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 »

The Lure of Crime: Feuillade’s FANTOMAS Films

Commissioned and published by Fandor in September 2010. — J.R.

Teaching silent film in the mid-1980s at the University of California, Santa Barbara, I was astonished to discover I was the first teacher there who had ever shown a film by Louis Feuillade. Sadly, there was a good reason: at that time, only one Feuillade film was in distribution in the U.S. — Juve contre Fantômas (Juve vs. Fantômas) — and few if any of my teaching colleagues had ever seen it.

My own introduction to Feuillade, one of the most memorable filmgoing experiences in my life, was attending, on April 3, 1969, a 35-millimeter projection of all seven hours of his 1918 crime serial, Tih Minh, at the Museum of Modern Art -– along with Susan Sontag, Annette Michelson, and other enrapt friends and acquaintances. Part of the shock of that experience was discovering that even though Feuillade was a contemporary of D.W. Griffith — born two years earlier, in 1873 — he seemed to belong to a different century. While Griffith reeks of Victorian morality and nostalgia for the mid-19th century, Feuillade looks forward to the global paranoia, conspiratorial intrigues, and technological fantasies of the 20th century and beyond.

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