Monthly Archives: November 2019

An Eccentric, Indescribable Bounty (PASSAGE DU CINÉMA, 4992)

 First of all, what is it?

Passage du cinéma, 4992

165 x 240 mm. PlanoPak Weiß 50 gr. (Papyrus). 992 pages.
ISBN 978-2-9544708-0-1. 35 euros. Septembre 2013.

Composition, choix des fragments et montage : Annick Bouleau
Conception graphique : Le Théâtre des Opérations
Édition : Ansedonia, association Loi 1901

“the only book to recount the history of cinema” — Jean-Luc Godard, in the English-language pressbook for Goodbye to Language, p. 22

Not simply a book, but an interactive, multimedia art project by French experimental filmmaker and teacher Annick Bouleau (you can go here for her extensive filmography), the centerpiece of which is a book in French, a copy of which Bouleau was kind enough to send to me. (For the many other aspects of this project and her work, one could easily spend days navigating Bouleau’s web site.) It took her a decade to assemble it. [2019: In July 2019, while I was visiting Paris, she recognized me on the street and introduced herself.] 

What are the contents of this book (seen below in manuscript form)?

A title page, dedication, acknowledgements, Introduction (“Mode d’emploi”), Table of Contents (an alphabetical listing of hundreds of topics, from “abandon” to “zoom,” with corresponding page numbers), and a one-page reader’s manual (“Vade-mecum du lecteur”), followed by 967 double-column pages of 4992 entries. … Read more »

Addressing the Present (2009)

This is the 11th one-page bimonthly column that I published in Cahiers du Cinéma España; it appeared in their March 2009 issue. — J.R.

Tomorrow I start teaching the final semester of a course and film series I’ve been offering at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute devoted to world cinema of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.  To provide a segue between the Depression of the 30s and the 40s, I’ll be starting with a double feature devoted to economic desperation, Preston Sturges’s Christmas in July (1940) and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945).

Two of the most popular films I showed last fall were Lubitsch’s The Man I Killed (1932) and McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). I selected them before last year’s economic recession started, and the congruence and relevance of certain themes — remorse about warfare and spurious patriotism, crowded family apartments and neglect of the elderly — probably added to their appeal.  But the contemporary impact of films is always difficult to predict. I’m convinced that a significant part of what inspired Clint Eastwood to make Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima was the U.S. occupation of Iraq,  but this relevance wasn’t discussed in the press.… Read more »

Women of Substance

From the Chicago Reader (August 10, 2001). — J.R.

ghost-world

TheDeepEnd

 

Under the Sand

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Francois Ozon

Written by Ozon, Emmanuele Bernheim, Marina de Van, and Marcia Romano

With Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot, and Alexandra Stewart.

Ghost World

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Written by Daniel Clowes and Zwigoff

With Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, and Stacey Travis.

The Deep End

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

With Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat, Josh Lucas, and Raymond Barry.

 

It’s often said that strong roles for women are rare nowadays, but three new movies – Under the Sand, Ghost World, and The Deep End — have the virtue of handing a juicy, sympathetic part to a talented actress and letting her run with it. All three are directed by men, which raises the question of whether women will find these portraits as potent and sensitive as I do. Yet even if they qualify to some degree as male fantasies, I’d argue that they’re more in touch with our everyday reality and our history than a male fantasy like Apocalypse Now Redux.… Read more »

In the Company of Women [THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS]

From the Chicago Reader (December 14, 2001). — J.R.

The Business of Strangers

**

Directed and written by Patrick Stettner

With Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Weller, Jack Hallett, and Marcus Giamatti.

The most notable thing about The Business of Strangers, as Andrew Sarris recently suggested in the New York Observer, may be the conjunction of three facts: that the central character of this first feature is a middle-aged woman executive, that it was written and directed by a man, and that it isn’t misogynist.

This sounds like some PC brief, which isn’t generally a good reason for recommending a film. Yet The Business of Strangers doesn’t have any ideological axes to grind, though it’s interested in ideological exploration. And that points to a kind of respect for its audience, not merely a respect for its leading character.

Several reviewers have noted this picture’s resemblance to In the Company of Men, Tape, and Safe. Though I wouldn’t deny the parallels, they generally have more to do with surface effects than overall meaning. Like In the Company of Men, The Business of Strangers focuses on characters in the business world who display predatory behavior in anonymous surroundings — Anywhere, USA — and it uses a percussive score to suggest these characters’ hostilities and power games.… Read more »

Theory and Practice: The Criticism of Jean-Luc Godard

From the Summer 1972 issue of Sight and Sound. This was my first contribution to that magazine. — J.R.

Godard’s collected criticism (1) is many things at once: informal history (1950–1967) of the arts in general and film in particular, spiritual and intellectual autobiography, a theory of aesthetics, a grab bag of puns. For those who read the pieces when they first appeared — chiefly in the yellow-covered Cahiers du Cinéma and the newspaper format of Arts — it was frequently ill-mannered gibberish that began to be vindicated (or amplified) when the films followed, retrospectively becoming a form of prophecy:

 

Each shot of MAN OF THE WEST gives one the impression that Anthony Mann is reinventing the Western, exactly as Matisse’s portraits reinvent the features of Piero della Francesca . . . in other words, he both shows and demonstrates, innovates and copies, criticizes and creates.

 

For those who encounter the films first, it is likely to seem like an anthology of footnotes serving to decipher and augment what may have once seemed like ill-mannered gibberish on the screen. But for those more interested in continuity than cause and effect, it rounds out a seventeen-year body of work — from an article on Joseph Mankiewicz in Gazette du Cinéma to the “Fin du Cinéma” title concluding WEEKEND — that has already transformed much of the vocabulary and syntax of modern narrative film, further illustrating a style that has passed from avant-garde to neoclassical in less than a decade.Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Prizewinners, Also-Rans & Others

From Cinema Scope issue issue 60, Fall 2014. — J.R.

DVD AWARDS 2014

XI edition (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna)

 

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum, chaired by Peter von Bagh

 

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON BLU-RAY:

Late-mizoguchi-BluRay

Late Mizoguchi – Eight Films, 1951-1956 (Eureka Entertainment). The publication of eight indisputable masterpieces in stellar transfers on Blu-ray is a cause for celebration. If Eureka is not exclusive in offering these individual titles, what makes this collection especially praiseworthy and indispensable is the scholarship, imagination and care that went into the accompanying 344-page booklet. Over 60 rare production stills are included, many featuring Mizoguchi at work. Striking essays by Keiko I. McDonald, Mark Le Fanu, and Nakagawa Masako are anthologized along with extensively annotated translations of some of the key sources of Japanese literature that inspired some of Mizoguchi’s late films. The volume closes with tributes to the great director written by Tarkovsky, Rivette, Godard, Straub, Angelopoulos, Shinoda, and others. Tony Rayns provides spoken essays and some full-length commentaries.

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON DVD:

pintille-thickbox

Pintilie, Cineast (Transilvania Films). An impeccable collection devoted to eleven films by an important and neglected maverick Romanian filmmaker, masterful and acerbic, with invaluable contextualizing extras concerning his life, work, and career drawn from ten separate sources.… Read more »

Mes Petites Amoureuses (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 510). — J.R.

Mes Petites Amoureuses

France, 1975
Director: Jean Eustache

Southwest France, circa 1950. Daniel, a schoolboy living with his grandmother, recalls hitting a schoolmate gratuitously, and getting his first erection as a candle-bearer during Mass. Impressed by a sword-swallower in a circus who lies down on broken glass, he duplicates this feat with artifice and fake blood to impress his friends, but later is overcome by a local girl who forces him to the ground and sits on hirn. After he has passed his entrance exams, his mother arrives on a visit with her lover José, a Spanish labourer. Eventually he moves to the city to join his mother and José, but the former forbids him to attend school and has him work without pay as an apprentice to Henri, José‘s brother, at a bike repair shop. Spending much of his time looking at women, he goes to see Pandora and the Flying Dutchman at a local cinema where, imitating another boy in the audience, he kisses and caresses a girl seated in front of him, but then leaves the film before it is over.… Read more »

Buchanan Rides Alone

Buchanan-Rides-Alone

In some respects this is my favorite of Budd Boetticher’s Randolph Scott westerns (1958, 78 min.), though it’s usually considered a minor work next to Ride Lonesome and The Tall T. After becoming innocently involved in a revenge killing in a small border town, Scott is robbed of his money and ordered away at gunpoint; he decides to go back for his money without really understanding all the local intrigues. Boetticher’s acerbic humor, always his strong point, is given more edge than usual here through an intricate Charles Lang script. With Craig Stevens, Barry Kelley, and Tol Avery. (JR)… Read more »

Richard Brooks’ THE LAST HUNT

THE LAST HUNT (Richard Brooks, 1956, 108 min.)

A very dated but absorbing – and, in its own terms, effective – liberal CinemaScope western, all the more interesting for its dated qualities. In anticipation of Jim Jarmusch’s DEAD MAN, an explicit correlation is made between genocide of Native Americans and the decimation of buffalos, personified in this case by a racist and wanton killer played by Robert Taylor -– contrasted with the humane, reluctant buffalo killer played by Stewart Granger, who grew up with Native Americans and respects both them and their own respect for white buffalos, unlike Taylor. Lloyd Nolan plays the Walter Brennan part, a drunken old geezer who also comes along on the last hunt and winds up siding more with the good guys (i.e., everyone except Taylor, a dyed-in the-wool villain throughout).

The politically incorrect monkey wrench tossed into this scheme, at least by today’s standards, is the fact that the two major Native American characters are played by Russ Tamblyn (a half-breed) and Debra Paget, who function as Granger’s son figure and romantic interest, respectively. In short, no real Native Americans to be seen anywhere, making this movie a good target for the kind of conservative, anti-liberal scorn that a critic like Manny Farber might have had towards such a film.… Read more »

The Last Hunt

From the July 1, 2002 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

thelasthunt19561790001

Overrated in France and underrated in the U.S., writer-director Richard Brooks thrived on sensationalism (Blackboard Jungle, Looking for Mr. Goodbar) but generally faltered when he tried for art (The Brothers Karamazov, Sweet Bird of Youth). One of his better 50s efforts was this 1956 CinemaScope western with Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger, about the disappearance of the buffalo in the 1880s. With Debra Paget, Lloyd Nolan, and Russ Tamblyn. 108 min. (JR)

THELASTHUNT

Breaking In

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

Breaking-In-3

An aging burglar (Burt Reynolds) takes on and trains a younger partner (Casey Siemaszko) in a quirky and likable 1989 comedy directed by Bill Forsyth and scripted by John Sayles. This film lacks the ambition of Forsyth’s earlier Housekeeping, but it’s warm, engaging, and very agreeably acted (Reynolds hadn’t been this good in ages); most of the focus is on the warmth that develops between the old pro and his student in crimea little bit like the rapport between older and younger men found in some of the movies of Howard Hawksand Sayles’s refreshingly nonjudgmental script has plenty of small-scale pleasures of its own. With Sheila Kelley, Lorraine Toussaint, and Albert Salmi. (JR)

BreakingInRead more »

Forbidden Fruit [The Best Movies of 1996]

From the Chicago Reader (January 10, 1997). — J.R.

