Monthly Archives: March 2004

The Prince & Me

A farm girl in premed studies (Julia Stiles) falls in love with the prince of Denmark (Luke Mably), who’s hiding out at her university after a long spell of goofing off, shortly before he’s expected to assume the throne. I dreaded the worst after seeing the trailer, but Martha Coolidge directs as if the characters were believable human beingsat least until the end, when Hollywood and fairy-tale conventions have to triumph over humanity and common sense. James Fox and Miranda Richardson play the prince’s parents. PG, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Ladykillers

The British black-comedy classic (1955), about a gang of thieves who find lodging in the home of a little old lady, is improbably transmuted into Joel and Ethan Coen’s Greatest Hits (with a southern setting, slapstick accidental suicide, etc), suggesting they might better have started off from scratch. In place of Katie Johnson’s indestructible London senior we get Irma P. Hall as a hefty black matron in small-town Mississippi, and instead of Alec Guinness’s band of thieves we get a far more incompetent team of misfits headed by Tom Hanks (who adds a southern accent and an enjoyable if fussy spin to Guinness’s performance). The Coens’ lack of interest in Mississippi is moderated by a healthy appreciation of gospel music, but their smirking appreciation of stupidity extends to every character in the movie while including no one in the audience. With Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, and Ryan Hurst. R, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Piccadilly

This remarkable British silent (1929) is special in many ways. Directed by German master E.A. Dupont, with lavish sets and luscious cinematography by two of his compatriots, Alfred Junge and Werner Brandes, it charts the erotic hold of a Chinese beauty (Anna May Wong) over the owner of a palatial London nightclub (Jameson Thomas). He fires her as a dishwasher for distracting coworkers with her tabletop dancing, then hires her back as a featured performer, to the consternation of his mistress (Gilda Gray). Scripted by Zola-inspired novelist Arnold Bennett, with significant roles played by Cyril Ritchard and Charles Laughton, this is far ahead of its time in its treatment of both race and gender. Dupont has an original way of employing camera movement to suggest erotic chemistry between characters, and Wong, who even provoked a rave notice from Walter Benjamin, is as memorable and confident as Louise Brooks was in the films of G.W. Pabst, made around the same time. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Subjective Landscape: Works By Alfred Guzzetti

No one seems to know how to filmand thereby appreciatethe surface of a pond, lake, river, or ocean quite like Alfred Guzzetti, a Cambridge-based experimental-documentary filmmaker who will present eight of his short works here. I’m tempted to call these films and videos meditative, because they all reflect on nature and various aspects of everyday life: a three-way intersection in Calcutta Intersection; motorists and cityscapes in The Tower of Industrial Life; the landscape, people, and weather of China in Under the Rain; the trees in Guzzetti’s backyard over many seasons in Chronological Order. But often intruding on this gaze are texts running across the screen that seem to carry with them all the complications of civilization. The shorts, made between 1978 and 2004, total 82 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

Patriot Acts

The Bush administration’s heartless and xenophobic new immigration policies, which often imply that we have more to fear from ordinary Muslims than from people like Timothy McVeigh, have had real human consequences, and this video documentary by Sree Nallamothu examines just a couple of cases. Focusing on the routine harassment of two north-side mena dancer and a father who came to the U.S. seeking medical care for his two blind childrenNallamothu shows how easily government resources can be wasted and innocent lives blighted once nationality and ethnicity are automatically treated with suspicion. 60 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Subjective Landscape: Works by Alfred Guzzetti

No one seems to know how to film–and thereby appreciate–the surface of a pond, lake, river, or ocean quite like Alfred Guzzetti, a Cambridge-based experimental-documentary filmmaker who will present eight of his short works here. I’m tempted to call these films and videos meditative, because they all reflect on nature and various aspects of everyday life: a three-way intersection in Calcutta Intersection; motorists and cityscapes in The Tower of Industrial Life; the landscape, people, and weather of China in Under the Rain; the trees in Guzzetti’s backyard over many seasons in Chronological Order. But often intruding on this gaze are texts running across the screen that seem to carry with them all the complications of civilization. The shorts, made between 1978 and this year, total 82 minutes, and Guzzetti is likely to have very interesting things to say about them. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Piccadilly

