Performance Art [TORCH SONG TRILOGY & TALK RADIO]

From the Chicago Reader (December 23, 1988). — J.R.

TORCH SONG TRILOGY

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Paul Bogart

Written by Harvey Fierstein

With Harvey Fierstein, Anne Bancroft, Matthew Broderick, Brian Kerwin, Karen Young, Ken Page, and Eddie Castrodad.

TALK RADIO

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Written by Eric Bogosian and Stone

With Bogosian, Alec Baldwin, Ellen Greene, Leslie Hope, John C. McGinley, and John Pankow.

As different as they are, Torch Song Trilogy and Talk Radio, both movie adaptations of plays, have several striking things in common. Each was written by and stars the author of the original play — Harvey Fierstein and Eric Bogosian, respectively. Both deal with marginal aspects of American life that seldom find their way into the commercial mainstream, which makes them new and vital in ways that most other recent releases are not. Both are effectively (if not literally) one-man shows whose auteurs are more their Jewish writer-stars than their directors, and the impact of each is directly tied to the uncommon theatrical skills of these individuals. And perhaps most significantly, both are a good deal more professional, entertaining, intense, and compelling than any other new Hollywood releases around, even if their commercial fates are substantially more precarious than those of most of their competitors.… Read more »

Reign Of Terror (aka The Black Book)

From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1990), tweaked in April 2014.  This film is finally available now in a DVD that does its visuals (and John Alton’s cinematography) something approaching full justice. One of the juicier actors in this action romp that I should have mentioned is Arnold Moss, seen in the first still below with Robert Cummings. — J.R.

blackbook1

BlackBook-mirror

Along with James Whale’s The Great Garrick, this 1949 melodrama about the French Revolution, also known as The Black Book, is one of the few period pictures that qualify as film noir; Anthony Mann directed it with sumptuously arty chiaroscuro (cinematography by John Alton). With the two leads (Robert Cummings and Arlene Dahl) periodically steering it in the direction of camp, this film is loads of fun. Richard Basehart also stars  (as Maximillian Robespierre, no less); Philip Yordan and Aeneas MacKenzie coscripted. 88 min. (JR)

BlackBook-blinds

BlackBook-paranioia

THE WHITE BUFFALO (1978 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, February 1978 (Vol. 45, No. 529). If memory serves, this was the last review I ever wrote for MFBdone on a trip back to London after I had moved to San Diego, although I believe I may have written a few features for the magazine after this, following its change of design and format somewhat later. (Postscript: This time, I’m afraid, my memory didn’t serve. I’ve just come across two more reviews I published in the MFB in 1984.) –- J.R.

White Buffalo, The

U.S.A., 1977Director: J. Lee Thompson

Cert–AA. dist–EMI. p.c–Dino De Laurentiis Corporation. p–Pancho Kohner. p. co-ordinator–Virginia Cook. p. manager–Hal Klein. location manager–R. Anthony Brown. asst. d–Jack Aldrvorth, Pat Kehoe. sc– Richard Sale. Based on his own novel. ph–Paul Lohmann. col–Technicolor; prints by Deluxe. process co-ordinator–Bill Hansard. ed—Michael F. Anderson. assoc. ed–Terence Anderson. p. designer–Tambi Larsen. set dec–James Berkey. sp. effects–Richard M. Parker. production sp.  effects–Roy Downey. m/m.d–John Barry. cost–Eric Seelig. set cost– Dennis Fill. make-up–Phil Rhodes, Michael Hancock. titles–Dan Perri. sd. rec–Harlan Riggs. sd. re-rec–William McCaughey, Lyle J.… Read more »

The Future is Here

Commissioned by BFI Publishing and published in the November 2014 Sight and Sound. This version is slightly tweaked. — J.R.

