Monthly Archives: July 2009

TV News and the Myth of Public Opinion (Kinsley vs. Borneman)

Fourteen years ago, the underrated (or at least undervalued) Michael Kinsley reported in The New Yorker (“The Intellectual Free Lunch,” February 6, 1995, reprinted in his collection Big Babies) on a reputable survey that found that “75 percent of Americans believe that the United States spends ‘too much’ on foreign aid, and 64 percent want foreign-aid spending cut.” (“Apparently,” Kinsley added as an aside, “a cavalier 11 percent of Americans think it’s fine to spend ‘too much’ on foreign aid.”)

The same people were asked how much of the federal budget went to foreign aid, and “The median answer was 15 percent; the average answer was 18 percent.” But “the correct answer is less than 1 percent: the United States government spends about $14 billion a year on foreign aid (including military assistance) out of a total budget of $1.5 trillion.” When asked about how much foreign-aid spending would be “appropriate,” the median answer was 5 percent of the budget; and the median answer to how much would be “too little” was 3 percent, i.e. over three times the actual amount spent.

Kinsley then adds, “This poll is less interesting for what is shows about foreign aid than for what it shows about American democracy.… Read more »

Two 2006 Reader film blog posts (& one afterword)

Difficult Becomes Popular

 

Posted Fri, Dec 8, 2006 at 11:21 AM

 

It’s interesting to see how some of the most difficult and challenging examples of art cinema have become increasingly popular over the past decade. Back in the 60s and 70s, Robert Bresson was virtually a laughing-stock figure to mainstream critics, and someone whose films characteristically played to almost empty houses. Yet by the time that he died, a retrospective of his work that circled the globe was so successful in drawing crowds that in many venues—including Chicago’s Film Center — it had a return engagement. Much the same thing has happened with Andrei Tarkovsky — another uncompromising spiritual filmmaker, and one whose films are even tougher to paraphrase or even explain in any ordinary terms.


I’m just back from a trip to the east coast where I was gratified to find, when I turned up to introduce a screening of Jacques Rivette’s 252-minute L’amour fou (1968) in Astoria’s Museum of the Moving Image, that the film was playing to a nearly packed house. (Incidentally, this galvanizing love story about the doomed relationship between a theater director and his wife, played by Jean-Pierre Kalfon and Bulle Ogier, has never looked better to me, though I’ve been a big fan since the early 70s.) Virtually everyone stayed to the end, and there was a lively and enthusiastic discussion afterwards.… Read more »

Tati’s Influence on David Lynch

I’m grateful to have Kristin Thompson’s detailed and useful report on the Jacques Tati exhibition at the Cinémathèque Française, which closes on August 2nd and which I won’t be able to attend myself. But there’s one very small point in her account with which I disagree. I’m not referring to her spelling of Playtime as Play Time – a long-standing position of hers, based (I believe) on the styling of the film’s ads and opening title credit — because it’s possible that she’s been right about this while I and virtually everyone else have been wrong. (For me, the cinching argument either way would be how Tati spelled the title himself. I’m sorry that I never thought to ask him, during the brief period in 1973 when I worked for him.)

No, my disagreement has to do with the influence exerted by Tati on David Lynch, which Kristin deals with only parenthetically by noting that Lynch “might conceivably be said to reflect a Tatian influence only in The Straight Story.” I’m not disputing whether or not The Straight Story reflects Tati’s influence; as nearly as I can recall, this hadn’t occurred to me when I saw the film, and she might well be correct.… Read more »

Recommended Reading: Hoberman on IN A LONELY PLACE

Recommended Reading: An excellent piece about In a Lonely Place, and Nicholas Ray more generally, by J. Hoberman in this week’s Village Voice. My only (minor) quarrel is with the following phrase: “An ex-Communist who was never persecuted, and must have wondered why…” From Bernard Eisenschitz’s definitive biography, one can pretty clearly surmise that Ray was protected from the Blacklist by Howard Hughes, for whom he was a sort of patch-up man, semipermanently on tap — something he must have been perfectly aware of. [7/17/09]… Read more »

Some Festivals I’ve Known: A Few Rambling Recollections (Part 2)

Commissioned by Richard Porton and written for (and published by) On Festivals: 03 (Dekalog), edited by Richard Porton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Because of the length of this, I’m running it in two parts, and this is the second part. — J.R.

Apart from New York and Cannes, I can almost count the other film festivals I attended during the 1970s on one hand: San Sebastian in 1972; London in 1974–76 (after moving to London to work for the British Film Instituteas assistant editor of the Monthly Film Bulletin); Edinburgh in 1975 and 1976 (which I covered both years for Sight and Sound); Filmex in Los Angeles in 1977–78 (after I moved from London to San Diego, to teach film at the University of California); the Toronto Festival of Festivals, thanks tDavid Overbey, in 1978; and Venice, to attend a three-day conference called The Cinema in the 80s, in 1979.Read more »

Business as Usual at Cannes (2009)

This is the 13th one-page column I’ve published in Cahiers du Cinéma España; it ran a little over a year ago, in their July-August 2009 issue. — J.R.

