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.
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.
[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.
Not that the setting is supposed to be Seattle. Rudolph calls his mythical location RainCity and, as one of the characters reads early in the film, “Above all, the city is a promise of something better—the faint perfume of tomorrow’s fortunes.” That phrase is less likely to have been written by a chamber-of-commerce flack than by a film critic with a deeply ingrained sense of what The City has meant in countless motion pictures about the loss of American innocence. RainCity is the city of film noir, a maze of rain-slicked streets all perversely aspiring to be alleys, of cafés and nightspots and timeless temporary rooms where furtive life hedges its bets and keeps an eye out for the main chance.
Rudolph himself notes that TroubleinMind‘s characters have been created “out of the movie myth more than the life myth.” The film gets under way with the hero’s release from prison. Hawk (Kris Kristofferson), a former police detective, has spent eight years inside for a vigilante killing. Back in the city, he holes up in a room over Wanda’s Café—Wanda (Geneviève Bujold) is a pal from the old days—and ponders his options. Become a sort of shadow agent for the police? Or sign on with Hilly Blue (Divine), chief mover and shaker of the RainCity underworld these days?
Then fate deals a wild card. Out of the piney woods come Coop (Keith Carradine), a brash young drifter, and Georgia (Lori Singer), the common-law wife he parks in a camper outside Wanda’s while he embarks on a new career in urban crime. Hawk takes one look at the blond waif with baby son in her arms, and our Bogartian hero’s a goner.
The elements of the story are familiar, but Rudolph weaves his own inimitable spell with them. The characters’ trajectories keep crossing, and glancing off one another, according to a cockeyed choreography that speaks to an appreciation of mood, place, and emotional imperatives over the mechanics of plotmaking. Film noir, with its penchant for the ritualized intercourse of strangers and its air of stories that pass in the night, is after all a natural stomping ground for the writer-director of ChooseMe, that mating dance of love-seekers beguiled into aesthetic and emotional synchronicity.
ChooseMe made sad, unexpectedly sweet comedy out of the elements of despair; in its more sardonic way, TroubleinMind is also a comedy. Its passages of real or potential violence tend to leap into hysterical slapstick. Thieves and fences pull guns over a Chinese dinner; the convergence of emotional itineraries in Wanda’s Café leads to a flailing punchup and giddy verbal crossfire. On a more sober level, irony and goofiness keep swapping valences: Hawk’s fixation on the bucolic airhead Georgia at once signals that he has begun to “get some heart,” as Wanda once ruefully advised him, and proves his undoing at several levels of absurdity.
In some ways, TroubleinMind represents a slight falling-off for Rudolph. Although the possibility of death runs riot in this movie, there never seems to be quite as much at stake as there was in the much less sanguinary ChooseMe. Some of the comedy is just exasperatingly silly (especially when John Considine, an old comrade from Rudolph’s apprenticeship with Robert Altman, turns up as a gangster rival of Hilly Blue’s), and Lori Singer’s wood sprite, for all her efforts to suggest a kind of animal innocence and purity, mostly comes off as a poor-man’s Daryl Hannah.
But such weaknesses are far outweighed by the film’s myriad beauties. The fiercely ambivalent relationship of Wanda and Hawk is grounded on shared history the more evocative for our never quite knowing what that history was. Joe Morton, who played the silent black extraterrestrial in John Sayles’s TheBrother fromAnotherPlanet, limns a fascinating portrait of Solo, Coop’s lethal, aphoristic tutor in crime, who speaks in quasi-Oriental arboreal metaphors and sets a death trap with sharpened bamboo. (First approached by the jitterbug Coop in Wanda’s Café, he says, “Impatient, eh?” and makes two declarative sentences out of it.) Above all, there is Rudolph’s tirelessly inventive camera eye (abetted by cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita, making an auspicious debut), which stimulates and rewards the viewer’s own imagination with every adroitly selected angle and mythmaking movement of connection.
The narrative in no way insists on it, but this movie takes place in an environment entirely its own. There’s almost a science-fiction air to this world—”low-tech science fiction, emotional science fiction,” Rudolph is quick to qualify. The action appears to be taking place in the near future. There’s a militia parading in the streets; the bills we glimpse in Hilly Blue’s wallet at one point are multicolored, a visual cross between Canadian currency and Monopoly money; jurisdictions are discussed in terms of “sectors” rather than counties or states. Yet the silhouetted specters of uniformed men in a railway station, the lipstick and mannerisms of a diner waitress, the Forties cut of Hawk’s fresh-out-of-prison suit and black shirt, all lend a flavor of period piece—an acid flashback from the pre-acid past.
