This article was commissioned by and published in the Canadian online magazine Synoptique in its 7th issue, devoted to Susan Sontag and edited by Colin Burnett (dated 14 February 2005, about six weeks after her death), and is also reprinted in my Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. — J.R.
Goodbye Susan, Goodbye: Sontag and Movies
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
I don’t think that Susan Sontag was a great film critic; to hear her tell it, she wasn’t really a critic at all. But it’s still hard to overestimate her importance as an American writer in relation to movies. The last of the great New York intellectuals associated with Partisan Review, she was the only one in that crowd who understood and appreciated film in a wholly cosmopolitan manner, as a part of art and culture and thought —- something that couldn’t be said of Hannah Arendt, Saul Bellow, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Mary McCarthy, Philip Rahv, Harold Rosenberg, Edmund Wilson, or any of the editors at the New York Review of Books. Even if one considers the most sophisticated members or fellow travelers of that group who functioned as film critics —- James Agee, Manny Farber, Pauline Kael, Dwight Macdonald, Delmore Schwartz, Parker Tyler, Robert Warshow —- none of them could claim quite the same global, cultural, and historical reach that Sontag had.… Read more »
From Jean-Luc Godard: Son-Image 1974-1991 (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1992). -– J.R.
“Jean-Luc cultists,” complains Judith Crist in the World Journal Tribune. God bless them! They constitute a line of defense against every manipulative insult the entertainment business throws out, there are more of them each year, and they may even be winning. — Roger Greenspun (1)
Greenspun’s rallying cry of a quarter of a century ago testifies to the passion and debate that used to be stirred up in the United States when Godard’s name was mentioned. The gradual phasing out of that debate and the depletion of that passion cannot be explained simply, and to understand it at all requires some careful thought about how American culture as a whole has itself changed in the interim. For a director still closely identified with the sixties in American film criticism, Godard is regarded today with much of the same fear, skepticism, suspicion, and impatience that greet many other contemporary responses to that decade. And his status as an intellectual with a taste for abstraction may make him seem even more out of place in a mass culture that currently has little truck with movie experiences that can’t be reduced to sound bites.… Read more »
From The Soho News, May 21, 1980. — J.R.
The Empire Strikes Back
Story by George Lucas
Screenplay by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan
Directed by Irwin Kershner
Let’s face facts. Whether you or I love, hate or feel indifferent to The Empire Strikes Back — or any of the seven sequels and “prequels” to Star Wars slated to interfere with our lives over the next two decades — doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference in the long run, on the cosmic scale of things. Nor does it matter all that much in the mundane short run, either. Even if you stay away from the movie, manage to shun the novel and T-shirt and comic, avoid the soundtrack album and toys and video cassette, you can bet that a skilled team of disinterested humanitarians and technocrats, working round the clock with computers has decided that it’s so good for you and your kids that there’s no way you can prevent it from being crammed down your throats, in one form or another.
You’d better grin and bear it, if you know what’s good for you. The celestial machinery that has already turned Star Wars into the biggest grosser to date (“of all time” might seem a little excessive in forestalling the future) isn’t taking any chances in its investment by branching our or experimenting much.… Read more »