The World According to Harvey and Bob

From the Chicago Reader (June 16, 1995). — J.R.

The Glass Shield

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Charles Burnett

With Michael Boatman, Lori Petty, Ice Cube, Elliott Gould, Richard Anderson, Don Harvey, Michael Ironside, Michael Gregory, Bernie Casey, and M. Emmet Walsh.

Smoke

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Wayne Wang

Written by Paul Auster

With William Hurt, Harvey Keitel, Stockard Channing, Harold Perrineau, Giancarlo Esposito, Ashley Judd, and Forest Whitaker.

My dozen favorite films at Cannes this year? Terence Davies’s ecstatic wide-screen The Neon Bible, set in a perfectly imagined Georgia of the early 40s, with Gena Rowlands; Emir Kusturica’s Yugoslav black-comedy epic Underground; Hou Hsiao-hsien’s beautiful if difficult Good Men, Good Women; Jim Jarmusch’s transgressive western Dead Man; Jafar Panahi’s The White Balloon, an Iranian urban comedy about children that unfolds in real time; Zhang Yimou’s Shanghai Triad, a cross between Sternberg’s The Devil Is a Woman — with Gong Li taking the place of Marlene Dietrich — and Billy Bathgate; and Manoel de Oliveira’s The Convent (Ruizian metaphysics and theology with John Malkovich and Catherine Deneuve). Then there were such pleasures on the market as Gianni Amelio’s Lamerica, a mordant treatment of the collapse of communism in Albania; lively low-budget musicals by Jacques Rivette and Joseph P.… Read more »

Lanzmann’s Second Thoughts: THE LAST OF THE UNJUST

From the February 2014 Artforum; their title was “Beyond Good and Evil”. — J.R.

Claude Lanzmann, The Last of the Unjust, 2013, 16 mm and 35 mm, color and black-and-white, sound, 218 minutes. Claude Lanzmann and Benjamin Murmelstein.

 

THE LAST OF THE UNJUST, the latest of Claude Lanzmann’s footnotes and afterthoughts to his 1985 masterpiece, Shoah, functions even more than that earlier film as a dialectical palimpsest, so its successive layers — which remain in perpetual dialogue with one another — should be identified at the outset:

December 1944: Benjamin Murmelstein, a Vienna rabbi, is appointed by the Nazis as the third (and last) Jewish “elder” of Theresienstadt (Terezin, in Czech), a “model” or “showcase” ghetto set up in the former Czech Republic in 1941, his two predecessors having been executed the previous May and September. Murmelstein retains this position through the war’s end. Then, after spending eighteen months in prison for his collaboration with the Nazis, he is acquitted of all charges (although still widely despised as a traitor) and moves to Rome.

1961: Murmelstein publishes a book in Italian, Terezin: Il ghetto-modello di Eichmann, describing the suffering of the ghetto’s inhabitants.

1975: Lanzmann films an interview with Murmelstein over a week in Rome — the first interview that he films for Shoah, although he later decides to discard it, donating the unedited footage to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.Read more »

Critic With A Camera

From the Chicago Reader (September 15, 2000). It’s delightful to report that this film is now available in the U.S. from Icarus Films. — J.R.

One Day in the Life of Andre Arsenevich

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Chris Marker.

Industry flacks claim that Hollywood movies have been dumbed down out of commercial necessity — they’re just giving audiences what they want. I don’t buy it. Audiences aren’t being offered intelligent movies, or at least those aren’t the ones getting multimillion-dollar ad budgets. This was especially the case during the past summer, though as usual, most of the press tolerantly excused the fare as standard silly-season stuff — as if we and not the industry and their advertisers were responsible. The flacks may love to shift the blame by telling us how dumb we all are, but their contempt finally may be causing a minor counterreaction.

