From The Soho News (February 25, 1981). One can trace some updates on my thoughts about Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One over 17 years later and Killer of Sheep over 26 years later by following the links provided here. — J.R.
Feb. 16: A double feature of two class-conscious films directed by Carol Reed , The Stars Look Down (1939) and Kipps (1940), at Theater 80 — my first look at either movie. Trying to arrive at a plausible reverse-angle for the first movie — that is, a precise sense of its audience and context in early 1940, when Graham Greene wrote for The Spectator, “Dr. Cronin’s mining novel has made a very good film — I doubt whether in England we have ever produced a better” — I find myself hopelessly hamstrung, stuck in a narrow sort of timewarp called the present.
The problem is, I can only come up with a romantic, movie version of an English movie audience three years before I was born, a Thomas Pynchon fantasy à la Gravity’s Rainbow (whose sexy, existential London is itself very much a pungent blend of remembered movies from that period). Admittedly, Greene’s oddly familial use of first person plural tells me a little something, too.… Read more »
From The Soho News (February 18, 1981). — J.R.
Ici et Ailleurs
A film by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville
Against the Grain
A film by Tim Burns
James Agee Room, Bleecker Street Cinema
Despite all the signs of exacerbated brilliance in Godard’s work since 1968, it is arguable that only after he left Paris in 1973 for Grenoble and Rolle — and before he made Every Man for Himself about a year ago — has he been able to function seriously as a political filmmaker, in direct and personal confrontation with his subjects.
Before that, preoccupations with the “correct” lines about certain struggles and their representations have cheifly yielded case studies for conservative armchair Marxists — ideal meditations for Parisian camp followers preferring to keep their feet dry and their politics fashionably academic. And from the vantage point of the next five years, it is difficult to avoid seeing Godard’s recent alliance with Coppola, at least partially, as a gesture of impotence and defeat.
The more purposeful stretch of his career that I have in mind begins with Ici et Ailleurs (Here and Elsewhere), in 1974, continues with Numéro Deux (1975), Comment ça va and Sur et sous la communication (both 1976) and ends with his difficulties in getting his second TV series France/tour/détour/deux/enfants broadcast as he intended in 1978 and 1979.… Read more »
From The Soho News (February 11, 1981), slightly revised. This is the first of my ten Soho News columns with that title, and the only one without a subtitle. — J.R.
Jan. 23; Arriving at the Collective [for Living Cinema] too late to absorb either of Gail Camhi’s 1980 quickies, I’m plunged almost at once into her lovely 22-minute Bellevue Film (1977-78), also silent, which is just what its title and program note say it is: “A look at physical therapy, having profited from it.”
What’s lovely about that?, one might ask, although no one at this crowded screeni9ng seems to be asking it. Russian Formalism associates art with defamiliarization, “making strange”. Gail Camhi seems to be doing just the reverse – showing how ordinary, say, amputees and their stumps and artificial limbs are, making them familiar and banal presences rather than fearfully charged objects. Yet by removing (to some extent) myth and other forms of fantasy from a hospital ward, she may actually be inviting the aesthetic imagination to relocate itself elsewhere in the film – not merely banishing this imagination to purgatory, as some arguments would have it.… Read more »
This review, from the February 4, 1981 issue of The Soho News, is most likely harsher than it needed to be. Since Mary McCarthy’s death, I’ve been moved to reformulate some of my positions about her after reading the wonderful book Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1995) edited by Carol Brightman, which reveals a side of McCarthy that seems quite contrary to her much better-known bitchiness as a critic. It proves to me that unforeseen and unforeseeable sides of some people tend to come out only in specific relationships with certain other people, and the loving generosity of McCarthy’s letters to Arendt are a particular striking example of this. —J.R.
Ideas and the Novel
By Mary McCarthy
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $7.95
Despite her wicked way with some words and ideas, Mary McCarthy has never exactly thrilled me with her aesthetics. With a taste stuck so comfortably, nostalgically, even trivially in the prosaic 19th century that even the avant-garde that she values often seems furnished with fog and brass doorknobs à la Doyle, Verne, or Poe, her acute critical intelligence usually whiles away its time polishing statues and suits of armor — rather like the New York Times Book Review — whenever she turns to the Novel.… Read more »