Monthly Archives: July 2019

Jackie Brown

From the Chicago Reader (June 16, 1998). — J.R.

Jackie-Brown

Adapting Elmore Leonard’s novel Rum Punch for his third feature, Quentin Tarantino puts together a fairly intricate and relatively uninvolving money-smuggling plot, but his cast is so good that you probably won’t feel cheated unless you’re hoping for something as show-offy as Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction. A flight attendant (70s blaxploitation queen Pam Grier, agreeably treated here like a goddess) gets caught smuggling gun money for an arms dealer (Samuel L. Jackson in his prime) and has to work out her loyalties to him, her bail bondsman (Robert Forster, agreeably treated like a noir axiom), the law (including Michael Keaton), and her own interests. Robert De Niro does a fine character part, and Bridget Fonda is very sexy. Biograph, Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Esquire, Ford City, Gardens, Hyde Park, Lake, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, 62nd & Western.

– Jonathan Rosenbaum

Jackie Brown3

 … Read more »

Reflections on Agee’s Complete Film Criticism: Reviews, Essays, and Manuscripts

Posted on the Film Comment web site, October 16, 2017. A French translation of this essay by Jean-Luc Mengus has recently been published in Trafic. — J.R.

Agee

My late father was never a cinephile, not even remotely, but he managed and programmed a small chain of movie theaters in northwestern Alabama for about a quarter of a century, from the mid-’30s to 1960. And during most or all of that period, he read Time magazine every week, from cover to cover. This means that from September 1942, half a year before I was born, until early November 1948, and not counting all the press books that passed through his office and the various trade journals he subscribed to, just about everything he read and knew about movies came from the so-called Cinema pages of Time, and most of these were written by James Agee.

AgeeFTFphoto_17

But he probably had little or no idea who Agee was during this period, even though their stints at Harvard had overlapped, because none of Agee’s writing for Time was signed and my father usually didn’t read The Nation while Agee was concurrently writing his film column there. It’s unlikely that he saw Abraham Lincoln, the Early Years on Omnibus in 1952 because we didn’t have a TV set then, and more probable that he saw The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky in Face to Face the following year at one of his theaters.… Read more »

SKIPALONG ROSENBLOOM: A Few Scholarly Footnotes

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I devoted almost an entire page in my first book, a memoir, to this unsung obscurity, a low-budget comedy western that I saw in Florence, Alabama with my brother Alvin on November 14 or 15, 1951, when I was eight and he was six, on a double bill with Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Man from Planet X. I can very nearly classify this viewing as my first cinematic encounter with the avant-garde, by which I mean something akin to what J. Hoberman calls Vulgar Modernism — eight months after what might have been my first non-cinematic encounter with the avant-garde when I attended a Spike Jones concert one Sunday afternoon at the Sheffield Community Center. Bear in mind that I saw Skipalong Rosenbloom a full year before the first issue of Mad (the comic book) appeared and almost two years before I bought my first issue (no. 6, August-September 1953); this was also a full year before I saw Frank Tashlin’s Son of Paleface. It’s quite possible, of course, that I’d already seen one of Tex Avery’s cartoons by then, but if I had, this fact couldn’t be traced by the same methods of research that I employed in my memoir, Moving Places: A Life at the Movies, which mainly involved combing back issues of the local Florence newspaper on microfilm for movie ads.… Read more »

Improvisations and Interactions in Altmanville

From Sight and Sound (Spring 1975); I’ve mainly followed the editorial changes (mainly trims) used in the version that appears in my collection Essential Cinema….My apologies for the format problems with this piece, only some of which I’ve managed to resolve satisfactorily. — J.R.

 AltmandirectingCaliforniaSplit

 [. . .] Unless it is claimed that a pianist’s hands move haphazardly up and down the keyboard — and no one would be willing to claim this seriously — it must be admitted that there exists a guiding thought, conscious or subconscious, behind the succession of organized sound patterns . . . Of course, it does happen, and not too infrequently, that an instrumentalist’s fingers  ‘recite’ a lesson they have learned; but in  such cases there is no reason to talk about creation.