Difficult, demanding, and incorrigibly serious art movies have been becoming more popular — though that may be less the result of a backlash against Hollywood than of a growing awareness that the makers of art movies are more respectful of the seriousness, intelligence, and spirituality of moviegoers. The first solid indication of this trend I noticed was the nationwide success of the Robert Bresson retrospective, which came to the Film Center in the spring of 1999 and drew enough crowds to warrant a partial revival of the series a few months later.… Read more »

All and Nothing [IRREVERSIBLE & AMEN.]

From the March 14, 2003 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Irreversible

* (Has redeeming facet)

Directed and written by Gaspar Noe

With Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Albert Dupontel, Jo Prestia, and Philippe Nahon

Amen.

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Costa-Gavras

Written by Costa-Gavras and Jean-Claude Grumberg

With Ulrich Tukur, Mathieu Kassovitz, Ulrich Muhe, Michel Duchaussoy, and Fontana Ion Caramitru.

http://content.internetvideoarchive.com/content/photos/657/027606_46.jpg


Why link an arty exploitation picture about rape, murder, and revenge with a sober adaptation of Rolf Hochhuth’s The Deputy, a 1960s German play about the failure of the Vatican to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust? One reason is to point out a critical difference between them. In Irreversible Gaspar Noe elects to show us everything — two faces being smashed to bloody messes, the heroine being raped and beaten for an agonizing ten minutes — while in Amen. (which played last week at the Music Box) Costa-Gavras shows his hero Kurt Gerstein (Ulrich Tukur), a newly commissioned SS lieutenant with a conscience, watching the gassing of Jews through a peephole with other officers but refuses to show us any part of what Gerstein sees.

The difference here concerns more than just etiquette. In the terms propounded by Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), it concerns ethics.… Read more »

Catching Up with Godard (an interview)

From The Soho News, September 24-30, 1980. Their title (not mine) was “Bringing Godard Back Home”. This is the first of two interviews that I’ve had with Godard to date; the other one, 16 years later, can be found here. — J.R.

Jean-Luc Godard seems to be into transportation metaphors a lot nowadays. It’s been rumored that when Paul Schrader sidled up to him recently at a film festival and said, “I think you should know that I took something of yours from The Married Woman and put it in American Gigolo,” the Master coolly replied, “What’s important isn’t what you take — it’s where you take it to.”

Every Man for Himself, Godard’s first movie to open in America and show at the New York Film Festival in eight years, is first of all a vehicle designed to bring him back to us. It has all the ingredients that mainstream critics have been clamoring for: stars (Isabelle Huppert, Jacques Dutronc), clearly defined characters and plot, lush music, beautiful 35mm photography, flaky eroticism, humor. “I’m really making my landing on the earth of story,” Godard tells me at one point. “Like a plane.”

Can it be sheer coincidence that he seems to take up prostitution as a theme only when he’s working in 35mm?… Read more »

3 Days at the Kitchen: Notes of a Videophobe

From The Soho News (October 29, 1980). — J.R.

What attracted me to sign up in advance for a symposium called “Telvision/Society/Art,” put on at the Kitchen and NYU last weekend, was the opportunity to see and hear some old friends, encounter some new people, and maybe even get some new ideas (about what I should be reading and seeing, if nothing else): a bargain for the $10 registration fee.

Presented by the Kitchen and the American Film Institute and organized by Ron Clark, a senior instructor at the Whitney Museum’s Independent Study Program, the three-day event inevitably threatened a few dead spots — particularly to a virtual videophobe like me, who largelt regards the medium as a kind of wicker basket holding a few magazines that I’m neither interested in reading nor quite ready to throw away. On the other hand, the fact that some of the invited panelists seemed to share the same bias made me suspect that I’d feel right at home.

The symposium got off to a somewhat inauspicious start wuth the presentation of a lumbering keynote paper entitled “Television Images, Codes and Messages” by Douglas Kellner, a teacher of philosophy at the university of Texas’s Austin campus.… Read more »

Film, Television, Modernism, and the Internet (a discussion with Victoria H.F. Scott, August 2011)

This was put together at Victoria’s instigation when both of us were employed in the Art History department at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2010-2011 (probably during the latter portion). It hasn’t appeared elsewhere. — J.R.

sherlock-jr

VHFS: What medium is more modernist, television or film?

