From the May 24, 2002 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Jacques Demy’s first and in some ways best feature (1961, 90 min.), shot in exquisite black-and-white ‘Scope by Raoul Coutard, is among the most neglected major works of the French New Wave. Abandoned by her sailor lover, a cabaret dancer (Anouk Aimee) brings up their son while awaiting his return and ultimately has to choose among three men. Chock-full of film references (to The Blue Angel, Breathless, Hollywood musicals, and the work of Max Ophuls, among other things) and lyrically shot in Nantes, the film is a camera stylo love letter, and Michel Legrand’s lovely score provides ideal nostalgic accompaniment. In his third feature and biggest hit, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Demy settled on life’s disappointments; here at least one major character gets exactly what she wants, and the effect is no less poignant. With Marc Michel, Jacques Harden, and Elina Labourdette (the young heroine in Robert Bresson’s 1945 Les dames du Bois de Boulogne). A restored 35-millimeter print will be shown. In French with subtitles. Music Box, Friday through Monday, May 24 through 27.


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Kenneth Fearing

Some wisdom from the last Depression, courtesy of Kenneth Fearing (1902-1961), taken from his 1935 Poems. (My apologies for not being able to transcribe the spacing more accurately.)


1-2-3 was the number he played but today the number came 3-2-1;

bought his Carbide at 30 and it went to 29; had the favorite at Bowie but the track was slow —-

O, executive type, would you like to drive a floating power, knee-action, silk- upholstered six? Wed a Hollywood star? Shoot the course in 58? Draw to the ace, king, jack?

O, fellow with a will who won’t take no, watch out for three cigarettes on the same, single match; O, democratic voter born in August under Mars, beware of liquidated rails—-

Denoument to denouement, he took a personal pride in the certain, certain way he lived his own, private life,

but nevertheless, they shut off his gas; nevertheless, the bank foreclosed; nevertheless, the landlord called; nevertheless the radio broke,

And twelve o’clock arrived just once too often,

just the same he wore one gray tweed suit, bought one straw hat, drank one straight Scotch, walked one short step, took one long look, drew one deep breath,

just one too many,

And wow he died as wow he lived,

going whop to the office and blooie home to sleep and biff got married and bam had children and oof got fired,

zowie did he live and zowie did he die,

With who the hell are you at the corner of his casket, and where the hell we going on the right-hand silver knob, and who the hell cares walking second from the end with an American Beauty wreath from why the hell not,

Very much missed by the circulation staff of the New York Evening Post; deeply, deeply mourned by the B.M.T.,… Read more »

This Way, Myth [on ME AND ORSON WELLES]

Written for Moving Image Source [], and posted there on October 9, 2008. — J.R.

“A writer’s reputation,” Lionel Trilling once wrote, “often reaches a point in its career where what he actually said is falsified even when he is correctly quoted. Such falsification — we might more charitably call it mythopoeia — is very likely the result of some single aspect of a man’s work serving as a convenient symbol of what other people want to think. Thus it is a commonplace of misconception that Rousseau wanted us to act like virtuous savages or that Milton held naive, retrograde views of human nature.”

Although Orson Welles is rightly regarded as someone whose creative work partially consisted of his own persona, he remains unusually susceptible to mythmaking of this sort. This is because he often figures as someone who both licenses and then becomes the scapegoat for vanity that isn’t entirely — or even necessarily — his own. Quite simply, many of those (especially males) who obsess on the “meaning” of “Orson” are actually looking for ways to negotiate their own narcissism and fantasies of omnipotence.

It’s part of the special insight of Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, which premiered last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, to perceive and run with this aspect of the Welles myth, which is already implied in its title.… Read more »

RR (Vancouver International Film Festival)

Here is a link to the formidable cast list of James Benning’s RR, announced as his last work to be shot in 16-millimeter and seen last night at the Vancouver International Film Festival. I hope to follow with some more details about this beautiful epic soon. [10/3/08]

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Thomas Pynchon: A Journey Into The Mind Of P.

From the Chicago Reader (October 6, 2006). — J.R.

