From the Chicago Reader (July 22, 1994). — J.R.
** THE LION KING
Directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff
Written by Irene Mecchi, Jonathan Roberts, and Linda Woolverton
With the voices of Matthew Broderick, James Earl Jones, Jeremy Irons, Rowan Atkinson, Moira Kelly, Jim Cummings, Whoopi Goldberg, and Cheech Marin.
Though it’s somewhat less entertaining than The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin, The Lion King marks a welcome and fascinating shift in the Disney animated feature. It may be just a coincidence, but Disney’s new live-action Angels in the Outfield, a multicultural remake of a 1951 baseball fantasy, marks the same kind of racial and ethnic reorientation. I’d like to think that the widespread (and justifiable) objections raised by Middle Eastern groups to the xenophobic stereotypes in Aladdin have finally led to some rethinking by Disney executives about how to handle such ethnic material. If my hunch is correct, these changes represent not so much a kowtowing to political correctness as a more accurate reckoning of Disney’s stateside and international audience.
The issue isn’t exactly reality versus fantasy, because all Disney pictures are fantasies. In real life a white orphan isn’t likely to be adopted by a black man even if the white orphan’s best friend is a black orphan who comes along with the bargain (as in Angels in the Outfield).… Read more »
This book can now be purchased as a paperback for just under $28.00 (or less) on Amazon. — J.R.
It’s a genuine pity that this remarkable new book — a kind of summation and extension of Adrian Martin’s work in film analysis and the history of film criticism in Australia, France, Spain, the U.K., and the U.S. over the past two decades — is commercially available only at the whopping price of $80.75 on Amazon — or $76, if you’re willing to settle for a Kindle edition. As a longtime friend, colleague, and collaborator of Martin’s, I was fortunate enough to receive a free inscribed copy, but most of the rest of you will have to either shell out a fortune or wait for a softcover edition. All I can do now, really, having received this book only yesterday, is signal just a few of its many riches. Girish Shambu, Adrian’s irreplaceable coeditor at LOLA, has already posted a helpful summary of the book’s “four [interests] that animate the work” on his web site, so the most I can hope to do here is cite just a few treasured and brilliant passages that already have either sent me back to the films and texts being discussed or extended my current (re)reading and (re)viewing lists:
G.… Read more »
A short review commissioned by Film Comment (July-August 2002), which left out the asterisk in the title. – J.R.
I recently read in a film festival report that Michael Snow’s new 92-minute feature was a bit longer than it needed to be. This conjured up visions of a test-marketing preview — cards handed out at Anthology Film Archives with questions like, “Would an ideal length for this be 82 minutes? An hour? Three minutes? 920 minutes?” For even though this may be the best Snow film since the La Région Centrale in 1971 — a commemorative (and quite accessible) magnum opus with many echoes and aspects of his previous works — it enters a moviegoing climate distinctly different from the kind that greeted his earlier masterpieces. In 1969, the late, great Raymond Durgnat could find the same “mixture of despair and acquiescence” in both Frank Tashlin and Andy Warhol; today, on the other hand, avant-garde art is expected to perform like light entertainment.
Up to a point, Snow seems ready to oblige with his irrepressible jokiness —- a taste for rebus-style metaphors (often banal) and adolescent pranks (a giant penis hovering over a blonde’s backside) that makes this the least neurotic experimental film about technology imaginable — the precise opposite of Leslie Thornton’s feature-length cycle Peggy and Fred in Hell.… Read more »
The following was commissioned for a handsome hardcover catalogue to a comprehensive Robert Frank retrospective held in Graz, Austria by Diagonale in 2003. It was produced by Philippe Grandrieux (better known nowadays for his own films), for La Sept (French TV); C’est vrai! was its original (i.e., French TV) title.
I’ve slightly revised and updated this piece for its appearance here. –J.R.
“I’ve seen La chouette aveugle [The Blind Owl] seven times,” Luc Moullet once wrote of Raúl Ruiz’s intractable masterpiece, “and I know a little less about the film with each viewing.” Apart from being both intractable and a masterpiece, I can’t say Robert Frank’s One Hour has anything in common with the Ruiz film, yet what makes it a masterpiece and intractable is the same paradox: the closer I come to understanding it, the more mysterious it gets.
My first look at this single-take account of Frank and actor Kevin O’Connor either walking or riding in the back of a mini-van through a few blocks of Manhattan’s Lower East Side — shot between 3:45 and 4:45 pm on July 26, 1990 — led me to interpret it as a spatial event capturing the somewhat uncanny coziness and intimacy of New York street life, the curious experience of eavesdropping involuntarily on strangers that seems an essential part of being in Manhattan, an island where so many people are crammed together that the existential challenge of everyday coexistence between them seems central to the city’s energy and excitement.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1991) — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Guy Maddin
Written by George Toles and Maddin
With Kyle McCulloch, Kathy Marykuca, Ari Cohen, Sarah Neville, Michael Gottli, and Victor Cowie.
Amnesia is a subject we associate with film noir of the 40s and 50s, and social commentators tend to link its use in such films — with their gloomy and murky moods, their amnesiac heroes’ helplessness — to some version of postwar angst. Now it appears that amnesia — both as subject and as metaphor — is making a minor comeback as a postmodernist theme. An early instance of this trend can be found in the fate of Tyrone Slothrop, the hero of Thomas Pynchon’s 1973 novel Gravity’s Rainbow, who gradually gets phased out of the book as a visible presence once he starts shifting his attention from his inscrutable, troubling past to his immediate present. We learn that “‘personal density is directly proportional to temporal bandwidth….Temporal bandwidth’ is the width of your present, your now … [and] the narrower your sense of Now, the more tenuous you are. It may even get to where you’re having trouble remembering what you were doing five minutes ago, or even — as Slothrop now — what you’re doing here, at the base of this colossal curved embankment…”
It’s a paradoxical hallmark of postmodernist art to be preoccupied with certain aspects of the past while being closed off — whether through indifference or ignorance or (real or metaphorical) amnesia — to certain other aspects.… Read more »
Written for the FIPRESCI website in February 2004. — J.R.
To the best of my recollection, the first time I ever met Simon Field, the departing artistic director of the Rotterdam International Film Festival, was in the early 1970s — either 1970 or 1973 — when he was programming a festival of experiment filmmaking at the National Film Theatre in London (something he informs me he did both of those years). From the beginning of his eight years at the Rotterdam Festival, a major part of Simon’s special contribution has been not simply an emphasis on experimental film but also a kind of investment in that branch of cinema that perceives and highlights its interconnections with the other arts as well as with other kinds of cinema. There has always been something refreshing about his pluralistic and nonsectarian way of defining film experiment, and one can see this in the range exhibited by Afterimage, the invaluable magazine he coedited in England with Ian Christie for many years — an occasional publication which found room for Raoul Ruiz as well as Michael Snow, Noël Burch as well as Steve Dwoskin, and Jean-Luc Godard as well as Stan Brakhage.
Another way of describing Simon’s orientation would be to say that his mission has always been to expand both the canon and the audience of experimental cinema, and for me this has constituted one of his most spectacular achievements at Rotterdam.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 15, 1996). — J.R.
Directed and written by
Narrated by Fred Gardner.
Andre Gide’s The Counterfeiters is too tremendous a thing for praises. To say of it “Here is a magnificent novel” is rather like gazing into the Grand Canyon and remarking, “Well, well, well; quite a slice.”
Doubtless you have heard that this book is not pleasant. Neither is the Atlantic Ocean. — Dorothy Parker
One of the main characteristics of experimental films is that they tend to make hash of the terms we use to speak about narrative features, and James Benning’s haunting, beautiful, and awesome Deseret (1995) — his eighth feature-length film — performs this valuable function from the outset. To say that Deseret is “directed” and “written” by Benning requires some bending of the categories. He “directed” it insofar as he conceived the project, filmed the images, recorded the sound, and edited the sound and images; he “wrote” it insofar as he compiled and edited the texts that are read offscreen by Fred Gardner, though he didn’t write them. In a Hollywood film the directorial tasks described above would be carried out by a producer, cinematographer, sound recordist, editor, and sound editor; it’s anybody’s guess what the compiler and editor of the text would be called (researcher?… Read more »
This appeared in the April 6, 1990 issue of the Chicago Reader. Although my favorite Cecil B. De Mille film is the talkie version of Dynamite (1929) — I still haven’t seen the silent version, released around the same time — The Ten Commandments (1956) is probably the film of his that I’m most familiar with, along with the somewhat underrated Samson and Delilah (1949).
Part of what’s so remarkable about the scandalously underrated and neglected Dynamite [see still, above] is how real and serious it contrives to make the marital pairing of a coal miner (Charles Bickford) and a spoiled city heiress (Kay Johnson), even though brought about through preposterous plot contrivances, and how, in spite of De Mille’s conservative social and political biases, it assigns equal amounts of dignity and vulnerability to both classes. It’s also one of the most suspenseful and charged melodramas to have ever come out of Hollywood. — J.R.
