Monthly Archives: September 2014
Written for Sight and Sound‘s documentary film poll in their September 2014 issue, and posted online with partial corrections (and some new errors, such as spelling James Benning’s RR “Rr”) yesterday. Two unfortunate differences between my ten-best list and the one they published on paper is (1) the exclusion (through an oversight) of my 9th selection, Peter Thompson‘s Universal Hotel/Universal Citizen (although online they now list only Universal Hotel and exclude Universal Citizen) and (2) my specification that I was referring only to the French version of Rossellini’s India — a version that I vastly prefer to the Italian version, though more as fiction than for any “documentary” reasons (which applies to most or all of my other choices). This gives an added truth to James Benning’s own bold contribution to the same poll, well worth quoting in full: “Titanic (Cameron). This is my only vote: an amazing document of bad acting. And, I might add, all films are fictions.” – J.R.
There are documentary filmmakers who plant their stakes within existing traditions and those for whom cinema has to be reinvented. Claude Lanzmann clearly belongs in the latter category. Of course cinema already had to exist in order to allow Lanzmann to make Shoah (1985) — named after the Hebrew word for annihilation — but he also had to rethink what cinema could be.… Read more »
Written in September 2014 for my December “En movimiento” column in Caimán Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
Last September, I ordered from Amazon a three-disc DVD box set released by Lionsgate called Big History consisting of 17 episodes lasting almost seven and a half hours. My curiosity was spurred by an article by Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times Magazine about billionaire Bill Gates enthusiastically discovering this package — a college course taught by Australian professor David Christian — while working out in his private gym, and then deciding to use this TV series to try to revolutionize the teaching of history in both American high schools and colleges.
To my amazement, and in spite of all my qualms, Big History proves to be one of the most exciting things I’ve seen this year — not as moral instruction or as a technical tour de force (unlike Steven Knight’s Locke, which resurrects the heroism of the great Westerns, or Godard’s Adieu au langage, which reinvents 3-D) and not as distilled and hallucinatory poetry (unlike Pedro Costa’s Horse Money), but as a series of lucid pedagogical lessons, especially welcome for someone like me who has always been weak in science.… Read more »