Yearly Archives: 1980

A Lesson in Modesty: Speaking with Alain Resnais

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 »

Louis Hock & SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

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 »

Interview with Alain Resnais on MON ONCLE D’AMÉRIQUE (1980)

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 »

Mudpie Modernism [on THE PERFUMED NIGHTMARE]

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 »

The Awkward Agee

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.


Agee
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 »

Every Critique for Itself

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
Jean-Claude Carrière


Gloria
Written and directed by
John Cassavetes

Tih Minh
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 »

Catching Up with Godard (an interview)

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 »

Fassbinder’s Latest Weenie

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.

thethirdgenerationThe Third Generation

Written, photographed and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder

dritte_generation

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 »

Notes on the Work of John Cassavetes

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 »

Sam Fuller Spills His Guts

My first meeting with Samuel Fuller is chronicled in this interview/essay published in the July 9, 1980 issue of The Soho News. Seven years later, while concluding my academic career at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I was placed in charge of running the film studies summer school program, I was still crazy about Fuller, and invited him to serve as our “visiting artist”, which led to our becoming friends from that summer until his death a decade later. I did my best to try to capture his singular way of talking in this article. For my title, I’m using the headline on that issue’s front page, not the title given inside (“Sam Fuller Reshoots the War”). — J.R.

SamFuller

When I enter his suite at the plaza, he’s finishing lunch, expressing his regret about missing Godard at Cannes, remarking on the absurdity of prizes at film festivals, asking me what Soho News and Soho are. (The one he knows about is in London — he fondly recalls a cigar store on Frith Street.)

It isn’t hard to figure out why Mark Hamill affectionately calls him Yosemite Sam, or why Lee Marvin simply says he’s D.W. Griffith. Bursting with the same charismatic, comic-book energy that sky-rockets through most of his movies, old crime reporter, novelist, war hero, writer-director and sometime producer Samuel Fuller, almost 69, still moves and talks like his daffy action flicks — like the wild man from Borneo — in quick, short, blocky punches, like two-fisted slabs of socko headline type.… Read more »

Personal View: Explorations in Film

From Film Quarterly (Summer 1980). –- J.R.

PERS0NAL VIEWS: EXPL0RATI0NS IN FILM

By Robin Wood. London: Gordon Fraser. 1976.

It’s a pity that Robin Wood’s first collection of essays, published in England four years ago, has had to wait this long to find a US distributor (ISBS, Inc., PO Box 55, Forest Grove, OR 97116). Very much of a transitional work between Wood’s justly celebrated auteurist monographs (on Hitchcock, Hawks, Bergman, Penn and Satyajit Ray) and his recent, more ideologically based film studies. Personal Views: Explorations in Film inevitably loses some of its intended impact by arriving here out of sequence. And for those like myself who feel that the essays in this volume do not represent Wood’s work at its strongest — weighted, as many of them are, more toward the adoption of certain positions than toward their subsequent implementations (and other consequences) — they are more often useful as “stepping stones,” in establishing the backgrounds of some of Wood’s current arguments, than they are as independent studies in their own right.

In broad terms. what this book chronicles in some detail is Wood’s discovery of –and engagement with – some of the theoretical issues in film theory that were being broached in Screen in the early seventies, including those which directly challenged many of the pre-suppositions of his own earlier work.… Read more »

What’s up, Doc?

From The Movie, Chapter 33 (1980). -– J.R.

It was in 1940 that a brisk, buck-toothed city rabbit first sank teeth into carrot. briefly paused, gazed with indifferent aplomb at a lisping country rabbit-hunter with a shotgun and coolly inquired: ‘What’s up, Doc?’ This official debut of Bugs Bunny occurred at the beginning of A Wild Hare, one of nine cartoons that were supervised that year by Fred (known as ‘Tex’) Avery, a brilliant animator from Dallas who was working for Warner Brothers. The cartoon won an Academy Award nomination and the durable comedy team of Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd promptly went into business.

‘That darn wabbit!’

