This was written exactly one week after September 11, 2001, at the invitation of the Chicago Reader‘s editor, but this is the first time it’s ever been published anywhere (on March 11, 2010). — J.R.
I was having breakfast in the restaurant of my Toronto hotel on September 11 when I heard President Bush on TV making his first statement of that day, from Florida. I saw the World Trade Center towers in flames, but it wasn’t until I resumed watching the coverage in the film festival’s press office a few blocks away that I actually saw them fall. It was an event that registered in increments for the remainder of the day and the remainder of the week — something that’s still going on. And evaluating whether the prospects of adjusting to the shock and horror are grim or hopeful seems largely a matter of thinking in short or long terms.
“Pearl Harbor” as a reference point is a good example of the grimmest and least helpful short-term thinking, literally predicated on a world that hasn’t existed for 60 years. (One variation, sadly coming from one of my brightest and most progressive friends: to compare what we’d like to do to Osama bin Laden and other terrorists to what we did to the Japanese, by dropping Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — i.e.,… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 29, 1993). Since writing this, I’ve come to like Basic Instinct much more than I did. — J.R.
BODY OF EVIDENCE
* (Has redeeming facet)
Directed by Uli Edel
Written by Brad Mirman
With Madonna, Willem Dafoe, Joe Mantegna, Anne Archer, Julianne Moore, Stan Shaw, Charles Hallahan, Lillian Lehman, Mark Rolston, Jeff Perry, and Jurgen Prochnow.
* (Has redeeming facet
Directed by Louis Malle
Written by David Hare
With Jeremy Irons, Juliette Binoche, Miranda Richardson, Rupert Graves, Ian Bannen, Leslie Caron, Peter Stormare, Gemma Clark, and Julian Fellowes.
The pointed absence of scenes of sexual intercourse in such recent releases seemingly calling for them as The Crying Game, The Hours and Times, and Scent of a Woman is curious when weighed against a tendency in some other movies, including two that opened recently, to highlight transgressive or dangerous sex. In Body of Evidence it’s not only bondage and sadomasochism but sex leading to the male partner’s cardiac arrest, an effect the female partner may have intended. In Damage it’s not only illicit sex between an older, prominent government official and his son’s fiancee, who has incest in her past, but also the unconventionality of their couplings: they often remain partly clothed, and the positions they assume border on the pretzellike.… Read more »
One of my “En movimiento”columns for Cahiers du Cinéma España, written specifically for their special Godard issue (December 2010). — J.R.
Writing recently here about the largely negative American reception of Film Socialisme at Cannes, I noted — in response to the implications of such critics as Todd McCarthy and Roger Ebert that the film’s difficulties could somehow be attributed to flaws in Godard’s character — that I was “impressed not only by the film’s singular, daring, and often beautiful employments of sound and image, but also by its tenderness towards virtually all the contemporary characters and figures in the film (including the animals) — a virtue I don’t find at all present in For Ever Mozart.”
One could, in fact, go through many portions of Godard’s filmography and cite works that are humanist (such as Bande à part, Masculin-Féminin, and France/tour/detour/deux enfants) and those that are relatively nonhumanist (such as Weekend, Vladimir et Rosa, and Passion). Even though one could argue that Godard’s self-imposed social isolation since his departure from Paris has had harmful effects on his art, it is too simplistic to assume that he’s always or invariably the simple grouch that many journalists have claimed him to be.… Read more »
Published, in a slightly shorter version, in the August 2014 Sight and Sound. — J.R.
JEAN-LUC GODARD, CINEMA HISTORIAN
By Michael Witt. Indiana University Press, 276pp. £20.65.
paperback, ISBN 9780253007285
Reviewed by Jonathan Rosenbaum
There has been a slew of important books lately devoted to post-60s Godard, including Daniel Morgan’s Late Godard and the Possibilities of Cinema, Jerry White’s Two Bicycles: The Work of Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville, and Godard’s own Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television, translated by Timothy Barnard — the latter including Michael Witt’s introductory, 55-page ‘Archaeology of Histoire(s) du cinéma’. But none seems quite as durable, both as a beautiful object and as a user-friendly intellectual guide, as Witt’s superbly lucid, jargon-free book about Histoire(s) du cinéma, Jean-Luc Godard, Cinema Historian.
