Monthly Archives: April 2010

Theatrical Invention (THE FARNSWORTH INVENTION)

The Chicago production of the Aaron Sorkin play, The Farnsworth Invention, directed by Nick Bowling and playing through June 13, has the lively sort of staging, acting, and pacing that I’ve come to expect from the TimeLine Theatre Company, which presents “stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues” at their 615 W. Wellington headquarters. I discovered this company a little over year ago with the world premiere of Masha Obolensky’s Not Enough Air, also directed by Bowling, and have subsequently seen his production of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys as well, which was my first encounter with TimeLine’s remodeled, almost-in-the-round playing space. (In between these events, I also showed up for a reading of  Sophie Treadwell’s 1920s expressionist play Machinal, done as a sort of adjunct to Not Enough Air.) Neither of these follow-ups has quite equaled the sheer Wellesian bravura of the Not Enough Air production, but I can’t say that either one has ever bored me for an instant — even if the sheer energy required in the new playing space, with the actors moving their various props onstage and off with lightning-fast cues, can occasionally (if only momentarily) overwhelm certain aspects of the stories being told.… Read more »

A Forthcoming Novel by Robin Wood

The following is taken from a web site known as Robin Wood’s Blog:

As many of you are aware Robin Wood died on 18 December 2009 at the age of 78 after an exceptionally productive and engaged life. Robin’s creativity and industry were not restricted to film criticism. He also wrote novels and screenplays, which were of a piece with his film criticism, both being centrally concerned with the ways in which the current structures of society are inimical to the full flowering of people’s lives, are inimical to, indeed, Life itself, as Robin (and Dr. Leavis) defined that term in their respective writings.

Robin’s estate will be privately publishing one of Robin’s novels, the one that appears to have been most personal to him and, perhaps for that reason, the one he was proudest of. The novel will be sold by reservation, and publication is tentatively scheduled for September 2010. The novel will be published in quality paperback with an introduction by his life partner and the executor of his estate, Richard Lippe. The price has yet to be determined (although it is expected to be in the vicinity of CDN$30.00 including shipping).

For those who wish to reserve a copy of the novel, please notify either Gary McCallum or Richard Lippe as below.… Read more »

The New York Times Celebrates and Cheerfully Perpetuates Neanderthal Thinking

All of those who can find or make no meaningful distinction between the following two sentences — “The world is going to hell in a handbasket”; “America is going to hell in a handbasket” — are likely to find an article called “The Cecil B. De Mille of Movie Lists” by Stuart Miller, featured prominently in the Arts and Leisure section of today’s New York Times, precisely the sort of entertaining news that intelligent movie lovers should be paying close attention to. I’ll try to oblige them.

The article celebrates (and perpetuates) the untiring efforts of a produce clerk in Austin, Texas to list the 9,200 greatest movies ever made, a project clearly viewed by Miller as the quest of an enlightened primitive. But what could be more primitive than Miller’s own assumption that the clerk’s omission of silent films and animated films is a secondary matter, to be squirreled away in the article’s penultimate paragraph? Or, even worse, that three more minor omissions, apparently equivalent to one another in importance, and clearly even less important than silent and animated films — “documentary, made-for-TV and foreign-language films” — can be acknowledged parenthetically in a follow-up sentence?

I suppose we should all therefore assume, along with Miller and his editors, that foreign-language documentaries, silent documentaries, made-for-TV documentaries, foreign-language TV films, and foreign-language animated films (among other neglected possibilities) are omissions that aren’t even worth mentioning, even in passing, as existing categories.… Read more »

Two Films at the French Film Festival

The first still above comes from writer-director Yves Hanchar’s Sans rancune!, the second from cowriter Sophie Hiet’s and director-cowriter Julie Lopes-Curval’s Mêres et filles, also known as La cuisine and Hidden Diary. Both of these highly involving 2009 features about parents and personal legacies were shown at the French Film Festival held in Richmond, Virginia last month — a sort of pedagogical as well as cultural event presented by Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond that took place over four days (March 25-28), and where I was privileged and delighted to be a guest.

