Yearly Archives: 1984

Gee, Dad, It’s a Wurtlitzer (Review of SLOW FADE)

This book review appeared in the December 14, 1984 issue of the Los Angeles Reader. For more on Wurlitzer, readers are invited to check out my reviews of Walker and Candy Mountain in the Chicago Reader, both available on this site, as well as a more comprehensive piece about his work as a novelist and screenwriter, published in Written By.  — J.R.



Slow Fade

By Rudolph Wurlitzer

Alfred A. Knopf: $13.95

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

 

The difference between the art novel and the Hollywood novel can be as vast as the reaches between the East coast and the West coast, and any effort to wed the two in a shotgun marriage is liable to blow up in one’s face. Slow Fade, while an exceptionally and deceptively easy read, is far from being an easy book — which is one of the best things about it. That’s probably what Michael Herr means by “dangerous” in his jacket-blurb patter: “Slow Fade comes out of the space between real life and the movies and closes it up for good. A great book: beautiful, funny, and dangerous.” Any novel that begins with one character losing an eye and ends up with another losing his index finger is bound to be fraught with scary Oedipal tensions, and Slow Fade goes out of its way to make the most out of them.… Read more »

DOGS’ DIALOGUE (1984 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1984 (Vol. 51, No. 611). In retrospect, I’m rather proud of the synopsis here, which must have been a bitch to put together. -– J.R.

Colloque de chiens (Dogs’ Dialogue)

France, 1977
Director: R
âúl Ruiz

Cert–AA. dist–BFI. p.c–Filmoblic/L’Office de la Création Cinématographique. p–Hubert Niogret. asst. d–Michel Such. sc–Nicole Muchnik, Raul Ruiz. ph—Denis Lenoir, Patrice Millet. In colour. still ph–Patrice Morère, Mario Muchnik. ed–Valeria Sarmiento. m–Sergio Arriagada. cost–Fanny Lebihan, Yves Hersen. sd. rec–Michel Villain. sd. re-rec–Paul Bertaud. English version/English commentary—Michael Graham. French version/French commentary–Robert Darmel. l.p–Eva Simonet, Silke Humel, Frank Lesne, Marie Christine Poisot, Hugo Santiago, Geneviève Such, Laurence Such, Michel Such, Pierre Olivier Such, Yves Wecker, the dogs of the Gramont refuge. 1,938 ft. 22 mins. (35 mm.)

The film alternates three kinds of material: footage of barking dogs, shots of streets and other locations, and the following story, illustrated chiefly by a series of stills (and occasionally by shots in motion) and narrated off-screen: Monique discovers in a school playground that the woman she believes to be her mother isn’t her mother. At home, she learns that her real mother is a woman named Marie, who doesn’t know who her father was.… Read more »

DW Griffith: An American Life, by Richard Schickel

From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1984). –- J.R.

D.W. GRIFFITH: An American Life

by Richard Schickel

Pavilion, £15.00

Arriving on the heels of Donald Spoto’s Hitchcock and Richard Koszarski’s Stroheim, Richard Schickel’s massive biography of Griffith manages to steer a middle course between the compulsive narrative thrust of the former and the more scholarly negotiation of diverse hypotheses pursued by the latter. Grappling with a life and personality that surprisingly proves to be no less private and elusive than Hitchcock’s, Schickel confidently leads the reader through over six hundred pages of text without ever resorting to Spoto’s questionable tactic of baiting one’s interest with the promise of scandalous revelations. And if his scholarship in certain areas raises more questions than Koszarski’s -– see the helpful remarks of Griffith scholar Tom Gunning in the June American Film, particularly about the Biograph period -– he can still be credited with plausibly ploughing his way through an avalanche of contradictory and incomplete data.

Schickel’s task is, of course, more formidable than Spoto’s or Koszarski’s, encompassing some seventy-odd years and nearly five hundred films. Earlier efforts by Barnet Bravermann and Seymour Stern to compose a Griffith biography never reached completion (although Schickel has relied heavily on Bravermann’s material).… Read more »

THE CRIMINAL CODE (1984 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1984 (Vol. 51, No. 609). This was published long after I left the MFB staff in early 1977, and by this time, over seven years later, the magazine had finally abandoned its highly dubious practice of restricting all its reviews to single paragraphs. –- J.R.

