FOOLISH WIVES (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, November 1976 (Vol. 43, No. 514). –- J.R.

Foolish Wives

U.S.A., 1922
Director: Erich von Stroheim

Cert—A. dist–BFI. p.c–Universal Super Jewel. p–Carl Laemrnle. asst. d–Edward Sowders, Jack R. Proctor, Louis Germonprez. special asst. to Stroheim–Gustav Machaty. sc–Erich von-Stroheim. ph–Ben Revnolds, William Daniels. illumination and lighting effects—Harry J. Brown. ed–Erich von Stroheim, (release version: Arthur D. Ripley). a.d—E. E. Sheeley, Richard Day. scenic artist—Van Alstein [Alstyn]. technical d–William Meyers, James Sullivan, George Williams. sculpture–Don Jarvis. master of properties–C. J. Rogers. m—[original score by Sigmund Romberg]. cost–Western Costuming Co., Richard Day, Erich von Stroheim. titles–Marian Ainslee, Erich von Stroheim. research asst-J . Lambert. l.p—Rudolph Christians/Robert Edenson (Andrew J. Hughes), Miss Du Pont [Patsy Hannen] (Helen Hughes), Maude George (“Princess”Olga Petschnikoff), Mae Busch (“Princess” Vera Petschnikoff), Erich von Stroheim (“Count” Sergei Karamzin), Dale Fuller (Maruschka), Al Edmundsen (Pavel Pavlich, the Butler), Cesare Gravina (Signor Gaston), Malvina Polo (Gaston’s Daughter [Marietta]), Louis K. Webb (Dr. Judd), Mrs. Kent (Mrs, Judd), C.J. Allen (Albert I, Prince of Monaco), Edward Reinach (Secretary of State of Monaco).… Read more »

Greedy Speculations

From The Guardian (August 31, 2002). Having more recently attended a 35-millimeter screening of Greed (not the longer version put together by Rick Schmidlin) at the St. Louis Humanities Festival, on April 6, 2013, I was delighted to see all 240 seats in the auditorium filled (another twenty were turned away); most of the audience remained and were clearly enrapt, and the majority stuck around for an hour-long discussion afterwards.

Thanks to the very generous help of a reader, Abe Slaney, in clearing up the format problems in this post, I’m reposting it. — J.R.

Legends about the ‘complete’ Greed have existed ever since Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer reduced Erich von Stroheim’s footage to ten reels and released the results in 1924. What they released, containing the only surviving footage, is scheduled to be shown twice in the National Film Theatre’s Stroheim retrospective.

Rick Schmidlin’s four-hour reconstruction on video of what the film might have been, also showing twice at the NFT, should be regarded as a study version. It suggests what some of the longer versions of Greed might have been like, though it isn’t in any way a replica of any of those versions. Schmidlin’s main sources, apart from the ten-reel version and a new score, are Stroheim’s ‘continuity screenplay,’ dated March 31, 1923, and hundreds of rephotographed stills of missing scenes — sometimes with added pans and zooms, sometimes cropped, often with opening and closing irises.

Read more »

Second Thoughts on Stroheim

This appeared as the lead article in the May-June 1974 issue of Film Comment – a somewhat pared-down revamping of my entry about Stroheim for Richard Roud’s belatedly published Cinema: A Critical Dictionary (New York: The Viking Press, 1980), and, if memory serves, the longest of my several contributions to that long out-of-print collection. I’m sorry that I’ve been unable to illustrate this more precisely with most of the shots that I describe.

I’m in Lisbon this week to lecture on Erich von Stroheim at the Cinematheque here, starting this evening with Blind Husbands. – J.R.

Second Thoughts on Stroheim

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Preface

Total object, complete with missing parts,
instead of partial object. Question of degree.
– Samuel Beckett, “Three Dialogues”

 

Two temptations present themselves to any modern reappraisal of Erich von Stroheim’s work; one of   them is fatal, the other all but impossible to act upon. The fatal temptation would be to concentrate on the offscreen image and legend of Stroheim to the point of ignoring central facts about the films themselves: an approach that has unhappily characterized most critical work on Stroheim to date. On the other hand, one is tempted to look at nothing but the films — to suppress biography, anecdotes, newspaper reviews, reminiscences, and everything else that isn’t plainly visible on the screen.… Read more »

Eye of the Beholder

From the Chicago Reader (January 28, 2000). — J.R.

