Monthly Archives: December 2017

Godard in the Age of Video [SOFT AND HARD]

From the Chicago Reader (November 17, 1995).  — J.R.

Soft and Hard (A Soft Conversation Between Two Friends on a Hard Subject)

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Anne-Marie Miéville and Jean-Luc Godard

With Godard and Miéville.

A 48-minute video that’s premiering in Chicago ten years after it was made, Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville’s Soft and Hard (A Soft Conversation Between Two Friends on a Hard Subject) is so far in advance of most films and videos made today about the essential properties of both media that it makes not so much Chicago but contemporary Western culture feel like an intellectual backwater. It was commissioned by and originally broadcast on England’s Channel Four, and although most of Godard and Miéville’s talk is in French and subtitled, the funding source is acknowledged in several ways: by the video’s English title, by English intertitles throughout, by many stills from Hollywood pictures (including Frankenstein, Scarface, Rear Window, and the 1948 Joan of Arc) employed as punctuation, by an early sequence of Godard speaking in English on the phone about business arrangements for his film King Lear, and by a brief but moving exchange in English between Godard and Miéville that concludes the work.… Read more »

EIGHT OBSTACLES TO THE APPRECIATION OF GODARD IN THE UNITED STATES

From Jean-Luc Godard: Son-Image 1974-1991 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992). -– J.R.

“Jean-Luc cultists,” complains Judith Crist in the World Journal Tribune. God bless them! They constitute a line of defense against every manipulative insult the entertainment business throws out, there are more of them each year, and they may even be winning. — Roger Greenspun (1)

Greenspun’s rallying cry of a quarter of a century ago testifies to the passion and debate that used to be stirred up in the United States when Godard’s name was mentioned. The gradual phasing out of that debate and the depletion of that passion cannot be explained simply, and to understand it at all requires some careful thought about how American culture as a whole has itself changed in the interim. For a director still closely identified with the sixties in American film criticism, Godard is regarded today with much of the same fear, skepticism, suspicion, and impatience that greet many other contemporary responses to that decade. And his status as an intellectual with a taste for abstraction may make him seem even more out of place in a mass culture that currently has little truck with movie experiences that can’t be reduced to sound bites.… Read more »

My Best Blu-Rays List for DVD Beaver, 2017 (the long version)

A much shorter version of this was just posted by DVD Beaver:

Top Blu-ray Releases of 2017:

OTHELLO

1. Othello (Orson Welles, 1952) Criterion Collection

2. Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 (Limite — Mário Peixoto, Revenge — Ermek Shinarbaev, Insiang — Lino Brocka, Mysterious Object at Noon — Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Law of the Border — Lütfi Ö. Akad, Taipei Story — Edward Yang) — Criterion Collection

3. Vampir Cuadecuc (Pere Portabella, 1971)  UK Second Run Features

4. The 4 Marx Brothers at Paramount (The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup) (1929-1933) RB Arrow UK

5. Anatahan (Josef von Sternberg, 1953) Kino

6. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991) RB Criterion UK

7. Moses and Aaron (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1973) Grasshopper Film                                                                                                           

8. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948) Olive Signature

9. Lost in Paris (Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, 2016) Oscilloscope Pictures

10. A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971) Olive Signature

A major reason for listing Criterion’s Othello first is that it includes the digital premieres of not one and not two but three Orson Welles features: both of his edits of Othello available with his own soundtracks, heard for the first time in the U.S.Read more »

A Quirky Cowboy Classic [on THE THREE BURIALS OF MELQUIADES ESTRADA]

This appeared in the Chicago Reader‘s February 3, 2006 issue. Tommy Lee Jones’ subsequent feature, The Homesman, confirms the talent, originality, and boldness of Jones as a director, even if it may also come across at certain junctures as less lucid than its predecessor. — J.R.

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Tommy Lee Jones

Written bu Guillermo Arriaga

With Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cesar Cedillo, Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo

At last year’s Cannes film festival, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada walked off with the prizes for best actor (Tommy Lee Jones) and best screenplay (Guillermo Arriaga). It’s often hard to disentangle story, acting, and direction when they’re working together as well as they are here, but I would have honored Jones for his direction. That prize went to Michael Haneke for Caché, his eighth theatrical feature. This is Jones’s first, though he directed (and cowrote and starred in) a made-for-TV western, the 1995 The Good Old Boys.

