Monthly Archives: May 2018

When Will — and How Can — We Finish Orson Welles’s DON QUIXOTE? (expanded version)

This final chapter in my book Discovering Orson Welles is a lecture delivered in Valencia, Spain, on November 17, 2005, at a conference, “Don Quixote  and the Cinema,”  held at San Miguel de los Reyes, a convent built during the seventeenth century, making it roughly contemporary with Cervantes’s novel. The same building was used as a prison during the Franco era and functions today as a municipal library, Biblioteca Valenciana.

Given my virtually nonexistent grasp of spoken Spanish, I regretted that the event wasn’t more international; as far as I know, my paper was the only one requiring the services of a translator. The only other non-Spanish participants in the three-day event were a French man and an Italian woman, both of whom seemed to be fluent in the language.

Thanks to the generosity of the conference’s organizer, Carlos F. Heredero (the cowriter of Orson Welles en el País de Don Quijote, cited in my introduction to chapter 15, and an academic scholar and critic whose specialties include Spanish cinema and Wong Kar-wai), I was able to route my trip to Spain through Madrid before the conference and then briefly through Barcelona afterwards. In Madrid I made arrangements to spend three days at the Filmoteca Española looking at the Quixote material mentioned in chapters 19 and 20, but I was severely disappointed to discover that the ten hours I’d arranged to see mainly consisted of material from the TV series Nella Terra di Don Chisiotte and/or bits and pieces of what might be called the wreckage left by Jesus Franco’s disposal of the other footage, not including anything shot in Mexico.Read more »

The Curiosity of SKIDOO

From the online Moving Image Source (July 20, 2011),  — J.R

Everybody has their own Laurel and Hardy. A miniature Laurel and Hardy, one on each shoulder. Your little Oliver Hardy bawls you out -– he says, “Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten us into.” And your little Stan Laurel gets all weepy -– “Oh, Ollie, I couldn’t help it, I’m sorry, I did the best I could….”

– Groucho Marx on LSD

 

Living in a garbage can be a lot of fun….
Life is always equal in the can….

– the first and last lines of Skidoo’s Garbage Can Ballet

Seeing works of art, including films, in terms of success or failure, smash or flop, can be a form of tyranny, a limiting of options — not to mention a recipe for boredom, especially if one has no monetary stake in the outcome, which is true in most cases. So to say that Otto Preminger’s Skidoo –- which has finally become available on a letterboxed DVD, released by Olive Films -– failed at the boxoffice in 1968 and fails today, as it failed 43 years ago, as a lighthearted comedy, while certainly accurate, may not be the most helpful thing to say about it.… Read more »

Susan Sontag’s PROMISED LANDS

I wasn’t ready for Susan Sontag’s non-fiction film about the 1973 Yom Kippur War in 1974, and I’m not at all sure that I’m ready for it even now, on the DVD released by Zeitgeist and Kim Stim. But there’s no question that part of my perspective on it has changed. For one thing, this film obviously needs to be cross-referenced with her book of thirty years later, Regarding the Pain of Others. Furthermore, in 1974, when I attended Susan’s private screening of Promised Lands in Paris, I was probably expecting to hear her words and her voice, her writerly badges, and I was surprised that I got neither: the voices and words are mainly those of three unnamed individuals — Yoram Kaniuk (for me the most sympathetic commentator), Yuval Ne’emangood, and a psychiatrist at the end who claims to be offering therapy to a shellshocked Israeli soldier under a drug-induced trance when he contrives to recreate the soldier’s wartime trauma, complete with brutal sound effects. (After the screening, Sontag described the latter aptly and with considerable horror as “Docteur Folamour”  — the French name for Dr. Strangelove — and I strongly suspect that it was this sequence that led to the film originally being banned in Israel.) Given especially the anguished screams of the soldier, it’s an unbearable conclusion, yet this grisly patch of “medical” theater itself morphs into Sontag’s own theater of war as the sound of comparable cries plays over the advancing of Israeli tanks, and the profusion of corpses that we see throughout the film are no less assaulting.… Read more »

The Scandals of AMORE

Commissioned by BFI Video for an April 2015 release. — J.R.

