Posted on Film Comment‘s blog, November 16, 2012. — J.R.
Much as Godard’s special brand of cultural tourism quickly became a dominant influence at international film festivals half a century ago, the literal tourism of the late Chris Marker became a major reference point in many of the edgiest offerings at the Viennale, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Fittingly, the last to date of the festival’s annual commissioned one-minute trailers, 19 of which were just issued on a DVD, was by Marker himself — a somewhat jaundiced view of the “perfect” film viewer as sought by Méliès, Griffith, Welles, and Godard, eventually and rather sadly achieved in the sad figure of Osama bin Laden watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on a TV set.
Marker’s more benign influence was especially evident in Jem Cohen’s magisterial Museum Hours, a luminous mix of fiction and essay set in Vienna itself, where it takes the form of a casual friendship developing between a guard at the Kunsthistorisches Art Museum (played by Bobby Sommer — a familiar and friendly Viennale presence, who has worked for many years at its guest office) and a Canadian tourist (Mary Margaret O’Hara) who arrives to visit a dying cousin and turns up at the museum.… Read more »
Fresh from one of the my favorite boutique labels, Twilight Time, comes the Blu-Ray of Jean Negulesco’s opulent, ridiculously overripe 1955 CinemaScope remake of his own 1939 The Rains Came, which I hadn’t seen since I was 13 or so — a highly enjoyable bad movie, which on some level must mean that it also qualifies as a good movie. Perhaps the most morally neutral adjective to be employed here is one of those used by Julie Kirgo, Twilight Time’s ever-industrious in-house scribe: “lurid”.
None of the characters here is ever quite believable — Lana Turner as wealthy, aristocratic maneater Lady Esketh, Michael Rennie as her self-hating cuckold husband, Richard Burton as the innocent and idealist doctor and one-time Untouchable who falls heavily for Lady Esketh, quotes Eliot and Shakespeare, and spouts profound aphorisms, Eugenie Leontovich as the urbane Maharani who raised the doctor, Fred MacMurray as a well-to-do and secretly virtuous alcoholic, Joan Caulfield as the latter’s oversheltered protégé — but every one of them is, shall we say, exceptionally vivid, and the performances are all much better than they need to be. Similarly, the special effects trotted out for the title catastrophe are worthy of Cecil B. De Mille, with Lahore, Pakistan and (I presume) various Fox soundstages standing in for Ranchipur as fearlessly as the mesmerizing White Russian refugee Leontovich pretends to be Indian, or the no less self-validating Lana Turner pretends to be candid.… Read more »
I can’t remember precisely when it was that I first met Elliott in Paris, but I’m sure it was in the early 70s, and I suspect it was the late Carlos Clarens, another Cinematheque regular, who introduced us, most likely after some Palais de Chaillot screening. It wasn’t much later when I discovered we were neighbors living a few blocks apart — me in a small, sunless flat on Rue Mazarine, Elliott in a large room stuffed with all sorts of arcane memorabilia at the Hotel de Verneuil on Rue de Verneuil. He was already a pack-rat then, especially when it came to his collection of clippings, and he continued to live that way years later when he eventually moved back to New York — first to a hotel on lower 5th Avenue, then to a roomy loft in Soho on West Broadway. It was a tragic moment for him when he had to move out of the latter place, leaving behind or giving up many of his treasured possessions (including, as I recall, a table once owned by Robert Ryan). And only a few days ago, at the Viennale, hearing about the ravages of Sandy on New York and environs, my friends and I were concerned about whether or not Elliott was okay.… Read more »
Published in Screen Dynamics: Mapping the Borders of Cinema, coedited by Gertrud Koch, Volker Pantenburg, and Simon Rothoehler and published by the Austrian Film Museum in 2012. A year later, this is already out of date in some particulars, but I haven’t attempted to update it. — J.R.
Shoals Theater, Florence, Alabama, 1948
Shoals Theater, Florence, Alabama, 2008
It’s a strange paradox, but about half of my friends and colleagues think that we’re currently approaching the end of cinema as an art form and the end of film criticism as a serious activity, while the other half believe that we’re enjoying some form of exciting resurgence and renaissance in both areas. How can one account for this discrepancy? One clue is that most of the nay-sayers tend to be people around my own age (66) or older whereas most of the optimistic ones are a good deal younger (most of them under 30).
I tend to feel much closer to the younger cinephiles on this issue than I do to the older ones. But I must admit that much of the confusion arises from the fact that the two groups typically don’t mean the same things when they use terms like “cinema,” “film,” “movie,” “film criticism,” and even “available”.… Read more »