Written in July 2008 for an issue of Stop Smiling devoted to Washington, D.C. In a way, the recent Arrival might be said to qualify as a mystical remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, and I found it every bit as gripping. — J.R.
To get the full measure of what Cold War paranoia was doing
to the American soul, two of the best Hollywood A-pictures
of the early 50s, each of which pivots around its Washington,
D.C. locations – The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and My
Son John (1952) — still speak volumes about their shared zeitgeist,
even though they couldn’t be further apart politically.
An archetypal liberal parable in the form of a science fiction
thriller and an archetypal right-wing family tragedy (with deft
slapstick interludes) that’s even scarier, they’re hardly equal in
terms of their reputations. Leo McCarey’s My Son John, widely
regarded today as an embarrassment for its more hysterical elements,
has scandalously never come out on video or DVD [2014 footnote, it's
now available from Olive Films], though in its own era it garnered
even more prestige than Robert Wise’s SF thriller, having received
an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay.… Read more »
My contribution to the 2019 anthology Unwatchable, published by Rutgers University Press and edited by Nicholas Baer, Maggie Hennefeld, Laura Horak, and Gunnar Iversen. — J.R
My refusal to watch Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009), even after Criterion generously sent me a review copy, isn’t a position I arrived at suddenly or lightly. Even though the film premiered the year after I retired as a weekly reviewer, thus obviating any possible professional obligation, my decision wasn’t only based on the near-certainty that I would hate it — which, after all, hadn’t prevented me from twitching all the way through The Passion of the Christ five years earlier. Nor was it founded on any conviction that von Trier is devoid of talent, a conviction I don’t have.
Trying retroactively to account for my steadfast refusal to see the film, arrived at eight years ago, I can only take the blatantly ahistorical, illogical, and quintessentially Trieresque tack of citing a remark of his quoted in the Guardian only six months ago. It concerns his latest project (I won’t assist his ad campaign by mentioning the title) — a feature about a serial killer (natch) that takes the serial killer’s viewpoint (ditto).… Read more »
A review from the May 26, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
POULET AU VINAIGRE
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Claude Chabrol
Written by Dominique Roulet and Chabrol
With Jean Poiret, Stéphane Audran, Michel Bouquet, Jean Topart, Lucas Belvaux, Pauline Lafont, Jean-Claude Bouillaud, and Caroline Cellier.
In 1985, after seeing Claude Chabrol’s Poulet au vinaigre at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, I remember thinking: At last! The petit-maître is back in form, doing what he knows how to do best; here’s a Chabrol movie that’s sure to get an American release. (At that point it had been about seven years since Violette Nozière – which wasn’t one of my favorite Chabrol films — had opened in the U.S.) Poulet au vinaigre had sex, violence, dark wit, a superb sense of both the corruption and meanness of life in the French provinces, a good whodunit plot, Balzacian characters (including an interesting detective), and very nice camera work by Jean Rabier, Chabrol’s usual cinematographer. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but at the very least it was a well-crafted and satisfying entertainment that surely, I thought, would be enjoyed on this side of the Atlantic. Indeed, it already was being enjoyed by the audience I was seeing it with in Toronto.… Read more »
From Wide Angle, vol. 4, no. 3 (1980). I hope that Peter Lehman, who wrote the introduction to our interview and whom I haven’t seen in decades, doesn’t mind me posting this piece now.
I retain a very warm memory of Jerry Fielding; we were staying in Athens, Ohio at the same hotel during the Workshop on Sound and Music in the Cinema, which we were both attending, and we had breakfast together once or twice. I recall his conversation as both literate and dynamic, and especially compelling when he spoke about Sam Peckinpah, one of his favorite collaborators. Dan Carlin (1927-2001), whom I got to know less well, is also, alas, no longer alive. -– J.R.
Film Music: An Interview with Jerry Fielding and Dan Carlin
By Peter Lehman and Jonathan Rosenbaum
Jerry Fielding, Dan Carlin and Chris Newman were guests of a Workshop on Sound and Music in the Cinema presented by the Appalachian Regional Media Center in Athens, Ohio, October 5-7, 1979. The well-known Hollywood composer, Jerry Fielding, began studying music in his late teens with Max Atkins. Atkins was the music director and arranger at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh, Fielding’s hometown. Fielding moved to Los Angeles where he worked with some of the most famous big band leaders.… Read more »
Written for Lola no. 7, posted in November 2016. — J.R.
