All These Women

From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1988). — J.R.

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One of the rarest things in contemporary cinema — an underrated Ingmar Bergman film. Made in 1964, after The Silence, this color comedy (also known as Now About These Women) follows the mishaps of a music critic who visits a famous cellist he’s writing a book about. Ostensibly Bergman’s revenge against critics, as Pale Fire was for Vladimir Nabokov, this odd venture features Jarl Kulle, Georg Funkquist, and many of Bergman’s best actresses: Eva Dahlbeck, Harriet and Bibi Andersson, Karin Kavli, and Gertrud Fridh. (JR)

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5 Against the House

 From the Chicago Reader (June 1, 1996).  – J.R.

5-against-the-house-1955

One of Jack Finney’s best and most neglected thrillers, adapted by Sterling Silliphant and John Barnwell — about five college chums scheming to rob Harold’s Club in Reno, Nevada, to prove their ingenuity — yields a tidy Phil Karlson noir (1955), filmed in Reno with a fair amount of grit as well as polish. With Guy Madison, Brian Keith, and the incomparable Kim Novak.

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Czar Babies [Review of Nabokov's LECTURES ON RUSSIAN LITERATURE]

From The Soho News (November 17, 1981). Ironically, this review was originally copyedited rather clumsily, so I’ve tried to restore some of its original logic and meaning. Incidentally, for those who might be interested, my earlier review of Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature for Soho News can be accessed here. — J.R.

Lectures on Russian Literature

By Vladimir Nabokov

Edited and introduced by Fredson Bowers

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95

Compare the book under examination to Nabokov’s Lectures on Literature, reviewed in these pages last November. Is Volume II a worthy successor, an arguable improvement, or a distinct letdown? Explain. (Use concrete examples.)

All three. Issued in a uniform edition at the same price, only 50-odd pages shorter -– the jacket Indian-red in contrast to last year’s sky-blue –- the book can be considered a worthy successor. Insofar as it contains meaty selections from what I take to be Nabokov’s supreme act (and work) of literary criticism (not counting his voluminous notes on his translation of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which I haven’t read) –- namely, his eccentric and indelible Nikolai Gogol, first published by New Directions in 1944 -– it can arguably be deemed an improvement, even over his exhilarating and enlightening lectures on Flaubert and Kafka in the first volume.… Read more »

SMILE (1975 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin, Vol. 42, No. 501, October 1975. — J.R.

Smile

U.S.A., 1974Director: Michael Ritchie

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Thirty-three high school girls arrive in Santa Rosa, California, to compete in the annual Young American Miss Pageant. While the girls rehearse their individual and collective performances and are interviewed by a panel of judges — including former pageant winner Brenda DiCarlo [Barbara Feldon] and car dealer “Big Bob” Freelander [Bruce Dern], who codirect the event – Brenda’s husband Andy [Nicholas Pryor], a heavy drinker who runs a trophy shop, derides the silliness of the pageant and Freelander’s son, “Little Bob” [Eric Shea], takes orders from his friends for Polaroid nude snapshots of the girls. Professional choreographer Tommy French [Michael Kidd] arrives to train the girls in dance routines, “Little Bob” his caught with his Polaroid while the girls are undressing, a nude snapshot is confiscated by the police, and he is taken to see a psychiatrist by his father. Andy complains to “big Bob” about his sexual problems with Brenda, and is reluctantly persuaded to attend the Exhausted Rooster Ceremony (for local men who reach the age of 35) that night, the second evening of the pageant.… Read more »

Cliff Notes from Mt. Olympus: review of Nabokov’s LECTURES ON LITERATURE

I should credit my editor at The Soho News, Tracy Young, for the title of this review, which ran in their November 26, 1980 issue. For my younger readers, and even for some of my older ones, it might be helpful to add that the “snake oil salesman” alluded to in my final sentence is (or, rather, was) Ronald Reagan. — J.R.

