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 »
From Film Comment, July-August 1982. — J.R.
Movies Plus One by William S. Pechter, 246 pp., index, Horizon Press, $14.95.
Ever since certain American film critics have taken to collecting their own reviews and/or commanding their own screenings, the solipsistic nature of their profession has tended to grow. It is a tendency that crosses cult boundaries, characterizing the Neros of the profession as well as the Babbitts, the scarlet empresses as well as the Sylvia Scarletts. In her celebrated and lengthy attack on Pauline Kael in the New York Review of Books two summers ago, Renata Adler indirectly broached this problem by singling out the distressing evidence of one very gifted intelligence having run amok — a charge largely made on stylistic and rhetorical grounds, and persuasively shaped around the assumption that what was really at stake was not movies at all, but prose and the relation between writers and readers. The greatest, lasting value of Adler’s remarkable piece was its illumination of this sticky problem as a general tendency — not its ostensible project of bringing the reader the head of Pauline Kael, which gave it all its publicity.
For a wider application of what Adler was talking about, one need only turn to Kael’s arch-rival Andrew Sarris — a critic so adroit at exposing his own solipsistic stances that he’s never needed an Adler to point them out.… Read more »
From the Summer 1982 issue of Film Quarterly. — J.R.
Four Books on the Hollywood Musical
THE HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL, by Clive Hirschhorn. New York: Crown.
HOLLYWOOD MUSICALS, by Ted Sennett. New York: Harry N. Abrams.
THE HOLLYWOOD MUSICAL, by Ethan Mordden. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
GENRE: THE MUSICAL, edited by Rick Altman. London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul (BFI Readers in Film Studies).
If the musical has nearly been vanquished as a popular form by the increasing subdivision of its audience into separate classes, age groups, and ethnic interests, these four books on the subject which nostalgically chart its heyday are similarly compartmentalized and exclusive. It seems inevitable that each of these four elegant receptacles for the most libidinal of American movie genres should address a different portion of our psyches: after all, if our society and minds are splintered, why shouldn’t our integral genres be as well?
The glib marketing strategies that aim each book at a somewhat different audience create the odd social effect of four high-rises, each constructed inside a separate ghetto — although the attractive coffee table books of Clive Hirschhorn and Ted Sennett might also be regarded with some justice as adjacent towers on somewhere like Sutton Place.… Read more »
From The Movie, Chapter 108, 1982. -– J.R.
The earliest principles of editing shots together were perhaps no more simple or complex than those of bricklaying; they served, at any rate, to perform the same sort of basic architectural function. In an early narrative film by Georges Méliès, Le Voyage dans la lune (1902, A Trip to the Moon), elaborately staged tableaux in front of a stationary camera — the filmmaker himself called them ‘artificially arranged scenes’ — succeed one another through the medium of dissolves. A bevy of chorus girls waves goodbye to a rocket ship fired from a cannon (one tableau), the moon is seen approaching (another tableau, effected through a moving, artificial moon rather than a moving camera), and the rocket ship lands splat in the eye of the Man in the Moon (still another tableau). By the time Méliès was making Le Tunnel sous la Manche ou le Cauchemar Franco-Anglais (l907, Tunneling the English Channel), five years later, his visual structures were more complex, so that an entire narrative could proceed in the form of individual split-screen diptychs. In each of them, an Englishman and Frenchman attempt to cross the channel towards each other from opposite sides of the screen.… Read more »
The 2013 Richard Pryor retrospective held at the Brooklyn Academy of Music made me think that it was worth reposting this ancient article of mine, which I regard as one of my better pieces about comedy.
It would obviously be hyperbolic for me to claim that the editorial evisceration originally suffered by this article was comparable to some of the curtailments experienced by Richard Pryor when he appeared on TV or in the Hollywood mainstream, but that’s more or less what it felt like to me at the time. I recently and very belatedly uncovered all but the last paragraph or so of my original version (after posting mainly the published version several months earlier), which I’ve just reinstated here [on November 14, 2011]. The fact that the editor who placed this article in a lead section of Film Comment’s July-August 1982 issue entitled “The Coarsening of Movie Comedy” also changed my title to “The Man in the Great Flammable Suit” may give some notion of what his evisceration felt like at the time.
My working assumption in restoring original drafts on this site, or some approximation thereof, isn’t that my editors were always or invariably wrong, or that my editorial decisions today are necessarily superior, but, rather, an attempt to historicize and bear witness to my original intentions.… Read more »