Bugs Bunny, first seen in Porky’s Hare Hunt (1938), had a complicated cross-bred genealogy. Remembering the ‘What’s up, Doc?’ expression from his high-school days in Texas, Avery had decided to place it in the mouth of a sharp Brooklynese rabbit who knew everything. Avery later recalled in an interview:

‘So when we hit on the rabbit we decided he was going to be a smart-aleck rabbit, but casual about it, and I think the opening line in the first one was, “Eh, what’s up, Doc?,’ And gee, it floored ‘em! They expected the rabbit to scream, or anything but make a casual remark — here’s a guy with a gun in his face!… Read more »

Cartoonal Knowledge

From The Soho News (June 11, 1980). I’m sorry I haven’t had better luck in finding illustrations for the experimental and independent animated shorts reviewed here. But at least if you hit the first illustration, you can see it move. — J.R.

eyeworksbiker.gif?w=480

who_killed_who

 

New American Animation

Film Forum, June 12-15 and l9-22

Cartoonal Knowledge

Thalia, Mondays (June through August)

Did you ever step out of a movie theater in the good old days and exclaim, “Gee, that cartoon was better than the feature”? Whether you did or not, there’s precious little chance of such a thing happening today. Thanks to some of the packaging principles that currently dominate media, short animation is often treated like a ghetto art –  quarantined in its own little category and asked to stay there, mind its manners and keep a low profile, in such out-of-the-way corners as kiddie matinees and museums.

Consequently, to write about the New American Animation series at Film Forum — the last program for the season — is a bit like having to write about the Third World (another Film Forum specialty), rather than, say, simply Brazil or Algeria. And Greg Ford’s massive “Cartoonal Knowledge” series at the Thalia – encompassing 13 Mondays this summer, and billed as “probably the largest and most comprehensive cartoon festival ever mounted in a straight ‘theatrical’ context” — etches out an umbrella subject that is equally daunting to nonspecialists.… Read more »

Old Remake for a New City?

From The Soho News (June 11, 1980). Note: The “Hollywood assistant” quoted below was Meredith Brody, working at the time for A-Team. –  J.R.

Underground U.S.A.

 

A film by Eric Mitchell

 

St. Mark’s Cinema, midnight

“Sometimes I think most of the ’70s is being spent in

cars, discussing remakes,” a Hollywood assistant once

woefully remarked to me. She didn’t know how lucky she

was. Sometimes, in my less happy moods, I think that

most of the 80s will be spent in theaters, watching the

same remakes that were being discussed in the ’70s.

Willie & Phil -- Paul Mazursky’s remake of Jules and

Jim, set in the American ’70s — isn’t opening for a couple

of months yet. John Carpenter’s The Fog and several

other recent quickies have already remade Carpenter’s

Halloween, which was itself a partial remake of The Thing

(which Carpenter is now planning to remake more directly).

And to round off this minisurvey of new, original

thinking (if you want to exalt the conventional, call it

classical), the new Eric Mitchell film, the l6mm

Underground U.S.A., which already sounds like a remake

of Sam Fuller’s Underworld U.S.A. — is actually

described in its own pressbook as a remake of a remake:

“Taking the classic theme of Sunset Boulevard seen

through Heat,” Underground U.S.A.… Read more »

Film Criticism on Canvas

From the June 1982 American Film. — J.R.

Fans of the brilliant, eccentric, and pioneering film critic Manny Farber who have been regretting his recent absence from the scene simply haven’t been looking in the right places. In fact, the sixty-five-year-old writer, teacher, and former carpenter has been a painter even longer than he’s been a critic, and over the past few years he’s been doing what he calls “auteur” paintings — canvases that recast the subjects and methods of his criticism in a number of fascinating ways.

Using a bird’s-eye view of small objects on a stagelike platform, his paintings, paens to such directors as Howard Hawks [see Howard Hawks II, 1977,  472 x 500, above], Sam Peckinpah, Marguerite Duras, and William Wellman illuminate the filmmakers’ styles and themes. “The compositions and structures are always always based on my take on the directors,” Farber says. “And they’re critical in the fact that I’m usually going away from what I think is known territory, in painting as well as in movies.”

One example of Farber’s oddball approach is his Stan & Ollie, which is full of references to the comedies of Laurel and Hardy, but scarcely uses their faces at all.… Read more »