Yearly Archives: 1985

Rotterdam Redux

From The Independent: Film and Video Monthly, November 1985 — J.R.

Having attended festivals of many shapes and sizes around the world, I can think of none that is more conducive to the serious viewing of original, offbeat work than the Rotterdam Film Festival. While Rotterdam lacks the global media coverage and accompanying hoopla of a Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Filmex, or Berlin, the festival offers filmmakers a congenial and sympathetic setting. Significantly, American independents as diverse as Jim Jarmusch and Mark Rappaport — as well as European figures like Manoel de Oliveira and Raul Ruiz — made their mark there long before they were treated to New York Film Festival premieres.

A cash prize is awarded each year to a film selected by the Dutch critics. Most recently, it went to Ruiz’s Manoel à l’ïle des merveilles (see two stills above), a French-Portuguese television co-production shot in 16mm, comprising three 50-minute episodes. However, the overall spirit of the festival is anything but competitive, and as a rule the critics prize will go to a film that the critics feel is deserving of special attention rather than an audience favorite.… Read more »

Rainer’s Persistence of Memory

From the Santa Barbara News & Review, October 24, 1985.–- J.R.

The Man Who Envied Women, introduced by filmmaker Yvonne Rainer, will be shown at 8 pm Monday, Oct. 28, Isla Vista Theatre II, Embarcadero Del Norte. Free admission.

It doesn’t really do justice to Yvonne Rainer’s exhilarating The Man Who Envied Women to call it avant- garde — or even the best feature to date by New York’s most celebrated avant-garde filmmaker. To do that is to consign it to a gilt-eged ghetto presided over by experts. The fact that Santa Barbara is fortunate enough to be getting this movie in advance of both New York and Los Angeles — and with Rainer herself in attendance -– shouldn’tmean that we need any big-city explicators to crack the surface of her intellectual vaudeville. Admittedly, there’s enough theoretical discourse on display to choke a horse, and two actors rather than one (a favorite Rainer ploy) portraying the title character — a complacent, womanizing academic named Jack Deller whose second wife, a nameless voice, leaves him in the opening moments of the film. But the delightful thing about Rainer’s word and image salad is that its deliberate overload virtually guarantees that if we miss a particular gag or argument, we’ll find its near-equivalent lying in wait for us a few minutes later.… Read more »

IVAN THE TERRIBLE (1985 review)

From the September 1985 Video Times. — J.R.

Ivan the Terrible

Part I

(1944), B/W, Director: Sergei Eisenstein. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 96 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.

Part II

(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 »

Râúl Ruiz (1985 essay)

Written for and published in 10 To Watch: Ten Filmmakers for the Future, edited by Piers Handling and designed to accompany a program of films shown at the tenth anniversary of the Toronto Festival of Festivals in the fall of 1985. This was most likely the first time I attempted to write about Ruiz’s work at any length. –- J.R.

RaulRuiz

The sheer otherness of Râúl Ruiz in a North American context has a lot to do with the peculiarities of funding in European state-operated television that makes different kinds of work possible. The eccentric filmmaker in the U.S. or Canada who wants to make marginal films usually has to adopt the badge or shield of a school or genre — art film, avant-garde film, punk film, feminist film, documentary or academic theory film — in order to get funding at one end, distribution and promotion at another. Ruiz, on the other hand, needs only to accept the institutional framework of state television — which offers, as he puts it, holes to be filled — and he automatically acquires a commission and an audience without having to settle on any binding affiliation or label beyond the open-ended framework of “culture” or “education”.… Read more »

Olaf Stapledon: The Father of Modern Science Fiction

Published under a pseudonym in the August 1985 issue of High Times. As I recall now, the main reason for the pseudonym was my unhappiness with the editor’s thoughtless editing; I’ve tried to repair a little of the damage here, and also added a few details.

I can happily report that Stapledon’s work has garnered a lot more attention since 1985, and all the fiction discussed here is currently in print, which wasn’t true back then. (Dover has excellent editions pairing Last and First Men with Star Maker and Odd John with Sirius, and An Olaf Stapledon Reader, edited by Robert Crossley, which Syracuse University Press published in 1997, includes all of The Flames and samplings from the others.) Although I don’t have much to say here about Odd John, this novel may actually serve as the best single introduction to Stapledon’s work.