— André Hodeir, Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence

 

I can never think and play at the same time. It’s emotionally impossible.

Lennie Tristano, circa 1962

 

CHARLIE (Elliott Gould): This is the truth. You’re an animal lover, right?/ SUSAN (Gwen Welles): Yeah./CHARLIE: Okay, well: the great blue whale, right? You know about a great blue whale?/ SUSAN (semi-audible): . . . got that wrestling guy, hunh? /CHARLIE: No, it’s a big fish, a big fish, there’s only two or three left in the world.Read more »

Grindhouse

From the Chicago Reader (April 6, 2007). — J.R.

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Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s celebration of 70s-style sleaze, 191 minutes long including a short intermission, seems ideally suited for gleeful, mean-spirited 11-year-old boys who can sneak into this double bill despite the R rating. I enjoyed the invented trailers the directors fold into the mix, but despite the jokey missing reels, these two full-length features are each 20 minutes longer than they need to be, and neither one makes much sense as narrative. Rodriguez’s Planet Terror is virtually nothing but gross-out gags involving castration, dismemberment, mass murder, zombies, and Osama bin Laden. Tarantino’s Death Proof starts off as a meandering look at Austin’s Tex-Mex joints — there’s more gab here than in any of his work since Reservoir Dogs — then gravitates into a blend of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and stunt-driving movies, culminating in some well-filmed action and more celebratory killing. (Making us feel good about enjoying gory mayhem — or in my case, at least trying to do that — has always been his specialty.) With Rose McGowan, Freddy Rodriguez, Josh Brolin, Kurt Russell, Rosario Dawson, and Zoe Bell. (JR)

Grindhouse_Planet_Terror_1Read more »

Dream Masters II: Tex Avery

From Film Comment (January-February 1975).  An expanded version of an entry for Richard Roud’s 1980, two-volume Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. (“Dream Masters I,” incidentally, which appeared in the same issue of Film Comment, is devoted to Walt Disney — a much longer essay that can be accessed here.) I was delighted to receive a handwritten letter of thanks from Avery himself sometime after this was published which I still have in one of my scrapbooks. And, for the record, despite my gripes here about the unlikeliness of a Paul Fejos Festival, I did actually attend a Paul Fejos retrospective at the Viennale in 2004, almost 30 years after this was written. — J.R.

Paris, late January, my deadline a week away (later postponed).Read more »

JUGGERNAUT (1974 review)

From Time Out (London), October 11-17, 1974. –- J.R.

 

Up to now, Richard Lester has been in the habit of either attacking genres (‘How I Won the War’) or mixing them (‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ –- in the case of ‘A Hard Day’s Night,’ virtually inventing a new genre out of the mixture). In ‘Juggernaut’, a commercial job with relatively modest pretensions, he is simply conforming to a genre -– the Ocean Liner catastrophe –- and comes up with a better-crafted version of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’, complete with multiple subplots and cornball heroics, but with smoother acting and sharper direction. The potential catastrophe is seven steel drums of amatol timed to go off and destroy 1200 passengers unless a ransom is delivered to the mysterious Juggernaut. Using such varied ingredients as the flamboyance of Richard Harris, the stolid inexpressiveness of Omar Sharif and the usual carrying on of Roy Kinnear, Lester milks the situation for all the suspense that can be expected and then some, pushing a few arch gags into the remaining cracks. The results: mindless entertainment of the first order, at least in the Ocean Liner Catastrophe cycle.Read more »

DAISY MILLER

From Sight and Sound (Autumn 1974). — J.R.

The first and perhaps the final question to be asked about Peter Bogdanovich’s adaptation of Henry James’ novella is simply why he chose to embark on it. A revealing interview with the director by Jan Dawson which appeared in Sight and Sound last winter affirms that he is anything but a Jamesophile (‘The social aspects of it don’t really concern me’), and one would imagine that taking up an admittedly minor — if commercially celebrated — work by the grey eminence would at least be dictated by an interest in the tale as ‘raw material’, an expedient for arriving at his own creation. But the confounding thing about his Daisy Miller is that it comes across as neither fish nor fowl: too indifferent to Jamesian nuance to qualify as appreciation, too faithful (in terms of the overall plotting and dialogue in Frederic Raphael ‘s script) to gain credence as an attack on the original — and yet too amorphous and uncertain in its own terms to register as an independent and autonomous work.