Lectures on Literature

By Vladimir Nabokov

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $19.95

“Let us not kid ourselves,” intones the tall athletic Russian professor to his students at Cornell. “Let us remember that literature is of no practical value whatsoever, except in the very special case of somebody’s wishing to become, of all things, a professor of literature. The girl Emma Bovary never existed; the book Madame Bovary shall exist forever and ever. A book lives longer than a girl.”

No doubt. And even at the price of four first-run movies, this long-awaited volume of aristocratic riches has got to be the publishing bargain of the year. Comfortably oversized, decked out with plentiful reproductions of the Great Man’s notes, annotated teaching copies, diagrams, and sketches, it might be the best analysis of fiction by a practitioner to have come along since The Lonely Voice, Frank O’Connor’s masterly study of the short story.… Read more »

Reading about Looking and Looking at Reading: review of CAMERA LUCIDA and IF ON A WINTER’S NIGHT A TRAVELER

This is one of the last book reviews that I wrote for The Soho News, a weekly alternative newspaper in New York that didn’t survive the 1980s but that afforded me during the early part of that decade my only extended and regular opportunity to date to review books as well as films. This particular piece, a double review, ran in their August 18, 1981 issue, under a different title (“Reading about looking”), and I was pleased to hear some time later from Susan Sontag that it was of my pieces that she clipped. –J.R.

Reading about Looking and Looking at Reading

by Jonathan Rosenbaum

Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography

By Roland Barthes

Translated by Richard Howard

Hill and Wang, $10.95.

If on a winter’s night a traveler

By Italo Calvino

Translated by William Weaver

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $12.95

In most bookstores, the new Barthes and Calvino books stare at one another like mutually envious friends in their separate ghettos, eyeing one another across a great divide and empty space: the social space separating essay from fiction.

Barthes’ grief-stricken gaze at photography sees beyond it to his own desire, then sees beyond that desire to the hypothetical Proustian (or Jamesian) novel he will never write — a nervous gaze that leaps like a butterfly across a crowded garden, never lingering with any simple petal-like photo for long, frustrated and impatient at the uselessness of this activity in summoning back his beloved mother.… Read more »

A Breakthrough And A Throwback

From the September 3, 1999 Chicago Reader. It seems worth reposting because, I’m happy to report, both these films are now available on DVD, although All the Little Animals is rather pricey. — J.R.

Mr. Zhao

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Lu Yue

Written by Shu Ping

With Shi Jingming, Zhang Zhihua, Chen Yinan, and Jiang Wenli.

All The Little Animals

Rating *** A must see

Directed by Jeremy Thomas

Written by Eski Thomas

With John Hurt, Christian Bale, Daniel Benzali, James Faulkner, and John O’Toole.

Two of the best movies of 1998 are opening in Chicago this week — which makes them two of the best movies of 1999 — but the odds of either making much of a splash are just about nil. For one thing, they don’t appear to have opened previously anywhere else in the U.S., ruling out any advance buzz. For another, the budget for publicity in both cases appears to be about 15 cents; by contrast, the advertising budget for Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was between $35 million and $40 million, not counting the Time Warner tie-ins (the entire production budget was $33 million). As a consequence, information about both films is hard to come by — I can’t even determine whether the screenwriter of Mr.Read more »

Windmills of His Mind

The following review of Lost in La Mancha appeared in the February 21, 2003 issue of the Chicago Reader. Seeing the newer Terry Gilliam film, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (see above), last Saturday (November 7), on my last evening in St.. Andrews, Scotland, I was sufficiently blown away by the visual invention and surrealist imagination on display here to rethink some of my estimation of his films. (The film wouldn’t open in the U.S. until Christmas, but I was told that it was already something of a monster hit in Europe.) Even though I couldn’t always follow what was going on in terms of plot (probably my fault more than the film’s), the way Gilliam solved the seemingly insoluble problems posed by the death of Heath Ledger in the middle of shooting — arriving at a form of multiple casting (see below) that I’ve formerly associated mainly with experimental filmmakers such as Yvonne Rainer — is only one example of his nonstop ingenuity. I was also impressed by both his digital mastery and his arsenal of references — including The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T., which I believe he quotes from in one image of the hero climbing a ladder that rises into seeming infinity.Read more »

Barthes of My Heart

This book review originally appeared in the September 10, 1980 issue of The Soho News. Maybe it qualifies less as a book review than as a short polemic, but if I recall this assignment — my first review of a book by Barthes — accurately, I had some space limitations. — J.R.

