Monthly Archives: January 2018

Blue-eyes Is Back [LAWRENCE OF ARABIA]

From the Chicago Reader (March 24, 1989). — J.R.

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by David Lean

Written by Robert Bolt

With Peter O’Toole, Alec Guinness, Anthony Quinn, Jack Hawkins, Jose Ferrer, Anthony Quayle, Claude Rains, Arthur Kennedy, and Omar Sharif.

Thanks to a meticulous restoration carried out by Robert A. Harris and Jim Painten, working with a team of specialists that ultimately included director David Lean himself, Lawrence of Arabia has been rereleased in all its original glory in a version that includes some footage that wasn’t even seen by most of the film’s earliest audiences (the original road-show version, released in late 1962, was cut by about 20 minutes before it went into general release). I won’t dwell upon the complex detective work carried out by the restorers, except to note that in order to make the version currently playing as complete as possible, the original actors even redubbed some of their lines, which were then electronically altered so that their present voices would sound like their voices 27 years ago. Lean was also permitted to make a few minor modifications in the editing, so that the definitive version of this epic about the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence and his unorthodox military career is actually a “final cut” that incorporates practically all of the material that was in the original version.… Read more »

A Bankable Feast [BABETTE’S FEAST]

From the May 20, 1988 Chicago Reader.  — J.R.

BABETTE’S FEAST

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Gabriel Axel

With Stephane Audran, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Gudmar Wivesson, Jarl Kulle, Hanne Stensgard, Bodil Kjer, Vibeke Hastrup, and Birgitte Federspiel.

Only when she had lost what had constituted her life, her home in Africa and her lover, when she had returned home to Rungstedlund a complete “failure” with nothing in her hands except grief and sorrow and memories, did she be come the artist and the “success” she never would have become otherwise — “God loves a joke,” and divine jokes, as the Greeks knew so well, are often cruel ones. What she then did was unique in contemporary literature though it could be matched by certain nineteenth century writers — Heinrich Kleist’s anecdotes and short stories and some tales of Johann Peter Hebel, especially Unverhofftes Wiedersehen come to mind. Eudora Welty has defined it definitively in one short sentence of utter precision: “Of a story she made an essence; of the essence she made an elixir; and of the elixir she began once more to compound the story.” — Hannah Arendt on Isak Dinesen

When Ernest Hemingway accepted his Nobel prize in 1954, he was gracious enough to acknowledge that it should have gone to Isak Dinesen instead.… Read more »

Gypsy Melodies

From the Chicago Reader (February 10, 1995). –J.R.

Latcho Drom

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Tony Gatlif.

If you haven’t heard of Latcho Drom — an exuberant and stirring Gypsy musical, filmed in CinemaScope and stereophonic sound in eight countries on three separate continents — you shouldn’t be surprised. Although the movie has been wending its way across the planet for the past couple of years and picking up plenty of enthusiasts en route, it has at least three commercial strikes against it, any one of which would probably suffice to keep it out of the mainstream despite its accessibility. The first two of these are the words “Gypsy” and “musical”; the third is the fact that it qualifies as neither documentary nor fiction, thereby confounding critics and other packagers.

These “problems,” I hasten to add, are what make the picture pleasurable, thrilling, and important; but media hype to the contrary, sales pitches and audience enjoyment aren’t always on the same wavelength. Though this movie is so powerful you virtually have to force yourself not to dance during long stretches of it, that fact doesn’t translate easily into a 30-second prime-time spot or a review in a national magazine (though CNN did devote a four-minute feature to Latcho Drom some time ago).… Read more »

Rotterdam 1987: the once and future cinema

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1987). –- J.R.

The Rotterdam Festival is gradually expanding in scope and attendance, while its survival seems to become increasingly polemical and precarious. Now in its 16th edition, the festival continues to honor its director Hubert Bals’ stubborn, utopian precept that, ‘An audience should be found for a film, not a film for an audience.’

