Daily Archives: June 14, 2019

Does Choosing “The Year’s Best” Compromise the Truth? (Slate post)

Posted on Slate, December 27, 2005. — J.R.


Does Choosing “The Year’s Best” Compromise the Truth?

By Jonathan Rosenbaum

Dec 27, 2005 2:13 PM

Holiday Greetings, David, Scott, and Tony,

David, I appreciate your invitation to “shake hands and come out punching,” though I suspect our disagreements this time around may wind up having more to do with Steven Spielberg and Munich than they do with Terrence Malick and The New World. (See Edelstein’s top-20 list of 2005 films here.) Just to be contrary, however, let me start off with four agreements. Me and You and Everyone We Know, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, William Eggleston and the Real World, and Homecoming all belong somewhere on my own extended list of favorites — and I’d need an asterisk of my own for the penultimate title, David, because Michael Almereyda is a friend whom we share.

To be contrary in another way, I haven’t yet composed my full list for Slate —although I’ve already filed separate lists for the Chicago Reader (which will appear online on Jan. 6) and the Village Voice (which has already appeared online). With your patience and indulgence, I’d like to delay this ritual for another day or so, concentrating for the moment on the issue of what the four of us actually do for a living.… Read more »


Written for the 2019 catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. — J.R.


Hou Hsiao-hsien’s 1998 feature, his thirteenth, represents a bold departure from his previous work. It’s his first film to be set completely outside Taiwan,  the implicit or explicit subject of his earlier movies — most noticeably in his trilogy comprising City of Sadness, (1989), The Puppetmaster, (1993), and Good Men, Good Women(1995), but also in the bittersweet allegory of Son’s Big Doll, his seminal contribution to the 1983 sketch feature The Sandwich Man.  After focusing mostly on families and landscapes, Hou fashions a chamber-piece set exclusively in the interiors of Shanghai brothels in the late 19thcentury, adapted from a novel by Han Bangqing by his usual screenwriter Chen Tien-wen.


And after Hou showed striking stylistic affinities with Yasujiro Ozu, here’s a film whose long takes, camera movements, and concentration on prostitution suggest a Kenji Mizoguchi without melodrama. But insofar as Hou’s previous films deal with existential and historical questions of identity related to Taiwan as a country occupied and colonized at various times and in various ways by China, Japan, and the U.S., Flowers of Shanghai finds similar issues arising from interactions between prostitutes (the “flower girls”), their madams (or “aunts”), and their wealthy and powerful customers.… Read more »


Written for the 2019 catalogue of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna. — J.R.


In my early teens, I wrote a time-travel yarn in which time travelers revisit 1871 to determine whether Mrs. O’Leary’s cow really kicked over a lantern that started the Great Chicago Fire — their abrupt arrival startling the cow and thereby causing the self-same catastrophe. Despite claims to being historical, this two million dollar Fox epic (1938) — a quarter of whose budget went towards depicting this fire (which had taken 300 lives and destroyed two million dollars worth of property) — seems almost as fanciful about some of its facts as I was. But Henry King, as mythical about the Midwest as Ford was about the West and De Mille was about the Middle East, makes Chicago both a cauldron of corruption (the grandfather of Ben Hecht’s Chicago) and the site of his recurring theme — the coexistence of nihilism and decency, rebellion and domesticity, represented here both by the Cain-and-Abel dialectic of the O’Leary brothers (Tyrone Power and Don Ameche) and the two women who lord it over them, a showgirl-capitalist (Alice Faye) and their prudish mother (Alice Brady), the latter of whom owns the recalcitrant cow.… Read more »