Yearly Archives: 2013

Response to a Survey by Neil McGlone

A shorter version of these responses appeared with the responses of several other film critics in the November 2013 issue of Verite Magazine, a digital monthly. — J.R.

Film Criticism “Then and Now”:

1.How has film criticism and the role of a film critic evolved since you first started?

One very striking change is the inordinate number of surveys of this kind that exist now as opposed to then. Even after I factor in the frequency with which I’m asked to participate nowadays, because of being better known today than I was in the 1970s, I think the interest in film criticism as a topic has grown quite a bit.

Thanks to academia, the Internet, and other factors, there are many more forms of criticism and outlets for its dissemination now. We also have more ways of discovering these forms and outlets in the present, at least if we’re interested. The conversations and exchanges begin more quickly and can travel much greater distances. There’s much more good stuff and much more bad stuff, which means the task of determining and then focusing on what one is looking for becomes much more complicated — unless one is passive and simply follows the industry’s discourse, which of course is what most people tend to do, one way or another, and what most people also tended to do half a century ago.Read more »

Introduction to an Unknown Filmmaker

Written in early October for “En movimiento,” my bimonthly column for Caimán Cuadaernos de Cine, written in alternation with Adrian Martin, for their November 2013 issue. — J.R.

It was a little over 25 years ago, shortly after I moved to Chicago, that I first encountered the staggering work of Peter Thompson, a local independent filmmaker I’d never heard of. I saw his first four films (he was never to make more than six) –- two “diptychs” consisting of films about his parents (Two Portraits, both made in 1981) and Universal Hotel and Universal Citizen, both made in 1986, exploring respectively eleven photographs and two drawings of a Polish POW who was frozen and then thawed by a German prostitute as part of a Nazi experiment and Thompson’s attempts to photograph a Libyan Jewish smuggler and former Dachau inmate in a Guatemalan jungle. Not long afterwards, seeing Thompson interviewed one afternoon on local TV, I felt an urgent desire to become friends with him, and we met soon afterwards.

Eventually we became neighbors as well as good friends, and I saw his two subsequent films, the 83-minute El movimiento, (2003), charting the complicated relationship over a decade between himself, an American anthropologist (William C.… Read more »

On ORSON WELLES AND ROGER HILL: A FRIENDSHIP IN THREE ACTS

Almost seven years have passed since I quoted from the manuscript of this wonderful book in the Introduction to my own Discovering Orson Welles. At that point the subtitle of Todd Tarbox’s book was A Friendship in Four Acts, but if anything, the book has only grown since then, both physically and in terms of readability. In short, it’s been well worth the wait. (June 2014 footnote: For more details, including an excerpt from one of the Welles/Hill conversations, go to Todd Tarbox’s recent radio interview with Rick Kogan, here.) — J.R.

The major and longest-lasting close friendship of Orson Welles’s life was with one of his earliest role models — his teacher, advisor, and theatrical mentor at the Todd School who later became the school’s headmaster, Roger Hill. By editing and arranging many of their recorded conversations at the end of Welles’s life and career, Hill’s grandson, Todd Tarbox, has given us invaluable and candidly intimate glimpses into many of its stages, especially ones towards the beginning and end of that diverse and complicated saga. In the process, he also confounds and complicates the array of “weak” and flawed father figures that populate most of Welles’ films, all the way from Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersonsthrough The Trial, Chimes at Midnight, Don Quixote, and The Other Side of the Wind, with a bracing and ennobling alternative to that pattern, an unwavering relationship of mutual admiration and respect that was a clear source of strength to both of them.Read more »

Peter Thompson, R.I.P.

Born July 24, 1944, San Mareno, California. Died May 23, 2013, Chicago, Illinois.

Here’s something I said at a special tribute to Peter held in his presence at Columbia College, on October 4, 2012:

“For me, Peter Thompson is one of those special filmmakers who reinvents cinema for his own purposes, a trait that he shares not only with people like Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, and Jacques Tati, but also with filmmakers like Chaplin, Welles, and Kubrick.

“On some level, all of Peter’s films are mysteries and detective stories, but ones in which Peter is inviting us to join him in becoming the detectives, not in giving us puzzles that he knows how to solve but in inventing new ways for us to share in his curiosity. You might even say that part of the mysteries of his films is determining what they’re about, because in addition to reinventing cinema they might be said to reinvent things like subject matter and research as well as still more difficult-to-define entities such as poetry and history and truth.

