Yearly Archives: 1983

Manuel De Landa (1983 profile)

This profile was published without title in the December 1983 issue of Omni, in a section simply called “The Arts”. -– J.R.

It makes perfect sense that Manuel De Landa, a thirty-year-old Mexican anarchist filmmaker who specializes in the aesthetics of outrage, inhabits a midtown Manhattan apartment so tidy and upstanding that it could almost belong to a divinity student. The point seems to be that if you want to shake the civilized world at its foundations, it helps your credibility if you wear a jacket and tie — especially if you speak with an accent that makes you sound like Father Guido Sarducci.For a talented artist who has an asocial image to sell and a highly social way of putting it across, it isn’t surprising that De Landa makes wild, aggressive films that leap all over the place while standing absolutely still. In The Itch Scratch Itch Cycle (1977) and Incontinence: ADiarrhetic Flow of Mismatches (1978),quarreling couples in tacky settings are subjected to all kinds of optical violence:The camera moves around them in the shape of a figure eight, or De Landa crazily cuts back and forth between two static shots of the principals screaming at each other — as if he were a mad scientist, controlling their shrieks with the twist of a knob.Read more »

Sara Driver [from FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983]

To celebrate the showing of the restoration of Sara Driver’s You Are Not I at the New York Film Festival this Thursday (October 6), here is the chapter of my still-in-print book Film: The Front Line 1983 devoted to Sara, this film in particular. I’m also happy to report that early next year (or thenabouts), Sara’s complete works to date will be released in a long-overdue DVD box set in Canada by Ron Mann’s Sphinx Productions. A video interview I did with her about When Pigs Fly will be one of the extras.– J.R.


SARA MILLER DRIVER

Born in New York, 1955

1979 –- Dream Gone Bad (16mm, b&w, 2 min., silent)

(unavailable)

1980 -– Death in Hoboken (16mm, b&w, 3 min.) (unavailable)

Sir Orpheo (16mm, b&w, 18 min.) (unavailable)

1982 – You Are Not I (16mm, b&w, 48 min.)


If Sara Driver is the youngest filmmaker included in this survey, You Are Not I does not convey that impression. In this respect, it represents a quantum leap from a student exercise like Death in Hoboken, which is the only previous film by Driver that she’s been willing to show me.

A sketchy thriller chase ending in a murder, staged in and around the decrepit atmospherics of Hoboken’s Erie-Lackawanna Railway Terminal, the earlier effort, shot in high-contrast photography, resembles an arty fragment of something like Orson Welles’s The Trial, or, perhaps closer to the mark, Arthur Penn’s Mickey One.Read more »

On TOO EARLY, TOO LATE

Excerpted from a chapter in my book Film: The Front Line 1983. — J.R.

Of all the films discussed at length in this book, Too Soon, Too Late (1981) is conceivably the one that has had the strongest impact on me, although I have seen it only twice.  After having seen it the first time, in Spring 1982, I was sufficiently impressed to put the film at the end of my “all-time” top ten list for Sight and Sound’s international critics’ poll later the same year.  Consequently, it seems paradoxical yet unavoidable that of all the films dealt with here, Too Soon, Too Late automatically qualifies as the most difficult and elusive to write about.  My two previous efforts have yielded only a few inadequate and hastily conceived sentences in the introduction to my Straub-Huillet catalog, and a somewhat more reasoned paragraph in the conversation with Jonas Mekas which opens this book.  The notes below cannot pretend to be more than an interim report;  further and more extensive analysis will have to await a future date:

(a)  First, a few concrete facts about the film.  For the first time in a Straub-Huillet film, the texts used are all read off-screen, making separate versions in different languages possible without any recourse to dubbing. … Read more »

Michael Snow

From Omni (September 1983). — J.R.

For a conceptual artist who’s more often concerned with representation than with straight entertainment, Canadian filmmaker Michael Snow can be a pretty jokey fellow. In fact, of all the avant-garde artists I know, he may well be the one who laughs the most and the hardest. His longest and craziest movie — the 260-minute, encyclopedic “Rameau’s Nephew” by Diderot (Thanx to Dennis Young) by Wilma Schoen – contains a grab bag of assorted puns, puzzles, and adages, from lines like “eating is believing” and “hearing is deceiving” to a mad tea party where words and sentences recited backward are then reversed to sound vaguely intelligible. Even “Wilma Schoen” in the title is an anagram for Snow’s name. One of his shortest works, the eight-minute Two Sides to Every Story, is projected on two back-to-back screens, simultaneously showing the same events in the same room from opposite angles.

