Film When You Can’t See What I Saw
Two contenders for my ten-best list this year are Pere Portabella’s Warsaw Bridge (1990), shown recently in the Portabella (pdf, pp. 81-108) retrospective at the Gene Siskel Film Center, and Atom Egoyan’s Citadel, a very personal essay film that he recently showed at Doc Films. Neither film has (yet) any sort of distribution, and it’s not clear that this is going to change anytime soon. Both are entirely under the control of their makers, and they want to keep it that way, preferring not to turn these films over to distributors —- for a variety of reasons in each case. [November 2014: Warsaw Bridge is now available in the Pere Portabella box set, available from Spanish Amazon; Citadel remains unavailable.]
But here’s a question: am I being rude and inconsiderate if I cite these films on my ten-best list knowing that most people can’t see them? How much should my position as a critic be ted by my function as a consumer guide? I’d like to imagine that we’re all sufficiently grown-up to realize that we can’t expect instant gratification in fulfilling all our wishes about what we see next, and that it’s even desirable to think and dream about films that we can’t yet see.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (November 24, 2006). — J.R.
Directed and written by Emilio Estevez
With Harry Belafonte, Joy Bryant, Nick Cannon, Estevez, Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Joshua Jackson, Lindsay Lohan, William H. Macy, Demi Moore, Freddy Rodriguez, Martin Sheen, Christian Slater, Sharon Stone, and Jacob Vargas
I’m automatically suspicious of a movie whose premise is that Bobby Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency may have been the last chance this country had to save itself. For one thing, Kennedy was running in the Democratic primary against Eugene McCarthy, who was much more outspoken about the Vietnam war and much more committed to withdrawing U.S. troops. I’m also wary of an attempt to drape Kennedy’s assassination in nostalgia for the 60s as a way to reflect on the present. But Emilio Estevez’s Bobby, set in LA’s Ambassador Hotel on the day Kennedy was shot, June 5, 1968, is so keenly felt and so deeply imagined I couldn’t help but be moved, even grateful for its bleeding-heart nostalgia — which winds up feeling rather up-to-date. I’m troubled only that Estevez minimizes or omits aspects of Kennedy’s life that don’t fit the idealistic image, such as his early work for Roy Cohn, chief counsel to Joseph McCarthy.… Read more »
The talk and the music in Edward O. Bland’s eccentric 1959 Chicago-made short are equally important. The paradox is that Bland’s film centers on jazz and needs various kinds of performance to illustrate its points, yet what’s being played by Sun Ra and others is only adequate; if the music were good enough to distract one from the talk, the film wouldn’t work as well. Lucid and provocative, this is recommended viewing for any jazz novice, one of the best social readings of jazz form I know. 31 min. (JR)… Read more »
Five women writers supply the five episodes for this Brazilian feature, described as a mixture of documentary and fiction. Malu De Martino directed. In Portuguese with subtitles. 113 min.… Read more »
Jean-Luc Godard films himself in his native Switzerland, pondering his childhood and, as usual, ruminating about art and life. If you can put up with the brooding self-regard, which occasionally suggests German romanticism at its most narcissistic (imagine Goethe contemplating a bust of himself), this 1995 film shows Godard at his most accomplished, at least when it comes to composing in sound and image. In French with subtitles. 59 min. (JR)… Read more »
Documenting the last gasp of the Franco regime, Pere Portabella’s 1977 film devotes most of its 158-minute running time to Spaniards’ answers to the question How do you envisage the change from a dictatorship to a democratic government? This starts off with an eerie tour of Franco’s tomb that suggests a color remake of Portabella’s 1970 masterpiece Cuadecuc-Vampir, then proceeds with footage of 1976 demonstrations in Barcelona and Madrid, archival propaganda, and discussions with socialists, communists, union representatives, lawyers, engineers, and artists, among others. Portabella intersperses tours of other locations and concludes with a classical music concert. The full title translates as General Report on Some Interesting Facts for a Public Showing. In Spanish, Catalan, and Basque with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »
Old-fashioned in both its liberal humanism and its commitment to classic Hollywood storytelling, Emilio Estevez’s fictional account of what happened in LA’s Ambassador Hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was shot is also a fine example of old-fashioned studio craft. Deftly juggling over a dozen characters, ranging from hotel personnel and guests to Democratic Party volunteers, Estevez offers a sharp cross section of the issues and attitudes surrounding Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Without privileging any member of the talented cast, he gives many of them chances to shine, especially Sharon Stone, Freddy Rodriguez, Laurence Fishburne, and Martin Sheen. I can’t buy the film’s premise that RFK was this country’s last chance to save itself, but I’m stirred by the passion and thoughtfulness with which Estevez builds on it. With William H. Macy, Anthony Hopkins, Helen Hunt, Demi Moore, Estevez, Lindsay Lohan, and Christian Slater. R, 120 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Century 12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Ford City, Gardens 7-13, Lake, Webster Place. … Read more »
Written in late 2006 and published in Discovering Orson Welles the following year. — J.R.
