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Showing posts from January, 2008

A Belated Happy Birthday

Would you believe that on January 23, Jeanne Moreau turned 80? That pixie-ish gamine who was part of the bait in Touchez Pas au Grisbi is eighty years old? C'est impossible!

I was wondering why this item didn't get more attention last week -- I only found out about it because it was posted on a music board I frequent (she did quite a few hit records in France, an aspect of her career that is underdiscussed here). Then I thought about the implications of the fact that Catherine of Jules and Jim is a senior citizen and realized that a lot of my older colleagues probably don't want to be reminded of the passage of time in such a depressing way. I have to confess that the Truffaut has never had the iconic force for me that it seems to hold for so many others. Indeed, my favorite Moreau performances come later in her career -- French Provincial, M. Klein, Cet Amour-La, in which she plays Duras and is the only redeeming feature in an otherwise excruciatingly dull film.

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The Ur-Art Film

There has been an inordinate amount of ink spilled lately in discussions of "art-house" cinema and the alleged death of cinephilia. Thirty-odd years ago, at the peak of my dedication to the auteur theory and the search for great American directors, I might have cracked wise and suggested that a true cinephile was more interested in Boetticher than Bergman, Aldrich than Antonioni or Ford (of course) than Fellini. (Come to that, if those were the dualities proposed, I would still choose the former(s) over the latter(s).) Of course in the past couple of decades guys like Quentin Tarantino have spoiled that ploy by diving deeper than I would care or dare to into the lower depths of genre films. (Fulci over Fellini? Now there is a Hobson's choice of ghastly proportions.) At the same time, I have become increasingly committed in my own aesthetic to a certain vision of narrative film that is both critical and sometimes even anti-narrative.

Moreover, it would be worse than dising…

Come Home, Woody, All (Well, Some) Is Forgiven

Say what you will about Woody Allen, but even his most stern detractors will have to admit that he has a real affinity for a certain milieu. Bluntly put, no filmmaker has captured the foibles and peculiarities of Upper West Side Jewish intellectuals and would-be intellectuals as Allen. He knows that world as well as John Ford knew a U.S. cavalry outpost, and treats it with as much love and amusement.
Understandably, Allen has chosen in the last several years to move away from that world, both literally and artistically. First he began to branch out to include other precincts of the entertainment world, then the recent past and, most recently, Paris and London. The results from the last move have been wildly uneven, ranging from the incisive social drama of Match Point to the embarrassing failed farce of Scoop. With London as his new base and setting, Allen seems to be groping for a footing. His latest film, Cassandra’s Dream, is not a hopeful portent for the future.
Because his focus in…

Last of the NY Jewish Film Festival, and Several of the First Great Movies of 2008

Well I've had a pretty good week, to say the least. Saw Christian Mungiu's much-acclaimed 4 Months, Three Weeks and 2 Days this evening and it more than lives up to its advance reputation. Obviously, I'll have more to say when it opens at the IFC Center later this month. Speaking of the IFC Center, I was there yesterday morning for a screening of the new Andre Techine, The Witnesses, and that, too, is quite splendid. This is already looking like a potentially terrific year, and it's not even the 20th of January yet.

But let me quickly recommend still another excellent film, one that by virtue of opening Friday is the first great film of 2008, Joseph Cedar's dark, congested war drama Beaufort. You can find my interview with Cedar and some comments on the film here. And you can find the last installment of my three-part review of the New York Jewish Film Festival here. As I suggest in that piece, there were few fully realized works in this year's festival (althoug…

What's Coming Up

It dawned on me this morning that in slightly more than a week, I'll be marking the second anniversary of this blog. I was sitting on the subway with Jonathan Rosenbaum's book Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons, pondering his remarks in the book's introduction about the creation of and need for canons. That, and an interview I had just done with a gifted young classical guitarist who said that what he valued about teaching was the importance of being reminded of basic and essential elements of playing technique, got me to thinking about first principles.

I can't speak for any of my colleagues and friends on this question, but I think the grind of regular journalistic criticism -- a new deadline every few days, a screening tomorrow, tomorrow and again the day after tomorrow -- makes it difficult for me to step back and look at those basic issues with any frequency. It was very different when I was teaching intro film appreciation classes to undergraduates…

The Grain(iness) of the Voice

Apologies to Roland Barthes, but if you have always wondered what I sound like -- with a mild head cold, that is -- here's your chance to find out. In one of my several other lives, I am the music critic for Jewish Week and a frequent contributor to several other Jewish newspapers; when my oldest friend, radio producer Jon Kalish (we go back to the 3rd grade together), asked if I would sit in on his regular podcast for United Jewish Communities, I gladly said yes. Next thing I know I'm doing a completely unplanned interview with Michael Dorf and dj handler, two major Jewish-music entrepreneurs, on the state of Jewish music in the coming year. Hey, that's why they pay me the big . . . well, actually, nothing at all, but it was fun. So if you want to hear the podcast, which Jon did a splendid job of editing and producing, click here.

Anybody got a handkerchief?

A Little Strike Addendum and an Idle Thought

Courtesy of friend and colleague Bob Lamm, allow me to direct your attention to another excellent source of info on the WGA labor stoppage. Nikki Finke, whose industry column is one of the better features in LA Weekly, is doing an apparently daily update on the strike, which can be found here. I've been an admirer of her reporting for a while, so it's a pleasure to finally have a reason to draw your attention to it.

(You know, I've always wanted to use that phrase "labor stoppage" because it sounds like something your plumber would say -- 'yeah, Mr. Robinson, you got a labor stoppage here, but I can disconnect the valves and clean it out.' It also reminds me of one of my favorite legal phrases 'collateral estoppel,' which just rolls off the tongue like underheated roofing tar.)

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The other night the b.w. and I watched Wake of the Red Witch, a not uninteresting 1948 John Wayne vehicle from Republic. The film, which is the answer to …

Bloodbath on the Boulevard

Hollywood Boulevard, that is. According to L.A. Weekly's Bill Bradley (no, not the basketball player-Senator), the studio heads have hired former Clinton spinmeisters Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane to put down the Writers Guild strike. Up to now, I have refrained from taking sides on this one; I grew up in a union household, my old man worked for unions, I've held numerous offices in the National Writers Union at both local and national levels, but I cover these people as a journalist, so I've kept my opinions on the strike to myself. I have also refrained from taking sides in the Democratic primary fight -- mainly because I don't know who I will support (I'm just hoping for a big shakeout before the NY primary).

But this latest development does bring to mind a few things. First, despite the whining and sniveling from Chris Lehane, the overwhelming majority of WGA members are not making $200,000 a year, "more than teachers and pilots" as he put it. As was,…

Starting a New Year on an Up Note

Here's my modest first contribution to your viewing pleasure for 2008. The New York Jewish Film Festival begins at the Walter Reade Theatre on January 9; my first-week coverage of it can be found here. Beaufort, which I consider a must-see film, opens on the 18th.

You have your orders. Now carry them out.

I've always looked forward to the retrospectives this festival always includes. My sidebar on the first three of them runs in Jewish Week today, but some technological reason beyond my feeble understanding, isn't on the website. So here's what I wrote:

Although the overwhelming majority of the writing generated by this year’s New York Jewish Film Festival will focus on the new movies on display, the Film Society and the Jewish Museum have done their usual splendid job of highlighting some important rescue and restoration projects as well. In addition to a retrospective look at the work of the late Austrian director Axel Corti (which we will discuss next week), this year’…