L’ennui

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Cedric Kahn

Written by Kahn and Laurence Ferreira Barbosa

With Charles Berling, Sophie Guillemin, Arielle Dombasle, Robert Kramer, Alice Grey, Maurice Antoni, and Tom Ouedraogo.

“To think that I’ve wasted years of my life, that I’ve longed to die, that I’ve experienced my greatest love, for a woman who didn’t appeal to me, who wasn’t even my type!” This despairing reflection by Swann about Gilberte appears at the very end of “Swann in Love,” the longest chapter — a little over 200 pages — in Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way. The chapter serves as a rehearsal for the even more torturous obsessive love of Marcel, the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past, for Albertine — a topic that practically becomes the novel’s principal subject over the thousands of pages to come.

This acknowledgment of the neurotic irrationality that underlies amorous and erotic obsessions is one of Proust’s key passages, and I was reminded of it periodically over the course of Cedric Kahn’s brilliant and hilarious new sex comedy, L’ennui. Yet one of the most striking aspects of the film — adapted from La noia, a 1960 novel by Alberto Moravia that I haven’t read (also the source for a trashy Bette Davis vehicle, The Empty Canvas) — is the way it confounds its Proustian model of jealousy and sexual paranoia with a dash of healthy common sense.… Read more »

The Way We Are (THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE)

From the Chicago Reader (January 22, 1999). For my earlier take on this film, written when it was released in London, go here. — J.R.

The Mother and the Whore

Rating **** Masterpiece

Directed and written by Jean Eustache

With Jean-Pierre Leaud, Francoise Lebrun, Bernadette Lafont, Isabelle Weingarten, Jacques Renard, Jean Douchet, and Jean-Noel Picq.

I have a friend who had a wonderful idea: he wanted to have his right hand amputated. Very seriously. Went to see a surgeon, said, ‘How much does it cost, I’m ready to pay.’ He wanted to have a porcelain hand made to replace it. And in his home, in a room, in the very center of the room, to place his real hand in formaldehyde, with a plaque reading, ‘My hand, 1940-1972′. And people would come to visit, like they’d go to an exhibit.

— Alexandre in The Mother and the Whore

Is it permissible to disapprove of a masterpiece? I find Jean Eustache’s obsessive, 215-minute black-and- white The Mother and the Whore, playing nine times this week at Facets Multimedia Center, every bit as mesmerizing today as I did when I attended the premiere at Cannes in 1973. I must have seen it four or five times since, the last time in the early 80s.… Read more »

Jean Eustache

UNE SALE HISTOIRE/A DIRTY STORY (Jean Eustache, 1977, 28 minutes [35mm] + 22 minutes [16mm]); LE JARDIN DES DÉLICES DE JÉRÔME BOSCH/ HIERONYMOUS BOSCH’S “THE GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS” (Jean Eustache, 1979, 34 minutes [16mm]). Playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center with Eustache’s ALIX’S PHOTOS (1980, 18 minutes, 35mm) on May 25 at 3 PM.

Jean Eustache (1938-81, above photo) was clearly obsessed with remakes. Not only did he remake his 1968 documentary about his home town, LA ROSIÈRE DE PESSAC, in 1979; he also remade his 1977 documentary UNE SALE HISTOIRE twice—first as a fiction film, and then, less literally, as a documentary about Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthy Delights” two years later.

Let me explain. The first version ofUNE SALE HISTOIRE, designed to be shown second, and shot in 16mm, features Jean-Noël Picq recounting a supposedly real-life “dirty” story to a group of people, mainly women (although also including Eustache himself, visible in the foreground of a couple of shots)—a tale about peering for hours through a hole in the wall of a café into the ladies room in order to watch the snatches of women seated on the toilet. (He calls the women’s snatches their “holes,” and the word trouis repeated incessantly throughout his monologue.) The second version, shot in 35mm and designed to be shown first, adds a short prologue with critic Jean Douchet as a film director (an apparent stand-in for Eustache) asking Michael Lonsdale to tell the same story, this time to a different group of people (again mainly women, but not including Eustache)—which he does, using virtually the same words, while the women listeners make precisely the same comments.… Read more »

From Bowles to the Bowery: Sara Driver in Hyper Drive

Written for a Sara Driver retrospective at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, held in early November 2011. — J.R.