Both Haneke’s and Jones’s films are political. The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, a western, protests the abusive treatment of Mexican immigrants in west Texas, and Caché, an anxiety-ridden crime thriller, protests the abusive treatment of Algerians in France.… Read more »

The Creation of the World: Rossellini’s INDIA MATRI BUHMI

Written for and published in Outsider Films on India, 1950-1990, edited by Shanay Jhaveri, Mumbai: The Shoestring Publisher, 2009 — a very handsomely produced book that I can highly recommend. — J.R.

The Creation of the World: Rossellini’s India Matri Buhmi


In my mind, there isn’t as much distinction between documentary and fiction as there is between a good movie and a bad one. — Abbas Kiarostami

From the beginning, film has owed an important part of its fascination to ambiguous overlaps between documentary and fiction —- sometimes experienced as conflicts between the separate aims of showing the world and telling a story, and frequently associated with incorporating both unforeseeable and carefully planned elements in a given film. It’s a tendency that can already be seen in the contrived gags of the Lumière brothers films, the re-enactment of recent famous events in some films of Georges Méliès, and the coexistence of fantasy and on-location actuality in Louis Feuillade serials. Later, of course, the same mix becomes re-animated in Italian neorealism and in work by French New Wave directors (perhaps most notably Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette and some of their immediate successors, such as Luc Moullet and Jean Eustache), in the improvisational strategies of Robert Altman, in some of the ambiguities found in the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Jafar Panahi, and in practically all the films of Pedro Costa and Pere Portabella.… Read more »

Problems with Pasolini

From The Soho News (June 4, 1980). -– J.R.

 

Porcile (Pigpen)

A Film by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Bleecker Street Cinema, June 6

 

Salò

A Film by Pier Paolo Pasolini

Based on the 120 Days of Sodom

By the Marquis de Sade

Bleecker Street Cinema, June 11 and 12

 

 

“The problem with Pasolini,” a friend observed to me succinctly many years ago, “is that he wants to be fucked by Jesus and Marx at the same time.” A “pre-industrial,” populist poet and novelist from northern Italy whose relation to the Catholic Church and the Italian Communist Party were as passionately idiosyncratic as the homoeroticism of his films, Pasolini remains, nearly five years after his brutal murder, an indigestible provocateur in relation to our culture – someone who can be neither entirely absorbed nor totally rejected, but lingers like a troubling, irritating sore.

The recent and very belated release of his version of The Canterbury Tales (1972), the second part of his “trilogy of life” after The Decameron (1971), offers spectators a chance to catch more farting jokes than can probably found in Blazing Saddles. His vastly superior version of The Arabian Nights (1974), which rounds off the trilogy –- probably the most sustained flirtation with paganism to be found in his work –- has yet to reach these provincial shores.Read more »

THE LAST WOMAN (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1976, Vol. 43, No. 514. — J.R.

Ultima Donna, L’ (The Last Woman)

ltaly/France, l976

Director : Marco Ferreri

Cert—X. dist–Columbia.Warner. p.c—Flaminia Produzioni Cinema (Rome)/Les Productions Jacques Roitfeld (Paris). p—Edmondo Amati. p. managers–Maurizio Amiti, Roberto .Giussani. asst. d—Enrique Bergier, Bernard Grenet. sc–Marco Ferreri, Rafael Azcona, Dante Antelli. story–Marco Ferreri. collaboration on dial–Noël Simsolo. ph—Luciano Tovoli. col—Eastman Colour. ed–Enzo Meniconi. a.d—Michel de Broin. m—Philippe Sarde. m.d—Hubert Rostaing. cost—Gitt Magrini. sd. ed— Gina Pignier, sd. rec–Jean-Pierre Ruh. l.p—Gérard Depardieu (Gérard), Ornella Muti (Valérie), David Biggani (Pierrot), Michel Piccoli (Michel), Renato Salvatori’ (René), Giuliana Calandra (Benoîte), Zouzou (Gabrielle), Nathalie Baye (Girl in Shopping Mall), Soulange Skyden (Girl at Night-club), Carole Lepers (Anne-Marie), Daniela Silverio (Jane), Vittorio Ganfoni (Policeman with Dogs), Guerrino Totis. 9,799 ft. 109 mins. French dialogue; English subtitles.

