From Cinema Scope, Winter 2005, issue 21. Much of this column is out of date — starting with the URL in the first sentence, which none the less does take you somewhere that’s related. — J.R.
My most fruitful recent discovery for ordering rare films on DVD is www.superhappyfun.com — a mysterious U.S.company whose name sounds oddly Japanese and who makes its own Region 0 DVD-Rs (“a movie that’s been ported over from VHS, tweaked with a time-based corrector, and recorded onto a consumer-grade DVD”), packed in envelopes rather than boxes to save costs and usually priced at $13 apiece. The prints used vary in quality and are ranked in their catalogue entries between 10 (best) and 4 (worst); I’ve found so far that anything below 7 borders on the dubious (such as my blotchy albeit subtitled copy of Jacques Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us, assigned a 6).
Among the treasures I’ve recently acquired are Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (the full version, with English subtitles, on two discs, for $15), The Exterminating Angel subtitled, The Girl Can’t Help It letterboxed, a couple of restored Ernst Lubitsch musicals (Monte Carlo and One Hour with You), Joseph Losey’s M, Jacques Tourneur’s Nightfall, Kinugasa’s A Page of Madness (which has no intertitles, so subtitles aren’t needed), Fuller’s Park Row, and Antonioni’s The Passenger.… Read more »
From American Film (April 1982). — J.R.
The Film in History: Restaging the Past by Pierre Sorlin. Barnes & Noble, $21.50.
Feature Films as History edited by K.R.M. Short. University of Tennessee Press, $16.50.
Vietnam on Film: From “The Green Berets” to “Apocalypse Now” by Gilbert Adair. Proteus, $13.95.
What is a historical film? Sociologist and cultural historian Pierre Sorlin concludes a comparison between two French films about the French Revolution released during the mid-thirties — Abel Gance’ s Napoleon Bonaparte and Jean Renoir’s La Marseillaise — with a succinct formula for his provocative working assumption in The Film in History. “A historical film,” he writes, “is a reconstruction of the social relationship which, using the pretext of the past, reorganizes the present.”
It’s an interesting notion to try out on all the films that we regard as historical. To get a proper fix on Reds, for instance, one has to consider not only the years 1915 to 1920, during which the portrayed events take place, but also the much more immediate past, during which the movie was being formulated and put together, and the present, during which it is being seen and understood. Thus the relatively short shrift paid in the film to class differences – a fundamental issue in John Reed’s life — can be ascribed in part to the basically middle-class orientation of the student revolts in the sixties, which have a lot to do with the way that we currently regard radical politics.… Read more »
This book review appeared in the Winter 1974/5 issue of Sight and Sound. For illustrations, I’m including a contemporary photograph of the author, Noël Burch (seen here in Rotterdam with the late Allan Sekula) and two stills from Burch’s first and (probably) best film, Noviciat (1964 — only 18 minutes long, but including illustrations of a remarkable number of the formal procedures described in his book.
Shortly after this review appeared, I recall receiving a gratifying fan letter of sorts from James Leahy, a teacher at the Slade School in London and a devoted Burch disciple, at least at the time. — J.R.
THEORY OF FILM PRACTICE
By Noël Burch
Translated by Helen R. Lane
Secker & Warburg, ₤3.50 (paperback, ₤1.90)
“Theory of Film Practice is at every point derived from and confirmed by the perception that film develops not through the contraints and coventions of an industry, but in opposition to them.” Thus Annette Michelson, in her exemplary introduction to this revised and updated English edition of Praxis du cinéma (1969), sets forth one salient fact about Noël Burch’s seminal work that clearly isolates it from the critical mainstream as we know it today.
There are many others: a total rejection of the illusionist principle which was expanded in depth by André Bazin (more precisely, extended into deep focus), and has subsequently been adopted as an unexamined postulate by most of his epigones; a ‘scientific’ approach that rigorously eschews journalism, sociology, literary analysis and the promulgation of moral concerns, however much it reflects Burch’s own aesthetic predilections; above all, an obstinate insistence on regarding films as sounds, images and the formal relationships between them.… Read more »