Daily Archives: January 11, 2021

Reflections on Agee’s Complete Film Criticism: Reviews, Essays, and Manuscripts

Posted on the Film Comment web site, October 16, 2017. A French translation of this essay by Jean-Luc Mengus has recently been published in Trafic. — J.R.

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My late father was never a cinephile, not even remotely, but he managed and programmed a small chain of movie theaters in northwestern Alabama for about a quarter of a century, from the mid-’30s to 1960. And during most or all of that period, he read Time magazine every week, from cover to cover. This means that from September 1942, half a year before I was born, until early November 1948, and not counting all the press books that passed through his office and the various trade journals he subscribed to, just about everything he read and knew about movies came from the so-called Cinema pages of Time, and most of these were written by James Agee.

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But he probably had little or no idea who Agee was during this period, even though their stints at Harvard had overlapped, because none of Agee’s writing for Time was signed and my father usually didn’t read The Nation while Agee was concurrently writing his film column there. It’s unlikely that he saw Abraham Lincoln, the Early Years on Omnibus in 1952 because we didn’t have a TV set then, and more probable that he saw The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky in Face to Face the following year at one of his theaters.… Read more »

Jean Renoir: The World of his Films

From Film Comment (January-February 1973).  — J.R.

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JEAN RENOIR: THE WORLD OF HIS FILMS by Leo Braudy. Doubleday & Co., New York, 1972; hardcover $8.95; 286 pages; illustrations, index.

I’ve often wondered why a disproportionate amount of bad film criticism comes from English teachers. One would suppose that anyone devoted to narrative, lyric and dramatic structures would have some sensitivity for and interest in movies, but look at the recent issues of literary magazines like Modern Occasions, Partisan Review and The New York Review of Books and see what they usually have to offer in their “movie chronicles”: bilious, solipsistic professors who waste their time at EASY RIDER and THE GRADUATE (or DEATH IN VENICE and THE GO-BETWEEN) and then conclude that film is a “low art” or an overrated medium because these works don’t live up to the claims of their publicists. Even a critic like Stanley Kauffmann — who should know better — will complain (in a recent  Film Comment) that “a list of memorable foreign films” for 1970 would only run to three or four titles, implicitly making the assumption that he’s seen all the likely candidates: a standard literary procedure, at least in America.

Fortunately, Leo Braudy, an English teacher, shares none of the false snobbery and little of the myopia about film that tends to plague his profession.… Read more »

You Are What You Spend: Presence and Absence in VITALINA VARELA

Written in late 2019 for Grasshopper Film’s digital release in 2020 of Pedro Costa’s masterpiece, recently selected as Portugal’s official submission for best international feature at the 93rd Academy Awards.  — J.R.

“A film with no commercial prospects whatever,” lamented The Nation’s Stuart Klawans, in the course of his passionate defense, after it won both the Golden Leopard and best actress awards in Locarno and the Silver Hugo in Chicago, among other festival prizes. Soon afterwards, Film Comment announced on its cover, “Pedro Costa’s Breathtaking Vitalina Varela Goes to Sundance,” and it was also declared the best film of 2019 by Roger Koza’s international poll of 169 critics, filmmakers, and programmers, beating even Quentin Tarantino’s very-commercial Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood by eleven votes.

How to explain the appeal of a movie named after a real person, a displaced “non-professional” who is also its star? Or the nature of a film driven by its refusal to separate art from life or fiction from non-fiction — feeling more like a place to visit or a person to hang out with, and less like an event or a story?

Seemingly shared by Film Comment and Klawans is the assumption that the fate of Vitalina Varela is tied to commerce — something we can assume as well about the fate of Vitalina the person.… Read more »