Monthly Archives: June 2008

Anthony Mann/Victor Mature

THE LAST FRONTIER, directed by Anthony Mann, with Victor Mature (1955, 97 min.)

Spurred by the enthusiasm of Jean-Pierre Coursodon, posting in the chat group “a film by,” I follow his lead and also see Anthony Mann’s THE LAST FRONTIER for the first time, and I wind up basically agreeing with him: the film is a lot better than its reputation warrants (for one thing, some of the CinemaScope landscapes are breathtaking), and Victor Mature is especially good in it. In fact, it seems pretty clear that the fact that this movie has such an unfashionable cast–not just Mature, but also Guy Madison, Robert Preston, and James Whitmore, which the relatively fashionable Anne Bancroft can’t quite offset–has something to do with its apparently low place in the Anthony Mann canon. (The fact that the film has an imposed and unsatisfying ending doesn’t help either, but this is so perfunctory that I find it easy to overlook; Mann almost seems to glide right past it.)

Mature plays a Noble Savage here (a trapper who joins the U.S. Cavalry as a scout), and many people either forget or don’t know that he virtually began his career as a D.W. Griffith discovery playing precisely that sort of part.… Read more »

My Winnipeg

From the Chicago Reader (June 26, 2008). Criterion’s splendid new Blu-Ray of this film contains many juicy extras — including several recent Maddin shorts. — J.R.

mywinnipeg

It was just a matter of time before the eccentric independent Guy Maddin made a personal documentary about his Canadian hometown, and though he labels this a docu-fantasia, one still suspects he’s captured the real character of Winnipeg, especially its freezing weather. The movie is dominated by Maddin’s usual black-and-white photography, silent-movie syntax, and deadpan melodrama; he even casts Ann Savage [see first still below], who starred in Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic B movie Detour, as his own mother (her dialogue is credited to Maddin’s usual cowriter, George Toles). In the narration Maddin claims that Winnipeg has ten times as many sleepwalkers as any other city in the world, and though he’s surely making this up, it conveys his own sense of entrapment amid the town’s dreaminess. 80 min. (JR)

my winnipeg Savage

My Winnipeg-sleepingRead more »

A Few Eruptions in the House of Lava

In the “Publications and Events” section of this web site, I’ve written, “I don’t know when `A Few Eruptions in the House of Lava,’ my commissioned piece about Pedro Costa’s 1994 CASA DE LAVA, will be appearing in a bilingual or trilingual collection about Costa edited by Ricardo Matos Cabo, the publication of which has been delayed many times. At some point I hope to print or reprint this essay on my site.”

I hope Ricardo doesn’t mind me jumping the gun. I sent him this essay in mid-January, and I’m moved to post it now as a sort of gesture of solidarity with COLOSSAL YOUTH having just appeared on the cover of the the summer issue of Film Quarterly – and James Naremore writing about it inside the magazine as his favorite movie of 2007. (2010 footnote: Ricardo’s collecion has been out for some time by now. It’s very beautiful, even if it’s only in Portuguese.) — J.R.

I know I’d go from rags to riches
If you would only say you care
And though my pocket may be empty
I’d be a millionaire.

My clothes may still be torn and tattered
But in my heart I’d be a king
Your love is all that ever mattered
It’s everything.… Read more »

Manoel de Oliveira

I’m really sorry that in the Gene Siskel Film Center’s forthcoming and very welcome Manoel de Oliveira retrospective, three of my five favorite films of his are missing. I can be pretty specific about this because I recently ranked all the Oliveira films I’ve seen in order of preference for a lengthy article I wrote about him for FILM COMMENT, which is about to come out. The first five of my favorites, in descending order, are DOOMED LOVE (1978), BENILDE OR THE VIRGIN-MOTHER (1975), INQUIETUDE (1998), PORTO OF MY CHILDHOOD (2001), and MON CAS (1986). The last of these (see first photo below) has never been shown in Chicago and I’ve never even been able to see it in an English subtitled version (assuming that one exists). BENILDE (see second two photos, below–both screengrabs from a mediocre video transfer, so I’m sorry they don’t look better) is a film I was able to bring to Chicago several years ago, when I selected it as a Critic’s Choice at the Chicago International Film Festival (which, if memory serves, has also shown INQUIETUDE and PORTO OF MY CHILDHOOD); it still remains, to my mind, the most underrated and underseen of all of Oliveira’s major works.… Read more »

Tim Russert/Dennis Kucinich

It’s the cruelest of ironies: newscaster Tim Russert, who died unexpectedly on Friday–taken to be the essence of all that’s honorable and serious about the TV news—has been used ever since as a substitute for the TV news, a means for excluding as much of it as possible.

