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 »
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 »
It’s depressing to recall that Karl Hess: Toward Liberty (1979) wound up winning an Oscar, but this was of course on the eve of Ronald Reagan’s first landslide election as Big Daddy/Rich Uncle. This polemic appeared in the October 8, 1980 issue of The Soho News, and might be considered one of the first glimmers of a more extended argument that would eventually yield the book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See two decades later. I’ve often speculated, incidentally, if my final sentence might have had anything to do with my never having been invited to the Telluride Film Festival — the current codirector of which, Tom Luddy, was working for Coppola at the time. (I can still recall an angry phone call from Tom during this period that insisted I was dead wrong in taking Coppola as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution. Much later, I should add, in 1987, Tom himself produced one of Godard’s most underrated and neglected features, King Lear.) –J.R.
Hollywood or Bust
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
What do you want to know about the Seventh Annual Student Film Awards — presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and AT&T — that a critic could possibly tell you?… 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 »
I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the third.
Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. – J.R.
1: The Plucking of Three Birds of Paradise
1— Fifty Years of Show Business
[Ritz Theatre, Athens, Alabama]
Formal Opening Ritz On Monday, April 30
After five months of work the Ritz theatre, Athens’ latest amusement place, is now ready for the formal opening which will take place at 7:00 o’clock, Monday evening, April 30th , the picture for that occasion being Mary Pickford’s latest screen production “My Best Girl,” followed by a comedy, “Fair and Muddy.
“Prior to the picture showing the following program will be given:
Master of ceremonies—W. E. Willis.
Music by Gene Carter’s orchestra.
Welcome from the city of Athens [Alabama] to Muscle Shoals Theatres, Inc.—Mayor C. W. Sarver.
Welcome on behalf of the businessmen of Athens—C. D. Beisley, president Athens Chamber of Commerce.
Response to addresses of welcome by Mayor W.… 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 »
I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the seventh.
Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. – J.R.
Of married ones and single ones
And families and daters
There’s fun for all of you this week
At the Muscle Shoals Theatres!
“Three Stripes in the Sun” is the name of one
That’s playing the Shoals today
It concerns an Army sergeant
Better known as Aldo Ray.
“Blood Alley” refers to the Formosa Straits
A dangerous part of the ocean
Where Communists, storms and Lauren Bacall
Keep John Wayne in perpetual motion.
—from Stanley Rosenbaum’s Sunday column, Florence Times , January 8, 1956
Sometimes it wasn’t the movie at all but the configuration that went with it, or came out of it, or burned straight through it like a dropped cigarette—the static image summoned up by title, poster, billboard, newspaper ad, review, or some other form of promotion. Or maybe it was the false yet enduring and prevailing expectation.… Read more »
From The Soho News, July 18, 1980. Also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1995). — J.R.
John Cassavetes, Filmmaker and Actor Museum of Modern Art, 20 June — 11 July
Nineteen years ago, when I was a high school senior making one of those boring, difficult adolescent transitions — from being a social outcast in my hometown in the Deep South to being a social outcast as a southerner at a New England prep school — I had the good fortune to discover John Cassavetes’s SHADOWS at the New Embassy at Broadway and 46th. It was near the beginning of my spring vacation, which meant that I could return to this movie again and again, during the same week or so when I was getting my first looks at BREATHLESS, THE RULES OF THE GAME, ROOM AT THE TOP, SPARTACUS, THE MISFITS, and TAKE A GIANT STEP.
Art in our time, Harold Rosenberg once wrote, appeals either to other artists or “to introverted adolescents, to people in crises of metamorphosis, a small-town girl who has met an intellectual, a husband forced to give up drinking, a business man who feels spiritually falsified, all these being, like the audience of artists, more attentive to themselves than to the work.” And D.… 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 »