Yearly Archives: 2010

EVENING PRIMROSE

An extremely odd 1966 Steven Sondheim TV musical (1966) — 52 minutes, in black and white — adapted by James Goldman from an equally odd john Collier story of the same title about a poet (Anthony Perkins) who decides to live in a Manhattan department store and discovers an entire community of after-hours eccentrics already camped out there, including a wispy maiden (Charmian Carr) who’s spent most of her life there, whom he falls in love with and teaches how to read. Perkins, by the way, is a pretty delightful singer. The fact that part of this show was actually shot on location in and around a 42nd Street emporium is only part of what’s so strange about it. But I find it impossible to guess how peculiar it might have looked 44 years ago, because I’ve just seen it for the first time.

A good-quality, newly discovered kinoscope print of this ABC Stage 67 broadcast is what led to this recent DVD release.  Among the useful and thoughtful extras is an extended interview with the now-retired director, Paul Bogart — a TV veteran who also directed Torch Song Trilogy back in 1988, and who offers a thoughtful autocritique, at once modest and apt, of his own contributions.… Read more »

Godard as “Good Samaritan”

One of my “En movimiento”columns for Cahiers du Cinéma España, written specifically for their special Godard issue (December 2010). — J.R.

Writing recently here about the largely negative American reception of Film Socialisme at Cannes, I noted  – in response to the implications of such critics as Todd McCarthy and Roger Ebert that the film’s difficulties could somehow be attributed to flaws in Godard’s character — that I was “impressed not only by the film’s singular, daring, and often beautiful employments of sound and image, but also by its tenderness towards virtually all the contemporary characters and figures in the film (including the animals) — a virtue I don’t find at all present in For Ever Mozart.”

One could, in fact, go through many portions of Godard’s filmography and cite works that are humanist (such as Bande à part, Masculin-Féminin, and France/tour/detour/deux enfants) and those that are relatively nonhumanist (such as Weekend, Vladimir et Rosa, and Passion). Even though one could argue that Godard’s self-imposed social isolation since his departure from Paris has had harmful effects on his art, it is too simplistic to assume that he’s always or invariably the simple grouch that many journalists have claimed him to be.Read more »

NIGHT AND FOG and SHOAH

Commissioned by Artforum‘s web site and published by them on December 8, 2010 in a somewhat different version. — J.R.

“The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed,” Stanley Kubrick reportedly said to screenwriter Frederic Raphael in the late 1990s. “Schindler’s List was about six hundred people who don’t.” One of the most striking things about this remark is its placement of the Holocaust in the present and a film made half a century later in the past.

 

These are the priorities of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), 550 minutes long, widely and in some ways justly regarded as the greatest film about the Holocaust. But they’re also the priorities of Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol’s Nuit et brouillard (Night and Fog, 1955), only thirty-one minutes long, which in many respects made Shoah possible. Shoah even quotes Night and Fog about forty-three minutes into the film — Resnais’s low-angle dolly following grassy railroad tracks that lead to an Auschwitz crematorium is virtually reprised and extended, though Resnais’ use of Eastmancolor is even more vivid.

 

One shouldn’t have to choose between these masterpieces. But it’s important to stress that they aren’t about precisely the same Holocaust and that their formal strategies for juxtaposing past and present are quite different.Read more »

Welles’s Anguish and Goose Liver: CONFIDENTIAL REPORT

This essay, a revised and updated version of my article “The Seven Arkadins,” was commissioned by the Australian DVD label Madman for their DVD of Orson Welles’ Confidential Report, released in 2010. — J.R.

Mr. Arkadin “was just anguish from beginning to end,” Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich in their coauthored This is Orson Welles, and probably for this reason, Welles had less to say about this feature — known in a separate version as Confidential Report — than any of his others, either to Bogdanovich or to other interviewers. Editing This is Orson Welles in its two successive editions took me the better part of a decade (roughly, 1987-1997), and one of the biggest obstacles I faced throughout this work was the paucity of specific details that Welles was willing to offer about this film. It was plainly too painful a memory for him to linger on, and he even spoke of being blocked in remembering certain particulars.

Broadly speaking, the features of Welles fall into two categories: those he finished and released to his satisfaction and those he didn’t. In the first category are Citizen Kane, Macbeth, Othello, The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, The Immortal Story, F for Fake, and Filming “Othello”.… Read more »

Lines and Circles [PLAYTIME and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY]

Originally posted online in Moving Image Source,  December 3, 2010. — J.R.

