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by Richard T. Jameson

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Review: Cutter and Bone

[originally published in Film Comment, July-August 1981]

In March of this year, a film named Cutter and Bone opened in New York under the aegis of United Artists. Vincent Canby of The New York Times panned it, business was bad, and UA, still bleeding from its Heaven’s Gate wounds, yanked the film after one week. That was just in time to miss a number of weekly magazine reviews hailing it as perhaps the most exciting American film of the year, and glowing with praise for its director, Ivan Passer, and its stars, Jeff Bridges, John Heard, and Lisa Eichhorn. At that time UA turned Cutter and Bone over to its difficult-films division, United Artists Classics, where a new ad campaign was devised and a new title imposed. As Cutter’s Way, the film has begun a test market engagement in Seattle. You may or may not get to see it. Here’s a report from someone who did.

***

Richard Bone saw a body being dumped in an alley around midnight. He doesn’t know that yet. Now it’s a couple of hours later and he’s driving home. Not his home, exactly, but where he sleeps. Not quite that, either: where he sleeps until he grows uncomfortable with having been in one place too long—usually around first light; then he gets up and goes down to the marina and finishes sleeping on one of the boats he’s supposed to be hustling to susceptible Santa Barbra wives. But right now he’s driving home, to Alex Cutter’s house, in Alex Cutter’s car, to Alex Cutter’s wife Mo.

From the kitchen come sounds of clunky rummaging in the refrigerator; the light of its bulb is all that shows us Mo, in souvenir Vietnam Oriental jacket, dredging up a fresh bottle. She walks into the living room barefoot and careful, her face set with the concentration needed to keep her head straight on her shoulders. Seeing Bone, she smiles after a fashion. Some of the smile may say Welcome. Some of the smile may say, as she more or less does now, You again! A lot of it is just because that’s what happens to Mo’s face when she’s stoned. You can feel the alcohol and the downers in every delicate, courageous step she takes, sense how the strain of keeping her balance through recent months and years has made her bones frail, understand that the pressure under her skull is like a headachy memory of grace she can’t let go of.

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Video: Framing Pictures – April 2016

Richard T. Jameson, Bruce Reid, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton sat down at the Scarecrow Video screening room on April 8, 2016 for the April edition of Framing Pictures. Over the course of the evening they discussed Cutter’s Way (newly released on Blu-ray; RTJ’s original review on Parallax View here) and declared Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings the greatest movie ever made.

The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now showing on cable and streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.

Picture People (2)

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

WILLIAM WYLER: The Authorized Biography. By Axel Madsen. Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 456 pages. $9.95.
CECIL B. DeMILLE. By Charles Higham. Charles Scribner’s Sons. 280 pages. $10.
LIGHT YOUR TORCHES AND PULL UP YOUR TIGHTS. By Tay Garnett, with Fredda Dudley Balling. Foreword by Frank Capra. Arlington House. 347 pages. $9.95.
A SHORT TIME FOR INSANITY: An Autobiography. By William A. Wellman. Foreword by Richard Schickel. Hawthorn Books, Inc. 276 pages. $10.

Books on directors’ oeuvres are nothing new, and neither are interviews with film directors, booklength and otherwise. But it’s only recently that directors’ lives have struck publishers as likely material. Undoubtedly the popularity of Frank Capra’s The Name above the Title has been the most persuasive argument. Recently I’ve read four new additions to the genre, two biographies—one living subject, one deceased—one as-told-to autobiography, and one of the real McCoy, a personal document that in its idiosyncratic way is as valuable an addition to film literature as Capra’s. The order is that of the above titles, and I’ll talk about them in the same sequence.

