Thanks to John Iltis, the estimable dean of Chicago film publicists, here is a link to a rather eye-opening piece from a few days ago by the London Telegraph‘s Sukhdev Sandhu about changes in Anglo-American film culture over the past decade. Some of the thoughts here seem to corroborate a few of my own recent observations about respective differences — a widening rift, really — in the reception and perception of both Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in the U.K. and the U.S. (in the latter case in particular, the cross-referencing of Heath Ledger’s character with Tony Blair). –J.R.… Read more »
Yearly Archives: 2009
Thom Loree, one of Robin Wood’s dearest friends, has sent me the following, and kindly given me permission to reproduce it here. This list was dictated to Robin’s friend John Anderson two days before he died. (Correction, 1/7/10: Thom has informed me that he misunderstood the date; this list was in fact composed “a few weeks” before Robin died, not two days, although he was already “gravely ill at the time”.) Rio Bravo was clearly in the number one slot; the others weren’t ranked, and are given in the order in which he dictated them. –J.R.
Either I Can’t Sleep or I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (Robin wasn’t articulating well, but probably the former)
Ruggles of Red Gap or Make Way for Tomorrow
The Reckless Moment or Letter from an Unknown Woman
Angel Face (something of a surprise, this)
The Seven Samurai
Le Crime de Monsieur Lange or La Règle du jeu
Thom adds: “No Hitchcock, curiously enough.”
A list of lists, the first in a series of six, first posted on December 21, 2009. Some time ago, Eric Johnson kindly went to the trouble of compiling many of my old ten-best lists and placing them on his web site. I’ve pasted these in here with some corrections regarding sources and precise titles, and added a few others. (Beware of a few anomalies and oddities below, such as the films by Mizoguchi and Renoir that I’d happened to see those years in London. I’m sure I must have had some polemical slant in mind, but I’m no longer able to define this slant more than vaguely.)
In mid-June 2015, I’ve just discovered that Charley Varrick, #7 in my Village Voice list of 1973, was originally misspelled by me as Charlie Varrick. Having just reseen this very impressive masterpiece on a new German Blu-Ray, I can only add that it deserves a lot more recognition than I was able to give it at the time. — J.R.
The Village Voice, 1972 (ranked):
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel)
L’amour fou (Jacques Rivette)
The Central Region (Michael Snow)
Such Good Friends (Otto Preminger)
Phantom India (Louis Malle)
Umbracle (Pere Portabella)
Last Tango in Paris (Bernardo Bertrolucci)
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (Jonas Mekas)
Fat City (John Huston)
Frenzy (Alfred Hitchcock)
The Village Voice, 1973 (ranked):
Playtime (Jacques Tati)
A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa)
Who is Beta?… Read more »
- Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
1957 was clearly a bumper year for John Frankenheimer on Playhouse 90: the eleven shows that he directed included The Ninth Day (January 10, the only one I can faintly recall having seen at the time), The Comedian (February 14), The Last Tycoon (March 14), and then a second F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation, which I’ve just seen for possibly the first time, Winter Dreams (May 23), costarring John Cassavetes and Dana Wynter. (That’s Phyllis Love, another costar, in the above illustration.) All of which probably helps to explain why I considered Frankenheimer an auteur before I ever used that term, during my early teens, for his work on Studio One as well as Playhouse 90.
As masterful in way as The Comedian and The Last Tycoon, Winter Dreams departs from Fitzgerald’s material a lot more than The Last Tycoon by concentrating on the sort of details that the original story leaves out, involving (for instance) the hero’s parents and college room mate, and by ending many years before the story does. (The script is by James B. Cavanagh.) The tone is quite different, too; Fitzgerald’s 1922 story is a reverie whereas the adaptation is much more obviously obsessional.… Read more »
It’s been over five months since I submitted this brief article to FIPRESCI for their web site, at their (characteristically urgent) request, in mid-June, just after attending the Seattle International Film Festival as a member of the FIPRESCI jury. It seems pretty certain by now that they won’t be running it, because Seattle isn’t even listed among the fourteen “coming soon” festival reports currently promised on their site.This is basically why I’m running it here — so it won’t go to waste. — J.R.
The Undermining of Intimacy: Home and Everyone Else
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
As different as they are in other respects, one interesting facet shared by two tragicomic European features included in the New Directors Showcase at the Seattle International Film Festival, Ursula Meier’s Home (2008) and Maren Ade’s Alle Andersen (Everyone Else, 2009), is that they both show the gradual deterioration of intimate relationships that starts to occur between or among individuals in isolation from “everyone else”, after they start to become less isolated. In both cases, contact with the outside world seems to operate as a kind of contamination, although the possibility is posed in each case that the
sickness is already present from the outset, but needs the objectification provided by the outside world in order to become fully evident.… Read more »
Since I’m no longer a regular reviewer and never have been much of a fan of the Coen brothers’ special brand of scornful, smart-ass caricature, I’ve been slow in catching up with A Serious Man, which turns out to be one of their most interesting (not to mention most serious, or at least most “serious”) movies. Even though they’ll never come nearly as close to Franz Kafka as Kubrick does in the costume-shop sequences of Eyes Wide Shut, there’s something about their taste for surrealist nightmare that flourishes here when it’s tied to a sense of Jewish misery and doom; and even though their sense of period here is as post-modernist-faulty as it’s ever been, and some of their weirder forays are plainly misfires (e.g., the precredits sequence), their personal take on what it meant to be Jewish in Minneapolis in the 60s still carries a certain charge.
