Written for the February 2013 issue of Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, as one of my bimonthly columns for that magazine (“En movimiento”). It continues to amaze me how American movies who preach the inescapable inevitability of corruption in American life — Citizen Kane, the Godfather films, and now Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty — are invariably regarded as more profound and much likelier to wind up as Oscar fodder than those that are less resigned to accepting corruption. — J.R.
Two inordinately praised big-studio releases of the holiday season, Lincoln and Argo, seem to depend in part on the innocence of the American audience in order to score their ideological successes. The first of these, a high-minded art movie, starts with a familiar subject, while the second –- which, I must confess, I’ve only sampled — incorporates the relative unfamiliarity of Iranian culture as part of its action-thriller mechanics. That both films have been overpraised seems hard to dispute; “Long after its commercial run, Lincoln will remain an invaluable teaching tool,” Joe Morgenstern declared characteristically in the Wall Street Journal, while Rex Reed, no less typically in the New York Observer, called Argo, “A movie that defines perfection.… Read more »
That’s me on the extreme right, next to my new boss at the time, Richard Combs. The address is 81 Dean Street, the main headquarters at the time of the British Film Institute. I’d started my new job there as assistant editor of Monthly Film Bulletin on August 5, working under Richard, and had joined the staff’s trades union, ASTMS, around the same time. But only a week or so later, after the National Film Archive’s acting curator, Kevin Gough-Yates, was summarily sacked, I attended my first union meeting, and seconded the motion that we go on strike to protest management’s refusal to follow proper procedures.
Our strike lasted a couple of weeks, and, as I recall, it was mainly successful. For me, it was an ideal way to get to know many of my fellow staffers at the BFI, and I also successfully collared Otto Preminger, emerging from an editing studio next door, where he was working on Rosebud, to sign our petition. (I had watched a morning’s shoot on Rosebud in Paris a month or so earlier and had been part of Preminger’s lunch party, so he remembered me.) According to Geoffrey Nowell-Smith in The British Film Institute, the government and film culture, 1933-2000, a recent book from Manchester University Press that he coedited and partially wrote (which is where this photo comes from), “Preminger sent a message from his suite at the Dorchester Hotel”.… Read more »
Written in mid-February 2013 for the publication of the Chinese edition of James Naremore’s Acting in the Cinema, which was scheduled for publication in China in 2014, although I’m not sure whether it’s ever been published there. (I still haven’t been paid for it.) This is the second Introduction I’ve written for a Chinese translation of a Naremore book; my previous one was for More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts. — J.R.
In film criticism, acting tends to be the most neglected single aspect of cinema — one that’s especially difficult to describe and also easy to confuse with other skills and effects in filmmaking, to cite only two of the reasons for its neglect. Often not knowing whose creativity and whose creative decisions are the most relevant, we easily become confounded over issues of intentionality, agency, credit, and defining precisely what it is that we’re responding to, which becomes all the more difficult due to the mythological auras that surround famous actors.The few times that I’ve tried to write about actors myself in any detail, such as Kim Novak, Marilyn Monroe, Eric von Stroheim, and Charlie Chaplin, I’ve concentrated mainly on those auras, and in the case of the latter two, I’ve even found it hard to separate their acting from their writing and directing.… Read more »
My 30th “En Movimiento” column for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, formerly known as the Spanish Cahiers du Cinema, written in late January, 2013. — J.R.
The debates about Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s Zero Dark Thirty in the United States have been substantial. Critical positions have ranged from Ignatiy Vishnevetsky’s measured defense at mubi.com/notebook/posts to Steve Coll’s attack in The New York Review of Books (to cite two of the less hysterical and more intelligent responses), and have only been exacerbated by the five Academy Award nominations the film has received. When I finally saw the film myself, it was apparent that part of the controversy derived from a certain ambiguity in the film’s depiction of torture, made all the more ambiguous by the filmmakers’ misleading and mainly unconvincing claims of political neutrality — a battle still being waged in the February issue of Sight and Sound, where Nick James, the editor of that English monthly, begs to differ with the negative judgments of two of his writers towards the film, even though he concedes that Bigelow’s naïve contention that “The film doesn’t have an agenda, and it doesn’t judge” has only helped to confuse matters. I agree with James that the climactic killing of Osama bin Laden registers largely as a hollow and morally dubious victory, but I also believe that the film’s commercially motivated attempt to be circumspect about its overall critical position makes it easy to misinterpret.… Read more »