From the May 26, 2000 Chicago Reader. I must confess that I’m embarrassed by most of my other reviews of Claire Denis films on this site. Writing from the Trumsoe International Film Festival in Norway, where I resaw many of her films at a retrospective, I discovered how they invariably seem to improve on repeated viewings. (I also reprinted this piece on Beau Travail in Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition.)
Part of what’s both great and difficult about Denis’ films has been discussed perceptively by the late Robin Wood in one of his last great pieces, about I Can’t Sleep. And part of what I think is so remarkable about Claire, one of my favorite people, is a trait she shares with he late Sam Fuller, which might be described as the reverse of the cynicism of the jaundiced leftist who loves humanity but hates people. Fuller and Denis both show very dark, pessimistic, and even despairing views of humanity in their films, but their love of people and of life is no less constant. (Jim Jarmusch shows a bit of the same ambivalence in some of his edgier films, such as Dead Man, Ghost Dog, The Limits of Control, and Paterson.) —J.R.… Read more »
This appeared in the March 20, 1998 issue of the Chicago Reader. —J.R.
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed and written by Michael Paxton
Narrated by Sharon Gless.
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Mike Nichols
Written by Elaine May
With John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Larry Hagman, and Maura Tierney.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
Two highly partisan political movies are opening this week, a right-wing independent documentary and a left-wing Hollywood feature — though it’s not clear that the filmmakers of either would categorize their work in this way. Certainly it wouldn’t be any exaggeration to call both films the efforts of special interest groups — a movie about Bill Clinton put together by people who mainly qualify as his supporters and friends and a sincere hagiography of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand fashioned by many of her disciples and acolytes. How far they actually carry their respective loyalties is a different matter, however. Ultimately both movies flounder as well as triumph because of their insider points of view, though not always for the same reasons.
Whenever Ayn Rand’s name comes up, I have an impulse to scoff, an impulse I think is shared by many others.… Read more »
Originally published in Moving Image Source (posted online as “Hidden Treasures”), July 17, 2008. — J.R.
Ever since I retired a few months ago from my 20-year stint as film reviewer for the Chicago Reader, perhaps the biggest perk of all has been freedom from the chore of having to keep up with new movies. In practice, this translates into more free time to keep up with old movies. So returning to one of my favorite annual pastimes, Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna — a festival that caters to people devoted to seeing old films in good prints — seemed only natural. Its 22nd edition, the fourth one I’ve attended, was especially rich.
Held in the oldest university town in Europe — hot and muggy this time of year, and full of labyrinthine back streets — the eight-day event mainly takes place at three air-conditioned cinemas during the day and at the Piazza Maggiore every evening, where the grand public shows up for outdoor screenings. (There’s also a jury that I’ve served on in previous years selecting the best restorations on DVD.)
Among this year’s Piazza attractions were the restored French version of Max Ophüls’s Lola Montès, the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Blackmail with a live performance of a new symphonic score by Neil Brand (a clever and effective pastiche of such Hitchcock composers as Bernard Herrmann and Miklós Rósza), and portions of the two major retrospectives held this year, devoted to Lev Kuleshov and Josef von Sternberg.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 29, 2005); slightly tweaked in February 2014. — J.R.
Michael Cimino’s 1980 epic, about immigrant settlers clashing with native capitalists in 19th-century Wyoming, suffered a disastrous opening and was subsequently cut by 70 minutes; it became a legendary flop in the U.S., though the original 219-minute cut was widely applauded as a masterpiece in Europe. The longer version is impressive as long as the characters and settings remain in long shot; only when the camera gets closer do the problems start. The story is both slow moving and hard to follow, but the locations and period details offer plenty to ponder. Cimino’s handling of class issues is ambitious and unusually blunt, though it’s debatable whether this adds up to any sort of Marxist statement, except perhaps as a belated response to the (Oscar-winning) racism and xenophobia of his previous feature, The Deer Hunter. There’s no question that the same homoerotic — and arguably sexist — vision runs through both movies, as well as Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, the Cimino feature that preceded them. With Kris Kristofferson, Christopher Walken, Isabelle Huppert, Jeff Bridges, Sam Waterston, John Hurt, Joseph Cotten, and Brad Dourif. R. (JR)
… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (July 2, 1999). — J.R.