As for their penchant for stylistic pastiche, what’s most striking to me about the behavioral freakishness and geekiness on display here is the degree to which they seem to derive in this case from a non-Jewish model — specifically, David Lynch’s very WASPy Eraserhead. (If memory serves, the only other time that the Coens went in for Jewish stereotypes was in Barton Fink, and then their principal stylistic guides, Polanski and Kubrick, were both Jewish and specifically Eastern European in their gallows humor.) The clearest sign of this appropriation is the way Amy Landecker’s super-seductive Mrs.… Read more »
Posted in Moving Image Source on November 13, 2009. — J.R.
“The book you are about to read is not another biography of Orson Welles,” begins Chris Welles Feder’s In My Father’s Shadow: A Daughter Remembers Orson Welles (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). “It owes nothing to scholarly research and everything to firsthand knowledge.” Because this story by Welles’s oldest daughter is about neglect and absence as well as about love and presence, one feels from the outset that her very moving cri de coeur was written out of psychic necessity rather than out of any academic or commercial impulse — a passionate and even somewhat desperate attempt to lay certain ghosts to rest. And part of this book’s uncommon strength is that it ends on a positive note with a lot of hard-won wisdom, in spite of all the grief it recounts.
Orson Welles married three times and had a daughter from each marriage, although the woman who mattered the most in his life, at least during the last two decades, was none of these half-dozen women but Oja Kodar, his mistress and collaborator (mainly as actress and/or co-writer — on F for Fake, the unreleased The Other Side of the Wind, and many other unfinished or unrealized projects, such as The Dreamers).… Read more »
What’s most disconcerting about Jane Campion’s affecting evocation of Fanny Brawne and John Keats, which I caught up with tonight in Edinburgh, is that it has an exquisite soundtrack for me — erotic, tactile, essentialist in the best sense — only when Keats’ poetry remains unheard. Whether it’s being recited by Ben Wishaw as Keats or by Abbie Cornish as Brawne, the issue isn’t how or how well it’s being recited, which I have no particular quarrels with, but the fact that it gets recited at all. I was admittedly grateful in a way to hear Wishaw recite all of “Ode to a Nightingale” over the final credits, despite the distracting musical accompaniment, even while a good half of the audience was leaving the theater, because there, at least, it wasn’t competing with Campion’s filmmaking. But I’m less sure about the other employments of Keats’ writing in the film, even though the letters arguably seem more justifiable than the poetry, at least from a narrative standpoint.
One of Campion’s strongest suits has always been her eroticism, and the best part of A.O. Scott’s review in the New York Times (as it often is, for him as well as for Manohla Dargis) comes not in the review proper but in the squib at the end appended to the MPAA rating: “It is perfectly chaste and insanely sexy.” Amen.… Read more »
Written for Moving Image Source and posted online November 6, 2009. — J.R. It’s fascinating to consider the possibility that the essential film oeuvres of both Alain Resnais and Chris Marker commence with the same remarkable, rarely seen essay film from 1953 — a film whose direction is co-signed in the credits by Resnais (also credited for editing), Marker (script and conception), and Ghislain Cloquet (cinematography). (Cloquet [1924-1981], who went on to shoot most of Resnais’s other major films until his own camera assistant, Sacha Vierny, basically replaced him, also subsequently shot major films by Jacques Becker, Robert Bresson, André Delvaux, Jacques Demy, Marguerite Duras, Louis Malle, and Roman Polanski.) And it’s no less fascinating (and significant) to ponder the implications of the fact that the only Oscar-winning film of Resnais’s career came five years before this neglected early peak. The film in question was the 1948 documentary Van Gogh, and in keeping with the Academy’s procedures, the Oscar went not to Resnais, again the director and editor, but to the producer, Pierre Braunberger. Largely because I prefer to look at paintings from static vantage points and with my own itineraries, I’ve never felt entirely comfortable with Resnais’s exploratory camera movements here and in Paul Gauguin and Guernica (both 1950).… Read more »
1. Taking a British Airways morning flight from Edinburgh to London this morning, I was delighted to discover that a tourist-class seat entitles me to a full hot British/Scottish breakfast — omelet, sausages, ham, mushrooms, and potatoes, with coffee served in an old-fashioned ceramic cup, at no extra charge. Simply imagining such a thing on any domestic flight in the U.S. nowadays would be indulging in a decadent form of nostalgia.