These-are-the-damned2

 

In an amusing, satisfying, and highly persuasive rant in Time Out in 1977, J.G. Ballard took on the cultural phenomenon of  Star Wars (1977), including some of its historical and ideological consequences. Noting that “two hours of Star Wars must be one of the most efficient means of weaning your preteen child from any fear of, or sensitivity towards, the death of others”, he also reflected on the overall impact of George Lucas’s blockbuster on science-fiction movies:

“The most popular form of s-f — space fiction –- has been the least successful of all cinematically, until 2001 and Star Wars, for the obvious reason that the special effects available were hopelessly inadequate. Surprisingly, s-f is one of the most literary forms of all fiction, and the best s-f films — Them!, Dr. Cyclops, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Alphaville, Last Year at Marienbad (not a capricious choice, its themes are time, space and identity, s-f’s triple pillars), Dr. Strangelove, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Barbarella, and Solaris — and the brave failures, such as The Thing, Seconds, and The Man Who Fell to Earth, have all made use of comparatively modest special effects and relied on strongly imaginative ideas, and on ingenuity, wit, and fantasy.… Read more »

An Eccentric, Indescribable Bounty (PASSAGE DU CINÉMA, 4992)

 First of all, what is it?

Passage du cinéma, 4992

165 x 240 mm. PlanoPak Weiß 50 gr. (Papyrus). 992 pages.
ISBN 978-2-9544708-0-1. 35 euros. Septembre 2013.

Composition, choix des fragments et montage : Annick Bouleau
Conception graphique : Le Théâtre des Opérations
Édition : Ansedonia, association Loi 1901

“the only book to recount the history of cinema” — Jean-Luc Godard, in the English-language pressbook for Goodbye to Language, p. 22

Not simply a book, but an interactive, multimedia art project by French experimental filmmaker and teacher Annick Bouleau (you can go here for her extensive filmography), the centerpiece of which is a book in French, a copy of which Bouleau was kind enough to send to me. (For the many other aspects of this project and her work, one could easily spend days navigating Bouleau’s web site.) It took her a decade to assemble it. [2019: In July 2019, while I was visiting Paris, she recognized me on the street and introduced herself.] 

What are the contents of this book (seen below in manuscript form)?

A title page, dedication, acknowledgements, Introduction (“Mode d’emploi”), Table of Contents (an alphabetical listing of hundreds of topics, from “abandon” to “zoom,” with corresponding page numbers), and a one-page reader’s manual (“Vade-mecum du lecteur”), followed by 967 double-column pages of 4992 entries. … Read more »

Addressing the Present (2009)

This is the 11th one-page bimonthly column that I published in Cahiers du Cinéma España; it appeared in their March 2009 issue. — J.R.

Tomorrow I start teaching the final semester of a course and film series I’ve been offering at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute devoted to world cinema of the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s.  To provide a segue between the Depression of the 30s and the 40s, I’ll be starting with a double feature devoted to economic desperation, Preston Sturges’s Christmas in July (1940) and Edgar G. Ulmer’s Detour (1945).

Two of the most popular films I showed last fall were Lubitsch’s The Man I Killed (1932) and McCarey’s Make Way for Tomorrow (1937). I selected them before last year’s economic recession started, and the congruence and relevance of certain themes — remorse about warfare and spurious patriotism, crowded family apartments and neglect of the elderly — probably added to their appeal.  But the contemporary impact of films is always difficult to predict. I’m convinced that a significant part of what inspired Clint Eastwood to make Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima was the U.S. occupation of Iraq,  but this relevance wasn’t discussed in the press.… Read more »

Women of Substance

From the Chicago Reader (August 10, 2001). — J.R.

ghost-world

TheDeepEnd

 

Under the Sand

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Francois Ozon

Written by Ozon, Emmanuele Bernheim, Marina de Van, and Marcia Romano

With Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Cremer, Jacques Nolot, and Alexandra Stewart.

Ghost World

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Terry Zwigoff

Written by Daniel Clowes and Zwigoff

With Thora Birch, Steve Buscemi, Scarlett Johansson, Brad Renfro, Illeana Douglas, Bob Balaban, and Stacey Travis.

The Deep End

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Scott McGehee and David Siegel

With Tilda Swinton, Goran Visnjic, Jonathan Tucker, Peter Donat, Josh Lucas, and Raymond Barry.

 

It’s often said that strong roles for women are rare nowadays, but three new movies – Under the Sand, Ghost World, and The Deep End — have the virtue of handing a juicy, sympathetic part to a talented actress and letting her run with it. All three are directed by men, which raises the question of whether women will find these portraits as potent and sensitive as I do. Yet even if they qualify to some degree as male fantasies, I’d argue that they’re more in touch with our everyday reality and our history than a male fantasy like Apocalypse Now Redux.… Read more »

In the Company of Women [THE BUSINESS OF STRANGERS]

From the Chicago Reader (December 14, 2001). — J.R.

