Daily Archives: May 21, 2017

Potent Pessimism [on Cy Endfield]

From the Chicago Reader (July 10, 1992). For more on Endfield, see Brian Neve’s excellent new biography, The Many Lives of Cy Endfield: Film Noir, the Blacklist, and Zulu, as well as my subsequent Reader article about him and my essay “Pages from the Endfield File,” which grew out of the preceding two pieces and is reprinted in my 1997 collection Movies as Politics. This particular piece has been upgraded in terms of illustrations. — J.R.

FILMS BY CY ENDFIELD

The role of a work of art is to plunge people into horror. If the artist has a role, it is to confront people — and himself first of all — with this horror, this feeling that one has when one learns about the death of someone one has loved. — Jacques Rivette in an interview, circa 1967

Cyril Raker Endfield, who will turn 78 this November, is the sort of filmmaker auteurist critics like to call a “subject for further research.” To the best of my knowledge, he has directed 21 features — the first 7 in the United States between 1946 and 1951, the remainder in England, continental Europe, and South Africa between 1953 and 1971 — and worked on the scripts for most of them, as well as on the scripts of two Joe Palooka films (apart from the two he directed), a Bowery Boys picture (Hard Boiled Mahoney, 1947), Douglas Sirk’s Sleep My Love (1948), a prison picture called Crashout (1955), Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1958), and Zulu Dawn (1979), a sort of prequel to Endfield’s only hit, Zulu (1964).… Read more »

Introduction to DISCOVERING ORSON WELLES

Written in late 2006 and published in Discovering Orson Welles the following year. — J.R.

Discovering Orson Welles

The process-oriented methods that permitted at least four Welles features and a number of short works to be left unfinished are easier to understand than they would be if we adopted the mental habits of producers, which is exactly what more and more critics today seem to be doing; but that is no comfort to those of us eager to understand, and eager as critics always are to have the last word, which we are not about to have with this filmmaker. At least our direction, as always, is laid out for us: as long as one frame of film by the greatest filmmaker of the modern era is moldering in vaults, our work is not done. It is the last challenge, and the biggest joke, of an oeuvre that has always had more designs on us than we could ever have on it.

Bill Krohn’s cautionary words in Cahiers du cinéma’s special “hors série” Orson Welles issue in 1986 offer a useful motto for the present collection of essays, whose own title, Discovering Orson Welles, suggests an ongoing process that necessarily rules out completion and closure — the two mythical absolutes that Welles enthusiasts and scholars seem to hunger for the most.… Read more »

A Radical Idea [HALF NELSON & THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED]

From the Chicago Reader (September 15, 2006). — J.R.

Half Nelson

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Ryan Fleck | Written by Anna Boden and Fleck | With Ryan Gosling, Shareeka Epps, Anthony Mackie, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Karen Chilton, and Tina Holmes

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Kirby Dick | Written by Dick, Eddie Schmidt, and Matt Patterson

Half Nelson is open about its radical politics — remarkable at a time when most mainstream movies are being marketed as apolitical. But of course most movies have biases, the most common of which is a belief that the world can be meaningfully divided into good guys and bad guys. The real issue isn’t whether there’s pure good or pure evil in the world, as Bush keeps insisting. It’s whether we’re willing to view the world as nuanced and complex. If as Americans we believe we’re the good guys regardless of what we do — even if that includes torturing and killing as many innocent people as we deem necessary to defeat the bad guys — then we’re more likely to lose sight of what’s actually being done. It’s not hard to conclude that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are bad guys, but when Americans helped arm them both did that make us bad guys too?… Read more »