Jon Jost Turns a Corner


Now that I’ve seen three of the most recent half-dozen features of Jon Jost — Coming to Terms (2013, Butte, Montana), Blue Strait (2014, Port Angeles, Washington), and They Had it Coming: True Gentry County Stories (2015, Stanberry, Missouri), in that order — I find myself, unlike certain others (including Jost himself), preferring the third to the second and the second to the first. The reason why is that the basic theme of Jost’s narrative films for quite some time has been the tragic story of American men, some of them patriarchal, others simply burnt-out cases, losing their all-American souls — a theme that to my mind he already gave near-perfect expression to in his 1977 Last Chants for a Slow Dance (dead end) and which he has been spinning out periodically in diverse variations ever since. But to judge from the developments between these three recent features, this may be a story that Jost may finally be turning away from — for the sake of non-narrative meditations (especially in much of Blue Strait) and the stories of others (as in They Had it Coming), others whom in some cases may not even have discernible souls to lose. And for me, these are positive developments for a prodigious independent artist whose productivity is so difficult to chart that his eight separate blogs and two separate web sites make it even harder to track in its various forms and dispersals.… Read more »


From Sight and Sound (Summer 1975). I think I probably did a better job with The Godfather 33 years later, when I wrote something about it for Filmkrant. — J.R.

The Godfather Part II

‘I believe in America,’ declares an undertaker in portentous close-up at the start of The Godfather, appealing to Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) to dispatch an act of vengeance on his behalf. The sequel begins and ends with close-ups of Michael (Al Pacino), Vito’s youngest son and successor: in the first his hand is being kissed off-screen by yet another supplicant; in the last he sits alone biting his knuckle, with his wedding ring clearly in evidence — an apt symbol of his solitary dominion, with the Corleone family virtually destroyed so that itshollow emblems and relics might be preserved. The most obvious achievement of The Godfather Part II (CIC) over its predecessor can be seen in the quiet authority of this framing device, which tells us everything we need to know about the fate of the Corleones without recourse to rhetorical hectoring; its most obvious limitation is that it essentially tells us nothing new.

Perhaps more than anyone else in Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola epitomizes the man in the middle.… Read more »

Paris Journal (January-February 1974)

From Film Comment. — J.R.

JULIEN: Have you ever thought that the true reverse angle, as one says in cinematography, of [Magritte’s] Madame Récamier, is the public much more than the painter at work?

– From the script of L’AUTOMNE

All but the last eight minutes or so of Marcel Hanoun’s L’AUTOMNE (AUTUMN) is filmed from a single fixed camera angle, which corresponds to the viewing screen in an editing studio.… Read more »

Godard in the Nineties: An Interview, Argument, and Scrapbook (Part 2)

From Film Comment (September-October 1998).  This is a restructured and substantially revised, updated, and otherwise altered version of my “Trailer for Histoire(s) du cinéma,” which appeared originally in French in the Spring 1997 issue of Trafic. Among the more important changes are a suppression of virtually all of my multiple comparisons of Histoire(s) du cinéma with Finnegans Wake in the original (which, paradoxically, seemed more appropriate in a French publication than in an American one), an expansion of much of the interview material, and an extended quotation from Godard’s review of Rob Tregenza’s  Talking to Strangers.

My apologies for some format irregularities that I wasn’t able to fix. -– J.R.




JLG (at press conference): I still look at movies the same way today than I did [at the time of the New Wave], but I know it’s not the same world, exactly. Even if we enter the theater the same way, we don’t go out the same way.             

                                                                                                                                                         Q: How is it different?                                                                                                           

JLG: Less hope.…Paris is the only city in the world where you can still see all the film production that’s interesting, especially independent movies, and if you don’t live there, you’re far away from the production.Read more »

Godard in the Nineties: An Interview, Argument, and Scrapbook (Part 1)

From Film Comment (September-October 1998).  This is a restructured and substantially revised, updated, and otherwise altered version of my “Trailer for Histoire(s) du cinéma,” which appeared originally in French in the Spring 1997 issue of Trafic. Among the more important changes are a suppression of virtually all of my multiple comparisons of Histoire(s) du cinéma with Finnegans Wake in the original (which, paradoxically, seemed more appropriate in a French publication than in an American one), an expansion of much of the interview material, and an extended quotation from Godard’s review of Rob Tregenza’s  Talking to Strangers.

