Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Trouble in Mind

[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 Trouble in Mind, 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 Choose Me with the fleetness and wit of Songwriter. That opinion may be disputed. What no one will dispute is that Trouble in Mind makes more exciting use of Seattle as a movie location than any other film ever shot here.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, lists

Moments Out of Time 2019

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…

Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers in It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Under the Volcano

[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, Under the Volcano

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 Under the Volcano. 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 Waste Land for the generation after T.S. Eliot. (Lowry worked on the book from 1938 through 1946.)

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Essays, Film Reviews

Chasing the Hat

[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.”

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, lists

Moments Out of Time 2018

Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films

* At the movies, Roma: German slapstick on screen in deep distance, a pair of lovers in closeup silhouette in left of frame, gray ranks of anonymous filmgoers in between. The space is familiar, auspicious, yet somehow fraught. Camera does not move, but things come undone….
* “I felt like I was Jacob wrestling all night long with the angel, fighting in the grasp. Every sentence, every question, every response a mortal struggle. It was exhilarating.” Rev. Toller (Ethan Hawke), First Reformed…
* Leave No Trace
: the myriad intonations and valences Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie can get into “Dad”…
* Pirandellian rewrite: At the outset of The Other Side of the Wind—begun 1970, completed 2018—Peter Bogdanovich speaks with old-age voice….
* The Death of Stalin: body tumbling down stairs in background as Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale) makes his rounds…
* Hereditary: rooms that suggest dollhouse miniatures, and may be…
* Filial love in You Were Never Really Here: Joe’s honk honk honk mock hammering of Mom; Joaquin Phoenix and Judith Roberts
* The endless, obscuring, occasionally decapitating frames of civilization in Zama; maddening protocols and deflections…
* The Old Man and the Gun: Forrest/Robert Redford’s “yeah it’s for real” shrug after slipping note to bank teller…
* The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: the Wingless Thrush (Harry Melling) catching snowflakes in his mouth…
* Lisa (Regina Hall) almost falling asleep in the midday sun—Support the Girls…
* Widows: Dog in arms blinks as Veronica (Viola Davis) enters husband’s workshop….
* If Beale Street Could Talk: moving “furniture” in the loft…
* Bohemian Rhapsody: cats in window watching Freddie’s limo leave for the concert…
* Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) petting a rabbit while having her hair brushed—The Favourite…
* Michael Myers mask rising out of car trunk—Halloween…
* Border: yearning through windowglass—werewolves in love?…
* A Quiet Place: Creature that can’t see and one who can’t hear pass in the night….
* “Being dead” up on the roof, Roma…
* “Go for a cruise,” the horseman proposes, and his steed breaks into fluid glide, camera tracking right along. Brady Jandreau, The Rider

 

Brady Jandreau in The Rider

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Return to Paradise

[Originally written for Amazon in 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

In Malaysia, three young Americans with little else in common are united in a shared enthusiasm for beer, women, and righteous hashish. Eventually, “Sheriff” (Vince Vaughn) and Tony (David Conrad) head back to New York. Lewis (Joaquin Phoenix), a spacey but good-hearted sort, stays on with the notion of helping save the orangutans. Two years later, a brassy lawyer (Anne Heche) shows up in Manhattan with the news that her client, Lewis, has spent the interim in Penang prison. Arrested for a prankish misdemeanor they all shared in, he’s taking the rap for something worse:the dope stash they left him holding was a fatal few grams over the limit. Unless his fellow Americans return voluntarily to (literally) share the weight, in eight days Lewis will be hanged as a drug trafficker.

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Posted in: Bernardo Bertolucci, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Essays

Bernard Bertolucci’s ‘Partner’

[originally written for NoShame Films, August 27, 2005]

Our subject is primarily life, but if you feel that life’s missing something, steal a camera and try to give life a style.

Partner, Bernardo Bertolucci’s third feature film, has always been one of the most elusive of the director’s endeavors: a forthrightly experimental work—”a film that comes from the head,” in Bertolucci’s own phrase, “a totally deconstructed film”—that willfully declines to satisfy audiences’ conventional expectations regarding narrative and emotional identification with characters. Nominally based on the Dostoevsky novella The Double, the movie centers on—and largely transpires in the imagination of—a rather priggish young drama teacher in Rome played by Pierre Clémenti. Clémenti also plays the wilder, looser alter ego who begins to share the teacher’s life and, to an extent, identity; both go by the name of Giacobbe (or Jacob, in English-language commentaries).

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Posted in: Bernardo Bertolucci, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews

Chained for life: Bertolucci regrets rien in ‘The Dreamers’

[Originally written for Queen Anne/Magnolia News, 2004]

There is a moment in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution when the protagonist, the scion of an Italian noble family, learns that a friend has taken his own life. He had been speaking with the young man only hours before and declined his fervent proposal that they go again to see Howard Hawks’s Red River. Bertolucci cranes up and backs off from his hero; then his camera pivots on the young man’s figure, slowly describing 90 degrees of arc around him as he looks out at a changed world.

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Posted in: Bernardo Bertolucci, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews

Review: Luna

[Originally published in The Weekly (Seattle), October 30, 1979]

Cinema comes so naturally to some filmmakers. Bernardo Bertolucci once revealed that he dreamed camera movements years before laying hands on a camera. But even without this confessional nudge, his aptitude for the medium, his kinesthetic thrall with luminosity, surfaces, colors, trajectories, is apparent in the films he has made. Opera has been a frequent touchstone in his work, existentially and aesthetically, but he doesn’t need it as a brief for grandiosity or vividness of style: it is as natural for Bertolucci to soar as it is for others to walk.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Firelight

[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, September 4, 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

 “What is it about this house? The moment I walk in, I want to kill myself.” The speaker (that entertaining old blusterer Joss Ackland) is not an important character in Firelight, and he’s half-kidding, but we take his point. The Goodwin estate, somewhere in the mid-nineteenth-century English countryside, is a pretty glum place. Nobody ever looks comfortable, or even at home there. The master of the house (Stephen Dillane) even hazards a joke about it: “All these huge rooms and we live our lives within three feet of the fire.” But then, that’s because screenwriter and first-time director William Nicholson has determined that no scene in the movie should lack a visual—and almost always verbally underscored—reference to his movie’s title and wishfully poetic central image. 

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