Monthly Archives: May 2007

Footnotes to Out 1 [Chicago Reader blog post, 5/28/07]

Posted By on 05.28.07 at 07:39 PM

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If I’d had my druthers, I would have seen Jacques Rivette’s masterpiece Out 1 for the third time this past weekend, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It’s still one of my all-time favorites, offering far more pleasure, enlightenment, and sheer stimulation over its dozen and a half hours than any dozen routine commercial releases (which would cumulatively last twice as long, and most of which I wouldn’t dream of seeing if my job didn’t require it). Thanks to work, I had to content myself with about three of the eight episodes, #3, #7, and #8. Still, it was  gratifying to see this much of it with such an appreciative and good-sized audience (about 140) who laughed in all the right places and seemed to enjoy it as much as I did. (The experience was enhanced by a superb job of “soft subtitling” supervised by Sally Shafto, director of the last Big Muddy Film Festival.)

I realize this is the third post about Rivette in the past couple weeks (see Pat Graham’s Celine & Julie: The Typeface and One Sings, the Other Doesn’t), but he’s the kind of filmmaker who fosters obsessiveness of various kinds.

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The 12-Hour Masterpiece

From the Chicago Reader (May 25, 2007). — J.R.

OUT 1 ****

DIRECTED BY JACQUES RIVETTE | WRITTEN BY RIVETTE AND SUZANNE SCHIFFMAN WITH PIERRE BAILLOT, JULIET BERTO, MICHEL DELAHAYE, JACQUES DONIOL-VALCROZE, FRANCOISE FABIAN, HERMINE KARAGHEUZ, BERNADETTE LAFONT, MICHELE MORETTI, AND ERIC ROHMER

WHEN Sat 5/26, 2:30 PM (episodes 1 and 2) and 7 PM (episodes 3 and 4); Sun 5/27, 2:30 PM (episodes 5 and 6) and 6:45 PM (episodes seven and eight)

WHERE Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State

PRICE $30

INFO 312-846-2600

MORE Box meals from Whole Foods will be available during dinner breaks for $10, but must be ordered by Thu 5/24.

***

QUESTION: Why did you choose the title Out?

RIVETTE: Because we didn’t succeed in finding a title. It’s without meaning. It’s only a label. — from a 1974 interview

Jacques Rivette has made several good films and four great ones, consecutively: L’Amour Fou (four hours, 1968), Out 1 (12 hours, 1971), Out 1: Spectre (four hours, 1972), and Celine and Julie Go Boating (three hours, 1974). It’s not their epic length that sets these apart from the rest of his filmography — there are others by Rivette that are plenty long — but their improvisatory nature.… Read more »

China Seas

Vintage MGM hokum (1935) with more assets than you can shake a swizzle stick at: Clark Gable (as a sea captain sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore), Rosalind Russell (for upscale romance), Jean Harlow (for downscale romance), C. Aubrey Smith (for colonialist nostalgia), Robert Benchley (for drunk jokes), plus character turns by Wallace Beery and Lewis Stone. Pirates and a hidden cache of British gold notwithstanding, the raucous action is more diversion than plot. Jules Furthman wrote the salty, snappy dialogue, and Tay Garnett, a specialist in studio-bound sea yarns, directed. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »

Out 1

An eight-part serial running about 12 and a half hours, this 1971 comedy drama is Jacques Rivette’s grandest experiment and most exciting adventure in filmmaking. Balzac’s History of the Thirteen, about a few Parisians who hope to control the city through their hidden interconnections, inspired its tale, dominated by two theater groups and two solitary individuals. Some of the major actors of the French New Wave participated (Juliet Berto, Francoise Fabian, Bernadette Lafont, Jean-Pierre Leaud, Michel Lonsdale, Bulle Ogier), creating their own characters and improvising their own dialogue, and Rivette juxtaposes their disparate acting styles; acting exercises dominate the first episodes (including one 45-minute take) until fiction gradually and conclusively overtakes the documentary aspect. What emerges is the definitive film about 60s counterculture: its global and conspiratorial fantasies, its euphoric collective utopias, and its descent into solitude, madness, and dissolution. Out 1 has always been the hardest of Rivette’s films to see, so this screening, spaced over two days with breaks for food and rest, is a major event. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Sat 5/26, 2:30 (episodes 1 and 2) and 7 PM (3 and 4), and Sun 5/27, 2:30 (5 and 6) and 6:45 PM (7 and 8), Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Fay Grim

