Monthly Archives: July 2018

PLACING MOVIES, Part 4: Provocations (Introduction)

This is the Introduction to the fourth section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R.

PlacingMovies

This is the most rebellious and contentious section of the book, and because of this, some readers will regard it as the least practical or viable. Before you make up your own mind about this, however, I’d like to ask you to examine precisely what you mean by “practical” and “viable.” Do you mean most likely to change the world, or do you mean most likely to affect the majority? If in fact you believe that the likeliest way to change the world is invariably to affect the majority, then it might be beneficial to look at that premise a little more closely and see if it always holds up.

Speaking from my own experience, the times when I’ve reached the greatest number of readers at once — writing features in the pages of magazines like Elle and Omni — are the times when my point of view has had the least amount of effect.… Read more »

PLACING MOVIES, Part 3: Filmmakers (Introduction)

This is the Introduction to the second section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R. 

PlacingMovies

I should begin here with a somewhat embarrassed confession about a methodology I have employed with increasing frequency, especially since the mid-1980s — the practice of recycling certain elements from my earlier criticism. On a purely practical level, it can of course be argued that very few people who read me in, say, the Monthly Film Bulletin in 1974 are likely to be following my weekly columns in the Chicago Reader two decades later, and that my pieces for Soho News in 1980 (to cite another random example) are not likely to have survived in the periodical collections of many libraries. But I still blush to admit that, in a hatchet job I performed on Donald Richie’s book on Ozu for Sight and Sound in 1975, I sharply reproached Richie for reusing the same phrases about Ozu again and again in his own criticism. This was written at a relatively early stage in my own career when I imagined other film buffs like myself going to libraries and reading virtually everything in print on a given topic; I didn’t really think through the implications of writing about the same films and filmmakers for different audiences in separate countries over many decades — as Richie had certainly already done at that point, and as I have subsequently done.… Read more »

PLACING MOVIES, Part 1: The Critical Apparatus (Introduction)

This is the Introduction to the first section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taking the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site. — J.R.

 

PlacingMovies

 

Introduction

 

Although this entire book is devoted to film criticism as a practice, this section emphasizes this fact by dealing with film criticism directly as a subject. This includes both specific examinations of the work of other critics and polemical forays into questions about how critics and reviewers operate on a day-to-day basis. A broader look at the same topic might question whether film criticism as it’s presently constituted is a worthy activity in the first place — if in fact the public would be better off without it.

 

 

I should add that it’s the institutional glibness of film criticism in both its academic and mainstream branches — above all in the United States, where it seems most widespread and least justifiable — that has led me on occasion to raise this latter question. Speaking as someone who set out to become a professional writer but not a professional film critic, I’ve never felt that movie reviewing was an especially exalted activity, but I didn’t start out with any contempt or disdain for the profession either.… Read more »

PLACING MOVIES, Part 2: Touchstones (Introduction)

This is the Introduction to the second section of my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1993). I’ve taken the liberty of adding a few links to some of the pieces of mine mentioned here which appear on this web site.

My original title for this section of the book was “Masterpieces,” but the editor, Ed Dimendberg, who had a much better sense of what was academically acceptable than I did, got me to change it to “Touchstones”. For the record, I still think that “Masterpieces” is better. — J.R.

PlacingMovies

It seems to me that one of the most underrated elements in criticism is quite simply information — relevant facts deriving from research — and how this is imparted to the reader in relation to other elements. Thanks to the prestige of theory in academia and the equally valued role played by rhetoric in journalistic criticism, facts often seem to be held in relatively low esteem in critical writing nowadays, but as long as criticism aspires to be a vehicle for discovery, it seems to me that research should play a much larger role than it normally does. I bring this matter up because the value of the information imparted in all the pieces in this section seems to me  inextricably tied to what I have to say about these films, and my analyses would be appreciably different without it — a factor that is probably most obvious when it comes to GERTRUD and OTHELLO.*

________________________________________________________________ *The review of the latter film — like the separate Welles essay in the next section — represents one of the many “spinoffs” of the long-term research that went into editing This Is Orson Welles by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich (HarperCollins, 1992).… Read more »

Feeling the Unthinkable (25TH HOUR)

From the January 17, 2003 issue of the Chicago Reader. For those who care about such things, there are spoilers ahead. — J.R.

