From The Thousand Eyes, Fall 1978. -– J.R.
I can remember what it used to be like, living in New York ten years ago. New Godard movies and Beatles records were being consumed the moment they arrived, with the kind of impatient enthusiasm that must have greeted the latest installments of serialized Dickens novels when they hit the New York docks a century before.
During the same decade that saw the birth of the New Wave, our first glimpses through film of part of the Third World, the flowering of the North American avant-garde, and a corresponding leap forward in film criticism, one was witnessing the growth of a new kind of audience, a new cinema, and a new kind of thinking about movies that started from the bottom up.
From the looks of things, that bottom has dropped out. What has happened to this passionate complex of forces, this pluralism of tastes and possibilities? No film by Godard has been released in the U.S. since 1971, and the last movies by directors ranging from Jacques Tati, Robert Bresson, and Jacques Rivette to Chantal Akerman, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet remain undistributed. And we can see what’s happened to the legacy of the Beatles if we consider a typically cynical industry product like Sgt.… Read more »
This appeared originally in Film Comment, July-August 1978, and was reprinted by Saul Symonds in March 2005, with separate new prefaces by myself (reproduced below) and David Ehrenstein, in the online Light Sleeper (which is no longer up, alas). It’s also reprinted in my recent book Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues (2018). — J.R.
Obscure Objects of Desire: A Jam Session on Non-Narrative
By Raymond Durgnat, David Ehrenstein and Jonathan Rosenbaum
Preface by Jonathan Rosenbaum, March 2005:
When this piece was written, or more precisely assembled, over 30 years ago, Ray Durgnat and I were sharing a house in Del Mar, California with experimental filmmaker Louis Hock. Ray and Louis were teaching film in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego, where I had taught the previous year — having been coaxed by Manny Farber into leaving my job as assistant editor of Monthly Film Bulletin and staff writer of Sight and Sound in London, at the British Film Institute, and returning to the U.S. after almost eight years of living in Europe. Ray, already a friend, also came over from London to take my position when I wasn’t rehired, and I was starting to work on a book that eventually became Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980).… Read more »
From the San Diego Reader (June 15, 1978). Not one of my best reviews, and certainly not a favorite, but I’m reprinting it, after some hesitation, as part of the record, with only minor re-edits. I came to write this through my acquaintance with Duncan Shepherd, the film critic for the San Diego Reader from 1972 until late 2010 -– a protégé of Manny Farber who had followed him all the way from New York to southern California –- after I had been hired by Farber to return to the U.S. from London and take over his classes for two quarters in 1977 while he was on a Guggenheim fellowship, and then hadn’t been rehired there. Manny, as I recall, was mightily annoyed by this piece, and I can’t deny that some of our political arguments probably fueled the review, at least in part -– as well as some of the swagger in Farber’s prose, a regrettable influence on this occasion. (An afterthought: I was sharing a house with Raymond Durgnat around this time, and the “crazy mirror” metaphor in the final paragraph suggests to me now that he might have exerted some influence as well.) — J.R.
As a native of Alabama, I didn’t have to worry much about draft dodging in the late Sixties.… Read more »
To celebrate the release of Kino Lorber’s excellent DVD and Blu-Ray of Sternberg’s still-controversial and often misrepresented masterpiece, with many first-rate extras (and including both the 1953 and 1958 versions of the film), I’m posting this for the second time this year. From the January-February 1978 issue of Film Comment, with a few tweaks added in June 2010. I’ve also included, at the very end of this piece, a photograph of the real-life survivors of Anatahan that I found on the Internet. And to clarify the mimetic form of this piece, which has nine sections corresponding to the nine sections of Sternberg’s film, I’ve number each of those sections, for the first time.
This was written while I was teaching film at the University of California, San Diego and was able to study a 16-millimeter print of Anatahan that I was using in a course. This article was reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995), where I added the following: “One of the critical commonplaces about THE SAGA OF ANATAHAN is that everything in the film with the exception of the ocean waves is artificial and created, and Sternberg has often been uncritically quoted as saying that the only thing he regretted in the film were these waves, precisely because they were not of his making.… Read more »