Thus, while Libération critic Serge Daney was lecturing persuasively on the growing impossibility of critics mediating between films and audiences, it was possible to watch a videotape, Joan Does Dynasty, in which New York critic Joan Braderman, with the aid of Manuel De Landa’s computer graphics, does precisely that for the TV series.She appears in front of Dynasty in different sizes, shapes and positions, from diverse angles and with varying degrees of transparency, and delivers an exuberant, madcap critique of the show. Part of a cycle of low-budget, leftist media critiques known as Paper Tiger Television which appears on us public access cable and boasts more than a hundred titles in its catalogue, Braderman’s pungent intellectual stand-up is the likely formal masterpiece of a variable, slapdash series ranging from the unfocused and obvious (Peter Wollen on the U.S.… Read more »

Ideal Women [THE FAMINE WITHIN]

From the Chicago Reader (March 13, 1992). This film can now be accessed online. — J.R.

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THE FAMINE WITHIN

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Katherine Gilday.

Some theorists believe it is the larger North American society that needs healing, that women’s bodies today are the symbolic area in which a larger drama of cultural values is played out. — narrator, The Famine Within

Siskel and Ebert, among others, have been arguing that the documentary nominating committee of the Academy Awards needs a major revamping. Their beef is that the most popular and widely discussed documentaries of the past few years — like The Thin Blue Line, Paris Is Burning, Roger & Me, and Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse — never get nominated. Implicit in this argument is the notion that the most popular movies are usually the best, a notion that the awarding of most of the remainder of the Oscars is predicated upon. To accept any serious challenge to this sacred premise would be to undermine our faith in distributors, exhibitors, critics, publicists — the film industry itself. Perish the thought: if we lost our faith in all of the above, we might actually have to start thinking for ourselves.… Read more »

Reflections on Kiarostami’s Two-Way Mirrors by Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

A recent essay. Note: the much-expanded second edition of Mehrnaz’s and my book about Kiarostami for the University of Illinois Press will be out in early March. — J.R.

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Reflections on Kiarostami’s Two-Way Mirrors

Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa

 

“The power of cinema is to create believable illusions.” Abbas Kiarostami

 

As I begin to write about Abbas Kiarostami’s cinema, my profound sadness about his loss emerges again. The vivid memories of several meetings and conversations with him in different countries (Iran, Europe, Canada, and the US) and at different times and on various occasions in the last four decades are now mixed with images from his films. How ironic that his death happened so abruptly, like the many unexpected and unresolved open-endings of his films.

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The filmmaker I was fortunate to know was a graceful, thoughtful dignified man, observant and playful with a great sense of humor. Despite his fame, he was very humble. He was very supportive of other filmmakers, new directors, and especially his students in many of his workshops around the world.

I remember meeting him for the first time in Tehran after the screening of his second feature, The Report (Gozaresh, 1977). The dark bleak film had very little resemblance to its warm friendly-looking approachable serene director who always wore a sweet smile when greeting people.… Read more »

The Squid And The Whale

From the Chicago Reader (November 4, 2005). — J.R.

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This big step forward by comic writer-director Noah Baumbach (Kicking and Screaming, Mr. Jealousy) is a tragicomic autobiographical account of the breakup of his parents’ marriage. The father (Jeff Daniels) and mother (Laura Linney) are both fiction writers living in Brooklyn, and their determination to remain liberated about sexual matters as they separate and divorce drives their two sons (Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline) nuts. The implied critique of progressive, bohemian parenting is devastating — wise and nuanced, with the painful hilarity of truth. With William Baldwin and Anna Paquin. R, 88 min. (JR)

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Choreography With a Camera [on Ruiz's MAMMAME] (re-upgraded)

This review appeared in the November 6, 1987 issue of the Chicago Reader. A visitor of this site, Mark Goldberg, has alerted me to a French site devoted to dance where the 1986 Mammame can now be accessed via streaming for free; he has also generously grabbed some frames from this version as much better substitutes for the poor illustrations I had up originally, and I’ve drawn a few other illustrations from the same site, which is another reason for reposting this review now. — J.R.

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MAMMAME

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Raoul Ruiz

Choreographed by Jean-Claude Gallotta

With the Emile Dubois Dance Company.