All four of Sara Driver’s works belong to what the French call la fantastique – a conflation of fantasy with surrealism, science fiction, comics, horror, sword-and-sorcery, and the supernatural that stretches all the way from art cinema to exploitation by way of Hollywood. But it’s hard to find many other stylistic affinities between them, and only a few thematic overlaps. A 48-minute piece of Poelike horror set inside the mind of a schizophrenic in rural New Jersey (You Are Not I, 1981), closely adapted from a Paul Bowles story; a pulpy, scary feature-length fantasy about Oriental curses set over a few blocks in lower Manhattan (Sleepwalk, 1986); a gentle, nonscary comedy partly inspired by the whimsical 1937 Hollywood feature Topper, about the encounter between a jazz musician and two female ghosts in a small seaport town (When Pigs Fly, 1993); and a short documentary about the history and diverse arcane local details of Driver’s own neighborhood (The Bowery, 1994), which also served as the setting for the very different Sleepwalk.

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That doesn’t mean that there aren’t various connections between these works going well beyond the recurrence of various collaborators.… Read more »

Elia Kazan, Viewed from 1973

I wrote the Preface to this 1973 article in 2009 for its eventual reprinting in Kazan Revisited, edited by Lisa Dombrowski (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011). Note (early 2013): My favorite Kazan film, Wild River, has just been released on Blu-Ray, and it looks better than ever. — J.R.

Preface (2009): Rereading this essay 36 years after I wrote it for Richard Roud’s two-volume critical collection, Cinema: A Critical Dictionary – The Major Filmmakers (New York/The Viking Press, 1980), I can’t say that many of my positions or preferences regarding Kazan’s work have changed. But in a few cases I’ve been able to amplify some of my original impressions. For my 2007 essay “Southern Movies, Actual and Fanciful: A Personal Survey” (to be reprinted in my 2010 University of Chicago Press collection, Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephila), for instance, I discovered that Kazan hired speech consultant Margaret Lamkin for his stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and then again for Baby Doll, to ensure that all the southern accents heard were letter-perfect. And the significance of Kazan having given the names of former friends or colleagues to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1952 – not in 1954, as my article stated — became a more prominent feature in his career profile when he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, almost half a century later, from the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.… Read more »

Southern Sleaze

This piece comes from the November 19, 1993 issue of the Chicago Reader. —J.R.

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Elia Kazan

Written by Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul

With Vivien Leigh, Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden.

FLESH AND BONE

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Steve Kloves

With Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, James Caan, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Depending on whose figures you believe, the recently released “director’s cut” of A Streetcar Named Desire is either 4 percent or 8 percent longer than the version released in 1951. All the originally censored elements — lines of “racy” dialogue and shots of lustful expressions — have been restored, and the fact that this once-scandalous 126-minute movie is now accorded a PG rating indicates the progress we’ve made in some areas.

But if you think people are getting more of the movie now than they could 42 years ago, you’re mistaken. The running time is longer, but thanks to current movie-projection habits, close to 25 percent of every frame is missing at most screenings. The aspect ratio of the original movie — the relationship between the height and width of the frame — is 1:1.38, the standard ratio of all Hollywood movies in 1951.… Read more »

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 »

The Politics of the Oscars

An article commissioned by La Repubblica‘s weekly magazine D. in Italy for publication on February 1, 2017. A slight variation of this will appear as my column in Caiman Cuadernos de Cine. — J.R.

Moonlight-movie-600x338

emma-stone-ryan-gosling-la-la-land

I’ve never been adept at predicting the Oscars, and writing this shortly before the nominees are announced puts me at an even greater disadvantage. But the winners of the Golden Globes awards several weeks before the Academy Awards are a good indication of the overall trends in industry thinking. And the tendency in this year’s Golden Globes winners is a preference for ideological and aesthetic prestige over mainstream appeal: Moonlight for best drama, La La Land for best musical or comedy,  Isabelle Huppert in Elle and Emma Stone in La La Land for best actress, Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea and Ryan Gosling in La La Land. Otherwise, La La Land broke the record for prizes by winning seven in all, including also screenplay and direction (Damien Chazelle) and original score (Justin Hurwitz).

 

What generalizations can one reach about all four of the aforementioned prizewinners? A preference for gloom and doom over optimism that seems quite appropriate following the recent election of the United States’ own Silvio Berlusconi, Donald J.… Read more »

Declarations of Independents: A Dozen Art Movies

From The Soho News (March 25, 1981). — J.R.

