Yearly Archives: 2019

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 3)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. — J.R.

Don Quichotte - Francisco Reiguera

 

DQ-autograveyard

 

June 13, 1994

Dear Bill,

It’s good to have all your multifaceted thoughts about It’s All True, which makes your letter worth the long wait. I especially value what you have to say regarding the political implications of the film in the 1940s as well as the 1990s, because it seems that those implications have mainly eluded critics in both decades. As you well know, it wasn’t until Robert Stam published “Orson Welles, Brazil, and the Power of Blackness” in the seventh issue of Persistence of Vision (1989), with corroborating essays by both Catherine and Susan Ryan, that it finally became clear, forty-odd years after the event, that part of what was rattling so many studio executives and Brazilian government officials alike about Welles’s behavior in Rio was his particular interest in blacks. Maybe you’re right that he wasn’t a radical, but if It’s All True had been completed  and released in the early 1940s, it still might have offered a radical precedent: three Latin American stories focusing on non-white heroes.… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 2)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. — J.R.

IAL-OW

IAT-OW on boat

June 7, 1994

Dear Jonathan,

Sorry to have been so long replying. As you say, much has happened since you wrote your letter. We both started out years ago in a series of polemical articles to correct received ideas of Welles, and we seem to be making progress. This Is Orson Welles and It’s All True will be more  widely read and seen than those articles ever were. Already Richard Combs, writing about f for fake in the January–February 1994 Film Comment, acknowledges the thesis of Welles the independent filmmaker advanced by you in “The Invisible Orson Welles” as a corrective to the idea of Welles the great failure, then proceeds to propose a new theory of the work, with failure of another kind inscribed in it from the start.  That article would have been unthinkable a few years ago, when what might be called the vulgar theory of failure was still dominant.

The work on the Welles legacy is going well: Oja is set to co-direct a documentary that will include several of the important fragments; The Deep and The Other Side of the Wind may be finished in the next couple of years, and hope springs eternal where The Merchant of Venice is concerned.… Read more »

Orson Welles in the U.S.: An Exchange with Bill Krohn in Three Letters (Part 1)

Written originally for Trafic no. 12 (Fall 1994), where it appeared in French translation, translated by Bernard Eisenschitz; all three letters first appeared in English in Persistence of Vision No,. 11, 1995. The version here, including my introduction, comes from Discovering Orson Welles. – J.R.

discovering-orson-welles

This chapter -— the longest in my 2007 book Discovering Orson Welles, and in some ways my favorite -— was originally written for the French quarterly Trafic, and in fact was the first thing I ever wrote specifically for that magazine. The late Serge Daney (1942–1994) —- whom I’d known since his stint as editor of Cahiers du cinéma, when he’d gotten me to serve briefly as its New York correspondent (after Bill Krohn had shifted from that post to the same magazine’s Los Angeles correspondent) -— died of AIDS not longer after launching Trafic, and by my own choice, my first contribution, a memoir about working for Jacques Tati (see “The Death of Hulot” in my collection Placing Movies), was something I’d already written for and published in Sight and Sound. My second contribution was my brief introduction to Orson Welles’s “Memo to Universal”, an “outtake” from This Is Orson Welles that had been accepted by Serge’s coeditors (Raymond Bellour, Jean-Claude Biette, Sylvie Pierre, and Patrice Rollet) during Serge’s illness.Read more »

The Jester And The Queen

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1989). — J.R.

jester-and-the-queen-1987-jaroslav-fiser-poster-001

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Since the 1960s, when she did brilliant, radical work (Something Different, Daisies, Fruit of Paradise) that arguably made her the most inventive living Czech filmmaker, Vera Chytilova has had a checkered, uneven career. This is in part because, unlike such compatriots as Passer and Forman, she chose to remain in her country, where her work has ranged from bouncy sitcom (The Apple Game) to fairly unabashed state propaganda (Prague) to more ambitious fare (Prefab Story). This feature — adapted by her and Bolislav Polivka from a comic stage piece he wrote, and starring Polivka (a gifted mime) and his real-life wife Chantal Poulainova — is probably Chytilova’s best since the 60s. A quixotic custodian of a castle (Polivka) serves as a guide to a German tourist (Jiri Kodet) and his French fiancee (Poulainova); he imagines himself as a medieval court jester, with Poulainova as queen, and the film switches back and forth between the real characters and their fantasy counterparts. As eclectic and as aggressive a stylist as Charles Mingus, Chytilova employs wide-angle lenses, dizzying camera movements, and restless editing; as in Daisies, her fascination with power and gender roles projects a dangerous, Dionysian sexuality, and the trilingual dialogue spoken by the three leads adds complexity to the proceedings.… Read more »