In the mid-1990s, the trial of O.J. Simpson became such a media obsession that one could virtually say that most other news was suspended so that the TV news could be devoted around the clock to a single subject. The result was that TV news reporting got so far behind in keeping up with the other events of the world, especially foreign news, that it became clear after a certain point that it could never hope to catch up again. And of course it never has.

It would appear that ever since this alarming, infantile regression, TV news has been nakedly hungering for more O.J.-like events, as many as possible, that can crowd out all others. Whether this happens to be the deaths of Frank Sinatra or Ronald Reagan or events as consequential as Hurricane Katrina, the effect is always the same: to eliminate the world outside the single, all-encompassing event, which is then chewed over endlessly, not for hours but for days.… Read more »

Jean Harlow/Anita Loos

RED-HEADED WOMAN, written by Anita Loos and directed by Jack Conway, with Jean Harlow and Chester Morris (1932, 79 min.)

I thought I was a Jean Harlow fan, at least after seeing her in DOUBLE WHOOPEE, THE PUBLIC ENEMY, PLATINUM BLONDE and BOMBSHELL (not counting her easy-to-miss bits in CITY LIGHTS and THE LOVE PARADE), but this abrasive late-Prohibition comedy, included in TCM’s “Forbidden Hollywood” collection, volume one—“her breakthrough film,” according to James Harvey’s book ROMANTIC COMEDY—gives me some pause. In fact, I think the real auteur here is Anita Loos–who makes Harlow’s ruthless and promiscuous flirt both a successor to Lorelei Lee in her 1925 best-seller GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES and a predecessor of Marilyn Monroe’s version of Lorelei in 1953.

Harvey rightly points out that Harlow’s character in RED-HEADED WOMAN is both a villainous schemer and a triumphantly comic golddigger, reflecting an overall uncertainty about how to regard her, which is why this movie has separate endings to accommodate each aspect. But this makes her at best a dialectic; by contrast, Monroe’s Verdoux-like performance is an improbable yet lethal synthesis, a reshaping of venal Lorelei to make her an image of the opulent 50s, not the flapper 20s or the Depression 30s.… Read more »

Mise en Scène as Miracle in Dreyer’s ORDET

Like my essay on Dreyer’s Day of Wrath, this essay was written for an Australian DVD, which came out in 2008  on the Madman label. (One can order these and many other DVDs, incidentally, from Madman’s site.) My thanks to Alexander Strang for giving me permission to reprint this. (It’s also reprinted in my most recent collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia.  —J.R.

Mise en Scène as Miracle in Dreyer’s Ordet

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Ordet (The Word, 1955) was the first film by Carl Dreyer I ever saw. And the first time I saw it, at age 18, it infuriated me, possibly more than any other film has, before or since. Be forewarned that spoilers are forthcoming if you want to know why.

The setting and circumstances were unusual. I saw a 16-millimeter print at a radical, integrated, co-ed camp for activists in Monteagle, Tennessee — partially staffed by Freedom Riders, during the late summer of 1961, when we were all singing “We Shall Overcome” repeatedly every day. So the fact that Ordet has a lot to do with what looked like a primitive form of Christianity — combined with the particular inflections brought by the black church to the Civil Rights Movement, including one of its appropriated hymns — had a great deal to do with my rage.… Read more »

Orson Welles at Work

I no longer recall where this 2008 review was written for. — J.R.

http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/dynamic/imgs/080930/Orson-Welles-at-work_l.jpg

ORSON WELLES AT WORK by Jean-Pierre Berthomé and François Thomas. London/New York: Phaidon Press, 2008. 320 pp.