Just as typical, in the living room of Snow’s house in Toronto, where I recently interviewed him, is a front door that isn’t in use — or rather is in use, but not as a front door. Over the side facing inside the room is a life-size color photograph of a painting of the same door.… Read more »

Program Notes for the North American Theatrical Premiere of THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR & THE INDIAN TOMB

On January 3, 1978, during what must have been my first visit back to London after moving from there to San Diego in early 1977, I attended a private screening at the British Film Institute of glorious new prints of Fritz Lang’s Indian films. Over four years later, when I was invited to program “Buried Treasures” at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, I was delighted to be able to book these prints and thus hold what I believe was the North American premiere of Fritz Lang’s penultimate films in their correct versions, uncut and subtitled in English rather than dubbed. Luckily, Film Forum’s Karen Cooper attended this screening, and two years later, when she booked these prints for a theatrical run, she commissioned me to write program notes, reprinted below. — J.R. THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR/THE INDIAN TOMB (1958, 1959/101, 97 min.) Directed by Fritz Lang. Exec. Producer: Arthur Brauner. Screenplay by Lang & Werner Jorg Luddecke from a novel by Thea von Harbou & a scenario by Lang & von Harbou. Photographed by Richard Angst. Art direction by Helmut Nentwig, Willy Schatz. With: Debra Paget (Seetha), Paul Hubschmid (Harald Berger), Walter Reyer (Chandra), Claus Holm (Dr. Rhode), Sabine Bethmann (Irene Rhode), René Deltman (Ramigani).… Read more »

Thinking about (Personal) History Lessons: The Movie Paintings of Manny Farber

This piece had a somewhat tortured history. Commissioned but rejected by Artforum (for reasons that were never explained) circa 1982, it first appeared in a special issue of New Observations (#36, 1983) edited by the late Gilberto Perez, entitled “Horses, Hegel and Film,” where by necessity the illustrations were relatively sparse. In its present form, it first appeared in the 12th issue of the online journal Rouge in 2008. — J.R.

1. Manny Farber, Negative Space (New York: Da Capo, 1998), p. 361. ‘The brutal fact is that they’re exactly the same thing’, Manny Farber replied in 1977 to an interviewer inquiring about the relationship between his dual activities as a painter and film critic. (1) The remark points to a two-part obsession that by now has persisted for more than four decades. A master at perceiving the delicate nuances of brutal facts, Farber has always had an uncanny knack for hitting on truths in a language of wisecracking braggadocio that eliminates any possibility of a dispassionate or precise scientific observation. With his feet firmly planted in the anonymous turf of an underground termite (to conflate two of his favourite terms), Farber paradoxically aims at a notion of bull’s-eye that can exist only in a marketplace context where objects and ideas compete for our attention.

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Robert Breer [from FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983]

Another chapter from Film: The Front Line 1983. I can happily record that a good many of Breer’s films are available online, especially on YouTube. So even though he died last August and he remains flagrantly under-represented on DVD (although an excellent collection of 11 of his shorts, Recreation, was released some time ago on VHS, by Re:Voir in Paris), his art remains visible in some form, and Anthology Film Archives has prints of all or most of his works in 35mm. But I’m sorry I haven’t been able to find any online illustrations for my discussion of his film 77. — J.R.

All the major recent films of Robert Breer, an American who spent a crucial decade in Paris (1959-1969), are available in this country. But considering the fact that they’re independent animation, and that Breer is a one-man industry and not a Hollywood studio, they might as well be on the moon. They clearly inhabit a ghetto even more confining than that of the “foreign film,” because most critics lack an apparatus for dealing with them; hence, they find it easier to pretend that these works don’t exist. As uncontroversial as it might appear to be in most contexts, it is probably not irrelevant to note that when one of Breer’s most recent films, the characteristically brilliant Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons (1980) was screened at a New York Film Festival press show in 1982, it was rudely and audibly (if inexplicably) hissed. … Read more »

Leslie Thornton [from FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983]

A chapter from my book Film: The Front Line 1983. Apart from integrating a footnote into the main body of the text and eliminating a long out-of-date filmography, I’ve kept this text pretty much as I wrote it.

Adynata exists on both film and DVD, but, discounting unofficial/pirated/underground sources, seems available, alas, only at institutional prices (from Women Make Movies and Electronic Arts Intermix — the latter of which also distributes X-Tracts and Jennifer, Where Are You?, both on video, along with Thornton’s subsequent works, 21 titles in all). One can, however, access her radically different and recent Novel City (2008), about seven minutes long, which draws on a few of Adynata‘s sounds and images and adds several others, here. — J.R.