***

The virtues of Axel Madsen’s William Wyler tend to become more evident after one has read Charles Higham’s Cecil B. DeMille. Both seem to be job books. Madsen gets off to a limp start condensing the erratic history of Mulhouse, the Alsace town where Willy Wyler was born in 1902, and dreaming up trite images like Leopold the father “sitting on the veranda and watching his blue cigar smoke disappear into the night” shortly before World War I became a neighborhood reality. As soon as his subject is of an age to store up his own memories for recounting five decades later, the narrative improves. Mulhouse (then Mülhausen) changing hands—and switching from German to French time—four times during August 1914; Willy following his elder brother Robert (later his producer, and a director in France) to school in Lausanne, and Robert following him to Paris; experiences with haberdashery and whores; and finally, an offer of employment from cousin Carl Lämmle—in America, Laemmle—head of the Universal Film Manufacturing Company. His film career began in New York, toting interoffice memos and cans of film, but he and fellow expatriate Paul Kohner soon established Universal’s foreign-language publicity service translating into German and French publicity stories written in the Hollywood offices and, when necessary, making up their own.

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Review: Blazing Saddles

[Originally published in Movietone News 32, June 1974]

The first wave of reviews said it was hilarious; the second, that it wasn’t that funny. I caught it on the third wave and it was almost that funny—assuming, that is, that you have a stomach for unrelenting bad taste, dirty jokes, and goodnatured, let’s-be-egalitarian-and-offend-everybody racist references. That wasn’t structured as a putdown—I have one of those stomachs myself. But halfway through Blazing Saddles I suddenly realized I’d guffawed good and hard at quite a few things along the way, but I could call almost none of them to mind. Like Friedkin and Blatty in their department, Mel Brooks tends to shock and run. I’d probably laugh a second time at Slim Pickens’s riding up and demanding “Whut in th’ wide wide world uh sports is goin’ on here?!” because, although it’s a dumb joke, it and Pickens were both funny the first time and Pickens would still be delightful the second. I wouldn’t be caved in a second time when John Hillerman pretentiously invokes Nietzsche and David Huddleston responds, “Ah, blow it out your ass, Howard!” with a ten-gallon scowl, because that gag lacks even the whimsy of “wide wide world of sports” and depends purely on surprise to work at all. Both Hillerman and Huddleston have done fine comic turns in the past (for Bogdanovich in What’s Up, Doc? and Newman-Benton in Bad Company, respectively; and there was also Hillerman’s truly menacing job as the sheriff—and his bootlegger brother—in Paper Moon), but Brooks encourages them to turn in only the broadest, most insubstantial, TV-variety-sketch performances.

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Review: The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

[originally published in The Weekly, November 9, 1983]

The Right Stuff is the biggest, brightest, busiest movie of the year, exhilarating in its largeness of spirit, in the sheer physical scope of its achievement, and in the breadth and complexity of its ambitions. It’s also an exasperatingly difficult film to review, for its strengths and weaknesses frequently lie side-by-each, and although the former far outweigh the latter, both must be acknowledged.

Anyone setting out to make a film from Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff faces an awesome challenge: how to take 16 years’ worth of aviation history teeming with event, detail, character, and information, and shape it into a coherent, let alone an engrossing, movie. In this, writer-director Philip Kaufman has stunningly succeeded. Against all odds, unintimidated by the shifting currents of history and changing fashions in American heroism, his Right Stuff rushes along a breathlessly clear narrative line for 3 hours and 13 minutes. It’s a joyride with substance, the sort of experience that leaves even classy kiddie-kar entertainments like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi looking trivial by comparison.

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Program note: Make Way for Tomorrow

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

[promotion for a July 13, 1974 Seattle Film Society showing]

LEO McCAREY (1898–1969) is primarily remembered as a director of comedies. He won his two directorial Oscars for The Awful Truth (1937) and Going My Way (1944), and he guided some of the onscreen shenanigans of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Mae West, W.C. Fields, Harold Lloyd, and Eddie Cantor, as well as comic actors like Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers, Barry Fitzgerald, and Frank McHugh. If, like me, you are bothered by the idea that a man could win an Oscar for Best Direction with a film that opens with a stock shot (a tugboat putting across New York Harbor in The Awful Truth—and in the next year’s Holiday, directed by George Cukor), you may wonder what qualifies Leo McCarey as a tenant of the Far Side of Paradise in Andrew Sarris’s The American Cinema. For it is not visual authority that distinguishes his work. (For that matter, how much great screen comedy makes you think of “visual style” at all?) But that work is distinguished, and it is distinguished as director’s cinema, not screenwriter’s cinema or—though the actors are frequently superb—actor’s cinema.