Copiously illustrated with frame enlargements that complement the text without ever seeming redundant, this examination of the philosophical, historical, and aesthetic underpinnings of Godard’s masterwork isn’t only about a four and a half-hour video; it’s also about the work’s separate reconfigurations as a series of books, a set of CDs, and a 35-millimeter feature of 84 minutes (Moments choisis des Histoire(s) du cinéma).… Read more »
Posted on Indiewire on January 6, 2012, with different illustrations. — J.R.
Critical Consensus: Kent Jones and Jonathan Rosenbaum Discuss Robert Bresson and Jean-Luc Godard
By Kent Jones, Eric Kohn and Jonathan Rosenbaum | Indiewire January 6, 2012 at 11:20AM
Editor’s note: Critical Consensus is a biweekly feature in which two critics from Indiewire’s Criticwire network discuss new releases with Indiewire’s chief film critic, Eric Kohn. Here, Jonathan Rosenbaum (formerly of the Chicago Reader) and Kent Jones (executive director of the World Cinema Foundation and editor-at-large at Film Comment) discuss two legendary filmmakers: Robert Bresson, the subject of a retrospective beginning at New York’s Film Forum today, and Jean-Luc Godard, whose “Film Socialisme” comes out on DVD and Blu-ray on January 10. More details on films opening this week follow after the discussion.
ERIC KOHN: There’s no easy way to have a short conversation about Robert Bresson without shortchanging a career spanning 13 films and widely considered paramount to 20th-century film history. Bresson’s Catholicism, his narrative precision, use of non-actors and painterly formalism have been analyzed many times over.
However, the Bresson retrospective that begins at Film Forum today ahead of a national tour, and includes 35mm prints of 11 films, is the first one in 14 years.… Read more »
From the January 17, 2003 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Rene Letzgus’ 1998 French documentary of a 1976 concert is hampered by a few distractions such as shots from inside a car cruising through Paris and actor Richard Bohringer in a studio muttering comments in unsubtitled French. (To all appearances these intrusions are simply efforts to paper over gaps in the visual continuity.) But the event being documented is so riveting and so eccentric in its own right that the interruptions hardly matter. The only time I’ve seen Simone live was when she sang “Mississippi Goddam” on the last lap of the Selma-Montgomery march, and although she doesn’t reprise that fiery anthem here, she’s just as unforgettable. This isn’t so much a concert as a work of performance art — one of the best I’ve seen since Richard Pryor–Live in Concert — in which Simone’s divalike behavior is as much a part of the show as her Juilliard-trained piano playing and her stupendous untrained voice. Whether she’s performing “Little Girl Blue” and a Langston Hughes tribute, alternately barking at or complimenting the audience (or getting them to sing with — or instead of — her), making cryptic comments to herself about show business or life in general, or dancing in high heels to African drums (when she isn’t simply listening to them, or adding a piano riff), she’s such a commanding and powerful presence that I was mesmerized for most of the film’s 75 minutes.… Read more »
While I was in Vienna in October 2009, helping to launch my film series “The Unquiet American: Transgressive Comedies from the U.S.,” Der Standard commissioned the following article from me. Since they didn’t run it, I decided to post it here, spurred in part by an excellent article by David Walsh on a related subject that Christa Fuller brought to my attention.
To update my concerns to the present, one might substitute condemnations of Woody Allen and/or Ronan Farrow to those of Roman Polanski and his accusers, which are currently being treated in the press and social media at times as more important than the crimes of, say, Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin. — J.R.
Roman Polanski and The Catastrophe of Public Discourse
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
The recent arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland, on charges for fleeing to France 31 years earlier before standing trial for illegal sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, was obviously a notable news item. But that alone could hardly have accounted for the indignant outcries from the American press and blogosphere about the nature of Polanski’s crime and the justice of his arrest.
Why should the case of Polanski be considered more relevant to the present moment than the multiple war crimes of Dick Cheney, for instance?… Read more »
Conversations conducted for Movie Mutations and Abbas Kiarostami (both 2003). — J.R.