Run Lola Run
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed and written by Tom Tykwer
With Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu,
Herbert Knaup, Armin Rohde, and Joachim Krol.
A low-budget no-brainer, Run Lola Run is a lot more fun than Speed, a big-budget no-brainer from five years ago. It’s just as fast moving, the music is better, and though the characters are almost as hackneyed and predictable, the conceptual side has a lot more punch. If Run Lola Run had opened as widely as Speed and it too had been allowed to function as everyday mall fodder, its release could have been read as an indication that Americans were finally catching up with people in other countries when it comes to the pursuit of mindless pleasures. Instead it’s opening at the Music Box as an art movie.
Why try to sell an edgy youth thriller with nothing but kicks on its mind as an art movie? After all, it’s only a movie — a rationale that was trotted out for Speed more times than I care to remember. The dialogue of Run Lola Run is certainly simple and cursory, but it happens to be in subtitled German — which in business terms means that it has to be marketed as a film, not a movie.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 14, 1995). — J.R.
Billy Wilder’s soggy and uninspired 1963 adaptation of the hit Broadway musical, minus the songs. Shirley MacLaine stars as a Paris prostitute with a heart of gold who falls for a former policeman (Jack Lemmon) who winds up as her pimp and, in disguise, her only customer. A good example of how a movie can be utterly characteristic of its maker and still fall with a resounding thud; with Lou Jacobi and Herschel Bernardi. (JR)
Department of utter bafflement (February 2015): Thinking I might have missed something (the film was, after all, a smash hit, and was treated by Godard as if it were Wilder’s belated blossoming as a filmmaker, even making the ninth spot in his ten-best list for 1964, between The Nutty Professor and Two Weeks in Another Town), I recently made a return visit to this movie on DVD and found it just as unbearable as before, despite the charm of the Alexander Trauner sets.
Wilder’s major gift, apart from symmetrically pointed plot construction (as in Kiss Me, Stupid and Avanti!), was as a reporter on American bourgeois hypocrisy, and what seems most peculiar in this film is its misreadings of French manners and French bourgeois hypocrisy, which come across as purely American — Parisian pimps out of Damon Runyon (filmed on the same soundstages as Guys and Dolls, at the Goldwyn Studio) and a puritanical cop who seems to hail from the American midwest.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 27, 2004). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Albertina Carri
With Analia Couceyro.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Margarethe von Trotta
Written by Pamela Katz and von Trotta
With Katja Riemann, Maria Schrader, Martin Feifel, Jurgen Vogel, Jutta Lampe, Doris Schade, and Fedja van Huet.
It was a severe disappointment, Beyle [Stendhal] writes, when some years ago, looking through old papers, he came across an engraving entitled Prospetto d’Ivrea and was obliged to concede that his recollected picture of the town in the evening sun was nothing but a copy of that very engraving. This being so, Beyle’s advice is not to purchase engravings of fine views and prospects seen on one’s travels, since before very long they will displace our memories completely, indeed one might say they destroy them. — W.G. Sebald, Vertigo
I don’t know if some memories are real or if they’re my sisters’. –Albertina Carri in The Blonds
When I was in junior high school in the 50s I associated Stanley Kramer’s name — first as a producer, then as a producer-director — with offbeat, somewhat worthy highbrow ventures such as Cyrano de Bergerac, Death of a Salesman, High Noon, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin , vol. 44, no. 516, January 1977.
I’ve always been somewhat skeptical about Herzog’s reputation and constructed myth as a mad genius. Here are my capsule reviews for the Chicago Reader of Lessons of Darkness (1992) and My Best Fiend (1999), respectively (on other occasions, I’ve sometimes been more supportive of his work):
In his characteristically dreamy Young Werther fashion, Werner Herzog generates a lot of bombastic and beautiful documentary footage out of the post-Gulf war oil fires and other forms of devastation in Kuwait, gilds his own high-flown rhetoric by falsely ascribing it to Pascal, and in general treats war as abstractly as CNN, but with classical music on the soundtrack to make sure we know it’s art. This 1992 documentary may be the closest contemporary equivalent to Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, both aesthetically and morally; I found it disgusting, but if you’re able to forget about humanity as readily as Herzog there are loads of pretty pictures to contemplate. 54 min.