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Review: The Midnight Man

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

The most interesting thing about The Midnight Man is the fact that it was co-written for the screen, co-produced, and co-directed by a writer and a movie star. The fact, not any of the results or even the vagrant peculiar tensions one might expect to discern in such a collaboration. The film lacks visual distinction; the best thing to be said on that score is that both directors have avoided a customary failing of unpracticed metteurs-en-scène, tucking the camera behind chair backs or putting it through flashy but pointless paces. The cast is large and, as a list of names, interesting; but no performance is free of the taint of indecisiveness, an irritating incompleteness that has more to do with the players’ insecurity than any of the characters. The screenplay serves up a complicated plot, but it is the complication of desultory narrative lines that cohabitate without cohering; far from suggesting a writer seizing the opportunity to realize a cherished ambition, it seems like nothing so much as a Metro committee job sent back for readjustment alter readjustment by a dozen different writers who never met except maybe accidentally in the commissary.

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Review: Le Sex Shop

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

It must be a mark of our starving hunger for foreign films that Le Sex Shop has garnered such generous notices. Certainly this unassuming mixture of marital comedy and social satire deserves the benefit of the doubt, at least when shown in the dubbed version exhibited locally: the soundtrack seems full of dead air even when people are speaking, and of course there’s just no way for the unique intonations of a Jean-Paul Marielle to survive transliteration, let alone transvocalization. Marielle’s balding, swinging dentist is the best thing about the movie but, dubbed, he’s only about half a good thing. He’s one of a number of sexual eccentrics who cross the path of a petit bourgeois—played by the director himself in a role apparently carrying over from Marry Me, Marry Me—after he converts his unsuccessful bookshop into a thriving porn parlor. The nebbish soon gets caught up in the pursuit of erotic satiety, only about half against his will, and by film’s end he can get off only by having his wife describe a lascivious encounter with the dentist that never happened and that, just maybe, he knows never happened.

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Review: The Pedestrian

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

No one can accuse Maximilian Schell of being unaware of the possibilities of visual form in the cinema—or rather, that visual form can have something to do with discovering and elucidating Truth. His earnest direction of The Pedestrian comes much nearer some sort of expressiveness than Rolf Nölte’s treatment of The Castle, which Schell co-adapted and -produced with Nölte, and starred in, a few years ago. Close, but kein Zigarr. For The Pedestrian is more portentous than profound, framing between two episodes of soft-focus—or lost-focus—scrutiny of hazily symbolical fossils an attempt at moral self-scrutiny, of a powerful German industrialist and, by not very tentative extension, his country.

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Review: Ran

Ran

[Originally published in The Weekly, December 25, 1985]

Somewhere in the 16th-century Japan of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran, four horsemen—a warlord and his three sons—sit atop a hill, each facing a different point of the compass. The world spreads below them and, in Kurosawa’s high-angled, space-collapsing telephoto compositions, above them, too. The surrounding vastness of hill and vale is like a great green wave, at once the measure of the horsemen’s noble sway and a trembling surge, perhaps only momentarily arrested, that might break over them at any time.

When the poet-hero of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, his creativity straitjacketed by easy popularity, approached an old mentor for advice, the sage’s response was brutally succinct: “Astonish us!” Cocteau’s poet was a man in his prime; Akira Kurosawa is 75 years of age. Yet with his new film Ran, this magisterial motion picture director, universally and rather complacently accorded the status of old master for more years than most of us can remember, has usurped the prerogative of young geniuses in the arts: He astonishes us, and then astonishes again, and again.

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Video: Framing Pictures – March 2016

Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, and Bruce Reid sat down at the Scarecrow Video screening room on March 11, 2016 to discuss talk Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick, and remember Vilmos Zsigmond (1930-2016), cinematographer on McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Seattle-shot favorite Cinderella Liberty, and more recently TV’s The Mindy Project, and French filmmaker Jacques Rivette.

The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now showing on cable and streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.