Suspense on Ice
An ice-skating noir musical? More or less, with Belita serving as Monogram’s answer to Sonja Henie, and a few A-picture production numbers (such as the Daliesque one glimpsed above, climaxing with the heroine diving through a wheel ringed by long, sharp daggers pointed towards the center). Not quite a two-dollar movie (the Warners Archive DVD is pricier), but an intriguing curiosity. Philip Yordan’s original script is so pro forma that one can almost imagine him writing it in his sleep, In its early stretches, it suggests a lazy rip-off of Gilda, with different sexual inflections (no homoerotic undertones, no heterosexual love-hatred, and this time the hero and villain are the same character, played by Barry Sullivan), Yet most of it was shot at the same time as Gilda, in late 1945.
Most curious of all is the almost total lack of motivation whereby Sullivan, a thuggish tramp, gets accorded a free white coat and shave by the owner of The Ice Parade so that he can sell peanuts to the customers, and then, after dreaming up the wheel-of-dagger stunt, which Belita accepts without hesitation, gets asked by her husband-boss (Albert Dekker) to take over his position when he leaves on a trip, allowing Sullivan more of a chance to romance his beloved spouse and star.… Read more »
The following was written in April 2010 for a projected volume on Stanley Kubrick that was being prepared at the time by the Chicago-based magazine Stop Smiling, who commissioned this and a few other pieces by me for it. For a variety of reasons, including the discontinuation of the magazine, the book has never appeared, and the editor, James Hughes, has very kindly given me permission to post it here. —- J.R.
Shelley Winters performance as Lolita’s Charlotte Haze offers one of the best refutations of the notion that Kubrick was a misogynist who could depict women only as bitches like Marie Windsor in The Killing or as bimbos. (Maybe Christiane Kubrick in the last scene of Paths of Glory, then known as Susan Christian, is another counter-example, but unlike Charlotte, she hardly has time to register as a character.) Winters’ overbearing yet highly vulnerable culture vulture, who has to bear the full brunt of both Humbert Humbert’s patronizing and his private scorn, is portrayed with genuine warmth and sympathy — indeed, more of both than can be found in Nabokov’s novel or original screenplay.
This friend and one-time flat mate of Marilyn Monroe, whose stint with the Actors Studio preceded and probably encouraged her own, Winters (1920-2006), born Shirley Schrift, has suffered no less from the stigma of playing dumb blondes when Hollywood sexism was at its height, implanting the similarly false impression that she was as dumb and as unlettered as her characters.… Read more »
Written for Cineaste (Winter 2018). — J.R.
Auteur Theory and My Son John
by James Morrison. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.
190 pp. Hardcover: $75.00, Paperback: $19.95, and Ebook:
My admiration for and my demurrals about James Morrison’s brilliant monograph both begin on the first pages of his Introduction. He quotes the title subject of Mike Nichols: An American Master (2016) on the “froggy conspiracy” which elevates figures like Howard Hawks and Jerry Lewis at the expense of George Stevens, Billy Wilder, William Wyler, and Fred Zinnemann (“our greatest directors”), a statement that Morrison aptly compares to the vulgar parodies of existential beatniks in Stanley Donen’s Funny Face. Yet two pages later, when he calls Nichols “countable as one of the ‘auteurs’ who by common consent ushered in the New Hollywood,” Morrison seems to be indulging in aspects of the same parody, especially when one considers that he’s decided to suppress the information that Mike Nichols: An American Master is the work of a genuine auteur, Elaine May (coincidentally, Donen’s current partner), and not only because, unlike Nichols, she functions as a film writer as well as a film director. I presume that Morrison chose to suppress May’s involvement in this glib claptrap because it complicates his argument, especially when he goes on to show that Nichols’ tirade is seemingly bolstered by May’s montage of dumb quotes from Bosley Crowther about Bonnie and Clyde, and from Pauline Kael and Renata Adler about 2001, constituting what Morrison rightly calls “a slam against film criticism as such”.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, January 1976, Vol. 43, No. 504. — J.R.