The Business of Strangers

**

Directed and written by Patrick Stettner

With Stockard Channing, Julia Stiles, Frederick Weller, Jack Hallett, and Marcus Giamatti.

The most notable thing about The Business of Strangers, as Andrew Sarris recently suggested in the New York Observer, may be the conjunction of three facts: that the central character of this first feature is a middle-aged woman executive, that it was written and directed by a man, and that it isn’t misogynist.

This sounds like some PC brief, which isn’t generally a good reason for recommending a film. Yet The Business of Strangers doesn’t have any ideological axes to grind, though it’s interested in ideological exploration. And that points to a kind of respect for its audience, not merely a respect for its leading character.

Several reviewers have noted this picture’s resemblance to In the Company of Men, Tape, and Safe. Though I wouldn’t deny the parallels, they generally have more to do with surface effects than overall meaning. Like In the Company of Men, The Business of Strangers focuses on characters in the business world who display predatory behavior in anonymous surroundings — Anywhere, USA — and it uses a percussive score to suggest these characters’ hostilities and power games.… Read more »

Theory and Practice: The Criticism of Jean-Luc Godard

From the Summer 1972 issue of Sight and Sound. This was my first contribution to that magazine. — J.R.

Godard’s collected criticism (1) is many things at once: informal history (1950–1967) of the arts in general and film in particular, spiritual and intellectual autobiography, a theory of aesthetics, a grab bag of puns. For those who read the pieces when they first appeared — chiefly in the yellow-covered Cahiers du Cinéma and the newspaper format of Arts — it was frequently ill-mannered gibberish that began to be vindicated (or amplified) when the films followed, retrospectively becoming a form of prophecy:

 

Each shot of MAN OF THE WEST gives one the impression that Anthony Mann is reinventing the Western, exactly as Matisse’s portraits reinvent the features of Piero della Francesca . . . in other words, he both shows and demonstrates, innovates and copies, criticizes and creates.

 

For those who encounter the films first, it is likely to seem like an anthology of footnotes serving to decipher and augment what may have once seemed like ill-mannered gibberish on the screen. But for those more interested in continuity than cause and effect, it rounds out a seventeen-year body of work — from an article on Joseph Mankiewicz in Gazette du Cinéma to the “Fin du Cinéma” title concluding WEEKEND — that has already transformed much of the vocabulary and syntax of modern narrative film, further illustrating a style that has passed from avant-garde to neoclassical in less than a decade.Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Prizewinners, Also-Rans & Others

From Cinema Scope issue issue 60, Fall 2014. — J.R.

DVD AWARDS 2014

XI edition (Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna)

 

Jurors: Lorenzo Codelli, Alexander Horwath, Mark McElhatten, Paolo Mereghetti and Jonathan Rosenbaum, chaired by Peter von Bagh

 

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON BLU-RAY:

Late-mizoguchi-BluRay

Late Mizoguchi – Eight Films, 1951-1956 (Eureka Entertainment). The publication of eight indisputable masterpieces in stellar transfers on Blu-ray is a cause for celebration. If Eureka is not exclusive in offering these individual titles, what makes this collection especially praiseworthy and indispensable is the scholarship, imagination and care that went into the accompanying 344-page booklet. Over 60 rare production stills are included, many featuring Mizoguchi at work. Striking essays by Keiko I. McDonald, Mark Le Fanu, and Nakagawa Masako are anthologized along with extensively annotated translations of some of the key sources of Japanese literature that inspired some of Mizoguchi’s late films. The volume closes with tributes to the great director written by Tarkovsky, Rivette, Godard, Straub, Angelopoulos, Shinoda, and others. Tony Rayns provides spoken essays and some full-length commentaries.

 

BEST SPECIAL FEATURES ON DVD:

pintille-thickbox

Pintilie, Cineast (Transilvania Films). An impeccable collection devoted to eleven films by an important and neglected maverick Romanian filmmaker, masterful and acerbic, with invaluable contextualizing extras concerning his life, work, and career drawn from ten separate sources.… Read more »

Mes Petites Amoureuses (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, July 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 510). — J.R.

