Monthly Archives: May 2010

Farewell to Dennis Hopper (R.I.P., 1936-2010)

This obviously wouldn’t be an appropriate time to revive my negative review of Hopper’s Colors in the Chicago Reader 22 years ago, which can easily be accessed by anyone who might be interested. But I’d like to reproduce a couple of short paragraphs from it about my favorite Hopper film, which I continue to cherish:

To make sure my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me, I recently took another look at Hopper’s previous film, Out of the Blue (1980). Here was proof, if any is needed, that a celebrated burnt-out case came back to establish himself as the legitimate American heir to the cinema of Nicholas Ray — a cinema of tortured lyricism and passionate rebellion that reached its fullest flower in the 50s, as if to match the action painting that was roughly contemporary with it. Hopper managed to remake Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause (the film in which Hopper made his acting debut) in terms of a working-class punk (Linda Manz), an androgynous heroine whose grim fate suggested an Americanized version of Robert Bresson’s Mouchette. Casting himself, moreover, as her dissolute father, Hopper gave himself a disturbing part that seemed to update his role as Billy in Easy Rider.… Read more »

Diane Johnson

The following was written in April 2010 for a projected volume on Stanley Kubrick that was being prepared at the time by the Chicago-based magazine Stop Smiling, who commissioned this and a few other pieces by me for it. For a variety of reasons, including the discontinuation of the magazine, the book has never appeared, and the editor, James Hughes, has recently (and very kindly) given me permission to post it here. — J.R.

The reasons given most often of why Stanley Kubrick collaborated in 1979 with this woman on the script for The Shining are confirmed by Johnson herself (in an essay about her eleven weeks of work with him, “Writing The Shining” — one of the best accounts of working with Kubrick that we have): her 1974 psychological novel The Shadow Knows, which he briefly considered adapting, and her expertise about Gothic fiction. To this one should add her sharp critical intelligence, apparent in both her fiction and her non-fiction. The latter ranges from her superb 1982 collection Terrorists and Novelists to her 1984 Life of Dashiell Hammett, and from her introductions to novels by the Bronte sisters, Stendhal, Wharton, and Voltaire to her canny 2005 guidebook Into a Paris Quartier.… Read more »

Early Silents in Oberhausen (2010) (upgraded, 5/23/10)

The first two stills below come from a couple of French films dating from 1907 and 1909, respectively, which were shown in the tenth and final program in “From the Deep,” a wonderful program at Oberhausen International Short Film Festival that’s briefly described here. The first, Le Cochon danseur (“The Dancing Pig”) is, according to Luis Buñuel, the first film he ever saw, when he was about eight years old; the second, a wild and hilarious farce largely staged on the streets of Paris, is Un Monsieur qui a mangé du taureau (“A Man Who Ate Bull Meat”).  Such is the scarcity of all these films that practically none of the stills shown here, with the possible exception of the first, can do them any sort of justice. [5/23: This article has appeared in the Turkish film monthly Altyazi, and my thanks to Gözde Onaran, my fellow juror at Oberhausen, who translated it into Turkish, for furnishing me with the still below from Médor au téléphone.] – J.R.

The time is circa noon on May 2, outside the Lichtberg Cinema at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival. Olaf Möller, one of the programmers, and an old friend — a critic who tends to favor the critically overlooked in relation to the critically overexposed, preferring Verhoven to Hitchcock, Kuleshov to Sternberg, and Saless to Kiarostami — is explaining to me why he also tends to prefer Raoul  Walsh to Howard Hawks For him, the terrain of Hawks is more limited, having more to do with the cinema itself than with the world.… Read more »

Orson Welles: The Consumerist Version

Published under a different title in the online Barnes and Noble Review (May 18, 2010). — J.R.

John Baxter’s new Foreword to the 1956 novelization of Orson Welles’s Mr. Arkadin, aptly called “No Pilot Known,” correctly discloses on its penultimate page that the novel was actually written in French by one Maurice Bessy, who adapted Welles’s original screenplay. This fact is verified by the recent recovery in France of the correspondence between Welles and Arkadin’s producer, Louis Dolivet. But none of this has prevented the novel’s latest edition, like all the previous ones, from trumpeting the name of Orson Welles as sole author on its cover.

This should come as no surprise. How can a publisher expect to sell the uncredited English translation of a French novelization of an unfinished film, especially if the novel was written by a forgotten film critic? For starters, it has to assume, contrary to Welles, that the film is (or was) finished. This is also why the Criterion box set, released in 2006, insists on calling itself The Complete Mr. Arkadin, even though Welles wasn’t able to complete any single version of it.

The task of rationalizing Welles’s idiosyncratic working methods and fractured film career in consumerist, marketplace terms has invariably led to many obfuscations.… Read more »

Recommended Viewing: THE GHOST SONATA at the Oracle

One of the joys of living in Chicago is the special quality of its scruffy storefront theater, although I must confess that during my 20 years here as a film reviewer, I took advantage of this resource only rarely, apart from a few intermittent discoveries over the years (such as the 21-year-old Theatre Oobleck, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon and savor in some of its earliest productions). More recently, since my retirement from the Chicago Reader, I’ve happily come across no less than four separate theaters of this kind in my own neighborhood so far, and over the past two Friday evenings I’ve had the pleasure of attending very impressive productions of Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan at the Strawdog (on 3829 North Broadway) and, tonight, Strindberg’s The Ghost Sonata at the Oracle just a few doors down from there (on 3809 North Broadway).

The Strawdog’s funky and entertaining version of Brecht (see above) has had the benefit of a thoughtful and passionate rave from the Reader’s Albert Williams, so the performance I attended was nearly sold out. But the Oracle’s Strindberg, despite a mainly favorable capsule in the same paper from Kerry Reid, shockingly had only seven customers at the performance I attended tonight, making us a slightly smaller crowd than the production’s able cast of eight.… Read more »