Yearly Archives: 2015

My favorite end-of-the-year poll

http://ojosabiertos.otroscines.com/la-internacional-cinefila-2015-las-mejores-peliculas-del-ano/

And here’s my own contribution, in English:

 

In order of preference:

Son-of-Saul-2015

1. Son of Saul (László Nemes)

jauja

2. Jauja (Lisandro Alonso)

Ex-Machina

3. Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

I-DALIO

4. I, Dalio — or The Rules of the Game (Mark Rappaport)

Journey to the East

5. Journey to the West (Tsai Ming-liang)

 

The adjectives used by Manohla Dargis to describe Son of Saul from Cannes — “radically dehistoricized” and “intellectually repellent” — pinpoint my own responses to The Hateful Eight, which proposes that we be entertained by a treatment of the human race as garbage to be gleefully fed into a garbage disposal, and I can’t even bring myself to sample the genocidal pleasures of the latest Star Wars spin-off. This year, I’ve refrained from participating in most end-of-the-year movie polls because I no longer feel either qualified or inclined to “keep up” with the industry’s market choices, but I feel that the art and moral intelligence of cinema as represented by my five choices are as vibrant as ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 … Read more »

Introduction to the Iranian Edition of MOVIE MUTATIONS, edited by Jonathan Rosenbaum & Adrian Martin

Reposted in order to include the cover of  Iranian edition (at the beginning), published today (on October 17, 2015), and Adrian’s latest books (at the end). — J.R.

Movie Mutations in Farsi

Revue trafic t.24: Revue Trafic

movie_mutations

Movie Mutations Spanish edition cover

 

May 19, 2014

Dearest Adrian,

I guess it must seem excessive, starting off a book composed largely of letters with yet another letter –- and rounding off a neat dozen of them with an unlucky thirteenth in the bargain. Skeptics who might find the following correspondence too chummy and cozy for comfort are apt to be equally or even more irritated by this Preface, but I can’t see any way out of this dilemma. And the same problem has applied to subsequent translations of these letters, originally written in four separate languages, into five others—Croatian, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, and now Persian—and often accompanied or followed by new letters by younger (or older) cinephiles with different tastes and orientations.

Considering that the first and last of the dozen letters by nine individuals that follow, written respectively in April 1997 and March 2002, are already mine, what could I hope to add in an introduction to make them more user-friendly to the world   outside our artificially constructed little circle? To which someone -– meaning any reader –- might reply, “Well, for starters, you might try addressing the reader outside this circle.” And of course I could –- but only at the cost of diluting the spirit of friendship and intimacy now bridging eight languages and over a dozen countries, a kind of togetherness that this exercise was intended to foster.Read more »

Review of THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD

Written for the Fall 2015 issue of Film Quarterly. — J.R.

The Writers jacket

The Writers: A History of American Screenwriters and

Their Guild by Miranda J. Banks

 

This is clearly a creditable, conscientious, intelligent, and

useful book, but I feel obliged to confess at the outset that

I don’t feel like I’m one of its ideal or intended readers. The

subtitle loosely describes its contents, but “A Business

History of Hollywood Screenwriters and Their Guild

would come much closer to the mark, even if it might make

the book less marketable to me and some others. And the

unexceptional simplification of the title and subtitle is part of

what gives me some trouble: it’s the business of Hollywood,

after all, to convince the public that “American screenwriters”

and “Hollywood screenwriters” amount to the same

thing. And the moment that any meaningful distinction

between the two collapses, then the studios, one might argue,

have already won the battle.

