Monthly Archives: August 2019

These Are The Damned

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1989). — J.R.

Joseph Losey’s black-and-white SF thriller, made in 1962 during his pre-Pinter British period, begins as a sort of love story — MacDonald Carey is an American businessman who shows interest in Shirley Anne Field and as a consequence gets beaten up by teddy boys led by Oliver Reed — then gradually turns into an antinuclear parable about radioactive children sequestered from humanity in an underground cave. Originally titled The Damned, the film was mangled by distributors but later restored for TV; more than an interesting curiosity, it’s one of Losey’s best English efforts, and Viveca Lindfors contributes a striking part as an eccentric sculptress. 96 min. (JR)

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The Sweet Cheat [THE PAST REGAINED]

From the Chicago Reader (July 21, 2000). My thanks to my editor on this piece, Kitry Krause, for (among  many other things) coming up with my title. — J.R.

Time Regained ***

Directed by Raul Ruiz

Written by Gilles Taurand and Ruiz

With Marcello Mazzarella, Catherine Deneuve, Emmanuelle Béart, Vincent Perez, John Malkovich, Pascal Greggory, Marie-France Pisier, Christian Vadim, Arielle Dombasle, Chiara Mastroianni, and the voice of Patrice Chéreau.

[A few years ago], I refused to direct Remembrance of Things Past. I wrote to the woman producer [Nicole Stéphane] that no real filmmaker would allow himself to squeeze the madeleine as though it were a lemon and in my opinion only a film butcher would have the nerve to put Proust through the mincer.

A few weeks later she obtained the agreement of the Verdurin salon, that is to say, Re Clement. Come to think of it, is Proust burning in [the book-burning fires of my film] Fahrenheit 451? No, but this omission will soon be corrected.

— François Truffaut, “The Journal of Fahrenheit 451” (1966)

I read Remembrance of Things Past all the way through more than 35 years ago, shortly before Truffaut registered his scorn about the very notion of a film version (Stéphane eventually got the film made in 1984, Volker Schlšndorff’s dispensable Swann in Love).… Read more »

A Major Talent [on SWEETIE]

Top-of-the-Lake-011

From the Chicago Reader (March 30, 1990). I must confess that  I was disappointed for a long time that none of Campion’s subsequent films lived up to the promise of Sweetie, in spite of the virtues of some of them, at least until her wonderful 2014 miniseries Top of the Lake, which I’ve just belatedly caught up with. (I’ll never forget a bitter comment Jean-Luc Godard made to me in Toronto in 1996, citing Campion as a perfect example of a talented filmmaker “completely destroyed by money”.) But then again, to cite someone cross-referenced in this review (and also significantly cross-referenced in Top of the Lake, a kind of feminist response to Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks), it’s also hard to think of many David Lynch films that have lived up to the promise of Eraserhead, at least prior to Inland Empire….I suspect that the collaboration of writer Gerard Lee on Passionless Moments, Sweetie, and Top of the Lake has something to do with what makes all three of them stand out so vividly in Campion’s oeuvre.– J.R.

SWEETIE

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jane Campion

Written by Gerard Lee and Campion

With Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Dorothy Barry, Jon Darling, Michael Lake, and Andre Pataczek.… Read more »

Robert Bresson’s AFFAIRES PUBLIQUES

From Film Comment (July-August 1999). I’ve done a light edit, trimming part of my original conclusion. It’s worth adding that at least two additional pieces about this film have recently turned up on the Internet — a new essay by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky (the first part of an ongoing series) and a detailed account by the late Gilbert Adair that was originally published in 1987, not long after Affaires Publiques was rediscovered in Paris.

I apologize for the poor quality of the illustrations from Bresson’s short film, which are the best that I could find. — J.R.