 

New Critical Essays
By Roland Barthes
Translated by Richard Howard
Hill & Wang, $10.95

It’s reported that when a celebrated American film critic was asked what she thought of French theory, she replied that the trouble with folks like film theorists is that they forget movies are supposed to be fun. When this response was quoted to me, my heart sank. It made me feel as if all the fun I’d had reading Roland Barthes over the years was no longer legal -– that it wasn’t even supposed to exist.

I’m not trying to pretend here that all of Barthes goes down easily: I still haven’t gotten all the way through S/Z, a favorite among some American lit-crit academics. And I’ll grant you that he may be an acquired taste for puritanical empiricists who mistrust too much sensual, imaginative, and poetic play in their literary puddings — particularly when these occur outside of fiction, and under the auspices of social and aesthetic analysis.… Read more »

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976 review)

From Monthly Film Bulletin No. 507, April 1976. –- J.R.

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The Man Who Fell To Earth

 

Great Britain, 1976                                             Director: Nicolas Roeg

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A stranger from another planet lands in New Mexico; calling himself Thomas Jerome Newton, he sells a series of rings to various jewellery stores and soon amasses a small fortune. He approaches Oliver Farnsworth, a homosexual lawyer in New York specializing in patents, shows him his plans for nine inventions destined to transform the communications industry, and concludes an agreement whereby Farnsworth supervises Newton’s World Enterprises Corporation and communicates with Newton, who wishes to maintain his privacy, chiefly by phone. Dr. Nathan Bryce, a chemical engineering professor, becomes intrigued by the corporation and decides to learn more about its master-mind. When Newton faints in an elevator, unaccustomed to the acceleration, the attendant, Mary-Lou, nurses him back to health and becomes his lover, tempting him into a taste for gin. After building a house on the lake where he landed and inaugurating a private space program, Newton hires Bryce as a consultant, and the latter discovers with a hidden X-ray camera that Newton s metabolism is not human. Newton intimates that he came to Earth because his race was dying from a lack of water and that his space program is designed to return him to his wife and children.… Read more »

The Potent Manic-Depressiveness of LA LA LAND

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

I was too late in catching up with La La Land to have included it in my best-of-the-year lists for Sight and Sound and Film Comment, where it likely would have figured in both cases. But one telling aspect of the movie that I find missing from the reviews that I’ve read is just how desperate its euphoria turns out to be — which is not an argument against this euphoria but a statement of what gives rise to it and what makes it so poignant. Of course this is a fact about many of the greatest musicals (and greatest post-musicals, such as those of Jacques Demy that Damien Chazelle is so obviously emulating) that characteristically gets overlooked, which is how much the elation of song and dance is only half of a dialectic that also highlights failure, hopelessness, and defeat. The most salient thing about the musical numbers here is how they figure as interruptions to misery and diverse irritations and frustrations — interruptions that are typically interrupted in turn by the hell of a freeway traffic jam or the anguish of a failed audition.  

