From Nashville Scene (cover story), March 10, 2011. This essay was commissioned by the late Jim Ridley, whose recent unexpected death was a grievous loss. — J.R.
In certain respects, the “Visions of the South” series of Southern
movies being launched in Nashville this week at The Belcourt deserves
to be applauded for its omissions as well as its inclusions. The most
conspicuous of these omissions is probably Robert Altman’s Nashville
(1975), which Brenda Lee once aptly described as “a dialectic collage of
unreality.” (Altman, at least, proved better at handling Mississippi —
in Thieves Like Us the year before Nashville, and in Cookie’s
Fortune a quarter of a century later.)
We all know, of course, that Hollywood and even some of its maverick
celebrities have been guilty of fostering and/or perpetuating false images
of the South from the very beginning. A few other prominent and
dubious examples might include Jean Renoir’s The Southerner
(1945), Martin Ritt’s The Sound and the Fury (1959), Richard
Brooks’ Sweet Bird of Youth (1962), Otto Preminger’s Hurry
Sundown (1967), John Frankenheimer’s I Walk the Line
(1970), and, surely the most bogus of all, Alan Parker’s
Mississippi Burning (1989), with its outlandish errors
involving both Jim Crow and the FBI, just to get started.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 20, 2002). — J.R.
Gangs of New York
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks, Steven Zaillian, and Kenneth Lonergan
With Leonardo DiCaprio, Daniel Day-Lewis, Cameron Diaz, Liam Neeson, Jim Broadbent, John C. Reilly, Henry Thomas, Brendan Gleeson, and David Hemmings.
For almost the first two-thirds of Martin Scorsese’s 168-minute Gangs of New York, I was entranced. I felt like I was watching a boys’ bloodthirsty adventure story — a blend of pirate saga, 19th-century revenge tale (three parts Dumas to one part Hugo), sword-and-sandal romp, and Viking epic poem, all laced with references to works ranging from Orson Welles’s claustrophobic Macbeth (the beginning of the prologue) to Pieter Brueghel’s spacious Slaughter of the Innocents (at the end of the prologue) and incorporating romantic touchstones from Potemkin (a stone lion), The Lusty Men (hidden possessions), Chimes at Midnight (thrusts and counterthrusts), and The Shanghai Gesture (prostitutes in hanging cages).
Scorsese once described his concept of the film as a western set on Mars, which adds two more playgrounds to the above list and helps explain the kind of historical fantasy he had in mind. I know little about New York’s early history, yet I was impressed by how thoroughly he wanted to steep me in its otherness.… Read more »