A Note on the Demographics of My Web Site

According to Google Analytics, 81.8% of the 4,052 visitors to jonathanrosenbaum.net over the past week, who paid 6,035 visits to this site, were new visitors, and only 18.2% were returning visitors. Why is this the case?I have no idea. These visitors came from 139 countries, and I’m almost equally puzzled by the fact that most of them by far (almost 40% of the total) are between 25 and 34 years old, less than half my own age, and male (about 70%)–at least among the 32% that Google Analytics apparently knows about. The relevant charts showing this information are below. [10/12/2019]

 

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When Worlds Collide [WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT]

From the Chicago Reader (June 24, 1988). — J.R.


WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis

Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter Seaman

With Bob Hoskins, Joanna Cassidy, Christopher Lloyd, Stubby Kaye, Alan Tilvern, and the voices of Charles Fleischer and Kathleen Turner.

Imagine, if you can, that the characters who appear in animated cartoons actually exist. A repressed minority and endangered species known as Toons, they live on the fringes of Hollywood in 1947 in a ghetto known as Toontown; when they aren’t working for Disney or the other cartoon studios, they take on menial positions as waitresses, bartenders, cigarette girls, bouncers, and entertainers — at a segregated club called the Ink and Paint. (Among the acts at this dive are Donald Duck and Daffy Duck, who perform a duet on two pianos, and a vocalist named Jessica, a curvy vamp who’s a human Toon, accompanied by the bebop crows from Dumbo.)

Imagine, as well, that the live-action 40s Hollywood that these Toons are working in is the world of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, or at least that world as it was revised and “updated” by Robert Towne when he scripted Chinatown in the 70s. In the place of Chandler’s Marlowe and Towne’s Jake Gittes is Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins), a gumshoe whose jobs are mainly Toon-related, and whose partner and brother Teddy was killed a few years ago when an unknown Toon dropped a piano on the brothers, considerably dampening Eddie’s sense of humor and appreciation of Toons in the process.… Read more »

Anything for a Laugh [THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD!]

From the Chicago Reader (December 9, 1988). — J.R.

THE NAKED GUN: FROM THE FILES OF POLICE SQUAD!

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by David Zucker

Written by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Pat Proft.

With Leslie Nielsen, George Kennedy, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, O.J. Simpson, and Nancy Marchand.

Unlike some of my colleagues, I find the latest comedy by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker (the ZAZ team) a notch below their previous Airplane! (1980) and Top Secret! (1984). This shouldn’t matter much to anyone looking for an irreverent, anything-goes farce with a fair number of laughs; The Naked Gun is certainly that, and I don’t intend for the following to scare anyone away from it. But I do want to consider what’s been happening to the ZAZ team’s distinctive brand of satire over the past eight years.

All three ZAZ movies use as their point of departure the crystallized form of some bad formula movie. The lead characters wear deadpan expressions through their cliche roles, and the laughs derive largely from non sequiturs in their dialogue and from lunatic gags that surround them as they trudge through their routine plots, impervious to the silliness.

Airplane! stuck to this pattern pretty consistently, lampooning the disaster blockbusters of the 70s like Earthquake, the Airport sequels, and The Towering Inferno.… Read more »

PHASE IV (1974 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, October 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 489). -– J.R.