These two films certainly weren’t the only interesting things I saw at the festival. (Among the more notable items were Philippe Lioet’s touching and beautifully acted Welcome, a story about the growing bond between a Calais swimming instructor and a Kurdish teenager trying to reach a girlfriend in England illegally by swimming across the English channel — a very popular film in France that was nominated for ten Césars last year but sadly won none of them; a very eclectic essay film about motorcycle racing, kids, and movies by Pierre-William Glenn, the remarkable cinematographer who shot both Truffaut’s Day for Night and Rivette’s Out 1; and, strangest of all, Le train oú ça va…, an “intimiste” and domestic 3-D short by Jeanne Guillot, whose masters thesis for La Fémis, arguing that 3-D films need not be spectacular, was translated into English and posted on the festival’s website.) But part of what fascinated me about these two features was how well they (coincidentally) paired off together.… Read more »

Jerry Lewis, by Chris Fujiwara

From Cineaste (Spring 2010; Vol. XXXV, No. 2). Considering the continuing lack of contact between most Americans and the remainder of the world, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising to find James Wolcott still rattling on about the alleged French worship of Jerry Lewis in the September 2011 Vanity Fair — a myth addressed briefly in my second paragraph here, whose limited factual basis in fact hasn’t really been operative for almost half a century. As Lewis himself has often pointed out, his popularity in many places around the world has clearly surpassed his reputation in France. (Today, for instance, Woody Allen is immensely more popular there, with intellectuals as well as the general public  — and more popular there than he has ever been in the U.S., which has never been true with Lewis.) But presumably this cherished piece of idiocy will continue to be trotted out as long as Americans remain clueless about France and its culture and proud of its ignorance. It’s a little bit like saying, “Oh, those naughty French — ooo-la-la!” — J.R.

Jerry Lewis

by Chris Fujiwara. Urbana/Chicago: University of Illinois Press,

162 pp., illus. Hardcover: $60.00. Paperback: $19.95.

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I hope I can be forgiven for repeating an anecdote I recounted in these pages in 2004,while writing about Charlie Chaplin’s films on DVD.… Read more »

Esoterica

The year is 1921, the place Sylvia Beach’s celebrated Shakespeare and Company, publisher of the first edition of James Joyce’s Ulysees, Rue de l’Odéon, Paris. The figures, reading from left to right, are John Rodker, James Joyce, Sylvia Beach, and her younger sister Cyprian — the only one shown reading, to whom Sylvia dedicated the first edition of Ulysees.

In a review of Sylvia Beach’s letters by James Campbell in the March 19 issue of the Times Literary Supplement I learn that Cyprian “played `Belles Mirettes’ in the French silent film series Judex“. After some rummaging around, I discover that, in fact, `Miss Cyprien Giles’ played Gaby Belles Mirettes, a member of a criminal gang, in La Nouvelle Mission de Judex (1918), the only one of Louis Feuillade’s major crime serials I’ve never seen, and, according to the Internet Movie Database, appeared later in The Fortune Teller (1920), L’aiglonne (1921), and L’amie d’enfance (1922). And from Campbell’s review I learn that “she later lived with a somewhat better-known actress, Helen Jerome Eddy” (see photo below) — an actress who lived from 1897 to 1990 and who, according to the same IMDB, appeared in 130 films (not always credited) between 1915 and 1947, including The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Man’s Castle, and Bride of Frankenstein.… Read more »

HIPSTERS

This comes from my Spring 2010 DVD column in Cinema Scope, and I’m reproducing it here because this film is turning up for about a week’s run at the Gene Siskel Film Center. — J.R.

Hipsters/Stilyagi. I include the Russian as well as the English title of this big-budget, post-modernist 2008 Russian musical about teenagers, directed by Valery Todorovsky, because as far as I know, the Russian DVD, sans subtitles, is the only version available, at least on Amazon. This movie was the opening night attraction at the Tromsø International Film Festival in the northernmost reaches of Norway, which was celebrating its 20th anniversary in January, and I must confess that I didn’t expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I did, especially because it could be described with fair accuracy as the Russian equivalent of Rob Marshall at his cheesiest, set in 1950s Moscow, and is full of preposterous plot developments. But then again, shame on me, I also enjoyed watching Daniel Day-Lewis in Nine, even after loathing every minute of Chicago, so maybe you shouldn’t trust me. All I can say is that I sufficiently enjoyed Hipsters, partly for its curiosity value and partly for its sheer pizzazz — without ever imagining that it had anything to do with Russian history or the history of the musical, Russian or otherwise — to order the unsubtitled version of it from Amazon.Read more »