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L’amore: Due storie d’amore (Love: Two Love Stories, 1947-1948), as it was originally known, is the first feature of Roberto Rossellini to have been completed after his celebrated war trilogy of Rome Open City (1945), Paisà (1946), and Germany Year Zero (1947), although in fact its first episode, A Human Voice (a one-act play by Jean Cocteau), was shot just before Germany Year Zero, and its second, The Miracle, was shot afterwards.  A sort of two-part concerto-showcase for Anna Magnani, designed as a single feature, it was originally released outside in Italy only in truncated form due to a failure to clear the rights for the Cocteau play. Gavin Lambert noted in his review of the second film for Monthly Film Bulletin in 1950, ‘Although The Miracle is strong enough to stand on its own, and can fairly be judged as a film in itself, the fact that it is now shown partially out of context has meant some shifting of emphasis: it appears as an isolated tour de force, whereas if it had followed La Voix Humaine, the dedicatory tribute would have been reinforced, the spotlight focused even more sharply on Magnani.’ Seeing the two films together on this release finally provides us with an opportunity to regard them together as interactive parts of a single work.… Read more »

The Humanity of the Defeated: GERMANY YEAR ZERO

Written in September 2009 for a Criterion’s DVD box set devoted to Roberto Rossellini’s War trilogy, released a few months later. — J.R.

Unlike the more aesthetically and intellectually conceived French New Wave, Italian neorealism was above all an ethical initiative — a way of saying that people were important, occasioned by a war that made many of them voiceless, faceless, and nameless victims. But this was, of course, a conviction that carried plenty of aesthetic and intellectual, as well as spiritual, consequences, including some that we’re still mulling over today.

Deliberately or not, Germany Year Zero concludes Roberto Rossellini’s War Trilogy by posing a kind of philosophical conundrum, a fact already signaled by its title, which he borrowed, with permission, from a book by French sociologist Edgar Morin. It was a title that stumped even Joseph Burstyn and Arthur Mayer, the American producers of Rome Open City and Paisan, and the fact that Rossellini, characteristically trusting his instincts, refused to say what he meant by it eventually encouraged them to back out of the project, which was largely financed by the French government.… Read more »

On the Arrest of Roman Polanski [updated, 10/2/09]

American lynch mobs never die; they only become more self-righteous about their savagery. [9/28/09]

Postscript: Some readers of the above have asked me for some elaboration. By way of partial explanation, I can offer both an op-ed article by Robert Harris in the New York Times and my own briefer statement for the Times‘ Room for Debate blog. And, to quote myself again, from Richard Roeper’s blog: “I’m not claiming that artists deserve any special privileges of any kind. But if Polanski wasn’t famous, he wouldn’t have been arrested in Switzerland in the first place. The only reason why anyone’s writing about him now is because he’s famous. Focusing on a crime 30-odd years ago, however reprehensible, when so many other and bigger and more recent crimes are around and relevant (and unpunished) sounds to me like hysteria/exploitation/journalism/sensationalism/ entertainment — anything but impartial justice.”  [10/2/09]… Read more »

Roman Polanski and The Catastrophe of Public Discourse

While I was in Vienna in October 2009, helping to launch my film series “The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S.,” Der Standard commissioned the following article from me. Since they didn’t run it, I decided to post it here, spurred in part by an excellent article by David Walsh on a related subject that Christa Fuller brought to my attention.

To update my concerns to the present, one might substitute condemnations of Woody Allen and/or Ronan Farrow to those of Roman Polanski and his accusers, which are currently being treated in the press and social media at times as more important than the crimes of, say, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin. — J.R.

Roman Polanski and The Catastrophe of Public Discourse

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

The recent arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland, on charges for fleeing to France 31 years earlier before standing trial for illegal sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, was obviously a notable news item. But that alone could hardly have accounted for the indignant outcries from the American press and blogosphere about the nature of Polanski’s crime and the justice of his arrest.