Writing from Chicago in May, during the Cannes film festival, I’ve been reflecting lately how much  this festival remains a spectator sport even for those who don’t attend it. I’ve attended it nine times in all, 1970-1973 and 1994-1998, and my most enduring impression about it is how quickly everything that happens there gets turned into some form of business — a process that is both hilarious and somewhat horrifying.

Two immediate examples come to mind which occurred during my first and most recent visits there. In 1970, I attended the world premiere of Woodstock, only five days after four students were shot and killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. Michael Wadleigh, the hippie director — a tall, commanding figure dressed in suede — dedicated the film to those four students and to “the many deaths to come” in the ongoing political struggles of the period. When the screening was over, he stood by the exit and calmly handed out black arm bands to anyone who wanted to wear one.… Read more »

Some Festivals I’ve Known: A Few Rambling Recollections (Part 1)

Commissioned by Richard Porton and written for (and published by) On Festivals: 03 (Dekalog), edited by Richard Porton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Because of the length of this, I’m running it in two parts. — J.R.

I’m pretty sure the first film festival I ever attended was the third New York Film Festival, at age 22 in fall 1965, to see Alphaville. In 1963, I probably would have attended the first New York Film Festival if I hadn’t transferred from Washington Square College to Bard College, two hours up the Hudson, about half a year earlier. Later that same year, I took over the Friday night film series at Bard, but every once in a while I’d forego one of my own selections in order to take a weekend trip to New York and see something new I was especially curious about; my first looks at Muriel and Dr. Strangelove were during two such excursions. And my curiosity about what Jean-Luc Godard would do with science fiction was enough to persuade me to hop on the train or catch a ride with a classmate. As it turned out, I found the film silly, not really understanding most of its allusions to contemporary Paris or German expressionist cinema.Read more »

The Ayatollahs Have Spoken

“Michael Jackson’s unforgettable memorial proved a moving high point in a saga that has captivated the world,” reads a headline in the July 17 issue of Entertainment Weekly. Since that’s (unsurprisingly) their lead story, this must mean that the Jackson memorial, whatever and whenever it was, must have qualified as entertainment — and that anyone and everyone who wasn’t captivated and entertained by it doesn’t belong to the world.

An interesting and highly diverse demographic — including, among others, me and my best friends, all the members of the Taliban, and, I presume, most of the people in China. I wonder if we could start a new religion based on this common ground. [7/11/09]… Read more »

Recommended Reading: Interview with Jia Zhangke by Dudley Andrew

Just because it isn’t available online doesn’t mean that Dudley Andrews’ interview with the great Jia Zhangke in the Summer 2009 issue of Film Quarterly isn’t the most aesthetically and politically eye-opening piece I’ve read so far anywhere about this filmmaker. And the fact that 24 City is on the cover, also illustrating James Naremore’s second annual ten-best piece for this magazine (which isn’t online either), should serve as a further incentive. [7/05/09]… Read more »

Kazan on Directing

From Film Comment (July-August, 2009). — J.R.

Kazan on Directing

Elia Kazan

Alfred A. Knopf, $30.00

This is a class act, given something like the Library of America treatment. The editor, Robert Cornfield, is similarly credited not on the title page but two pages later, and similarly provides a Chronology and Notes at the end (as well as an Introduction and Afterword). Extra boosts come from a canny Foreword (John Lahr) and fleeting Preface (Martin Scorsese). Virtually all the plays and films in Kazan’s oeuvre get entries, chronologically placed, apart from some of the less canonical items, accorded “Short Takes” at the end of each section.

But apart from some letters and notebook entries, this is a recycling operation — and that includes the final 40-page stretch, “The Pleasures of Directing”, the only portion not assembled by Cornfield (though no other editor gets mentioned). Even though this book was started by Kazan himself in the 1980s, it was always a paste-up job. On many occasions when the prose moves into high gear, a quick look at the Notes reveal that it comes from either Kazan’s autobiography (A Life) or An American Odyssey (a collection of his writing edited by Michel Ciment), both published in 1988.… Read more »

PANDORA in Bologna

Reseeing an old favorite, Albert Lewin’s delirious Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951), towards the end of my penultimate day at Il Cinema Ritrovato, I’m struck once again by how its lengthy, climactic period flashback appears to replicate, anticipate, or at least closely parallel, visually as well as thematically, the murder of Desdemona by Othello in Welles’ Othello, made at almost precisely the same time. Could Lewin have seen the Welles film, or is the resemblance merely coincidental? Even if I had all the precise production information for both films, it would probably be impossible to figure out. [7/3/09]

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