This essay started out as a lecture given on the final day of “Urban Trauma and the Metropolitan Imagination,” a conference organized by Scott Bukatman and Pavle Levi and held at Stanford University on May 5-7, 2005. Then it was reprinted in World Cinemas, Transnational Perspectives, edited by Nataša Ďurovičová and Kathleen Newman, New York/London: Routledge, 2009, and it’s appeared in my collection Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia: Film Culture in Transition (University of Chicago Press, 2010). — J.R.
My subject is the presence or absence of both shared public space and virtual private space in two visionary and globally-minded urban epics made about 37 years apart, on opposite sides of the planet — Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) and Jia Zhangke’s The World [Shijie] (2004), coincidentally the fourth commercial feature of each writer-director. Both films can be described as innovative and very modern attacks on modernity, and both have powerful metaphysical dimensions that limit their scope somewhat as narrative fictions. I should add that they both project powerful yet deceptive visions of internationalism that are predicated both literally and figuratively on trompes d’oeil, specifically on tricks with perspective and the uses of miniaturized simulacra. (I’m referring here to both emblematic sites, such as the Eiffel Tower in both films, and the scaled-down skyscrapers used in the set built for Playtime.) In this sense, among others, both films are social critiques about what it means to impose monumental façades on tourists and workers — visitors and employees — who continue to think small.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (October 11, 2002, and then again on June 24, 2005, when Roger introduced it and led a discussion about it). Happily, this film is still available from Amazon and on YouTube, and in memory, it seems to get better and better all the time. — J.R.
There are so many curves and anomalies in this unpredictable low-budget independent feature (2001) by Chicago actor Michael Gilio that I’m tempted to call it an experimental film masquerading as something more conventional. If it’s a comedy — and I’m not sure it is — there are far too many close-ups, though this is also very much an actors’ film. If it’s a road film — and I’m not sure it is — it never gets very far on any given route, though that’s surely deliberate. Two characters (played by Gilio and Bullet on a Wire‘s Lara Phillips) are opaque — they meet at a convenience store where she’s shoplifting, then go on a cross-country trip toward LA, until things start to get weird — and two (played by Karin Anglin and the charismatic Rich Komenich) have backstories. This movie is about the interactions between these characters, and though I’m still trying to figure out what all the pieces mean, there’s no way I can shake off the experience.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 7, 2000). — J.R.
Beyond the Clouds
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (with Wim Wenders)
Written by Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, and Wenders
With John Malkovich, Ines Sastre, Kim Rossi-Stuart, Sophie Marceau, Chiara Caselli, Peter Weller, Fanny Ardant, Jean Reno, Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, Irene Jacob, and Vincent Perez.
Chicago has had a plethora of film festivals lately — Women in the Director’s Chair, Polish Movie Springtime, Chicago Latino Film Festival, the Asian American Showcase. This is probably good for filmmakers who want their work shown, but I’m not sure it’s a boon for moviegoers. For one thing, the screening of so many films at once makes it easy for good work to get lost. Billions of dollars are now spent annually making and promoting a few dozen movies — most of them dogs — that the media obligingly make visible and label important, and everything else is consigned to relative oblivion. The most any obscure film can hope for — good or bad, major or minor — is to compete with all the other obscure films. This is tantamount to tripling the number of passengers in steerage without increasing the provisions: more people get to travel, but everyone gets brutalized in the process.… Read more »