Why should the case of Polanski be considered more relevant to the present moment than the multiple war crimes of Dick Cheney, for instance?… Read more »

Whose Current American Cinema?

Commissioned by and written for the Italian web site 8 1/2, published in September 2017. — J.R.

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When asked what I think about current American cinema, my first response is to ask another question: whose American cinema?  Because given the splintering of both the audience and all the possible venues for what we now call American cinema, it’s no longer possible to describe it as a single homogeneous entity.

Perhaps it was always wrong to describe it as such, but when I was growing up in the 1950s, there was still an American cinema that appeared to belong to everyone. Today we have only a series of separate niche markets and venues that seem to exist independently of one another. For the sake of both clarity and candor, I should confess that from 1987 through 2007, I was the principal film critic for the principal alternative newspaper in Chicago, the Chicago Reader, which meant that I was professionally obliged to keep up with what was regarded, rightly or wrongly, as “current American cinema”. Since my voluntary retirement from that post, I’ve been a cinephile with no professional obligations, and my preferences in that capacity have been to systematically avoid films featuring superheroes, most horror films and war films, sports films, blockbusters, and most of the other releases mainly targeted for teenage and preteen boys.… Read more »

A CELEBRATION

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Four years ago, in Sarajevo, I assigned my filmmaking students at Film.Factory to make five-minute “remakes” of Seijun Suzuki’s Pistol Opera. One of those students, Ghazi Alqudcy, asked me to costar in his own film, A Celebration, along with Gonzalo Escobar Mora — who has just moved to Chicago, along with another of my Film.Factory students, Emma Rozanski. Later today, I’m meeting Gonzalo and Emma for lunch, and in celebration of their arrival, here is…A Celebration.

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[5/28/18]… Read more »

Human Resources

From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 2002). — J.R.

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In Laurent Cantet’s 1999 French feature, written with Gilles Marchand, a student at a Paris business school returns home to Normandy to intern at the factory where his father has worked for 30 years. When the son and other workers go on strike and the antiunion father is let go, the son finds himself and his father on opposite sides of the fence. This sharp, convincing, and utterly contemporary political film calls to mind some of Ken Loach’s work, full of passion as well as precision. Cantet’s subsequent film, L’Emploi des Temps (Time Out), a prizewinner in Venice, shows an even more masterful grasp of the business world and all that it entails. This filmmaker is definitely someone to get acquainted with. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)

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Nowhere Man [TIME OUT]

From the Chicago Reader (April 19, 2002). — J.R.

Time Out

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Laurent Cantet

Written by Robin Campillo and Cantet

With Aurelien Recoing, Karin Viard, Serge Livrozet, Jean-Pierre Mangeot, Monique Mangeot, Nicolas Kalsch, Marie Cantet, Felix Cantet, and Maxime Sassier.

My French-English dictionary defines l’emploi du temps — the term used as the French title of Laurent Cantet’s remarkable feature Time Out — as the “timetable (of work), allotment of time.” Neither translation makes for a catchy film title, so it’s easy to understand why “time out” was selected. It also seems a fairly apt description of the spooky shadow existence of the film’s bland yet mysterious and compelling hero, Vincent Renault (Aurelien Recoing). A financial consultant fired weeks or months previously, he’s afraid to tell his family and friends the news. After a former work associate starts to wonder why he hasn’t told his wife, Muriel (Karin Viard), he invents a new job with the United Nations that obliges him to spend time in Switzerland, then gets his father and some friends from high school to invest in his imaginary activities. All the while he remains on the margins, spending much of his time in a hotel lobby, sleeping in his car in the hotel’s parking lot, eating in convenience stores, and driving aimlessly around the countryside near Grenoble and the French-Swiss border.… Read more »

Heading South

From the Chicago Reader (March 3, 2006). — J.R.

