Monthly Archives: September 2015

Unpublished Letter to the New York Review of Books [June 24, 2015]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

En movimiento: Collaborators in Croatia (Godard and Welles)

My column for Caimán Cuadernos de Cine, written on September 23, 2015. — J.R.

Viennale 2014.

 

 

OjaKodar-with-sculpture

Early last September, the first week of my visit to Croatia was occasioned by Tanja Vrvilo’s ninth annual “Movie Mutations” event in Zagreb, this time devoted to Godard. An illuminating highlight was the visit of Fabrice Aragno, Godard’s cinematographer and all-around technical assistant since Notre Musique. And my last three days in Croatia was a social visit to Oja Kodar at the Villa Welles in Primosten. Kodar was Orson Welles’ muse, companion, and major collaborator over the last two decades of his life, and, I’m proud to say, a valued friend in the three decades since then.

Both Kodar and Aragno qualify as the sort of major collaborators who complicate and even confound the sort of solid auteurist profiles that we usually associate      with both Welles and Godard — profiles that we also paradoxically associate with their uncanny capacities to engage with the creative imaginations of their viewers.  (“I like to think of myself as an airplane, not an airport.” Godard once said to me in   a 1980 interview, implying that the proper destination of one of his films is the spectator and where he or she wants to go, not Godard and his own preferred destination — and the same “open” and interactive principle applies to Welles and his own films.)

FilmSocialisme-deck2

One of the first things that Aragno said to me when I met him in Zagreb was that he doesn’t consider himself a “Godard fan” — his own aesthetic preferences were closer to Antonioni and Kiarostami — but that he loved “working with Jean-Luc”.… Read more »

Unpublished letter to Sight and Sound (9/19/15)

living-together

I’m very glad that Anna Karina’s neglected first feature, Vivre ensemble (1973), wasn’t overlooked in “The Female Gaze” (S&S, October), but I should also point out that the film isn’t quite as inaccessible as James Blackford, who couldn’t find a way of seeing it, assumes. Having been at the film’s premiere at Cannes and then having reseen it shortly afterwards in Paris, I still remembered it almost 40 years later when I selected and presented it on January 21, 2012, at Toronto’s Lightbox, as part of a series celebrating the Cannes’ La Semaine de la Critique. Seeing it again on that occasion, I found it fascinating — very brave, very personal, and also very, very 1973, in quite illuminating ways. The occasional autobiographical echoes reflecting Karina’s earlier relation to Godard only added to the fascination, and Karina herself suggested to me in a brief phone conversation that the film was badly received by the French film industry in part because the decision of a local actress to write and direct her own feature was virtually unprecedented at the time. I should add that she has written and directed a second feature, Victoria (2008), made in French Canada, that is even more obscure and inaccessible than Living Together has been; I haven’t been able to see it myself, and information about it on the Internet is extremely scarce, but I’m still hoping this situation will change.Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Mostly About Extras

My column from the Fall 2015 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

 

Practically speaking, we should invent our own extras, not necessarily or invariably depend on those that are made on our behalf. To cite four examples of what I mean:

a-marcel

a) According to normal usage, Icarus Film’s DVD of Frédéric Choffat and Vincent Lowy’s 44-minute Marcel Ophüls and Jean-Luc Godard: The Meeting in St-Gervais contains no extras. But according to my own usage, this DVD itself functions as an extra to a 100-page book that I own, Dialogue sur le cinéma: Jean-Luc Godard & Marcel Ophüls, published by Le Bord de l’Eau in 2011. That book — which is prefaced by short essays by Lowy and André Gazut and concludes with Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s essay for Le Monde, “Mon ami Godard” — transcribes two encounters between Godard and Ophüls held in 2002 and 2009 (the first of these focusing more on Marcel’s father Max), whereas the DVD includes most (but not all) of the second of these dialogues, and somehow manages to leave out some of the more interesting parts, either through cuts or incomplete subtitles. Which doesn’t mean that the Icarus release isn’t worth having, only that its contents are worth contextualizing beyond the material offered by Icarus.… 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 »