From the Soho News (December 23, 1980). — J.R.
“This film was made in violent contrast to Citizen Kane,” François Truffaut once wrote of The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles’ second feature, “almost as if by another filmmaker who detested the first and wanted to give him a lesson in modesty.” In comparable fashion, Alain Resnais — a rationalist surrounded by surrealist nightmares — has often described some of his films as being made in reaction (and contradistinction) to the ones that preceded them.
Thus the subjective, highly mobile camera of the apolitical Last Year at Marienbad (1961) was countered by the objective, stationary camera setups and political contexts of Muriel (1963). And similarly, the proliferating dreamlike fictions and Lovecraftian enchantments of Providence (1977) have led to the documentary, demonstration-style demeanor and scientific wit of Mon Oncle d’Amérique (1980), his latest film — a movie that also attempts to combine elements from his nonfiction shorts and previous fictional features.
It’s been seven years since I last interviewed Resnais — on a soundstage at Epinay-sur-Seine, a Parisian suburb where he was shooting Stavisky… Greeting him recenty at his Park Lane suite, I still found him almost awesomely handsome at 58, and no less delicate, modest, and cordial in his manner, despite a continuing shyness that he has come some distance in mastering.… Read more »
This appeared in Omni, circa December 1980, and, if memory serves, a version of it also turned up in my book Film: The Front Line 1983. For about a year (1977-78), Hock and I (and also Raymond Durgnat, for a spell) , all colleagues at the Department of Visual Arts at the University of California, San Diego, shared a beautiful house in a Del Mar canyon that we sublet from an anthropology professor there who was away on a sabbatical. — J.R.
A single thread of 16mm film runs through three side-by-side projectors, all aimed at the same wall. Twenty-two and a half second elapse between the time when the first and the second screen images appear and the same amount of time passes between the appearance of the same silent image in the second and third, so that every image can be expected to occur twice in each 45-second cycle.
The title of this 70-minute film piece, made last year, is Southern California. Described by its maker, Louis Hock, as a “triptych cinemural,” it is also identified by him with precise measurements, like a temporal painting: 30 feet X 7.5 feet X70 minutes. And temporal painting may not be a farfetched description for what this thirty-two-year-old filmmaker — a man preoccupied with time and motion — is interested in exploring.… Read more »
My interview with Alain Resnais in New York in December 1980 yielded three separate articles, written for Soho News, American Film, and Omni. This is an unedited draft of the latter; I can’t recall now whether or not it was ever published in some form, but I think it probably wasn’t. The other two, which were published, are posted elsewhere on this site, here and here. -– J.R.
From the 42nd floor of Manhattan’s elegant Park Lane Hotel, where French director Alain Resnais has been holding court, Central Park in the winter looks remote and unfamiliar, like the terrain of another planet. It resembles Resnais’ unexpected smash hit Mon Oncle d’Amérique -– a unique, original blend of art and science –- by resisting precise description almost as confidently as it invites contemplation and wonder. And if the angle of vision that helps to account for this strangeness faintly suggests the vantage point of an amused yet saturnine deity, gazing down almost nostalgically, something of the same ambiance seems to inform the relation of the 58-year-old Resnais to his haunting comedy.
A master director who’s also a master of indirection -– always electing to tell a story in a different offbeat manner -– Resnais has never scripted any of his own features, But all of them are unmistakably personal reflections, generally about the past.… Read more »
This essay originally appeared in The Soho News on December 3, 1980. I’ve taken the liberty of revising it slightly.–J.R.
Michael Powell and
Powell & Preesburger
Museum of Modern Art, Nov. 20—Jan. 5
By and large, the Englishman Michael Powell directs, while his longtime Hungarian collaborator, Emeric Pressburger, writes screenplays. But when they started their own English production company, The Archers, in 1942 — an institution that lasted almost 15 years — the credits of their joint efforts usually read, “Written, directed and produced by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger”.
A testimony to the rare capacity for collaborative work that helps to distinguish English life and culture from American individualism, the team of P & P offers the working assumptions of auteur criticism a number of interesting challenges. On the one hand many aspects of Powell’s style, temperament and preoccupations can be traced through films that Pressburger didn’t work on. At the same time it would be too simplistic to pretend that one could separate individual contributions to their joint ventures with anything like total assurance.
