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 »

Responses to Questions about Andrei Tarkovsky from Hossein Eidizadeh in November 2015

stalker-andrei-tarkovsky

Tarkovsky

 

1. Are Tarkovsky’s movies still new (by “NEW” I mean do you find new things in recent viewing of the films or surprised by them)? Can viewers/filmmakers still learn from them?

I find that all of Tarkovsky’s films remain new and full of surprises for me. They don’t “date” at all.

 

2. Should we look at Tarkovsky movies as spiritual movies, religious movies or modern films?

I would say that they’re both spiritual and modern. If they’re also religious, I can’t easily identify them as such.

 

3. Who/what influenced Tarkovsky’s cinema and which contemporary filmmakers are influenced deeply by his cinema?

Tarkovsky’s cinema, by his own account, was influenced by his father’s poetry, and most likely by other Russian poetry as well. I haven’t reread his book Sculpting in Time recently, but I recall that he had a great deal of reverence for Dovzhenko and Bergman, among others; I don’t know whether or how much they may have influenced him directly. 

 

As for the influence of Tarkovsky on other filmmakers, I could cite Béla Tarr and, more recently, Alex Garland in his film Ex Machina, which is clearly indebted to Solaris. There are undoubtedly many others, but these are the first names that spring to mind.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.”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 »

THE HOUSE IS BLACK

The following was commissioned by and written for Asia’s 100 Films, a volume edited for the 20th Busan International Film Festival (1-10 October 2015). — J.R.

thehouseisblack-mirror

The House is Black is the most acclaimed of all Iranian documentaries. It was directed by Forough Farrokhzad (1935-1967), widely regarded as the greatest of all Iranian women poets and the greatest Iranian poet of the 20th century, who died in a car accident when she was only 32. It was Farokhzad’s only film, produced in 1962 by her lover Ebrahim Golestan (an important filmmaker in his own right, for whom she also worked as an editor, and who serves as one of the film’s narrators). The film observes the tragic life of lepers in an isolated leprosy hospital (a hell on earth and a nest of suffering and death) near Tabriz in northwestern Iran. The Society for Assisting Lepers commissioned the film, and the director’s intention was “to wipe out this ugliness and to relieve the victims.”

thehouseisblack2

Farrokhzad avoids infringement by creating a close relationship with the lepers, and by searching for the seeds of joy and vitality within the hopelessness. She depicts the inhabitants in their daily occupations, having meals, praying, the children playing ball and attending school.… 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_06
Read 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.)… 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 »