From the November 19, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and Kevin Yagher
With Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, and Christopher Walken.
Tim Burton’s new movie is gorgeous — shot by shot it may be the most impressive thing he’s done. So I hope I’m not being too disrespectful if I balk at the idea that his movie is based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
I was an English major in college and graduate school, yet I can’t remember reading a word of Irving until I read this wonderful 180-year-old story a few days after seeing the movie. He may be one of America’s great writers, but apparently few people still read him, even though his prose is clear and vivid. Take the seventh paragraph of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” for instance:
“I mention this peaceful spot [Sleepy Hollow] with all possible laud for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great state of New York, that population, manners, and customs, remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.… Read more »
Commissioned by Indiewire and posted on February 7, 2019. — J.R.
Looking back today at the legacy of Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) as a pioneer of American independent filmmaking, we like to think that he paved the way for us to enjoy our current freedom as spectators. When he was arrested for screening Jack Smith’s Flaming Creatures in New York City in March 1964, along with Ken Jacobs and Florence Karpf, we tend to suppose that this was eventually to ensure that we wouldn’t be penalized for watching the film today.
But maybe we haven’t advanced quite as far in our freedom and sophistication as we like to suppose. Such, at any rate, was my thought when I found myself censored on Facebook last week and banned from posting anything there for 24 hours when I tried to post the following two images:
I assume it was the second image rather than the first that led to the censorship, but given the usual arbitrariness of what gets banned and why, how can I be sure? All I was doing was advertising the reposting of my own 1998 review of the film in the Chicago Reader (www.jonathanrosenbaum.net/2019/02/sweet-outrage/), and this unexpected glitch raised the question of whether Facebook’s objections were to the single bare nipple being exposed or to the fact that one (apparent) woman was amorously clutching another (apparent) woman.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 20, 1992). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Clifton Ko
Written by Ko, Michael Hui, and Raymond Wong
With Hui, Wong, Olivia Cheng, Ricky Hui, Maria Cordero, and Joi Wong.
KING OF CHESS
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Yim Ho and Tsui Hark
Written by Yim and Tony Leung
With Leung, John Sham, Yong Lin, Yia Ho, King Shin Chien, and Chan Koon Cheung.
Past, present or future . . . China will always belong to the Chinese people. — opening title in King of Chess
In this country there is probably no important national cinema more neglected than the Chinese — actually a transnational entity, as I’m defining it here, including movies from mainland China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. And probably no programmer in this country is more dedicated to making Chinese cinema known than Barbara Scharres, director of the Film Center.
I have to admit to a certain resistance to Chinese cinema in the past, and to Hong Kong movies in particular. It’s a bias shared by many of my colleagues, for reasons that are in part self-serving: if we were to suddenly acknowledge the importance of Hong Kong movies, we’d be forced to acknowledge many years of negligence on our part, and obliged to admit an embarrassing lack of knowledge and sophistication on the subject.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 9, 1990). — J.R.
The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. . . . The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. –Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The German Ideology (1845-46)
A good many newspapers and magazines have accompanied their reviews of Vineland, Thomas Pynchon’s fourth novel, with the same 37-year-old photograph of the author grinning goofily from his high school yearbook. Given Pynchon’s refusal to be photographed or interviewed, there are touches of both desperation and petty vindictiveness in this compulsion to objectify and visualize, however inadequately, a novelist who chooses to be identified only through his writing.… Read more »
Published by DVD Beaver in August 2006. — J.R.
Even though I don’t have much of a head for science, and even though I agree with the field’s chief literary critic, Damon Knight, that “we have no negative knowledge” (meaning that we aren’t yet in a position to identify time travel as either science or non-science), I’d still maintain that the differences between science fiction and fantasy are important. (For Damon Knight’s criticism, see his superb though sadly long out-of-print collection In Search of Wonder.) Important enough, in any case, to make a list of favorite neglected SF movies distinct and separate from a list of neglected fantasy movies. So consider the following selection the first half of a two-part series.
French people tend to conflate SF and fantasy a little more readily than others do into a looser category known as fantastique which also manages to encompass Surrealism, some forms of satire and horror, comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels, among other things. But for the purposes of this particular exercise, credible extrapolations or fictions that at least pretend to have some relation to science —- by which I mean Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (admittedly a borderline case), The Nutty Professor, and The Incredible Shrinking Man, but not Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, The Tiger of Eschnapur, or Eyes Wide Shut —- qualify as science fiction.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 17, 2002). — J.R.
La Commune (Paris, 1871)
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Peter Watkins
Written by Watkins with Agathe Bluysen and contributions from the cast members.
Some filmmakers say this is my work and I want it to stay that way. That is their right, and we respect that right. Those are the films we don’t buy, and those are the films we don’t transmit. — TV executive in The Universal Clock: The Resistance of Peter Watkins
I’ve been a fan and supporter of Peter Watkins for most of my life. A remarkable master technician and social visionary whose early work is filled to the brim with focused rage, he has created some of the most troubling, thought-provoking, even shattering films I know. This has helped make him persona non grata in mainstream TV and cinema and also in art houses, among academics, at festivals, and on cable TV. When his name does come up in those diverse realms, he’s often accused of being paranoid — though that hardly explains his pariah status.
