Daily Archives: August 3, 2019

Ten Sub-Categories of Dark Reflection in 4.56.20

Written for a Portuguese exhibition catalogue in Fall 2016. My affectionate thanks to Nicole Brenez for both landing me this assignment and correcting a few of my imprecisions.– J.R.

1. On a film by Jean-Luc Godard

I’ll never forget the very strange sort of non-reception that appeared to greet the challenge of Jean-Luc Godard’s Numéro Deux when it first appeared in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The first time I saw the film, in the mid-1970s, soon after its unexpectedly wide commercial opening in Paris — a release apparently prompted by the misleading claim that it was a “remake” of A bout de souffle (premised on the fact that it had the same producer, Georges de Beauregard, as well as the same budget, without allowing for any inflation), plus the fact that it was being distributed by Gaumont — was at a large cinema just off the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, where I was startled to find myself the only person inside the auditorium. Communing all alone with that big screen containing many smaller screens was a singular experience in more ways than one.

 

When Numéro Deux was subsequently shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival, the key annual event of Marxist film theorists in the United Kingdom, many of the intellectuals associated with Screen magazine who had previously treated Le gai savoir and Vent d’est as exemplary manifestos for a political “counter-cinema”, quoting from its various speeches as if they were all graspable and teachable recipes for a revolutionary practice, abruptly dismissed Numéro Deux for its alleged “sexism” and “mystifications” (if they bothered to discuss it at all).… Read more »

The Pluck of BARRY LYNDON

From the March-April 1976 Film Comment. I’m somewhat irritated today by the hectoring tone of this, but I tend to think most of my arguments are sound — apart from my far-too-facile insistence that Barry Lyndon is a failure, which I would now dispute. — J.R.

So BARRY LYNDON is a failure. So what? How many “successes” have you seen lately that are half as interesting or accomplished, that are worth even ten minutes of thought after leaving them? By my own rough count, a smug little piece of engineering like a CLOCKWORK ORANGE was worth about five. I’m reminded of what Jonas Mekas wrote about ZAZIE several years ago: “The fact that the film is a failure means nothing. Didn’t God create a failure, too?”

Anyway, what most Anglo-American critics appear to mean by failure is that they were (a) bewildered and (b) bored by their bewilderment. To some extent, I was bewildered and befuddled too. So what? Who says we have to understand a film back to front before we can let ourselves like it? “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

London critics got to see BARRY LYNDON at least a couple of weeks before their New York counterparts, so the contrasts and comparisons that were drawn were somewhat different: while most of the former chastised Kubrick for his beautiful images before going on to rave about HARD TIMES (known over here as THE STREETFIGHTER) or A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, the latter were usually more equitable in establishing that BARRY LYNDON and LUCKY LADY were both failures, leading the unwary to suspect that they might as well be equivalents.… Read more »