Yearly Archives: 2018

Our Heroes (QUIZ SHOW)

From the Chicago Reader (September 23, 1994). — J.R.

QUIZ SHOW ***

(A must-see)

Directed by Robert Redford

Written by Paul Attanasio

With Rob Morrow, Ralph Fiennes, John Turturro, David Paymer, Christopher McDonald, Elizabeth Wilson, and Paul Scofield.

Behind the opening and closing credits of Quiz Show we hear two different pop versions of “Mack the Knife” — Bobby Darin’s bright, Lyle Lovett’s funereal — perhaps an indication that director Robert Redford has something faintly Brechtian in mind. If so, probably the most relevant Brecht passage is the exchange that concludes the 12th scene of Galileo, when Andrea, the son of Galileo’s housekeeper, quotes the maxim “Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.” Galileo replies, “No, Andrea: ‘Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.’”

On the other hand, this is Robert Redford we’re talking about, who’s been a hero in this unhappy land for the past three decades, not someone who’s ever been known to seriously rock any boats. A better indication of what makes Quiz Show so interesting, suggestive, and fruitful (if not Brechtian) is the showroom spiel for a glittering Chrysler 300 given to the movie’s hero, congressional investigator Richard N. Goodwin, shown out shopping just before the opening credits.… Read more »

On Penelope Houston

Written for Sight and Sound, November 2015. — J.R.

 

I hope I can be forgiven for quoting myself in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism (1993): “As I’ve discovered in my own endeavours in editing the prose of Truffaut, Welles and Bogdanovich, the best editing is usually the kind the reader is least aware of, though the supreme masters of this game – who within my experience are probably Penelope Houston and Michael Lenehan – sometimes manage to minimise the awareness of the writer as well.” Lenehan was the main editor for several years at the Chicago Reader, and Penelope’s stint at Sight and Sound was considerably longer. Over two decades later, I can add without hesitation that no editor that I’ve ever worked with has known more and taught me more about the mechanics of prose than Penelope.

But I hasten to add that my indebtedness to her goes far beyond her superb gifts as an editor. I might even say that it was her taste, above all, that drew me to her magazine in the first place, and her determination to acquire an English work permit for me – a process that I recall took the better part of half a year – that enabled me to move to London from Paris in 1974, to serve as assistant editor at Monthly Film Bulletin (under Richard Combs, a supportive boss and fine editor in his own right) and staff writer for Sight and Sound, my first major job anywhere.… Read more »

We Love It When They Lie [JACOB'S LADDER]

From the Chicago Reader (November 16, 1990). This film has recently come out on Blu-Ray. — J.R.

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JACOB’S LADDER

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Adrian Lyne

Written by Bruce Joel Rubin

With Tim Robbins, Elizabeth Pena, Danny Aiello, Matt Craven, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jason Alexander, and Patricia Kalember.

“Around twenty-four hundred years ago Chuang Tzu dreamed that he was a butterfly and when he awakened he did not know if he was a man who had dreamed he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man.” The sense of metaphysical free-fall conveyed in this sentence from Jorge Luis Borges’s great essay “A New Refutation of Time” is like the disorientation one feels after watching a gripping and involving movie — a movie like Jacob’s Ladder, for instance. Like Chuang Tzu, one isn’t quite sure whether one has just left a dream, just entered one, or embarked on some magical if unsettling combination of the two. I tend to be partial to movies that traffic in these systematic displacements of reality — starting with Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad (1962), the locus classicus of this genre, continuing through much less radical examples like Fellini’s 8 1/2 (1963), and extending even to minor forays like last summer’s Total Recall.… Read more »

Girl With a Camera

This appeared in the November 15, 1991 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

VIDEOS BY SADIE BENNING

I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of the caméra-stylo [camera-pen],” Alexandre Astruc wrote prophetically in 1948 in the journal Écran français. “This metaphor has a very precise sense. By it I mean that the cinema will gradually break free from the tyranny of what is visual, from the image for its own sake, from the immediate and concrete demands of the narrative, to become a means of writing just as flexible and as subtle as written language . . .

