A much shorter version of this was just posted by DVD Beaver:
Top Blu-ray Releases of 2017:
1. Othello (Orson Welles, 1952) Criterion Collection
2. Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project No. 2 (Limite — Mário Peixoto, Revenge — Ermek Shinarbaev, Insiang — Lino Brocka, Mysterious Object at Noon — Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Law of the Border — Lütfi Ö. Akad, Taipei Story — Edward Yang) — Criterion Collection
3. Vampir Cuadecuc (Pere Portabella, 1971) UK Second Run Features
4. The 4 Marx Brothers at Paramount (The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers, Duck Soup) (1929-1933) RB Arrow UK
5. Anatahan (Josef von Sternberg, 1953) Kino
6. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991) RB Criterion UK
7. Moses and Aaron (Danièle Huillet, Jean-Marie Straub, 1973) Grasshopper Film
8. Letter from an Unknown Woman (Max Ophüls, 1948) Olive Signature
9. Lost in Paris (Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, 2016) Oscilloscope Pictures
10. A New Leaf (Elaine May, 1971) Olive Signature
A major reason for listing Criterion’s Othello first is that it includes the digital premieres of not one and not two but three Orson Welles features: both of his edits of Othello available with his own soundtracks, heard for the first time in the U.S.… Read more »
Written for and published in Outsider Films on India, 1950-1990, edited by Shanay Jhaveri, Mumbai: The Shoestring Publisher, 2009 — a very handsomely produced book that I can highly recommend. — J.R.
The Creation of the World: Rossellini’s India Matri Buhmi
In my mind, there isn’t as much distinction between documentary and fiction as there is between a good movie and a bad one. — Abbas Kiarostami
From the beginning, film has owed an important part of its fascination to ambiguous overlaps between documentary and fiction —- sometimes experienced as conflicts between the separate aims of showing the world and telling a story, and frequently associated with incorporating both unforeseeable and carefully planned elements in a given film. It’s a tendency that can already be seen in the contrived gags of the Lumière brothers films, the re-enactment of recent famous events in some films of Georges Méliès, and the coexistence of fantasy and on-location actuality in Louis Feuillade serials. Later, of course, the same mix becomes re-animated in Italian neorealism and in work by French New Wave directors (perhaps most notably Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette and some of their immediate successors, such as Luc Moullet and Jean Eustache), in the improvisational strategies of Robert Altman, in some of the ambiguities found in the films of Abbas Kiarostami, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, and Jafar Panahi, and in practically all the films of Pedro Costa and Pere Portabella.… Read more »
From The Soho News (June 4, 1980). -– J.R.
A Film by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Bleecker Street Cinema, June 6
A Film by Pier Paolo Pasolini
Based on the 120 Days of Sodom
By the Marquis de Sade
Bleecker Street Cinema, June 11 and 12
“The problem with Pasolini,” a friend observed to me succinctly many years ago, “is that he wants to be fucked by Jesus and Marx at the same time.” A “pre-industrial,” populist poet and novelist from northern Italy whose relation to the Catholic Church and the Italian Communist Party were as passionately idiosyncratic as the homoeroticism of his films, Pasolini remains, nearly five years after his brutal murder, an indigestible provocateur in relation to our culture – someone who can be neither entirely absorbed nor totally rejected, but lingers like a troubling, irritating sore.
The recent and very belated release of his version of The Canterbury Tales (1972), the second part of his “trilogy of life” after The Decameron (1971), offers spectators a chance to catch more farting jokes than can probably found in Blazing Saddles. His vastly superior version of The Arabian Nights (1974), which rounds off the trilogy –- probably the most sustained flirtation with paganism to be found in his work –- has yet to reach these provincial shores.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (August 6, 1993). — J.R.
LYRICAL NITRATE *** (A must-see)
Directed and written by Peter Delpeut
VISIONS OF LIGHT: THE ART OF CINEMATOGRAPHY *** (A must-see)
Directed by Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels Written by Todd McCarthy.
