From The Cine-Files, Spring 2012, issue 2. — J.R.
What for you makes the French New Wave such an exciting topic to study? Or… Is the French New Wave still an exciting topic to study? What can moviegoers of the 21st century take away from French New Wave films?
For me, the greatness of the French New Wave stemmed directly from the fact that it was the first comprehensive film movement spearheaded by film critics who were well versed in film history — an education that came about specifically through the efforts of Henri Langlois, the cofounder and director of the Cinémathèque Française in Paris, a very inspired and creative film programmer. And this was a critical appreciation that became closely tied to their filmmaking, not so much as a series of hommages as a kind of critical understanding. I’m not talking about tips of the hat to favorite movies or moments in movies, which is what we usually get in Woody Allen, Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Coppola, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, and Quentin Tarantino; I’m talking about critical insights that change our sense of the movies.
Not all of the French New Wave filmmakers were critics or writers—the most notable exceptions that come to mind are Jacques Demy, Alain Resnais, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, and Agnès Varda (and perhaps, reluctantly, one could add Louis Malle to this list)—but I think it would be safe to say that all of them had a critical grasp of film history thanks to the programs of Langlois, and this critical grasp of film history is plainly visible (and audible) in their films.… Read more »
From the Spring 2012 issue of Cinema Scope. Some of the facts here may be out of date, so prospective customers should proceed with caution. — J.R.
The arrival on DVD of Jean-Pierre Gorin’s three solo features — Poto and Cabengo (1980), Routine Pleasures (1986), and My Crasy Life (1992) — has been long overdue, and it’s possible that part of the delay can be attributed to how unclassifiable and original these nonfiction films really are. The first of these has something to do with young twin sisters who were believed to have developed a private language between them, the second has something to do with both Manny Farber (as both a painter and a film critic) and a group of model train fans, and the third has something to do with the members of a Samoan street gang. But apart from Gorin’s presence and (quite diverse) Southern California settings, they’re very hard to describe or encapsulate, much less generalize about as a “trilogy” in any ordinary sense, which is part of their enduring fascination. (The same is true, mutatis mutandis, of Chris Marker’s Sans soleil , which roams freely across the planet, already available with La jetée  on a Criterion DVD and now out on a Criterion Blu-ray with the same materials — including terrific monologues by Gorin about both films that show how finely attuned he is to their special qualities, both as a friend of Marker and as a film essayist in his own right.) Criterion’s Eclipse has now issued all three as its 31st package, but in a refreshing departure from its usual “no-frills” format, this set includes three essays by Kent Jones — a longer one included with Poto and Cabengo about all three films, and shorter pieces with and about the other two — that are thoughtful explorations and meditations in their own right.… Read more »
Written for the StudioCanal Blu-Ray of The Trial in the Spring of 2012. — J.R.
‘What made it possible for me to make the picture,’ Orson Welles told Peter Bogdanovich of his most troubling film, ‘is that I’ve had recurring nightmares of guilt all my life: I’m in prison and I don’t know why –- going to be tried and I don’t know why. It’s very personal for me. A very personal expression, and it’s not all true that I’m off in some foreign world that has no application to myself; it’s the most autobiographical movie that I’ve ever made, the only one that’s really close to me. And just because it doesn’t speak in a Middle Western accent doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s much closer to my own feelings about everything than any other picture I’ve ever made.’
To anchor these feelings in one part of Welles’ life, he was 15 when his alcoholic father died of heart and kidney failure, and Welles admitted to his friend and biographer Barbara Leaming that he always felt responsible for that death. He’d followed the advice of his surrogate parents, Roger and Hortense Hill, in refusing to see Richard Welles until he sobered up, and ‘that was the last I ever saw of him….I’ve always thought I killed him….I don’t want to forgive myself.… Read more »
Written for the Abril 2012 issue of Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
Nick was a gambler — a gambler who often lost.
– Susan Ray in Don’t Expect Too Much
One of the paradoxes of Nicholas Ray’s legend is that in order for it to function, he can’t be regarded simply as either a Hollywood director or as a struggling maverick, but as both. Seen exclusively as the former, he becomes the faceless but coherent and competent metteur en scene of A Woman’s Secret (1949) or Flying Leathernecks (1951). Seen exclusively as the latter, he becomes the personal but incoherent auteur of We Can’t Go Home Again (1973).
A similar problem has informed the career of Ray’s most important disciple, Jean-Luc Godard, another tormented romantic widely regarded as a leftist visionary when he made La chinoise and Week End in 1967, when his work was still sufficiently close to commercial cinema to reflect some of its slickness and glamour. But following May 1968, once he deliberately divested himself of that slickness and glamour and his films had to be judged on their political insights and their political utility alone, he was no less appropriately regarded as misguided and obtuse.… Read more »