From American Film (December 1979). I’ve trimmed this a bit. — J.R.
“Production alternatives, linguistic and symbolic mutations, new models of the entertainment spectacle, new forms of film consumption, the relation between various media, the financial state of various film industries…”
In the words of an introductory brochure, these were some of the topics and problems to be explored at an international conference, “Cinema in the 80s,” set in the midst of the Venice Biennale. For the thirty-odd speakers, myself included, who had been flown all the way to the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido, there was plenty to think about while overcoming jet lag.
The conference’s three days were devoted to language, industry, and audience, in that order. Simultaneous translation (of a sort) over earphones offered versions of each speech in Italian, French, English, German, and Spanish. Despite these boble efforts, the conference inevitably evoked a Tower of Babel at times. Bringing together academics, critics, and filmmakers from half a dozen countries, thre sessions helped to clarify how far most members of each profession are today from speaking a common tongue. Specialists and experts on their elected turfs, they often respond like fish out of water when confronted with film people of different sorts.… Read more »
From American Film (October 1979). -– J.R.
The actors playing Chuckie and Mikey, a sinister vaudeville team dressed in matching tuxedos, top hats, and capes, are pretending to walk toward the camera. They move their feet without advancing anywhere. Behind them, a gigantic black-and-white blowup of a garden at Versailles, mounted on a platform, is slowly rolled away to further the partial illusion. Then they turn around and pretend to walk away from the camera, and the Versailles backdrop is slowly wheeled toward them. All this time the characters discuss a woman they have killed in Budapest.
“Think of it, ” Mikey says wistfully in a Russian accent. “I could have married a princess. ”
“All bourgeois dreams end the same way,’’ Chuckie replies in a disdainful tone. ”Marry royalty and escape.”
“OK, cut!” says Mark Rappaport, concluding the fifth and final take.
It’s the first day of shooting on Impostors, a macabre comedy by the Brooklyn-born independent filmmaker. The movie, Rappaport’s fifth feature, is being shot in his loft in the SoHo section of Manhattan, and spirits are running high. A young crew of about twenty persons — fifteen of them on the regular payroll — are clustered on one side of the loft.… Read more »
This appeared in Take One, July 15, 1979 (vol. 7, no. 8). Check out Dave Kehr’s recent column on 70s Akerman in the New York Times for some other reflections. —J.R.
Chantal Akerman is a tough filmmaker to tangle with, make up one’s mind about or describe. One thing’s clear enough though: Les Rendez-vous d’Anna, her fifth feature, is the most assertive film by a woman that I’ve seen since Marguerite Duras’ Le Camion — and probably the most accessible that Akerman has made to date. It might wind up serving as a calling card for the rest of her work.
A film that assumes the ambition (and pretention) of taking the pulse of Western Europe while pursuing a narcissistic autobiographical meditation obviously isn’t going to win everyone over — particularly when every shot has the visual weight of a battleship and nearly every facial expression has enough glumness to sink one. Take that, Akerman seems to be saying, offering up yet another drab, anonymous hotel room or train station at night, each one lit with precise, uncanny radiance, and hammering these cold, elegantly symmetrical compositions into our skulls with an obstinate will to power that makes Milius and Peckinpah seem like frollicking pussy-cats in comparison.… Read more »
From Film Quarterly (Summer 1979). Sad to say, the Aldrich and Ophüls books are now so scarce that I couldn’t even find their jacket illustrations on the Internet. –- J.R.
ROBERT ALDRICH. Edited by Richard Combs. London: British Film lnstitute, 1978. $3.25.
POWELL, PRESSBURGER AND OTHERS. Edited by Ian Christie. London: British Film lnstitute, 1978. $4.50.
OPHÜLS. Edited by Paul Willemen. London: British Film lnstitute, 1978. $3.50.
Perhaps the most striking difference between the current batch of British Film Institute monographs and the previous series issued under the now-defunct aegis of Cinema One (a joint effort of the BFI and the English publisher Secker & Warburg) is the relation of each to academic film studies. The Cinema One books, designed as popular laymen’s introductions to relatively obscure subjects, were lavishly illustrated with stills and frame enlargements, appeared both in paperback and hardcovers, and rarely proceeded beyond the format of one critic per subject.