The process-oriented methods that permitted at least four Welles features and a number of short works to be left unﬁnished are easier to understand than they would be if we adopted the mental habits of producers, which is exactly what more and more critics today seem to be doing; but that is no comfort to those of us eager to understand, and eager as critics always are to have the last word, which we are not about to have with this ﬁlmmaker. At least our direction, as always, is laid out for us: as long as one frame of ﬁlm by the greatest ﬁlmmaker of the modern era is moldering in vaults, our work is not done. It is the last challenge, and the biggest joke, of an oeuvre that has always had more designs on us than we could ever have on it.
Bill Krohn’s cautionary words in Cahiers du cinéma’s special “hors série” Orson Welles issue in 1986 offer a useful motto for the present collection of essays, whose own title, Discovering Orson Welles, suggests an ongoing process that necessarily rules out completion and closure — the two mythical absolutes that Welles enthusiasts and scholars seem to hunger for the most.… Read more »
Film Welles cinematographer Gary Graver is dead
Some very sad news from late last week: Gary Graver, the cinematographer who virtually made the last third of Orson Welles’s filmography possible, died Thursday night of throat cancer. He’d been in the hospital since June, after shooting his last film, a short, in the south of France—work he characteristically insisted on doing, in spite of his poor health, out of friendship. For anyone who knew Gary, he was just about as selfless, as generous, and as unpretentious as it’s possible for someone to be. I think it’ll be years before many people realize just how much he did for Welles—which means how much he did for all of us, even though much of this work, such as The Other Side of the Wind, will remain unseeable until someone is willing to pay for its completion. (Among the better known films he shot were F for Fake.) When I was editing This Is Orson Welles, he was endlessly helpful, in every way imaginable.
His association with Welles started around 1969, when he basically turned up on Welles’s doorstep, offering not only to shoot whatever he wanted but to help him acquire the equipment he needed for doing so.… Read more »
Catalan underground filmmaker Pere Portabella’s opulent 1990 post-Franco color film threads its own dazzling anthology of attractions (including operas, concerts, a lecture, a novel, a swank party, a forest fire, and sex) into something resemblingthough never quite arriving ata single narrative. It’s one of his most exciting films to date. In Spanish and Catalan with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »
Catalan underground filmmaker Pere Portabella’s 1970 Franco-era black-and-white experimental film is a provocation and protest composed of many dissimilar parts, ranging from Christopher Lee touring Barcelona to aggressive repetitions and/or displacements of sound and image. Like his previous Cuadecuc-Vampir, it’s alternately funny and creepy. In Spanish and Catalan with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »
This angry and persuasive piece of agitprop by writer-director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, A Scanner Darkly) and writer Eric Schlosser, adapting the latter’s nonfiction book of the same title, isn’t simply an account of how shit gets into our hamburgers. It’s also about Mexican immigrants who sneak across the border and wind up enslaved (or literally ground up) by meat packers, teenagers who work for fast-food companies and want to fight the system but don’t know how, and many other social as well as environmental factors. Many reviews have suggested that this is as politically mild as a John Sayles movie, but Linklater clearly agrees with the frustrated kid who says, Right now, I can’t think of anything more patriotic than violating the Patriot Act. The strong cast spelling this out includes Ashley Johnson, Patricia Arquette, Luis Guzman, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). R, 114 min. (JR)… Read more »
After a terrorist explosion kills the passengers on a New Orleans ferry, an ATF agent (Denzel Washington), discovering that a form of time travel can send him back to the event, resolves to save the life of a woman (Paula Patton) killed shortly before, as well as prevent the explosion. The story recalls Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) in its romantic moodiness and has some of the philosophical poignance common to tales of time travel. But the SF hardware (enjoyable) and thriller mechanics (mechanical) of this Jerry Bruckheimer slam-banger don’t mesh very well with reflection, and the action trumps most evidence of thought. Tony Scott directed a script by Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio; with Val Kilmer and James Caviezel. PG-13, 128 min. (JR)… Read more »
Old-fashioned in both its liberal humanism and its commitment to classic Hollywood storytelling, Emilio Estevez’s fictional account of what happened in LA’s Ambassador Hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was shot is also a fine example of old-fashioned studio craft. Deftly juggling over a dozen characters, ranging from hotel personnel and guests to Democratic Party volunteers, Estevez offers a sharp cross section of the issues and attitudes surrounding Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Without privileging any member of the talented cast, he gives many of them chances to shine, especially Sharon Stone, Freddy Rodriguez, Laurence Fishburne, and Martin Sheen. I can’t buy the film’s premise that RFK was this country’s last chance to save itself, but I’m stirred by the passion and thoughtfulness with which Estevez builds on it. R, 119 min. (JR)… Read more »
By now Christopher Guest’s brand of satire has become so formulaic it hardly matters that he disposes with the pseudodocumentary format this time. The subject is Oscar-season hype, a natural for him and his usual repertory of actors (Catherine O’Hara, cowriter Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean), though far too mild to threaten any of their industry standing. A fairly preposterous low-budget period southern-Jewish melodrama called Home for Purim generates a tad of Oscar buzz thanks to an Internet rumor, and three members of the cast get worked up about it. This has its moments, but don’t expect many fresh insights. PG-13, 86 min. (JR)… Read more »