Ten years ago, I flew all the way from Chicago to the San Francisco Film Festival for a weekend to see    Robert Bresson’s first film, which had been discovered in incomplete form at the Cinémathèque Française, bearing the title Béby Inauguré. Shorn of three of its musical numbers and now totaling 23 minutes,       this rather elaborate piece of slapstick and surrealist tomfoolery was written and directed by Bresson and released in 1934, a full nine years before shooting started on his first feature, Les Anges du péché, and      I had been hearing about it for years as an irretrievably lost curiosity.… Read more »

Female Trouble [MONKEY SHINES: AN EXPERIMENT IN FEAR]

From the July 29, 1988 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

MONKEY SHINES: AN EXPERIMENT IN FEAR

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by George A. Romero

With Jason Beghe, John Pankow, Kate McNeil, Joyce Van Patten, Christine Forrest, Stephen Root, Stanley Tucci, and Janine Turner.

You’ve got to get through a few layers of foam rubber before you reach what’s good (or better than good) about George Romero’s new feature. There’s a series of obstacles — cultural, corporate, ideological, stylistic, aesthetic, commercial — standing in the way of what the movie is doing at its best; they may not count for much in the long run, but it’s better to be forewarned and forearmed.

First there’s the problem of the title. I appreciate that the producers did not want to suggest that the movie is a comedy — as sticking to the title of Michael Stewart’s source novel, Monkey Shines, would have done. So a subtitle is understandable as a means of labeling the contents. But An Experiment in Fear? Whose experiment and whose fear? The phrase describes nothing in the film (except for a brief undeveloped scene with a rodent and a beady-eyed behaviorist) and nothing you can say about the film (except as an easy platitude).… Read more »

The Brutal Truth (on I STAND ALONE)

I haven’t much cared for any of the Gaspar Noé films I’ve seen so far except for I Stand Alone, but I persist in finding this one a corrosive masterpiece. This review appeared in the July 9, 1999 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

I Stand Alone

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Gaspar Noe

With Philippe Nahon, Blandine Lenoir, Frankye Pain, Martine Audrain, and Roland Gueridon.

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Gaspar Noé’s first full-length feature is a genuine shocker. It’s a sequel to his 40-minute Carne, a film that didn’t do much for me when it played the film-festival circuit in the early 90s, though I wouldn’t mind seeing it again now. This feature is called Seul contre tous, which translates literally as “alone against everybody”; I Stand Alone is cornier but rolls more easily off the tongue.

You don’t need to know anything about Carne to follow or appreciate I Stand Alone — which thoughtfully provides a precis of Carne in its opening minutes — but some familiarity with Taxi Driver or any of its spin-offs might help you experience its full wallop. Like Martin Scorsese’s film, I Stand Alone centers on an armed and enraged loner who spews macho, racist, and homophobic bile — most of which he mutters to himself –a nd is ready to mow down everyone in sight.… Read more »

The Immortal Story

From the Chicago Reader (October 1, 1996). This film is now readily available in the U.S. and the U.K., and while writing an essay about it for the Criterion release, I came to treasure it a lot more than I did when I wrote this capsule. — J.R.

This rarely screened hour-long Isak Dinesen adaptation by Orson Welles — his first release in color (1968), originally intended for a never-completed anthology film — is far from one of his most achieved works. But thematically and poetically it exemplifies his late lyrical manner, and it provides clues as to what his most treasured late project — another Dinesen adaptation called The Dreamers, for which he shot a few tests — might have looked like. Set in 19th-century Macao (though filmed modestly in France and Spain), this parablelike tale stars Welles as a lonely and selfish merchant who gets his Jewish secretary (Roger Coggio) to hire a courtesan (Jeanne Moreau) and a sailor (Norman Eshley) to reenact a story. It’s awkward in spots yet exquisite. (JR)

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On Second Thoughts [THE LAST BOLSHEVIK]

From the Chicago Reader (January 21, 1994); reprinted in Movies as Politics. “Special greetings to Jonathan Rosenbaum, who wrote a very perceptive note on THE LAST BOLSHEVIK,” Chris Marker kindly emailed John Gianvito a little over nine years ago. So I didn’t know how to respond to the news of his sad death, which occurred the day after his 91st birthday in 2012, except to reprint the note he was referring to, as well as a photo of the two of us the only time we met, at Peter von Bagh’s Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland in 1998 — actually a blurry frame enlargement from Peter’s Sodankylä, Forever. — J.R.

