Daily Archives: September 16, 2020

WR: Mysteries Of The Organism

From the November 4, 2005 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

We may forget that the most radical rethinking of Marx and Freud found in European cinema of the late 60s and early 70s came from the east rather than the west. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a headier mix of fiction and nonfiction, or sex and politics, than this brilliant 1971 Yugoslav feature by Dusan Makavejev, which juxtaposes a bold Serbian narrative shot in 35-millimeter with funky New York street theater and documentary shot in 16. The WR is controversial sexual theorist Wilhelm Reich and the mysteries involve Joseph Stalin as an erotic figure in propaganda movies, Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs killing for peace as he runs around New York City with a phony gun, and drag queen Jackie Curtis and plaster caster Nancy Godfrey pursuing their own versions of sexual freedom. In English and subtitled Serbo-Croatian. NC-17, 85 min. (JR)

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The Modest Master [Luc Moullet]

From the March 31, 2006 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Luc Moullet: Agent Provocateur of the New Wave

Almost 30 years have passed since I wrote a heated article about French filmmaker Luc Moullet for Film Comment — the first extended defense of his movies and his film criticism in English. But the first American retrospective devoted to him is only now opening, at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Only 8 of his 32 films will be included, and some of my favorites are missing. Still, it’s been worth the wait.

Moullet, who grew up in the sticks, the son of a mail sorter and a typist, started writing for Cahiers du Cinéma in the 50s, when he was in his teens, and he’s still a critic today. Brigitte Bardot is seen reading Moullet’s book on Fritz Lang in Godard’s Contempt (1963), and his Politique des Acteurs came out in 1993. But only a fraction of his major writing has been collected. He was the first to write at length about Samuel Fuller and Edgar G. Ulmer and the first at Cahiers to champion Luis Buñuel. Neither a formalist nor an ideologue, he has a particular feeling for film style that in 1958 led him to compare the gratuitous camera movements in Douglas Sirk’s The Tarnished Angels to the run-on sentences in its source novel, William Faulkner’s Pylon.… Read more »

Smoke and Mirrors

From the Chicago Reader (December 3, 2004). — J.R.

Bright Leaves

*** (A must-see)

Directed and Written by Ross McElwee

As a filmmaker who’s always philosophizing about his family, his southern heritage, and the meaning of life, Ross McElwee can get a little high-flown at times. The funniest shot in the latest installment of his autobiographical saga, Bright Leaves, brings him down to earth a bit — and shows that McElwee actually may have learned something from the deflation. The shot occurs toward the end of the film and there are several reasons it’s so funny.

(1) A noisy dog is following McElwee as he threads his way through a kitschy sculpture garden, whose relevance to the story remains obscure. Is it cemetery statuary? Whatever it is, it’s a visual and narrative non sequitur that only adds to the screwball ambience.

(2) The growling dog, seen near the lower edge of the frame, recalls a smudgy, minimalist black-and-white comic strip drawn by David Lynch between 1983 and ’92, The Angriest Dog in the World. (The graphics of the four panels in each strip were almost identical — the same dog angrily pulling at the same chain in a fenced-in backyard — but the introductory words and the balloons of dialogue coming from someone unseen inside the house were always different.)… Read more »