Keeping up with his work is hard even for a sympathetic critic like me, and I can’t say I know it well.… Read more »
One ironic footnote to the following article, which ran in the March 6, 1992 issue of the Chicago Reader, is that it was itself subjected to a kind of “soft censorship”. Specifically, my editors refused to allow me to allude to having known Chevy Chase personally as a classmate at Bard College during the mid-1960s, which I thought gave some additional weight to some of my reflections about the personal nature of Memoirs of an Invisible Man. (Since I no longer have access to my initial draft, I can’t spell this out here in any detail, except to note that Chase’s jazz piano now figures in the final draft only as a parenthetical detail.) Not only did Chevy and I share a course or two, but we also bonded in various ways through our mutual interest in jazz: in a few student jam sessions, I played piano while Chevy played drums (although he also played some piano even then), and we collaborated at one point with Blythe Danner (another Bard classmate, and a jazz vocalist at the time) on a successful project to bring Bill Evans and his trio to campus to give a concert. —J.R.
THE WAGES OF FEAR
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi
With Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Vera Clouzot, Folco Lulli, Peter Van Eyck, and William Tubbs.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 1991). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom
Written by Malia Scotch Marmo
With Holly Hunter, Richard Dreyfuss, Danny Aiello, Gena Rowlands, Laura San Giacomo, Roxanne Hart, Danton Stone, and Tim Guinee.
“I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” This standard expression of cheerfully blinkered American consumption tells us a lot about the way we think, especially if we substitute other words and phrases for “art” — terms such as life, the world, democracy, the Middle East, Kuwait, or Iraq. By concentrating on what we like, our media excel in holding and gratifying our attention — without broaching the broader issue of our ignorance, which might, after all, upset and confound the steady (if highly selective) information flow. Whether the movie in question is CNN’s recent made-for-TV miniseries Crisis in the Gulf and its popular sequel War in the Gulf (both assigned catchy, lurid logos with flaming red letters) or an effective theatrical release like Once Around, its power to grip us and persuade us is largely predicated on a series of absences and elisions designed to forestall and even silence our curiosity about what we don’t know, along with well-prepared servings of what we know we like.… Read more »
From Cinema Scope No. 45, Winter 2011. -– J.R.
As a postscript to and short commentary on the closing section of Ted Fendt’s interview with Luc Moullet in the previous issue of Cinema Scope, l’d like to propose that (a) Moullet’s two most recent shorts, Toujours moins and Chef-d’oeuvre?, provide a kind of summary of Moullet’s work as a whole, by focusing respectively on economy and art, and (b) the second of these actually fuses these two concerns, offering not only a digest of his oeuvre as both a filmmaker and a critic, but also a short manifesto that exalts the importance of shortness itself in relation to his particular talents.
Moullet’s best work as a filmmaker can generally be found in his shorts — which makes it all the more regrettable that the Moullet box set with English subtitles includes only his features, and the sole collection of his shorts on DVD (Luc Moullet en shorts, 2009) is untranslated. The most important exceptions to this rule are Genèse d’un repas (1978), arguably his most profound statement about economy, and Anatomie d’un rapport (1976), but it might be added that many of his other best features, such as Les contrabandières (1968), La comédie du travail (1987), and Parpaillon (1993), are effectively collections of thematically related shorts, while some of his thinnest – – e.g., Le prestige de la mort (2006) — seem to qualify as padded shorts.… Read more »
From Cinema Scope #46 (Spring 2011). — J.R.
Underneath the Persian credits, over heavy metal music, the camera roams around inside a colour photograph, grazing over pointillist surfaces and male faces — finally pulling back to reveal the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps in 1983, getting ready to drive their motorcycles over a huge replica of the American flag on the pavement in front of them. Cut to black and the film’s title, The Hunter.
Cut to a highway tunnel, then to a rifle being loaded in the woods, then to the same title hero (played by the writer-director, Rafi Pitts) holding the rifle in front of a raging campfire at night. Cut to an overhead shot of a busy Tehran freeway — then to a sinister carwash that seems to be located in the general vicinity of Hell, smoky fumes rising from the spray. And finally to the hero being told by a potential employer that as a convict he doesn’t qualify for a day job, he has to take the night shift. But as we discover a little later, his wife Sara already has a day job, meaning that when he takes the night watchman job, he’ll have little time to spend with her and their six-year-old daughter.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader, January 10, 1992. — J.R.
THE FILMS OF MIKE LEIGH
Among the buzzwords Marshall McLuhan coined in the 60s, “global village” has always seemed one of the more dubious. The naive notion that TV brings the whole world to our doorsteps — and presumably our doorsteps to the rest of the world — seems founded on assumptions that don’t bear close scrutiny. What do we mean by “the world,” for instance? And what do we mean by TV? TV may afford us some touristic glimpses of elsewhere, along with all the usual ideological baggage of the tourist, but when it comes to closer and better understandings of foreign cultures, I suspect TV may do more harm than good by fostering complacent illusions of knowledge: images wrapped in tidy American sound bites for easy consumption, postage-stamp peeks into worlds often defined in part by what we still don’t know.
