Monthly Archives: August 2008

Kiarostami’s SHIRIN: A Fiction

As far as I know, the above photograph of Juliette Binoche in Iran doesn’t come from Shirin, the latest feature by Abbas Kiarostami, which just premiered in Venice. And I’m certain that the two photographs of Binoche below, which I’ve found elsewhere on the Internet, doesn’t come from this film, even though Binoche’s trip to Iran was at Kiarostami’s invitation, and she’s generally credited as the “star” of his new film. For one thing, most accounts seem to agree that Binoche doesn’t wear any makeup in Shirin, and she appears to be doing just that in all three of these photographs.

Judging by some early reviews of Shirin–the best of which is probably Ronnie Scheib’s in Variety, and several of which are usefully grouped together by David Hudson in GreenCine Daily–it’s a development and expansion of “Where is My Romeo?”, Kiarostami’s segment in last year’s Chacun Son Cinéma, in which a wide assortment of females are seen responding to an unseen and possibly imaginary film of Romeo and Juliet. And there’s reason to believe that the unseen film apparently being responded to by Binoche and a good many Iranian actresses in Shirin–apparently an adaptation Farrideh Golbou’s poem “Khosrow e Shirin” by Mohammad Rahmanian, with a very elaborate soundtrack–is imaginary as well.… Read more »

Mise en Scène as Power Struggle: THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT

This essay was commissioned by the Australian DVD label Madman, for their 2008 release of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. In fact, I wrote essays about four separate Fassbinder films for them — the three others were Katzelmacher, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, and Martha. —J.R.

“I love movies. Pictures about passion—and pain. Lovely!

[…] “Discipline’s okay as long as you’re having fun.”
–Karin (Hanna Schygulla) in The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant

An early watershed in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s career as a filmmaker, The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), his twelfth feature, might even be regarded as the first in which he explicitly “discovered” mise en scène.  Adapting his own play —- which had premiered in Darmstadt half a year before, in June 1971, in a production directed by Peer Raben —- the film makes no effort to “open up” the original material in terms of its original setting, the flat of its title heroine, and it focuses on issues of camera placement and camera movement like few other Fassbinder films made before or since.

For Christian Braad Thomsen, who may be Fassbinder’s most authoritative critic, the film marks a significant turning point.… Read more »

Letter from Patricia Patterson to John Powers

I’ve just discovered that the comment concluding my Afterword to my article about Manny Farber on this site was grievously mistaken and misinformed. So I’ve just added this letter from Patricia—written in response to a John Powers broadcast about Manny on NPR’s Fresh Air—to my Afterword as a postscript, but I also would like to highlight it here.—J.R. [8/28/08]

Dear John Powers,

Manny was not a “Conservative,” a “Libertarian,” a “Republican,” an anything. In his early twenties he tried to join the Communist Party but they didn’t want him. During WWII he tried to enlist in the army but they rejected him. After inviting him to join, it took just one meeting for the New York Film Critics Circle to ask him to leave. He came home that night saying, “They fired me.” He also told me that even a therapist in Washington had “fired him” for not working hard enough. Manny was not a Republican because he never knew any. He didn’t quarrel with them because he was never around them. He quarreled with the people he knew: artists, writers, teachers, carpenters. When he saw smugness, complacency, and superiority — and often those qualities went together — then he would get going, and separate himself from them.Read more »

Sátántangó (the novel)

I’m a member of PEN, and Nick Burd, their Literary Awards Program Manager, just forwarded to me the following note from Barbara Epler at New Directions:

Dear Jonathan Rosenbaum,

I was reading through PEN’s very interesting “What are we missing?” forum, and saw your SÁTÁNTANGÓ suggestion, and just wanted to say we are waiting on the delivery of its [English] translation by the great George Szirtes, eagerly waiting, and will publish it as soon as we can. (We already have his translations of László [Krasznahorkai]’s THE MELANCHOLY OF RESISTANCE and WAR & WAR.)

I thought you’d be interested — and, by the way, we are always interested in hearing suggestions from readers who seem on our wave-length so if you have more ideas, please let me know.

All the best,

Barbara Epler
New Directions

P.S. (from JR): THE MELANCHOLY OF RESISTANCE is the 1989 novel that served as the basis for Béla Tarr’s 2000 film WERCKMEISTER HARMONIES. And SÁTÁNTANGÓ (the film) has recently been released in a box set by Facets Video. [8/21/08] Afterword, 2012: The English translation of the novel has finally been published.

