Written for Film Comment‘s web site in mid-August 2016. — J.R.
Although it isn’t widely recognized, Melbourne’s historical status as the cradle of online film criticism — as signaled by the founding of Screening the Past in 1997, Senses of Cinema in 1999, and Rouge in 2003 — remains a significant part of its film culture, so highly developed and serious that not once, during fourteen festival screenings, did I ever notice any viewers activating their mobiles. It’s equally evident that the pioneering web sites which helped to foster this kind of seriousness were neither accidental nor coincidental. All three were calculated gestures of outreach from a remote outpost to the rest of the world — allowing everyone a glimpse into a literary culture and a branch of cinematic savvy unhampered by the twang of regional accents or the pressure of imminent local releases. And as outreach gestures they no less clearly succeeded and flourished — so well, in fact, that their innovations and energies were quickly absorbed into the Internet mainstream without leaving behind many telltale markers of where they’d been nurtured. (If the Internet sometimes fosters historical blindness, this is especially true of the Internet’s own history.) Above all, the kind of criticism practiced by these three influential sites avoids the thumbs up/thumbs down reflexes of market-driven criticism for the sake of more open-ended discussions, closer to the example offered by Manny Farber (whose reviews could rarely if ever be quoted in ads) than to those of the Siskel-Ebert or Rotten Tomatoes persuasion.… Read more »
From the January 29, 1988 Chicago Reader. –J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Sara Driver
Written by Driver and Lorenzo Mans
With Suzanne Fletcher, Ann Magnuson, Dexter Lee, Steven Chen, Tony Todd, Richard Boes, and Ako.
The French term fantastique — which emcompasses science fiction, comic strips, Surrealism, sword and sorcery tales, and many other forms of fantasy — suggests an attitude toward the imagination that is distinctly different from the Anglo-American model. In our more empirical culture, reams of verbiage are devoted to distinguishing science fiction from fantasy, and legislating certain laws of etiquette to govern both — rules of internal consistency and narrative coherence decreeing that all breaches with recognizable reality stem from the same premises, whether these premises be scientific, purely fanciful, or some mixture of the two.
The French tend to be freer and looser about such matters, which helps to explain why such films as Les visiteurs du soir, Picnic on the Grass, Last Year at Marienbad, Je t’aime, je t’aime, Alphaville, Fahrenheit 451, Celine and Julie Go Boating, and Deathwatch pose to English and American temperaments certain problems that are not posed by The Wizard of Oz, Things to Come, It’s a Wonderful Life, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Exorcist, Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 1993). — J.R.
There’s a world of difference between the natural, “found” surrealism of Louis Feuillade’s lighthearted French serial (1914) and the darker, studied surrealism and campy piety of this 1964 remake by Georges Franju. Yet in Franju’s hands the material has its own magic (and deadpan humor), which makes this one of the better features of his middle period. Judex (Channing Pollack) is a cloaked hero who abducts a villainous banker to prevent the evil Diana (Francine Bergé in black tights) from stealing a fortune from the banker’s virtuous daughter. Some of what Franju finds here is worthy of Cocteau, and as he discovered when he attempted another pastiche of Feuillade’s work in color, black and white is essential to the poetic ambience. With Jacques Jouanneau and Sylva Koscina. In French with subtitles. 104 min.
… Read more »