 

JR: For me, it’s fairly obvious that film (from, say, the Lumière brothers to Pedro Costa) is quintessentially modernist and television, from the live transmission of the 1950s to “reality TV,” is quintessentially postmodernist. One could find notable exceptions, of course, such as Ernie Kovacs’ highly modernist comic experiments in the 50s and (say) Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s and Quentin Tarantino’s appropriations of TV in their films, which I consider far more important than their appropriations of (or, rather, derivations from) Jean-Luc Godard.

For me, the parts of film history that matter the most are invariably the parts that counteract or refute the so-called “realism” of the medium (pace André Bazin) in a modernist direction, whereas I would argue that the televisual alienation of Fassbinder and Tarantino (among others) doesn’t even know sufficiently what realism is or could be or should be in order to counteract or refute it.

 

VHFS: Despite those exceptions, what makes film essentially modernist and television postmodernist?… Read more »

Divas and Dandies: Orson Welles’ THE IMMORTAL STORY

Written for Criterion‘s DVD and Blu-Ray of The Immortal Story, released in 2006. — J.R.

TheImmortalStory-lastscene

the-immortal-story

 

Where the story-teller is loyal, eternally and unswervingly loyal to the story, there, in the end, silence will speak. Where the story has been betrayed, silence is but emptiness. But we, the faithful, when we have spoken our last word, will hear the voice of silence…

— Grandmother in Isak Dinesen’s “The Blank Page” (Last Tales)

 

Virginie had a taste for patterns; one of the things for which she despised the English was that to her mind they had no pattern in their lives. She frowned a little, but let Elishama go on. “Only,” he went on, “sometimes the lines of a pattern will run the other way of what you expect. As in a looking-glass.”

 “As in a looking-glass,” she repeated slowly.

 “Yes,” he said. “But for all that it is still a pattern.”

— Dinesen’s “The Immortal Story” (Anecdotes of Destiny)

 

TheImmortalStory-Virginiesplace

 

Aside from William Shakespeare, no writer excited Orson Welles’ imagination more than Isak Dinesen (1885-1962) — a Danish baroness who wrote mainly in English — especially when it came to the films he wanted to make. Even though she was born thirty years ahead of him, they shared a capacity to stand outside and beyond their own eras.… Read more »

JOHNNY GUITAR: The First Existential Western

Written for the Olive Films Blu-Ray, which came out in 2016. — J.R.

johnny-guitar-dialogue

François Truffaut called it the Beauty and the Beast of Westerns, without saying who was the beauty and who was the beast. (One could find many candidates for either role). And Jean-Luc Godard, in his second feature, Le Petit Soldat, offered a spin on the movie’s most celebrated dialogue exchange, before offering explicit references to Johnny Guitar in several other films he made in the 60s:

Johnny (Sterling Hayden): Tell me something nice.

Vienna (Joan Crawford): Sure. What would you like to hear?

Johnny: Lie to me, tell me that all these years you’ve waited, tell me.

Vienna: All these years I’ve waited.

Johnny: Tell me you’d have died if I hadn’t come back.

Vienna: I would have died if you hadn’t come back.

Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.

Vienna: I still love you like you love me.

Johnny (softly and sarcastically, about to down another shot of whisky):

Thanks.

 

Bruno (Michel Subor): Lie to me . . . Say you aren’t sad that I’m leaving.

Véronica (Anna Karina): I’m not sad that you’re leaving. I’m not in love

with you.Read more »

My “Best” Lists for DVD Beaver’s Annual Poll, 2016

Please go here for all of the listings. — J. R.

