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.
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 »
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.
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 »
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 »