Review: The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]

The very title is evocative of Yasujiro Ozu’s style, interests, and attitude: in the simple but scarcely negligible pleasure of a most ordinary dish, the unpretentious character and self-integrity of the protagonist is defined, and by the end of the film his hifalutin spouse has come not only to accept but also to value him for that quality—and even to share, albeit timorously, his satisfaction in slurping audibly as he consumes the rice in the privacy of a late-night snack at home. The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice enjoyed its local premiere one recent summer afternoon thanks to a cultural studies program in the University of Washington’s Far East Department.

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Video: Framing Pictures – February 2016

Film critics and Parallax View partners Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, and Kathleen Murphy gathered at the Scarecrow Video screening room on February 11, 2016 to discuss the TV series American Crime, grapple with the politics of awards shows, and celebrate the Coen Brothers with a discussion about the subtleties of Hail Caesar!

The Seattle Channel was there to record the event. It is now streaming via their website. Or you can see it here.

’69: A Good Year (for movies…)

Rummaging in cartons on the top floor of our house—a process that has gone and will go on for years—I recently found two crumbling pieces of newsprint that mark, among other things, the beginning of what became “Moments out of Time.” The “Moments” stuff comes at the end, the entries for any given film clumped together. Only a few anticipate the way such things would be composed in later years. Still, I’d like to enter them into the Parallax View record.

While I’m at it, please indulge the year-end remarks which precede them. (The venue was the counterculture weekly Helix, which expired not long afterward.) Seattle film year 1969 was a remarkably rich time, not least for the fact that it included some local and/or personal premieres from the preceding five decades of cinema. And happily coincident with a landmark restoration this current film year is my top choice for 1969, the year it first played in the greater Seattle area. —RTJ

[Originally published in Helix, January 15, 1970]

’69: A GOOD YEAR (for movies…)
by Dick Jameson

It’s a few minutes past Ten Best time again, and while I’m usually champing at the bit preparing tentative lists as early as November, this year I held off. Not that movies were less interesting in Seattle in 1969. Movies were too interesting. Trying to cull ten titles out of the wealth of fine films making their first appearance in Seattle last year is a hellish prospect, and maybe a leetle bit impossible.

So I sympathize with Johns Hartl and Voorhees of the Times, who made it easier on themselves by limiting eligibility only to released-in-1969 pictures. That does make things a lot easier; I can manage that standing on one hand:

1. TRUE GRIT (Henry Hathaway)
2. THE WILD BUNCH (Sam Peckinpah)
3. STOLEN KISSES (François Truffaut)
4. IF… (Lindsay Anderson)
5. BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE (Paul Mazursky)
6. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (John Schlesinger)
7. CASTLE KEEP (Sydney Pollack)
8. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (Sergio Leone)
9. A WALK WITH LOVE AND DEATH (John Huston)
10. I AM CURIOUS—YELLOW (Vilgot Sjoman)

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Moments Out Of Time 2015

‘It Follows’

It Follows: A classroom reading of “Prufrock”—”and in short I was afraid”; old woman seen slowly approaching across schoolyard…
• In Bridge of Spies, Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) instructing CIA man Hoffman (Scott Shepherd) on what makes them Americans: “the rule book”…
• The head-scratching guys, Spotlight: Marty (Michael Keaton) post-golf and Mike (Mark Ruffalo) post-run, beginning to have a sense of how big the story might get…
• Indian stepping straight out of dark screen into firelight, The Revenant
Timbuktu: walking through haze glare of sun while getting away from the suddenly dead Amadou…
Carol: steam off the road caught in headlights at night…
• A fetal form curled up in bright green grass, the little boy (Jacob Tremblay) who has just fallen out of his Room into a great ocean of world…
• An exquisitely manufactured Eve (Alicia Vikander) contemplates iterations of her own visage, displayed on her creator’s wall in Ex Machina….
• Tour-de-force directing and acting in Clouds of Sils Maria: Maria (Juliet Binoche) running lines with Valentine (Kristen Stewart), the two slipping back and forth between the dynamics of the script and their relationship, between roleplaying in and for Oliver Assayas’s movie and acting out as themselves…
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