Indeed, as Ian Christie reminds us in the introduction to his very helpful collection Powell, Pressburger and Others (British Film Institute, 1978), auteur criticism is more a method of reading films than a means of establishing how they were put together.… Read more »
From The Soho News, November 26, 1980. — J.R
The Perfumed Nightmare
A film by Kidlat Tahimik
An odd, elusive 1971 Filipino filibuster, a first feature that somehow disassembles more than it assembles, Mababangong Bangungot (The Perfumed Nightmare) has a nearly total absence of “technique” — pacing, composition, acting, rhythm, budget — that is inextricably bound up with its subject, an all-around ambivalence about American knowhow. This makes it intermittently sluggish to watch, and theoretically fascinating to think about. Combining autobiography with fantasy, “magical realism” with cornball folklore and enchantment (with American technology) with disenchantment, it’s as unremittingly screwball as a house built of chewing gum wrappers and cigarette packs.
Don’t go expecting anything remotely decadent, despite the fancy title: the movie is as pure and innocent as the driven snow. (Or almost — the filmmaker, unlike his movie counterpart, spent almost a decade in Europe.) Kidlat Tahimuik, who wrote, produced, directed, and stars in this doggedly homemade production, presents himself as the driver of a brightly painted taxi-bus in his native Filipino village. He’s the proud possessor of a transistor radio, whose broadcasts lead him to become the founder of a local Werner von Braun Fan Club.… Read more »
I should credit my editor at The Soho News, Tracy Young, for the title of this review, which ran in their November 26, 1980 issue. For my younger readers, and even for some of my older ones, it might be helpful to add that the “snake oil salesman” alluded to in my final sentence is (or, rather, was) Ronald Reagan. — J.R.
Lectures on Literature
By Vladimir Nabokov
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95
“Let us not kid ourselves,” intones the tall athletic Russian professor to his students at Cornell. “Let us remember that literature is of no practical value whatsoever, except in the very special case of somebody’s wishing to become, of all things, a professor of literature. The girl Emma Bovary never existed; the book Madame Bovary shall exist forever and ever. A book lives longer than a girl.”
No doubt. And even at the price of four first-run movies, this long-awaited volume of aristocratic riches has got to be the publishing bargain of the year. Comfortably oversized, decked out with plentiful reproductions of the Great Man’s notes, annotated teaching copies, diagrams, and sketches, it might be the best analysis of fiction by a practitioner to have come along since The Lonely Voice, Frank O’Connor’s masterly study of the short story.… Read more »
This film review appeared in The Soho News‘ November 12, 1980 issue. Agee (the writer) has long since then gone up again, considerably, in my estimation of his work. (I’m currently awaiting the soon-to-appear and very pricey collection The Complete Film Criticism of James Agee, edited by Charles Maland.)
Ross Spears’ documentary about Agee, which was later nominated for an Oscar, can be ordered now on DVD, along with An Afternoon with Father Flye, from this site. —J.R.
A film by Ross Spears
Bleecker Street Cinema (The James Agee Room),
Nov. 14-16 and 21-23
When I first saw this feature-length documentary (which is now officially inaugurating the Bleecker Street Cinema’s small, additional screening room) a year or so back, I was pleasantly surprised to find Jimmy Carter — on the campaign trail for the Presidency in ’76 –- making a guest appearance. In the opening moments of the film, he speaks with real intelligence and sensitivity about Let Us Now Praise Famous Men –- an angry, experimental, unclassifiable work of reportage, poetry and analysis about three Alabama tenant families near the height of the Depression, with photographs by Walker Evans and text by James Agee.
This wasn’t a bit like Richard Nixon declaring that he’d seen all of John Ford’s films, or Ronald Reagan leaking sincerity and integrity like a reptilian wallet in his old General Electric TV spots.… Read more »
From the October 15, 1980 issue of The Soho News. I should note the influence on my viewpoint of sexual politics in this article exerted by Sandy Flitterman, a feminist critic and one of the founding editors of Camera Obscura, with whom I was living in Hoboken during this period (roughly, 1979-1983). I should also note that my swipe at Coppola provoked an angry call from Tom Luddy, who was working for Coppola at the time. — J.R.
