Monthly Archives: September 2002

America in Welles’ European Films: A Few Speculations

A lecture written circa fall 2002, I forget for which occasion. I’m not even sure if this represents a complete or final draft. This was written before the belated rediscovery of The Third Man in Vienna (not one of the better episodes in Around the World with Orson Welles, alas, and now available on DVD).  — J.R.

My point of departure for this paper is remarks that have been made by myself and others about OrsonWelles’ three completed features of the 1950s —- Othello, Mr. Arkadin, and Touch of Evil—- and how these reflect his attitudes towards what was happening in the United States around the same time. More specifically, I’m thinking of my own speculation that Othello (1952) may have something to do with the Hollywood blacklist and witch hunts, and James Naremore’s observation that the character of Van Stratten (Robert Arden) in Mr. Arkadin (1955), “quite by accident, bears an uncanny resemblance to a young, athletic Richard Nixon,” relates to the Cold War (with Arkadin having been modeled to some degree on Josef Stalin and the character of Van Stratten suggesting Richard Nixon in certain respects).

Now I hasten to add that the conscious intentionality of Welles in relation to either of these relationships or many others like them probably fluctuates a good deal, and that this isn’t my only frame of reference.Read more »

We’re All Still Here

In some ways more obscure and difficult than Jean-Luc Godard, with whom she has collaborated in various capacities since 1972, Anne-Marie Mieville continues to puzzle even as she sharpens her mise en scene. This 80-minute feature from 1997 is the most interesting solo effort of hers I’ve seen, though I’m not entirely sure what to make of it, especially during the third and final sequence. In the first and most impressive sequence, an extract from Plato’s Gorgias is dramatized inside a bourgeois household, with Callicles (Bernadette Lafont) performing various household chores as she quarrels with Socrates (Aurore Clement). In the second, Godard turns up on a theater stage to rehearse a monologue condensed from a passage in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism below a huge photograph of Arendt as a young woman, an image that recalls the opening of Bergman’s Persona. In the third and most puzzling, Clement and Godard play a couple who go out for dinner and return home while she bellyaches about everything he does and he apologizes; whether or not this is supposed to correspond to Mieville and Godard’s relation in real life is anyone’s guess, but in this segment Godard was reportedly a last-minute replacement for another actor.… Read more »

Masumura’s Madness + sidebar (Among the Missing: 10 Key Masumura Features)

This was written for Film Comment in 2002, but only the first part was published in their September-October issue that year, under the title “Enlightened Madness”. This was designed to be accompanied by a sidebar highlighting ten of Masumura’s films, but the editor, Gavin Smith, after proposing the sidebar and thereby getting me to revise the first piece accordingly, subsequently decided to place the sidebar only on the magazine’s website, thereby sabotaging my plan for the two pieces to work together, as a two-part unit, and reducing much of the sidebar, as a stand-alone unit, to gibberish.

Much of both parts got recycled years later in an essay included in Movie Mutations, a collection I coedited with Adrian Martin. – J.R.

To appropriate one of the categories of Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema, Yasuzo Masumura (1924-1986) is a “subject for further research.” Considering that he made 58 films between 1957 and 1982, none of which has ever had a normal commercial run in this country, that may even be putting it mildly. But so far I’ve managed to see 38, all but one over the past four years, and though the range in quality is enormous, I’d swear by at least half of them.… Read more »

Before He Was Famous (Kiarostami’s Early Shorts)

From The Guardian (21 September 2002). I continue to find it frustrating that over seven years later, Kiarostami still hasn’t released what I regard as his two best shorts, Two Solutions for One Problem (1975) and Orderly or Disorderly (1981), on any DVD (although Scott Perna has just emailed to remind me that the former can at least be accessed on YouTube). The principal reason appears to be that he doesn’t like them now. He once told me that even the second of these was made before he regarded himself as a film artist — something I continue to find baffling, and astonishing. — J.R.

The eight short films made by Abbas Kiarostami between 1970 and 1982 offer an interesting riposte to critics who claimed during those years that they knew what was going on in world cinema. Even in Iran, where the shorts were made, none constituted much of an event. And considering how deceptively modest they are, they probably never would have attracted much notice anywhere if their director hadn’t gone on to make a string of masterful features over the past 15 years (the most recent of which, Ten, is about to open here). Yet there’s nothing else in cinema quite like them.… Read more »

I’m Going Home

The fourth feature made by Portuguese master Manoel de Oliveira since he turned 90, this 2001 film is set in Paris (which has seldom looked better or been evoked more affectionately) and concerns a famous French actor in his 70s (Michel Piccoli at his best) learning to cope with solitude after an auto accident has claimed the lives of his wife, his daughter, and his son-in-law. The film shows its protagonist at workcostarring with Catherine Deneuve in Ionesco’s Exit the King, playing Prospero in a French production of The Tempest, and trying to speak English in a film adaptation of Joyce’s Ulysses, directed by John Malkovich. But Oliveira is equally attentive and respectful as the hero enjoys such everyday rituals as playing with his grandson or reading the newspaper over his daily expresso. For a film about bereavement this is surprisingly light, and while its simplicity is deceptive, it may be Oliveira’s most accessible work to date, a masterpiece by one of the world’s greatest filmmakers. In English and subtitled French. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Professionals

Underrated all-star western by Richard Brooks about four soldiers of fortune hired by Ralph Bellamy to rescue his wife (Claudia Cardinale) from Jack Palance down in Mexico. This 1966 film was eclipsed in many people’s minds by The Wild Bunch three years later, but it’s a good, solid job, and with Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Robert Ryan, and Woody Strode, how could you miss? Adapted from Frank O’Rourke’s novel A Mule for the Marquesa, with cinematography by the great Conrad Hall. 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

Secret Ballot

Highly entertaining and deceptively simple, this comic road movie (2001, 105 min.) by Iranian-born writer-director Babak Payami traces the prickly relationship between an idealistic woman collecting votes during the Iranian national election and the suspicious rube of a Turkish-Iranian soldier assigned to chauffeur her. The setting is Kish Island in the Persian Gulf (where The Day I Became a Woman was also shot), and the comic clash of personalities sometimes recalls The African Queen. Payami subtly explores just what we–Americans, Iranians, and others–mean by democracy, theoretically as well as practically, and he never loses sight of the fact that this movie was in production while the Florida votes were being counted (or not counted) during the last U.S. presidential election. Beautifully assembled in sound as well as image, the film employs long takes and both realistic and surrealistic touches to let the audience make up its own mind about the characters and varied situations, yet it’s also a finely crafted entertainment that works better than most current Hollywood movies. In Farsi with subtitles. Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »