From The Movie No. 82 (1981). — J.R.
The war in Vietnam created in the United States a national trauma unparalleled since the Civil War, and its after-effects may prove to be every bit as enduring in the American consciousness. It was a war fought not only with guns and napalm in Southeast Asia, but with placards and truncheons on campuses and streets in large cities throughout the western world. It became the largest, most crucial issue of a generation — virtually taking over such related matters as black protest and the youth-drug subculture — but Hollywood was afraid to deal directly with it, even on a simple level.
Hollywood has traditionally done its best to avoid contemporary politics and especially political controversy, largely for commercial reasons. There is always the danger that a shift in public opinions or interest, between the time of a film’s production and its release date, may render a film with a ‘timely’ subject unmarketable in the long run, or sooner; and few producers are ever willing to take such a risk. The profound divisions created by the Vietnam War in American life were too wide, in a sense, to be commercially exploitable — at least while America remained actively involved.… Read more »
This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). — J.R.
There’s something approaching a consensus, shared by the filmmaker himself, that the best of Claude Chabrol’s early features is Les bonnes femmes (1960), his fourth. Yet the film was a box office flop when it first appeared, widely attacked in France and elsewhere for being ugly, misanthropic, and cynical. And it might be fair to say that this response wasn’t so much superseded as reinterpreted in the years to come. For Les bonnes femmes is probably Chabrol’s most pessimistic work, harping relentlessly on vulgarity, boorishness, and cruelty. Focusing on four young woman who work from nine to seven at an electrical appliance store in Paris, the film offers a definitive look at what they want from life and how poorly they fare in their aspirations — culminating in a remarkable, ambiguous final sequence set in a dancehall, leaving everything up to the audience’s troubled imagination, about another young woman who isn’t identified at all dancing with an equally unidentified stranger.
Jane (Bernadette Lafont), the shopgirl who visibly expects the least from life, goes out carousing with a couple of men in an early sequence and virtually gets raped.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 10, 2001). — J.R.
There’s certainly a lot more footage — 53 minutes, to be precise — which makes this better in certain ways than the original Apocalypse Now, though the flaws are also magnified. (Kurtz’s Cambodian savages slaughtering a caribou — actually, it’s a Filipino ceremony — and kneeling before Willard and then laying down their weapons en masse seems even more insulting and ludicrous than it did in 1979; and the pan to The Golden Bough and From Ritual to Romance remains the most pretentious shot in the history of cinema, far worse than anything ever perpetrated by Antonioni.) Francis Ford Coppola’s guilty-liberal rethink of John Milius’s right-wing update and transplanting of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” to the war in Vietnam is above all an environmental experience, a theme-park ride enhanced by what may still be Walter Murch’s best sound editing (including some great use of the Doors) and Michael Herr’s second-best writing after Dispatches for Martin Sheen’s voice-over (all of it written long after the movie was shot). Looking for a responsible or even coherent account of that war here would be barking up the wrong tree, and the best way of glossing over this embarrassing lack would probably be to pretend, as many Western viewers do anyway, that this movie has no Vietnamese spectators.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 2, 2001). — J.R.
A brooding chamber piece (2000) about a love affair that never quite happens. Director Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong’s most romantic filmmaker, is known for his excesses, and in that sense the film’s spareness represents a bold departure. Claustrophobically set in adjacent flats in 1962 Hong Kong, where two young couples find themselves sharing space with other people, it focuses on a newspaper editor and a secretary at an export firm (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, the sexiest duo in Hong Kong cinema) who discover that their respective spouses are having an affair on the road. Wong, who improvises his films with the actors, endlessly repeats his musical motifs and variations on a handful of images, rituals, and short scenes (rainstorms, cab rides, stairways, tender and tentative hand gestures), while dressing Cheung in some of the most confining (though lovely) dresses imaginable, whose mandarin collars suggest neck braces. In Cantonese, French, Mandarin, and Spanish with subtitles. PG, 98 min. (JR)
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