The Power of Belief
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Cecil B. De Mille
Written by Aeneas Mackenzie, Jessie L. Lasky Jr., Jack Gariss, and Frederic M. Frank
With Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, Anne Baxter, Edward G. Robinson, Yvonne De Carlo, Debra Paget, John Derek, Cedric Hardwicke, and Vincent Price.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1977. — J.R.
Director: (not credited)
Dist–TCB. p.c–Drew Associates. For the Bell System. p–Robert Drew, Mike Jackson. assoc. p–Harry Moses. p. co-ordinator–Jean Swain. sc–(not credited). ph–Abbot Mills, Juliana Wang, Ralph Weisinger. asst. ph–Bill Hanson. In color. ed–Naomi Mankbwitz. m.d–Donald Voorhees. songs–fragments of “When the Saints Go Marching fn”, ”Hello Dolly”, “Rose”, “The Kinda Love Song” by George Weiss, performed by Louis Armstrong; “Con Alma”, “Swing Low, Sweet Cadillac” performed by Dizzy Gillespie; “I’m in a Dancing Mood” performed by Dave Brubeck; “Light in the Wilderness” by Dave Brubeck; ”Forest Flower”, performed by Charles Lloyd. sd–Dave Blumgart, Stan Agol. narrator–Don Morrow. with–Louis Armstrotrg, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Eugene Wright, Iola Brubeck, Matthew Brubeck, Michael Brubeck, Catherine Brubeck, Christopher Brubeck, David Brubeck, Darius Brubeck, Charles Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, Dizzy Gillespie, James Moody, George Weiss. 1,921 ft. 53 mins. (16 mm.).
Interviews with Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and Charles Lloyd, interspersed with snatches of their music in rehearsal or performance.
An appalling example of how appreciation of jazz can be summarily crushed in the process of supposedly trying to promote the music, this American TV documentary follows the fatal course of rarely letting the music speak for itself for more than a few bars at a time, while encouraging each of the four musicians to pontificate at length about his life and art.… Read more »
From the March 1980 issue of American Film. – J.R.
It’s pretty apparent to anyone who meets avant-garde filmmaker Yvonne Rainer for the first time that she used to be a dancer. But one probably has to see at least one of her four challenging features in order to perceive that she used to be a choreographer, too. And it’s only after one considers her in both these capacities that one starts to get an inking of what her viewpoint and her art are all about.
The first time I met her — three and a half years ago, at the Edinburgh Film Festival — Rainer reminded me in several ways of writer and filmmaker Susan Sontag. It wasn’t merely the somewhat glamorous positions that both women occupy on respective intellectual turfs. There was also a kind of spiritual resemblance that seemed to run much deeper: voice tone, appearance, wit, grace, and coolness masking an old-country sense of tragedy and suffering.
In Edinburgh Rainer delivered a lecture called “A Likely Story,” about the use of narrative in films. In the course of her remarks, she made it clear that her own “involvement with narrative forms” hadn’t always been “either happy or wholehearted,” but was “rather more often a dalliance than a commitment.” As she put it in a series of questions:
Can the presentation of sexual conflict in film, or the presentation of the experience of love and jealousy, be revitalized through a studied placement or dislocation of cliches borrowed from soap opera and melodrama?…Are faces such as belong to Katherine Hepburn and Liv Ullmann the only vehicles for grief and passion?… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin , September 1976, Vol. 43, No. 512. — J.R.
Director: Michael Snow
Dist–London Film-makers Co-op /Cinegate. conceived and executed by– Michael Snow. In colour. ed–Michael Snow. sd–Darvin Studio. with– Allan Kaprow, Emmett Williams, Max Neuhaus, Terri Marsala, Donna Aughey, Joyce Wieland, Louis Commitzer, George Murphy, Dr. Gordon, Liba Bayrak, Anne Scotty, Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, John Giorno, Paul Iden, Alison Knowles, Jud Yalkut, Susan Ay-O, Mac, students in the HEP program at Farleigh Dickinson University. 1,872 ft. 52 mins.
Alternative title–Back and Forth
The camera pans back and forth across an outside wall of a classroom while a man crosses part of the field. The pan resumes inside the classroom in a fixed trajectory, revealing an asymmetrical area including part of a blackboard and a door on a far wall, two pairs of windows on the wall closer to the camera, and desks in front of the blackboard; trees, building and occasionally passing vehicles are partially visible through the doors and windows.