EarlyMurnau

 

 

 

MurielBluRay

Electra

Top Blu-ray Releases of 2016

1. Early Murnau (F.W. Murnau, 1921-26), Masters of Cinema, RB, UK)

2. Muriel (Alain Resnais, 1963) (Criterion, RA, US)

3. I Want to Live!  (Robert Wise, 1958) (Twilight Time, RA, US)

4. Electra, My Love (Miklós Jancsó, 1974) (Second Run Features, RB, UK)

5. The Driller Killer (Abel Ferrara, 1979) (Arrow, RA & RB, US & UK)

6. His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940) + The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931) (Criterion, RA, US)

7. Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927) (BFI, RB, UK)

8. The Magic Box: The Films of Shirley Clarke, 1927-1986: Project Shirley, Volume 4 (Milestone Films, RA, US)

9. Son of Saul (Laszlo Nemes, 2015) (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, RA, US)

10. Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street (Samuel Fuller, 1973) (Olive Films, RA, US)

NPbox

saisons

Tricked

SD

Top 10 SD-DVD Releases OF 2016

1. Coffret Nico Papatakis (1963-2004) (Gaumont Vidéo, PAL, France)

2. Les Saisons (Marcel Hanoun, 1968-72) (RE:VOIR, PAL, France)

3. Tricked (Paul Verhoeven, 2012) (Kino Lorber, US)

4. Something Different + A Bagful of Fleas (Vera Chytilová, 1963 & 1962) (Second Run Features, PAL,  UK)

5. Read more »

Two “Best” Lists for Sight and Sound, 2016/2017

Included in Sight and Sound‘s January 2017 issue and on its web site. — J.R.

1. Best Films

The-Day-Before-the-End

 The Day Before the End
Year: 2016
Director(s): Lav Diaz

EverybodyWantsSome
Everybody Wants Some!!
Year: 2016
Director(s): Richard Linklater

vlcsnap-2016-06-13-11h25m37s185
Aragane
Year: 2016
Director(s): Oda Kaori
paterson-couple
Paterson
Year: 2016
Director(s): Jim Jarmusch

Louis-XIV

La Mort de Louis XIV
Year: 2016
Director(s): Albert Serra

john_from_a

The first on my list, a short, I caught at the estimable Filmadrid; the third, a documentary by a former FilmFactory student of mine, I saw via a Vimeo link. Worthy runners-up would include João Nicolau’s John From, Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight, Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Journey to the Shore – and perhaps certain other contenders I haven’t yet caught up with.

2. Best DVDs and Blu-Rays

nico-papatakis-coffret-blu-ray-474x661

Nico Papatakis Box Set (France, 1963-92) (Gaumont Vidéo, DVD).

IWantToLive_BD_HighRes__76636.1476408528.1280.1280

I Want to Live! (U.S., 1958) (Twilight Time, Blu-Ray)

ElectraMyLove

Electra, My Love (U.K., 1974) (Second Run Features, Blu-Ray).

early_murnau_five_films_1921_1925_moc_140_144_blu_ray_import

Early Murnau (U.K., 1921-1925) (Masters of Cinema, Blu-Ray box set)

saisons

Marcel Hanoun: Les Saisons (France, 1968-1972) (Re:Voir, DVD)

 

Five exemplary releases condemned to obscurity by their resistance to being summarized in sound bites:

A comprehensive portrait of a singular filmmaker from Ethiopia and Greece (not simply a Greek, any more than Barack Obama is simply black), with excellent extras subtitled in English; a powerful piece of melodramatic filmmaking from Robert Wise that justifies its opening endorsement by Albert Camus; the first Miklós Jancsó Blu-Ray accorded to an exhilarating, colorful Hungarian musical pageant than unfolds in just a dozen shots; an essential package of five beautiful silent German features with many clarifying extras; and a neglected cycle of films by a major French independent.… Read more »

Take Two: THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T.

The principal source of this article — written for American Film, and published in their October 1978 issue — was a fairly lengthy phone conversation I once had with Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), better known as Dr. Seuss, when I was living in San Diego. More specifically, this happened while I was teaching in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego, and booked The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. for one of my film classes. I can no longer call whether this was for my course called Paranoia or for one of Raymond Durgnat’s classes that I took over for him after he unexpectedly and rather mysteriously returned to London in the middle of a quarter. (He was also a big fan of the film.)