My apologies for some format irregularities that I wasn’t able to fix. -– J.R.




Part of the following derives from two film festival encounters — a panel discussion on Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma held in Locarno in August 1995, and some time spent with Godard in Toronto in September 1996. I participated in the first event after having seen the first four chapters of Godard’s eight-part video series; unlike my co-panelists, I’d been unable to accept Godard’s invitation to view chapters 3a and 3b, devoted to Italian neorealism and the New Wave, in Rolle a few days earlier.… Read more »

Poetry in Motion [THELMA & LOUISE]

From the June 7, 1991 Chicago Reader. — J.R.


*** (A must-see)

Directed by Ridley Scott

Written by Callie Khouri

With Susan Sarandon, Geena Davis, Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Christopher McDonald, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brad Pitt, Timothy Carhart, and Lucinda Jenny.

I’m not quite sure precisely when Thelma & Louise kicks into high gear. Does it happen when Thelma (Geena Davis) holds up a convenience store, or much earlier, when Louise (Susan Sarandon) shoots a rapist (Timothy Carhart)? Does it happen when Thelma’s tyrannical husband (Christopher McDonald) steps on a pizza, or when Louise divests herself of her watch and jewelry in exchange for an old coot’s sun hat?

Whenever it happens, something starts to click, and the movie becomes mythical — mutates into a sort of classic before one’s eyes. This isn’t to say that it can thenceforth do no wrong; the flashback shots that punctuate the final credits are lamentable, a cheap attempt to add uplift to an ending that doesn’t need it. But the movie does take on a certain charmed existence, persuading one to forgive such lapses. After a rather slow beginning, this prosy film turns poetic; and when that happens, we’re no longer passive bystanders but active participants, along for the ride morally as well as physically.… Read more »

Searching for Taiwan [THE PUPPET MASTER]

From the Chicago Reader (December 3, 1993). — J.R.

THE PUPPET MASTER **** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien

Written by Wu Nien-jen, Chu Tien-wen, and Li Tien-lu

With Li Tien-lu, Lin Chung, Cheng Kuei-chung, Cho Ju-wei, Hung Liu, and Bai Ming-hwa


Let’s start with three central and related facts, the first about Taiwan, the second about Taiwanese cinema, and the third about us. (1) Until six years ago, Taiwan spent this whole century under martial law, and over three previous centuries it suffered from nearly continuous occupation — by the Dutch in the 17th century and the Manchus in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. In 1895 it was ceded to Japan as one of the spoils of the Sino-Japanese war, and it remained a Japanese colony for the next half century, until the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. At this point mainland China took control; but four years later, when the communists seized the mainland, the deposed Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek, shifted their base to Taiwan — claiming that their rule was only temporary, until they could wrest the mainland back from the communists. But as it turned out they remained in power until 1987, when Taiwan finally became a democracy.… Read more »


From the August 17, 2001 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Apocalypse Now Redux

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Written by John Milius and Coppola

With Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Albert Hall, Sam Bottoms, Laurence Fishburne, Dennis Hopper, G.D. Spradlin, Harrison Ford, Colleen Camp, Cynthia Wood, Christian Marquand, and Aurore Clement.

It’s hard to think of many movies where the great, the not so great, and the simply awful coexist quite as brazenly as they do in Apocalypse Now. This was true in 1979, when the movie clocked in at 150 minutes, and it’s true 22 years later, when the new version, Apocalypse Now Redux, runs a third longer.