The new line of BFI books, which appear only in paperback, are much closer to academic “casebooks”: the texts are usually longer, illustrations are omitted (apart from black-and-white stills on the covers), and the critical perspectives in most cases are multiple. There is more than one way of editing a casebook, however; and a closer look at the three titles under review offers some notion of the diversity of positions possible within this overall strategy.… Read more »
From American Film (May 1979) –- a collaborative venture with Carrie Rickey, written during the year when we were flat mates living on Soho’s Sullivan Street. I assume that its main interest now is as a sort of time capsule, and I apologize if some of the photos are anachronistic, which seems likely. -– J.R.
With Broadway theaters threatening to raise their top prices to thirty-five dollars a seat, the place where most natives of New York City go is to the movies. Not, by and large, to the ritzy East Side movie houses which charge five dollars a head, but to the neighborhood cinemas charging half as much — many of them featuring movies hard to find outside of Manhattan.
A filmgoer visiting the city who plans to see the same movies he can find anywhere else can expect a long line and the hurried ambience of a fast-food restaurant. But if he’s determined to sample fare that’s more adventurous and unusual, he should seek out one of the independent showcases that have sprung up in New York over the past decade.
Here, more often than not, he can talk to the filmmaker after the screening and share the movie with a community of regulars.… Read more »
This review was originally written for the long-defunct Canadian film magazine Take One during the same time that I was writing my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980), and I’m sure that Pryor’s passionate form of self-examination and autocritique struck a very personal chord for me at the time. To contextualize this review a little further, I had recently written an angry attack on The Deer Hunter for the March issue of the same magazine, not too long after a reviewer in the Soho News had compared it favorably to Tolstoy. –J.R.
The True Auteur: Richard Pryor Live in Concert
Richard Pryor Live in Concert has nothing in particular to do with the art of cinema; it merely happens to be the densest, wisest, and most generous response to life that I’ve found this year inside a first-run movie theater. A theatrical event recorded by Bill Sargeant, the entrepreneur who similarly packaged Richard Burton’s Broadway production of Hamlet and a celebrated rock concert (The T.A.M.I. Show) fifteen years ago, and more recently filmed James Whitmore’s impersonation of Harry Truman (Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!), it is nothing more nor less than a Pryor stand-up routine given last December 28th at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California, lasting about an hour and a quarter.… Read more »
This review, one of the most incendiary I’ve ever written, appeared in the March 1979 issue of the Canadian monthly Take One (vol. 7, no. 4). It’s probably over the top, but at least it’s sincere; I can’t recall another occasion when any acclaimed movie filled me with such absolute loathing. I can recall thinking, when Cimino subsequently collected his Oscar, that he should have said at the time, “I’d like to thank especially the Vietnamese people, without whose corpses this award wouldn’t have been possible.” —J.R.
“You beat me, baby,” Francis Ford Coppola reportedly said to Michael Cimino, director of the $13 million The Deer Hunter, in reference to the fact that this new Vietnam atrocity movie has opened several months before Coppola’s Apocalypse Someday. Considering the degree to which slick media and its prize monoliths now seem to rule most of our cultural and ethical discourse, I wonder whether Coppola might have said the same thing to the Reverend Jim Jones if, after the Guyana “suicides,” the latter had been around to receive the compliment. Maybe it’s Jones after all who deserves the Oscars.
Try and imagine a boneless elephant sitting in your lap for three hours while you’re trying to think.… Read more »
From American Film (February 1979). This article was specifically conceived as a sort of sequel/companion-piece to “Aspects of the Avant-Garde: Three Innovators,” an article published in American Film almost half a year earlier. This plan was undermined in various ways by the editors, who gave it a title derived from a middle-class French comedy of the period (“Jean-Luc, Chantal, Danièle, Jean-Marie, and the Others”) that caused Akerman herself to reproach me for the piece (assuming that I’d dreamed up that title myself). I no longer recall what my original title was, but I’ve tweaked this piece in a few other minor ways to make it a little less unbearable to me. (By and large, most of my articles written for American Film qualified at least partially as hackwork done to pay my rent.) — J.R.
If American avant-garde films are often chancy to come by, even the most exciting European examples are apt to be regarded in this country as only distant legends. To cite one characteristic but scarcely isolated phenomenon: The welcome once given by the New York Film Festival to the works of Jean-Luc Godard and the team of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet hasn’t been extended to any of their recent films, and none of the movies of Chantal Akerman has have ever been shown here.… Read more »