I realize it sounds strange to put it this way, but the special pleasures to be found in Lyrical Nitrate -– a 50-minute compilation of fragments of silent films made between 1905 and 1915, showing this Saturday and Sunday at the Music Box -– are closely related to the voyeuristic appeal of pornography, specifically old-fashioned stag reels. The experience of watching these fragments is, like the fragments themselves, fleeting and therefore tantalizing, suggestive and therefore provocative -– and so far off the beaten track of what’s supposed to be viewer friendly in our culture that I’m reminded of J. Hoberman’s speculation in the second edition of Midnight Movies, a book we coauthored: “Imagine if one had to go out at midnight to some seedy theater to see projected tapes of The Simpsons.… Read more »
I face the same dilemma every year: multiple requests for lists of my favorite films of the year, all of them due before I’ve had a chance to see all the contenders. And it looks like the biggest casualty of this process in this year’s roundup has to be Samuel Maoz’s provocative, original, and creatively vexing (at once hilarious and devastating) Israeli feature, FOXTROT, which for me very easily surpasses many of the more popular favorites such as THREE BILLBOARDS… and NORMAN, which I find quite dull, unchallenging, and conventional in comparison. [12/27/17]
… Read more »
Two new British Film Institute digital releases related to Orson Welles, both due out later this month, arrived in my mailbox yesterday, the day after I submitted my Fall DVD column to Cinema Scope —Around the World with Orson Welles (1955) on Blu-Ray and Chuck Workman’s 2014 Magician: The Astonishing Life and Work of Orson Welles on DVD. In their very different ways, both are worthy items that are well worth having, which is largely why I’m posting something about them here.
Around the World with Orson Welles is a shamefully neglected TV series directed by Welles of six half-hour episodes, made around the same time as Mr. Arkadin (for the same French producer, Louis Dolivet), with a remarkable range of topics including Basque culture (two episodes), Vienna coffee houses and pastry, the bohemian avant-garde in Paris (including a reading of Lettrist poetry: see still below), London pensioners, and the Spanish bullfight (with Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Tynan as cohosts); a seventh episode — the first to be shot, but never completed — was an investigative crime report set in the French provinces, The Dominici Affair, and an English version of Christophe Cognet’s 52-minute, 2000 French documentary about this project is one of the two extras included.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 19, 1995). — J.R.
Rating *** A must see
Directed and written by Pier Paolo Pasolini
With Anna Magnani, Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, Silvana Corsini, Luisa Orioli, Paolo Volponi, Luciano Gonini, Vittorio La Paglia, and Piero Morgia.
Who can predict the changes in intellectual fashion over 20 years? In 1975, when the controversial Italian writer and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini was brutally murdered by a 17-year-old boy in a Roman suburb, he was no more in vogue than he had been throughout his stormy career. If any openly gay writer-director was an international star in the mid-70s, it was Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who at that point was spinning out as many as three or four features a year; he died in 1982 after an orgy of cocaine abuse.
Pasolini and Fassbinder were both maverick leftists who often alienated other leftists as well as everyone on the right, and both had a taste for rough trade, but in terms of their generations (Pasolini was born in 1922, Fassbinder in 1946) and cultural reference points they were radically different. The only reason to compare them now is to note how much their reputations and visibility have changed here over the last two decades.… Read more »
From American Film (December 1979). I’ve trimmed this a bit. — J.R.
“Production alternatives, linguistic and symbolic mutations, new models of the entertainment spectacle, new forms of film consumption, the relation between various media, the financial state of various film industries…”
In the words of an introductory brochure, these were some of the topics and problems to be explored at an international conference, “Cinema in the 80s,” set in the midst of the Venice Biennale. For the thirty-odd speakers, myself included, who had been flown all the way to the Palazzo del Cinema on the Lido, there was plenty to think about while overcoming jet lag.
The conference’s three days were devoted to language, industry, and audience, in that order. Simultaneous translation (of a sort) over earphones offered versions of each speech in Italian, French, English, German, and Spanish. Despite these noble efforts, the conference inevitably evoked a Tower of Babel at times. Bringing together academics, critics, and filmmakers from half a dozen countries, thre sessions helped to clarify how far most members of each profession are today from speaking a common tongue. Specialists and experts on their elected turfs, they often respond like fish out of water when confronted with film people of different sorts.… Read more »
My liner notes for the Criterion DVD (2003). If memory serves, this was probably the first such essay that I wrote for producer Issa Clubb. — J.R.