***

**** THE LAST BOLSHEVIK

(Masterpiece)

Edited and written by Chris Marker.

It seems central rather than incidental to the art and intelligence of Chris Marker that he studiously avoids the credit “directed by . . . ” A globe-trotting French filmmaker whose only work of pure fiction with actors is a classic SF short consisting almost exclusively of still photographs (La jetée, 1962), he appears to avoid obvious fiction only in the sense that he finds actuality more than enough grist for the endlessly turning mill of his irony and imagination.… Read more »

Six Degrees of Separation

From the Chicago Reader (December 24, 1993). — J.R.

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A young hustler (Will Smith) claiming to be the son of Sidney Poitier cons his way into the upper-class Manhattan household and affections of a middle-aged couple (Stockard Channing and Donald Sutherland), with disquieting and soul-searching consequences once his fraud is discovered. John Guare adapted his own play by transplanting the action from a bare stage to a variety of realistic locations, most of them in Manhattan, and has fortunately (and daringly) retained the highly theatrical language of the original. Fred Schepisi’s razor-sharp direction makes it both sing and soar as it explores some of the social gulfs and philosophical crevices that define contemporary urban life. The movie basically belongs to Channing, who gives it both moral force and heat, but with an audacious lesson in making the theatrical cinematic Schepisi does a superb job as well. Fine Arts.

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The Narrow Margin

From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 1991). — J.R.

NarrowMargin

An engaging, exciting noir thriller (1952) set almost entirely on a train going from Chicago to Los Angeles, with a gruff cop (Charles McGraw) guarding a saucy prosecution witness (the underrated Marie Windsor). Richard Fleischer directed this nearly perfect B picture with no fuss and lots of grit and polish from a script by Earl Fenton; the capable cinematography belongs to George E. Diskant. 70 min. (JR)

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Lost Intervals, Doomed and Waiting Souls: Pedro Costa’s HORSE MONEY

From the Summer 2015 Artforum.(This version is slightly different.)  — J.R.

Vitalina

Ventura

Doctor (off): Has this happened to you before?
Ventura: It will happen again, yes it will.

horse-money

Trying to rationalize Pedro Costa’s Horse Money in terms of a synopsis is ultimately a fool’s game, but connecting it to recent Portuguese history is a necessity. The April 25, 1974 military coup known today as the Carnation Revolution, led by the leftwing MFA and ending the Estado Novo dictatorship that lasted almost half a century, took place when Costa was in his early teens. Ventura, Costa’s slightly older principal protagonist in practically all of his other recent films — a Cape Verdean immigrant and construction worker, always playing himself and scripting his own dialogue — was around in Lisbon too. But as Costa told Mark Peranson in an interview in Cinema Scope, Ventura’s experience of the same events was radically different:

I was very lucky to have been a young man in a revolution, really lucky….And I was discovering a lot of things, music and politics and film and girls, everything at the same time, and I was happy and anarchist and shouting in the streets and occupying factories and things like that — I was 13 so I was a bit blind.Read more »

Mr. & Mrs. Bridge

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1991). — J.R.

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I’m not much of a James Ivory fan, but this 1990 adaptation of Evan S. Connell’s novels Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) deserves to be seen and cherished for at least a couple of reasons: first for Joanne Woodward’s exquisitely multilayered and nuanced performance as India Bridge, a frustrated, well-to-do WASP Kansas City housewife and mother during the 30s and 40s; and second for screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s retention of much of the episodic, short-chapter form of the books. It’s true that she and Ivory have toned down many of the darker aspects, but as critic Georgia Brown has suggested, Woodward’s humanization of her character actually improves on the original. Connell’s imagination and compassion regarding this character have their limits, and Woodward triumphantly exceeds them. There are other fine performances as well from Paul Newman (as uptight Mr. Bridge), Blythe Danner (as India’s troubled best friend), Simon Callow, and Austin Pendleton. If the Bridges’ three children are realized less acutely than their parents, the period portraiture nonetheless shows a great deal of taste and intelligence. With Kyra Sedgwick and Robert Sean Leonard. (JR)

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The Man Who Fell to Sleep [SWITCH]

From the Chicago Reader (May 17, 1991). — J.R.