Considering how much popular currency is enjoyed by works about Orson Welles that are poorly researched, possibly because they respond so dutifully to existing attitudes and mythologies about the man — most notably, David Thomson’s slipshod biography Rosebud and Michael Epstein and Thomas Lennon’s Oscar-nominated but fanciful documentary The Battle Over Citizen Kane (both 1996) — a reliable book about his filmmaking that doesn’t stoop to special pleading is always welcome. This one, originally published in French a couple of years ago — in an ongoing series of beautifully and copiously illustrated coffee-table books that has already yielded Bill Krohn’s indispensable Hitchcock at Work — is special not just for the amount of fresh information it offers. It’s also invaluable because of the unusual perspectives its two authors bring to their subject.

Jean-Francois Berthomé, author of a definitive book on Jacques Demy, is also an expert on movie set design, the subject of another of his books. François Thomas, an Alain Resnais specialist, once wrote a dissertation on Welles’s sound work (in film, radio, TV, and theatre) that was over a thousand pages long.… Read more »

Fred Camper

Fred Camper (one-person exhibition, Caro d’Offay Gallery, 2204 W. North Avenue, Chicago, June 14th–August 1st, 2008).

I haven’t attended this yet because it doesn’t even start until tomorrow. But I’d like to call attention to this beautiful photograph, and to the series it concludes, “Details 1: Largo Argentina, Rome, sheet 13″. You can access the entire series by going to Fred Camper’s website and clicking on the first image in the series, here. If you keep clicking, you’ll be carried through the whole series. [6/13/08] Read more »

THE TENDER TRAP: David Wayne/Celeste Holm (upgraded)

THE TENDER TRAP, directed by Charles Walters and written by Julius Epstein, with Frank Sinatra, Debbie Reynolds, David Wayne, and Celeste Holm (1955, 111 min.)

Last night, I started out watching SINNER’S HOLIDAY (1930), with the first film appearance of James Cagney, and wound up seeing all of THE TENDER TRAP (1955) instead. Not because the latter is necessarily superior in any way -– only because I was 13 years old and saw THE TENDER TRAP when it came out, whereas I was years away from even being conceived when SINNER’S HOLIDAY made its first appearance, which means that the 1955 movie has more personal significance.

I suspected that a prefemninist comedy about swinging bachelorhood like THE TENDER TRAP would turn out to look archaic now in its sexism, and was pleasantly surprised to find that, apart from the standard 50s dogma that marriage and family were the solutions to every problem, these suspicions were mainly misguided. If anything, the film takes considerable pains to undermine at least a few of the myths of swinging bachelorhood -– even if the spacious living room in Sinatra’s Manhattan flat is almost oversized enough to justify the parody version of such a place in the 2003 DOWN WITH LOVE.… Read more »

Onion City Film And Video Festival Opening Night Program

The best works in this essential program of recent experimental shorts are the longest. Pedro Costa’s The Rabbit Hunters (2007, 23 min.), a follow-up to his 2006 Colossal Youth, performs comparable wonders with its exalted yet mournful portraits of Cape Verdeans in a Lisbon suburb. Phil Solomon’s black-and-white, animated Last Days in a Lonely Place (2007, 20 min.) magically and mysteriously combines rain, material from the video game Grand Theft Auto, and patches of sound from Nicholas Ray features. Almost as effective in bringing together the cosmic and the mundane are two ten-minute wonders, Bruce Conner’s Easter Morning (which Conner shot in 1966 and misplaced) and a 35-millimeter blowup of Larry Jordan’s 1969 Our Lady of the Sphere. And there’s provocative work by Jeanne Liotta, Gyula Nemes, and Ben Rivers. The festival continues through 6/22 at Chicago Filmmakers, the Nightingale, and other venues; see chicagofilmmakers.org/onion_fest/onion.html or next week’s Reader for more. 99 min. Thu 6/19, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center. –Jonathan RosenbaumRead more »

Operation Filmmaker

The final intertitle of Nina Davenport’s 2007 documentaryI had hoped for a happy ending . . . now I’m just looking for an exit strategyaptly suggests the parallel between the endless string of misjudgments that created the so-called Iraqi war and the ones that created this film about it. Spotting on MTV a 25-year-old Iraqi film student, Muthana Mohmed, whose school in Baghdad had been leveled by American bombs, Hollywood actor Liv Schreiber got the lousy idea of hiring him as a gofer on his lousy first feature as a director, Everything Is Illuminated, which was shot in Prague. Assigned to film Mohmed’s experiences, Davenport (who also had a crew filming his friends and family back home) soon found herself stuck with someone she didn’t like whose need to live his own life was incompatible with hers to finish her film. Nobody comes off well in this tragicomedy, about mutual exploitation by people who don’t know what they’re doing. But the eventual rude awakenings, among them Davenport’s, are thoughtful and enlighteningwell worth the wait. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Mark Rappaport

Recommended: LE SPECTATEUR QUI EN SAVAIT TROP by Mark Rappaport, translated [from English to French] by Jean-Luc Mengus, Paris: P.O.L, 2008, 240 pp.