Every Man for Himself
Directed by Jean-Luc Godard
Written by Jean-Luc Godard,
Anne-Marie Miéville, and
Written and directed by
Directed by Louis Feuillade
In the latest lovely, desperate film by one of the most brilliant filmmakers alive, Jean-Luc Godard’s Every Man for Himself should be seen by everyone interested in movies or in life, without hesitation or delay. There are more ideas here per cubic second than one could find in a month of Paul Mazursky (or Ingmar Bergman) “think” pieces, and for this reason alone, Godard’s latest comeback is worth an hour and a half of anyone’s time.
Don’t let yourself get tripped up by the unfortunate masculine English title. The French that it strictly translates, Save qui peut (la vie), is genderless, save for the feminine article preceding the parenthetical “life”.… Read more »
From The Soho News, September 24-30, 1980. Their title (not mine) was “Bringing Godard Back Home”. This is the first of two interviews that I’ve had with Godard to date; the other one, 16 years later, can be found here. — J.R.
Jean-Luc Godard seems to be into transportation metaphors a lot nowadays. It’s been rumored that when Paul Schrader sidled up to him recently at a film festival and said, “I think you should know that I took something of yours from The Married Woman and put it in American Gigolo,” the Master coolly replied, “What’s important isn’t what you take — it’s where you take it to.”
Every Man for Himself, Godard’s first movie to open in America and show at the New York Film Festival in eight years, is first of all a vehicle designed to bring him back to us. It has all the ingredients that mainstream critics have been clamoring for: stars (Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc), clearly defined characters and plot, lush music, beautiful 35mm photography, flaky eroticism, humor. “I’m really making my landing on the earth of story,” Godard tells me at one point. “Like a plane.”
Can it be sheer coincidence that he seems to take up prostitution as a theme only when he’s working in 35mm?… Read more »
From the Soho News (September 17, 1980). The owners of this newspaper at the time, if I’m not mistaken, were owners of South African gold mines, and I doubt that this article enhanced my job security — although I remained there as a freelancer for another 14 months, — J.R.
Written and Directed by Bill Douglas
My Ain Folk
Written and Directed by Bill Douglas
My Way Home
Written and Directed by Bill Douglas
Written and Directed by Ken Loach
Based on the novel by Barry Hines
Written by Stephen Piliakoff
Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by Maurice Hatton, Eoin McCann and the cast
Directed by Maurice Hatton
Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession
Written by Yale Udoff
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
“British Film Now” –- a package of nine programs (at the Paramount Theater on Broadway at 61st) consisting of eleven features selected by Richard Roud, to be shown over six days preceding the 18th New York Film Festival -– is being presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the British Film Institute, with financial assistance from the British Council and the Cultural Department of the British Embassy, the British Film Producers Association, and Amcon Group Inc.… Read more »
This book review originally appeared in the September 10, 1980 issue of The Soho News. Maybe it qualifies less as a book review than as a short polemic, but if I recall this assignment — my first review of a book by Barthes — accurately, I had some space limitations. — J.R.
New Critical Essays
By Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard
Hill & Wang, $10.95
It’s reported that when a celebrated American film critic was asked what she thought of French theory, she replied that the trouble with folks like film theorists is that they forget movies are supposed to be fun. When this response was quoted to me, my heart sank. It made me feel as if all the fun I’d had reading Roland Barthes over the years was no longer legal -– that it wasn’t even supposed to exist.
I’m not trying to pretend here that all of Barthes goes down easily: I still haven’t gotten all the way through S/Z, a favorite among some American lit-crit academics. And I’ll grant you that he may be an acquired taste for puritanical empiricists who mistrust too much sensual, imaginative, and poetic play in their literary puddings — particularly when these occur outside of fiction, and under the auspices of social and aesthetic analysis.… Read more »
From The Soho News (September 10, 1980). I’ve slightly altered the printed title (from “Fassbinder’s Weenie”) to remove the crude sexual double entendre which tended to be that weekly newspaper’s specialty. — J.R.