ORSON WELLES: Fellini is essentially a small-town boy who’s never really come to Rome. He’s still dreaming about it. And we should all be very grateful for those dreams. In a way, he’s still standing outside looking in through the gates. The force of La Dolce Vita comes from its provincial innocence. It’s so totally invented.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Maybe the “small-town” aspect is why I like I Vitelloni most of all his films.
WELLES: After The White Sheik, it’s the best of all.
Welles’ preference for The White Sheik (1952), Federico Fellini’s first solo feature, over all the others is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Critically speaking, it’s one of the Italian maestro’s most neglected works. In his The Italian Cinema, Pierre Leprohon wrote that it “seems to have been a kind of liquidation of the past in preparation for the emergence of the Fellinian universe, a chance for the author to work off his hatred and rancors.”
Most critics haven’t been so harsh; a more common verdict is to see this as an apprentice work, a sketch of the Fellinian splendors to come.… Read more »
From the May 6, 2005 Chicago Reader. –J.R.
Take No Prisoners: The Bold Vision of Kira Muratova
at the Gene Siskel Film Center
The most original filmmakers working today tend to be identified more with their respective national cultures than with the world at large. The work of directors such as James Benning, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Jia Zhang-ke, Abbas Kiarostami, Kira Muratova, Jafar Panahi, Béla Tarr, Tsai Ming-liang, and Edward Yang is seen as specialized, local, and esoteric. But I’d argue that what they have to say about their countries is secondary to their larger concern: the bewildering, tragicomic, and often disastrous effects of modernity on traditional modes of life and thought.
The dozen obstinately weird and wild films of Kira Muratova, seven of which are playing this month at the Gene Siskel Film Center, are described by some critics as Russian to the core, and I wouldn’t hesitate to call her the greatest living Russian filmmaker. (I’d link Alexander Sokurov’s work to the 19th century rather than to the 20th or the 21st.) Yet I’m not entirely sure what “Russian” means these days or how it applies to her.
Born in 1934 in Romania to a Romanian mother and a Russian father, Muratova went to both Romanian and Russian schools, often hiding her Russian identity at the former and her Romanian identity at the latter.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 3, 2003). I was very touched when, over a dozen years later, and quite recently, in Lisbon, Nicoletta Braschi (who was performing Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days there) thanked me for this piece. — J.R.
The worst movie I saw all year was the dubbed and recut version of Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio, hastily released by Miramax on Christmas Day. Yet I could easily have placed Benigni’s subtitled original in my top 50, if not top 40.
The late-19th-century source novel, Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, is so quintessentially Italian that adaptations lose flavor and meaning if they don’t include that aspect. Walt Disney’s 1940 animated feature also failed to include the original’s sense of poverty, its cosmic vision of brutality, and many other disturbing elements, then heaped on the sentimentality; the studio got away with it because the film at least had a style and an occasionally disturbing vision of its own.
Benigni’s adaptation replicates more of the Disney sentimentality than I would have liked, but it returns to the Italian original, altering it mainly to fit Benigni’s irreverent and very Italian sense of comedy. (Federico Fellini had hoped to adapt the story with Benigni as the lead, and this film reflects some of Fellini’s broadness and comic-strip floridity.) Benigni’s performance, to which his voice is critical, acknowledges the weirdness of having a middle-aged man play the title role (in the original he’s more like an Italian version of Pee-wee Herman).… Read more »
These are expanded Chicago Reader capsules written for a 2003 collection edited by Steven Jay Schneider. I contributed 72 of these in all; here are the second dozen, in alphabetical order. — J.R.
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie
Luis Buñuel’s 1972 comic masterpiece, about three well-to-do couples who try and fail to sit down and have a meal together, is perhaps the most perfectly achieved and executed of all his late French films. The film proceeds by diverse interruptions, digressions, and interpolations (including dreams, dreams within dreams, and tales within tales) that, interestingly enough, identify the characters, their class, and their seeming indestructibility with the very processes of narrative illusion and narrative continuity themselves — their rewards as well as their compulsions, their pleasures and their frustrations.