 

I don’t expect my own bias about this matter to be shared

by many of Film Quarterly’s readers. Writers who blithely

and uncritically toss about terms like “Indiewood” designed

to further mystify the differences between studio work and

independent work probably don’t think they’re working for

the fat cats, but from my vantage point as a journalist who

thinks that these distinctions deeply matter, they’re the worst

kind of unpaid publicists.… Read more »

Unpublished Letter to the New York Review of Books [June 24, 2015]

To the Editors:
After Django
I’m very grateful to Adam Shatz for drawing my attention to Tom Perchard’s After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France [NYR, July 9] and for offering, along with Perchard, a provocative and useful introduction to a neglected subject. But I was brought up short by the following grotesque sentence: “[André] Hodeir eventually gave up jazz criticism to write novels for children.” In fact, this collapses and distorts a phrase from Perchard: “From the beginning of the 1970s to his death in 2011, Hodeir would devote himself to writing novels and children’s books, often with a musical theme.”
Anna-Livia-Plurabelle
TheWorldsofJazz
Indeed, to account for the two or three books for children and the half-dozen or so books of fiction that Hodeir published at the end of his career, and the singular evolution and development this represented from his former jazz composing, one has to factor in not only his last collection of jazz criticism in English, The Worlds of Jazz, but also his last two major musical works, Anna Livia Plurabelle (which is discussed over five pages by Perchard, but which Shatz fails to mention) and Bitter Ending, each drawn from and built around passages from Finnegans Wake. … Read more »

Remembrance of Things Passed: Some Reflections about Moral Agency and Global Synchronicity

Written for Volume 34,  Number 3,  Issue No 135 of the Winnipeg-based Canadian arts journal Border Crossings in Fall 2015 (see below).  — J.R.

 

I’m frequently troubled these days by the growing absence of global perspectives in what passes for news and other forms of mainstream discourse in the U.S. — the perpetually shrinking definitions of what we mean by ‘we’.  A good many of the congealed stereotypes of foreign cultures that crop up in both Hollywood blockbusters and Internet chatter — ranging from the notion that ‘the French’ are crazy about Jerry Lewis to the pop images we still have of Latinos, Italians, Russians, Arabs, and Asians in SF blockbusters whenever ‘the world’ has to be represented — can paradoxically be traced back to the 50s and 60s, when the Cold War and all of its most rigid either/or assumptions were still in force. One might suppose that the combined resources of the Internet and digital viewing would widen our cinematic and other cultural reference points rather than shrink them. But the tendency of even respectable, adult media pundits to speak about ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in the world at large suggests a metaphysics tailored to the dimensions of a Star Wars saga or a video game, where the cultural givens plunge back even further into the mythical past: Flash Gordon serials and Triumph of the Will from the mid-1930s, Roy Rogers Westerns and airborne World War 2 epics of the mid-1940s.… Read more »

On a Particular Literary Blind Spot

Bellow book jacketI’m very glad that I recently purchased Saul Bellow’s collected nonfiction — a handsome, interesting, and useful book, even if I tend to regard Bellow as the most overrated of all the “major” contemporary American novelists (certainly talented and smart, but not terribly interesting when it comes to formal inventiveness). And among the many valuable discoveries to be made here is the fact that Bellow served as a film critic for the magazine Horizon in 1962-1963, a stint which yielded four separate columns –  on Morris Engels’ Lovers and Lollipops, on Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana, and two think pieces, “The Mass-Produced Insight” (which quotes from his pal Manny Farber) and “Adrift on a Sea of Gore” (mostly about Richard Fleischer’s Barrabas).

I was especially interested in Bellow’s appreciative remarks about Buñuel. But here is where the attentions of his otherwise careful editor,  Benjamin Taylor, come up woefully short. Listing some of the more notable items in Buñuel’s filmography, Bellow comes up with two very puzzling titles, The Roots (1957) [sic] and Stranger in the Room (1961) [sic]. The second of these, which he discusses in some detail, sounds like he might be thinking of La Fièvre Monte à El Pao (1959), while the first is most likely La Mort en Ce Jardin (1956).… Read more »

THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN

Written for Sight and Sound on August 5, 2015. — J.R.
The-Day-I-Became-A-Woman
The-Day-I-Became-A-Woman-bikes2
The-Day-I-Became-A-Woman-beach2
The Day I Became a Woman (2000)
Marziyeh Meskini’s first feature, shot exclusively in exteriors on gorgeous Kish island in Iran, tells three successive tales of rebellious female empowerment at separate ages: Havva enjoys sharing tamarind pulp and a lollipop with a male friend a few hours before she turns nine and officially loses her freedom by becoming a woman. Ahoo fiercely pedals her bicycle with other women while her husband and other male relatives on horses try to restrain her. Houra, a dowager, buys a beach full of home furnishings at a nearby mall and has them hauled out to sea. All three tales are both allegorical and sensual, and the leisurely pacing of the first is followed by the constant motion of the second. The Surrealist deconstruction of domestic space in the third brings all three characters together, and once again turns the censorship rules into creative opportunities.   (Jonathan Rosenbaum)
The-Day-I-Became-A-Woman4
TheDayIbecame-5
TDIBAW_06Read more »

Jazz Goes to the Movies (at Il Cinema Ritrovato)

Today at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, Ehsan Khoshbakht and I launch our “Jazz Goes to the Movies” program, and reproduced below are our catalogue descriptions of what we’ll be showing. — J.R.

Jazz Goes to the Movies

Now that jazz is no longer assumed to be automatically synonymous with decadence and the forces of darkness, it can finally be experienced and evaluated on its own terms, and we can begin to look back on a century-long partnership of jazz and film with a certain objectivity. Both are relatively new arts roughly contemporaneous with the 20th century, having grown out of socially disreputable origins and having fought for serious recognition.

Jammin the Blues Prez
Part of this partnership has yielded the “jazz film,” a subgenre basically devoted to the recording of performances. But there are also successful collaborations between the expressive possibilities of jazz and film. And the ways in which jazz has been used in movies invariably tells us a great deal about the social, ethnic, aesthetic, and cultural biases of diverse societies and periods. The various responses of film producers to integrated jazz groups in the thirties, forties, and fifties, provide a kind of thumbnail social history. Sometimes black musicians were forced to play off-screen while white stand-ins mimed their solos and sometimes white musicians were kept in the shadows to appear black.… Read more »

A Few Further Reflections on GREED (as seen on TCM, 6/14/15–6/15/15)

Greed2

I hadn’t originally intended to watch this film again, for the umpeenth time, when it was shown late last night on Turner Classic Movies, but as soon as I noticed the exquisite tinting and the (uncredited but fabulous) music score on the print they were showing, I couldn’t resist. (Apparently — or at least hopefully — the same print is available for online viewing.)

Greed-Trina asleep

I can’t think of another film in the history of cinema in which hands are more expressive, in a multitude of ways — a motif that may be even more telling than the gradual evolution of Mac and Trina’s wedding photo, half of which eventually becomes the wanted poster for Mac’s arrest.

greed-biting hands

Greed-Xmas

Too much of the writing about Greed (mine included) has been concentrated on the legend of the filming and the subsequent cutting and not enough about what remains, entirely visible and triumphant, in what remains and is fully visible.

A lot has been written about the relationship between the fates of Greed and The Magnificent Ambersons in terms of their eviscerations, and not enough about the major differences between the ways that they’re edited in their surviving forms.(Perhaps the most neglected but significant common point between the films is the unerring sense of camera angles in the staging of both films.) I’ve never pointed this out before, but June Mathis’s editing of the release print is both sensitive and masterful, not only as storytelling but as a way of paring down and concentrating the original to a conventional length.… Read more »

A Memorable Evening (Upgraded)

I was privileged to conduct a lengthy public interview with Oja Kodar Saturday night, May 9, in Woodstock, Illinois, as the main event in a weekend devoted to Orson Welles — the first of three successive celebratory Welles weekends to be held there this month. Oja, as always, was passionate, candid, funny, lucid, informative, and perceptive about Welles, but I’ve never seen her in public speak with so much warmth and insight. The whole event was recorded, and I hope everyone will get a chance to watch it at some point. — J.R.   [5/11/15]

Two weeks later, after returning from a second very enjoyable weekend of Welles events in Woodstock, I’ve added a few more photos of the May 9 event, including two taken by Peter Gill shortly beforehand which show Oja with her great niece Biljana and her sister Nina as well as me. — J.R. [5/24/15]

 

OjaKodar&JR+family

OK&family

JR+OK2

JR&OK3

JR-OKRead more »

Orson Welles in the 21st Century

 Published in the Spanish newspaper El mundo as “El maverick impredecible” on May 1, 2015. — J.R.