The Third Generation
Written, photographed and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder
By and large, there appear to be three basic kinds of professional film buffs in Manhattan: asocial, Dracula-like countenances mainly interested in films; plastic, starfucking groupies mainly interested in filmmakers; and a few paranoid dinosaurs mainly interested in power. (Wishing to remain alive, I leave it to the discerning reader to determine who is which.) And according to Rainer Werner Fassbinder — a particular favorite of the second group — there are three generations of terrorists in Germany.
“In whatever way every citizen was capable of developing some kind of understanding for the actions and motives of the first and second generation of terrorists — or maybe not — to understand the motives of the third generation is more than difficult,” Fassbinder is quoted as saying, in the more than difficult pidgin English assigned to him in the pressbook. “To act in danger but without perspective,” he adds a little later, “the ecstasy of adventure experienced in the absence of ulterior motive; this is what motivates The Third Generation.”
A terrorist film, in other words?… Read more »
From The Soho News (September 3, 1980). –- J.R.
The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
Written and directed by Fred Schepisi
Based on the novel by Thomas Keneally
For a good 80 percent or so of its running time, the experience
of seeing The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith affords a
salutary, beautiful shock. Films that are even halfway honest
about racism — Mandingo and Richard Pryor Live in
Concert are the most recent examples that spring to mind
– are so unexpected that they’re often accused of being racist
themselves, perhaps because of the deeply rooted taboos that
they expose and violate.
There’s no question that Fred Schepisi’s powerhouse Australian
movie — adapted from a novel by Thomas Keneally (who plays a
small but significant role as a lecherous cook), and “based on real
events that took place in Australia at the turn of the century”
(just before the federation of Australian colonies) – is agit-prop,
ideologically slanted. But then again, it’s hard to think of any
other current release — including, say, The Empire Strikes
Back and Dressed to Kill -– that isn’t.
The aforementioned hits perform in part the not-so-innocent
task of turning contemporary objects of confusion and disgust
(recent architecture and sex, respectively) into occasions for
exhilarated lyricism.… Read more »
These program notes for a John Cassavetes retrospective in July 1980 were commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art’s Film Department, which as I recall edited them fairly substantially. (My subsequent “review” of the retrospective for The Soho News, “The Tyranny of Sensitivity,” is already available on this site.) I no longer have the unedited version, but I’ve tweaked this version in a few spots for style as well as factual accuracy without altering any of its opinions, some of which I might no longer share. -– J.R.
JOHN CASSAVETES, FILMMAKER AND ACTOR
June 20–July 11, 1980
“I Can’t Give You Anything But Love,” the cornball anthem that sounds so memorably through the final moments of Cassavetes’ THE KILLING OF A CHINESE BOOKIE, might be a fair enough theme song for what his contribution to movies is all about: a radical commitment to people that goes beyond mere thought.
His attitude is one that often has been difficult to grasp, for in over three decades as director, writer, and actor, he has seldom encouraged, or even allowed, a detached appraisal. For someone like me, who grew up watching his performances in films and live TV dramas in the fifties before experiencing the raw shock and revelation of SHAD0WS in 1961, a disinterested account of what that shock meant is perhaps impossible. … Read more »
From the July 1980 issue of Omni. Portions of this are derived from a lecture I gave at the Venice film festival the previous year, which is reprinted in my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980). A lot of the terminology used here seems pretty quaint now. — J.R.
Speculating on what movies of the future will be like, it’s hard to get very far without some notion of the changing needs of the audience. A crucial part of this change can be detected in where we see movies. According to present signs, it seems pretty clear that most of the films we’ll see will be either in homes or in shopping malls.
“Once inside a mall, shoppers have few decisions to make,” the magazine Dollars & Sense recently noted. “Corners are kept to a minimum so the customers will flow along from store to store, propelled, as the developers say, by `retail energy’.” It’s a description that fits several recent movie blockbusters — and others we can expect to see in the future.
By contrast, the movie houses that traditionally cropped up near the centers of towns — public gathering places, not unlike the municipal squares they were often adjacent to — are quickly becoming nostalgic emblems of another era.… Read more »