Daily Archives: April 14, 2017

The Future is Here

Commissioned by BFI Publishing and published in the November 2014 Sight and Sound. This version is slightly tweaked. — J.R.

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In an amusing, satisfying, and highly persuasive rant in Time Out in 1977, J.G. Ballard took on the cultural phenomenon of  Star Wars (1977), including some of its historical and ideological consequences. Noting that “two hours of Star Wars must be one of the most efficient means of weaning your preteen child from any fear of, or sensitivity towards, the death of others”, he also reflected on the overall impact of George Lucas’s blockbuster on science-fiction movies:

“The most popular form of s-f — space fiction –- has been the least successful of all cinematically, until 2001 and Star Wars, for the obvious reason that the special effects available were hopelessly inadequate. Surprisingly, s-f is one of the most literary forms of all fiction, and the best s-f films — Them!, Dr. Cyclops, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Alphaville, Last Year at Marienbad (not a capricious choice, its themes are time, space and identity, s-f’s triple pillars), Dr. Strangelove, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Barbarella, and Solaris — and the brave failures, such as The Thing, Seconds, and The Man Who Fell to Earth, have all made use of comparatively modest special effects and relied on strongly imaginative ideas, and on ingenuity, wit, and fantasy.… Read more »

The Revolution Has Been Televised [Peter Watkins' LA COMMUNE]

From the Chicago Reader (May 17, 2002). — J.R.

La Commune (Paris, 1871)

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Peter Watkins

Written by Watkins with Agathe Bluysen and contributions from the cast members.

Some filmmakers say this is my work and I want it to stay that way. That is their right, and we respect that right. Those are the films we don’t buy, and those are the films we don’t transmit. — TV executive in The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins

I’ve been a fan and supporter of Peter Watkins for most of my life. A remarkable master technician and social visionary whose early work is filled to the brim with focused rage, he has created some of the most troubling, thought-provoking, even shattering films I know. This has helped make him persona non grata in mainstream TV and cinema and also in art houses, among academics, at festivals, and on cable TV. When his name does come up in those diverse realms, he’s often accused of being paranoid — though that hardly explains his pariah status.

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Keeping up with his work is hard even for a sympathetic critic like me, and I can’t say I know it well.… Read more »

Rock Bottom

From the June 10, 1994 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

THE FLINTSTONES

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Brian Levant

Written by Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein, and Steven E. de Souza

With John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, Rosie O’Donnell, Kyle MacLachlan, Halle Berry, Richard Moll, and Elizabeth Taylor.

When people come to see an entertainment based on another, earlier entertainment that they have affection for, there are things about it that people want to see. They want to hear Fred yell “Yabba-Dabba-Doo!” They want to hear Wilma and Betty say “Charge It!” They want to hear Dino bark “Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip” and knock Fred down and lick him silly. And we’ve done those things because we love them, too.  — Brian Levant, director of The Flintstones, quoted in the film’s pressbook

It’s quite possible that when someone writes the history of the first hundred years of movies — a period corresponding fairly closely to the 20th century — two decades of that century will be singled out as the most artistically barren: the first and the last. And the principal reasons for that barrenness may turn out to be related: in each decade film, rather than flexing its muscles as an expressive medium, was a relatively inert, inexpressive receptacle for works already fashioned, often in other media.… Read more »