Werner Herzog’s surprisingly slim and relatively impersonal 1999 feature charts his relationship with the mad actor Klaus Kinski on the five features they made together. Though Herzog has plenty to say about Kinski’s tantrums on the Peru locations of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo and even interviews other witnesses on the same subject, he says next to nothing about his own involvement — such as why he hired Kinski in the first place or how the overreaching heroes Kinski played for Herzog were clearly modeled after the director, metaphorically speaking.… Read more »
Film In memoriam, Ingmar
In response to the recent death of Ingmar Bergman, the Chicago Cinema Forum has organized a Bergman marathon (Chicagoist termed it a “crash course in Bergman”) to be held at the Chopin Theatre this coming weekend. Included will be the local premiere (two screenings) of a recent three-part, three-hour documentary about Bergman made for Swedish TV and screenings of five major Bergman features: 16-millimeter prints of Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), and Persona (1966), and a DVD projection of the 188-minute version of Fanny and Alexander (1982), a Bergman miniseries that was the last thing he ever shot on film.
All five of the features will be introduced and discussed by local critics. I’ll be trying my hand at Sawdust and Tinsel, and the founder of Chicago Cinema Forum (and organizer of this event), Gabe Klinger, will do Fanny and Alexander; WBEZ producer Alison Cuddy will introduce The Seventh Seal, Time Out Chicago‘s Ben Kenigsberg will introduce Wild Strawberries, and National Louis University prof Robert Keser will introduce Persona. The social aspect of the Chicago Cinema Forum has been a central part of Klinger’s project from the beginning, and two hour-long receptions on Saturday and Sunday, offering a further chance to discuss Bergman, are also scheduled.
… Read more »
Here’s my Cannes coverage for Film Comment‘s September-October issue in 1973, the fourth year I attended the festival.
A couple of apologies: (1) In my haste to defend Some Call it Loving against Andrew Sarris’s and Molly Haskell’s scorn, I managed to forget or overlook the fact that one sequence, in a nightclub, does feature some nudity; and (2) I no longer find my curt dismissal of History Lessons at all persuasive — in particular my claim that it duplicates the style and/or methodology of Othon. — J.R.
If TOUCH OF EVIL, as Paul Schrader has suggested, is film noir’s epitaph, jean Eustache’s LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN (THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE) may well turn out to be the last gasp and funeral oration of the Nouvelle Vague — the swan song of a genre/school that shatters its assumptions and reconstructs them into something else, and newer model that is sadder but wiser and tinged with more than trace of nostalgic depression. MCCABE AND MRS. MILLER, for that matter, may be the Western’s epitaph, or at least one of the prettier flowers to have grown out of Tombstone Gulch. In very different ways, all three films tell us a lot about what growing older feels like and chide us both for what we are and what we used to be.… Read more »
Written for The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., a catalogue/ collection put together to accompany a film series at the Austrian Filmmuseum and the Viennale in Autumn 2009. — J.R.
After Orson Welles tried to implement Nelson Rockefeller’s
Good Neighbor policy with South America
in an unfinished episodic film, It’s All True (1942),
scandalizing both RKO and Latin American dignitaries
by focusing on poor and nonwhite characters,
Walt Disney dutifully offered a more conventionally
touristic and clearly segregated view of the
Continent, and succeeded spectacularly with the
same studio and many of the same dignitaries (as well
as with general audiences in both the U.S. and South
America) by offering this kitschy and visually extravagant
episodic, 70-minute film (1945), his first feature
to combine animation with live action. The title
pals are the infantile Donald Duck playing an American
tourist and the somewhat older Brazilian parrot
Joe Carioca and Mexican rooster Panchito, the latter
two playing Donald’s principal tour guides. The film
begins somewhat conventionally with tales about
Pablo, a South Pole penguin longing for warmer surroundings
who sails up the coast of Chile and Peru,
and a Uruguay boy gaucho who enters a flying donkey
in a race.… Read more »
This is the first of my bimonthly columns written for Cahiers du Cinéma España, which ran in their first issue (May 2007). Not coincidentally, it was at the same Mar del Plata festival described below that the magazine’s director, Carlos F. Heredero, and its editor-in-chief, Carlos Reviergo, invited me to write this regular column. — J.R.