2. The intelligence, wit, and sharp writing one almost takes for granted in portions of the weekly press here. After bemoaning the phony “knowing” tone of David Thomson pretending to be authoritative about Orson Welles’ life at the time of his death in my last Notes entry, it’s worth quoting from three pieces that I happened to read during my 90-minute flight, all displaying good thoughts as well as good prose. The fact that I happened to just see Fantastic Mr. Fox two nights ago, in the Scottish coastal village St. Andrews, made the latter two pieces, both reviews of the film, especially interesting:
a. From “Your Call is Not Important To Us” by Will Self (New Statesman, 26 October) on mobile phones: “As defined by the psychiatric profession, psychosis is a blanket term for inadequate reality-testing (an ugly coinage, but you know what I mean).… Read more »
It’s obvious by now that David Thomson is never going to relinquish his unwarranted and unvarying baseline assumption about Orson Welles (see his column in today’s Guardian) that he was a failure whose life and career consisted of nothing but “decline”. Why? Because what Thomson means by success is precisely what he’s achieved himself: uncontroversial popularity and acclaim, taking popular and comforting positions that irritate no one except for a few diehards like me. If failure actually means failure to tell people what they already think and failure to support what they already believe, then I can only agree — Welles was a failure through and through. Unlike Thomson, a glorious success whose career can be described only as continuous ascent into the stratosphere. If only Welles could have turned himself into a David Thomson, goes the apparent assumption, then everybody would be happy. [10/23/09]
Postscript (10/25/09]: In a state of relative calm, I’ve just reread Thomson’s column, and can see that, okay, he’s trying to imply that Welles might have conceivably been happy when he died even without having millions in the bank. Fair enough. But his insufferable pose of pseudo-knowingness about matters he knows little or nothing about, which also suffuses every page of his Welles biography, continues to gall me.”He died, alone and broke, in a cottage in the Hollywood hills…” Has Thomson ever been there?… Read more »
One of Abbas Kiarostami’s trickiest and most radical experimental works, this fascinating 2008 feature focuses on women spectators of a movie that we hear but don’t see—a lush and seemingly action-packed drama adapted from a famous Persian medieval poem by Nazami Ganjavi, “Khosrow and Shirin.” Typical of Kiarostami’s mastery as an illusionist is that he created the offscreen soundtrack himself, but only after he’d shot close-ups of Juliette Binoche and 112 Iranian film actresses watching the fictional film. (The makeshift audience contains some males too, but they’re never featured.) It’s as if Kiarostami had capitulated to the requests of his friendly critics that he make a movie with stars and an easy-to-follow story, then perversely turned the movie into a nonnarrative film. In Farsi with subtitles. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »
The following piece appeared in the October 22, 2009 issue of the Chicago Reader. Due to a technical error which was belatedly corrected (in March 2010), the Reader omitted Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa’s name as coauthor, but I’ve restored it here. — J.R.
Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa discuss the Iranian master’s first film to screen in Chicago since 2002.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa
It’s been six years since Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa and I published Abbas Kiarostami (University of Illinois Press), about Iran’s most famous and most controversial filmmaker. The book combined the perspectives of myself, an American film critic with a Jewish background, and Mehrnaz, an Iranian-American filmmaker and teacher with an Islamic background, on Kiarostami’s films, which are neither narrative features nor documentaries but something in between. Where Is the Friend’s House? (1986), Close-Up (1990), Life and Nothing More . . . (1992), Through the Olive Trees (1994), Taste of Cherry (1997), and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) keep altering the balance between what’s actually seen in a story and what’s implied or imagined, and this is part of what continues to make Kiarostami such a contested and fascinating figure. Building, perhaps, on his talent as a visual artist (he’s a photographer, painter, and graphic artist) and his interest as a chronicler of Iranian life, he’s been a nearly constant innovator in both form and subject matter.… Read more »
Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.
On the Riviera, an American multimillionaire (Gary
Cooper) with many ex-wives meets and romances the
daughter (Claudette Colbert) of a ruined Marquis
(Edward Everett Horton) and proposes marriage;
after she accepts, she learns about his former wives
and refuses to consummate their marriage, baiting
him with a string of pretended infidelities (including
one with a very young David Niven). This is an uncharacteristic
comedy of Ernst Lubitsch by virtue of its relative cruelty
and unpleasantness, both of which seem ascribable in
part to the writing team of Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder
-– who would later show similar traits in their scripts for
such noncomic films as The Lost Weekend (1945) and
Sunset Boulevard (1950) -– adapting here a not-very-
well-known French farce by Alfred Savoir, La huitième
femme de Barbe-Bleue. Paradoxically, 34 years later,
working with I.A.L. Diamond, Wilder would remember certain
aspects of this film -– above all, the depiction of an
obnoxious and wealthy American abroad and a tense
romantic dialogue conducted on a float in the Mediterranean
— in the much sweeter and clearly Lubitsch-inspired
Avanti!… Read more »