One anecdotal epilogue to Jorge Luis Borges’s interest in Star Maker, cited at the end of this piece. I was lucky enough to attend a public discussion with Borges at the University of California, Santa Barbara shortly before his death, and asked him at the time to comment on this book. He said that he hadn’t reread it since the 60s, “but of course, once you’ve read it, you can never forget it.” — J.R.Read more »

GARBO TALKS (1985 review)

From the August 1985 issue of Video Times. — J.R.

(1984), C, Director: Sidney Lumet. With Anne Bancroft, Ron Silver, Catherine Hicks,  Carrie Fisher, Howard Da Silva, Hermione Gingold. 104 min. PG-13. Hi-Fi, CBS/Fox, $79.98. Three stars.

Perhaps the most delightful single aspect of thus warm, contemporary New York comedy is the degree to which it suggests anything but a movie of the present. From the animated cartoon behind the opening credits to the winsome conclusion in central Park, Garbo Talks registers more like a Hollywood film of the sixties or seventies than an expression of today’s sensibilities. (Where’s Poppa?, an absurdist comedy of 1970, provides a useful cross-reference.) The fact that scriptwriter Larry Grusin and director Sidney Lumet both seem perfectly aware of this adds a tang of irony to the film’s pleasure. They know, as we do, that lovable, eccentric radical like Estelle Rolfe (Anne Bancroft), who would have seemed almost commonplace in a movie 10 or 15 years ago, comes across as an audacious concept in the mid-eighties.

The plot of Garbo Talks is built around Estelle, and the role fits Anne Bancroft like a glove. The movie manages to milk the maximum out of her performance — one of the best in her impressive career — without keeping her onscreen any longer than is absolutely necessary.… Read more »

AN ALMOST PERFECT AFFAIR (1985 review)

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 »

CUTTER’S WAY (1985 review)

From the April 1985 Video Times. — J.R.

Cutter’s Way

(1981), C, Director: Ivan Passer. With Jeff Bridges, John Heard, Lisa Eichhorn, and Ann Dusenberry. 105 min. R, MGM/UA, $69.95.

A powerful, erotic thriller with remarkable performances from all three of its leads (Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and Lisa Eichhorn), Cutter’s Way never made the impact it should have when it was released. Originally titled Cutter and Bone, after the novel by Newton Thornberg on which it is based, it quickly became a studio write-off in the immediate wake of Heaven’s Gate. Not even a brace of rave reviews and a couple of film festival prizes could save it. Rereleased a few months later as Cutter’s Way, the film went on to acquire an enthusiastic cult that continues to appreciate its sensitive, offbeat mood and its indelible portrait of disaffected America.

The film is tightly scripted by Jeffrey Alan Fiskin and directed by the Czech expatriate Ivan Passer, best known for his bittersweet Czech feature Intimate Lighting, as well as such American features as Born to Win, Law and Disorder, and Silver Bears. Cutter’s Way is an in-depth portrait of the complex relations between three disaffected people.… Read more »

Rotterdam: Fury in Akerman’s Flat [1985]

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1985). — J.R.

With its continuing devotion to the independent and marginal, the Rotterdam Film Festival offered fewer peaks this year than last, but more than enough rolling happy valleys in between. Full-bodied retrospectives given to Jonathan Demme and Nelson Pereira dos Santos wove their way almost contrapuntally through the nine days of movies -– providing the selection with a sturdy populist backbone. Guided by the Langlois-like eclecticism and passion of director Hubert Bals, the festival virtually rebaptises every film that it shows under the banner of a relaxed, low-budget freedom that the Spielbergs and Coppolas can only dream about.

Pereira dos Santos and Demme are cases in point. From the sixteenth century (How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman) to the post-nuclear future (Who Is Beta?) to the impoverished present (Rio, 40 Degrees; Vidas Secas), dos Santos’ films blend anthropological wit with neo-realist compassion. The sociological wit and Renoir-like warmth of Demme exude a comparable bias towards the downtrodden. Oddly enough, the two sensibilities nearly come together in the very different pop/folk musicals A Estrada da Vida (1980) and Stop Making Sense (1984). Respectively a docu-drama about wall painters who make it big as country singers in Sao Paulo, and an on-stage concert performance by the Talking Heads, both films make striking use of flat colour backdrops to objectify and enhance the cultural clout of the performers.… Read more »

MR. HULOT’S HOLIDAY (1985 review)

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 »