From the December 1, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Made for West German television in 1980, William Klein’s very entertaining and energetic documentary portrait of the rock-and-roll idol was shot mainly in Macon, Georgia, Little Richard’s hometown, at a time when the singer was a media evangelist for a company selling expensive commemorative Bibles. Midway through production, Little Richard had a financial dispute with the Bible company and announced that he’d received a message from God telling him to walk out on the film. He promptly disappeared. Ordinarily, this would have left the film and filmmaker high and dry. But a deft use of archival footage of Little Richard in his prime, combined with Klein’s usual fascination with media fanfare — including a hilarious procession of black and white Little Richard impersonators — gives the film more than enough to sink its teeth into. And because this is William Klein, the teeth are sharp and the bite is sure. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (May 27, 1988). — J.R.
Carl Dreyer’s last film, one of the most controversial movies ever made, would be my own candidate for the most beautiful, affecting, and inexhaustible of all narrative films, but it is clearly not for every taste — not, alas, even remotely. Adapted from a long-forgotten play by Hjalmar Soderberg written during the early years of this century, it centers on a proud, stubborn woman (Nina Pens Rode) who demands total commitment in love and forsakes both her husband and a former lover for a young musician who is relatively indifferent to her. It moves at an extremely slow, theatrical pace in lengthy takes recorded mainly in direct sound (although shot principally in a studio), and deserves to be ranked along with The Magnificent Ambersons, Lola Montes, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as one of the great haunted memory films. In a way, the meaning of this film partially hinges on the refusal and/or inability to compromise, and what this means over the range of an entire life (in this case, Dreyer’s as well as his heroine’s). The eponymous heroine may be regarded as a monster, a sublime and saintly martyr, or, most likely, as an impossible fusion of the two.… Read more »
This appeared as the lead article in the May-June 1974 issue of Film Comment — a somewhat pared-down revamping of my entry about Stroheim for Richard Roud’s belatedly published Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (New York: The Viking Press, 1980), and, if memory serves, the longest of my several contributions to that long out-of-print collection. — J.R.
Second Thoughts on Stroheim
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
Total object, complete with missing parts,
instead of partial object. Question of degree.
— Samuel Beckett, “Three Dialogues”
Two temptations present themselves to any modern reappraisal of Erich von Stroheim’s work; one of them is fatal, the other all but impossible to act upon. The fatal temptation would be to concentrate on the offscreen image and legend of Stroheim to the point of ignoring central facts about the films themselves: an approach that has unhappily characterized most critical work on Stroheim to date. On the other hand, one is tempted to look at nothing but the films — to suppress biography, anecdotes, newspaper reviews, reminiscences, and everything else that isn’t plainly visible on the screen.
Submitting Stroheim’s work to a purely formal analysis and strict textural reading of what is there — as opposed to what isn’t, or might, or would or could or should have been there — may sound like an obvious and sensible project; but apparently no one has ever tried it, and there is some reason to doubt whether anyone ever will.… Read more »
From Monthly Film Bulletin, September 1975, Vol. 42, No. 500.
It’s good to see Norman Mailer’s first three features just out in a two-disc DVD set from Eclipse (it would be great if Criterion could eventually do the same for Susan Sontag’s three fiction features), even though I regret that my two favorite Mailer films — his untitled, ten-minute experimental short from 1947 (recently discovered by archivist Michael Chaiken, who wrote the excellent and provocative notes for the Eclipse set, and which I saw last July at Il Cinema Ritrovato) and Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987) — aren’t included. (Admittedly, I haven’t yet seen all of Maidstone, which Chaiken makes the most claims for, so these rankings on my part are still subject to revision.)…In his Eclipse notes, Chaiken describes Will the Real Norman Mailer Please Stand Up? [sic] as “a filmed counterpart to The Armies of the Night“, which parallels my own observation here.… Read more »