I’m pretty sure that my very first contributions to the Chicago Reader were these two capsule reviews, commissioned by Dave Kehr for their November 5, 1982 issue when these films were playing at the Chicago International Film Festival. — J.R.
The Night of the Shooting Stars.
The seventh feature written and directed by the talented Taviani brothers – Vittorio and Paolo, born respectively in 1929 and 1931 in San Miniato, Italy – and the third to open in America, The Night of the Shooting Stars is an Italian memory film that belongs to the same respectable company as Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategm, Fellini’s Amarcord, and Scola’s We All Loved Each Other So Much. The Tuscan town of San Martino during the last days of the war in 1944, as recounted by a woman who was six at the time to her daughter, provides the framework for this passionate and volatile fresco-in-motion, which radiates with unexpected and even startling moments of bucolic poetry. The actual war sequences contain some of the shocking beauty and giddy surprises one associates with the great Soviet directors, Dovzhenko in particular.… Read more »
Prior to the recently held retrospective devoted to Jean-Marie Straub and the late Danièle Huillet at the Museum of Modern Art in May and June, the only previous such retrospective was held on November 2-14, 1982, at New York’s Public Theater. I curated this event, which also included a selection of films by others made by Jean-Marie and Danièle to show with their own. For the occasion, I also edited a 20-page, tabloid-sized catalogue, long out of print, and what follows are (1) the full program as planned and (2) my introduction. Regarding (1), I recall now that there was one last-minute addition, their recently completed short film En rachâchant (see second photograph below), as well as some last-minute omissions or substitutions that are noted in the text below. Regarding (2), I should emphasize that a lot has changed and developed over the past three decades, both in myself and in Straub-Huillet’s work –- in both cases, I’d like to think, for the better. It’s cheering to note that no less than three very substantial books have appeared over the past few months devoted to their work, two in English — their Writings (as translated and edited by Sally Shafto, published in New York by Sequence Press), and an excellent critical collection edited by Ted Fendt for the Austrian Filmmuseum — and a mammoth collection in French, Internationale Straubienne, published jointly by Editions de l’Oeil and the Centre Pompidou (to accompany their own retrospective, which may be still in progress).… Read more »
The article from the October 1982 issue of American Film is so quaintly and absurdly dated now that I can’t resist reproducing it. -– J.R.
The prospect of choosing ten French movies that I’d like to own on videocassette is pretty hard to resist –- even for someone who still doesn’t own a cassette recorder. And when I consider the losses that any great film is bound to suffer on a home screen, I find myself consoled by the opinion of Jean-Luc Godard, expressed, twenty years ago:
”Even with films like Lola Montès and Alexander Nevsky, something comes through on television, despite the distortion, the rounded screen, the lack of definition, the absence of color. . .With Lola Montès, what you lost visually you often gained by having your attention focused on the dialogue. If only part of the film survives. It will be enough to bring it across.”
Admittedly, Godard was speaking here about old-fashioned network transmission — and French television at that, which offered a higher visual definition, and no time-slotting cuts or commercial breaks. Still, the overall thrust of his point, is true. Reproducing a classic film on cassette may do something drastic to its original purpose and format, but something essential remains.… Read more »
This was written in 1982 for The Movie: An Illustrated History of the Movies in the U.K., about a movie released the same year. — J.R.
“Little Orphan Annie,” a right-wing comic strip drawn by Harold Grey, was premiered in the New York Daily News in 1924, eventually reaching millions of people through syndication in over five hundred newspapers. In a 1937 survey this feature with its little red-headed heroine was declared the most popukar comic strip in America.
Given the parallels between the economic climate of the Eighties and the period represented in the strip, there is a temptation to translate the main political message of the film Annie as meaning, “Let ‘em eat cake” — the essential thrust, after all, of many a Thirties Depression musical, when opulent splendor was largely what the impecunious audience was paying to see (in the Broadway show, this aspect of Annie was reportedly even broader).
An attempt to liberalize the original strip to fit in with the Eighties seems to be behind a central sequence in the film in which Daddy Warbucks (Albert Finney) takes Annie (Aileen Quinn) and his personal secretary Grace (Ann Reinking) to Washington DC to meet Franklin D. Roosevelt (Edward Herman) and his wife Eleanor (Lois de Banzie); they try (with the help of Annie singing “Tomorrow”) to persuade Warbucks to run one of the “New Deal” youth employment programs.… Read more »
The following was one of a dozen or more profusely illustrated pieces that I wrote for a London periodical in 1982 called The Movie, specifically for issue no. 117; some of these articles were later recycled into a series of coffee-table books devoted to various decades in film history, but not this one, which I’ve slightly revised for its reappearance here.