Faustrecht der Freiheit (Fox)
West Germany, 1975
Director: Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Ce r t–X. dist–Cinegate. p.c–Tango-Film. p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder. p. manager–Christian Hohoff. asst. d–Irm Hermann. sc—Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Christian Hohoff. ph–Mictrael Ballhaus. col–Eastman Colour. ed–Thea Eymèsz. a.d–Kurt Raab. m–Peer Raben. songs–”One Night” by Pearl King, Dave Bartholomew, performed by Elvis Presley; “Bird on the Wire” by and performed by Leonard Cohen. l.p–Rainer Werner Fassbinder (“Fox” Franz Biberkopf), Peter Chatel (Eugen Theiss), Karl- Heinz Böhm (Max), Harry Bär (Philip), Adrian Hoven (Eugen’s Father), Ulla Jacobsen (Eugen’s Mother), Christiane Maybach (Hedwig), Peter Kern (Florist “Fatty” Schmidt), Hans Zandler (Man in Bar), Kurt Raab (Barman Springer),Irm Hermann (Mlle. Chérie de Paris), Barbara Valentin (Max’s Wife), Walter Sedlmayr (Car Dealer), Ingrid Caven (Singer in Bar), (El Hedi Ben Salem (Moroccan), Brigitte Mira (Shopkeeper),Bruce Low (Soldier), Ursula Strätz, Elma Karlowa, Evelyn Künneke, Marquart Bohm, Liselone Eder, Klaus Löwitsch.
11,077 ft.… Read more »
Written for Sight and Sound, November 25, 2018. — J.R.
- The Munich Filmmuseum DVD of Max Ophüls’ Liebelei & Lola Montez, especially for its restoration of the German version of the latter film.
- The Twilight Time Blu-Ray of Don Weis’ The Adventures of Hajji Baba, a triumph of sexy Hollywood nonsense that merits non-patronizing patronage.
- The Second Run Features Blu-Ray of Věra Chytilová’s Daisies, an optimal edition of my favourite Czech feature.
- The Paramount eight-disc DVD box set of Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series — the shopping bargain of the year, making David Lynch’s transgressive look at the U.S. and even more transgressive contribution to mainstream TV much more accessible.
- The Kino Lorber Blu-Ray of Spetters, for Paul Verhoeven’s audiocommentary.
… Read more »
From the March 26, 2004 Chicago Reader. This may help to explain, at least in part, why I had no desire to see the Coens’ other remake, True Grit. (Two other reasons that come to mind: I didn’t like the original and I’m sick of American revenge plots, offscreen as well as onscreen.) — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Written by the Coens and William Rose
With Tom Hanks, Irma B. Hall, Marlon Wayans, J.K. Simmons, Tzi Ma, Ryan Hurst, Diane Delano, and George Wallace.
The day after I saw the Coen brothers’ remake I watched the original — the Ealing Studios’ The Ladykillers, a popular 1955 English classic directed by Alexander Mackendrick a couple of years before he directed Sweet Smell of Success in the U.S. I’d taped the original over a decade ago, long before American Movie Classics started recutting features and inserting commercial breaks. AMC may assume that any film in which English is spoken is somehow American, but The Ladykillers, scripted by William Rose, is so thoroughly English I doubt its humor could be fully understood without reference to the English character or 20th- century English history.… Read more »
The following was written in February 2009 for a projected volume on Stanley Kubrick that was being prepared at the time by the Chicago-based magazine Stop Smiling, which commissioned this and a few shorter pieces by me for it, including a short “sidebar” text about James Naremore’s On Kubrick, written in April 2010, which I’ve appended to our exchange. For a variety of reasons, including the discontinuation of the magazine, the book has never appeared, and the editor, James Hughes, gave me permission to post it here, originally in September 2013….I obviously guessed wrong when I surmised here that Kubrick’s family would probably keep Fear and Desire “off the market”. — J.R.
Early Kubrick: An Exchange
By Jonathan Rosenbaum and James Naremore
As you note in your book on Kubrick, he removed his first feature, Fear and Desire (1953), from circulation at some point during the 60s. I know this couldn’t have been during the early 60s because I saw it for the first time in 1961 or ‘62, at the Charles Theater, a legendary, eclectic arthouse on the Lower East Side, when I was a freshman at NYU.
