From the September 1985 Video Times. — J.R.
Ivan the Terrible
(1944), B/W, Director: Sergei Eisenstein. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 96 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.
(1946), B/W & C. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 90 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.
For all the growing availability of many film masterpieces on tape, there is such a world of difference between good and bad prints that we may wind up possessing less than we think we do. This is starkly illustrated by Corinth’s new editions of Ivan the Terrible, which offer the last work of Sergei Eisenstein in such a splendid condition that it automatically makes all the previous tape editions inadequate and obsolete.
What makes this offering so special is that it comes directly from the original source. Striking prints from the nitrate negative stored at Gosfilmofond (Moscow Film Archives), Corinth has restored the brilliance of the photography. The film’s subtle gradations and intricate lighting schemes are very much in evidence (the sinister gleams in certain characters’ eyes, for instance, are now fully visible). More importantly, thanks to the two full-color retimings, it has given us the climactic color sequence near the end of Part II, with its full range of reds, oranges, browns, grays, and blues — hues that have been virtually absent in the faded prints we have had to contend with over the past few decades.… Read more »
From the July 1985 Video Times. — J.R.
An Almost Perfect Affair
(1979), C, Director: Michael Ritchie. With Keith Carradine, Monica Vitti, Raf Vallone, and Dick Anthony Williams. 93 min. PG. Paramount, $59.95. 1 1/2 stars
The seventh and possibly the slightest of Michael Ritchie’s features, An Almost Perfect Affair is a mild romantic comedy that qualifies as pseudosatire — that is, satire that couldn’t conceivably threaten or annoy anyone. Set at the Cannes Film Festival, and largely filmed on location there, the movie chronicles a brief affair between Maria (Monica Vitti) and Hal (Keith Carrdine). Maria is the glamorous wife of a wealthy Italian producer (Raf Vallone), who has a film in the competition. Hal is a callow American independent whose first feature is being shown at the festival. None of this is very believable to anyone who has ever attended the Cannes Festival professionally, but there’s little indication that it’s supposed to be. Much as Manhattan can be viewed in part as valentine to anti-intellectuals who want to feel intellectual, this movie, also made in 1979, is for people who will never go to Cannes but want to feel hip about what happens there.
Inverting the terms that such a comedy would have adopted in the countercultural 1960s, the movie presents the vulgar big-time producer as a man with patriarchal dignity.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound (Summer 1985). This is a revised and expanded version of a lecture given at the Rotterdam International Film Festival’s Market in early 1985, the second year I attended the festival. Some of it’s obviously very dated now (hopefully in a way that’s historically instructive) and some of it anticipates a few of the arguments made in my book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See 15 years later. The late Huub Bals, director and presiding spirit of the Rotterdam festival, asked me to give this talk, and, as I recall, it was well attended; the audience members included, among others, Eszter Balint (the female lead in Stranger Than Paradise), Bernardo Bertolucci, Sara Driver, Jim Jarmusch, and Rudy Wurlitzer. –- J.R.
A feeling of having no choice is becoming more and more widespread in American life, and particularly among successful people, who are supposedly free beings. On a concrete plane, the lack of choice is often a depressing reality. In national election years, you are free to choose between Johnson and Goldwater or Johnson and Romney or Reagan, which is the same as choosing between a Chevrolet and a Ford — there is a marginal difference in styling.… Read more »
This review was published in the June 1985 issue of Video Times. Criterion has just brought out an excellent Blu-Ray edition of this film that I can highly recommend — along with Thomas Pynchon’s Foreword to the 2003 Penguin edition of Orwell’s novel. — J.R.
(1984), C, Director: Michael Radford. With John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, and Cyril Cusack [see below]. 110 min. R. USA, $79.95.
Director Michael Radford’s 1984, filmed in England between April and June of 1984 (the same period during which the action of George Orwell’s famous 1949 novel takes place), is a film adaptation that succeeds brilliantly. In one fell swoop, it repoliticizes the novel — translating it into terms that speak directly to the present. Paradoxically, it pulls off this singular feat not through any spurious “updating” of Orwell’s terrifying novel but by situating the novel squarely in its own period. Consequently, the film’s action can be said to unfold simultaneously in three separate time frames: the past (specifically the 1940s, during which Orwell conceived and wrote his novel), the future (as we postulate it in this decade), and the present (the mid-1980s).… Read more »
From Video Times (February 1985). — J.R.
Mr. Hulot’s Holiday
(1953), B/W, Director: Jacques Tati. With Jacques Tati, Nathalie Pascaud, André Dubois, and Michelle Rolla. 96 min. Embassy, $59.95
Popular films that are also works of art are rare gems, and Mr. Hulot’s Holiday remains one of the artistic jewels in movie comedy. It is as great in its way as the best of Chaplin and Keaton. A radically different way of experiencing the world. it is such an unpretentious movie that it initially comes across as anything but radical. Even the set of instructions at the opening of the film are so laid-back and unassuming that they are hardly instructions at all: “Mr. Hulot is off for a week by the sea…Spend it with him…Don’t look for a plot, for holiday is meant purely for fun…If you look for it, you will find more fun in ordinary life than in fiction…So relax and enjoy yourselves…See how many people you can recognize. You might even recognize yourself.”
The preceding appears over waves crashing against the shore; director Jacques Tati, who also plays the title hero, Monsieur Hulot, then cuts to a shot of an abandoned boat on the beach. He holds on the boat until another succession of waves come in, then cuts to a crowded, noisy railroad station in France at the peak of the summer season.… Read more »