One suspects that the attractions of the project were the mythic elements: American innocence and charm in confrontation with European decadence.… Read more »

Bedlam (1974 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1974 (Vol. 41, No. 490). — J.R.

Bedlam

 

U.S.A., 1946                          Director: Mark Robson

London, 1761. Attempting to escape from the St. Mary of Bethlehem lunatic asylum, commonly known as Bedlam, a poet named Colby is forced by Sims, the apothecary general in charge, to drop from a railing, and he falls to his death. Lord Mortimer and his ‘protégée’ Nell Bowen, passing by in a carriage, question Sims about the incident, and are assured it was an accident. After subsequently paying a visit to the asylum, Nell is appalled by the living conditions and Sims’ sadistic treatment of the inmates, and appeals to Lord Mortimer to make a charitable donation. But Sims dissuades the latter from doing so. When Nell joins forces with John Wilkes to turn the cause into a political issue, Sims contrives to have her declared insane and committed to Bedlam. Frightened for her safety — and securing a trowel from Hannay, a sympathetic Quaker brickmason, for protection — she none the less elicits the respect and loyalty of the other inmates, and when Sims locks her in a cage with a supposedly dangerous lunatic, she successfully placates her cellmate.… Read more »

Paris Journal on STAVISKY…

From Film Comment (March-April 1974). — J.R.

December 7: To enter the sound stage at Epinay-sur-Seine, a Parisian suburb where Alain Resnais is working on his new film about Alexandre Stavisky, you have to go through a heavy door that resembles the entrance to a bank vault, where you’re promptly greeted by Alexandre, a friendly dog who seems to be serving as the crew’s mascot (a younger dog named Sacha figures in the cast). Continuing past Alexandre, you weave your way through a labyrinth of construction that eventually resolves itself into a gargantuan neo-Lubitsch set comprising Stavisky’s office complex — a rather awesome 1933 décor the size of a country house that took forty people a month to build, even though it’ll only be used for a relatively short part of the film.

It’s the kind of set you can get lost in, with multiple exits and three separate stairways leading off of a giant central conference room with golden chandeliers, a large semi-circular table, light-green walls, tall windows with pink drapes, and no ceiling; a set where long hallways on the second landing go past doors that open on nothing, and members of the lighting crew move about in obscure corners carrying equipment and muttering to themselves.Read more »

Raymond Durgnat

Originally published in the May-June 1973 issue of Film Comment; it’s reprinted, along with my 2002 Afterword, in my latest collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. (The following paragraphs are now slightly out of date, but I’ve retained them as records of where things stood at the time.)

Reprinting this piece has been prompted by two exciting pieces of news: the relaunching of a Raymond Durgnat website, thanks to the efforts of one of Durgnat’s old friends, Sue Ritchie, and the long, long overdue second edition of Durgnat’s irreplaceable 1970 book A Mirror for England: British Movies from Austerity to Influence, which the British Film Institute is bringing out next month, thanks to the efforts of another old friend, Kevin Gough-Yates, who provided a new Introduction (and has also been behind the earlier creation and the recent recreation of the Durgnat website).

The website, at raymonddurgnat.com, currently includes a biographical sketch, a very detailed, hefty, and rather awesome bibliography, four poems by Ray (all of them veritable collectors’ items), four “additional resources and links,” a Raymond Durgnat Forum that awaits commentary from visitors, and nine full-length articles that can be linked through the bibliography. One hopes that many more attractions, especially texts, can be added in the future, for a world is still waiting to be found in Durgnat’s writing.Read more »

Don’t Look Back [short story]

This is a story, never before published, written during my teens — most likely in  early 1960, when I was a junior at a boarding school on a farm in Vermont, age 17. I’ve done some light editing. The illustrations, which I realize are not always consistent with one another or precisely congruent with the story, are all gleaned from the Internet.

