Monthly Archives: January 2011

Thomas Frank on the government

“The government fails the people of New Orleans when they are hit by a hurricane, fails to notice the cadmium paint in the marketplace, does a lousy job educating our kids, can’t keep the libraries open or the park lawns mowed, overlooks the catastrophic shortcuts taken by its pals in the oil-drilling industry — and all we can do to express sour frustration is elect candidates who promise to hack it down even more.”

–”Servile Disobedience,” Harper’s magazine, February 2011, p. 7 [1/23/2011]… Read more »

Why I Can’t Write about THE ILLUSIONIST

I’ve been asked more than once to comment on Sylvain Chomet’s recent animated feature based on a Jacques Tati screenplay — something I’ve frankly been avoiding, for reasons that I’ll try to explain.

Last February 16, I received a very lengthy email from Richard Tatischeff Schiel McDonald, identifying himself as the middle grandson of Tati, and expressing his upset and anger about this film, which I was hearing about for the first time from him, and requesting that I make some of the information  he was conveying to me better known if I planned to write about the film. I wrote him back the next day, and a week later he wrote me again: “I must admit to finding myself in a slightly uncomfortable position in making public the origins of my grandfather’s original l’Illusionniste script which until recently had been a very private family matter. My intentions are not to discredit my grandfather but hopefully by telling what is a very sad story I can shine a light onto a neglected chapter of his life that in part led to the creation of his professional body of work. My grandmother and all his stage acquaintances during the 1930’s/40’s always maintained that he was a great colleague as a friend and artist; he unfortunately just made a massive mistake that because of the time and circumstances he was never able to correctly address.… Read more »

CHEF-D’OEUVRE?

Written for the January/February 2011 Film Comment. — J.R.

Chef-d’oeuvre?
(Luc Moullet, France)

Although ostensibly a short essay inquiring how masterpieces are identified and proclaimed in several art forms (with various apt comparisons and wry asides), this is ultimately a 13-minute defense of the short film itself—the form in which Moullet himself has created the greatest number of masterpieces (and about which he has written often as a critic, most recently in the French magazine Bref). The finale is a presentation of Méliès’ most famous short, Le Voyage dans la lune (1902), with Moullet’s own brilliant audio commentary.—Jonathan Rosenbaum

 … Read more »

DAVE BRUBECK: IN HIS OWN SWEET WAY

Written for the January/February 2011 Film Comment. — J.R.

Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way
(Bruce Ricker, U.S.) 

Ironically, the most popular American jazz musician is also one of the most undervalued among the cognoscenti. As the leading distributor of jazz documentaries (and Clint Eastwood’s jazz consultant), Bruce Ricker may be the ideal filmmaker to re-introduce Brubeck to a wider public. Although he regrettably doesn’t include a full performance of any song before the final credits, Ricker conveys what a wonderful person Brubeck is and gives a fine notion of some of the richness of his music.—Jonathan Rosenbaum
Read more »

Two Exceptional Eastern European Documentaries about the Cinema

These are two films that I encountered recently quite by chance. I came across Mila Turajlic’s Cinema Komunisto (2010), a pithy and often humorous historical account of the postwar Yugoslav film industry, because the filmmaker herself sent me a copy last month; and I just now caught up with Maximillian Schell’s My Sister Maria (2002) because my Viennese artist friend (and sometime Chicagoan) Roxane Legenstein contacted me about it just after the New Year, wondering why it hadn’t been better received in the U.S.

Let me try to answer Roxane’s query first. Just about everyone I know accepts the premise that fiction and its various trappings can be used as a legitimate vehicle in support of the truth, but there are few documentaries that test this premise quite as radically as Schell’s lovely and vibrant portrait of his aging sister, which goes even farther than Wim Wenders’ Lightning Over Water (1980), about the last days of Nicholas Ray. My Sister Maria includes many clips from Maria Schell’s acting career in both Europe and Hollywood, and some speculations about her recent mental condition as well as details about her running up so many debts that Maximillian had to sell a late Rothko painting in order to settle them all. … Read more »

O’Neill’s Next-to-Last Testament: THE ICEMAN COMETH

Published by the web site Fandor on January 4, 2011. — J.R.

It’s widely and justly believed that the two greatest plays of Eugene O’Neill (1988-1953) were both written near the tail end of his career — The Iceman Cometh, completed in 1939 and first staged in 1946, and Long Day’s Journey into Night, completed in 1941 and produced only posthumously, in 1956. What’s less widely known is that the action of both plays unfolds during the same summer, 1912, when O’Neill was 24, after having attempted to commit suicide the previous spring. As his biographers Arthur and Barbara Gelb note in their 2000 O’Neill: Life with Monte Cristo (New York: Applause), “the plays follow almost literally the chronology of O’Neill’s youthful years, with Iceman (written first) set in ‘summer 1912’ and Long Day’s Journey (which can be regarded as its sequel) set on ‘a day in August, 1912’.” (Another one of O’Neill’s finest works, and his only comedy, the 1933 Ah, Wilderness!, is also set in 1912.)

Both late masterpieces are obsessive distillations of a lifetime of brooding, with the three-hour 1962 film version of Long Day’s Journey into Night directed by Sidney Lumet and the four-hour 1973 film version of The Iceman Cometh directed by John Frankenheimer having served, for many filmgoers, as the versions of reference.… Read more »