The more attention is paid to stylizing the screen, to make the quality of how it looks convey the meaning, the closer you get to dance, which is precisely that — the communication of meaning through the quality of movement. — Maya Deren

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While it seems plausible, even likely, that Raoul Ruiz is currently the most inventive filmmaker working in Europe, one does not ordinarily go to his work looking for masterpieces. An obsessive doodler — in the same serious way, one should add, that the cartoonist Saul Steinberg is, combining philosophical and metaphysical wit with a penchant for rethinking the world so that it encompasses his boundless energies — Ruiz is blessed and cursed by never knowing when to stop.… Read more »

Love to Hate (THE BELIEVER)

From the Chicago Reader (June 14, 2002). — J.R.

The Believer

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Henry Bean

Written by Bean and Mark Jacobson

With Ryan Gosling, Summer Phoenix, Theresa Russell, Billy Zane, A.D. Miles, Glenn Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Reaser, and Dean Strober.

The Believer, an independent feature, premiered on cable nearly three months ago, after failing to get a distributor. But it was recently picked up and is opening this week at Landmark’s Century Centre. It’s already created a good deal of buzz, most of it justified.

Inspired by the real-life story of a 28-year-old Jew in Queens named Daniel Burros, who became a high-ranking member of the American Nazi Party and then of the New York chapter of the Ku Klux Klan before fatally shooting himself when the New York Times ran a front-page story revealing that he was a Jew, the film makes a few educated guesses about the possible origins of such a divided identity, yet it’s entirely to the credit of Henry Bean, the writer-director, and Mark Jacobson, who collaborated on the story, that satisfying psychological explanations aren’t what the film is after. As Bean, a Reform Jew, has suggested in various statements, the film is more precisely an exploration of what it means to be Jewish and what it means to hate — two separate subjects that happen to overlap in this case.… Read more »

Reasons for Kicking and Screaming

This essay about Noah Baumbach’s first feature was commissioned by Criterion for their DVD of Kicking and Screaming, and was written around May 2006. — J.R.

“There’s plenty of wit on the surface,” I wrote in my capsule review of Kicking and Screaming when it was released a little over a decade ago, “but the pain of paralysis comes through loud and clear.” Having voluntarily spent five years as an undergraduate myself, I could and still can find plenty of reasons to identify with the four desperate antiheroes of this brittle comedy, who graduate from college and then proceed to spend the next half year on or around campus, doing as little as possible.

Grover (Josh Hamilton), expecting to live in Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Jane (Olivia d’Abo), is so dumbstruck and angry when she accepts a scholarship to study in Prague that he won’t reply to any of her phone messages, and can only brood over their past in five strategically placed flashbacks, each one heralded by a black-and-white snapshot of her. Otis (Carlos Jacott) finds himself incapable of flying to grad school in Milwaukee, only one time zone away, and reverts to living with his mother. Max (Chris Eigeman), who’d rather label broken glass as such on the floor than sweep it up, finds nothing better to do than chide Otis, do crossword puzzles, and have sex with Miami (Parker Posey), the girlfriend of Skippy (Jason Wiles).… Read more »

Alessandro Stellino Interview with Jonathan Rosenbaum (February 2016)

The following interview with Alessandro Stellino has just appeared, in Italian, in filmidee #15, along with Italian translations of three of my essays –- “Entertainment as Oppression,” “In Defense of Non-Masterpieces,” and  “Work and Play in the House of Fiction”. What follows is an imperfect and approximate version of this interview in its original English — respecting the structure of the Italian version, although in a few cases reconstructing my answers when I managed to lose the original emails. The interview was conducted over many emails, and I brought it to a close when I declined to reply to the question, “If you could teach a course on film history with the most possible freedom in rewriting the canon, how would your program be?”, which effectively would have obliged me to create an entire syllabus. -– J.R.

