Monthly Archives: December 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 »

Another Fine Mess — A History of American Film Comedy

From Film Comment (November-December 2010). — J.R.

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Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy

 

By Saul Austerlitz Chicago Review Press, $24.95

 

As an audacious and ambitious canonizing gesture, this highly readable critical volume comes closer to Sarris’s The American Cinema than it does to Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film, if only because the author can always be counted on to have seen the work he writes about. Omissions are of course inevitable, and even though I don’t know Austerlitz’s age, I suspect that most of the lacunae I notice in the creative figures he selects for his 30 chapters and 105 shorter entries — such as Fred Allen, Danny Kaye, Martha Raye, and Red Skelton — are generationally determined for both of us; older and younger readers will come up with other missing names. But the amount that he actually covers is impressive.

Sometimes the organizational strategies get weird: the chapter on Dustin Hoffman, delving perceptively into the Jewish aspects of his persona, also manages to be a chapter about Warren Beatty. Some of the research is sloppy: Orson Welles couldn’t have “credited” The Power and the Glory as an “inspiration” if he maintained that he’d never seen it.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 »