It must be understood that up to now the cinema has been nothing more than a show. This is due to the basic fact that all films are projected in an auditorium. But with the development of 16-millimeter and television, the day is not far off when everyone will possess a projector, will go to the local bookstore and hire films written on any subject, of any form, from literary criticism and novels to mathematics, history, and general science. From that moment on, it will no longer be possible to speak of the cinema.Read more »

I, Robot

From the Chicago Reader (July 16, 2004). — J.R.

i-robot

It’s much more of an action flick than either Metropolis or Blade Runner, but there’s a provocative and visionary side to this free adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s SF classic that puts it in the same thoughtful canon. The story is set in Chicago in 2035, and the cityscape, designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, is futuristic yet Victorian around the edges. Built into the mystery plot are reflections about robots as extensions of human will that build up to a wide-ranging but unpreachy critique of everything from corporate malfeasance to the Patriot Act. Will Smith plays an old-fashioned homicide cop investigating the ostensible suicide of a scientist; Bridget Moynahan is an expert in robot psychology. Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) directs a script by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldman that’s lively enough to justify a few hokey flourishes. R, 100 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Village North, Webster Place.… Read more »

Letter from London (1978)

From American Film (May 1978). – J.R.

What’s been happening to British film production lately? If one tries to sort out the myriad confusions of financing patterns, it seems possible to arrive at two diametrically opposed conclusions — depending upon where one happens to be sitting and who one happens to be listening to. One conclusion says that things look bleaker than ever, with no genuine relief in sight. The other sees a renaissance of British filmmaking just around the corner.

On the one hand, toting up the investments of British capital in expensive feature productions, things seem to be unusually active. The brothers Lord Lew Grade and Lord Bernard Delfont seem to be leading the pack with their respective companies, ITC and EMI, preparing such extravaganzas as Franklin J. Schaffner’s The Boys From Brazil (ITC) -– starring Gregory Peck, Laurence Olivier, James Mason, Lilli Palmer, and Uta Hagen — and Death on the Nile (EMI), another all-star special featuring Peter Ustinov, Jane Birkin, Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, Jon Finch, Maggie Smith, David Niven, and Angela Lansbury, under the direction of John Guillermin. Even the long-restive Rank organization has been getting back into financial participation.

On the other hand, where’s the indigenous British product?… Read more »

Into Barbarism

I’ve taken this text and these photographs from The Point‘s web site, correcting the grammar of their transcript in a couple of places to clarify my meanings. — J.R.

The following is an edited transcript of remarks delivered by Jonathan Rosenbaum at High Concept Laboratories in Chicago on June 5, 2014.  Mr. Rosenbaum and the other two panelists were asked to respond to The Point’s issue 8 editorial on the new humanities.

I’m the odd person out in this gathering because I’m not an academic, although I teach periodically in various, most often relatively unacademic, situations. And plus, I could be described as a failed academic. Before I came to Chicago I was teaching for four years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but prior to that I actually began my failed academic career in the U.S. where Robert Pippin had his background, at UC San Diego. And in between I was an adjunct at NYU and at the School of Visual Arts, etc.

My academic background, actually, was in English. I was an English major as an undergraduate and in graduate school I did everything but a dissertation in English and American literature. But then I went to Europe and ended up being a journalist.

Read more »

Sound Thinking (1978, with Carrie Rickey)

From The Thousand Eyes, Fall 1978. Carrie Rickey and I embarked on this film series and article shortly after we became flat mates, but lamentably it didn’t pan out as we hoped it would; our program notes, for starters, never got distributed. — J.R.

Sound Thinking

By Carrie Rickey and Jonathan Rosenbaum

One of the consequences of describing the world around us is that language separates into different senses what we often experience as a unified whole. Language, an instrument — perhaps the instrument — of’ culture, overvalues the visual at the expense of the other four senses. Our language for the way we see is more precise: looks are eminently describable, we discuss color, dimensions, surface.