Jacques Tati’s Playtime, a contemporary comedy chronicling a day spent by American tourists and various locals in a studio-built Paris, premiered in 70 mm (or, more precisely, according to Criterion, 65 mm) in Paris on December 16, 1967; at the time it was 152 minutes long, and over the next two months — under pressure from exhibitors, and to avoid an intermission — Tati reduced the length by 15 minutes.

Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, a science fiction adventure that stretches roughly from East Africa in the year 4 billion B.C. to the outskirts of Jupiter around 2002, first opened in Cinerama in Washington, D.C., on April 2, 1968, and then, in the same format, in New York the following day and in Los Angeles on April 4, during which time it was 158 minutes long; over the following week, based on his own responses to audience reactions, Kubrick in New York reduced its length by 19 minutes, making it only two minutes longer than the shortened Playtime.

Large-format restorations of both these films, along with David Lean’s 1962 Lawrence of Arabia, are coming this month to the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto for extended runs.… Read more »

Watching Kiarostami Films at Home

This essay was written in late November 2010 for The Common Review, whose editor commissioned it, but was subsequently and recently withdrawn from that magazine once it became clear that the editor wasn’t giving me any straight or candid answers about whether or when he would publish it. Which is why I’m publishing it here. I’ve only updated it slightly to incorporate the recent distressing news about the government’s sentencing of Jafar Panahi. And more recently, thanks to Danny Postel, this article has been reposted here, at Tehran Bureau. — J.R.

To what extent does Abbas Kiarostami, Iran’s best known and most celebrated filmmaker, still belong to Iran, and to what extent does he now belong to the world? Insofar as the first sixteen of his seventeen features have been shot in Iran –- only Certified Copy, filmed in Italy, which premiered in Cannes last May, qualifies as a feature shot in exile –- he might be said to “belong” in some fashion to his native country. But the last of his features to date to have opened commercially in Iran was his tenth, Taste of Cherry (1997), and one wouldn’t expect this situation to change anytime in the near future.… Read more »

Recommended Reading: n + 1, Fall 2010

They call it their “Self-Improvement” issue, and while flying today from Richmond to Chicago, I read three especially good articles about the sorry state of our nation, each one a pretty good substitute for the sort of news and editorials that we’re no longer getting. Here are teasers from each one:

From “Revolt of the Elites” (unsigned) in The Intellectual Situation (p. 15):

“Who…is guility of elitism, if not the elitely educated in general? The main culprits turn out to be people for whom a monied and therefore educated background lies behind the adoption of aesthetic, intellectual, or political values that demur from the money-making mandate that otherwise dominates society.”

From “Caucasian Nation” by Marco Roth in Politics (p. 14):

“The robust case for dominating other people sounds awful to most American ears today. So the contemporary idea of ethnocracy relies instead on an opposite rhetoric of victimization. The simple-minded mantra we’re taught in grade school goes like this: blacks good because oppressed, whites bad because oppressors. So if whites suddenly became oppressed, even while remaining the majority, they would magically become good again. Many Americans are now being taught to think this way.”

From “The Two Cultures of Life” by Kristin Dombek in Essays (p.… Read more »

What I’m Reading (August 2010)

Early last August, the editor of Seminary Coop’s The Front Table (an online arm of what may be the best academic bookstore in the U.S., located on the University of Chicago campus) emailed me and asked for a contribution to their series “What I’m Reading” in conjunction with the publication of my new book. I promptly sent him the following, which, for reasons that escape me, they never published. — J.R.

What I’m Reading: Jonathan Rosenbaum

Boy in Darkness and Other Stories by Mervyn Peake. The title novella in this recent, posthumous collection, perhaps the scariest fantasy I’ve ever read, was first encountered by me in my teens, on its first publication, in a 1956 Ballantine paperback called Sometime, Never, where it was published alongside stories by two other Englishmen, William Golding and John Wyndham. I find it every bit as dreamlike and as chilling now as it was then. And it inspired me to finally start reading

The Gormenghast Novels by Mervyn Peake. This fantasy epic trilogy in slow-motion, most of it set in a castle that appears to be roughly the size of Manhattan, among characters obsessed with their duties and rituals, has beautifully vivid and magically precise prose, and it’s attractively packaged with two introductions (by Quentin Crisp and Anthony Burgess) and 140 pages of critical assessments.… Read more »

Recommended Pre-Election Reading (and Brief Post-Election Lament)

www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2010/oct/24/obama-never-room-for-radical-change

This piece by Gary Younge appeared a little over a week ago but is still relevant. Here are two particularly salient passages:

It is not unrealistic to believe that a country as wealthy as the US should be able to provide healthcare for all, a dignified life for its elderly, an infant mortality rate better than Cuba’s, a life expectancy higher than Bosnia’s, a foreign policy that does not hinge on military aggression, and an economy where fewer than one in seven live in poverty. What is unrealistic is to believe that any of those things can be achieved, or even seriously tackled, with just a single vote.

