Monthly Archives: September 2010

A Possible Solution to a Mystery

For me, the most valuable single piece of film criticism by François Truffaut — the one that has taught me the most — is a fairly early one, “Un Trousseau de fausses clés,” about Alfred Hitchcock, that appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma no. 39, octobre 1954. I first encountered this article in an English translation (“Skeleton Keys”) that appeared in Film Culture (Spring 1964), then in Cahiers du Cinéma in English No. 2, 1966. I find it far more ingenious as well as useful as criticism than Truffaut’s over- fetishized “Une Certaine Tendance of Cinema Française,” and the part I remember best (I don’t have a copy handy, but trust my memory on this) is a detailed analysis of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt in terms of “rhyming” shots and scenes, such as the two reproduced above. Many of these visual/ thematic rhymes involve the film’s two Charlies, a serial murderer of women (Joseph Cotten) and his young and beloved niece (Teresa Wright).

This is an essay that clearly helped to spawn Godard’s own best (and most detailed) work of film criticism — “Le cinéma et son double,” about Hitchcock’s The Wrong Man – as well as the structure of doubling shots and scenes in Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau.… Read more »

An Unidentified Subject (Egoyan’s CHLOE)

I’d like to suggest that the theme of Atom Egoyan’s Chloe –- a woman’s midlife crisis –- hasn’t been identified by any of the film’s reviewers that I’ve read so far. Many of them have been calling the movie a hoot (Jim Hoberman, meet Anthony Lane) and perhaps just as many have been reaching for Fatal Attraction as their principal point of comparison and abuse. Since that crude shocker isn’t a film about a woman’s midlife crisis, I assume they’re misreading Chloe, which is easy enough to do if you’re mainly restricting the story to — that is, viewing most of it through — its bombastic penultimate scenes.

Disregarding the Anne Fontaine movie that served as this movie’s basis, which I haven’t seen, I think what’s sneaky and deliberately misleading about the story is that it starts off pretending to be a movie about a husband’s midlife crisis and then winds up as a movie about his wife’s midlife crisis. (If this constitutes a spoiler, tough luck; all I can say as a rejoinder is that comparing the movie to Fatal Attraction is a spoiler as well.) So some viewers must feel cheated.… Read more »

Videocracy

Having deliberately gone cold turkey with television since I shifted operations to Richmond, Virginia almost six weeks ago, I find it a strange experience to watch Erik Gandini’s 2009 documentary Videocracy on a small, multiregional DVD player — a hate letter of rage and disgust about Silvio Berlusconi, TV, and celebrity culture that premiered in Venice a little over a year ago and will be released on DVD in the U.S. by Lorber on September 27. (In the U.K., the DVD is being released by Second Sight.)

The reason why I’ve sworn off television, at least for the time being, is my own rage and disgust about the way that American television now caters to and encourages everybody’s rage and disgust about the state of the nation, whether this happens to be the Fox News version or the MSNBC version (the Fox News of the left), so that back in Chicago, even my respect for Rachel Maddow was getting tested nightly whenever she wound up with many of the same talking points as Keith Olbermann (or as Bill O’Reilly, for that matter). The aberration of Italian TV that’s being shown by Gandini is made to seem both better and worse: better because it seems more infatuated with euphoric and unabashedly childish fantasies, and worse because so many of these fantasies seem to consist of vulgar and sexist wet dreams of male empowerment.… Read more »

DEAD MAN in 2010: A Czech Preface

This was written in September 2010 to introduce the Czech translation and edition of my book about Dead Man (BFI, 2000). — J.R.

During the fifteen years that have passed since Jim Jarmusch’s sixth and most ambitious feature premiered in Cannes, it’s been gratifying to see its critical reputation steadily rising, especially in the U. S.And during the last two-thirds of this period, after this book made its first appearance, I’ve been pleased to see its constituency growing. It has subsequently had a second edition in English, which appeared in 2008, and a French translation, by Justine Malle, published by Les Éditions de la Transparence in 2005. Now that it’s coming out in a Czech edition, it’s worth mentioning (but not dwelling too much on) the fact thatJarmusch’s paternal grandparents were Bohemian, although they never spoke any Czech in his presence. (He also told me, with some hesitation, that his mother’s parents may have been Irish; he isn’t even sure about this.) I was in Cannes in 1995, and the several walkouts during the picture that I witnessed were hardly unprecedented, especially for a demanding film of this kind at this festival. But for many years afterwards, the film qualified as a film maudit, and not only because its own American distributor, Miramax, appeared to want it to fail, after it became clear that Jarmusch had no intentions of following any of its suggestions for re-editing (specifically, those of Harvey Weinstein) — an attitude in striking contrast to that of Weinstein protégé Quentin Tarantino, misleadingly identified as an independent filmmaker, who seemed quite happy to forego final cut in exchange for getting Weinstein’s unlimited support.… Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Assorted Lessons from the Past and Present

My DVD column in Cinema Scope 44, Fall 2010. — J.R.

 

1. A confession

Since retiring from my job as a weekly reviewer in early 2008, I’ve been discovering that I usually prefer watching mediocre films of the past (chiefly from the 30s through the 70s) to watching mediocre films of the present — unlike some of my former readers, who irrationally conclude that I’ve stopped writing about movies because I no longer work for the studio airheads in implementing their latest ad campaigns. That is, I no longer train most of my attention on contemporary industry releases, as I was obliged to do for the preceding 20 years, because, in keeping with Raymond Durgnat’s apt observation that dated films sometimes have more to teach us than “timeless” classics, I’m looking for stuff I can chew on. (Try to imagine what literary criticism would be like if most or all of its practitioners decided that 2010 publications currently on sale at K-Mart comprised the bulk of all the literature ever published that was worthy of our close attention.)

demetrius-and-the-gladiators-ad

This is why, for instance, I wound up picking up a copy of Delmer Daves and Philip Dunne’s sequel to The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954), at a video store in Córdoba, Argentina in late July (although, as I later discovered, I could have picked it up on Amazon for roughly the same price): not because it’s any sort of masterpiece (though it’s probably a better movie than The Robe), but because I find it interesting from multiple vantage points, e.g., as one more example of Daves’ interracial utopianism (as also found in, say, Broken Arrow and Bird of Paradise a few years earlier), for the juxtaposition of Susan Hayward’s  blood lust as Messalina with the virginal purity of Debra Paget as Lucia (mysteriously sustained even by her catatonia after Richard Egan tries to rape her), and for various rhyme effects between Michael Rennie’s Klaatu in The Day the Earth Stood Still and his Peter the Fisherman in both The Robe and Demetrius.… Read more »