La-La-Land

This is what makes the singing and dancing seem absolutely necessary, not merely a simple flight from unpleasantness.… Read more »

My Favorite DVDs of 2018 (for DVD Beaver)

Go here for many more choices. — J.R.

daisies 

 

Top Blu-ray Releases of 2018:

 

1. Daisies (Vera Chytilova, 1966); UK, Second Run

2. The Adventures of Hajji Baba (Don Weis, 1954); Twilight Time

3. The Colour of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov, 1969); UK, Second Sight

4. An Actor’s Revenge (Kon Ichikawa, 1963); Criterion

5. The Covered Wagon (James Cruze, 1923); Kino Lorber

6. Moonrise (Frank Borzage, 1948); Criterion

7. The Barefoot Contessa (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1954); UK, Masters of Cinema

8. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995); Criterion

9. This is Cinerama (Merian C. Cooper, Gunther von Fritsch, 1952); Flicker Alley

10. Figures in a Landscape (Joseph Losey, 1970); France, Carlotta Films

 

Top 5 Box Set Releases of 2018 :

L&LM

1. Liebelei & Lola Montez (Max Ophuls, 1933 & 1955); Munich Filmmuseum; PAL, Germany

2. Twin Peaks: A Limited Event Series (David Lynch, 2017 ); Paramount*

3. Dietrich & von Sternberg in Hollywood; Criterion

4. Clouzot: Early Works; Kino

5. Early Hou-Hsiao-Hsien: THREE FILMS 1980-1983; UK, Masters of Cinema

 

*As DVD Beaver points out, this actually was released in 2017. I selected it anyway because it was the best bargain of the year.

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Good as Gold?

From the Soho News (September 17, 1980). The owners of this newspaper at the time, if I’m not mistaken, were owners of South African gold mines, and I doubt that this article enhanced my job security — although I remained there as a freelancer for another 14 months.

I haven’t (yet) gone back to Bad Timing to see how wrong I might have been. – J.R.

http://dcairns.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/ls1.jpg

 

My Childhood
Written and Directed by Bill Douglas

 

My Ain Folk

Written and Directed by Bill Douglas

 

My Way Home

Written and Directed by Bill Douglas

 

The Gamekeeper

Written and Directed by Ken Loach

Based on the novel by Barry Hines

 

Bloody Kids

Written by Stephen Piliakoff

Directed by Stephen Frears

 

Long Shot

Written by Maurice Hatton, Eoin McCann and the cast

Directed by Maurice Hatton

 

Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession

Written by Yale Udoff

Directed by Nicolas Roeg

 

“British Film Now” –- a package of nine programs (at the Paramount Theater on Broadway at 61st) consisting of eleven features selected by Richard Roud, to be shown over six days preceding the 18th New York Film Festival -– is being presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the British Film Institute, with financial assistance from the British Council and the Cultural Department of the British Embassy, the British Film Producers Association, and Amcon Group Inc.… Read more »

Brightness (Yeleen)

From the Chicago Reader (January 4, 2002). — J.R.

Souleymane Cissé’s extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous and spiteful father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cissé has shot breathtaking images in Fujicolor and has accompanied his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Conceivably the greatest African film ever made, sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work won the jury prize at the 1987 Cannes festival, and it provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who is, next to Ousmane Sembène, probably Africa’s greatest director. Not to be missed. 105 min. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Friday, January 4, 6:15 and 8:15; Saturday, January 5, 4:15, 6:15, and 8:15; Sunday, January 6, 4:15 and 6:15; and Monday through Thursday, January 7 through 10, 6:15 and 8:15; 312-846-2800.… Read more »

The Witches

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1990). — J.R.

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A minor but very enjoyable Nicolas Roeg fairy tale — adapted by Allan Scott from Roald Dahl’s novel, and one of the last films on which Muppet master Jim Henson worked — about a very wicked Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) in contemporary England with a plan to turn all that country’s children into mice. She hatches this plot at a plush seaside resort, where the other main characters are staying, including a nine-year-old American orphan (Chicagoan Jasen Fisher) — one of the witch’s first victims — and his Norwegian grandmother (Mai Zetterling). Forsaking the scattershot cutting of his usual work, Roeg seems to regard this as a relatively impersonal project, but he and the actors (especially Huston) still seem to be having a great deal of fun with it. One of many clear advantages this funny and scary 1989 fantasy-adventure has over most Disney products is its live-action visual bravado, evident in both the stylization of the witches and the profusion of mouse-point-of-view shots. PG, 91 min. (JR)… Read more »