 

Geisel, the main auteur of the film (at least as I saw it), also lived in San Diego, and hoping that he could come to the class as a guest lecturer, I managed to get ahold of his address and wrote him a letter. By way of replying with a friendly refusal, Geisel called me one day at the house in a Del Mar canyon that I was subletting at the time (along with filmmaker Louis Hock and, for the time he was around, Ray Durgnat) and politely begged off, explaining that his relation to this movie was rather traumatic.Read more »

Thinking Inside the Box [CHILDREN OF MEN & PAN'S LABYRINTH]

Children of Men ***

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Written by Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus, and Hawk Ostby with Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Claire-Hope Ashitey, Michael Caine, Pam Ferris, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Pan’s Labyrinth ****

Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro

With Sergi Lopez, Maribel Verdu, Ivana Baquero, Ariadna Gil, and Doug Jones

Over the past few years three highly talented and ambitious young Mexican film directors — Alfonso Cuaron, Guillermo del Toro, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu — have made their way into the American mainstream. All three seem to have managed this trick by defining themselves mainly in terms of genre, which isn’t surprising given the industry’s insistence that everything be defined according to pitches and formulas, all in 25 words or less — the consequence of a desire to exhaust existing markets rather than attempt to nurture or create new ones.

Cuaron’s done some children’s fantasy (A Little Princess, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and literary adaptation (Great Expectations), a sex comedy/road movie/coming-of-age story (Y Tu Mama Tambien), and now an action-adventure/SF/war movie (Children of Men). His most ambitious movies seem to cram together several genres — or at least the suits’ notions of genres.… Read more »

That’s Entertainment! III

From the Chicago Reader (April 1, 1994). — J.R.

This third compilation of clips from MGM musicals — introduced, like its predecessors, by many of the leading performers (June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Howard Keel, Gene Kelly, Ann Miller, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, and Esther Williams) — has so much pleasure to offer that any purist quibbles seem minor. Not only have writers-directors-producers Bud Friedgen and Michael J. Sheridan, who worked as editors on the two previous films, come up with heaps of wonderful and fascinating new material (excluded numbers from Singin’ in the Rain, The Band Wagon, Cabin in the Sky, The Harvey Girls, Easter Parade, and even I Love Melvin); they’ve also introduced a welcome critical note into the proceedings, demonstrating how dubious some of MGM’s aesthetic decisions were and allowing Horne to voice some of her own misgivings about the bigoted policies that limited her activity. Indeed, after Horne introduces her own clips, her terse introduction to an unused Judy Garland number from Annie Get Your Gun, “I’m an Indian Too,” doesn’t have to allude to the number’s racism because in the context she’s established the evidence speaks for itself. The original screen ratios of the films are generally respected — the rule apparently is broken only when the filmmakers are doing a montage or want the dramatic benefits of a full screen even if it means cropping the image.… Read more »

The 31 best movies of 1994

From the Chicago Reader (January 6, 1995). — J.R.

satantango-furniture1

Many friends and colleagues have been moaning about what a bad year 1994 was for movies, but I disagree. The main issue, I think, isn’t so much how we feel about the same movies — though there are a few differences there, including in some cases where and when we happened to see them — as it is what we saw. If you’re lucky enough to be living in Chicago, you had loads of terrific movies to see last year, new as well as old, and if you didn’t see very many of them, it’s possible that you were looking in the wrong places — where the mass media was telling you to look. Because of their running times, my two favorite films, the seven-hour Satantango and the nearly 26-hour The Second Heimat, received only limited exposure, yet I refuse to accept the standard alibi of most critics who neglected to see them — that they were too difficult or esoteric for the general public. I found them easier to sit through and vastly more involving and pleasurable than such overhyped and overattended European monoliths as Germinal and Queen Margot, which to the best of my knowledge gave little enjoyment to most people.… Read more »