In the introduction to Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia, a book that has been particularly relevant for the founding of our magazine, you state: “It’s a strange paradox that about half of my friends and colleagues think that we’re currently approaching the end of cinema as an art form and the end of film criticism as a serious activity, while the other half believe that we’re enjoying some form of exciting resurgence and renaissance in both areas”.… Read more »

Circle’s Short Circuit

From the Chicago Reader (September 17, 1999). I’ve been dying to see this film again, but I’ll never be rich enough to rent or buy it from the Video Data Bank. Who is? — J.R.

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This 1998 Caspar Stracke feature is one of the rare experimental films in 35-millimeter, and though I could preview it only on video, it kept me fascinated even in that format. Stracke describes it as moving in a circle with neither a beginning nor an end; in the version I saw, the credits come in the middle. A lecture on the philosophical and psychoanalytic implications of the invention of the telephone by theorist Avital Ronell eventually turns into a story in black and white about a woman who has a lotus blossom growing in her left lung; at different times this film comes across as documentary, essay, performance art, and silent throwback (complete with intertitles and irises), and the capabilities and rhetoric associated with both computers and VCRs play a part in the continuously shifting and evolving discourse. Stracke will be present at the screening. Kino-Eye Cinema at Cinema Borealis, 1550 N. Milwaukee, Friday, September 17, 8:00, 773-293-1447. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

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My 20 Best List for Film Comment

Note: I saw Samuel Maoz’s Foxtrot too late for inclusion, but would have placed it in or near the top ten if I had seen it earlier.

Foxtrot

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24 Frames
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1. 24 Frames (Kiarostami)

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2. Twin Peaks: The Return (Lynch)

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3. Let the Sun Shine In (Denis)

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4. Downsizing (Payne)

Barbs

5. Barbs, Wastelands (Marta Mateus)

6. Mudbound (Rees)

7. Phantom Thread (Anderson)

8. Faces Places (Varda & JR)

9. Lady Bird (Gerwig)

10. Marjorie Prime (Almereyda)

11. Ava (Foroughi)

12. The Shape of Water (del Toro)

13. The Meyerowitz Brothers (New & Selected) (Baumbach)

14. Paradise (Konchalovsky)

15. The Lost City of Z (Gray)

16. The Motive (Cuena)

17. Ex Libris: The New York Public Library (Wiseman)

18. Boom for Real (Driver)

19. Golden Years (Téchiné)

20. Professor Marsten and the Wonder Women (Robinson)… Read more »

Blue Moon

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 2000). MUBI has offered this film in the past. — J.R.

Blue-moon

Scripted and directed by Ko I-Chen — a member of the Taiwanese new wave best known as an actor outside of Taiwan, particularly for his role in Edward Yang’s Taipei Story — this exciting 1997 feature, Lan yue, consists of five 20-minute reels designed to be shown in any order, so that 120 versions of the film are possible. (Ko wrote all five scripts simultaneously, on different colored sheets of paper.) In most respects this is a conventional, even commercial narrative feature, which makes for what I like most about it — it demands the viewer’s creative participation at the same time that it pretends to satisfy all the usual expectations. All five reels feature more or less the same characters and settings — including a young woman, a writer, a film producer, and a restaurant owner, all of whom live in Taipei and belong to the same circle — but in each reel the woman is involved with one of two men. One can construct a continuous narrative by positing some reels as flashbacks, as flash-forwards, or as events that transpire in a parallel universe.… Read more »

Twilight

From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 1992). — J.R.

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A dirgelike Hungarian thriller by Gyorgy Feher about the search for a serial killer whose victims are little girls. The striking visual style (high-contrast black-and-white cinematography by Miklos Gurban) and creepy pacing tend to dominate the plot so thoroughly that I found myself tuning the narrative out and not being terribly worried about what I was missing. While the slow-as-molasses dialogue delivery and camera movements superficially suggest Tarkovsky (or, closer to home, Bela Tarr’s Damnation), Feher’s script and mise en scene are considerably more mannerist — employed more to conjure an atmosphere than to convey a particular vision or a distinctive moral universe. The closest American equivalent to this sort of exercise might be Rumble Fish: sumptuous visuals that impart more filigree than substance (1990). (JR)

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