Open Spaces in Iran and Africa:
Conversations with Abbas Kiarostami
by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa
1. Taste of Cherry: spring 1998 (Chicago)
The hero of Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry is a 50ish man named Mr. Badii contemplating suicide for unstated reasons, driving around the hilly Tehran outskirts in search of someone who will bury him if he succeeds — he plans to swallow sleeping pills — and retrieve him from the hole in the ground he has selected if he fails. Over the course of one afternoon, he picks up three passengers and asks each of them to perform this task in exchange for money — a young Kurdish soldier stationed nearby, an Afghan seminarian who is somewhat older, and a Turkish taxidermist who is older than he is. The soldier runs away in fright, the seminarian tries to persuade him not to kill himself, and the taxidermist, who also tries to change his mind, reluctantly agrees, needing the money to help take care of his sick child. The terrain Badii’s Range Rover traverses repeatedly, in circular fashion, is mainly parched, dusty, and spotted with ugly construction sites and noisy bulldozers, though the site he’s selected for his burial is relatively quiet, pristine, and uninhabited.… Read more »
Perhaps Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest movie (1954). James Stewart plays a news photographer trapped in his Greenwich Village flat by a broken leg. Out of boredom he starts following the stories of his neighbors across the courtyard, all of which represent variations on the romantic issues of his own relationship with a former model (Grace Kelly) who’s trying to goad him into marriage. When he deduces that one of his neighbors (Raymond Burr) may have murdered his invalid wife, he moves into high gear as an amateur sleuth. Reader critic Dave Kehr called this the most densely allegorical of Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpieces, moving from psychology to morality to formal concerns and finally to the theological. It is also Hitchcock’s most innovative film in terms of narrative technique, discarding a linear story line in favor of thematically related incidents, linked only by the powerful sense of real time created by the lighting effects and the revolutionary ambient soundtrack. With Wendell Corey and Thelma Ritter at her very best. 112 min. (JR)
… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 7, 2000). — J.R.
Beyond the Clouds
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (with Wim Wenders)
Written by Antonioni, Tonino Guerra, and Wenders
With John Malkovich, Ines Sastre, Kim Rossi-Stuart, Sophie Marceau, Chiara Caselli, Peter Weller, Fanny Ardant, Jean Reno, Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni, Irene Jacob, and Vincent Perez.
Chicago has had a plethora of film festivals lately — Women in the Director’s Chair, Polish Movie Springtime, Chicago Latino Film Festival, the Asian American Showcase. This is probably good for filmmakers who want their work shown, but I’m not sure it’s a boon for moviegoers. For one thing, the screening of so many films at once makes it easy for good work to get lost. Billions of dollars are now spent annually making and promoting a few dozen movies — most of them dogs — that the media obligingly make visible and label important, and everything else is consigned to relative oblivion. The most any obscure film can hope for — good or bad, major or minor — is to compete with all the other obscure films. This is tantamount to tripling the number of passengers in steerage without increasing the provisions: more people get to travel, but everyone gets brutalized in the process.… Read more »
This was written in the summer of 2000 for a coffee-table book edited by Geoff Andrew that was published the following year, Film: The Critics’ Choice (New York: Billboard Books). I’m delighted that this feature and many others by Chytilová (including, most recently, her long-neglected Something Different) are now available in excellent DVD editions from Second Run in the U.K. — J.R.
My favorite Czech film, one of the most exhilarating stylistic and psychedelic explosions of the 1960s, is Vera Chytilová’s highly aggressive feminist farce Daisies, which erupts in all directions. At any given moment, shots can switch from luscious color to black-and-white to sepia to a rainbow succession of color filters, shatter into shards like broken glass, rattle through rapid-fire montages like machine-gun volleys, and leap freely between time frames and locations. While many American and Western European filmmakers during this period prided themselves on their subversiveness, it is quite possible that the most radical film of the decade, ideologically as well as formally, came from the East — from the liberating ferment building towards the short-lived political reforms of 1968’s Prague Spring.