X-Tracts (1975) and Adynata (1983) have one very interesting and crucial aspect in common: they are montage films structured around the possibility ofan auto-critique, the activity of reading one’s self. The fact that Thornton performs this work in X-Tracts is what gives the film interest; the fact that we are able to perform this work in relation to Adynata is what gives it an even greater interest and importance.… Read more »

Ulrike Ottinger [1983]

A chapter from Film: The Front Line 1983. — J.R.

Born in Konstanz, Germany, 1942.

What do I know about Ulrike Ottinger? Not much, but enough to make me want to know more.  Admittedly, I’ve seen only her last two features. And on the basis of a single viewing about a year ago, Freak Orlando is a decidedly uneven film, definitely hit-or-miss in its overall thrust, and conceivably full of as many misses as hits. Like it or not, though, the film can be regarded as a  kind of climactic summa of the performance-oriented European avant-garde film, from Carmelo Bene to Philippe Garrel to Marc’O to the collaborations of Pedro Portbella* to Christopher Lee –  to cite the names of four leading figures of excitement and interest in this category whose careers  I lost track of after moving back to the U.S. from Europe in 1977. Insofar as Freak Orlando can be regarded as the Monterey Pop or Woodstock of the European avant-garde performance movement, it’s a valuable and fascinating document to have, and one therefore has reason to look forward to its release in this country…Ticket of No Return, on the other hand, strikes me as a fully achieved  work  — one of the few true masterpieces of the contemporary German avant-garde cinema – making Ottinger an obligatory inclusion for this book.Read more »

YOU ARE NOT I & ADYNATA (1983)

A program note for the Pacific Film Archive, April 5, 1983, to launch a program I selected entitled “Institutional Qualities and Casual Relations: The Avant-Garde  Film Today”, put together with the help of Edith Kramer. Most of the films in the series were related to both my book Film: The Front Line 1983, published around the same time (and still in print today), which includes separate chapters on both Sara Driver and Leslie Thornton, and the two courses I was teaching concurrently as visiting professor in the University of California Berkeley Film Studies Department. — J.R.

Adynata-nude

You Are Not I and Adynata      7:30

Two very different and accomplished films about female identity, Sara Driver’s You Are Not I (1981, 50 min.) and Leslie Thornton’s Adynata (1983, 30 min.) are both dialectically conceived; there the resemblance ends. The first is a very close adaptation of a Paul Bowles story written in the late 1940s, filmed in black and white [cinematography by Jim Jarmusch], about a psychic and territorial war fought between two sisters, one of them a schizophrenic. The second is a non-narrative film about the ideological configurations and semiotic constructions of the East as seen by and filtered through the West, particularly in relation to the female figure — articulated through many different kinds of found material and variable film stock.… Read more »

The Death of Hulot

This critical memoir originally appeared in the Spring 1983 Sight and Sound; it was subsequently reprinted in my first collection (1995), Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism. — J.R.


It was about ten years ago, in late November 1972, that I first took the No. 163 bus from Porte de Champerret in Paris to Jacques Tati’s office in la Garenne-Colombes, just around the corner from an unassuming street known as Rue de Plaisance. With his assistant Marie-France Siegler — a French- American in her thirties who, like me, hailed from Alabama, and had set up this interview — Tati occupied two offices in a modern building whose suburban neighborhood bore visible traces of both the contrasting quartiers in MON ONCLE: the chummy old lower-middle-to-working-class district where an unemployed Hulot lives, and the sterile, newly built upper-to-middle-class subdivision where his “successful” brother lives.

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The modern building, fronted by a glass door with a disc-shaped brass knob, was no less suggestive of PLAYTIME, and Tati’s office contained other familiar emblems, such as the same synthetic black chairs. In fact, around the period of MON ONCLE (1958), his production company had commanded the entire floor;   he had restricted himself to two modest rooms only after investing and then losing practically everything   he had on PLAYTIME (1967), his most expensive film, the masterpiece that wrecked his career.… Read more »

On CHAN IS MISSING and Wayne Wang

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1983). -– J.R.