There are 16 pieces here -– including a Preface, a concluding essay entitled “Confessions of a Latent Heterosexual (Complete with Illustrations),” and four sections in between consisting of a Hitchcock Cycle (three stories) and an Eisenstein Cycle (three stories, with Marlene Dietrich playing a significant role in one), interspersed with two sections of four stories each. Some of the topics: The son of Madame de…, Jean Seberg, “The Tourist Who Knew Too Much,” “My Life with Catherine Deneuve,” Gilda’s gloves, Silvano Mangano and Capucine, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Marcel Proust in Marienbad. Whether these are autobiographical fictions, fictional essays, and/or stories about other stories is a matter directly addressed in the Preface. (Don’t expect any conclusive answers.)

I can’t wait for this to come out somewhere in English–even though P.O.L, publisher of the quarterly film magazine TRAFIC (as well as the French translation of my own first book, MOVING PLACES, also done by Jean-Luc Mengus), has done a very handsome job with it. But in the meantime, you can access at least one chapter online — the last of those cited above, “Marcel in Marienbad”, half of whose illustrations I’ve borrowed here –- in the first issue of ROUGE, a journal to which Rappaport has made other, related contributions.… Read more »

Allen Baron/Lionel Stander

BLAST OF SILENCE, written, directed by & starring Allen Baron, narrated by Lionel Stander (Criterion DVD).

An interesting period piece (1961), especially striking for its sense of place (Manhattan during the Christmas season), though I can’t accept this as the noir masterpiece some people are calling it–not when a recycling of generic clichés usually has to take the place of observation. Perhaps the most durable of its standbys is the gravelly voiceover of an uncredited, graylisted Lionel Stander (put to still better use in some of the Ben Hecht features cited below), reciting the freewheeling patter of a pseudonymous, blacklisted Waldo Salt. It was clever of Baron to graft this pair over his own lackluster inventions, even if Salt’s pseudopoetry is sometimes almost as pretentious as the kind heard in Gary Merrill’s voiceover in another documentary-style indy, THE SAVAGE EYE, made the previous year. But I could probably listen to Stander reading from the Manhattan phone directory–though there may be moments here when a few choice New York phone numbers might have enlivened Salt’s prose a little. Even so, none of it is nearly as awful as the interminable singing of a Village Gate conga-drum player named Mel Sponder, which Baron presumably indulges in the interests of “atmosphere”.… Read more »

Anthony Mann

THE FURIES, directed by Anthony Mann (1950, 109 min.), in a Criterion box set.

Last night, I saw this grand, exciting, unruly failure, Mann’s first western, for the first time, thanks to the timely arrival of the DVD from Criterion, handsomely boxed with the Niven Busch novel that Charles Schnee (and Mann, uncredited) adapted it from. I haven’t yet sampled the Jim Kitses commentary, but there’s also an excellent new essay by Robin Wood that’s very attentive to both the strengths and weaknesses of the film, cross-referencing KING LEAR in all the right ways. And on the same disc, a Paul Mayersburg interview with Mann shortly before his death that was recorded for British television–the first I’ve ever seen–as well as a no less revealing interview with Mann’s daughter Nina, which introduces me to certain relevant aspects of Mann’s childhood: specifically, growing up mainly without parents in a Theosophical Institute in San Diego where there was an outdoor amphitheater that produced Greek tragedies, among other things.

My only complaint, really, is that there’s no allusion in the booklet to Arthur Hunnicutt’s uncredited appearance in the film––the same year he appeared as Chloroform Wiggins in Jacques Tourneur’s STARS IN MY CROWN. But maybe Kitses points this out.… Read more »