Monthly Archives: June 2009

Notes on 2 D’Arrast films

Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1897-1968) made eight films, all between 1927 and 1935, and apparently some of these are lost. (He was fired from the early talkie Raffles — which seems to retain a few d’Arrastian qualities — and replaced by George Fitzmaurice, and reportedly he also did some uncredited work on Wings.) I’ve seen three of his films — the two briefly described below (both for the 2009 catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna) and Topaze (1933) — and all of them are pretty remarkable. (The latter is a Pagnol adaptation with one of John Barrymore’s most touching performances.) As far as I know, the only one who ever wrote about this figure in any detail was Herman G. Weinberg in Saint Cinema. According to Pierre Rissient, who knows a lot about d’Arrast (and passionately denies that he was antisemitic — a gossipy accusation I’ve sometimes heard about him, presumably as a partial explanation for why he fought as often as he did with producers), d’Arrast also had a lot to do with the preparation of one of my favorite musicals, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! (1933), which wound up being directed by Lewis Milestone.

The following capsules were written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in June 2009.Read more »

Michael Jackson and the Suspension of World History

Okay. I have to confess that Michael Jackson wasn’t an especially important figure to me, and in that respect it’s theoretically possible that I belong to some cranky minority that isn’t mourning his death around the clock. But even if he were as important to the history of music and art as Charlie Parker or Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra or Igor Stravinsky, I’d still find the sudden cable news blackout of everything currently happening in the world apart from his death a bit excessive and disturbing, and more than just a little infantile. It’s the same thing that happened in TV-Land when Sinatra and Reagan (two other revered entertainers) croaked, and one can sense a rather sickening feeling of happiness and excitement in the airways, uniting CNN, MSNBC, and, yes, even Fox News on the same euphoric wavelength that declares, in effect, and at long last, Iran doesn’t matter, the whole Middle East doesn’t matter, national health care doesn’t matter,  Governor Mark Sanford (who had everyone totally obsessed yesterday) doesn’t matter, Sonia Sotomayor doesn’t matter, global warming doesn’t matter, even Farah Fawcett doesn’t matter, because Michael is dead. What a blessed sense of release is to be found in this seeming collective grief, suddenly recognizing that we no longer have to worry or even think about the rest — or so, at least, assume CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News….… Read more »

Rhetoric about Iran: Americans Learning from Their Mistakes

The most gratifying aspect of Peggy Noonan’s eloquent article last Friday in the Wall Street Journal isn’t merely the belated sign that sane and grown-up conservative thought is finally being heard on the subject of the Middle East, in contrast to the obtuse bellicosity and stupid posturing of John McCain and others. Even more, it’s a sign that some Americans are finally beginning to learn something from American mistakes — above all, from the peculiar conviction that American self-aborption is the only thing urgently needed in the world outside the U.S., and that any sign of tact, calm, and/or reticence automatically translates into weakness. (I hasten to add that Noonan’s voice hasn’t been the only sensible one recently coming from the right; I’m emphasizing it only because it seems the loudest and clearest of these voices.)

I would love to see this dawning wisdom take one crucial further step — the recognition that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 weren’t simply, exclusively, and unproblematically “attacks on America”, whatever that means. They were attacks on people, many of whom weren’t American. Assuming otherwise, as so many chest-beaters did and still do, means playing into the hands of the fanatics who committed these murders and perversely honoring their supposed wisdom and one-dimensional view of the world for the sake of throwing out every other possible reading of what happened.… Read more »

Death by a Thousand Director’s Cuts

From Slate (posted June 23, 2009). — J.R.

One of the key paradoxes of contemporary movie culture is that some film lovers claim that cinema is dying, others maintain that it’s entering a renaissance, and both factions are right. It all depends on whose movie culture you’re talking about.

The problem is how elastic and imprecise our terminology has become. Nowadays, when somebody says, “I’ve just seen a movie,” we don’t necessarily know whether the speaker saw it in a theater or on a mobile phone, alone or with a thousand other people, on celluloid or on a disc. These aren’t really the same experiences, even if we choose to call them all The Godfather or Up. And when it comes to distinguishing between film history and advertising, we may be even more confused.

One reason why we may be entering a renaissance in film viewing is that we no longer have to go to Paris or New York in order to learn anything comprehensive about the history of the medium as an art form. We can, in fact, live almost anywhere, at least if we own a multiregional DVD player — and nowadays one can acquire one of these for less than $50.Read more »

Reply to Cinephilia Survey (2009)

My response to a survey in Framework (Volume 50, No. 1 & 2, Spring & Fall 2009). I’ve retained only the first part — the question part — of Jonathan Buchsbaum and Elena Gorfinkel’s Introduction to the survey:

This dossier on cinephilia gathers responses to the following question:

“What is being fought for by today’s cinephilia(s)?

At the end of La Cinéphilie (2003), Antoine de Baecque wrote that classical cinephilia died in 1968, following the failure of cinema to film the political events of that year. Since that time, still according to de Baecque, the terrain of cinephilia changed radically as television and publicity/ advertising ‘invaded the domain of images.’ The proliferation of images has only accelerated with technological change ever since, hurtling through the internet and telecommunications.

Whatever the current status of cinephilia, certainly there are new cinephiles, even if they no longer hone their passion primarily in film theaters. But what is being fought for in this new generation of cinephilia? What causes animate cinephilia today and how are these new modes different from the ‘classical cinephilia’?

If, in particular, the Cahiers du Cinéma critics won their battles for auteurism, now part of most critics’ lingua franca, are there new critical paradigms of emergent polemics to complement, replace, or contest the earlier cinephilia?Read more »

Recommended: STRAUSS AT MIDNIGHT

As a fan of the directorless Theater Oobleck dating all the way back to its second show in Chicago (David Isaacson’s riotous Three Who Dared: A Play on the Movies, in June 1988), with particularly fond memories of Jeff Dorchen’s The Slow and Painful Death of Sam Shepard (December 1988) and Ugly’s First World (October 1989) as well as Mickle Maher’s When Will the Rats Come to Chew Through Your Anus? (January 1990), I regret having somehow lost touch with their singular repertory of literary and political shotgun marriages in recent years. A recent visit to Dorchen’s brilliantly excessive Strauss at Midnight at the the Chicago DCA Theater (66 E. Randolph), which runs through July 19, reminded me of how much heat and liberating anger and laughter they can generate.

This play has something to do with Saul Bellow (Isaacson), posthumously still tainted by his former association with Allan Bloom (Troy Martin), and, through Bloom, with Leo Strauss (David Shapiro), condemned to a hell in which he has inhabit the same quarters as Neil Simon’s Odd Couple (Brian Nemtusak and H.B. Ward doing fine, surreal spinoffs of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau), not to mention Niccolo Machiavelli (Scott Hermes) and In the Heat of the Night‘s Virgil Tibbs (D’wayne Taylor).… Read more »