Richard T. Jameson has been editor of Movietone News (1971-81) and Film Comment (1990-2000) magazines, as well as Seattle’s Queen Anne News (2003-07). A member of the National Society of Film Critics since 1980, he edited the NSFC's 1994 anthology They Went Thataway: Redefining Film Genres.
Neil LaBute didn’t write his latest feature film (John C. Richards and James Flamberg did), and when we consider how tunnel-visioned were In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, that immediately seems a healthy and liberating thing. And so it is. But the longer one watches Nurse Betty, the more the picture seems like essential LaBute — a study in obsessiveness and solipsism, but newly informed with a nutty generosity and an openness to the possibility of other points of view in the world.
The great pleasure of Cannes is having no idea what you’re going to see, and knowing that you’re about to be one of the first in the world to see it. When the picture turns out to be absolutely extraordinary — a stylistically exhilarating vision that also sweeps up the entire 2,400-strong audience in the Salle Lumière in its emotional embrace — one’s first impulse is to wish the same experience for audiences around the world. In short, you don’t want to tell anybody about it, don’t want to foreclose their pleasure of discovery in any way. You just want to say, “When you have the chance, go!”
The first weekend of the 53rd Cannes Film Festival couldn’t have dawned more auspiciously. The Coen brothers are back with their first movie of the millennium and it’s a doozy. Taking their title from a maudlin catchphrase of the Great Depression—and from the mock-allegory with which Preston Sturges’s 1942 classic Sullivan’s Travels began—they’ve come up (again) with a complete original: a hilarious lowbrow comedy that only highbrows could have made, filled with an exultant sense of how big and startling and beautiful the pleasures of movies can be.
There’s a 1948 movie with the wonderful title Night Has a Thousand Eyes. What beauty, mystery, and resonance that promises — not even considering that the film’s cast included lambent-eyed Gail Russell, who elsewhere inspired Ray Milland to compose “Stella by Starlight.” How regrettable that the movie isn’t very good. And yet that title. A few decades back in the previous millennium some enterprising New Yorkers borrowed part of it for a lively movie journal, The Thousand Eyes. If they hadn’t, it’s doubtful Parallax View would have hit upon 2000 Eyes as the name for our project commencing this Friday — a lookback twenty years to the dawn of this millennium, to remind ourselves what movies were coming out that year and what we wrote about them.
You could say — all right, we could say — that this collaborative action is a quest for beauty, mystery, and resonance we didn’t necessarily recognize while living out the year. But we needn’t be so hi-falutin. The reviews to be posted here Monday, Wednesday, and Friday over the next few months encompass first-time sightings of classics-to-be, and of some films that two intervening decades have effectively confirmed as great. There are also first sightings of pictures no one has given a second thought, and not without reason. Yet being reminded of the movies in the latter category, their sensations, derelictions, and sometimes woeful shortfall, is almost as worthwhile as nodding respectfully before the crowning achievements. They were part of the texture of filmmaking and filmgoing in 2000 A.D., part of our lives.
All these reviews are contemporaneous; nothing newly written, apart from the occasional 2020 afterword. All were composed or dashed off innocent of any awareness that Gladiator, for instance, was going to be in contention for a slew of Academy Awards and win the big one, or that Alejandro González Iñárritu, neophyte director of Amores Perros, would emerge as a master of both intimate art cinema and the Hollywood epic. That’s refreshing. What’s just as satisfying is to stumble across in-passing mention of a new performer, more often than not in a subsidiary role, whom we now take for granted as a mainstay of screen acting (Peter Mullan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright, to name three); or to be reminded of the career window within which certain previously respected players were, let’s say, finding it a challenge to be taken seriously. In a related phenomenon, casual, in-the-moment references to social or pop-cultural events or trends everyone was plugged into now verge on mystifying (totally mystifying for anyone born since our landmark year). How did that ever get to be ephemeral?
We’ve enjoyed resurrecting these reports on the passing movie scene, as witnessed by 2000 eyes. We hope you enjoy reading them.