If anything, the longer version — not so much a rethinking of the material as an expansion, with a minimum of reshuffling, by the adept Walter Murch, who also worked on the original — is better and worse, emphasizing both the ambitious scope and the fatal flaws of Francis Ford Coppola’s achievement. Among the more substantial additions are a ghostly sequence set on a French plantation (featuring Aurore Clement and the late Christian Marquand) that tries, with mixed results, to poeticize the futility of outsiders, French or American, getting involved in the Vietnam war and a silly and rather inconclusive sequence involving a couple of Playboy Playmates (Cynthia Wood and Colleen Camp) that adds nothing.… Read more »

Wind Across the Everglades

From the Chicago Reader (May 31, 2002). I’m pleased to remember that Studs Terkel, who knew Nick Ray, wrote me a friendly letter about this review shortly after it appeared — and that, years earlier (1995), when my first collection, Placing Movies, came out, he invited me to appear as a guest on his radio show. — J.R.

A kind of litmus test for auteurists, this philosophical adventure story set in turn-of-the-century Florida (1958, 93 min.) was Nicholas Ray’s penultimate Hollywood assignment, though he was fired before the end of shooting and barred from the final editing by screenwriter Budd Schulberg (On the Waterfront, A Face in the Crowd), who produced the film with his brother Stuart. (In his introduction to the published screenplay, Schulberg doesn’t even mention Ray.) An ecological parable, it pits an earnest schoolteacher turned game warden (Christopher Plummer) against a savage poacher of wild birds (Burl Ives) heading a grungy gang in the swamps. Ray’s masterful use of color and mystical sense of equality between the antagonists (also evident in Rebel Without a Cause and Bitter Victory) are made all the more piquant here by his feeling for folklore and outlaw ethics as well as his cadenced mise en scene.… Read more »

Trying to Have Some Fun (QUILLS, SMOKING, & NO SMOKING)

From the December 15, 2000 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.



Directed by Philip Kaufman

Written by Doug Wright

With Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine, Billie Whitelaw, Patrick Malahide, and Amelia Warner.



Directed by Alain Resnais

Written by Alan Ayckbourn, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnès Jaoui, and Anne and Georges Dutter

With Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azéma.

No Smoking


Directed by Alain Resnais

Written by Alan Ayckbourn, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Agnes Jaoui, and Anne and Georges Dutter

With Pierre Arditi and Sabine Azema.

Quills is an American adaptation of an American play about the famous 18th-century French libertine the Marquis de Sade, starring Australian, English, and American actors. It is also, in part, an unacknowledged mainstreaming of a more intellectual German play that became famous in the mid-1960s because of an exciting and inventive staging by avant-garde English director Peter Brook — Peter Weiss’s The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade, popularly known as Marat/Sade. (Brook’s 1966 film adaptation of this intensely theatrical play is a pale shadow of the original.)

Smoking and No Smoking – not a double bill but a pair of interactive features that can be seen in either order, both playing at Facets Multimedia Center this week — are French adaptations of a cycle of eight mainly comic English plays by Alan Ayckbourn.… Read more »

The Sun Also Sets [The Films of Nagisa Oshima]

From the October 2008 issue of Artforum. (This is also reprinted in my 2010 collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia.) — J.R.

No major figure in postwar Japanese cinema eludes classification more thoroughly than Nagisa Oshima. The director of twenty-three stylistically diverse feature films since his directorial debut in 1958, at the age of twenty-six, Oshima is, arguably, the best-known but least understood proponent of the Japanese New Wave that came to international prominence in the 1960s and ’70s (though it is a label Oshima himself rejects and despises). Given the size of his oeuvre and the portions that remain virtually unknown in the West — including roughly a quarter of his features and most of his twenty-odd documentaries for television — the temptation to generalize about his work must be firmly resisted.Read more »

Rediscovering Charlie Chaplin

From Cineaste, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, September 2004. This is also reprinted in my latest collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia. — J.R.


Although I suspect many would dispute this characterization, I think the period we’re now living through may well be the first in which scholars have finally figured out a good way of teaching film history. And significantly, this discovery isn’t necessarily coming out of academic film study, even if a few academics are making major contributions to it.