Frightening, funny, profound, and mysterious, the various episodes involving these and other characters (including Jean-Pierre Cassel and Paul Frankeur) are like an anthology of Buñuel’s themes, favorite gags, and recurring nightmares. The film was produced by Serge Silberman and coscripted by Jean-Claude Carrière, perhaps the two most essential friends and collaborators in the flowering of Bunuel’s late period, though Buñuel regulars Rey, Frankeur, and Julien Bertheau might also be cited.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 20, 2002). For the record, I regard Downsizing as Payne’s best film to date, even if it’s less perfectly shaped than Election, but representing as much of a leap from About Schmidt as that film was from Citizen Ruth. — J.R.
I was so offended by the cynicism and class condescension of Citizen Ruth, Alexander Payne’s first feature, that I’ve remained suspicious of his work even as he’s emerged as a more skillful director in Election and this still more ambitious and accomplished film. It’s a very free adaptation of a Louis Begley novel, transposed from Manhattan to Payne’s native Nebraska, in which Jack Nicholson has been asked to put on some weight and finally act his age. The problem is he’s still Jack Nicholson, exuding his know-it-all charisma even when playing a clueless asshole and not nearly as inventive as he was in a much less showy part in The Pledge. The contrivance here by which he bares his soul — by mouthing letters to an African boy he’s helping to support from afar — is bogus and forced, and even the more observant moments in this odyssey of a bored and boring widower can’t entirely escape the jeering tone that remains Payne’s stock-in-trade.… Read more »
This appeared in the August 27, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.
Rating ** Worth seeing
Directed by Albert Brooks
Written by Brooks and Monica Johnson
With Brooks, Sharon Stone, Andie MacDowell, Jeff Bridges, Mark Feuerstein, Stacey Travis, and Steven Wright.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
The Muse made me laugh, but not as much as the five Albert Brooks movies preceding it. It also made me think less, and that’s more of a problem. I don’t care whether Mel Brooks makes me think, but Albert’s a different matter. He’s a conceptual filmmaker unlike any other — a Stanley Kubrick among comedians whose premises need to be pondered, not simply accepted or rejected.
The Muse is a somewhat flimsy high-concept movie whose ultimate justification is that its subject is the manufacture of flimsy high-concept movies. It isn’t so much about a muse as about the apparent need for one. Steven Phillips (Brooks) is a well-to-do Hollywood screenwriter with a wife (Andie MacDowell) and two daughters — the first Brooks hero to have children — who’s desperate because everyone tells him he’s “lost his edge.” What does that mean? The movie doesn’t say, and Brooks, as usual, doesn’t spell it out.… Read more »
This appeared in the April 4, 1997 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.
Rating * (Has redeeming facet)
Directed and written by Alexander Payne
With Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Kurtwood Smith, Mary Kay Place, Kelly Preston, M.C. Gainey, Burt Reynolds, and Tippi Hedren.
Inventing the Abbotts
Rating *** (A must see)
Directed by Pat O’Connor
Written by Ken Hixon
With Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Will Patton, Kathy Baker, Jennifer Connelly, Liv Tyler, Joanna Going, Barbara Williams, and Michael Sutton.
By Jonathan Rosenbaum
The best insight into 20th-century repression I’ve encountered recently is contained in Sidney Blumenthal’s piece about Whittaker Chambers in the March 17 issue of the New Yorker. Chambers “lived in a time when it was easier to confess to being a [communist] spy than to confess to being a homosexual,” Blumenthal notes. He also remarks that Chambers’s behavior as a spy — “furtive exchanges, secret signals, false identities” — resembled his behavior as a homosexual, and that he “and a pantheon of anti-Communists for whom conservatism was the ultimate closet — J. Edgar Hoover, Roy Cohn, and Francis Cardinal Spellman — advanced a politics based on the themes of betrayal and exposure, ‘filth’ (as Hoover called it) and purity.… Read more »