Daily Archives: February 13, 2020

French Revelations [on LE DIVORCE]

From the August 8, 2003 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Le Divorce

*** (A must-see)

Directed by James Ivory

Written by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and Ivory

With Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Thierry Lhermitte, Leslie Caron, Melvil Poupaud, Glenn Close, Stockard Channing, Sam Waterston, Matthew Modine, Jean-Marc Barr, Nathalie Richard, Bebe Neuwirth, and Stephen Fry.

Producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, and their regular screenwriter-adapter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala seem to have a special affinity for Americans in Paris, the subject of three of their five most recent films – Jefferson in Paris (1995), A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries (1998), and now Le Divorce. The first of these is one of their worst features, while the second and third are among their best. So their special affinity doesn’t seem to matter as much as the quality of their material and their particular feeling for it. In the case of Le Divorce, their fidelity to the civilized attitudes of Diane Johnson’s novel makes this one of their most sophisticated and entertaining features to date.

The novel is narrated by Isabel, a 19-year-old film-school dropout from Santa Barbara who’s gone to Paris to visit her older stepsister Roxy, a poet married to a French painter and pregnant with their second child.… Read more »

Stan Brakhage (1933-2003): In Memoriam/In Celebration

From the April 18, 2003 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

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I was slow to appreciate the multifaceted greatness of the late Stan Brakhage, this country’s major experimental filmmaker, in part because he and some of his supporters originally presented his work in terms so grand they seemed to split his audience into believers and atheists. This memorial screening of ten Brakhage films, the prints of which were all loaned by local enthusiasts, extends from Desistfilm (1954) to Stately Mansions Did Decree (1999), and though it omits two of my favorites from his middle period — The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes (1971) and Scenes From Under Childhood (1970) — it offers a useful 75-minute survey for people unacquainted with his work. For me the real revelations are the 90s films: the breathtaking The Chartres Series (1994), the self-avowed “last testament” Commingled Containers (1996), which marked Brakhage’s return to photography after years of painting directly on celluloid, and the literally dazzling Stately Mansions Did Decree. All three exhibit the same painterly brilliance found in his Ellipses Reels 1-4 (1998), and taken as a whole they suggest an overall development from chamber pieces to grand orchestral works. Completing the survey are Mothlight (1963), Door (1971), The Riddle of Lumen (1972), The Roman Numeral Series III (1980), Egyptian Series (1983), and I…Dreaming (1988), the latter one of his rare sound/image experiments.… Read more »

Art School Is Murder

From the Chicago Reader (May 12, 2006). — J.R.

Art School Confidential

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Written by Daniel Clowes

With Max Minghella, Sophia Myles, Matt Keeslar, John Malkovich, Jim Broadbent, Joel David Moore, Ethan Suplee, Steve Buscemi, and Anjelica Huston

The 2001 live-action Ghost World was the first collaboration involving director Terry Zwigoff, cartoonist Daniel Clowes, and John Malkovich’s production company. Art School Confidential is the second. It’s far more ambitious than its predecessor and suffers from too many ideas rather than too few, making it an inspired, fascinating, and revealing mess. Holding it together is the same anger about the way art is taught that gave so much edgy life to the scenes with Illeana Douglas in Ghost World. Even if one disagrees with some of its points, as I do, it offers plenty to mull over.

Both films faintly echo a four-page catalog of Clowes’s gripes called “Art School Confidential” that appeared in his comic book Eightball. (Having taught courses in film and critical writing in a university art department in the mid-70s,I can testify that art-world careerism was the main preoccupation of both my students and my colleagues.) Clowes clearly felt alienated as an art student and has been spewing bile ever since.… Read more »