This book review originally appeared in the September 10, 1980 issue of The Soho News. Maybe it qualifies less as a book review than as a short polemic, but if I recall this assignment — my first review of a book by Barthes — accurately, I had some space limitations. — J.R.
New Critical Essays
By Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard
Hill & Wang, $10.95
It’s reported that when a celebrated American film critic was asked what she thought of French theory, she replied that the trouble with folks like film theorists is that they forget movies are supposed to be fun. When this response was quoted to me, my heart sank. It made me feel as if all the fun I’d had reading Roland Barthes over the years was no longer legal -– that it wasn’t even supposed to exist.
I’m not trying to pretend here that all of Barthes goes down easily: I still haven’t gotten all the way through S/Z, a favorite among some American lit-crit academics. And I’ll grant you that he may be an acquired taste for puritanical empiricists who mistrust too much sensual, imaginative, and poetic play in their literary puddings — particularly when these occur outside of fiction, and under the auspices of social and aesthetic analysis.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin No. 507, April 1976. –- J.R.
The Man Who Fell To Earth
Great Britain, 1976 Director: Nicolas Roeg
A stranger from another planet lands in New Mexico; calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton, he sells a series of rings to various jewellery stores and soon amasses a small fortune. He approaches Oliver Farnsworth, a homosexual lawyer in New York specializing in patents, shows him his plans for nine inventions destined to transform the communications industry, and concludes an agreement whereby Farnsworth supervises Newton’s World Enterprises Corporation and communicates with Newton, who wishes to maintain his privacy, chiefly by phone. Dr. Nathan Bryce, a chemical engineering professor, becomes intrigued by the corporation and decides to learn more about its master-mind. When Newton faints in an elevator, unaccustomed to the acceleration, the attendant, Mary-Lou, nurses him back to health and becomes his lover, tempting him into a taste for gin. After building a house on the lake where he landed and inaugurating a private space program, Newton hires Bryce as a consultant, and the latter discovers with a hidden X-ray camera that Newton s metabolism is not human. Newton intimates that he came to Earth because his race was dying from a lack of water and that his space program is designed to return him to his wife and children.… Read more »