Wayne Wang: Chinese structures and American economies

Opening with a rousing Cantonese version of ‘Rock Around the Clock’ which is all about inflation — the rising cost of tea and rice — Wayne Wang’s remarkable, offbeat Chan is Missing neatly combines its concern about what it means to be Chinese-American with the current economic crisis. Praised in these pages by Richard Combs after its appearance at the 1982 London festival as a film that ‘answers nothing, but in a way satisfies one’s curiosity,’ this black and white mystery, about two Oriental cab drivers searching for their missing partner through San Francisco’s Chinatown, has done surprisingly well since its U.S. release last fall, especially for an independent feature costing under $20,000. A strong review from the New York Times‘ Vincent Canby, coupled with careful handling by New Yorker Films, helped to turn the film into something of a commercial sleeper. ‘After the first quarterly report, we were already in the black,’ Wang cheerfully told me on the phone from San Francisco early this year, adding that the cast and crew members, who had originally been partially paid off in points, were already just starting to get proceeds for work done in 1980.… Read more »

YOU ARE NOT I/THE HONEYMOON KILLERS

Program notes for this double feature at Manhattan’s Public Theater, March 8-13, 1983. A few of the arguments here, such as the comparison of Driver with Straub, strike me now as forced, but when I recall that students in the Downtown Whitney  program during the same period compared You Are Not I abusively to The Twilight Zone (and were equally reluctant to regard John Ford as a serious artist when Straub praised him), I think my polemics were warranted….A happy postscript: both films are now available in excellent digital restorations (see below).  -– J.R.

DriverX4

honeymoonkillersbr

Slow yet relentless in their narrative progressions, deliberately nonspecific in their period settings, and equally unimaginable in anything but black and white, YOU ARE NOT I (1981) and THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (1969) are both startling and achieved first films about the triumphs of inexorable wills  — each made with a kind of rigor and passion that seem oblivious to the whims of fashion. Small wonder that François Truffaut should be enthusiastic about the earlier film, with its accelerating montage of breathless love letters, its flighty camera movements and implacable bursts of Mahler; or that Jean-Marie Straub should be enthusiastic about the later one (“I liked your film ten times better than Roger Corman’s Edgar Allen Poe movies”), with its integral use of dialectics in conception and treatment alike.… Read more »

Jacques Rivette [chapter from FILM: THE FRONT LINE 1983]

A chapter from my book Film: The Front Line 1983 (Arden Press, 1983), still in print. — J.R.

Jacques Pierre Louis Rivette

Born in Rouen, France, 1928

Perhaps no single figure in this survey dramatizes the contradictions of the avant-garde film as an institution and social force better than Jacques Rivette — a major filmmaker who has consistently been denied credentials, recognition, or any sort of protection by the “official” avant-garde establishment, even though his work has generally been shunned just as consistently by the mainstream power structures. Who, then, gives a damn about Jacques Rivette? More people than either establishment cares to acknowledge or deal with. As someone who has written a good deal about Rivette, programmed his films in three countries, and edited the only book devoted to him in English (or French), I can report that everywhere I go, I meet passionate Rivette fanatics.

In London, I once met an American who dutifully translated most of Rivette’s old Cahiers du Cinéma reviews in his spare time, simply for his own amusement. I also once shared a Hampstead maisonette with a brilliant Israeli-born lecturer in philosophy of art whom I took to a screening of the four-hour Out 1: Spectre; he spent most of the rest of the night telling me why it was the greatest film ever made — only a sleepless day or so before he temporarily flipped his lid and tried to chop down part of our kitchen wall with a hatchet.… Read more »

JERRY LEWIS IN PERSON

A book review published in the Village Voice (January 25, 1983). The version below restores some of the details deleted by an editor. — J.R.

JERRY LEWIS IN PERSON

By Jerry Lewis with Herb Gluck

Atheneum, $14.95

As a longtime Lewis fan who has lived in Paris, I have less curiosity about the French passion for him than most Americans. The unbridled sweep of the all-American ego at its most infantile and traumatized has always been an object of awe and fascination for the French; think of their celebrations of Poe and Faulkner, H.P. Lovecraft and Orson Welles. Call Jerry Lewis “America” (or vice versa) and you have a recognizable psychosexual object that signifies something more than slapstick and telethons. You also have an explanation for why some part of us despises the man — for rubbing our noses into potential traumas we claim to have outgrown, postulating his hysterical comedy as the literal cutting edge of our equilibrium.

One doesn’t ordinarily turn to an as-told-to show-biz memoir for extended self-analysis. But Jerry Lewis In Person exudes an uncomfortable candor that may actually endear Lewis to some of his detractors, while making admirers like me squirm a bit. The childhood sections which predictably dominate depict not only the lonely New Jersey misfit I expected, but also the street-smart chutzpah of a semi-abandoned tough guy who dreamt of murdering his grandfather, killed his cat in a rage when he was five, hated his show-biz parents for not even showing up to his bar mitzveh, and habitually socked anti-Semites and other wise guys (including his high school principal) in the mouth.… Read more »