Even though our aesthetic and political tastes are pretty similar, one thing that divides us about Kubrick is that you tend to prefer his second feature, Killer’s Kiss (1955), to his first, while I opt for its predecessor.… Read more »
The following was written in April 2010 for a projected volume on Stanley Kubrick that was being prepared at the time by the Chicago-based magazine Stop Smiling, who commissioned this and a few other pieces by me for it. For a variety of reasons, including the discontinuation of the magazine, the book has never appeared, and the editor, James Hughes, has recently (and very kindly) given me permission to post it here. — J.R.
The reasons given most often of why Stanley Kubrick collaborated in 1979 with this woman on the script for The Shining are confirmed by Johnson herself (in an essay about her eleven weeks of work with him, “Writing The Shining” — one of the best accounts of working with Kubrick that we have): her 1974 psychological novel The Shadow Knows, which he briefly considered adapting, and her expertise about Gothic fiction. To this one should add her sharp critical intelligence, apparent in both her fiction and her non-fiction. The latter ranges from her superb 1982 collection Terrorists and Novelists to her 1984 Life of Dashiell Hammett, and from her introductions to novels by the Bronte sisters, Stendhal, Wharton, and Voltaire to her canny 2005 guidebook Into a Paris Quartier.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 21, 1990). — J.R.
If my paranoid suspicions are correct, Hollywood has embarked on a 12-year plan regarding the public consumption of trailers. The plan, which has become fully apparent to me over the past year, will come to fruition in the year 2000, and its basic goal, as I see it, is to turn movies themselves into full-fledged commercials that people will pay money to see.
When Back to the Future II ended with a trailer for Back to the Future III, it was a harbinger of what’s to come. The ever-increasing proliferation of sequels has already accustomed the public to the notion that any hit movie eventually becomes, at least retroactively, an advertisement for its inevitable successor. Now, through a three-point program that might be termed standardization-infiltration-expansion, Hollywood is force-feeding us a diet of trailers in an apparent effort to alter our modes of perception. Most movie trailers are now designed to resemble one another as closely as possible, from the discontinuous, scattershot cutting to the near-subliminal card of credits flashed at the end. They appear in a variety of fresh contexts — at the beginning and end of videotapes, on “commercial-free” cable channels, and as integral parts of some features, like the aforementioned Back to the Future II – and they crop up so repeatedly in their more traditional venues, in movie theaters and on network TV, that we may come to know certain trailers as intimately as we know certain family members.… Read more »
My Afterword to the second edition (paperback) of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.
“Unwitting omissions —- films I’ll eventually hate myself for having overlooked — are inevitable,” I wrote in December 2003, introducing my list of 1,000 personal favorites, “largely because I haven’t come up with any sure-fire method of recalling or tabulating everything I’ve seen, or even everything I can remember seeing.” Even when I wrote this, I could scarcely imagine I’d omit a film as important as Chimes at Midnight (1966) from my list —- an oversight that illustrates my point all too well. No less vexing was the absence of Flaming Creatures (1963), a film celebrated elsewhere in the same book, and the silly blunder of renaming Crimson Gold (2003) Crimson Red – though at least I was able to correct these latter gaffes, as well as restore a missing accent to Tangos volés (2002), in the book’s second printing. (In the case of Flaming Creatures, this addition was managed ecologically by omitting The Disorderly Orderly  from my list on the same page.)
I discovered the omission of Chimes at Midnight later, from a blog, while cruising the Internet.… Read more »
This is the third part of the Appendix of my 2004 collection Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons. — J.R.
1000 Favorites (A Personal Canon), Part 3
The criteria I’ve used for inclusion on this list are pleasure and edification; I haven’t factored in any sense of historical importance that might exist independently of these factors. I’ve incorporated shorts as well as features, both animation and live-action, and videos as well as some works made for television, but not anything made for a TV series.
Broadly speaking, this list would comprise what I’d want to have on a desert island were it not for the fact that I’d want to bring along many other things that I haven’t already seen — including some of my more conspicuous omissions. No one who claims to have seen all possible candidates for the greatest films ever made could possibly be telling the truth, even in relation to a single year, and many of the exclusions here are things I haven’t yet caught up with. Many others are absent simply because I don’t value them as much as those I’ve included, and the most obvious limitation of this list is that it won’t be apparent in most cases whether I’ve excluded something because I haven’t seen it or because I don’t rank it highly enough.… Read more »