TP doc ad

Pynchon freaks can be divided into two categories: those fascinated by his work, who respect his wish to be known through it, and those fascinated by his life, who see his writing as an illustration of his experiences. Aimed at the latter group, this 2001 Swiss documentary by Fosco and Donatello Dubini begins by enlisting a former Pynchon squeeze to show us his LA digs from the early 70s (she’s identified as Bianca from Gravity’s Rainbow, which discounts whatever art he brought to his experiences) and goes mostly downhill from there. Pynchon groupies weigh in while significant critics like Edward Mendelson are omitted, and even as gossip the movie reflects poorly on some of the author’s old friends. But the archival footage does include Lee Harvey Oswald (who may have been in Mexico City at the same time as Pynchon) and a cat freaking out on mescaline. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

Tom Milne, 1926—2005

An obituary, written in February 2006 for Sight and Sound. — J.R.

Film history has always been at the mercy of technology and markets, yielding the brutal shifts from silent to sound pictures and from black and white to colour, as well as the reconfigurations of films on television. More recently, digital video and the Internet have ushered in a confusing transitional period that we’re still in the middle of, recasting our canons of films and film critics alike according to what’s available.

Improbably, most of Carl Dreyer’s major films —- which until recently were almost impossible to see anywhere in decent prints —- are now available in pristine form to anyone on the planet with a multiregional DVD player. Yet those of James Whale that don’t qualify as horror, including such 30s masterpieces as Remember Last Night?, Show Boat, and The Great Garrick, remain firmly out of reach. And the warm, mischievous, shy yet gruff, and dedicated critic who introduced me to all this and much else — Tom Milne, who died in Aberdeen last December — is barely known today because little of his prose has made it onto the Internet.

For those with backlogs of Monthly Film Bulletin and Sight and Sound from the 60s through the 80s, it’s hard to think of other London-based film writers during that stretch who wrote more cogently and passionately about film.… Read more »

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story

From the Chicago Reader (November 4, 2005). — J.R.

Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is still the best of all avant-garde novels, and most of the fun of watching this screen version is wondering how writer Martin Hardy and director Michael Winterbottom will adapt what’s plainly unadaptable. They manage to anticipate almost every possible objection (even finding a cinematic equivalent for Sterne’s purposely blank page). This farce eventually runs out of steam, devolving into a protracted docudrama about actor Steve Coogan (who plays the title hero as well as his father), but until then this is a pretty clever piece of jive. With Rob Brydon (as Toby), Dylan Moran (as Dr. Slop), Keeley Hawes, and Shirley Henderson. R, 94 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley.

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Eyes Wide Shut

From the Chicago Reader (July 30, 1999). — J.R.



Initial viewings of Stanley Kubrick’s movies can be deceptive because his films all tend to be emotionally convoluted in some way; one has to follow them as if through a maze. A character that Kubrick might seem to treat cruelly the first time around (e.g., Elisha Cook Jr.’s fall guy in The Killing) can appear the object of tender compassion on a subsequent viewing. The director’s desire to avoid sentimentality at all costs doesn’t preclude feeling, as some critics have claimed, but it does create ambiguity and a distanced relationship to the central characters. Kubrick’s final feature very skillfully portrays the dark side of desire in a successful marriage; since the 60s he’d been thinking about filming Arthur Schnitzler’s brilliant novella “Traumnovelle,” and working with Frederic Raphael, he’s adapted it faithfully — at least if one allows for all the differences between Viennese Jews in the 20s and New York WASPs in the 90s. Schnitzler’s tale, about a young doctor contemplating various forms of adultery and debauchery after discovering that his wife has entertained comparable fantasies, has a somewhat Kafkaesque ambiguity, wavering between dream and waking fantasy (hence Kubrick’s title), and all the actors do a fine job of traversing this delicate territory.… Read more »


From the Chicago Reader (June 22, 2001). — J.R.