As you’ve probably heard by now, Brian Dennehy recently passed away, age 81. I always liked him. Here’s a 1996 cinebio no one got to read (no mention of his Broadway triumph as Willie Loman, just around the corner), and I hope not far away you’ll find a 1985 Film Comment piece I wrote about Silverado. I won’t pretend it’s about Brian Dennehy, but in it as in the movie, he looms large. —RTJ
Birth: July 9, 1939; Bridgeport, Connecticut Education: Columbia and Yale
Bearlike, silver-haired actor whose grin may betoken shrewdness, affability, or menace, Brian Dennehy shaped up as one of the premier character actors of the 1980s. In the Marines, he was the radio voice of Dear America from Vietnam in 1965–66, after which he returned to postgraduate study, odd jobs, and then roles Off- and on Broadway; his big break came with David Rabe’s barrack-room drama Streamers. Making his film debut as a dumb, inadvertently dangerous footballer in Semi-Tough (1977), he worked steadily in films and television—perhaps most impressively, in Michael Mann’s TV-movie The Jericho Mile (1979) and as Don the Mazatlán bartender who listens so well to Dudley Moore in Blake Edwards’s ‘10’ (1979). And he really should have had a 1985 supporting actor Oscar for either Walter, the leader of the benign extraterrestrials in Cocoon, or Cobb, the amiable villain who just about steals Silverado from an all-star cast. He wasn’t even nominated, and starring roles in The Check Is in the Mail (1985), F/X (1986), and The Last of the Finest (1990) got him nowhere. Peter Greenaway tapped him for the blustering lead of his art film The Belly of an Architect (1987), which brought Dennehy a Chicago Film Festival award as best actor. But Dennehy is a cagey pro and he knew in his belly where his best chance lay: in television, where he has reigned as king of the TV-movie and miniseries since 1990. His performance in 1993’s Foreign Affairs, opposite Joanne Woodward, won him a Cable ACE award.
This is the uncut version of a piece I wrote for the September 1985 Film Comment. Richard Corliss didn’t normally cut my stuff, but as usual I had written late and long, and at the last minute he needed to cede some space to the ads. —RTJ
I said I liked Silverado and the editor said mostly he didn’t. I said it had given me a grand time; he grumbled something about structural problems. I allowed as how it bordered on the miraculous that some wised-up, thoroughly contemporary filmmakers had managed to rediscover the pleasures of the pure Western without parodying, tarting up, or otherwise condescending to the genre. He said he only liked Westerns that transcended the genre, and as far as he was concerned the genre needed all the transcending it could get. I said, “I like Westerns. I grew up with Westerns!” He chuckled, pleasantly: “Ken Maynard?” “Among others.” That put the discussion on hold for about two weeks.
Well, I did grow up with Westerns — Jack Randall and Hopalong Cassidy on Saturday-afternoon TV, occasional Technicolor excursions with Audie Murphy, Alan Ladd, Jimmy Stewart at the moviehouse. Something other than nostalgia accounts for my continuing fondness for those youthful experiences. Some of those Westerns would turn out years later to be films de Anthony Mann or “the George Stevens classic, Shane“; others would recede in the memory as simply movies with Audie Murphy or Jack Randall in them. Cumulatively, all left their mark. In some fundamental ways, my pleasure in the ultrastylized look, movements, and behaviors of Westerns shaped my sense of what movies at large ought to be, what sorts of texture, ritual, and discovery we should require of them.
[originally published in The Weekly, March 26, 1986]
“When I wrote the script it was never as exotic. It was more a straightforward kind of movie. Which it still is. It just takes longer to get straight.”
That’s Alan Rudolph talking about his movie TroubleinMind, which he wrote “with Seattle in mind” and shot here a year ago this month. How well you take to its exoticism and how patiently you wait for the straightforwardness to assert itself will depend on your tolerance of, or enthusiasm for, Rudolph’s highly stylized brand of filmmaking. I happen to consider him one of the most dynamic, and certainly most distinctive, of modern American filmmakers, and find that his latest feature combines the haunt and vibrancy of ChooseMe with the fleetness and wit of Songwriter. That opinion may be disputed. What no one will dispute is that TroubleinMind makes more exciting use of Seattle as a movie location than any other film ever shot here.
Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films
* Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), on the roof to repair Rick’s TV antenna, leans into the California sun and the music Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is playing in the nearby house. Once upon a Time…in Hollywood… * “Now is not the time to not say.” Angelo Bruno (Harvey Keitel) to Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), The Irishman… * Joker: Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) meets gaze of clown in passing taxicab…. * Marriage Story: the Invisible Man watching a horror movie on TV… * Richard Jewell: “Why did Tom Brokaw say that about you?” Bobi Jewell (Kathy Bates) to person-of-interest son (Paul Walter Hauser)… * It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Minute of silence in Chinese restaurant; Mister Rogers (Tom Hanks) looking us in the eye…
[Originally published in The Weekly, July 8, 1984]
Ah, the past has filled up quicker than we know, and God has little patience with remorse.
—Malcolm Lowry, UndertheVolcano
Adapt a novel of consequence to the screen and you’ll damn well answer for it. At best, your pride of achievement will have, quite properly, to be shared with the author of the original work. At worst, you will be taken to task, by those who cherish the book, for any deviation from it. In the muddled middle range of opinion, reviewers can sound learned and play it safe at the same time by suggesting that, honorable and sporadically admirable as your adaptation may be, it somehow misses the essential imaginative core of the artistic experience. It isn’t …well, heck, it isn’t the novel.
This problem becomes tetchier still with a novel so relentlessly novel-ish as Malcolm Lowry’s UndertheVolcano. The main portion of Lowry’s book, dealing with the drunken peregrinations of the ex–British Consul in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on the Day of the Dead 1938, is tacitly a flashback. It’s also a dense, roiling stream-of-consciousness piece with both the hyperclarity and level-shifting instability of a fever dream. Symbols and allusions—cultural, literary, historical, geographical, political—pile up to create a veritable poetic and spiritual analogue of Western consciousness, an updated WasteLand for the generation after T.S. Eliot. (Lowry worked on the book from 1938 through 1946.)
[This article first appeared in the September-October 1990 issue of Film Comment. It was reprinted in the National Society of Film Critics anthology They Went Thataway: Redefining Film Genres (1995).]
Ice dropping into a heavy-bottomed glass: cold, hard, sensuous. The first image in Miller’s Crossing hits our ears before it hits the screen, but it’s nonetheless an image for that. Tom Reagan (Gabriel Byrne) has traveled the length of a room to build a drink. Not that we saw him in transit, not that we yet know he is Tom Reagan, and not that we see him clearly now as he turns and stalks back up the room, a silent, out-of-focus enigma at the edge of someone else’s closeup. Yet he is a story walking, as his deliberate, tangential progress, from background to middle distance and then out the side of the frame, is also a story – draining authority from the close-up Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito) who’s come to insist, ironically enough, on the recognition of his territorial rights.
The place is a story, too, which we read as the scene unfolds. A private office; not Caspar’s, but not Reagan’s either – it’s city boss Liam “Leo” O’Bannion (Albert Finney) who sits behind the camera and his big desk, listening. An upstairs office, we know from the muted street traffic (without stopping to think about why we know). Night outside, but sunlight would never be welcome, or relevant, here. A masculine space, green lampshades amid the dark luster of wood, leather, whiskey. A remote train whistle sounds, functional and intrinsically forlorn; the distance from which it reaches us locates the office in space and in history. This room exists in a city big enough to support a multiplicity of criminal fiefdoms and a political machine that rules by maintaining the balance among them, yet it is still a town whose municipal core lies within faint earshot of its outskirts. Urban dreams of empire have not entirely crowded out the memory of wilderness, of implacable places roads and railroads can’t reach, even if one of them has been wishfully designated Miller’s Crossing. Hence we are not entirely surprised (though the aesthetic shock is deeply satisfying) when the opening master-scene, with its magisterial interior setting and dialogue fragrant with cross purpose, gives way to a silent (save for mournful Irish melody) credit sequence in an empty forest. And then to a title card announcing, almost superfluously, “An Eastern city in the United States, toward the end of the 1920s.”