“Peter has been a friend for about two decades, but I hasten to add that we became friends because of my enthusiasm for his early work, which existed before we ever met.Read more »

THE MOVIEGOER WHO KNEW TOO MUCH

I’ve already blurbed this book, both on this site for its French edition and on Amazon for its e-book Kindle edition (where you can also read a couple of perceptive five-star reviews from other fans), so let me just reiterate here that if you haven’t yet checked this sucker out, you’ve got a lot of unhealthy fun awaiting you. [4/17/13]… Read more »

Resnais’ Secrets

This is my 31st “En movimiento” column for Caiman Cuadernos de Cine, formerly known as the Spanish Cahiers du Cinéma, written in late March, 2013.

For other thoughts of mine about Resnais, here are a few links:

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2012/03/on-alain-resnais/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2009/11/the-unknown-statue-tk/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2009/09/17072/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2007/06/two-key-scenes-from-alain-resnais-films/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2005/03/the-past-recaptured/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2000/03/20108/

http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/1988/04/alain-resnais-and-melo/

— J.R.

After recently having caught up with Alain Resnais’ magisterial Vous n’avez encore rien vu, I belatedly discovered from diverse sources on the Internet that “Axel Reval,” the credited cowriter on both this film and Les herbes folles, is in fact a Resnais pseudonym, making it a typically sly acknowledgment of the personal nature of his filmmaking, which has been an essential part of his work since the 1950s. Remember the glimpse of the Mandrake the Magician comic strip found in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Toute la mémoire du monde? One could even argue that the fact that personal moments of this kind tend to be veiled or masked in Resnais only makes them more intense, as they sometimes are in the films of Sternberg. (Claude Ollier’s alternate title for The Saga of Anatahan: My Heart Laid Bare.)

Indeed, it might make an interesting exercise to run through Resnais’ oeuvre picking out such intense but half-hidden and fleeting details spelling out his personal investments in the films.… Read more »

Responses to Spielberg Poll

Given to Indiewire in March 2013:

THE SPIELBERG POLL

AI-boy&mother

1941-dance


BEST FILM
You may vote for up to 5 films.

1. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
2. 1941
3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
4.
5.


BEST DIRECTING JOB
You may vote for up to 5 films.

1941-ferriswheel

1. 1941
2. A.I. Artificial Intelligence
3. Close Encounters of the Third Kind

closeencounters-door


BEST LEAD PERFORMANCE
You get five votes. Remember to list both an actor’s name and the title of the film he or she appears in.

AI-Davids

1. Haley Joel Osment (David) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence
2. John Belushi (Captain Wild Bill Kelso) in 1941

1941-Belushi


BEST SUPPORTING PERFORMANCE
You get five votes. Remember to list both an actor’s name and the title of the film he or she appears in.

AI-boy&Teddy

1. Teddy (teddy bear/prop/special effect) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence
2. Jude Law (Gigolo Joe) in A.I. Artificial Intelligence


BEST SCENE
You get five votes. Feel free to include an explanation of why a certain scene/moment/sequence made your list.

1. last scene in A.I. (emotional virtuosity and bleakness)
2. restaurant sequence in 1941 (technical virtuosity and exhilaration)


BEST HERO
You get five votes. Include the character name and the film in which he/she appears.

1. Haley Joel Osment (David) in A.I.Read more »

British Film Institute Strike, August 1974

That’s me on the extreme right, next to my new boss at the time, Richard Combs. The address is 81 Dean Street, the main headquarters at the time of the British Film Institute. I’d started my new job there as assistant editor of Monthly Film Bulletin on August 5, working under Richard, and had joined the staff’s trades union, ASTMS, around the same time. But only a week or so later, after the National Film Archive’s acting curator, Kevin Gough-Yates, was summarily sacked, I attended my first union meeting, and seconded the motion that we go on strike to protest management’s refusal to follow proper procedures.

Our strike lasted a couple of weeks, and, as I recall, it was mainly successful. For me, it was an ideal way to get to know many of my fellow staffers at the BFI, and I also successfully collared Otto Preminger, emerging from an editing studio next door, where he was working on Rosebud, to sign our petition. (I had watched a morning’s shoot on Rosebud in Paris a month or so earlier and had been part of Preminger’s lunch party, so he remembered me.) According to Geoffrey Nowell-Smith in The British Film Institute, the government and film culture, 1933-2000, a recent book from Manchester University Press that he coedited and partially wrote (which is where this photo comes from), “Preminger sent a message from his suite at the Dorchester Hotel”.… Read more »

THE FORGOTTEN SPACE

From the January/February 2013 Film Comment. — J.R.

The Forgotten Space Allan Sekula & Noel Burch

The Forgotten Space
Allan Sekula & Noël Burch, U.S.

A mind-bending essay film about sea cargo in the contemporary global economy, filmed mainly in four port cities (Bilbao, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, and Rotterdam) and what the filmmakers call “the industrial hinterland in south China and the transport hinterland in the heart of Holland.” Too political for mainstream taste, obligatory for everyone else.—Jonathan RosenbaumRead more »