The Anniversary Party

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Jennifer Jason Leigh and Alan Cumming

With Leigh, Cumming, John Benjamin Hickey, Parker Posey, Phoebe Cates, Kevin Kline, Denis O’Hare, Mina Badie, Jane Adams, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Beals, Matt Malloy, Michael Panes, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

The Anniversary Party was written and directed by two actors, Alan Cumming and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who created all the parts specifically for themselves and actors they knew. So it’s no surprise that a handful of the characters at this dusk-to-dawn Hollywood party, celebrating the sixth wedding anniversary of Joe (Cumming) and Sally (Leigh), are themselves professional actors (played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Jane Adams, Kevin Kline, and Phoebe Cates, the latter two a real-life couple whose son and daughter are also featured). The other guests are different sorts of people: a film director (John C. Reilly), Joe and Sally’s business managers (Parker Posey and John Benjamin Hickey), a photographer (Jennifer Beals), a musician (Michael Panes), and the next-door neighbors (Mina Badie and Denis O’Hare), awkward mixers who’ve been invited mainly because they’ve been threatening to sue Joe and Sally. (The husband, a novelist, claims that the barking of their dog disrupts his work.)… Read more »

Werner Herzog Takes Us All On the Bad Faith Express: Reflections on FAMILY ROMANCE, LLC

Commissioned by The Chiseler, and posted there on July 4, 2020. — J.R.



My first encounter with Werner Herzog was at the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 1973, where I first saw Aguirre, the Wrath of God in an English-dubbed version that included, if memory serves, a few Brooklyn accents in 16th century Peru. (This is why it took some rethinking and retooling before the film could be successfully exhibited in the U.S., in German with subtitles.) But what flummoxed me the most–in spite of the film’s awesome visual splendor and its crazed poetic conceits–was what Herzog revealed about the opening intertitle when I asked him about it during the Q & A.


The intertitle: “After the conquest and sack of the Incan empire by Spain, the Indians invented the legend of El Dorado, a land of gold, located in the swamps of the Amazon tributaries. A large expedition of Spanish adventurers led by Pizarro sets off from the Peruvian sierras in late 1560. The only document to survive from this lost expedition is the diary of the monk Gaspar de Carvajal.” Herzog’s cheerful admission: the bit about thedocument and the diary was a total lie, invented by him because he reasoned that people wouldn’t accept the film’s premises otherwise.… Read more »

Make Way for Tomorrow

From the February 24, 2oo6 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

With the possible exception of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, this 1937 drama by Leo McCarey is the greatest movie ever made about the plight of the elderly. (It flopped at the box office, but when McCarey accepted an Oscar for The Awful Truth, released the same year, he rightly pointed out that he was getting it for the wrong picture.) Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi play a devoted old couple who find they can’t stay together because of financial difficulties; their interactions with their grown children are only part of what makes this movie so subtle and well observed. Adapted by Vina Delmar from Josephine Lawrence’s novel Years Are So Long, it’s a profoundly moving love story and a devastating portrait of how society works, and you’re likely to be deeply marked by it. Hollywood movies don’t get much better than this. With Thomas Mitchell, Fay Bainter, and Porter Hall. 91 min. 16mm. Also on the program: McCarey’s silent comedy short Be Your Age (1926), with Charley Chase. Sat 2/25, 8 PM, LaSalle Bank Cinema.

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My Contributions to DVDs and Blu-Rays

A fairly complete and reasonably up to date checklist. All of the printed essays listed here are (or will be) available on this site. – J. R.

ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Madman DVD, Australia: original essay)

BIGGER THAN LIFE (BFI DVD, U.K.; video conversation with Jim Jarmusch)


THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT (Madman DVD, Australia: original essay)

BLACK TEST CAR & THE BLACK REPORT (Arrow Blu-Ray: scripted and narrated audiovisual essay)

A BREAD FACTORY (Grasshopper Film DVD & Blu-Ray, U.S.; video conversation with writer-director Patrick Wang)

Image result for A Bread Factory Blu-Ray

BREATHLESS (Criterion DVD & Blu-Ray, U.S.; scripted video essay)

CASA DE LAVA (Second Run Features DVD, U.K.: original essay; reprinted in Grasshopper Film DVD in the U.S.)