Featuring two giggling, nihilistic 17-year-olds, both named Marie — a brunette (Ivana Karbanova) and a redhead (Jitká Cerhova) — Daisies does not have a narrative or even characters in the ordinary sense: Just a good deal of provocation that typically garners more laughter from the women in the audience than the men.… Read more »
As nearly as I can remember, the following, signed “Jon Rosenbaum,” was hastily written at Bard College in the mid-60s for Pierre Joris, presumably for a never-to-be-published campus publication.
In tearful remembrance of Anna Karina, 1940-2019. — J.R.
Ideally, Godard would like 2 ou 3 Choses que je sais d’elle and Made in USA (which he made during the same summer) to be screened together, in a single evening. The ideal method of screening — which Godard sees as a kind of homage to William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms— would be to show them ‘contrapuntally, ” by alternating the reels. To any viewer who has seen even one of these films, the idea induces vertigo; the prospect seems not unlike that of sitting down with both Finnegans Wake and a critical commentary on it, one on each knee, immediately after breakfast. A somewhat sickening thought, but after all, Godard is a critic as well as a filmmaker –like Joyce, a critic chiefly (one is tempted to say exclusively) of his own work. Like a house of mirrors, like Nabokov, like Finnegans Wake, Naked Lunch, and Becket’s trilogy, Godard’s work is largely an exercise in self-reflection: how does one make a movie?… Read more »
Written in 2013 for an expensive book on Jacques Tati prepared for Taschen by Alison Castle. — J.R.
Jour de fête
1. A Parisian Discovers the Countryside
In 1943, Jacques Tati, age 34, was living in occupied France. He had played rugby, become a successful music hall performer, and acted in a few short comic films. That year he left Paris with a screenwriter friend named Henri Marquet in search of the remotest part of the country they could find, hoping to escape recruitment as workers in Germany. They finally settled on a farm near Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre, located in the dead center of France — not far from where George Sand had entertained such house guests as Chopin, Liszt, Flaubert, and Turgenev — and spent a year or so getting acquainted with the village and its inhabitants.
Two years after Germany’s surrender, Tati and Marquet returned to the village to make a short film, L’école des facteurs (“The School for Postmen”), in which Tati played François, the village postman, who delivers the mail on a bicycle. François was based loosely on a bit character — a befuddled postman, played by another actor — in Soigne ton gauche (1936), a comic short Tati had written and starred in. … Read more »
Written in Summer 2014 for the seven-disc Criterion Blu-Ray box set, “The Complete Jacques Tati”, and posted on Criterion’s web site on October 28. — J.R.
Even though he was a skilled pantomimist, it’s impossible to imagine Jacques Tati as a film artist without his use of sound, and it’s not always easy to imagine his filmic universe minus color: two of his six features exist in black and white, but only the second of these, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953), was intended exclusively for that format. Tati had a sense of design in terms of both sound and image that expressed itself in painterly “touches” — strategic dabs that informed and inflected his overall compositions. (This shouldn’t be too surprising from the grandson of the man who framed van Gogh’s canvases.)
The fact that he always shot his films without sound and composed his soundtracks separately made it easier for him to use images and sounds interactively, employing sound in part as a way of guiding how we look at his images, by stimulating and directing our imaginations. This means that any discussion of Tati’s mise en scène has to cope with the reality that he effectively directed each of his films twice — once when he shot them and then once again when he composed and recorded their soundtracks.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 26, 1996). — J.R.
David O. Russell, the writer-director of Spanking the Monkey, offers another naughty comedy — this one less independent and much more farcical (1996), with more familiar names in the cast. A young east-coaster (Ben Stiller) with a wife (Patricia Arquette) and baby son is contacted by a psychologist (Tea Leoni) who wants to reunite him with his biological parents — whom he hasn’t seen since infancy — and videotape the results for her research. After attempting to placate his adoptive parents (George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore), he and his family and the psychologist all take off cross-country. The results are watchable enough — sometimes funny, sometimes over the top — and fairly fresh, though also a bit calculated. Leoni has an interesting comic presence one would like to see in toothier material, though this certainly has a few bites. With Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, and Richard Jenkins. R, 92 min. (JR)
… Read more »