Our language for the way we hear is a jumble, less precise. Ambient sound consists of so many simultaneous events: acoustics of a space., buzz of appliances, rhythm of a clock, crowd voices, footfall. We “focus” on a visual event; we “concentrate” on sound, which is more difficult to pinpoint. We screen out the rumble of the subway train to concentrate on a movie.

If movies themselves are a selective screening process, the ways we experience them often censor out other elements. The way we talk about films — referring to “viewers” and “spectators”, talking about “seeing” a movie, asking, “How does it look?” — incorporates this idea of sensory censorship.… Read more »

NICKELODEON (1977 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977 (Vol. 44, No. 517). Over 30 years later, in my DVD column for Cinema Scope, I wrote, “Is it possible to find a picture acceptable only with its director’s commentary? Yes, if it’s Peter Bogdanovich’s clunky but interesting comedy about American moviemaking during the patent wars (1910-1915), prior to The Birth of a Nation, now that he’s finally had a chance to release it in black and white, as he originally intended, and recut it as well. Reviewing this when it came out…, I found its slapstick mainly irksome — not offensive, as it was to me in What’s Up, Doc?, where so many of the pratfalls, collisions, and smashups seemed to be about fatuous, narcissistic yuppies humiliating servants and carpenters, but pretty academic none the less…. It still looks academic, but hearing Bogdanovich explain where all the stories come from (mostly from Dwan, Ford, McCarey, and Walsh, with a curtain-closer from James Stewart) makes it somewhat more absorbing.” — J.R.

Nickelodeon

U.S.A./Great Britain, 1976
Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Chicago, July 30, 1910. Fleeing from a divorce court when he discovers that his client has an indefensible case, lawyer Leo Harrigan stumbles into H.… Read more »

Snowbound: A Dialogue with a Dialogue

This is the second of two interviews I’ve had with Michael Snow. (The first, “The `Presents‘ of Michael Snow,” can be found elsewhere on this site.) Commissioned by Simon Field, it ran in the Winter 1982/83 issue (no. 11) of the excellent English magazine Afterimage, a special issue called “Sighting Snow,” and it concerns both So Is This and Presents. I’ve incorporated some but not all of the additions from the version of this article that was reprinted in my book Film: The Front Line 1983 (Arden Press). I regret some of the hectoring tone of my political rhetoric here, and it became clear to me after Film: The Front Line 1983 was published that Snow objected to some of this rhetoric in the book even more, thus curtailing some of our friendship that had prevailed beforehand. – -J.R.

Snowbound: A Dialogue with a Dialogue

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

A few specifics about what follows. Last September 15th, I taped an interview with Michael Snow at his home in Toronto.… Read more »

DOGS’ DIALOGUE (1984 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, December 1984 (Vol. 51, No. 611). In retrospect, I’m rather proud of the synopsis here, which must have been a bitch to put together. -– J.R.

Colloque de chiens (Dogs’ Dialogue)

France, 1977
Director: R
âúl Ruiz

Cert–AA. dist–BFI. p.c–Filmoblic/L’Office de la Création Cinématographique. p–Hubert Niogret. asst. d–Michel Such. sc–Nicole Muchnik, Raul Ruiz. ph—Denis Lenoir, Patrice Millet. In colour. still ph–Patrice Morère, Mario Muchnik. ed–Valeria Sarmiento. m–Sergio Arriagada. cost–Fanny Lebihan, Yves Hersen. sd. rec–Michel Villain. sd. re-rec–Paul Bertaud. English version/English commentary—Michael Graham. French version/French commentary–Robert Darmel. l.p–Eva Simonet, Silke Humel, Frank Lesne, Marie Christine Poisot, Hugo Santiago, Geneviève Such, Laurence Such, Michel Such, Pierre Olivier Such, Yves Wecker, the dogs of the Gramont refuge. 1,938 ft. 22 mins. (35 mm.)

The film alternates three kinds of material: footage of barking dogs, shots of streets and other locations, and the following story, illustrated chiefly by a series of stills (and occasionally by shots in motion) and narrated off-screen: Monique discovers in a school playground that the woman she believes to be her mother isn’t her mother. At home, she learns that her real mother is a woman named Marie, who doesn’t know who her father was.… Read more »

A Christmas Commodity: SCROOGED

From the Chicago Reader (November 25, 1988). — J.R.