The Criminal Code
U.S.A.,1930
Director: Howard Hawks

Cert–A.dist—Filmfinders. p.c–Columbia. A Howard Hawk production. p–Harry Cohn. sc–Seton I. Miller, Fred Niblo Jnr. Based on the play by Martin Flavin. ph–Teddy Tezlaff, James [Wong] Howe, (uncredited) William O’Connell. ed–Edward Curtiss. a.d–Edward Jewell. m–(not credited). sd. rec–Glenn Rominger. l.p–Walter Huston (Warden Martin Brady), Phillips Holmes (Robert Graham), Constance Cummings (Mary Brady), Mary Doran (Gertrude Williams), De Witt Jennings (Gleason), John Sheehan (MacManus), Boris Karloff (Galloway), Otto Hoffman (Jim Fales), Clark Marshall (Runch), Ethel Wales (Katie), lohn St. Polis (Dr. Rincwulf), Paul Porcassi (Spelvin), Hugh Walker (Lew), Andy Devine (Prisoner), Jack Vance (Reporter), Arthur Hoyt (Nettleford), Nicholas Soussanin, James Guilfoyle, Lee Phelps. 3,245 ft.

90 mins.… Read more »

ZABRISKIE POINT (1984 review)

From Video Movies (August 1984). — J.R.

Zabriskie Point

(1969), C, Director: Michelangelo Antonioni. With Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, Rod Taylor, and Kathleen Cleaver. 111 min. R. MGM/UA, $59.95.

In the 1960s, he could do no wrong, especially after his hit, Blow-up. In the 1980s, Michelangelo Antonioni emerges as a shamefully neglected figure — only one of his last four films (The Passenger) has been released in this country. And Zabriskie Point, the film that virtually destroyed his American reputation, offers ample proof of both the Italian director’s brilliance and his neglect of filmmaking particulars that Americans seemingly will not stand for. To understand Antonioni’s art, we must acknowledge that he is not a storyteller but a composer/choreographer of sounds and images.

As either a plausible romance about disaffected youth or as a documentary rendering of 1969 America, Zabriskie Point is often ludicrous. But one keeps in mind that Antonioni thinks through his camera more than through his scripts — and that realism is far from his intention — one can see this film as an astonishingly beautiful achievement. As the director noted at the time, “The story is certainly a simple one. Nonetheless, the content is actually very complex.… Read more »

OUT OF THE BLUE (1984 review)

From Video Movies (August 1984). -– J.R.

Out of the Blue

(1981), C. Director: Dennis Hopper. With Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farrell, and Raymond Burr. 94 min. R. Media, $59.95.

When it was released, a friend wittily and succinctly described Out of the Blue as “Dennis Hopper’s Ordinary People.” Though this film didn’t start out as a Hopper movie (he signed on as an actor and took over direction after shooting started), it certainly has the Hopper flavor: relentlessly raunchy and downbeat, and informed throughout by the kind of generational anguish and sense of doom that characterizes both of his earlier films [Easy Rider and The Last Movie].

Hopper, one should recall, is a figure identified with the 1950s. He made his acting debut alongside James Dean in Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Conceived as a kind of punk remake of Rebel set in a contemporary working-class environment, Out of the Blue centers around Cindy “CeBe” Barnes (Linda Manz), an alienated 15-year-old punk who perpetually mourns the deaths of Elvis Presley and Johnny Rotten. Her mother, Kathy (Sharon Farrell), is a junkie who works at a cheap restaurant; her father, Don (Hopper), is a former trucker and an alcoholic finishing off a five-year stint in prison when the film opens.… Read more »

THE GOLD DIGGERS: A Preview

This originally appeared in the twelfth issue of Camera Obscura (Summer 1984). I’m delighted that a DVD of Sally Potter’s overlooked, neglected, and scandalously undervalued masterpiece is finally available, from the British Film Institute. I wrote a short essay for the accompanying booklet. –J.R.

The Gold Diggers: A Preview

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Sally Potter’s much heralded British Film Institute production has been encountering a lot of resistance since it premiered at the London Film Festival late last year. When I saw it at the Rotterdam Film Festival in early February, its presence even there was regrettably nominal: screened only once, and in the Market rather than as a festival selection, it was received rather coolly, and many of the critics present left well before the end. Finding the film visually stunning, witty, and pleasurably inventive throughout, I can only speculate about the reasons for the extreme antipathy of my colleagues.