Even though this short piece is somewhat dated now, I’m reviving it to celebrate Criterion’s awesome edition of Lonesome on DVD (in the best print of the film I’ve ever seen, with a superb audio commentary by Richard Koszarski), along with Fejos’s subsequent The Last Performance and Broadway on a separate disc. For me, this is unquestionably one of Criterion’s most impressive releases to date. (September 2 postscript/update: Having so far seen only the DVD, I wasn’t aware that a Criterion Blu-Ray also exists until Dave Kehr reviewed it in the New York Times….I wish I had that, too!) – J.R.
In a large, lonely city, the daily routines of two ordinary people who do not know one another are shown in parallel development. First Mary and then Jim wakes up, dresses and has breakfast (at the same restaurant).… Read more »
From the July 1982 issue of Omni. As with all the other commissioned pieces I wrote for the Arts section of that magazine, this originally ran without a title; I’ve also done a light edit on this version. Another version of this article appeared in Cahiers du Cinema, with a different title (if memory serves, this was “Beware of Imitations”).
While I was living in Europe in the 70s, I managed to watch portions of the shooting of films by Robert Bresson (Four Nights of a Dreamer), Alain Resnais (Stavisky…), and Jacques Rivette (Duelle and Noroit), but my trip to Alaska and British Columbia in December 1981 to watch a little bit of the shooting of John Carpenter’s The Thing was surely my most elaborate on-location visit, even though what I actually saw was much briefer in this case — hardly any more than an hour or two at most. And I didn’t even get to speak to Carpenter during my visit; absurdly enough, by arrangement with the film’s publicist, the interview in this piece was conducted over the phone several days later, with Carpenter calling me from Hollywood, after I returned to Hoboken, making the cassette recorder I had carried on my trip completely unnecessary and some portions of this piece necessarily deceitful.… Read more »
Published in Omni circa 1982. I owe this assignment and all my others at this magazine to the late Kathleen Stein, my editor there — a former classmate at Bard College and flatmate in New York during one summer. — J.R.
The Arts: TV
How far can the human braln go in delvlng into its own workings? An
ambitious, new eight-part television series — being produced by WNET
for airing this fall — broaches this question at the same time that it
partially answers it, byproviding us with a veritable Cook’s tour
through the state of contemporary brain research. “What curious art the
brain, too finely wrought, /Preys on herself, and is destroyed by thought,”
glumly opined eighteenth century writer Charles Churchill, in an epistle
addressed to artist William Hogarth. But Churchill’s philosophical lament,
quite apart from its odd characterization of the brainas essentially
feminine, can’t hold water in relation to the healthy self-preying instinct
adopted, by the makers of The Brain and all that it uncovers.
“It’s totally addictive to go into this,” science editor Richard Hutton, a
writer and producer on the series, admitted to me about his own perusal
of brain research, in preparation for the eight one-hour shows.… Read more »
From the Village Voice (June 1, 1982). — J.R.
SCIENCE: GOOD, BAD AND BOGUS by Martin Gardner. Prometheus, $18.95.
As an old fan of Fads and Fallcies in the name of Science, Martin Gardner’s classic ’50s “study in human gullibility,” I’ve been looking forward to a sequel for quite some time. This collection of 38 skeptical pieces about “pseudoscience” (from Uri Geller to UFOs, by way of ESP) and “eccentric fringes” (such as black holes, catastrophe theory, and talking apes) isn’t that sequel, but it’s the next best thing — an elegant paste-up of articles and book reviews Gardner has written over the past three decades.
Fads and Fallacies took up a veritable rogues’ gallery of cranks, bumblers, and hustlers through the ages — like Wilbur Gleen Voliva, who thought the earth was shaped like a pancake, or Colonel Dinshah Ghadiali, whose Spectro-Chrome Therapy prescribed colored lights and a proper diet for every ailment. Thanks to the warm amusement of the man who brought us The Annotated Alice, these characters were often imbued with a certain Gogolian density even as Gardner dispassionately tore their science to shreds. Faced with his less humorous contemporaries in Science: Good, Bad and Bogus, Gardner has to forgo much of this novelistic bent — an aesthetic loss, in some ways, but also a practical gain.… Read more »
From Cahiers du Cinéma #334/355, avril 1982 (a special issue called “Made in USA”). I wrote this commissioned article (about two of Robert Altman’s stage productions) in English, while working with Serge Daney in New York on a number of other assignments. The French text is all I have now, and I’ve decided to reproduce it here because it’s the only account of these productions that I know about that are written from a filmic perspective, and the recent release on an Olive Films Blu-Ray of Come Back to 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (the Altman film, which for me removes most of the major virtues of the Broadway production) makes this perspective all the more relevant….Reproducing this French text has entailed a lot of retyping, and I hope I haven’t made too many mistakes. (I’ve also corrected a few typos, including “Atlman” for “Altman”.) -– J.R.
Après avoir vendu sa maison de production, Lion’s Gate Films, l’année dernière, Robert Altman a annoncé qu’il avait l’intention de se lancer dans une carrière théâtrale, il a d’abord mis en scène à Los Angeles deux petites pièces expérimentales en un acte écrites par Frank South; dans I’une, il n’y a que deux personnages (chacun tenant séparément un monologue et n’échangeant aucun dialogue) ; l’autre n’a qu’un personnage (qui fait un monologue tenant du tour de force).… Read more »
From American Film (April 1982). — J.R.
