Daily Archives: September 1, 1994

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 3)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. — J.R.

Don Quichotte - Francisco Reiguera

 

DQ-autograveyard

 

June 13, 1994

Dear Bill,

It’s good to have all your multifaceted thoughts about It’s All True, which makes your letter worth the long wait. I especially value what you have to say regarding the political implications of the film in the 1940s as well as the 1990s, because it seems that those implications have mainly eluded critics in both decades. As you well know, it wasn’t until Robert Stam published “Orson Welles, Brazil, and the Power of Blackness” in the seventh issue of Persistence of Vision (1989), with corroborating essays by both Catherine and Susan Ryan, that it finally became clear, forty-odd years after the event, that part of what was rattling so many studio executives and Brazilian government officials alike about Welles’s behavior in Rio was his particular interest in blacks. Maybe you’re right that he wasn’t a radical, but if It’s All True had been completed  and released in the early 1940s, it still might have offered a radical precedent: three Latin American stories focusing on non-white heroes.… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 2)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. — J.R.

IAL-OW

IAT-OW on boat

June 7, 1994

Dear Jonathan,

Sorry to have been so long replying. As you say, much has happened since you wrote your letter. We both started out years ago in a series of polemical articles to correct received ideas of Welles, and we seem to be making progress. This Is Orson Welles and It’s All True will be more  widely read and seen than those articles ever were. Already Richard Combs, writing about f for fake in the January–February 1994 Film Comment, acknowledges the thesis of Welles the independent filmmaker advanced by you in “The Invisible Orson Welles” as a corrective to the idea of Welles the great failure, then proceeds to propose a new theory of the work, with failure of another kind inscribed in it from the start.  That article would have been unthinkable a few years ago, when what might be called the vulgar theory of failure was still dominant.

The work on the Welles legacy is going well: Oja is set to co-direct a documentary that will include several of the important fragments; The Deep and The Other Side of the Wind may be finished in the next couple of years, and hope springs eternal where The Merchant of Venice is concerned.… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 1)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. The version here, including my introduction, comes from Discovering Orson Welles. – J.R.

discovering-orson-welles

This chapter -— the longest in my 2007 book Discovering Orson Welles, and in some ways my favorite -— was originally written for the French quarterly Trafic, and in fact was the first thing I ever wrote specifically for that magazine. The late Serge Daney (1942–1994) —- whom I’d known since his stint as editor of Cahiers du cinéma, when he’d gotten me to serve briefly as its New York correspondent (after Bill Krohn had shifted from that post to the same magazine’s Los Angeles correspondent) -— died of AIDS not longer after launching Trafic, and by my own choice, my first contribution, a memoir about working for Jacques Tati (see “The Death of Hulot” in my collection Placing Movies), was something I’d already written for and published in Sight and Sound. My second contribution was my brief introduction to Orson Welles’s “Memo to Universal”, an “outtake” from This Is Orson Welles that had been accepted by Serge’s coeditors (Raymond Bellour, Jean-Claude Biette, Sylvie Pierre, and Patrice Rollet) during Serge’s illness.Read more »

The Adventuress

The rise and fall of a talented cabaretera from a good family, played by Cuban rumba dancer Ninon Sevilla, is the focus of this 1949 Mexican cult item, highly critical of and disparaged by the Mexican middle class. Alberto Gout directed. In Spanish with subtitles. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Conviction

A singularly weird if watchable Italian courtroom drama about rape from the once very promising Marco Bellocchio (Fist in the Pocket, China Is Near), who more recently has been known for his ponderous sexual psychodramas and for having his psychotherapist present on his shooting locations to advise him on each shot. Perhaps he could use a better therapist. In this 1990 feature a young woman who finds herself locked inside an art museum is approached and, after some initial reluctance, seduced by an architect. Afterward the architect reveals that he was responsible for locking her inside the museum, and the woman brings rape charges against him. In the courtroom the architect expounds at length on the philosophy of rape and the philosophy of orgasm; for him, her orgasm proves there was no violence. Bellocchio seems to think he has a point; as he puts it, I am convinced that violence against women must be severely punished by law, but at the same time the perpetrator or the rapist is not really a rapist, but the ‘ideal’ man which every woman is looking for deep down, the man who does not destroy the woman’s identity, but by stimulating her desire does not disappoint her and therefore enables her to ‘be born’ and to strengthen her own identity.… Read more »

Conversation Piece

Luchino Visconti’s controversial 1975 feature was originally hooted off the screen at that year’s New York film festival, perhaps because the audience felt ill-prepared to cope with its frank homoeroticism, though many friends I respect insist it’s one of the best of his late features. Burt Lancaster plays an aging professor who becomes involved with the entourage of a wealthy woman (Silvano Mangano), including her young lover (Helmut Berger in the angel of death part. It almost certainly warrants a look.… Read more »

Bhaji On The Beach

Three generations of Indian women living in England take a day trip from Birmingham to Blackpool, a working-class seaside resort, in Gurinder Chadha’s watchable but generally ho-hum 1994 first feature about assimilation and generational clashes. The overall style is realist, though there are a few fleeting fantasy interludes that don’t work very well; most of the various feminist miniplots intersect at a male strip joint, where some strident melodrama triumphs briefly over the comedy. (JR)… Read more »

