Daily Archives: September 10, 2020


Written in 2013 for a 2019 Taschen volume. — J.R.



Parade poster

1.Why is Parade Tati’s least known feature?


It’s surprising how many of Jacques Tati’s fans still haven’t seen his last feature, and in some cases don’t even know about its existence. Yet the reasons for this neglect aren’t too difficult to figure out.

For one thing, Parade is the only Tati feature apart from Jour de fête in which his best known and most beloved character, Monsieur Hulot, doesn’t appear. For another thing, it was made on an extremely modest budget, and shot mostly on video for Swedish television; it never received even a fraction of the advertising and other forms of promotion, much less distribution, accorded to his five earlier pictures. And some of those who have seen it don’t even regard it as a feature, but think of it merely as a documentary of a circus performance in which Tati appears only as an emcee and as one of the performers, doing some of his more famous pantomime routines. It doesn’t have a story in the sense that all his previous films do on some level, including even his early short, L’école des facteurs (1947).

On the other hand, what we mean by “story” is already a bit different in the work of Tati than it is in the work of most other important filmmakers, comic and otherwise.… Read more »

Waters in the Mainstream

This is a review of the John Waters original (1988) — not the Adam Shankman remake (2007) derived from the Broadway musical, which I haven’t seen. Thanks to the seeming omnipresence of the latter, I originally found it very difficult to find any stills from the former on the Internet. My review appeared in the March 4, 1988 issue of the Chicago Reader. Today I persist in thinking that America would be a better place if John Waters were hosting The Tonight Show. — J.R.


*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by John Waters

With Ricki Lake, Divine, Leslie Ann Powers, Colleen Fitzpatrick, Ruth Brown, Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, and Shawn Thompson.


As John Waters is the first to point out, Hairspray is “a satire of the two most dreaded film genres today — the ‘teen flick’ and the ‘message movie.'” But one of the nicest things about this exhilarating, good-natured pop comedy is that it actually is both a teen flick and a message movie. Satirical or not, it redeems as well as revitalizes both genres while celebrating their excesses.

This downscale, urban Dirty Dancing is a cunning crossover maneuver that opens as many doors to the mainstream audience as Waters can reach for, urging black and white, fat and skinny, blue collar and white collar, and generations some 25 years apart to join in the festive euphoria.… Read more »

The Long Voyage Home

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1988). — J.R.

The revisionist view of this 1940 adaptation by John Ford and Dudley Nichols of four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill downgrades it in favor of the once-neglected Ford westerns — in large part because, unlike the westerns, it was widely praised when it first came out. But it’s about time to restore some balance and recognize this film as a remarkable achievement. This rambling, melancholy tale of merchant seamen and their lonely lives features arguably the best cinematography by Gregg Toland outside of Citizen Kane, and apart from the very special case of Lumet’s reading of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, O’Neill’s finest work, it’s certainly the best realization of O’Neill’s vision on film. It’s also as personal and as deeply felt as any of the more recently canonized Ford masterpieces, and does more with the expressionistic style he often adopted during this period than many of his better-known works. The ensemble acting is extraordinary; John Wayne turns in one of his few successful actorly performances as a Swede, and Thomas Mitchell, Barry Fitzgerald, Ian Hunter, Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick, John Qualen, and Joe Sawyer are equally impressive. The display of emotion here is more direct than is usual with Ford, but the dreamy atmospherics provide an ideal container for this raw feeling.… Read more »

The Haunting

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1989). This film is now available on a Blu-Ray from Warners, with an excellent audio commentary by Robert Wise, all four of the lead actors, and screenwriter Nelson Gidding. And for the record, a recent look confirms that it isn’t at all “stiff in the joints”; Jack Clayton’s The Innocents may be more accomplished, but this is still a rousing, intelligent, and provocative horror film.– J.R.



Robert Wise’s 1963 black-and-white ‘Scope translation of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was pretty effective when it came out; it may be a little stiff in the joints by now, but it’s still a much better scare show than the stinker remake, and clearly aided by Wise’s skill as an editor. With Richard Johnson, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, and Julie Harris. 112 min. (JR)


thehaunting4Read more »

Unpublished Letter to the New York Review of Books [June 24, 2015]

To the Editors:
After Django
I’m very grateful to Adam Shatz for drawing my attention to Tom Perchard’s After Django: Making Jazz in Postwar France [NYR, July 9] and for offering, along with Perchard, a provocative and useful introduction to a neglected subject. But I was brought up short by the following grotesque sentence: “[André] Hodeir eventually gave up jazz criticism to write novels for children.” In fact, this collapses and distorts a phrase from Perchard: “From the beginning of the 1970s to his death in 2011, Hodeir would devote himself to writing novels and children’s books, often with a musical theme.”
Indeed, to account for the two or three books for children and the half-dozen or so books of fiction that Hodeir published at the end of his career, and the singular evolution and development this represented from his former jazz composing, one has to factor in not only his last collection of jazz criticism in English, The Worlds of Jazz, but also his last two major musical works, Anna Livia Plurabelle (which is discussed over five pages by Perchard, but which Shatz fails to mention) and Bitter Ending, each drawn from and built around passages from Finnegans Wake
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Rough Magic

A Critic’s Choice for the Chicago Reader (June 6, 1997). — J.R.

In an era when the only fantasies grown-up critics are supposed to validate are preschool ones, here’s a charming and decidedly offbeat adult fantasy-comedy (1995) from the stylish English director Clare Peploe (High Season). In the early 50s, around the time of Nixon’s Checkers speech, a magician’s apprentice (Bridget Fonda) who’s engaged to a corrupt and wealthy politician (D.W. Moffett) runs off to Mexico in search of a sorceress after witnessing an apparent murder. Eventually she links up with a couple of guys (Russell Crowe and Jim Broadbent) who have separate reasons for being interested in her magic. Adapted by William Brookfield, former film critic Robert Mundy, and Peploe from James Hadley Chase’s novel Miss Shumway Waves a Wand, this visual treat recalls the whimsical postwar fantasies of Lewis Padgett (the pen name of writing team Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore). The period flavor is witty and concise, the magic — which ultimately includes a talking dog and a man turning into a sausage — fetching and full of twists. (Fine Arts) — Jonathan Rosenbaum

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