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This bold departure by French director Laurent Cantet (Human Resources, Time Out) follows three middle-aged Americans (Karen Young, Charlotte Rampling, Louise Portal) whose vacations in Haiti during the brutal reign of Baby Doc Duvalier include encounters with male prostitutes. Cantet is concerned not only with the women’s psychologies and complex interrelations as they compete for the same local hunk (Menothy Cesar) but also with the global economics at work. The film tackles more than it can master, but it’s never less than fascinating, and all three leads are exceptional. Screenwriter Robin Campillo adapted three short stories by Dany Laferriere. In English and subtitled French and Creole. 106 min. (JR)

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Sexism in the French New Wave

From Film Quarterly (Spring 2009). — J.R.

 

One way of looking back at the sense of male privilege underlying much of the French New Wave would be to consider Céline and Julie Go Boating (1974) as a belated commentary on it. I’ve long regarded that masterpiece as a late-blooming, final flowering of the New Wave, especially for its referentiality in relation to cinephilia and film criticism. For one thing, it glories in the kind of compulsive doubling of shots and characters that François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, and Jacques Rivette himself all discovered in Alfred Hitchcock’s movies. But it also puts a kind of stopper on the New Wave in the way it both underlines and responds to that movement’s sexism through the services of its four lead actresses, all of whom collaborated on its script: Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, and Marie-France Pisier. Every male character, both in the story proper and in the film-with-in-the-film, is viewed as absurd, both as a romantic fop and as a narcissist who ultimately elicits the heroines’ scorn and ridicule: the patriarch (Barbet Schroeder) in the Phantom Ladies over Paris segments, playing his two phantom ladies (Ogier and Pisier) off against one another; and, in the story proper, Julie’s small-town suitor (Philippe Clévenot), Céline’s boss (Jean Douchet), and various male customers at the cabaret.Read more »

Whose Cinema? (From Marketplace to Community)

Written for Whose Cinema?, a Critics’ Choice Slow Criticism Project booklet published at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, January 27 — February 7, 2016, and in the February 2016 issue of the online Filmkrant. — J.R.

Sneeze in Notfilm

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“Back then [in Hungary in the late 1970s], it was the censorship of the politics, and now we have the censorship of the market. What has changed? The climate is the same. If you are a filmmaker, it is always fucked up.”

                              –Béla Tarr at the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), 2012

 

“Piracy isn’t a victimless crime,” is what we read at the beginnings of an inordinate number of DVDs and Blu-Rays — to which I’m often tempted to reply that capitalism isn’t always or invariably a victimless crime either, especially when the victim turns out to be the consumer. And the fact that piracy is usually regarded as a crime and capitalism usually isn’t should mark the beginning of any clear-headed discussion of who (or what) cinema should belong to.

 

If “Whose cinema?” is a question that needs to be answered, we first have to add another question, and an even thornier one — “What cinema (or whose cinema) are we talking about?” — before we can even think about formulating an answer.… Read more »

Juggernaut (1974 review)

This review originally appeared in the October 1974 issue of Monthly Film Bulletin. —J.R.

Juggernaut

U.S.A., 1974                                              Director: Richard Lester

A disconcerting aspect of Richard Lester’s last feature, The Three Musketeers, was the evidence of a director trying to play several separate games — and please several separate audiences — at the same time, often leading to a diffusion of interest as the film briskly bounced from one tone or style to another. Juggernaut, clearly designed as nothing more or less than  yet another ship-disaster blockbuster, is a marked improvement in this respect, because however unoriginal its base ingredients, it hardly ever slackens its pace or diverts attention from its central premises. After a rather deceptive Petulia-like opening — the camera panning up the legs of a girl trombonist in the band celebrating the Britannic’s launching, followed by a string of typical Lester vignettes extracted from the surrounding fanfare (mainly “overheard” one-liners singled out on the soundtrack and disembodied somewhat from the visuals, giving them a certain resemblance to comic-strip bubbles) — the plot settles down to the cross-cutting techniques common to the genre, and the short gags (e.g., two children on the boat playing a flipper machine called “Shipwreck”) are used thereafter a bit more sparingly.… Read more »