What TV seldom offers us — unless we understand other languages and possess satellite dishes — is the rare privilege of overhearing other cultures talk to themselves, experiencing them from within rather than on our terms. To be on the inside looking out offers a different kind of knowledge, attained more by osmosis and intuition than by simplification, translation, or exegesis.… Read more »
Commissioned by Richard Porton and written for (and published by) On Festivals: 03 (Dekalog), edited by Richard Porton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Because of the length of this, I’m running it in two parts, and this is the second part. — J.R.
Apart from New York and Cannes, I can almost count the other film festivals I attended during the 1970s on one hand: San Sebastian in 1972; London in 1974–76 (after moving to London to work for the British Film Institute, as assistant editor of the Monthly Film Bulletin); Edinburgh in 1975 and 1976 (which I covered both years for Sight and Sound); Filmex in Los Angeles in 1977–78 (after I moved from London to San Diego, to teach film at the University of California); the Toronto Festival of Festivals, thanks to David Overbey, in 1978; and Venice, to attend a three-day conference called The Cinema in the 80s, in 1979.
The San Sebastian bash, held back then in July, was by far the glitziest -– an event that incorporated not only a good many midnight banquets at country clubs, but also a trip to Pampelona to attend the bullfight, with Howard Hawks – the festival’s guest of honor, head juror, and the focus of the festival’s retrospective – holding court.… Read more »
Commissioned by Richard Porton and written for (and published by) On Festivals: 03 (Dekalog), edited by Richard Porton, New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Because of the length of this, I’m running it in two parts. — J.R.
I’m pretty sure the first film festival I ever attended was the third New York Film Festival, at age 22 in fall 1965, to see Alphaville. In 1963, I probably would have attended the first New York Film Festival if I hadn’t transferred from Washington Square College to Bard College, two hours up the Hudson, about half a year earlier. Later that same year, I took over the Friday night film series at Bard, but every once in a while I’d forego one of my own selections in order to take a weekend trip to New York and see something new I was especially curious about; my first looks at Muriel and Dr. Strangelove were during two such excursions. And my curiosity about what Jean-Luc Godard would do with science fiction was enough to persuade me to hop on the train or catch a ride with a classmate. As it turned out, I found the film silly, not really understanding most of its allusions to contemporary Paris or German expressionist cinema.… Read more »
From The Soho News (September 8, 1981); tweaked a little on June 6, 2010. — J.R.
Comin’ at Ya!
Written by Lloyd Battista, Wolf Lowenthal, and Gene Quintano
Directed by Fernando Baldi
Take This Job and Shove It
Written by Jeff Bernini and Barry Schneider
Based on the song by David Allan Coe
Directed by Gus Trikonis
Let’s face facts. When notions of what a “good” movie is shrinks to the level of TV deepthink like Kramer vs. Kramer or Prince of the City, it may be time to bring the glories of the big-screen “bad” movie back again — at least if what we’re out for is fun and adventure. Unlike the most dutiful Oscar winners, whose notions of the good and proper usually revolve around the relatively straight and narrow, or the collected works of a Bergman or a Fellini that are even more consistent about their consistency — beating you into submission as they gradually meld into one all-purpose archetype — certain bad movies can boast range, unpredictability, and singularly distinctive tastes.
Indeed, a fascinating and suggestive literature has been accumulating for some time about bad movies, ranging from Jack Smith on Maria Montez to Myron Meisel on Edgar G.… Read more »
Joseph McBride, a friend, asked me to contribute a list of some sort to The Book of Movie Lists (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1999), which he put together, and here’s what we came up with. -– J.R.
The 10 Best Jazz Films
by Jonathan Rosenbaum
What follows is a personal list of neither the best films on jazz (e.g., Jazz on A Summer’s Day) nor the best examples of jazz on film (such as the Fats Waller soundies or the 1981 Johnny Griffin at the Village Vanguard), but something more special and rarified: films in which the aesthetics of jazz and the aesthetics of film find some happy and mutually supportive meeting ground.
1.Black & Tan (DUDLEY MURPHY, 1929). Remarkable not only as an experimental narrative by the (often uncredited) main author of Ballet mécanique and as a radical political statement about to whom jazz belongs, but also as a ravishing, poetic marriage between the music of Duke Ellington and the poetics of death and orgasm. Only twenty-one minutes long, but the aesthetics of jazz and film start here.
2.When it Rains (CHARLES BURNETT, 1995). A twelve-minute miracle, and, alas, the only film on this list by a black filmmaker, this is a jazz parable about the discovery of common ‘6os roots via a John Handy album in contemporary L.A., with a wonderful offscreen commentary.… Read more »