25th Hour

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Spike Lee

Written by David Benioff

With Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Siragusa, and Levani.

I’ve complained a lot about Spike Lee as a filmmaker, before he made his remarkable Do the Right Thing (1989) and after. But the only time I’ve been tempted to accuse him of falling back on the tried and true was when he made Malcolm X and attempted to adapt his subject’s autobiography as if he were Cecil B. De Mille or David O. Selznick. I don’t mean that Lee hasn’t stubbornly stuck to the same stylistic tropes and mannerisms throughout most of his career — leaving them behind only when the occasion demanded it, as in his expert filming of Roger Guenveur Smith’s powerful performance piece The Huey P. Newton Story – but the stylistic consistency is his own. Moreover, taking on dissimilar projects he has always moved in exploratory directions, showing a lot of courage and initiative in his creative choices — even when they’re half-baked (as some are in Get on the Bus) or overblown (as in Bamboozled).… Read more »

Starting Out in Film Criticism [from PLACING MOVIES]

The main introduction to my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (University of California Press, 1995), still in print. — J.R.

PlacingMovies

This book is intended as a companion and sequel to an autobiographical experiment I carried out in the late 1970s, published in 1980 by Harper & Row as Moving Places: A Life at the Movies. The present volume doesn’t require a reading of that earlier book — long out of print, though recently reprinted by the University of California Press so as to reappear alongside this collection; however, since many of this volume’s premises are predicated on either extensions or inversions of the premises of its predecessor, a few words about that book and the material it covers are in order.

MovingPlacesjacket

Most of Moving Places is concerned with my childhood in northwestern Alabama, specifically in relation to my family and what was known as the family business from around 1914 to 1960. This business began when my grandfather, Louis Rosenbaum, started operating his first movie theater in Douglas, Wyoming, and it existed until Rosenbaum Theaters, owned by my grandfather and managed by my father, was sold to a larger chain. I was born in 1943, and the family business afforded me a steady diet of free movies through the age of sixteen, when I went away to school in Vermont.Read more »

Displaced Agendas, Real Corpses: NIGHT WILL FALL

Written for Artforum (February 2015). — J.R.

Night-Will-Fall-Holocaust-Documentary1

Doomed by shifting postwar social and political agendas, the never-completed documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey — launched in April 1945 by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and shelved in September — might have been the key nonfiction film on the subject had it been finished and shown as originally planned, as required viewing for German prisoners of war. Shot by trained GI  cameramen accompanying British, American, and Russian troops as they liberated the camps, it might even have served as the principal disclosure to the rest of the world of the hitherto unthinkable conditions these troops uncovered.

NightWillFall-inmate

Produced by Sidney Bernstein — an old chum of Alfred Hitchcock’s who would later produce, uncredited, Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), Under Capricorn (1949), and I Confess (1953), and who persuaded Hitchcock to come to London to supervise the documentary’s postproduction — the film was halted by British embarrassment about the tangled fate of camp survivors (many of whom chose to remain in the camps, having nowhere else to go), combined with a reluctance to further demoralize the postwar German populace. But there was still enough of a desire to educate (or browbeat) the Germans to engage Billy Wilder to make a short film using parts of the atrocity footage, yielding Death Mills, which premiered in 1945 to five hundred viewers in Würzburg after a Lilian Harvey operetta, although only seventy-five or so remained to the end.… Read more »

Directions for Use

I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the eleventh and last.

Note: The following index to Moving Places: A Life at the Movies (1980) cannot be used here for its pagination in relation to this particular web site, but the links provided lead directly to the relevant passages online.

Another note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. – J.R.

Directions for Use

An attempt to extend the usefulness and reduce the elitism of the standard index, in which the reader is enabled to trace certain connections and to discover or rediscover the traces of certain people, places, films, and other cultural artifacts, in motion and in circulation, whether cited or merely evoked in the text. A few supplementary bibliographical suggestions are also included.