The Film in History: Restaging the Past by Pierre Sorlin. Barnes & Noble, $21.50.
Feature Films as History edited by K.R.M. Short. University of Tennessee Press, $16.50.
Vietnam on Film: From “The Green Berets” to “Apocalypse Now” by Gilbert Adair. Proteus, $13.95.
What is a historical film? Sociologist and cultural historian Pierre Sorlin concludes a comparison between two French films about the French Revolution released during the mid-thirties — Abel Gance’ s Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean Renoir’s La Marseillaise — with a succinct formula for his provocative working assumption in The Film in History. “A historical film,” he writes, “is a reconstruction of the social relationship which, using the pretext of the past, reorganizes the present.”
It’s an interesting notion to try out on all the films that we regard as historical. To get a proper fix on Reds, for instance, one has to consider not only the years 1915 to 1920, during which the portrayed events take place, but also the much more immediate past, during which the movie was being formulated and put together, and the present, during which it is being seen and understood. Thus the relatively short shrift paid in the film to class differences – a fundamental issue in John Reed’s life — can be ascribed in part to the basically middle-class orientation of the student revolts in the sixties, which have a lot to do with the way that we currently regard radical politics.… Read more »
From AFI Education Newsletter (January-February 1982). Because of the length of this, I’ll be running it in two installments. — J.R.
FROM UN CHIEN ANDALOU TO CHANTAL AKERMAN (Part 2)
UNIT III: German and Soviet Experimentation in the Twenties
Part of the strategy of studying German and Soviet experimentation over roughly the same period is the striking contrast between these national film movements and their relationship to popular genres as well as their different themes and subjects. On the one hand, one finds the efforts of a Fritz Lang to experiment with the thriller format, and those of F.W. Murnau (and his scriptwriter Carl Mayer) to construct an essentially non-verbal visual language. On the other hand, one finds the relatively less script-bound experiments with montage and certain documentary principles provided by the Soviet filmmakers. An interesting topic to consider speculatively is the Soviet version of Lang’s first Dr. Mabuse film, which was re-edited by Eisenstein for Russian audiences.
Bronenosets Potemkin (The Battleship Potemkin) (1925, 65 min.) Directed by Sergei Eisenstein — Perhaps the most famous of all experimental films, including some 1300 shots, Eisenstein’s classic is structured in five “acts.” Along with Strike, made the previous year, this is the most accessible of Eisenstein’s silent films, and might be contrasted with October (or significant portions thereof) in terms of the different principles of montage at work.… Read more »
From AFI Education Newsletter (January-February 1982). Because of the length of this, I’ll be running it in two installments. — J.R.
FROM UN CHIEN ANDALOU TO CHANTAL AKERMAN (Part 1)
UNIT l: lntroduction
One distinct advantage to teaching a course in experimental film as opposed to avant-garde film is that it automatically gives one much more leeway in terms of screenings to be selected as well as overall teaching approaches. While “avant-garde cinema” can be regarded, by and large, as a distinct body of work with its own traditions, history and critical literature, “experimental film” is a rather more subjective and ambiguous category, and one that cuts across certain forms of commercial as well as avant-garde filmmaking. (There are many more references to various commercial forms of filmmaking, including Hollywood, in David Curtis’s Experimental Cinema, than there are in P. Adams Sitney’s Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde.)
Consequently, any teacher setting out to plan a course in experimental rather than avant-garde cinema automatically has a greater amount of material to select from, and substantially more freedom in defining the scope and limits of his or her subject. By the same token, the demands placed on one’s imagination, creative input and organizational capacities might also be significantly greater.… Read more »
From Film Comment (January-February 1982); reprinted in my book Film: The Front Line 1983. My thanks to Jon Jost himself for furnishing me with the frame grabs from Last Chants for a Slow Dance and Stagefright. — J.R.
1. “This is a movie, a way to speak. It is bound, like all systems of communication, with conventions. Some of these are arbitrarily imposed, some are imposed by economic or political pressures, some are imposed by the medium itself. Some of these conventions are necessary: They are the commonality through which we are able to speak with one another in this way. But some of these conventions are unnecessary, and not only that, they are damaging to us, they are self-destructive. Yet we are in a bad place to see this. We are in a theater.” Jon Jost, addressing the camera and spectator in Speaking Directly (1974).
2. Despite five substantial and in many ways remarkable features under his belt since 1974, and nineteen shorts since 1963, Jon Jost at 38 is still a long way from becoming even an arcane household name in this country. Not that he makes it easy on anyone. His originality, technical virtuosity, and political sophistication have all tended to work against him by showing the rest of us up — thereby banishing him from most of the restricted genre and market classifications designed to protect us from his scorn, under avant-garde and mainstream umbrellas alike.… Read more »