Posted in (or on) Moving Image Source on August 18, 2010. — J.R.
“Having provided over 30 audio commentaries for DVD releases,” Australian film critic Adrian Martin wrote recently in his column for the Dutch film magazine Filmkrant, “I feel I have earned the right to criticize the format. These voice-over commentaries provided by filmmakers, critics and historians are decidedly a mixed blessing. I sometimes wonder whether anybody, except the most dedicated and/or masochistic researcher, ever listens to them all the way through. No one can doubt that these voice-tracks sometimes give us splendid insight or information that we cannot obtain elsewhere in print. But are they really the best we can do in the quest to marry film criticism with the film-object itself?”
Martin is hardly alone in articulating this position. Many of my friends who collect DVDs, maybe even most of them, avow that they tend to skip audio commentaries entirely, and it’s difficult not to share their bias In most of these run-on spiels, the remarks rarely coincide with what one is seeing (or hearing), and one often feels that the commentator, whether it’s a critic or a participant in the filmmaking, is simply taking the easy way out — doing a free-form improv rather than bothering to write a carefully considered text.… Read more »
Jean Grémillon remains one of the major French filmmakers whose films are most egregiously unavailable on DVD, especially when it comes to versions with English subtitles — although I’m delighted to report that Criterion’s Eclipse recently brought out three of his greatest ones, all made during the Occupation, including the two that are discussed here and Remorques. This article appeared in the October 25, 2002 issue of the Chicago Reader. -– J.R.
Lumière d’été **** (Masterpiece)
Directed by Jean Grémillon
Written by Jacques Prévert and Pierre Laroche
With Madeleine Renaud, Pierre Brasseur, Madeleine Robinson, Paul Bernard, Georges Marchal, and Marcel Lévesque.
Le ciel est à vous **** (Masterpiece)
Directed by Jean Grémillon
Written by Albert Valentin and Charles Spaak
With Madeleine Renaud, Charles Vanel, Jean Debucourt, Léonce Corne, Albert Rémy, and Robert le Fort.
A friend and colleague, critic and teacher Nicole Brenez, says that the best film criticism consists of films critiquing one another. This may sound a mite abstract, but two very different masterpieces by the great, neglected Jean Grémillon, Lumière d’été and Le ciel est à vous, seem to offer a concrete example of this, as a critique of Jean-Luc Godard’s In Praise of Love, which I wrote about last week.… Read more »
I can very happily report that since I first published this article, in the February 6, 2004 Chicago Reader, a few Barnet films have become available on DVD, including the two I wrote about, and a few more are reportedly on the way from Ruscico, a Russian label that has been issuing subtitled DVDs that I wrote about here. Earlier, Image Entertainment brought out Outskirts and The Girl with the Hatbox on a single DVD, and in France, www.bachfilms.com released both By the Bluest of Seas (under its French title, Au bord de la mer bleue), which Ruscico has subsequently released as well, and the 1943 A Good Lad/Men of Novgorod (again, under its French title, Un brave garçon). More recently, I showed clips from Okraina as well as other early Russian talkies (Deserter and Enthusiasm) in a course, “The First Transition: World Cinema in the 30s”, Kevin Lee has made a wonderful video about By the Bluest of Seas with a rapturous critical commentary written by Nicole Brenez, and in the summer of 2011, Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna presented a comprehensive Barnet retrospective, most of which I was able to attend.
Recently reseeing By the Bluest of Seas at the Arsenal in Berlin, as part of a program devoted to Frieda Grafe’s favorite films, I was more blown away than ever, and it struck me that the film could be viewed in some ways as an erotic view of collectivism and socialism, with the sea serving as a perfect emotional metaphor — and a perfect sort of reply to what Luc Moullet maintained in his review of Jet Pilot, which implied that eroticism, as in that film and The Fountainhead, was always tied in some fashion to right-wing thinking.… Read more »