This remarkable British silent (1929) is special in many ways. Directed by German master E.A. Dupont, with lavish sets and luscious cinematography by two of his compatriots, Alfred Junge and Werner Brandes, it charts the erotic hold of a Chinese beauty (Anna May Wong) over the owner of a palatial London nightclub (Jameson Thomas). He fires her as a dishwasher for distracting coworkers with her tabletop dancing, then hires her back as a featured performer, to the consternation of his mistress (Gilda Gray). Scripted by Zola-inspired novelist Arnold Bennett, with significant roles played by Cyril Ritchard and Charles Laughton, this is far ahead of its time in its treatment of both race and gender. Dupont has an original way of employing camera movement to suggest erotic chemistry between characters, and Wong, who even provoked a rave notice from the great Walter Benjamin, is as memorable and confident as Louise Brooks was in the films of G.W. Pabst, made around the same time. 92 min. David Drazin will provide live piano accompaniment, and Graham Russell Gao Hodges, author of Anna May Wong: From Laundryman’s Daughter to Hollywood Legend, will introduce the Saturday and Sunday screenings. Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Mississippi Burgling

From the March 26, 2004 Chicago Reader. This may help to explain, at least in part, why I have no desire to see the Coens’ latest remake, True Grit. (Two other reasons that come to mind:  I didn’t like the original and I’m sick of American revenge plots, offscreen as well as onscreen.) — J.R.

The Ladykillers

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen

Written by the Coens and William Rose

With Tom Hanks, Irma B. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, Diane Delano, and George Wallace.

The day after I saw the Coen brothers’ remake I watched the original — the Ealing Studios’ The Ladykillers, a popular 1955 English classic directed by Alexander Mackendrick a couple of years before he directed Sweet Smell of Success in the U.S. I’d taped the original over a decade ago, long before American Movie Classics started recutting features and inserting commercial breaks. AMC may assume that any film in which English is spoken is somehow American, but The Ladykillers, scripted by William Rose, is so thoroughly English I doubt its humor could be fully understood without reference to the English character or 20th- century English history.… Read more »

School Daze

While it lacks the controlled energy of She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s second feature (1988) is much more innovative, ambitious, and exciting, tackling class warfare at a mainly black college in Atlanta. Lee takes care not to stack the deck against either the light-skinned, upwardly mobile Wannabees, who belong to fraternities, or the dark-skinned Jigaboos, who feel more racial pride, and the issues dividing them range from the college’s investment in South Africa to straight versus nappy hair (the latter highlighted in a gaudy, Bye Bye Birdie-style musical number). Definitely raggedthe musical numbers are variable, and the overall continuity is fairly choppybut with this film Lee began to create a black cinema of his own. With Laurence Fishburne, Giancarlo Esposito, Tisha Campbell, Kyme, Joe Seneca, Art Evans, Ellen Holly, Ossie Davis, and Lee himself as the frat pledge Half-Pint, literally torn between the two warring factions. R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Emperor

Bernardo Bertolucci’s visually ravishing spectacle (1987) about the life of Pu Yi (1905-’67) is a genuine rarity: a blockbuster that manages to be historically instructive and intensely personal at the same time. Pu Yi (played by three children at ages 3, 8, and 15, and by John Lone as an adult) remained an outsider to contemporary Chinese history for most of his life, and Bertolucci uses his remoteness from China as an objective correlative of our own cultural distance as Westerners (virtually all of the dialogue is rendered in English). Working with visual and thematic rhymes, Bertolucci is interested in charting the gradual substitution of the state for the familythough two key agents in this process are the father figures of his Scottish tutor (Peter O’Toole) and a governor at a Chinese prison. 159 min. (JR)… Read more »

