A forthcoming column for the Spanish magazine Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
En movimiento: Welles in Woodstock
I’ve recently returned from Woodstock Celebrates Orson Welles, a delightful two-day event in Illinois (16-17 May) organized by Kathleen Spaltro and commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Todd Theatre Festival held at the Woodstock Opera House in 1934, orchestrated by Welles at the age of 19 and sponsored by his mentor and one of his lifelong best friends, Roger Hill — headmaster of the Todd School for Boys, which Welles attended from 1926 to 1930.
When Welles graduated from Todd, Hill wanted him to attend Harvard while Welles’ guardian, Dr. Maurice Bernstein (whom Everett Sloane’s character in Citizen Kane was named after), hoped he would go to Cornell. But Welles, still under the spell of an article published by one of Chicago’s leading drama critics, Ashton Stevens (who wrote for the Chicago Herald-American, a Hearst newspaper, and was the model for Jed Leland in Kane), predicting that the young genius was destined to become a major actor, didn’t want to go to college. So a compromise was struck: Welles would travel to Scotland, Ireland, and England on a sketching tour before embarking on any formal education, writing letters home to chart his progress and his adventures.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 7, 1996). — J.R.
It’s a contradiction in terms to speak of a classic avant-garde film — especially one that aims at both extreme provocation and innovation — but this rarely screened masterpiece (1951) by Jean-Isidore Isou, poet and founder of the French Lettrist movement, qualifies if anything does. Beginning, like a book, with a catalog of all the previous works by the same author, it proceeds with a lengthy account of an impassioned theoretical debate following a Paris cine-club screening, then with a love story of sorts, but the film’s narrative and dialogue are recounted almost entirely offscreen, in voice-overs; what we see is the hero walking in Paris’s Left Bank in the early 50s, eventually followed by other kinds of shots that are sometimes viewed upside down and often scratched over in various ways, making this partially an animated film. Though some of the rhetoric is dated (mainly a misogynistic rant or two, and some anti-jazz invective as objectionable as Theodor Adorno’s), the direct address to the audience via titles and commentary couldn’t be more pointed, and the passion of the whole enterprise is often breathtaking. As an indication of how influential this movie was and is in France, the last sequence of Olivier Assayas’s Irma Vep (see separate listing) would be unthinkable without its example.… Read more »
The following is Mark Rappaport’s Introduction to his new collection, The Secret Life of Moving Shadows, available now from Amazon as an e-book (in two parts, available here and here — a necessary division made in order to keep the book’s illustrations the proper size), reprinted here at my suggestion and with Mark’s permission.
I was delighted to learn, shortly after posting this, that the Criterion Blu-Ray of All That Heaven Allows, coming out in three weeks, will include Mark’s 1992 feature Rock Hudson’s Home Movies as one of the extras. — J.R.
This is a collection of essays I wrote over the last several years. If there is no unifying theme to them or a through-line, let me just say that they were all written because I wanted to write them and I felt I had something to say about each of the films or subjects or ideas that I hadn’t seen adequately dealt with elsewhere. In almost every case, the idea came to me in a flash—either inspired by something I read or while watching a movie. If there is anything that unifies them, it is my particular taste in movies and my particular and maybe even peculiar take on them.… Read more »
This was written in May 2014 for a forthcoming Italian volume about fantastique cinema between 1980 and 2010 coedited by Antonio Gragnaniello. — J.R.
Speaking to Tom Milne and Richard Combs in Monthly Film Bulletin, the director of Aspern, Eduardo de Gregorio (1942-2012), avowed that “it was never meant to be a fantastique film”— which isn’t surprising given that its source, Henry James’ novella The Aspern Papers, has no relation to that genre either. But it was regarded by several French critics as having some relation to fantastique, apparently for two reasons: because fantastique as opposed to fantasy is often regarded as a matter of style and/or atmosphere rather than content, and because the better known works of de Gregorio — such as his scripts for Jacques Rivette’s Céline et Julie vont en bateau, Duelle, and Noroît and his own Sérail and Tangos volés—clearly belong to fantastique, while his work as a whole has clear links to both the 19th century Gothic tradition and the so-called “magical realism” of 20th century Latin American literature.
Even though much of Henry James’ dialogue is carried over into Aspern (translated into French), its basic plot — an obsessive literary scholar (the narrator in James’ tale) insinuates himself into the Venice household of an aged woman cared for by her lonely spinster niece with the aim of procuring her love letters from Aspern, a long-deceased romantic poet she was once involved with — undergoes several decisive changes in de Gregorio’s version, scripted by his partner at the time, Michael Graham.… Read more »
Written in May 2014 for De Lumière a Kaurismäki: La clase obrera en el cine, coedited by Carlos F. Heredero and Joxean Fernández and published by Colección Nosferatu in 2014. — J.R.
Writing about the reception of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera in pre-Hitler  Germany, Hannah Arendt noted (in The Origins of Totalitarianism) that “The play presented gangsters as respectable businessmen and respectable businessmen as gangsters. The irony was somewhat lost when respectable businessmen in the audience considered this a deep insight into the ways of the world and when the mob welcomed it as an artistic sanction of gangsterism. The theme song in the play, “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral [First comes food, then comes morals],” was greeted with frantic applause by exactly everybody, though for different reasons. The mob applauded because it took the statement literally; the bourgeoisie applauded because it had been fooled by its own hypocrisy for so long that it had grown tired of the tension and found deep wisdom in the expression of the banality by which it lived; the elite applauded because the unveiling of hypocrisy was such superior and wonderful fun. The effect of the work was exactly the opposite of what Brecht had sought by it.”
My subject is “the presence and/or the protagonist of the working class in the American cinema of the Great Depression and the New Deal” (during the 30s and early 40s), so why am I evoking the German responses to a German play a couple of years prior to this period?… Read more »