Mes Petites Amoureuses

France, 1975
Director: Jean Eustache

Southwest France, circa 1950. Daniel, a schoolboy living with his grandmother, recalls hitting a schoolmate gratuitously, and getting his first erection as a candle-bearer during Mass. Impressed by a sword-swallower in a circus who lies down on broken glass, he duplicates this feat with artifice and fake blood to impress his friends, but later is overcome by a local girl who forces him to the ground and sits on hirn. After he has passed his entrance exams, his mother arrives on a visit with her lover José, a Spanish labourer. Eventually he moves to the city to join his mother and José, but the former forbids him to attend school and has him work without pay as an apprentice to Henri, José‘s brother, at a bike repair shop. Spending much of his time looking at women, he goes to see Pandora and the Flying Dutchman at a local cinema where, imitating another boy in the audience, he kisses and caresses a girl seated in front of him, but then leaves the film before it is over.… Read more »

Buchanan Rides Alone

Buchanan-Rides-Alone

In some respects this is my favorite of Budd Boetticher’s Randolph Scott westerns (1958, 78 min.), though it’s usually considered a minor work next to Ride Lonesome and The Tall T. After becoming innocently involved in a revenge killing in a small border town, Scott is robbed of his money and ordered away at gunpoint; he decides to go back for his money without really understanding all the local intrigues. Boetticher’s acerbic humor, always his strong point, is given more edge than usual here through an intricate Charles Lang script. With Craig Stevens, Barry Kelley, and Tol Avery. (JR)… Read more »

Richard Brooks’ THE LAST HUNT

THE LAST HUNT (Richard Brooks, 1956, 108 min.)

A very dated but absorbing – and, in its own terms, effective – liberal CinemaScope western, all the more interesting for its dated qualities. In anticipation of Jim Jarmusch’s DEAD MAN, an explicit correlation is made between genocide of Native Americans and the decimation of buffalos, personified in this case by a racist and wanton killer played by Robert Taylor -– contrasted with the humane, reluctant buffalo killer played by Stewart Granger, who grew up with Native Americans and respects both them and their own respect for white buffalos, unlike Taylor. Lloyd Nolan plays the Walter Brennan part, a drunken old geezer who also comes along on the last hunt and winds up siding more with the good guys (i.e., everyone except Taylor, a dyed-in the-wool villain throughout).

The politically incorrect monkey wrench tossed into this scheme, at least by today’s standards, is the fact that the two major Native American characters are played by Russ Tamblyn (a half-breed) and Debra Paget, who function as Granger’s son figure and romantic interest, respectively. In short, no real Native Americans to be seen anywhere, making this movie a good target for the kind of conservative, anti-liberal scorn that a critic like Manny Farber might have had towards such a film.… Read more »

The Last Hunt

From the July 1, 2002 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

thelasthunt19561790001

Overrated in France and underrated in the U.S., writer-director Richard Brooks thrived on sensationalism (Blackboard Jungle, Looking for Mr. Goodbar) but generally faltered when he tried for art (The Brothers Karamazov, Sweet Bird of Youth). One of his better 50s efforts was this 1956 CinemaScope western with Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger, about the disappearance of the buffalo in the 1880s. With Debra Paget, Lloyd Nolan, and Russ Tamblyn. 108 min. (JR)

THELASTHUNT

Breaking In

From the October 1, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Breaking-In-3

An aging burglar (Burt Reynolds) takes on and trains a younger partner (Casey Siemaszko) in a quirky and likable 1989 comedy directed by Bill Forsyth and scripted by John Sayles. This film lacks the ambition of Forsyth’s earlier Housekeeping, but it’s warm, engaging, and very agreeably acted (Reynolds hadn’t been this good in ages); most of the focus is on the warmth that develops between the old pro and his student in crimea little bit like the rapport between older and younger men found in some of the movies of Howard Hawksand Sayles’s refreshingly nonjudgmental script has plenty of small-scale pleasures of its own. With Sheila Kelley, Lorraine Toussaint, and Albert Salmi. (JR)

BreakingInRead more »