Hal Hartley’s fall from fashion seems to correspond to his shift away from emulating 60s Godard and toward more ambitious contemporary satire (though his underrated The Girl From Monday managed to balance the two). Shot in New York, Berlin, Paris, and Istanbul, this sequel to Henry Fool (1997) is a cloak-and-dagger pastiche that sometimes asks to be taken halfway straight as it comments on American paranoia toward the Muslim world. The involved backstory and Hartley’s own generic music both prove burdensome; the main attraction is the cast’s amusing way of handling Hartley’s mannerist dialogue and conceits. With Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, Saffron Burrows, and Jeff Goldblum, occasionally hilarious as a CIA operative. 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Charged In The Name Of Terror: Portraits By Contemporary Artists

Former Chicagoan Paul Chan curated this hour-long program of video documentaries about remarkable, patriotic Americans who’ve been persecuted for their political convictions, partly thanks to the Patriot Act. All the shorts are experimental in their pairing of sound and image yet plainspoken in their address, and their portraiture is partly concerned with the glory of particular ways of being alive. The first and best is Chan’s Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry (2006), in which the human-rights lawyer reads poetry and reflects on her life, work, and prospects. The others are Jim Fetterley and Angie Waller’s Steve Kurtz Waiting (2006); Susan Youssef’s For the Least, about Catholic Workers who marched to Guantanamo, and Mary Billyou and Annelisse Fifi’s Mohamed Yousry: A Life Stands Still (2006), about an academic who worked as Stewart’s translator. (JR)… Read more »

Cosmic Voyage

Made in 1935 and set 11 years later, Vasil Zhuravlev’s silent Soviet feature is a space opera about a privately financed and successfully launched rocket to the moon, with hero, heroine, and scientist on board. Furnished with charming constructivist sets and miniatures and quaint-looking intertitles that weren’t translated in the version I previewed (unlike the one to be screened), this exudes the slightly campy innocence one associates with SF movies made a decade earlier, though the science appears to be less silly than in Fritz Lang’s 1928 Woman in the Moon. (Here, at least, the cosmonauts wear space suits equipped with oxygen.) 70 min. (JR)… Read more »

First On The Moon

Deftly combining actual and ersatz archival footage, Alexei Fedorchenko’s 2005 Russian pseudodocumentary maintains that the first flight to the moon occurred in 1938 but remained a secret after the rocket crash-landed in Chile. A deadpan satire about Stalinist secrecy and surveillance that draws upon diverse sources, including the 1936 Cosmic Voyage (see separate listing), this video is more ingenious than absorbing, perhaps because it’s twice as long as it needs to be. It isn’t really a mockumentary because it mainly exploits rather than unpacks the potential deceptions of the documentary form. I might have enjoyed its cynical gallows humor more if I’d seen it with an audience. In Russian with subtitles. 76 min. (JR)… Read more »

L’Amour Fou

From the Chicago Reader (May 18, 2007). — J.R.

Rightly described by Dave Kehr as Jacques Rivette’s “breakthrough film, the first of his features to employ extreme length (252 minutes), a high degree of improvisation, and a formal contrast between film and theater,” this rarely screened 1968 masterpiece is one of the great French films of its era. It centers on rehearsals for a production of Racine’s Andromaque and the doomed yet passionate relationship between the director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) and his actress wife (Bulle Ogier, in her finest performance), who leaves the production at the start of the film and then festers in paranoid isolation. The rehearsals, filmed by Rivette (in 35-millimeter) and TV documentarist Andre S. Labarthe (in 16), are real, and the relationship between Kalfon and Ogier is fictional, but this only begins to describe the powerful interfacing of life and art that takes place over the film’s hypnotic, epic unfolding; watching this is a life experience as much as a film experience. In French with subtitles. a Sat 5/19, 3 PM, and Thu 5/24, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.

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Death by Hanging

One of Nagisa Oshima’s very best, this Japanese feature from 1968 is concerned with the death penalty and the public’s understanding of a rape and murder committed by a Korean youth. The inventive staging is not merely dazzling but purposeful: a group of Japanese officials discovers, through a fantasy conceit, that the Korean prisoner refuses to die because the issues of his crime and his punishments aren’t understood, and the film works through a series of imaginative reconstructions of the events leading up to the rape and murder. (The issue of Japanese persecution of Koreans is also pertinent to the proceedings.) The results are Brechtian in the best sense: entertaining, instructive, gripping, mind-boggling, often humorous, and very much alive. In Japanese with subtitles. 117 min. a Tue 5/22, 7 PM, Univ. of Chicago Doc Films. … Read more »

Brand Upon the Brain!