SWITCH

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and written by Blake Edwards

With Ellen Barkin, Jimmy Smits, JoBeth Williams, Lorraine Bracco, Tony Roberts, Perry King, Lysette Anthony, and Victoria Mahoney.

In a review of Blake Edwards’s S.O.B. ten years ago, I was skeptical enough about his reputation as a trenchant social satirist that I called him the Perry Como of slapstick. Stylistically I think the comparison still holds — Switch, Edwards’s latest comedy, bears it out with a grim vengeance — but thematically the description may do Edwards’s work less than full justice. However Hollywood-style and boringly upscale the mid-life crises of the self-regarding womanizers in 10, S.O.B., The Man Who Loved Women, and Skin Deep may be, these are still troubled and neurotic movies; not for nothing did Edwards assign partial script credit to his own psychiatrist in The Man Who Loved Women.

I’m not saying that this element of disturbance makes Edwards a better writer or director, only that it gives him certain characteristics that belie the Perry Como comparison, including a taste for the grotesque and a penchant for self-analysis. Victor/Victoria and That’s Life! show a certain sweetness in dealing with middle-aged characters, and most of Edwards’s movies at least flirt with troubled reflections about sex rather than simply coast along on their Malibu-style furnishings.… Read more »

Lies of the Mind [TALKING TO STRANGERS]

From the November 4, 1988 issue of the Chicago Reader. This piece is also reprinted in my first collection, Placing Movies.

The absence of Rob Tregenza’s three features — Talking to Strangers, The Arc, and Inside/Out– on DVD continues to be a major cultural gap, although he says that does have plans to release them all when he can. (Regarding Inside/Out, here are two more links.) And there’s a fourth feature that he shot more recently in Norway, called Gavagai, which was shown in Chicago at Facets. — J.R.

TALKING TO STRANGERS

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Rob Tregenza

With Ken Gruz, Marvin Hunter, Dennis Jordan, Caron Tate, Henry Strozier, Richard Foster, Linda Chambers, and Sarah Rush.

Let us consider this waiter in the cafe. His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer. . . . All his behavior seems to us a game. He applies himself to chaining his movements as if they were mechanisms, the one regulating the other; his gestures and even his voice seem to be mechanisms; he gives himself the quickness and pitiless rapidity of things.Read more »

Wellesian: Quixote in a Trashcan [New York University Welles Conference]

From the Autumn 1988 Sight and Sound. — J.R.

“I earn a good living and get a lot of work because of this ridiculous myth about me,” Orson Welles told Kenneth Tynan in the mid-60s. “But the price of it is that when I try to do something serious, something I care about, a great many critics don’t review that particular work, but me in general. They write their standard Welles piece. It’s either the good piece or the bad piece, but they’re both fairly standard.”

Standard Welles pieces were for once not the main bill of fare at a major Welles; retrospective and conference held last May at New York University and the Public Theater. A welcome amount of concrete research into Welles’ work in radio, theatre and film was aired, along with the obligatory theoretical exercises. Sidebars included an extensive exhibition of Welles’s radio shows and materials documenting stage productions, and an effectively staged reading of Moby Dick — Rehearsed, a prime instance of how Wellesian magic could be conjured out of suggestively minimal sounds and images.

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In his keynote address, James Naremore offered some fascinating glimpses into the Welles archive in Bloomington, Indiana. The original version of THE STRANGER was half an hour longer, with a flashback structure, a surreal early scene set on a dog-training farm in Argentina and a nightmarish dream sequence.

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