A

Aaron, Judge Edward, 142 , 192

A Bout De Souffle. See Breathless

Academy Awards, 118 , 124

Advent screens, ix , 118 , 147 , 174

Advertising, x , 7 -8, 10 , 18 , 29 , 35 , 40 , 43 , 52 -53, 55 , 58 , 60 , 63 , 68 , 77 , 85 , 93 , 98 -99, 101 , 108-120 , 122 , 123 -124, 127 , 142 -143, 144 , 149 , 158 , 177 .Read more »

Made in Hoboken

I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the tenth.

Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.

5—

Made in Hoboken

Douglas, Wyoming, 1914—three states away from where our old friend Gordon MacRae is still only a radical freshman or a freethinking sophomore at the University of Indiana—Bo is operating his very first movie theater, at the age of twenty-seven. Think of it: when Jonathan’s the same age, in 1970, he’s working fitfully on his second yet-to-be unpublished novel, completing his first yet-to-be unpublished book as an editor (a collection of film criticism he was commissioned to do), still living on the dregs of Bo’s inheritance, and dividing the first three months of the year among three countries: pursuing a heavy love affair in New York, having his appendix removed in London (and smoking hash with his brother Michael’s friends in a room called the Box), and taking acid all alone one beautiful spring afternoon in Paris, where he moved last fall, acid that suddenly prompts him to buy red paint, a roller, and brushes, and to go to work on his bedroom closets—a conversation with the wood, red saying one thing, grain saying another—and later sends him out the door and up rue Mazarine to the Odéon métro stop, a little after 6:30, to take the Porte de Clignancourt train as far as Châtelet and then the Mairie des Lilas train to République.Read more »

Station Identification II

I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the ninth.

Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.

Station Identification II

Yes, I need the Conquistador; and yes, I mistrust and sometimes despise him. At eight and ten, while watching On Moonlight Bay, I knew that I needed him, and I loved him, too; I’m sure that I even loved my servitude. Now I question how well he fulfilled his duties as a foster parent. I can’t deny that he kept me entertained and even busy, but whether he’s worthy of the sort of unquestioning admiration due to, say, Nigger Jim is a different matter. Right now I’d say that it was Uncle Remus who came closer to describing—or executing—his peculiar talents.

Now there was a traumatic experience. Walt Disney’s Song of the South , according to my real parents, was the first film they ever took me to (probably during its initial run at the Princess, April 8–11, 1947, not long after I turned four and less than a year after Bo taught me how to read).… Read more »

Rocky Horror Playtime Vs. Shopping Mall Home

I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the eighth.

Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. — J.R.

4—
Rocky Horror Playtime Vs. Shopping Mall Home

Seven weeks ago, when I received a call from Adriano Aprà in Rome inviting me to speak at this conference, I was in my hometown, Florence, Alabama, where my parents live today.[1] I have moved with all my belongings seventeen times in the past twenty years, and I will have to find and move to yet another place in New York as soon as I return from this conference. Nevertheless, I consider myself unusually fortunate, fortunate not only in being here—in this city and this country for the first time in my life—but in having a hometown to return to year after year: a fixed reference point. And fortunate in being the grandson of the man who ran most of the local movie theaters when I was growing up, which meant that I had virtually unlimited access to most of what was shown.… Read more »

If Looks Could Kill (II)

I am reprinting the entirety of my first and most ambitious book (Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, New York: Harper & Row, 1980) in its second edition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995) on this site in eleven installments. This is the seventh.

Note: The book can be purchased on Amazon here, and accessed online in its entirety here. – J.R.

II

Of married ones and single ones
And families and daters
There’s fun for all of you this week
At the Muscle Shoals Theatres!

 

“Three Stripes in the Sun” is the name of one
That’s playing the Shoals today
It concerns an Army sergeant
Better known as Aldo Ray.

 

“Blood Alley” refers to the Formosa Straits
A dangerous part of the ocean
Where Communists, storms and Lauren Bacall
Keep John Wayne in perpetual motion.
—from Stanley Rosenbaum’s Sunday column, Florence Times , January 8, 1956

 

Sometimes it wasn’t the movie at all but the configuration that went with it, or came out of it, or burned straight through it like a dropped cigarette—the static image summoned up by title, poster, billboard, newspaper ad, review, or some other form of promotion. Or maybe it was the false yet enduring and prevailing expectation.Read more »