From Cineaste, Fall 1995. – J.R.
The Films of Vincente Minnelli
by James Naremore. Cambridge University Press, 1993. 202 pp, illus., Hardcover: $65.00. Paperback: $27.99.
The critical position of James Naremore is Frankfurt school auteurism, a seeming contradiction. That is, he shares the Marxist orientation of many Frankfurt school intellectuals but not their disdain for the artifacts of mass culture. (To be sure, not all Frankfurt school members can be characterized in quite so monolithic a fashion; see, for instance, the prewar journalism of Siegfried Kracauer published this year in The Mass Ornament.) As a consequence, Naremore’s work shows an interest in style and pleasure that runs against the puritanical grain of most American Marxists, without ever losing sight of the social and political issues avoided by most American auteurists.
This is an idiosyncratic and progressive book in a series, the Cambridge Film Classics, that has mainly been conformist and conservative, especially in relationship to non-American filmmakers. Its volumes always focus on a few “representative” features rather than complete oeuvres, and Naremore’s study of Minnelli focuses on Cabin in the Sky, Meet Me in St. Louis, Father of the Bride, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust for Life, but only after an Introduction and first chapter that take up a quarter of the book and lay a considerable amount of contextual groundwork.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 15, 1999). — J.R.
An uncredited Jean-Luc Godard produced this 1997 third feature by the singular American independent Rob Tregenza (Talking to Strangers, The Arc), and along with Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr, Godard is certainly a presiding guru over this powerful if enigmatic view of life in and around a psychiatric hospital somewhere in rural, snowbound America. Shot by Tregenza himself (one of the best cinematographers on the planet) in black-and-white 35-millimeter ‘Scope — mainly in extremely long, choreographed takes that transpire with a minimum of dialogue but with an extremely inventive and original Dolby sound track — the film offers not so much a plot in the usual sense as a series of interlocking characters and events governed, like the film’s title, by polarities: sound and image, interior and exterior, sanity and madness, freedom and institutional captivity, society and isolation. According to clues planted in the clothes and decor (especially the cars), the action begins around 1945 and ends in the present or near future, but to confuse matters further the characters and their behavior remain unaging constants. Tregenza’s background in existential philosophy serves him well: every shot comprises an event, and most of them were shot only once, in a single take (as in Talking to Strangers), allowing change and contingency to shape the material.… Read more »
Narita: Heta Village
From 1967 to 1974 Japanese documentarian Shinsuke Ogawa lived with the farmers of Sanrizuka, whose village was targeted for demolition to make room for Tokyo’s Narita airport. Supported by radical students, the farmers protested their eviction, and Ogawa joined in, recording both the long-term struggle and the everyday life of the village. His intense involvement eventually yielded five films with a combined running time of about 15 hours; the 146-minute Narita: Heta Village (1973) is the second and final segment included in Doc Films’ retrospective of virtuoso cinematographer Masaki Tamura. Ogawa emphasizes the lifestyle and traditions the farmers are fighting to preserve, and both he and Tamura (a farmer’s grandson himself) show a deep sensitivity and responsiveness to these people. My favorite sequences include an interview with a woman while she slices a radish into the shape of a phallus (which she jokingly attaches to sweet potato “testicles”), a candid and affectionate conversation with an 86-year-old woman seated on her porch, and an opening sequence in which Tamura’s camera roams around a field to illustrate a farmer’s anecdotes. Subjective and highly empathetic, this documentary is less a statement than a friendly conversation: Ogawa can be heard frequently as both narrator and interviewer, the periodic intertitles are no less personal, and the villagers repay the filmmakers’ warmth by freely sharing their lives with the camera.… Read more »