Great Britain, 1973
Director: Saul Bass

Ernest Hubbs, a research scientist, sets up an experimental dome in the Arizona of the resident ant population: the various species have united and are collectively destroying all their natural enemies. With the help of James Lesko, a colleague versed in computer analysis, Hubbs orders the Eldridge family to evacuate the area, and blasts the enormous anthills with grenades. When the Eldriges’ belateddeparture is precipitated by an ant attack, they are further incapacitated by the poison gas being used against the insects. Kendra, the granddaughter, is the only survivor, and is brought into the dome in a state of shock. The ants develop an immunity to the poison gas, and a subsequent experiment with mantises is foiled when Kundra hysterically smashes the lab equipment, causing Hubbs to be bitten on the hand by several ants. The ants ‘attack’ the dome with heat-focusing mirror surfaces, putting the computers out of commission; Lesko fights back with ‘white sound’, but the ants next succeed in destroying the dome’s air-conditioning unit. Lesko transmits a rectangular drawing to the ants in an effort to communicate, and receives in reply an identical drawing with a small circle containing a dot inside.… Read more »

Manuel De Landa [upgraded 9/14/09]

The following is a chapter from my book Film: The Front Line 1983 (Denver, CO: Arden Press, 1983), a volume commissioned as the first in a projected annual series that would survey recent independent and experimental filmmaking. (A second volume, Film: The Front Line 1984, by David Ehrenstein, appeared the following year, but lamentably the series never continued after that, for a variety of reasons, even though both volumes remain in print.) I have followed the format used in both books.

It’s worth adding that De Landa  abandoned filmmaking not long after this article appeared –- after planning, as I recall (but not shooting), a film starring his penis, to be entitled My Dick — and went on to pursue a distinguished academic career as a professor of art, architecture, and philosophy in New York, Pennsylvania, and Switzerland, with at least four books to his credit: War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991), A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1997), Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (2002), and A New Philosophy of Society (2006). For this reason, I couldn’t originally illustrate this piece with any images from his films, as I did in Film: The Front Line 1983, until some frame enlargements were recently made from Incontinence,a month after this article was originally posted, by Georg Wasner of the Austrian Film Museum, to use in a catalogue for a retrospective that I programmed (see below).Most of the other illustrations either come from more recent periods or are used to illustrate some commercial films that crop up in my discussion, e.g.Read more »

THE ENCHANTED DESNA

Written for Sight and Sound on August 15, 2015. Since writing this, I’ve discovered that free access to a subtitled version is now available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09J-oSZF9G4. – J. R.

TheEnchantedDesna

TheEc=nchantedDesna-girl

Desna-night

Desna-boyinfield

Desna-boy

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The Enchanted Desna (1964)

There are few masterpieces harder to access than this 70-millimeter, stereophonic poem by Moscow-born Yuliya Solntseva (1901-1989), widow of the great Alexander Dovzhenko, who devoted most of her filmmaking career, after playing the title role in Aelita (1924), to assisting her Ukrainian husband and then filming his unrealized projects after his death. I’ve never seen this subtitled, but Godard’s favorite film of 1965 was periodically screened at the Paris Cinémathèque over the following decade, and I’ve managed to fill in a few details by reading an English translation of Dovzhenko’s extended memoir of the same title. It’s a rambling but exalted account of his impoverished rural childhood, where, as in his best features, it becomes impossible to distinguish reality from fantasy or imagination, or pantheistic epic from a kind of music dreamt in images — a reciprocal dance performed by nature, family, and other eccentric local touchstones in perpetual, mysterious collaboration.  (Jonathan Rosenbaum)

Desna-crow

Desna-semicircle

Desna-rainbow

Desna-landscape

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Paris Journal, September-October 1972 (ENTHUSIASM, TOUT VA BIEN, THE ENCHANTED DESNA) — with a recent update

Here is another one of my Paris Journals for Film Comment – the first one, I believe, after the magazine shifted from being a quarterly to a bimonthly publication. Once again, I think part of the reason for reproducing this now is its value as a period piece.

2019: A fascinating footnote about Solntseva: at a film festival in Spain a few years ago, Sergei Loznitsa told me that thanks to an opening of some of the KGB’s old files for public scrutiny, it was revealed that she had been a longtime member. Most of us know far too little about the Russian and Soviet past to begin to understand the reasons for this, but it seems possible that Solntseva may have actually joined the KGB in order to help protect her Ukrainian husband, who was reportedly under Soviet surveillance for most of his life. It does help to explain, in any case, how, after Dovzhenko failed to get so many of his own personal projects like Desna produced, Solntseva was able to direct three of them with lavish budgets and immense technical resources after his death.