I’m speaking, of course, about the didactic materials accompanying the rerelease of some classic films on DVD. Three examples that I believe illustrate my thesis especially well are (1) the various commentaries or audiovisual essays offered by Yuri Tsivian on DVD editions of Mad Love: The Films of Evgeni Bauer (Milestone), Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (Kino International/BFI), and Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible (Criterion); (2) the commentaries offered by David Kalat on Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (Blackhawk Films) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (Criterion); and (3) the various documentary materials offered on “The Chaplin Collection,” a twelve-box set issued jointly by MK2 and Warners and put together with the full resources and cooperation of the Charles Chaplin estate.… Read more »

Rock Bottom

From the June 10, 1994 Chicago Reader. — J.R.


* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed by Brian Levant

Written by Tom S. Parker, Jim Jennewein, and Steven E. de Souza

With John Goodman, Rick Moranis, Elizabeth Perkins, Rosie O’Donnell, Kyle MacLachlan, Halle Berry, Richard Moll, and Elizabeth Taylor.

When people come to see an entertainment based on another, earlier entertainment that they have affection for, there are things about it that people want to see. They want to hear Fred yell “Yabba-Dabba-Doo!” They want to hear Wilma and Betty say “Charge It!” They want to hear Dino bark “Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip, Yip” and knock Fred down and lick him silly. And we’ve done those things because we love them, too.  — Brian Levant, director of The Flintstones, quoted in the film’s pressbook

It’s quite possible that when someone writes the history of the first hundred years of movies — a period corresponding fairly closely to the 20th century — two decades of that century will be singled out as the most artistically barren: the first and the last. And the principal reasons for that barrenness may turn out to be related: in each decade film, rather than flexing its muscles as an expressive medium, was a relatively inert, inexpressive receptacle for works already fashioned, often in other media.… Read more »

SAFE and Sorry

A kind of ten-best meditation for Artforum, December 1995 (vol. 34, issue 4), that anticipates some of my arguments in my subsequent book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See. Incidentally, I’ve since then come to value Showgirls (and, more generally, Paul Verhoeven) far more than I did 15 years ago, politically and otherwise. — J.R.

In October I compiled three lists for my own schizoid edification. The first consisted of the 50 best films I had seen this year at festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, and Toronto and as a member of the New York Film Festival selection committee (which entailed a screening of 100 more films in August). The second was my impression of what comprised the 50 most discussed films released in the United States this year; my third list was a selection of what I considered the 20 most important releases, whether they were widely discussed or not. Only one feature appears on all three lists — Todd Haynes’ Safe.

One reason for the lack of overlap between my three lists is that, unless it’s a big-studio product, a film usually takes at least a year to open commercially in the United States after its premiere at festivals, ensuring that we remain something of a last-stop backwater when it comes to most non-Hollywood movies.… Read more »

André Delvaux’s Buried Treasures

This was written in late 2012 and early 2013 for Film Comment, but this magazine’s editor at the time loved to improvise the contents of every issue at the last moment, and this article had already been edited, scheduled, and then pulled from two separate issues. For me, it had currency and some immediacy because of the release of a Delvaux box set in Belgium; from the editor’s more land-locked Manhattan perspective, it could be published any time without making much difference. Rather than run the risk of this delay happening a third or even fourth time over the remainder of that year, and because I believed that (now may have had a larger readership than Film Comment anyway, I decided to make a last-minute editorial decision of my own and posted it there, originally in April 2013, forfeiting the expected fee for the piece. (Like all my other texts, it subsequently got transferred here half a year later, at   — J.R.

Part of the strength of André Delvaux (1926-2002) as a filmmaker is that, like the otherwise very different Samuel Fuller and Jacques Tati, he was already pushing 40 when he directed his first feature — having by then studied music, German philology, and the law, and also taught Germanic languages and literature before he became a pioneer in teaching film at Belgian state schools, where Chantal Akerman and Hitler in Hollywoods Frédéric Sojcher (who has written a short book on Delvaux) were among his pupils, meanwhile playing piano to accompany silent films at the Brussels Cinémathèque.… Read more »