Throughout, one hears the sound of the camera’s mechanisms, including a loud report at the beginning and end of each pan. Various cuts emphasise that certain parts of individual pans, or entire pans, or a number in series, were filmed at different times.… Read more »
From Sight and Sound, Winter 1975/1976; also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism. — J.R.
A Consumers/Producers Guide-in-Progress to Four Recent Avant-Garde Films
The role of a work of art is to plunge people into horror. If the artist has a role, it is to confront people — and himself first of all — with this horror, this feeling that one has when one learns about the death of someone one has loved.
— Jacques Rivette interview, circa 1967
For interpersonal communication, [the modernist text] substitutes the idea of collective production; writer and reader are indifferently critics of the text and it is through their collaboration that meanings are collectively produced . . .
The text then becomes the location of thought, rather than the mind. The mind is the factory where thought is at work, rather than the transport system which conveys the finished product. Hence the danger of the myths of clarity and transparency and of the receptive mind; they present thought as prepackaged, available, given, from the point of view of the consumer . . .Within a modernist text, however, all work is work in progress, the circle is never closed.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1975 (Vol. 42, No. 493). –- J.R.
Director: Michael Snow
Dist–London Film-makers Co–op. conceived and executed by—Michael Snow. In color. ed–Michael Snow. song—“Strawberry Fields Forever” by John Lennon, Paul McCartney. performed by—The Beatles. sd–_Michael Snow. l.p–Hollis Frampton (Man Who Dies), Amy Taubin (Woman on Phone). 1,538 ft. 45 min. (16 mm.).
A camera zooms across the length of an 80-foot urban loft, beginning from a distance approximating the camera’s fixed. Position — where most of the room is visible — and proceeding towards the four vertical double-windows, three intervening sections of wall space, desk, chairs and radiator on the opposite side, accompanied on the soundtrack by a sine wave gradually progressing from its lowest note (50 cycles per second) to its highest (12,000 cycles per second). The zoom mainly proceeds through a series of periodic jerks, between occasional shot changes, while the images pass through a variety of colored filters, film stocks, and qualities and degrees of processing (positive and negative)and light exposure (controlled by the camera, four light fixtures on the ceiling, and the time of day). It is interrupted four times by a visible human event, and during each of these the sine wave is overlaid with synchronized sound: (1) A woman and two men enter the room, and the former directs the latter to set a bookshelf down against the wall on screen left; all three leave.… Read more »
From the June 5, 2002 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.
The Naked Spur
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Sam Rolfe, Harold Jack Bloom
With James Stewart, Janet Leigh, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker, and Millard Mitchell.
Man of the West
Directed by Anthony Mann
Written by Reginald Rose
With Gary Cooper, Julie London, Lee J. Cobb, Arthur O’Connell, Jack Lord, John Dehmer, Royal Dano, and Robert Wilke.
Q: What is the starting point for The Naked Spur?
A: We were in magnificent countryside — in Durango — and everything lent itself to improvisation. I never understood why almost all westerns are shot in desert landscapes! John Ford, for example, adores Monument Valley, but I know Monument Valley very well and it’s not the whole west. In fact, the desert represents only one part of the American west. I wanted to show the mountains, the waterfalls, the forested areas, the snowy summits — in short to rediscover the whole Daniel Boone atmosphere: the characters emerge more fully from such an environment. In that sense the shooting of The Naked Spur gave me some genuine satisfaction. –Anthony Mann in a 1967 interview
This seems to be landscape week at the Gene Siskel Film Center, with Abbas Kiarostami’s sublime Where Is the Friend’s House?… Read more »
Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (1897-1968) made eight films, all between 1927 and 1935, and apparently some of these are lost. (He was fired from the early talkie Raffles — which seems to retain a few d’Arrastian qualities — and replaced by George Fitzmaurice, and reportedly he also did some uncredited work on Wings.) I’ve seen three of his films — the two briefly described below (both for the 2009 catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna) and Topaze (1933) — and all of them are pretty remarkable. (The latter is a Pagnol adaptation with one of John Barrymore’s most touching performances.) As far as I know, the only one who ever wrote about this figure in any detail was Herman G. Weinberg in Saint Cinema. According to Pierre Rissient, who knows a lot about d’Arrast (and passionately denies that he was antisemitic — a gossipy accusation I’ve sometimes heard about him, presumably as a partial explanation for why he fought as often as he did with producers), d’Arrast also had a lot to do with the preparation of one of my favorite musicals, Hallelujah, I’m a Bum! (1933), which wound up being directed by Lewis Milestone.
The following capsules were written for the catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in June 2009.… Read more »