Written for Sight and Sound (March 2017). — J.R.
WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE CASABLANCA
The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie
By Noah Isenberg. W.W. Norton & Co., 334 pp. US$27.95. ISBN 9780393243123.
Reviewed by Jonathan Rosenbaum
I’ve never been asked to select my favourite ‘guilty pleasures’ in movies, but I suspect that if I were, Gone With the Wind and Casablanca — two highly accomplished and engrossing pieces of dubious Hollywood hokum — could easily head the list. Yet it’s one of the signal virtues of Noah Isenberg’s We’ll Always Have Casablanca to suggest that the true sources of Casablanca’s popularity place it well beyond the racial and racist subtexts of Gone With the Wind.
In the case of the latter film, we have the benefit of Molly Haskell’s Frankly, My Dear (2009), a superb critical and ideological unpacking of both the Margaret Mitchell novel and the David O. Selznick blockbuster. Isenberg, an academic and a scholar more than a critic — director of screen studies and professor of culture and media at New York’s New School, and best known among cinephiles as an Edgar G. Ulmer specialist — hasn’t given us the same sort of book as Haskell, although he’s produced a volume that’s equally accessible and nearly as valuable in explaining the appeal of a popular classic.… Read more »
I’m of two minds about Brian De Palma’s Raising Cain (1992), thanks to
Arrow Video’s spiffy three-disc dual format edition—specifically, about
what’s called Raising Cain: The Director’s Cut on disc #3 (“limited edition
Blu-Ray exclusive”), “a De Palma-endorsed recreation of the film by Peet
Gelderblom, re-ordered as originally planned”.
One of my minds agrees with Gelderblom that this is a
(slightly) more satisfying edit of a film I reviewed in the
Chicago Reader as follows: “Brian De Palma’s 1992 thriller
perform stylistic pirouettes around a void, it’s full of sleek
and pleasurable moments. If I’m right about the story,
which is mainly composed out of loose pieces of Psycho
and Peeping Tom, a warped child psychologist (John
Lithgow) kidnaps his own granddaughter to avenge the
adultery of his son’s wife (Lolita Davidovich), and
frames her lover (Steven Bauer) for the crime. But
maybe I’ve got it all wrong and it’s the son’s evil twin
who’s doing the kidnapping; Lithgow also plays this
character, along with the son and other personalities
too numerous and obscure to fathom. Produced by
De Palma’s wife Gale Anne Hurd (The Abyss); with
Frances Sternhagen, Gregg Henry, Tom Bower, and
Mel Harris.… Read more »
An article commissioned by La Repubblica‘s weekly magazine D. in Italy for publication on February 1, 2017. A slight variation of this will appear as my column in Caiman Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.
I’ve never been adept at predicting the Oscars, and writing this shortly before the nominees are announced puts me at an even greater disadvantage. But the winners of the Golden Globes awards several weeks before the Academy Awards are a good indication of the overall trends in industry thinking. And the tendency in this year’s Golden Globes winners is a preference for ideological and aesthetic prestige over mainstream appeal: Moonlight for best drama, La La Land for best musical or comedy, Isabelle Huppert in Elle and Emma Stone in La La Land for best actress, Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Otherwise, La La Land broke the record for prizes by winning seven in all, including also screenplay and direction (Damien Chazelle) and original score (Justin Hurwitz).
What generalizations can one reach about all four of the aforementioned prizewinners? A preference for gloom and doom over optimism that seems quite appropriate following the recent election of the United States’ own Silvio Berlusconi, Donald J.… Read more »