March 10: Permanent Vacation — a punk art film by Jim Jarmusch, with Chris Parker, visible in the Bleecker Street Cinema’s James Agee Room every weekend this month. A semi-promising beginning offers alternately deserted and busy city streets (crisply shot by Tom DiCillo), and a skinny existential drifter reflecting on the “newness” of rooms in his travels that fades away, replaced each time by dread: “The story is how I got from there to here — or maybe I should say here to here.”

The problem is, while trekking dutifully through enough architectural (and cultural) rubble to furnish at least a dozen other art movies, the movie mainly gets from there to nowhere, at a fairly leisurely crawl. Along the way are a few good ideas and jokes, most of them literary and underdeveloped (like affectless Beckett/beat conceits which evoke Wurlitzer’s Nog), one of them actorly (Frankie Faison), some of them musical (John Lurie of the Lounge Lizards). Chances are, if this is the sort of thing you like, you’ve already found your way there.

March 11: Marta Meszaros’ Nine Months, a Hungarian feature made in color five years ago, now on at the Cinema Studio 2. … Read more »

Top Ten [The 10 Best Films of 1988]

From the January 6, 1989 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

For me, the ten best movies of 1988 are the ones I would profit most from seeing again and the ones I’ve profited most from thinking about. Their value, in other words, lies not merely in the immediate pleasure they offered but also in their aftereffects — the way they set with me for weeks and months after I saw them, sometimes growing and ripening with time.

I tend to be wary of critics’ lists and awards that are unduly weighted toward recent films — particularly because it’s much harder to evaluate a movie at the time of its release than it is weeks, months, or even years later. Perhaps the key occupational hazard of film critics is the pressure to remain stuck in a continuous present, and to serve the whims of the marketplace by confusing what’s recent with what’s genuinely new. Measuring a given week’s offerings only against each other narrows the difference between criticism and advertising by basing everything on consumption — reducing the universe of films to the few releases that happen to be available for consumption at any given moment rather than reflection.

On the basis of my own reflection, it turns out that six of my favorite movies of 1988 opened in Chicago during the first half of the year; I saw a couple others either then or earlier, and the remaining two in July and September.… Read more »

The Importance of Being Sarcastic [SATANTANGO]

From the Chicago Reader (October 14, 1994). Bela Tarr, who arrived in Zagreb yesterday to join Abel Ferrara, myself, and others (including many students and staff members from Film.Factory) at Tanja Vrvilo’s tenth annual Movie Mutations event, will be showing Satantango here today and then discussing it. — J.R.

**** SATANTANGO

(Masterpiece)

Directed by Bela Tarr

Written by Tarr and Laszlo Krasznahorkai

With Mihaly Vig, Putyi Horvath, Erika Bok, Peter Berling, Miklos B. Szekely, Laszlo Fe Lugossy, Eva Almasi Albert, Alfred Jaray, Erzsebet Gaal, Janos Derzsi, and Iren Szajki.

If great films invent their own rules, reinventing some of the standards of film criticism in the process, Bela Tarr’s Satantango surely belongs in their company. Showing Sunday as part of the Chicago Film Festival, this very dark Hungarian black comedy has more than a few tricks and paradoxes up its sleeve. Shot in black and white, with a running time of just under seven hours (it’s designed to be shown with two short intermissions), it boasts a decrepit, squalid rural setting enveloped in constant rain and mud and a cast of about a dozen greedy, small-minded characters, none of whom has any remotely redeeming qualities. Yet over two separate viewings it has provided me with more pleasure, excitement, and even hope than any other new picture I’ve seen this year.… Read more »

SÁTÁNTANGÓ at 15

Early in 2009, I received a phone call from Béla Tarr, asking me if I could write a page about Sátántangó (1994) for a Hungarian newspaper to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Here’s what I sent him. —J.R.

 

Sátántangó at 15

 

Congratulations to Sátántangó on its 15th anniversary. Now that it’s a teenager, I’m happy that English-speaking fans can finally, at long last, look forward to an English translation of László Krasznahorkai’s novel.  As a member of PEN, I was invited last year to suggest literary works for English translation. After I proposed Sátántangó and they published my response, I received a note from Barbara Epler of New Directions: “We are waiting on the delivery of its translation by the great George Szirtes, eagerly waiting, and will publish it as soon as we can. (We already have his translations of László’s The Melancholy of Resistance and War & War.)” So once it appears, I’ll no longer have to depend on the French translation by Joëlle Dufeuilly (2000) published by Gallimard, which I’ve owned for many years.

The film finally became available here last year on DVD from Facets Video, helping to demonstrate how much cinema as a “language” is more easily translatable than literature.… Read more »