SCROOGED

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Richard Donner

Written by Mitch Glazer and Michael O’Donoghue

With Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Bobcat Goldthwait, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, and Alfre Woodard.

It must have been in the late 50s or early 60s when, as a teenager, I happened across a story in a movie fan magazine, probably Photoplay, about the pop/movie star Fabian. Fabian, the magazine explained, was getting so popular that he couldn’t go out on a date without being besieged by reporters and photographers. Recently, however, he’d eluded them and been able to take out a lovely lady; the magazine was celebrating the event — I swear I’m not making this up — with a two-page spread of photos and captions that chronicled the evening from beginning to end, from the moment he called on his date to the good-night kiss on her doorstep. “An intimate look,” I think they called it.

A comparable game for the gullible is performed by Scrooged, which attempts to obfuscate its own apparatus as thoroughly as that magazine did 20-odd years ago. I know we’re all supposed to be more knowledgeable and therefore more cynical about the media today.… Read more »

En movimiento: Seeing Masterpieces Alone

Written for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine‘s November 2018 issue. — J.R.

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red

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The three best new films I’ve seen so far this year, all of which qualify as experimental, have all been seen by me without the benefit of an audience: Travis Wilkerson’s Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun? was initially presented as a live performance piece, narrated by Wilkerson, and most people have seen Jean-Luc Godard’s Le livre d’image with English subtitles and a carefully arranged four-track sound system, but I’ve seen both films only on my laptop, without any such extras. And so far I’ve only been able to see the final version of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind alone in a screening room. In short, I haven’t yet been able to see any of these films as a physical part of any group, which means that any sense of my being part of an audience has to depend exclusively on the resources of the Internet.

Travis Wilkerson’s remarkable essay film about the murder of a black man by his great-grandfather in Dothan, Alabama in 1946 opened in New York half a year ago. I’m grateful to A.O. Scott for his enthusiastic review alerting me to this film’s existence, which made me forgive Scott for what appeared to be his blindness to the subtler forms of racism and class bias practiced by Woody Allen in the reviewer’s latest “troubled” ruminations about that overrated figure.… Read more »

Frankie & Johnny Are Married

From the Chicago Reader (December 10, 2004). — J.R.

F&JAM

A fascinating blend of fiction and documentary, this feature by Michael Pressman chronicles his emotionally complicated LA production of Terrence McNally’s play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune. Pressman’s wife, Lisa Chess, costarred in the show with his old friend Alan Rosenberg, until difficulties with Rosenberg convinced Pressman to take over the part himself. These three and many other people (including Kathy Baker and Hector Elizondo) play themselves in the movie, which only begins to suggest the ambiguities Pressman exploits to the utmost. Emerging from all this is a fascinating look at the nuts and bolts of theater work and an often hilarious depiction of how personal neuroses help and hinder it. R, 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Frankie & Johnny

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1991). — J.R.

frankie_and_johnny

Terrence McNally’s two-character play Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune is about an embittered coffee shop waitress, the victim of rape by her father, who reluctantly succumbs to the advances of a much younger short-order cook fresh out of prison. Leave it to producer-director Garry Marshall, who brought us Pretty Woman, to Hollywoodize this grim scenario to the point of incoherence (with a script by McNally himself), casting Michelle Pfeiffer as the waitress and Al Pacino as the (now older) short-order cook, and substituting wife-beating for incestuous rape. To their credit, the filmmakers do a fair job of depicting the workings of a Manhattan coffee shop (despite some unnecessary cruelty involving one of the other waitresses), but not even the usually resourceful leads can overcome the missing or muddled motivations when it comes to the romance. Marshall only makes things worse by socking us with protracted, meaningful close-ups and punchy Marvin Hamlisch music meant to paper over the gaps. With Hector Elizondo (quite effective) and Kate Nelligan (painfully miscast) (1991). (JR)… Read more »