French titleLa Dernière Femme

Gérard, a young engineer whose wife, Gabrielle, has recently left him, meets Valérie, the attractive teacher at the factory nursery where he goes to collect his thirteen-month-old son Pierrot, and invites her home with him; she agrees, and is assured by her lover Michel thathe won’t interfere.… Read more »

Clip Art

From the Chicago Reader (August 6, 1993). — J.R.

LYRICAL NITRATE *** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Peter Delpeut

VISIONS OF LIGHT: THE ART OF CINEMATOGRAPHY *** (A must-see)

Directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels Written by Todd McCarthy.

I realize it sounds strange to put it this way, but the special pleasures to be found in Lyrical Nitrate -– a 50-minute compilation of fragments of silent films made between 1905 and 1915, showing this Saturday and Sunday at the Music Box -– are closely related to the voyeuristic appeal of pornography, specifically old-fashioned stag reels. The experience of watching these fragments is, like the fragments themselves, fleeting and therefore tantalizing, suggestive and therefore provocative -– and so far off the beaten track of what’s supposed to be viewer friendly in our culture that I’m reminded of J. Hoberman’s speculation in the second edition of Midnight Movies, a book we coauthored: “Imagine if one had to go out at midnight to some seedy theater to see projected tapes of The Simpsons.… Read more »

…and what about FOXTROT?

FOXTROT1

I face the same dilemma every year: multiple requests for lists of my favorite films of the year, all of them due before I’ve had a chance to see all the contenders. And it looks like the biggest casualty of this process in this year’s roundup has to be Samuel Maoz’s provocative, original, and creatively vexing (at once hilarious and devastating) Israeli feature, FOXTROT, which for me very easily surpasses many of the more popular favorites such as THREE BILLBOARDS… and NORMAN, which I find quite dull, unchallenging, and conventional in comparison. [12/27/17]

FOXTROTRead more »

Orson Welles: Two New BFI Releases

 

around_the_world

Magician_DVD

Two new British Film Institute digital releases related to Orson Welles, both due out later this month, arrived in my mailbox yesterday, the day after I submitted my Fall DVD column to Cinema Scope Around the World with Orson Welles (1955) on Blu-Ray and Chuck Workman’s 2014 Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles on DVD. In their very different ways, both are worthy items that are well worth having, which is largely why I’m posting something about them here.

Orson Welles in Vienna

Around the World with Orson Welles is a shamefully neglected TV series directed by Welles of six half-hour episodes, made around the same time as Mr. Arkadin (for the same French producer, Louis Dolivet), with a remarkable range of topics including Basque culture (two episodes), Vienna coffee houses and pastry, the bohemian avant-garde in Paris (including a reading of Lettrist poetry: see still below), London pensioners, and the Spanish bullfight (with Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Tynan as cohosts); a seventh episode — the first to be shot, but never completed — was an investigative crime report set in the French provinces, The Dominici Affair, and an English version of Christophe Cognet’s 52-minute, 2000 French documentary about this project is one of the two extras included.… Read more »

Pasolini’s Second Coming [on MAMMA ROMA]

From the Chicago Reader (May 19, 1995). — J.R.

Mamma Roma

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Pier Paolo Pasolini

With Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini, Luisa Orioli, Paolo Volponi, Luciano Gonini, Vittorio La Paglia, and Piero Morgia.

Who can predict the changes in intellectual fashion over 20 years? In 1975, when the controversial Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was brutally murdered by a 17-year-old boy in a Roman suburb, he was no more in vogue than he had been throughout his stormy career. If any openly gay writer-director was an international star in the mid-70s, it was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who at that point was spinning out as many as three or four features a year; he died in 1982 after an orgy of cocaine abuse.

Pasolini and Fassbinder were both maverick leftists who often alienated other leftists as well as everyone on the right, and both had a taste for rough trade, but in terms of their generations (Pasolini was born in 1922, Fassbinder in 1946) and cultural reference points they were radically different. The only reason to compare them now is to note how much their reputations and visibility have changed here over the last two decades.… Read more »

Venetian Panels ["Cinema of the 1980s" at the 1979 Venice Film Festival]

From American Film (December 1979). I’ve trimmed this a bit.  — J.R.

“Production alternatives, linguistic and symbolic mutations, new models of the entertainment spectacle, new forms of film consumption, the relation between various media, the financial state of various film industries…”

In the words of an introductory brochure, these were some of the topics and problems to be explored at an international conference, “Cinema in the 80s,” set in the midst of the Venice Biennale. For the thirty-odd speakers, myself included, who had been flown all the way to the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido, there was plenty to think about while overcoming jet lag.