This story is the second in a series of three to be posted, all fantasies and all written when I was in high school. (The other two stories can be accessed here and here.)  I feel today that they were written by someone else, but it’s clear that all three of them are interconnected, including in certain ways that I might not have been fully aware of at the time. I like them in spite of their obvious flaws, and hope that visitors to this site will at least find them intriguing. — J.R.

Don’t Look Back

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

/Hey Jim you got that fire going yet? Good…kick that log in; that’ll help it,,,nothing like a good campfire once it’s really going, Say Joe are the Barneses here yet? Well -– we can start without them I guess –-

I guess you’re all wondering why I called you all together here tonight.… Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Extras and Streaming, Now, Then, & There

From the Summer 2019 issue of Cinema Scope. — J.R.

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Readers of Movie Mutations, the 2003 collection I co-edited with Adrian Martin, will know that the Jungian notion of global synchronicity has long been a preoccupation of mine. One striking recent manifestation of this phenomenon came to light when I read, around the same time, Mark Peranson’s editor’s note about Documentary Now! in the last issue of this magazine, and a ramble from David Thomson about binge-watching TV in the April Sight & Sound, both of which compelled me to finally take out a trial subscription to Netflix and spend the better part of a weekend binge-watching Series One and Two of Babylon Berlin (12 hours) and the even more absorbing Russian Doll(four hours) via streaming — just before receiving a four-disc PAL DVD box set of the former from Acorn Media International on Monday. All of which suggests that Mark, D.T., Acorn, and I have mysteriously been on roughly the same market wavelengths regardless of our illusions of free choice.

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There’s a real danger that streaming may eventually make the name of this column anachronistic, so for the time being please allow me to include that viewing option, as I’ve already done with Blu-rays.… Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Tips for Landlocked Yanks and Monolinguists (my 10th column)

From Cinema Scope No. 34, Summer 2005. — J.R.

As an avid collector of Hollywood musicals, I’ve recently been checking out which items in my collection with optional French dialogue also have French versions of the songs. My father used to teach himself foreign languages by reading translations of some of his favorite English and American novels (e.g., Light in August in German). It’s recently occurred to me that watching favorite Anglo-American movies with foreign subtitles —- something closer to reading a bilingual text —- might also be helpful, though watching a foreign-dubbed version undoubtedly helps even more when it comes to improving one’s speaking knowledge of a particular language. This is one of the many resources afforded by DVDs that most people ignore, myself included. Just as it never occurs to most North American DVD watchers to spend the minimal amounts of time and money needed to acquire a multiregional player and order DVDs from abroad, the linguistic extras available on a good many DVDs slip past most people’s ken because taking advantage of them lies outside their usual habit patterns.

In any case, once I started examining the fine print on the boxes of the musicals in my collection, I discovered that optional French dialogue is fairly common, though whether this includes French versions of the songs is something one can only learn by playing the DVD.Read more »

Novel Approach [ULEE'S GOLD]

From the Chicago Reader (June 27, 1997). — J.R.

Ulee’s Gold

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Victor Nunez

With Peter Fonda, Patricia Richardson, Vanessa Zima, Jessica Biel, Christine Dunford, J. Kenneth Campbell, Steven Flynn, Dewey Weber, and Tom Wood.

The character-driven stories in all four of writer-director Victor Nunez’s features to date — Gal Young ‘Un, A Flash of Green, his masterpiece Ruby in Paradise, and now Ulee’s Gold – are defined by their regionalism: Nunez operates exclusively as a Florida independent. Whether he’s adapting a Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings short story set in the 20s or a John D. MacDonald novel (his first two films) or writing an original script (the second two), Nunez bases his art on a sense of place so solid that the texture of the settings is part of his subject.

The fact that all his films are relatively slow moving also has something to do with the Florida settings. Former residents of that state have told me that his movies capture not only a sense of the place but its rhythms, and judging from the novels with Florida settings I’ve read in recent years — John Updike’s Rabbit at Rest and the three wonderful Hoke Moseley novels of Charles Willeford (Miami Blues, Sideswipe, and New Hope for the Dead) — this isn’t just Nunez’s take on the region.… Read more »