Having some historical perspective on changing fashions in film taste is never easy, but it becomes necessary if one is to understand the fluctuating meanings of the career of Orson Welles. Just as one needs to recall a time in the early 20th century when the crime serials of Louis Feuillade such as Fantomas and Les Vampires were regarded with utter scorn by sophisticated cinephiles, and a time in the mid-20th  century when Alfred Hitchcock was still considered an entertainer but not an artist, we have to consider that during the half-century constituting the career of Orson Welles, his audience swerved repeatedly back and forth between regarding him as a mainstream star and viewing him as an esoteric artist. Although the tendency to see him as a maverick has been constant, the issue of where he belongs as a maverick has never been entirely resolved.

 

Even before Citizen Kane, when at age 23 he appeared on the cover of Time magazine (1938) for his work in theater and as a radio actor, and shortly before he began a weekly radio series of his own, he already had the profile of a boy genius full of imagination and mischief, a reputation that was only enhanced about half a year later when he fooled part of his radio audience into believing, through an unorthodox adaptation of H.G.… Read more »

Recommended Viewing: Mark Rappaport’s I, DALIO (OR THE RULES OF THE GAME)

In order to see Mark Rappaport’s brilliant new video about the life and career of French/Jewish character actor Marcel Dalio (2015, 33 min.), you have to take out a trial subscription to Fandor, as I did, but I can assure you it’s well worth the trouble. As in his classic features Rock Hudson’s Home Movies and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (go here for an interview with Rappaport about the latter), both also available on Fandor, but this time with the use of an another actor who’s heard but not seen, Rappaport takes us on a fictional tour through an actor’s career, albeit one supported by a great deal of research and careful film-watching, that proposes some enlightening ways of reinventing how we watch movies, teaching and hugely entertaining us at the same time. Mark’s own accurate  synopsis of what he’s doing, reproduced below, is taken from the web site of a film festival held in the Canary Islands — one of the many festivals where the film has already shown or will be shown later this year. — J.R. [4/26/15]

 

I, Dalio - Or The Rules OF The Game (Subsección Ensayos)

Synopsis 

Are you defined by other people and their perceptions of who you are? Or can you exist  outside of the arbitrary boundaries which are placed on you?… Read more »

Speech by Pere Portabella (part three)

Four years ago, I requested and received authorization from Pere Portabella to publish in English translation two lengthy texts of his — a lecture that he gave in 2009 when he was awarded an honorary doctoral degree by the Universidad Autónoma of Barcelona and the even lengthier (over twice as long) “Prologue” he wrote and published for Mutaciones del Cine Contemporáneo (2010),  the Spanish translation of Movie Mutations: The Changing Face of World Cinephilia (2003), which I coedited with Adrian Martin. The first of these was an unsigned English translation that Nicole Brenez sent to me; the second was a makeshift translation hastily but generously done by two of Rob Tregenza’s students at Virginia Commonwealth University, Daniel Schofield and Caleb Plutzer.

The original plan was for both of these pieces to appear in the online journal Lola, but for a variety of reasons, this didn’t pan out, and both these texts were recently returned to me. For now, I am opting to reproduce the translation of the speech in three consecutive installments. — J.R.

 

pereportalla

II

In the early eighties, a significant about-face took place, especially in the European Union and the United States. All of the avant-garde movements’ residual ideas, or those protected under that name, were driven out, as the need for a unique form of politically correct, artistically appropriate thought was ushered in, and anything that smacked of “deconstruction” was swept away.… Read more »