My seven trips to Argentina over the past eight years began when the Buenos Aires branch of FIPRESCI, the international film critics organization, brought me there to give some lectures in the fall of 2000. The couple who became my host and hostess, critics Quintín and Flavia de la Fuentes, invited me back half a year later after Quintín became director of the Buenos Aires Festival of Independent Film, a remarkable event sponsored by the city every April. Quintín held the job for four years, and it quickly became, to my knowledge, the only festival to be organized socially as well as intellectually around the principles of film criticism. The programming gave as much attention to older films (especially difficult-to-see classics imported from the Cinémathèque Française by Bernard Benoliel, such as Rossellini’s sublime India) as to new ones, and the books they published, starting with a translation of my own Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See, tended to be polemical interventions.… Read more »
Commissioned by Sight and Sound, and written for their August 2006 issue. — J.R.
Considering how much admiration I have for the films of Philippe Garrel, it’s hard to avoid some feelings of guilt and consternation for not liking them more – especially when I consider how much they mean to others whose tastes I admire. Why do I find myself preferring the work of his best-known disciple, Leos Carax?
This is a problem I’ve been wrestling with for a quarter of a century. For the past decade, I’ve been trying to theorize my disaffection by ascribing the passion of my younger friends for this melancholy star of the French underground to a generational taste I can’t share. In some respects, I even like the way they like Garrel’s films more than I like the films themselves. They generate a kind of awe that few other filmmakers inspire, and the fact that he’s a minority taste in no way disqualifies him from being a major talent.
These far-flung cinéphiles, all born around 1960, include Nicole Brenez, based in Paris; Alexander Horwath, based in Vienna; Kent Jones, based in New York; and Adrian Martin, based in Melbourne —- all of whom share similarly acute feelings for John Cassavetes, Abel Ferrara, Monte Hellman, and Maurice Pialat.… Read more »
Published under a pseudonym in the August 1985 issue of High Times. As I recall now, the main reason for the pseudonym was my unhappiness with the editor’s thoughtless editing; I’ve tried to repair a little of the damage here, and also added a few details.
I can happily report that Stapledon’s work has garnered a lot more attention since 1985, and all the fiction discussed here is currently in print (or was when I last posted this), which wasn’t true back then. (Dover has excellent editions pairing Last and First Men with Star Maker and Odd John with Sirius, and An Olaf Stapledon Reader, edited by Robert Crossley, which Syracuse University Press published in 1997, includes all of The Flames and samplings from the others.) Although I don’t have much to say here about Odd John, this novel may actually serve as the best single introduction to Stapledon’s work.
One anecdotal epilogue to Jorge Luis Borges’s interest in Star Maker, cited at the end of this piece. I was lucky enough to attend a public discussion with Borges at the University of California, Santa Barbara shortly before his death, and asked him at the time to comment on this book.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 3, 1991). — J.R.
A RAGE IN HARLEM
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Bill Duke
Written by John Toles-Bey and Bobby Crawford
With Forest Whitaker, Gregory Hines, Robin Givens, Zakes Mokae, Danny Glover, Badja Djola, and John Toles-Bey.
THE OBJECT OF BEAUTY
** (Worth seeing)
Directed and written by Michael Lindsay-Hogg
With John Malkovich, Andie MacDowell, Joss Ackland, Rudi Davies, Peter Riegert, Lolita Davidovich, and Ricci Harnett.
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by John Landis
Written by Michael Barrie and Jim Mulholland
With Sylvester Stallone, Peter Riegert, Joey Travolta, Elizabeth Barondes, Tim Curry, Vincent Spano, Ornella Muti, and Joycelyn O’Brien.
With at least three new comedies around at the moment — four counting the semicomic Impromptu – it seems like the silly season is fully upon us. Although the three urban comedies under review are set in different decades (Oscar in the 30s, A Rage in Harlem in the 50s, The Object of Beauty in the present), they all appear at first to be equally concerned with money — the thing that keeps the wheels of their complicated farcical plots turning. All have something to do with sex and romance as well, but it’s clearly money that holds the sex and romance in place.… Read more »