Historically, The Gold Diggers demands to be regarded as something of a proud anomaly. While it contains many familiar echoes of avant-garde performance art (including music, dance, and theater), its only recognizable antecedent in the English avant-garde film tradition appears to be Potter’s own previous Thriller. (An English language film which is international in conception as well as execution, it is marginal in the best and most potent sense of that term.) Beyond that, the formal and stylistic eclecticism of what Ian Christie aptly calls “a post-modernist musical” seems part and parcel of the film’s overt feminist aggression.… Read more »

Cinema Stylists, by John Belton

From the Summer 1984 Film Quarterly (Vol. XXXVII, No. 4). I can happily report that some copies of this book are still available on the Internet. — J.R.

CINEMA STYLISTS

By John Belton. Metuchan, N.J. & London: The Scarecrow Press, 1983. $19.50.

From the outset, in his Introduction, John Belton makes the organizing stance of Cinema Stylists admirably clear. Revised auteurism — that is to say, non-vulgar and non-biographical auteurism, an auteurism brought more in line with the qualms of Barthes and Foucault (and subsequently Wollen) about authorship, and tempered with some of the notions about authorial presence in Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction — is the dominant (if not exclusive) mode in this collection of over three dozen pieces, written over the past fourteen years. With the specters and examples of Robin Wood and Andrew Sarris hovering over his shoulders – his right and left consciences, as it were – Belton lacks the stylistic fluidity of either of his mentors, but has certain sound academic virtues which match and occasionally surpass the capacities of both.

A champion of the underdog film as well as the neglected figure, Belton can be seen going to bat in Cinema Stylists for Robert Mulligan, Edgar G.… Read more »

Split Images (Rotterdam 1984)

From the June 1984 issue of Film Comment. This chronicles my very first visit to the Rotterdam International Film Festival. I believe I was the first member of the American press ever to have been invited (a perk I owe to Sara Driver and Jim Jarmusch having spoken to festival director Huub Bals) — the first of my 20 visits to this very special festival. I’m sorry that Rotterdam no longer invites me (I believe that my last visit there was in 2007), but I guess even the best perks can’t be expected to last forever. My first visit there, in any case, was one of the most memorable; Joseph L. Mankiewicz was there to accept the Erasmus Prize (and to give a press conference at which, if memory serves, he spent almost half an hour answering the first question), and I received my very first glimpses of the work of Raúl Ruiz. I should add that I did festival reports this first year for both Film Comment and Sight and Sound, although it was part of Huub’s singularity that he never required any coverage from me in order for me to get invited back the following year.Read more »

American Directors (1984 book review)

From Film Quarterly, Spring 1984. -– J.R.

 

AMERICAN DIRECTORS

 

Two volumes.  Edited by Jean-Pierre Coursodon, with Pierre Sauvage. New York: McGraw Hill, 1983. $21.95 per volume cloth, $11.95 per volume paper.

On the whole, Jean-Pierre Coursodon’s 874-page, two-volume American Directors is closer in genre to Richard Roud’s Cinema: A Critical Dictionary than it is to Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema. Like both predecessors, it is an encyclopedia of opinions first and facts second — although, to its credit, it has many more facts per entry (in filmographies and career summaries) than either of the earlier monoliths. Like the Roud and unlike the Sarris, it attempts exhaustive surveys rather than suggestive critical miniatures, and is authored by many hands. Coursodon wrote 66 of the 118 essays and co-editor Pierre Sauvage, who furnished all the filmographies, contributed 13; the remaining 39 are by 20 other writers.

Again like the Roud, the Coursodon stands or falls as a compendium more than as a book with a sustained viewpoint; consecutive or continuous reading is neither recommended nor viable. Overall, the criticism is homogeneous, perhaps too much so: the standard auteurist form of career survey — already a bit fossilized — as developed out of Coursodon and Bertrand Tavernier’s Trente ans de cinéma américain (1970) and The American Cinema (1968) is so predominant here that other critical persuasions of the past two decades might as well have never existed.… Read more »

Rotterdam: Jancsó, Potter, Ruiz [1984]

From the Spring 1984 issue of Sight and Sound. This was the first time I attended the film festival in Rotterdam and the first time I encountered the work of Raul Ruiz. It’s sadly emblematic that the Jancsó TV miniseries, even though it wound up being shown on the BBC, is so forgotten and out of reach today that I can’t even find a satisfactory still for it on the Internet. — J.R.