Read more »

Luis & Sam

Christa Fuller, who took this picture in 1967 in Buñuel’s house in Mexico City, has invited me to place it here; it shows Buñuel with her late husband, Sam. The first time I ever met Sam, in the summer of 1980, I interviewed him at the Plaza Hotel in New York about The Big Red One for the Soho News. He was being courted at the time by Serge Silberman about possibly directing a French best seller called The Tunnel, and Sam let out a rebel-style holler when I said something like, “Isn’t that Buñuel’s producer?” “Yaaah! That why I had a hard-on for him, boy, he puts all the loot up for Buñuel, and I love that man.” (8/17/08)… Read more »

Unfit for Publication

A good cable-news feature tonight from Rachel Maddow on Countdown about the boondoggle of bulk sales pushing a lunatic-fringe book of abusive misinformation, Jerome R. Corsi’s Obama Nation, to the head of the New York Times best seller list. The best antidote–a detailed 40-page rebuttal, Unfit for Publication–can be accessed for free at Obama’s website. Check it out; it should be disseminated as quickly and widely as possible.

Too bad that John Kerry didn’t do something similar in 2004 with the Swift Boat smear campaign, another Corsi job. And the fact that Obama’s campaign has responded this quickly and this thoroughly is cheering –even if one knows that this will barely make an impression on those idiots who’ll believe anything that’s shoveled between hard covers that they want to believe. [8/14/08]… Read more »

Kiss Me, Stupid/Billy Wilder

KISS ME, STUPID, written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, directed by Wilder, with Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston, Felicia Farr, and Cliff Osmond (1964, 126 min.)

A fresh look at one of Billy Wilder’s most underrated films clarifies for me two essential facts about it for the first time: (1) It seems likely that this masterpiece mainly received a C or “condemned” rating from the Legion of Decency because of its scathing portrait of the hypocrisy of American small-town life and the corruption of big-time media, not because of its depiction of sex per se. (2) Wilder’s return to the American Southwest after his earlier Ace in the Hole (1951) is in fact a return to these very same topics, seen with a no less jaundiced eye — something Wilder was apparently fully aware of, as signaled by a virtual quote of a shot from the previous film: Dean Martin in the driving seat of a car being towed replicates Kirk Douglas in the driving seat of his own car being towed.

If Robert Osmond on TCM is to be believed, the previous C rating bestowed by the Legion of Decency prior to Kiss Me, Stupid was eight years before — which would make it Baby Doll (1956).… Read more »

Ousmane Sembène

OUSMANE SEMBÈNE: INTERVIEWS, Edited by Annett Busch and Max Anas, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008, 225 pp.

What an absurdly arduous and uphill battle it’s been, to understand even the rudiments of African cinema! I now have three books about the father of African cinema, but it hasn’t been until I started looking at the third that I began to pick up some fundamental, basic data. I’m thinking in particular of Sembène’s first feature, La noire de… (1966), known inadequately in English as Black Girl, only 65 minutes long. Yesterday, on one of my periodic trips back to the Chicago Reader to collect mail that still erroneously or fortuitously gets sent to me there, I was delighted to find a copy of this new volume, the latest in an excellent series of interview collections, unwrapped in my mailbox.

In 1995, I devoted a long review in the Reader to Black Girl, Sembène’s remarkable adaptation of his own story, “Promised Land” (which can be found in his collection Tribal Scars). By the time I reprinted this in my 1997 Movies as Politics, I was able to add a footnote correcting a false supposition I’d made about a color sequence that was in some prints of the film, but not in any I’d seen, after a friend who’d seen this sequence wrote me about it.… Read more »

Charles Fort/Vladimir Mayakovsky

Recommended Reading:

CHARLES FORT: THE MAN WHO INVENTED THE SUPERNATURAL by Jim Steinmeyer, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 332 pp.

NIGHT WRAPS THE SKY: WRITINGS BY AND ABOUT MAYAKOVSKY, edited by Michael Almereyda, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008, 272 pp.

Technically these are a biography and an anthology, but both are in effect delightful samplers of the work of two very singular and controversial men who were roughly contemporaries, although they were born 19 years apart: Charles Fort (1874-1932) and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930). I’m far from completing either book at this point, but both make for very pleasurable summer reading.

Fort was a late bloomer, especially regarding his public profile, which essentially consisted of the last four of his five published books–The Book of the Damned (1919), New Lands (1923), Lo! (1931), and Wild Talents (1932), all very witty, imaginative, and provocative forays into debunking science. These were preceded only by several short stories published only in magazines and a 1909 novel that has never been reprinted, as well as some other creative non-fiction, all unpublished, that Steinmeyer quotes from liberally. Steinmeyer is a specialist in stage magic with whom I once had the pleasure of doing a lengthy phone interview.… Read more »