible to find a picture acceptable only with its director’s commentary? Yes, if it’s Peter Bogdanovich’s clunky but interesting comedy about American moviemaking during the patent wars (1910-1915), prior to The Birth of a Nation, now that he’s finally had a chance to release it in black and white, as he originally intended, and recut it as well. Reviewing this when it came out…, I found its slapstick mainly irksome — not offensive, as it was to me in What’s Up, Doc?, where so many of the pratfalls, collisions, and smashups seemed to be about fatuous, narcissistic yuppies humiliating servants and carpenters, but pretty academic none the less…. It still looks academic, but hearing Bogdanovich explain where all the stories come from (mostly from Dwan, Ford, McCarey, and Walsh, with a curtain-closer from James Stewart) makes it somewhat more absorbing.” — J.R.
U.S.A./Great Britain, 1976
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Chicago, July 30, 1910. Fleeing from a divorce court when he discovers that his client has an indefensible case, lawyer Leo Harrigan stumbles into H.… Read more »
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.
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 »
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.
… Read more »
I originally planned to include this essay in my last collection, but eventually changed my mind. It’s an embattled Sight and Sound piece that appeared in their Winter 1976/77 issue and was written towards the tail end of my two and a half years on the staff of that magazine, shortly before I returned voluntarily to the U.S. to accept a short-term teaching job replacing Manny Farber in a San Diego suburb.
In this piece, I castigated mainstream critics for sneering at both the psychoanalytical film theory being practiced at the time at Screen and experimental filmmaking (the focus of each of the two weeks at that year’s Edinburgh Film Festival), at the same time I castigated the organizers of (and many participants in) those two Edinburgh events for various other kinds of narrowness and conformity. What was consciously if paradoxically intended by me as some form of bridge-building between warring factions was in some ways also a kind of bridge-burning, locating myself in the precise middle of the same makeshift and disintegrating bridge I was supposedly trying to construct. In any case, after going to the trouble of retyping this very lengthy report, I found myself too alienated from most of its approach to reprint it in a collection of mine.… Read more »
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.
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 »
From Monthly Film Bulletin , vol. 44, no. 516, January 1977.
I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about Herzog’s reputation and constructed myth as a mad genius. Here are my capsule reviews for the Chicago Reader of Lessons of Darkness (1992) and My Best Fiend (1999), respectively (on other occasions, I’ve sometimes been more supportive of his work):
In his characteristically dreamy Young Werther fashion, Werner Herzog generates a lot of bombastic and beautiful documentary footage out of the post-Gulf war oil fires and other forms of devastation in Kuwait, gilds his own high-flown rhetoric by falsely ascribing it to Pascal, and in general treats war as abstractly as CNN, but with classical music on the soundtrack to make sure we know it’s art. This 1992 documentary may be the closest contemporary equivalent to Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, both aesthetically and morally; I found it disgusting, but if you’re able to forget about humanity as readily as Herzog there are loads of pretty pictures to contemplate. 54 min.
Werner Herzog’s surprisingly slim and relatively impersonal 1999 feature charts his relationship with the mad actor Klaus Kinski on the five features they made together. Though Herzog has plenty to say about Kinski’s tantrums on the Peru locations of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo and even interviews other witnesses on the same subject, he says next to nothing about his own involvement — such as why he hired Kinski in the first place or how the overreaching heroes Kinski played for Herzog were clearly modeled after the director, metaphorically speaking.… Read more »