It’s a curious festival that can make young filmmakers like Henry Jaglom, Nicolas Roeg and John Sayles seem like commercial Hollywood directors. Devoted to the relatively unseeable and intractable independents across the globe whose work exists between the parentheses of an industry, Rotterdam has lasted for thirteen years, and under Hubert Bals’ inspired direction has this year added a market to amplify its already hefty fare. For an American who can hardly keep up with a Ruiz, Duras, Garrel or Jancsó without crossing the Atlantic, it was like stumbling into a forbidden forest of plenty, loaded with potential traps and unexpected rewards.… Read more »

Avant-Garde in the 1980s

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1984) -– designed as a sort of spinoff/update of my recently published book Film: The Front Line 1983. -– J.R.

Item: In assorted outdoor locations all over the US, from a Santa Monica pier to a park in lower Manhattan’s Soho, Louis Hock has been showing a silent, triple-screen film of his own devising called Southern California. The film’s imagery is of the colorful, mythical sort that its title suggests: placid neighborhoods flanked by palms; a San Clemente flower farm; fruit and vegetables in a La Jolla supermarket; downtown Los Angeles glimpsed from the rotating Angel’s Flight Bar or from the top of the Hyatt-Regency. Southern California is actually one strip of film run consecutively through three adjacent 16mm projectors which are aimed at the same wall.

There’s a gap of 22 1/2 seconds between the time that the first and second panels in the triptych appear, and again between the reappearance of the same images on the second and third panels. Every image, consequently, appears twice in each 45-second cycle.

Rather than promote his movie in any ordinary way, Hock usually finds a public site (like the University of California’s San Diego campus, or the street level of the South Ferry terminal in New York, where Staten Island commuters pass), sets up his gear, waits until nightfall, starts to show his 70-minute film on a continuous loop and waits to see what happens.… Read more »

Real Sex in Movies

Written for the magazine Forum and published there in 1984. If I still have the published version, which would pinpoint the particular month and issue, I can’t locate it (although based on a tip from Barry Scott Moore, I think it may have been the February issue). For better and for worse, this is probably the most popular item on this site. – J.R.

The white morning sunlight, intensely brilliant, radiates through the open window as he sits propped up with pillows. She, also naked, sits quietly in his lap, her legs folded neatly under her, facing and kissing him with little pecks through her loose and undulating tangle of hair, both of them intermittently moaning with contentment. The two of them are fucking — or so it seems. The movie is An Officer and a Gentleman. They’re in a motel bedroom. He’s an air force officer trainee named Zack Mayo, played by Richard Gere. She is Paula, his girlfriend who works at the local paper mill, played by Debra Winger. As Pauline Kael aptly describes her, she sports “the world’s most expressive upper lip (it’s almost prehensile),” which “tells you that she’s hungrily sensual.” (A couple of years back, gleefully astride a wild, mechanical bucking bronco in Urban Cowboy, her sensual greed was no less apparent.)

Gere buries his face in Winger’s breasts, and between short gasps of pleasure they make banal conversation about whether or not one of them should go fetch a towel — a project that is abandoned as soon as it becomes clear that neither one can bear to break away from the other.… Read more »

Gold Diggers of 1953: Howard Hawks’s GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES

From the Winter 1984/1985 Sight and Sound. Only years after writing and publishing this essay, I recalled seeing a test reel of Cinemascope with my father at an Atlanta movie exhibitors convention in 1953, part of which included a refilming of the “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” number in CinemaScope. I have no idea whether this still exists, but it may help to account for why some people misremember or wrongly identify the entire film as being in CinemaScope.

For those who might be puzzled by the third illustration from the end, this is Dominique Labourier’s character performing in a nightclub in Céline et Julie vont en bateau, in a sequence that precisely parallels the courtroom sequence in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. – J.R.

First Number: “We’re Just Two Little Girls from Little Rock”

I don’t believe in the kino-eye; I believe in the kino-fist. — Sergei Eisenstein

Before even the credit titles can appear, Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell arrive to a blast of music at screen center from behind a black curtain, in matching orange-red outfits that sizzle the screen — covered with spangles, topped with feathers — to look at one another, toss white ermines toward the camera and out of frame and sing robustly in unison.… Read more »