The Blue Kite

Banned in China, the powerful eighth feature (1993) of Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Horse Thief) follows its fictional hero, Tietou, and his family from 1953 to 1968. It’s a sublime and often subtle look at how history and politics disrupt ordinary lives, with memorable use of its central courtyard location and a profound sense of how individuals strive to maintain a sense of ethics within a changing society that periodically confounds those ethics or makes them irrelevant. In Mandarin with subtitles. 138 min. (JR)… Read more »

Blue Sky

The main reason to see this movie is two fabulous performances: Tommy Lee Jones as a military scientist involved with nuclear testing, and Jessica Lange as his flirtatious and rebelliously flamboyant wife. Set mainly in a straitlaced Alabama military compound in 1962, this odd little dramaeffectively directed by Tony Richardson from a semiautobiographical script written by Rama Laurie Stagner in collaboration with Arlene Sarner and Jerry Leichtlingcan be read as a suggestive reflection on the relationship between nuclear power and sexual repression during the cold war. In that sense it’s like the otherwise radically different Kiss Me Deadly, whose Va-va-voom! slogan and deadly plutonium made a similarly volatile mixture. Completed in 1991, this film remained on the shelf for three years, reportedly because of the bankruptcy of Orion. With Powers Boothe, Carrie Snodgress, Amy Locane, and Chris O’Donnell. (JR)… Read more »

Where The Rivers Flow North

The plot, set in 1927, recalls Elia Kazan’s 1960 Wild Rivera recalcitrant Vermont log driver (Rip Torn) refuses to sell his property lease so that the region’s first big hydroelectric dam can be builtbut this sincere, carefully made independent feature by Jay Craven, adapted by him and Don Bredes from a novel by Howard Frank Mosher, has plenty of distinctive elements. The most impressive is a wonderful, richly detailed performance by Tantoo Cardinal (Dances With Wolves) as the eccentric Native American woman who lives with the log driver. Shot entirely on location, this film also boasts a cast that includes Michael J. Fox and Bill Raymond in smaller roles and cameos by Treat Williams and Amy Wright. (JR)… Read more »

The Women From The Lake Of Scented Souls

Xie Fei, the fourth generation mainland Chinese director who taught filmmaking to both Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine) and Tian Zhuangzhuang (The Blue Kite), wrote and directed this 1993 melodrama, based on a novel by Zhou Daxin, about a middle-aged woman who runs a highly successful sesame-oil business in a northern village but can’t escape the cycle of abuse that started when she was sold into marriage at a young age. When she buys a wife for her dysfunctional only sonwho appears to be epileptic and winds up beating his brideshe’s beaten by her own husband. The drama here is often pointed, and Xie’s direction is sensitive. But the sometimes opaque and unidiomatic subtitling (e.g., Human life is a long way to go) doesn’t help; alternately titled Woman Sesame Oil Maker and The Women of the Lake of Scented Souls. In Mandarin with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

In This Town There Are No Thieves

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1994). — J.R.

A sardonic Mexican melodrama from 1964, directed by Alberto Isaac and based on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez story, about a provincial town where nothing much happens until a layabout steals the game balls from the local billiard parlor and the local population goes ballistic. With Julian Pastor, Rocio Sagaon, and cameos by several well-known artists and intellectuals, including Juan Rulfo, Garcia Marquez, Arturo Ripstein, and Luis Buñuel.… Read more »

Female

Ruth Chatterton and George Brent, a real-life married couple at the time of this 1933 feature, star as the tyrannical head of a major auto company and the independent-minded guy who comes along to challenge her and win her heart. Before it (and its heroine) abjectly cop out in the closing minutes, this hour-long precode feature offers a bracing feminist fever dream of a young woman commanding a huge corporation and a stable of attractive young men, whom she invites over to her house for one-night stands. Breezily directed by Michael Curtiz and William Dieterle; with Johnny Mack Brown, Ruth Donnelly, and some very sumptuous set designDepression fantasy of the good life at its most hyperbolic. (JR)… Read more »

Employees’ Entrance

This 1933 film focuses on life in a huge department store from the vantage point of the employees, whose lives are made miserable by a heartless, amoral manager (Warren William). As an attack on ruthless capitalism, it goes a lot further than more recent efforts such as Wall Street, and it’s amazing how much plot and character are gracefully shoehorned into 75 minutes. Adapted by Robert Presnell from a play by David Boehm, and directed by the reliable Roy Del Ruth; with Loretta Young, Wallace Ford, Alice White, and Allen Jenkins. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Little Buddha

There’s nothing wrong in theory with Bernardo Bertolucci choosing to make a movie about Buddhism for kids, any more than with Akira Kurosawa taking a kids’ view of certain ecological issues in Dreams. Working with a script by Rudy Wurlitzer and Mark Peploe, the film oscillates between a contemporary tale about an elderly Tibetan lama believing that a little boy living in Seattle might be the reincarnation of his teacher and the story of Siddhartha and the origins of Buddhism 2,500 years ago; the latter sections tend to be more compelling than the former. The cast, which includes Keanu Reeves, Chris Isaak, and Bridget Fonda, isn’t all it might have been, but Bertolucci’s celebrated burnt-orange-and-burnished-lemon look remains handsome, and the story itself still commands some interest as a pivot into daunting material. Too bad that Miramax decreed about 15 minutes be cut from the original version, which has shown overseas; apparently a snappier kind of Buddhism is required here. 123 min. (JR)… Read more »