Republicans will head to the polls to elect people who will actually cut jobs and support bankers. Democrats may well stay at home because their candidate has not made things better, and in so doing make things worse. Neither disaffection nor rage are electoral strategies. But in the absence of an alternative, frustration has political consequences.

November 3: American voters have spoken, and the message appears to be to leave Tomorrowland for Frontierland while remaining in the same Disney theme park, albeit this time without any tickets.… Read more »

A BRIGHTER SUMMER DAY

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

a-brighter-summer-day

A Brighter Summer Day was inspired by a true incident, a touchstone from Yang’s youth: the killing of a 14-year-old girl by a male high school student in Taipei on June 15, 1961. Yang frames the film with recitations over the radio of the names of students graduating from the same school in 1960 and ’61. The title comes from the lyrics of the Elvis Presley song “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, phonetically transcribed by the hero’s sister so that a younger friend, Cat, can learn to sing them.

abrightersummerday-singer

This song is only one of many cherished artifacts belonging to the film’s characters that come from somewhere else. A samurai sword found by the hero, Si’r, in his family’s Japanese house becomes the murder weapon, and a tape recorder left by the American army in the 50s records Cat’s version of the Elvis song. An old radio that for most of the picture doesn’t work eventually broadcasts the list of graduating students. And a flashlight Si’r steals in the first extended scene from a film studio next to the school, where he periodically hides in the rafters to watch movies being shot, makes a fascinating progress through the film.… Read more »

A Brief Reflection on “Winning” and “Losing”


I’ve been haunted lately by a very moving and eloquent comment made last Saturday at a panel discussion which I participated in, held at the Smithsonian. The occasion was a screening of a restoration of Hai Ninh’s lovely 1974 North Vietnamese feature The Little Girl from Hanoi, a film so scarce that I can’t find any stills from it on the Internet to illustrate this post. [Update, 6/13/12: Some stills have subsequently appeared and have been posted with my review of the film, here, as well as on this page.]

After one of my (American) copanelists remarked that even though “we [sic] lost the war in Vietnam,” the country had a thriving market economy today, and then either he or someone else alluded to America “winning” the Cold War (which provoked an angry riposte from me that if the Cold War had any “winners” at all, these were gangsters on both sides), a Vietnamese diplomat in the audience, who said he was speaking not as a diplomat but simply as a Vietnamese, stated that he thought it was inappropriate to claim that anyone “won” the war in Vietnam. He was right, of course, which got me thinking that the American compulsion to see all of life (and death) in the simplistic terms of sports and games has a lot to answer for.… Read more »

R.I.P. Arthur Penn 1922-2010

This review of Night Moves appeared in the May 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. [September 11, 2009 postscript: Having just reseen Night Moves for the first time since it came out, I think it holds up remarkably well, in terms of its script and direction and almost uniformly fine performances. There's also some additional interest now in seeing Melanie Griffith in her first credited performance and James Woods, less impressive, in one of his earliest after Elia Kazan discovered him for The Visitors. As for Alan Sharp, it would appear that his filmography (which also includes The Hired Hand and Ulzana's Raid) warrants further investigation -- as does Jennifer Warren's.]—J.R.

U.S.A., 1975
Director: Arthur Penn

Cert—X. dist—Columbia-Warner. p.c—Hiller Productions/Layton. p—Robert M. Sherman. assoc. p—Gene Lasko. p. manager—Thomas J. Schmidt. asst. d—Jack Roe, Patrick H. Kehoe. sc—Alan Sharp. ph—Bruce Surtees. col—Technicolor. underwater ph—Jordan Klein. ed—Dede Allen, Stephen A. Rotter. p. designer—George Jenkins. set dec—Ned Parsons. sp. effects—Marcel Vercoutere, Joe Day. m/m.d—Michael Small. titles—Wayne Fitzgerald. sd. ed—Craig McKay, Robert Reitano, Richard Cirincione. sd. rec—Jack Solomon. sd. re-rec—Richard Vorisek.… Read more »