Monthly Archives: September 2017

Bigger Than Life: The Man Who Left His Will on Film

From The Soho News (October 29, 1980). I’m delighted to report that, at long last, the second version of We Can’t Go Home Again is scheduled to premiere shortly at the Venice International Film Festival. (For more information, go here.) — J.R.

Nicholas Ray — supreme Hollywood hero of Godard, Rivette, Rohmer, Truffaut; passionate outlaw and bullshit artist; director of They Live By Night, In a Lonely Place, Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause – died last summer at the age of 67. But he made two films about his dying before he went. Actually it would be more precise to say he worked on two films about his dying, neither of which is complete, both of which I’ve been able to see this year.

The first of these is We Can’t Go Home Again, an epic 35mm feature made by Ray in collaboration with his wife, Susan, and his film students in the early ’70s. Susan is trying to raise money to complete the film, and I’m hoping that she can find it. When she showed the tattered workprint to me and a few other interested parties on a Steenbeck early last July, pieced together from about 30 percent of the material, it was apparent that this remarkable, impossible, impressive and irritating work in progress is all of a piece — unlike the version that I’d seen at the Cannes Festival in 1973.

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PERCEVAL LE GALLOIS

This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.

Eric Rohmer’s least typical film, Perceval might also be his best: A wonderful version of Chrétien de Troyes’ 12-century epic poem, set to music, about the adventures of a callow and innocent knight (Fabrice Luchini). Deliberately contrived and theatrical in style and setting -– the perspectives are as flat as in medieval tapestries, the colors bright and vivid — the film is as faithful to its source as possible, given the limited material available about the period.

Luchini, who would later play Octave in Rohmer’s much more characteristic Full Moon in Paris (1984), called Perceval “a scholarly project, touched by insanity.” That is both its charm and its ineffable strangeness, enhanced by the fact that it represents an almost complete departure from the carefully crafted realism of Rohmer’s other films. As Australian critic G.C. Crisp has described this realism, “The cinema is a privileged art form because it faithfully transcribes the beauty of the real world….Any distortion of this, any attempt by man to improve on [God’s handiwork], is indicative of arrogance and verges on the sacreligious.”

Though this might seem to make Pervecal a betrayal of Rohmer’s aesthetic, his medieval musical -– which actually feels at times like a studio-shot Western, complete with artificial sky -– cogently illustrates his stated conviction as a critic that a true preservation of the past ultimately produces a kind of modernity.… Read more »

A Motivated Author [on THE MOTIVE]

Written for the Fipresci web site on September 18 2017. — J.R.

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Adapting a novella of the same title by Javier Cercas (available in English in the 2006 volume The Tenant and the Motive, translated by Anne McLean for Bloomsbury Publishing), writer-director Manuel Martín Cuenca’s black comedy about the lures and potential perils of yarn-spinning focuses on a hapless and naïve bureaucrat in Seville named Álvaro (Javier Gutiérrez) working as a notary clerk and longing to be a serious and successful novelist, unlike his author wife Amanda (Maria Léon), who writes best-selling but unserious novels (at least according to her husband).

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Curiously, the Spanish title of both the novella and the film, El Autor, means “the author,” not “the motive” (the English title of both). But it must be conceded that Álvaro is a highly, even willfully and monomaniacally motivated author as well as a rather stupid sociopath. Taking a writing course from a testy and critical teacher named Juan (Antonio de la Torre), who berates his clichéd prose, he leaves his wife after he discovers via their pet dog that she’s having an affair and, after his boss, noticing his distractedness, urges him to take an extended vacation, moves into a flat of his own to concentrate full-time on writing his first novel.… Read more »

My Ten Favorite American Films and Capsule Reviews of Two of Them (for BBC.com)

Capsule reviews of two of my favorite American films, both commissioned by BBC.com, who previously asked me to name my ten favorite American films. (For some reason, my computer can’t handle their own web site and link, which is why I’m posting this material here.) I responded to their first request with these choices:

 

1. GREED (Stroheim, 1924)

2. SUNRISE (Murnau, 1927)

3. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (Welles, 1942)

4. CITY LIGHTS (Chaplin, 1931)

5. LOVE ME TONIGHT (Mamoulian, 1932)

6. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (Wyler, 1946)

7. STARS IN MY CROWN (Tourneur, 1950)

8. LOVE STREAMS (Cassavetes, 1984)

9. A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)

10. WHEN IT RAINS (Burnett, 1995)

 

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Greed

Other truncated masterpieces (most notably Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons) tend to be appreciated in spite of their flaws, but Erich von Stroheim’s Greed maintains its strength and intensity and even much of its density in its surviving form. The characters are rich and complex and the mise en scène fully serves both the power of the performances and the richness of the world depicted. The overall fidelity to Frank Norris’s McTeague is matched by a highly personal and inventive dedication to its meanings and resonance, and the overall vision of what money does to disfigure and destroy human personality is unequaled.… Read more »

Questions in and about AVA

How much of the pain of Sadaf Foroughi’s first feature — winner of one of my Fipresci jury’s two prizes at the Toronto International Film Festival, a film from Iran — is the pain of being a teenager, and how much is it being a teenager at a particular place and time? How much is personal and how much is institutional, familial, cultural, social, political, architectural?

These are the questions raised by Foroughi’s exquisite, unorthodox framings and reframings of her characters, each one posing a separate inquiry. [9-20-17]

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