Daily Archives: March 24, 2019

The Ten Best Jazz Films (1999 list)

Joseph McBride, a friend, asked me to contribute a list of some sort to The Book of Movie Lists (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1999), which he put together, and here’s what we came up with. -– J.R.

The 10 Best Jazz Films

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

What follows is a personal list of neither the best films on jazz (e.g., Jazz on A Summer’s Day) nor the best examples of jazz on film (such as the Fats Waller soundies or the 1981 Johnny Griffin at the Village Vanguard), but something more special and rarified: films in which the aesthetics of jazz and the aesthetics of film find some happy and mutually supportive meeting ground.

1.Black & Tan (DUDLEY MURPHY, 1929). Remarkable not only as an experimental narrative by the (often uncredited) main author of Ballet mécanique and as a radical political statement about to whom jazz belongs, but also as a ravishing, poetic marriage between the music of Duke Ellington and the poetics of death and orgasm. Only twenty-one minutes long, but the aesthetics of jazz and film start here.

2.When it Rains (CHARLES BURNETT, 1995). A twelve-minute miracle, and, alas, the only film on this list by a black filmmaker, this is a jazz parable about the discovery of common ‘6os roots via a John Handy album in contemporary L.A., with a wonderful offscreen commentary.… Read more »

En movimiento: Placeless Identity

My column for Caíman Cuadernos de Cine, submitted on March 21, 2019. — J.R.

phoenix-2013_5195493

It’s tiresome to keep hearing from several American colleagues what a lousy year 2018 supposedly was for movies — “movies” being virtually equated with Hollywood crap in much the same way that “the world” is often equated with the U.S. (with Cuarón, Farhadi, Pawlikowski, and a few others occasionally accorded the dubious status of honorary Americans, usually on the basis of their Oscars). Given how much non-American cinema one can see nowadays via streaming, this is an inexcusable way of allowing the big companies to keep their stranglehold on what passes for film culture, making it easier than ever to miss out on what matters.

alphaville_highway

Even so, I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t recognize the brilliance of Christian Petzold until recently, when I saw Transit (2018) — having previously seen only his Ghosts  (2005) and Barbara (2012). Having now accessed, in swift succession, his Phoenix  (2014), Yella (2007), Jerichow(2008), and Barbara again — I feel that it’s the dreamlike, hallucinatory surfaces (both aural and visual) of YellaPhoenix,  and Transit more than the literal places and spaces of Jerichow and Barbara that best capture Pertzold’s investigations into historical and existential identity.… Read more »