From Sight and Sound, February 2006. — J.R.
I was a fan of Tom Milne’s writing before I ever met him, having not only read his passionate criticism religiously in Sight and Sound during the 1960s, but also having selected his review of Franju’s Judex for a never-published anthology, Film Masters, that I edited in New York, shortly before I moved to Paris in 1969. I acquired permission to reprint it from Penelope Houston, the magazine’s editor (whose vibrant review of Last Year at Marienbad I was also including), and having published virtually nothing of my own at the time, I was inordinately pleased when Penelope wrote me back that Tom had said, “Whoever he is, tell him he’s got taste,” for that review was one of his own favorites.
I think I must have met him for the first time circa 1974, in London, when I was preparing to live there and start work as assistant editor to Richard Combs on Monthly Film Bulletin, Sight and Sound’s sister magazine at the BFI. As a former assistant to Penelope, Tom was still a key contributor to both magazines; one might even call him — I would indeed call him — the key contributor, as well as a mainstay at the office in all sorts of other, more practical ways (such as deputy editing and proofreading, for example).… Read more »
Chinese master Jia Zhang-ke (The World) made this 2006 documentary in conjunction with his superb drama Still Life, and one should make every effort to see them together. Dong shows artist and former actor Liu Xiaodong posing and painting male demolition workers in Three Gorges along the Yangtze River, where the world’s largest dam is being built (and where Still Life is set), then doing the same with female models in Bangkok, which allows Jia to draw some pointed social and economic contrasts. The film is less impressive than Jia’s first documentary, In Public (2002), made as he scouted locations for his drama Uncommon Pleasures, but it’s more interesting than his third, Useless (2007), about the manufacture of clothing. The title means east in Mandarin and also refers to the character Liu plays in the 1994 film The Days. In Mandarin, Sezhuan, and Thai with subtitles. 70 min. (JR)… Read more »
When men die, they enter history. When statues die, they enter art. This botany of death is what we call culture. So begins the commentary of a remarkable half-hour French documentary (1953) about African sculpture, cosigned by Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and cinematographer Ghislain Cloquet. (I haven’t been able to preview the English subtitles, so the translation here is my own.) To my mind, it’s the first major work by all three menthough it comes five years after Resnais’ Van Gogh, which won him his only Oscar to date. One reason why it’s almost never been seen in its integral form is that the French government suppressed its final reel, a blistering attack on French colonialism, for almost 40 years. The beauty and anger of Marker’s provocative text are perfectly matched by Resnais’ exquisite editing and Cloquet’s piercing images. As a poetic meditation on how we perceive, exploit, and sometimes destroy other cultures, this is essential viewing. Showing with Sans soleil (1982, 100 min.), perhaps Marker’s greatest feature-length film essay. (JR)… Read more »
I can’t think of a better portrait of contemporary Paris or the zeitgeist of 2001-’04 than Chris Marker’s wise and whimsical 58-minute 2004 video. Marker, now in his 80s, shot the images on the streets of Paris and in its metro stations: graffiti, posters, demonstrations, musical performances, cats (real and cartoon). The original conveys Marker’s commentary only through pithy intertitles, but the English version screening here has an unfortunate voice-over delivered in a heavy French accent by actor Gerard Rinaldi that tries to explain as well as translate these titles. Still, no one can film people in the street better than Marker or combine images with more grace and finesse. (JR)… Read more »
Torture and mutilation as entertainment seem to be on the rise, in life as well as in movies; what served as mere titillation in Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Audition (2001) now gets stretched out to feature length. Tautly directed by David Slade, this drama probably offers more sadism than anyone could want, as a 14-year-old girl and a 32-year-old photographer (Ellen Page and Patrick Wilson, both good) meet on the Internet and arrange to rendezvous in person. The characters are absurd, but if you’re up for this sort of thing, then surely you can con yourself into accepting them. Personally, I’d rather have this movie obliterated from my memory. R, 99 min. (JR)… Read more »
Danny Aiello runs a lobster farm on Sheepshead Bay, a family business that’s been put up for auction because the bank has defaulted on a loan; his wife (Jane Curtin) quietly leaves him, and he firmly resists every offer of help from their friends and grown children. Kevin Jordan (Smiling Fish and Goat on Fire), a protege of Martin Scorsese, wrote and directed this dull 2005 autobiographical feature; it feels real, but solid performances fail to enliven the characters. Ancient pop songs turn up on the sound track periodically, as if to compensate for the lack of energy. With Daniel Sauli and Heather Burns. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »
Jonas Mekas’s 36-minute diary film, shot between 1965 and 1982 and released in 1990. The interest of Mekas’s celebratory hand-held camera style is almost wholly dependent on his choice of subjects; and despite the home-movie charm that infuses all Mekas’s diary films, this one is limited by the fact that his subject is more the Warhol scene than Warhol’s work. Though Mekas has been one of the most passionate defenders of Warhol’s filmmaking, his own stylenostalgic, sentimental, highly personal, and poeticis fundamentally at loggerheads with Warhol’s. Consequently, this selection of glimpses of Warhol and others (including John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Lee Radziwill, Mick Jagger, and several children), mainly at festive gatherings or on vacation, hasn’t anything more to say about the work than Chuck Workman’s slick documentary about Warhol, Superstar. (JR)… Read more »
A contemporary western with political overtones and acerbic gallows humor, Tommy Lee Jones’s first theatrical feature as director (2005) is impressive. Inspired by the unpunished 1997 killing of 18-year-old Ezequiel Hernandez Jr., the script by Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros) concerns the accidental and unpunished shooting of the title character, a Mexican ranch hand (Julio Cesar Cedillo) working in west Texas. Jones plays the ranch hand’s foreman and friend, who kidnaps the border patrolman responsible (Barry Pepper) and drags him and Estrada’s corpse across the border, determined to fulfill his friend’s wish to be buried in his remote hometown. A very capable piece of storytelling, clearly showing the influence of Sam Peckinpah and beautifully shot in ‘Scope by Chris Menges, this recaptures some of the grandeur of the classic western while adding modernist and absurdist ironies. With Dwight Yoakam, January Jones, and Melissa Leo. R, 121 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Landmark’s Century Centre, River East 21.… Read more »