Monthly Archives: October 2008

Escaping the Numbers Racket (2008)

My sixth bimonthly column for Cahiers du Cinéma España, this ran in their April 2008 issue (No. 11). — J.R.

A personal highpoint for me at the 42nd annual voting session of the National Society of film Critics, held in early January, was successfully proposing two of the awards given that afternoon. One was for the best experimental film of 2007, which went to John Gianvito’s Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind — a beautiful 59-minute documentary about cemeteries and memorials in the U.S. commemorating political struggles, made by the writer-director of The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein (2001), a dedicated independent who might be described as an “amateur” filmmaker in the very best sense of the word (much as Jean Cocteau could be described in the same fashion). The other prize, the “Film Heritage Award,” went jointly “to Ford at Fox, a 21-disc box set from Fox Home Video” and “to Ross Lipman of the UCLA Film and Television Archive for the restoration of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep and other independent films”. I should add that only the first of these two awards was my own idea; for the Film Heritage Award, I was simply conveying and arguing on behalf of the proposal of an absent member of the National Society of Film Critics, Dave Kehr (a critic who writes the excellent weekly DVD column for the New York Times).… Read more »

Negotiating the Pleasure Principle: The Recent Work of Adam Curtis

From Film Quarterly, Fall 2008 (Vol. 62, No. 1). I’ve recently watched Curtis’s powerful and eye-opening Bitter Lake (2015) as well as his somewhat more paranoid HyperNormalisation (2016), also readily available for free on the Internet, which generally maintain the high level of the work discussed here.  — J.R.

There’s been a steady improvement over the course of the three most recent BBC miniseries of Adam Curtis — The Century of the Self (2002, four hour-long episodes), The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (2004, three hour-long episodes), and The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom (2007, three hour-long episodes) —- both in terms of their intellectual cogency and persuasiveness and in terms of the interest of Curtis’s developing, innovative style of filmmaking. One might even contend that each remarkable series has been twice as good as its predecessor. Even so, a closer look at Curtis’s filmmaking style starts to raise a few questions about both the arguments themselves and the way that he propounds them. (Regarding Curtis’s earlier TV series — such as the 1992 Pandora’s Box and the 1999 The Mayfair Set, which I’ve only sampled, and won’t be discussing here —- one can already see some of the thematic and stylistic seeds of his more recent work there.)Read more »

Synecdoche, New York

From the Chicago Reader (October 16, 2008). — J.R.

2008-synecdoche_new_york-2

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) makes his directorial debut with this feature, but it seems more like an illustration of his script than a full-fledged movie, proving how much he needs a Spike Jonze or a Michel Gondry to realize his surrealistic conceits. Tortured and torturous, it centers on a theater director from Schenectady (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who wins a MacArthur Fellowship but whose wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him; in response he tries to create a play that will represent his entire life experience, building a replica of New York City inside a warehouse. The usually resourceful Hoffman can’t sustain interest even after developing a receding hairline to make him resemble Jack Nicholson, and the other able players — Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, Tom Noonan, Hope Davis, and Jennifer Jason Leigh — mainly tread water. R, 124 min. (JR)

SynecdocheNYRead more »

Of Time and the City

It seems incredible that Terence Davies, the greatest living English filmmaker, has made only five features in two decades. His first documentary, a multifaceted, mesmerizing, and eloquent essay about his native Liverpool, is as autobiographical and as intensely personal as his Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) and The Long Day Closes (1992), so that his evolution as a lapsed Catholic and as a homosexual are as operative here as his working-class background and his taste in music and cinema. Being made up chiefly of found footage, this film lacks the mise en scene of its predecessors, but it has the added benefit of Davies’ voice-over narration, which, thanks to his training and experience as an actor, has an enormous performative power. (Check out the witty way he conveys his disdain for the Beatles through his delivery of one of their best-known refrains.) 72 min. (JR)… Read more »

Two Ambitious Web Sites

1. The preceding four images, and apparently thousands more, come from moviemags.com, “the site of movie magazines,” which Chicagoan Bill Stamets has just alerted me to. The gaps are in some ways more awesome than the inclusions, and the taste may seem closer to zines and the Video Search of Miami than to the usual library indexes and bibliographies, but there’s still a lot of information squirreled away here, and the search engine certainly helps.

2. The other site, Moving Image Source, is already mentioned elsewhere on this site because they’ve been commissioning several articles from me, and because they’ve featured an article that I’ve recommended by Chris Fujiwara. (Actually, two articles if one includes a postscript about his more recent piece on Jacques Tourneur’s Stranger on Horseback—a piece I still like, though I wish I liked the film more.) But I’d like to call attention here to two other features there, Research Guide and Calendar, both of which are invaluable. Below are abbreviated versions of two items included in each:

Pinewood Dialogues
An archive with downloadable audio and transcripts of talks with filmmakers and actors, including Robert Altman, David Cronenberg, Mira Nair, Forest Whitaker, and more.

Millenium Film Journal
Published since 1978 by the Millenium Film Workshop, the Millenium Film Journal focuses on avant-garde cinema and practice, and covers a range of moving image technologies.… Read more »