This was originally published in Cineaste in June 2003. —J.R.
It’s astonishing how little we still know about Soviet cinema in general and Sergei Paradjanov (1924-1990) in particular, and it’s possible that Soviet history has something to do with this —- a desire not to remember pointing to an even more basic desire not to know. Considering what a teller of tall tales Paradjanov was himself, it seems inevitable that he would only add to the confusion while he was alive rather than clear up most of the muddle. Writing about three Paradjanov features that were showing in Chicago 13 years ago, I noted that his name couldn’t be found in Ephraim Katz’s Film Encyclopedia or in the indexes of books by Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, or John Simon (among many others), and lamented that as far as I knew, no one anywhere had yet written a book or monograph about him. I was writing only a month after he visited the west for the first time —- attending the Rotterdam Film Festival, where I was fortunate enough to be present —- and this was only four years after he resumed work as a filmmaker following something like 16 years of enforced silence, either as a prisoner or as a director whose proposed projects since Sayat Nova in 1969 had all been rejected.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (February 21, 1997). It’s worth noting that Japanese doesn’t distinguish between singular and plural, so that the film is also known as The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum, which is an equally accurate translation. – J. R.
Though not the best known of Kenji Mizoguchi’s period masterpieces, this 1939 feature is conceivably the greatest. (For me the only other contender is Sansho the Bailiff.) The plot, which oddly resembles that of There’s No Business Like Show Business, concerns the rebellious son of a theatrical family devoted to Kabuki who leaves home for many years, perfects his art, aided by a working-class woman who loves him, and eventually returns. Apart from the highly charged and adroitly edited Kabuki sequences, the film is mainly constructed in extremely long takes, and an intricate rhyme structure between two time periods is developed by matching camera angles in the same locations. Never before or since (apart from The 47 Ronin) has Mizoguchi’s refusal to use close-ups been more telling, and the theme of female sacrifice that informs most of his major works is given a singular resonance and complexity here. Demonstrating an uncanny mastery of framing and camera movement, the film also has a complexity of characterization that’s shown with sublime economy.… Read more »