Regarding Penelope’s Wake

Michele Smith’s video is her first completed work and runs for a full two hours, which may explain why it’s both intractable and fascinating. Painstakingly handcrafted over 15 months and teeming with ministructures, it’s a silent montage and collage of diverse junk items, and though her found footage includes stag reels, home movies, and various educational films (including Themes From the Odyssey, which occasions her Joycean title), she never allows one to linger on anything long enough to become absorbed in it. Usually her rapid crosscutting and intercutting begins rather mechanically before taking off into delirium, and there are fleeting visual rhymes that keep recurring. (I especially enjoyed the gestural links between sea creatures, which are deftly used in musical patterns, and Homeric characters.) Inevitably one drifts in and out of Smith’s intricate arabesques; as she herself puts it, Form becomes amorphous as time is spun within the individual viewer’s attentions. (JR)… Read more »

1,000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), part two

This is the second part of the Appendix of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.

rosenbaum

1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), Part 2

The criteria I’ve used for inclusion on this list are pleasure and edification; I haven’t factored in any sense of historical importance that might exist  independently of these factors. I’ve incorporated shorts as  well as features, both animation and live-action, and  videos as well as some works made for television, but not anything made for a TV series.

Broadly speaking, this list would comprise what I’d want to have on a desert island were it not for the fact that I’d want to bring along many other things that I haven’t already seen — including some of my more conspicuous omissions. No one who claims to have seen all possible candidates for the greatest films ever made could possibly be telling the truth, even in relation to a single year, and many of the exclusions here are things I haven’t yet caught up with. Many others are absent simply because I don’t value them as much as those I’ve included, and the most obvious limitation of this list is that it won’t be apparent in most cases whether I’ve excluded something because I haven’t seen it or because I don’t rank it highly enough.… Read more »

1,000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), part one

This is the first part of the Appendix of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.

rosenbaum

1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), Part 1

The criteria I’ve used for inclusion on this list are pleasure and edification; I haven’t factored in any sense of historical importance that might exist  independently of these factors. I’ve incorporated shorts as  well as features, both animation and live-action, and  videos as well as some works made for television, but not anything made for a TV series.

Broadly speaking, this list would comprise what I’d want to have on a desert island were it not for the fact that I’d want to bring along many other things that I haven’t already seen — including some of my more conspicuous omissions. No one who claims to have seen all possible candidates for the greatest films ever made could possibly be telling the truth, even in relation to a single year, and many of the exclusions here are things I haven’t yet caught up with. Many others are absent simply because I don’t value them as much as those I’ve included, and the most obvious limitation of this list is that it won’t be apparent in most cases whether I’ve excluded something because I haven’t seen it or because I don’t rank it highly enough.… Read more »

1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), part three

This is the third and final part of the Appendix of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.

rosenbaum

1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), Part 3

The criteria I’ve used for inclusion on this list are pleasure and edification; I haven’t factored in any sense of historical importance that might exist  independently of these factors. I’ve incorporated shorts as  well as features, both animation and live-action, and  videos as well as some works made for television, but not anything made for a TV series.

Broadly speaking, this list would comprise what I’d want to have on a desert island were it not for the fact that I’d want to bring along many other things that I haven’t already seen — including some of my more conspicuous omissions. No one who claims to have seen all possible candidates for the greatest films ever made could possibly be telling the truth, even in relation to a single year, and many of the exclusions here are things I haven’t yet caught up with. Many others are absent simply because I don’t value them as much as those I’ve included, and the most obvious limitation of this list is that it won’t be apparent in most cases whether I’ve excluded something because I haven’t seen it or because I don’t rank it highly enough.… Read more »

Introduction to ESSENTIAL CINEMA (December 2002)

A slightly different version of the Introduction to my 2004 collection, Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.

essential-cinema

Introduction

As the son and grandson of small-town exhibitors — a legacy explored in detail in my first book, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980/1995) — I find it difficult to pinpoint with any exactitude when my film education started. But I can recall two pivotal early steps during my freshman year at New York University in 1961, when I was an English major still aspiring to become a professional novelist: taking the first and only film course I’ve ever had in my life and purchasing my first film magazine.

The course was an introductory survey taught by the late Haig Manoogian, who was serving as Martin Scorsese’s mentor in production courses around the same time. For me, it mainly afforded me my first opportunity to see The Birth of a Nation, The Last Laugh, and a few other film history staples; since I had no interest in making movies — or at this point in writing about them — I couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for such matters as “story values” that Manoogian tended to emphasize.… Read more »