Here are working links to these films:

Poem of an Inland Seahttps://vimeo.com/224788645

The Story of the Flaming Yearshttps://vimeo.com/224781665
The Enchanted Desnahttps://vimeo.com/224781509
(Password for all films is: SOLNTSEVAMOMI2017) — J.R.

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Reactionary Humor and Southern Comfort (review of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES)

This book review appeared in the August 27, 1980 issue of The Soho News.

I was moved to repost this review by the generous recent reference to it made by Sam Jordison in the Guardian.

– J.R.

A Confederacy of Dunces

By John Kennedy Toole

Foreword by Walker Percy

Louisiana State University Press, $12.95

Is it by mere chance, or through some form of subtly earned tragic irony, that this brilliantly funny, reactionary novel is being published during a reactionary period, apparently about a decade and a half after it was written? God knows what it might have been like to read this in the mid-’60s. I suspect it would have been less warmly received — one reason, perhaps, why it wasn’t published way back then.

What I mean by Reactionary Humor is the boring literary schemes of Tom Sawyer, not the expedient escape tactics of Huck Finn. Broadly speaking, it’s what we learn to expect from the perennial antics of Blondie and Dagwood, Amos and Andy, Franny and Zooey, Laurel and Hardy (and Marie and Bruce, in Wallace Shawn’s recent play), not to mention W.C. Fields, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Archie Bunker, and Woody Allen.

One can even say that Reactionary Humor is what we get from Don Quixote — a figure mentioned twice by Walker Percy (along with Oliver Hardy and Thomas Aquinas) in the foreword to this remarkable, posthumous New Orleans novel, whose author killed himself at the age of 32.… Read more »

Why Is This Movie a Hit?

From the Chicago Reader (March 4, 1994). — J.R.

* ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE

(Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Tom Shadyac

Written by Jack Bernstein, Jim Carrey, and Shadyac

With Carrey, Sean Young, Courteney Cox, Tone Loc, and Dan Marino.

Why go back to a movie that affected me the first time like a piece of chalk squeaking across a blackboard? Well, for one thing, neither I nor any other reviewer I know of came anywhere close to predicting that Ace Ventura: Pet Detective would not only find an audience but sail to the top of the box-office charts. How did we all miss the boat? “An appallingly bad movie, a certain candidate for worst of the year,” begins Gene Siskel’s capsule review in the Tribune; it concludes, “Don’t ask how this was financed.” These were my sentiments exactly at the press screening — a sort of stupefied horror at the manic leers and terminally stupid gags of star and cowriter Jim Carrey, coupled with disbelief that anyone could possibly go for them. But when the movie opened it soon became clear that at least some financiers knew exactly what they were doing. What did they understand that the rest of us grown-ups missed out on?… 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 »

Pola X

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 2000). — J.R.

PolaX

I haven’t read Herman Melville’s Pierre, or the Ambiguities, but it’s reportedly director Leos Carax’s favorite novel. What there is of a plot to this 1999 modern-dress adaptation, which Carax wrote with Lauren Sedofsky and Jean-Pol Fargeau, concerns a wealthy author (Guillaume Depardieu, son of Gerard) living in Normandy in semi-incestuous contentment with his mother (Catherine Deneuve). Upon encountering a soulful eastern European war refugee (Katerina Golubeva) who claims to be his half sister, he runs out on his wealthy fiancee (Delphine Chuillot) and retreats to a funky part of Paris to write another novel. There’s clearly some sort of self-portraiture going on here. A 19th-century romantic inhabiting a universe as mythological as Jean Cocteau’s, Carax (Boy Meets Girl, Bad Blood, The Lovers on the Bridge) has a wonderful cinematic eye and a personal feeling for editing rhythms, and his sense of overripeness and excess virtually defines him. He’s as self-indulgent as they come, and we’d all be much the poorer if he weren’t. Characteristic of his private sense of poetics is this film’s dedication, near the end of the closing credits, “to my three sisters” — it appears on-screen for less than a second.… Read more »