/wp-content/uploads/1979/12/5846_venezia_palazzo_del_cinema_lido_di_venezia.jpg

The conference’s three days were devoted to language, industry, and audience, in that order. Simultaneous translation (of a sort) over earphones offered versions of each speech in Italian, French, English, German, and Spanish. Despite these noble efforts, the conference inevitably evoked a Tower of Babel at times. Bringing together academics, critics, and filmmakers from half a dozen countries, thre sessions helped to clarify how far most members of each profession are today from speaking a common tongue. Specialists and experts on their elected turfs, they often respond like fish out of water when confronted with film people of different sorts.… Read more »

Notes on THE WHITE SHEIK

My liner notes for the Criterion DVD (2003). If memory serves, this was probably the first such essay that I wrote for producer Issa Clubb. — J.R.

ORSON WELLES: Fellini is essentially a small-town boy who’s never really come to Rome. He’s still dreaming about it. And we should all be very grateful for those dreams. In a way, he’s still standing outside looking in through the gates. The force of La Dolce Vita comes from its provincial innocence. It’s so totally invented.

PETER BOGDANOVICH: Maybe the “small-town” aspect is why I like I Vitelloni most of all his films.

WELLES: After The White Sheik, it’s the best of all.

Welles’ preference for The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini’s first solo feature, over all the others is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Critically speaking, it’s one of the Italian maestro’s most neglected works. In his The Italian Cinema, Pierre Leprohon wrote that it “seems to have been a kind of liquidation of the past in preparation for the emergence of the Fellinian universe, a chance for the author to work off his hatred and rancors.”

Most critics haven’t been so harsh; a more common verdict is to see this as an apprentice work, a sketch of the Fellinian splendors to come.… Read more »

Discovering MARGARET

Written for FIPRESCI’s web site (fipresci.org)  on November 7, 2012. — J.R.

The potential everyday glibness of journalism is surely one of the key factors that distinguishes film reviewing from film criticism. This was painfully brought home to me shortly after reseeing at the Viennale the 150-minute version of Kenneth Lonergan’s remarkable Margaret, the winner of my jury’s FIPRESCI prize, almost a year after first encountering the film at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago. In between these two viewings, I saw Lonergan’s 186-minute cut of the same film on a Blu-Ray containing both versions of the film, prompting me to write the following paragraph in my latest column for the Canadian quarterly Cinema Scope:

“I’m grateful to Kenneth Lonergan for clarifying in interviews that the 150-minute Margaret, which I saw in December 2011 and the 186-minute cut, which I saw in July, are both ‘director’s cuts,’ and now that Fox has released both in one Blu-Ray package, it’s hard to say which version I prefer. Both are brilliant messes and finely distilled renderings of the New York Jewish upper-middle-class zeitgeist circa 2003, regardless of whether one regards Anna Paquin’s teenage heroine as someone to identify with (apparently the writer-director’s position), or as monstrous, or as both (my position).Read more »

La Signora Senza Camelie (1975 review)

This may be Antonioni’s most unjustly neglected fiction feature, at least in the U.S. (though even in France, where it’s on DVD, it’s only available in a box set). I reviewed it for the May 1975 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. –J.R.

 

TheLadywithoutCamelias

Signora Senza Camelie, La
(The Lady Without Camelias)

Italy, 1953                                        Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

If it lacks the final fusion of purposes characterizing a masterwork, La Signora Senza Camelie is nevertheless so unmistakably and remarkably the work of a master that one is shocked to discover the rather cursory critical treatment is has generally been accorded. A frequent bone of contention is Lucia Bosè’s performance as the starlet in search of an identity –- recalling that the part was first offered, in turn, to Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren, and usually implying some difficulty in accepting Bosè as a persuasive Milanese-shopgirl-turned-sex-symbol. Yet what strikes one at once today is how totally her cold, somewhat remote beauty establishes and “places” the tone of the film, clarifying her cosmic distance from the brassy world of popular filmmaking as well as the natural way in which she might become the goddess of such a realm. In anticipation of Godard’s Vivre sa vie, Antonioni brilliantly opens the film with an image of Clara seen from behind, as an anonymous pedestrian -– tracing her fingers across a move poster and then strolling down the street, the camera gliding slowly after her until she turns into the cinema entrance.… Read more »