Monthly Archives: January 2016

The best DVDs and Blu-rays of 2015 (for a Sight and Sound web exclusive)

Posted on the BFI web site on January 14, 2016. — J.R.

Age is… Re:Voir Video

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Army Criterion Eclipse

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Jauja Cinema Guild

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Letter from Siberia (Blu-ray included in the Chris Marker Collection) Soda Film + Art

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Moana with Sound Kino Lorber

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Despite (or is it because of?) the disorderly quirks of commerce, ideology, and opportunity, we all occupy disparate time frames, so I’ve unapologetically cited, in alphabetical order, five imperishable films that I happened to encounter for the first time in 2015, all of them in digital editions worthy of their achievements.

Dwoskin’s last film – a satisfying conclusion to a remarkable career – comes from the same label that afforded me my first look at Marcel Hanoun’s remarkable 1966 L’authentique procés de Carl-Emmanuel Jung with English subtitles.

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Army is a wartime propaganda feature subverted into a pacifist lament, Jauja a haunting medieval western (or southern) time-bent into a luscious advance in Alonso’s art.

Letter from Siberia, even without the benefit of the French version promised on its jacket, is a delightful early essay film showing its author’s wit, literary gifts, and photojournalistic richness in optimal form, enhanced by a superb Roger Tailleur essay.

And Moana with sound is a seemingly unpromising but beautifully realized re-edition and further enrichment of the Flahertys’ early masterpiece, launched by their daughter Monica and restored by their great-grandson Sami van Ingen and Bruce Posner.… Read more »

Praxis du cinéma by Noël Burch

For its 100th issue (Winter 2o16), the French quarterly Trafic asked its contributors to select a particular book that had a formative influence on him or her. Here is my contribution. — J.R.

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I still have the original Gallimard edition, probably the most tattered and thumbed-through French book that I own, published in 1969, the same year that I moved to Paris from New York — the title missing the article (Une Praxis du cinéma) that is now found on the 1986 edition. I can even recall purchasing this book at Le Minotaure, a Surrealist bookstore on Rue des Beaux Arts, a short distance from my rented flat on Rue Mazarine, and the ridiculous advertising slip (against which Burch rightly protested), “Contre toute théorie,” that enclosed it.

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By this time, I’d already read — or at least tried to read, back in New York — earlier drafts of some of the chapters when they had appeared in Cahiers du Cinéma, and may have also read Godard’s praise of one of those chapters in one of his interviews. Due to a crippling disability in learning languages, much of which I still suffer from today, I had to read those chapters with the aid of a French-English dictionary, even though Burch’s French—the French of an American émigré — was far easier to follow than the French of Roland Barthes in Le plaisir du texte, published four years later, which eventually became my other key French text of this period.… Read more »

J.R. interviewed by James Naremore (from the latter’s AN INVENTION WITHOUT A FUTURE: ESSAYS ON CINEMA)

I’m thrilled that my favorite academic film critic, James Naremore, has finally brought out a collection of his critical and theoretical essays, and even more thrilled that its final section, “In Defense of Criticism,” includes an essay on me (along with essays on James Agee, Manny Farber, and Andrew Sarris, and extracts from Jim’s own ten-best columns for Film Quarterly between 2007 and 2010). Naremore’s essay about me ends with an email interview, and Jim has given me permission to reprint that text here. You can order his book, An Invention without a Future: Essays on Cinema — which also contains some wonderful material about Hawks, Hitchcock, Huston, Kubrick, Minnelli, and Welles, as well as about such topics as acting, auteurism, and literary adaptation — on Amazon. — J.R.

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I took advantage of my friendship with Jonathan Rosenbaum to interview him on e-mail about the practical concerns or realpolitik of working as a film reviewer. His replies give us insight into at least one corner of the world of critical journalism:

JN: As a weekly film reviewer for the Chicago Reader, were you given the word length you needed for reviews? Was there any pressure, however subtle, to review big commercial films over art films and revivals?Read more »

Debra Paget and Mark Rappaport, For Example

 Commissioned by Fandor Keyframe in late January 2016. — J.R.

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Mark Rappaport and I have been friends for well over three decades. He’s a year older than me, and even though our class and regional backgrounds differ, we’re both film freaks and film historians who grew up with the same Hollywood iconographies, for better and for worse. How these experiences might qualify as better or worse have been the source of countless friendly arguments, all the more so when they converge on the same objects of fascination — as the title of his latest video puts it, Debra Paget, For Example.

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Thirty-six minutes and thirty-six seconds long, this juicy video about the 15-year screen career of Debra Paget (1948-1963, ages 14 to 29, including a busy eight-year stretch as contract player at Fox, 1950-1957) seems at times to cover almost as much material and as much cultural ground as Rappaport’s two star-centered film features, Rock Hudson’s Home Movies  (1992) and From the Journals of Jean Seberg (1995), both of which I’ve reviewed in the past. (See www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/1992/11/rock-criticism and www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/1996/01/riddles-of-a-sphinx for specifics.) It might even be called a compendium of Rappaport’s rhetorical strategies, such as using an actor to play the star in question — as in those two features, although here only offscreen (as was also done in his brilliant recent video I, Dalio, or The Rules of the Game), with Paget voiced by Caroline Simonds — and using Rappaport’s own voice, as in another recent video, The Circle Closes.Read more »