CELINE AND JULIE GO BOATING (BFI Blu-Ray, U.K: reprint of “Work and Play in the House of Fiction”)

LA CÉRÉMONIE (Home Vision Entertainment DVD, U.S.: reprinted essay)



CLOSE-UP (Criterion DVD & Blu-Ray; audio commentary with Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa)

THE COMPLETE JACQUES TATI (Criterion Blu-Ray boxed set, U.S.: original essay)

THE COMPLETE MR. ARKADIN (Criterion DVD boxed set, U.S.: original essay & audio commentary with James Naremore)

CONFIDENTIAL REPORT (Madman DVD, Australia: original essay)

CRUMB (Criterion DVD & Blu-Ray, U.S.:Read more »

The American Gaze

From the Chicago Reader (June 15, 2001). — J.R.

Signs & Wonders

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Jonathan Nossiter

Written by James Lasdun and Nossiter

With Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Deborah Kara Unger, Dimitris Katalifos, Ashley Remy, and Michael Cook.


The Fourth Dimension

Rating *** A must see

Directed, written, and narrated by Trinh T. Minh-ha.

Broadly speaking, Signs & Wonders, an ambitious thriller set in contemporary Athens, and The Fourth Dimension, a documentary about Japan, derive most of their strengths from being meditations by American tourists. Signs & Wonders, running this week at Facets Multimedia Center, is a 35-millimeter feature shot on digital video, and it’s directed by Jonathan Nossiter, a quirky and talented son of a journalist who grew up in France, England, Italy, Greece, and India and has made only one previous narrative feature, Sunday (1997). Nossiter wrote both films with James Lasdun, a Londoner now based in the U.S. who also wrote the story on which Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1998 Besieged was based.

It’s a gorgeous mess of a movie, brimming with provocative ideas about the state of the planet, multinational corporations, political amnesia, American idealism, and some of the monstrous ways love can turn sour, and demonstrating how these ideas can converge and inform one another.… Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Diverse Kinds of Do-it-Yourself Subterfuge, Mainly American

My summer 2020 column for Cinema Scope. — J.R.


Well before the coronavirus pandemic kicked in, I’d already started nurturing a hobby of creating my own viewing packages on my laptop. This mainly consists of finding unsubtitled movies I want to see, on YouTube or elsewhere, downloading them, tracking down English subtitles however and whenever I can find them, placing the films and subtitles into new folders, and then watching the results on my VLC player. The advantages of this process are obvious: not only free viewing, but another way of escaping the limitations of our cultural gatekeepers and commissars— e.g., critics and institutions associated with the New York Film Festival, the New York Times, diverse film magazines (including this one), not to mention the distributors and programmers who pretend to know exactly what we want to see by dictating all our choices in advance. (I  hasten to add for the benefit of skeptics that my interest in subtitling unsubtitled movies has nothing to do with liking certain films because they’re neglected: I’ve been employing the same practice lately with some of the films of Carol Reed, largely because I like combining the pleasures of reading with those of film watching.)… Read more »


From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 2000). — J.R.

Roberto Rossellini’s first filmic encounter with Ingrid Bergman, made in the wilds in 1949 around the same time the neorealist director and the Hollywood star were being denounced in the U.S. Senate for their adulterous romance. Widely regarded as a masterpiece today, the film was so badly mutilated by Howard Hughes’s RKO (which added offscreen narration, reshuffled some sequences, and deleted others) that Rossellini sued the studio (and lost). The Italian version, which Rossellini approved, has come out on video, and this rarely screened English-language version is very close to it. A Lithuanian-born Czech refugee living in an internment camp (Bergman) marries an Italian fisherman (Mario Vitale) in order to escape, but she winds up on a bare, impoverished island with an active volcano, where most of the locals regard her with hostility. The film is most modern and remarkable when the camera is alone with Bergman, though Rossellini wisely shows neither the wife nor the husband with full sympathy. Eschewing psychology, the film remains a kind of ambiguous pieta whose religious ending is as controversial as that of Rossellini and Bergman’s subsequent Voyage to Italy (though its metaphoric and rhetorical power make it easier to take).… Read more »