This weekend four special screenings of Guy Maddin’s latest piece of deranged heterosexual camp feature live onstage narration by Crispin Glover, sound effects by a trio of Foley artists, music by the ten-piece Ensemble Noamnesia, and vocals by an alleged castrato. (The rest of the screenings this week will feature a recorded soundtrack with narration by Isabella Rossellini.) A house painter named Guy Maddin comes home after 30 years to fulfill his dying mother’s request that he repaint the sinister orphanage she runs inside a lighthouse. The kids all have mysterious holes in their heads, and additional intrigues involve a teenage sleuth and a harpist posing as her brother. Enhanced by Jason Staczek’s superb score, this is characteristically intense and, unlike most of Maddin’s silent-movie models, frenetically edited. 95 min. Tickets for the special screenings are $30; to order visit www.musicboxtheatre.com. a Music Box. … Read more »

Syndromes and a Century

The unpredictable and provocative Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady) offers a mysterious and beautiful experimental feature (2006) based on memories of his parents, who were both doctors. It’s divided into two parts, both set in the present, with many rhyme effects between them. The first, set in and around a rural clinic, centers on his mother; the second, set in the vicinity of a Bangkok hospital, focuses on his father, though it’s a kind of quizzical remake of the first and both characters appear in each section. There’s nothing here that resembles narrative urgency, but this is a quiet masterpiece, delicate and full of wonder. In Thai with subtitles. 105 min. a Gene Siskel Film Center. … Read more »

Documentaries on Paradjanov and Mamoulian

French director Patrick Cazals will attend this screening of his excellent video documentaries Sergei Paradjanov, the Rebel (2004, 52 min.) and Rouben Mamoulian: The Golden Age of Broadway and Hollywood (2006, 63 min.), which look at two very different directors born in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. The Paradjanov portrait skimps on the more conventional early features, but it’s priceless for its interviews with the eccentric director (shot during production of his last feature, Ashik Kerib) and its sampling of the collages he produced during his long prison terms. The Mamoulian documentary also features fascinating interviews with its subject, covering both his stage and his movie work, and it confirms that Mamoulian, remembered mainly as a technical innovator, was an underrated and highly cultivated filmmaker. Clips are limited to trailers (from Mamoulian’s Becky Sharp and Blood and Sand) and audio from the directors’ features, but Cazals proves that excerpts aren’t essential if the insights are sufficiently sharp. In English and subtitled French and Armenian. a Wed 5/16, 6:30 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center. … Read more »

Away From Her

However great Julie Christie might be, she’s not generally regarded as a tragedienne. Yet after seeing this wonderful adaptation of Alice Munro’s story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” I began to think of Christie’s roles in Petulia (1968) and McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971) as way stations toward this career-defining performance. She plays a stylish woman in a successful 44-year marriage who struggles to keep her dignity after finding herself afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The other leads (Michael Murphy, Olympia Dukakis, and Gordon Pinsent as Christie’s husband) are fine as well, but it’s Christie who places this powerful love story about the cruelties of aging within hailing distance of Leo McCarey’s sublime Make Way for Tomorrow. This is a film I expect to be carrying around with me for quite some time. Canadian actress Sarah Polley wrote and directed, in her feature debut. 110 min. Reviewed by J.R. Jones this week in Section 1. a Landmark’s Century Centre. … Read more »

Adolescent Sex in Oberhausen [Chicago Reader blog post, 2007]

A post on the Chicago Reader‘s blog, Bleader. — J.R.

Adolescent sex in Oberhausen

Posted By on 05.10.07 at 08:19 PM

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I’ve just returned from the 53rd International Short Film Festival in Oberhausen, Germany, where I was invited to serve on the jury of FIPRESCI, the international film critics organization. My work, apart from participating in a panel about the privatization of film experience, consisted of seeing the 64 short films in the international competition and, along with two other jurors (Oliver Baumgarten from Cologne and Alexis Tioseco from Manila), awarding one of them a prize. We picked Amit Dutta’s 22-minute Kramasha from India—a dazzling, virtuoso piece of mise en scene in 35-millimeter, full of uncanny imagery about the way the narrator imagines the past of his village and his family.

The Festival had 14 prizes in all, gave a total of 30,000 Euros to many of the winning filmmakers, and concluded with a ceremony that lasted well over two and a half hours. Part of what made the event interesting was the same default position that sustained me through the 64 shorts I saw: the notion that at a festival as genuinely international as this one, a certain education was possible, however limited, in how people in other parts of the world were living and thinking — all of which provides a potential context for better understanding some of the choices involved, conscious or otherwise, in how Americans live and think.

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