Compiling a list of the best new (or “new”) movies that opened in Chicago in 1996, I’ve come up with 40 titles, half of which are foreign-language pictures. Many of my colleagues would regard choosing so many foreign movies as perversely esoteric, but it’s hard for me to fathom why. I willingly concede that this country has one of the strongest national cinemas in the world — probably the greatest, which is fully reflected in my including 19 American films in my list and only 5 from France; 3 from Taiwan; 2 apiece from England, Hong Kong, and Iran; and 1 each from mainland China, Denmark, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, and Vietnam.

Of course I haven’t seen nearly as many non-American films as American, but I’ve made a stab at seeing those that have made it to Chicago. I have long been bewildered by how the majority of my colleagues almost never mention any cinema that isn’t English-language when they draw up their end-of-the-year lists. Is American cinema really that wonderful and non-American cinema really that awful? Of course not; the reason most reviewers don’t include foreign pictures on their lists is that they don’t see them.… Read more »

Lone Star

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1996). — J.R.

Lone_Star_film-201x300

A well-constructed but rather unthrilling mystery thriller (1996) by John Sayles, filmed on location in a Texas border town, with a likable lead performance by Chris Cooper as a laid-back sheriff. The plot is intricate and ambitious, with nine other major characters (played by Elizabeth Peña, Kris Kristofferson, Miriam Colon, Frances McDormand, Joe Morton, Matthew McConaughey, Ron Canada, Eddie Robinson, and Clifton James), various flashbacks, and an exploration of history, corruption, racial persecution, and multiculturalism. The whole thing’s so worthy that I wish I liked it more. It makes time pass agreeably, but Square John still seems about as innocent of fresh ideas (aesthetically and otherwise) as most of his characters, and for this kind of leftist multiplot I found his City of Hope (1991) more engaging. Anecdotal aside: all the black extras in this movie had to be bused in for the filming. 134 min.

Lone-Star-1996Read more »

Same Old Lefty Claptrap [SILVER CITY]

From the Chicago Reader (September 16, 2004). — J.R.

Silver City

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and Written by John Sayles

With Danny Huston, Maria Bello, Chris Cooper, Richard Dreyfuss, Daryl Hannah, James Gammon, Kris Kristofferson, Tim Roth, Mary Kay Place, Billy Zane, Sal Lopez, Ralph Waite, Miguel Ferrer, and Michael Murphy

Almost 60 years ago, in the essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell made observations about bad writing that have lost none of their relevance. “As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house,” he wrote. “The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy. It is easier — even quicker, once you have the habit — to say In my opinion it is a not unjustifiable assumption that than to say I think.”

Ready-made phrases in the news — “smoking gun,” “weapons of mass destruction,” “war on terror” — tend to hurry listeners or readers along instead of encouraging them to think.… Read more »

Born On The Fourth Of July

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

Born-on-the-Fourth-of-July-Cruise-Stone

Ron Kovic’s autobiography, which recounts his conversion from patriotic enlisted marine to crippled demonstrator against the Vietnam war, isn’t a very literary book, although it uses some very literary devices (frequent time leaps, switches between first and third person) to approach the intensity of the traumas it deals with. Oliver Stone’s well-intentioned but faltering 1989 adaptation, scripted by Stone in collaboration with Kovic and starring Tom Cruise, eschews this approach for an episodic linear plot that doesn’t allow us to see Kovic’s conversion develop with any complexity. (As he showed in Platoon, Stone knows a lot about fighting in Vietnam, but he knows much less about being an antiwar activist, which is equally important to Kovic’s story; the movie’s demonstrations tend to be as blurry and as cliched as its nostalgic evocations of the American dream.) Stone’s unfortunate penchant for psychologizing leads to a number of murky suggestions here, such as the notion that Kovic’s warmongering instincts were somehow tied to the refusal of his mother (Caroline Kava) to let him read Playboy. Worst of all, the movie’s conventional showbiz finale, brimming with false uplift, implies that the traumas of other mutilated and disillusioned Vietnam veterans can easily be overcome if they write books and turn themselves into celebrities.… Read more »