RainCity itself, though kissed with the bloody blush of neon, retains, like its real-life prototype, an atavistic memory that it was carved out of mountain and forest. Between criminal endeavors, Solo scribbles and murmurs a prose poem about “a dream of trees,” and after all the guns have gone off and the blood has been spilled, the film leaps exultantly to high country and cloud for a mysteriously beautiful coda.
I congratulated Rudolph on this ending, even as I noted, “I find it terribly moving, yet I really can’t say quite why.” He thanked me and confessed that he didn’t quite know why, either. Being unable to account for the beauty he’d created didn’t seem to bother him much. No reason why it should.
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…
* Tigers Are Not Afraid: goldfish in the river in the floor… * The Kims all smell the same—Parasite… * Playing off profiles at cliff’s edge—Portrait of a Lady on Fire… * Jojo Rabbit: seeing his mother’s shoes… * James Stacy’s (Timothy Olyphant) discreet look away as Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) repeatedly muffs a line; his diffidence both in character for the Lancer scene underway and a gesture of sympathy for fellow actor’s distress. Once upon a Time…in Hollywood… * A Hidden Life: Tyrolean rhapsody of opening sequence… * Permanent tsunami around Death Star, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker… * Heat haze obscuring most of port, Atlantics… * The Lighthouse: flash image, Willem Dafoe as lunatic Poseidon… * The downed plane from over the hill, 1917… * Steel chrysanthemums whirling down rainswept street, Shadow… * Parasite: the curvy hill street you go up to get to the Parks house… * Pain and Glory: Sitting in front of wall-size landscape photo in waiting room, Salvador (Antonio Banderas) looks up through skylight at tree branches…. * Ordering lunch at the lawyers’, Marriage Story… * Uncut Gems: folding aluminum foil around the late-night leftovers… * Dark Waters: cold-day sound of cord wood being chucked off a pickup… * The Art of Self-Defense: family raising car windows against assaultive heavy metal music… * The Irishman: Skinny Razor (Bobby Cannavale) tossing away a cigarette… * Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) stepping out from behind beach fire, Portrait of a Lady on Fire…
* Thready clouds moving above woman atop cliff, Midsommar… * In Little Women, light and sand drift as Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and Jo (Saoirse Ronan) speak of dying… * The Souvenir: the walk between the fields, with dogs… * Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) snatches Rey’s necklace long distance—Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker…. * Once upon a Time…in Hollywood: “Can’t ya do something about that heat?” “Rick, it’s a flamethrower.”… * Depraved: Accosted by monster, Asian investors go to their cellphones to video it…. * “I ain’t no hobo. I’m a repository of African American folklore.” Ron Cephas Jones as Rico, Dolemite Is My Name… * “Wallpaper’s chippin’. People are killin’ this house.” Jimmie’s face peering through frosted door, The Last Black Man in San Francisco… * Introduced to windowless workspace, Daniel Jones (Adam Driver) turns on desk lamp to see if bulb is good—The Report…. * Joker: camera moving, seemingly out of curiosity, after Arthur gets into fridge… * A Hidden Life: bike messenger passing on hillside, at once everyday and portentous… * Overheads of quiet suburban intersections, the interstate, byways—The Irishman… * In Richard Jewell, the almost subliminal image of Jewell passing across or nicking the corners of crowd shots at the Olympics… * Zhao Tao moving across deep backgrounds of a changing China—Ash Is Purest White… * The urban movie outside the Kims’ window—Parasite… * Once upon a Time…in Hollywood: Cliff driving, anywhere, anytime, either car…
* Walking Le Mans track in rain the night before, Ford v Ferrari… * Midsommar: inversion of car and highway, and passage into upside-down forest… * “If we start from a position of crazy”—Marriage Story… * For Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) returns to say another “I know”…. * “Shall we?” “Yes.” High Life… * “Am I dying?” “Yes, I think you are.” 1917… * “They’re burying me. I’m cold.” Tigers Are Not Afraid… * Breath on prison windowpane—A Hidden Life… * White sand feathering edges of undersea sinkhole—Sweetheart… * Once upon a Time…in Hollywood: Sharon’s blond hair blowing as Polanski (Rafal Zawieruchka) drives through the evening to the Playboy Mansion… * “‘I don’t want any Mickey Mousin’ on these grounds.’” Quoting the dean back to him, Richard Jewell… * “Mister Rogers knows my name!” Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson), It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood… * Craig Robinson launching into an exuberant “There’s Gotta Be a Morning After”—Dolemite Is My Name…
* Comical/Horrifying shout-out to “The Interview” in The Shining? First meeting with divorce attorney Jay Marotta (Ray Liotta), with daffily grinning associate (Kyle Bornheimer) as prop—Marriage Story… * The Nightingale: Arrant gunshot dusts aborigine (Baykali Ganambarr) with flour…. * Grieving woman and red windmill vanes, Domino… * Carrie Bufalino’s little gold cigarette pouch, The Irishman… * Joker: Robert De Niro’s entrance, as Murray Franklin, is compositional and sickly-TV-color match for Jerry Lewis/Jerry Langford’s in The King of Comedy….
* Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: Ben’s Harrison Ford-y gesture before taking up lightsaber against six Imperial Troopers… * Painter (Noémie Merlant) wearing green dress to study folds in mirror; exits; lower half of the lady to be painted (Adèle Haenel) steps into mirror frame. Portrait of a Lady on Fire… * Midsommar: dream image of an SUV wending through a village that might be medieval… * Pain and Glory: dream of dead friend, who looked the same, “except she was a mite transparent”… * Parasite: window a CinemaScope frame within CinemaScope frame, two families brawling and dogs run amok… * Rick’s game go at participating in the “Behind the Green Door” dance number, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood… * Jojo Rabbit: the kids’ bursting into dance at the end… * Imploring a dead man to breathe, Ad Astra… * Wounded hand plunged into rotten corpse, 1917… * Midwife’s baby touching Sophie’s face after abortion—Portrait of a Lady on Fire… * Little Women: Ecstatic, absurd, indomitable—the anarchic romp of Jo and Laurie (Timothée Chalamet) in the wintry chill outside the French doors as a staid cotillon unreels within… * Greta: dancing feet and the needle… * Fingers clasped against sky, A Hidden Life… * The Irishman: glancing at the door to the murder-house kitchen, after… * Us: comic shadows of family on sand as they cross the beach; an anticipatory clue, as it turns out… * Seabird feast, The Lighthouse… * “I wouldn’t expect too much from that cat.” Alan Alda sublime in Marriage Story… * The Art of Self-Defense: dog advised “I won’t be petting you anymore.”… * Midnight sun? “Oh fuck, I don’t like that!” Will Poulter in Midsommar… * Pain and Glory: “I don’t understand why they like me in Iceland.”… * Ash Is Purest White: Bin (Fan Liao) drops his gun while dancing to “YMCA”… * Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) reassuring Frank, in The Irishman: “‘Motherfucker’ didn’t apply to you!”… * Bruce Lee (Mike Moh): “Did I say something funny?” Cliff: “Yeah, ya kinda did.” Once upon a Time…in Hollywood… * Joker: Garish color design that comes to seem normal… * Tan bamboo roof introduces the first note of color into the filmworld of Shadow…. * Little Women: autumn backdrop to Jo and Laurie breaking up…
* Claire Mathon’s night paintings of Dakar, Atlantics… * Night run by flare light through hellish ruins—1917… * The Kims running through, and eventually on, torrential rain—Parasite… * Crawl: boating into and through flooded house… * Hauling out the dory, and the door opening behind—The Lighthouse… * Woman in white at end of hall, Portrait of a Lady on Fire… * The Souvenir: when she hears about the heroin… * Closing the gate that wouldn’t close—Marriage Story… * Queen & Slim: changing cars in foggy predawn… * Argument in snowfall, Dark Waters… * Cryogenic forest in space, High Life… * Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: In re: Storm Troopers: “They fly now.” “They fly now?” “They fly now.”… * “Simmer down there, hot sauce.” Watson (Sam Rockwell) to Nadya (Nina Arianda), Richard Jewell… * Manson (Damon Herriman) leaning past Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) to see Sharon—Once upon a Time…in Hollywood… * Us: “Family” at head of drive; kids break to the sides….
* Raccoon and Hulk on back of pickup, Avengers: Endgame… * The other Whispers, The Irishman… * Enchanting, shiveringly right music cues in Once upon a Time…in Hollywood: “Here’s to You, Mrs. Robinson” under the first exchange of looks between Cliff and Pussycat (Margaret Qualley); “The Circle Game” transition from Rick’s encounter with 8-year-old Trudi (Linda Butters) to Sharon happy in her car; “California Dreamin’” to set the capstone on February… * It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: closeup of “Daniel” rubbing his eyes… * Joker: Bleeding corpse and madman behind him, the midget (Leigh Gill) can’t reach the door lock…. * Clipboards for last words, A Hidden Life… * Retrieving ghost dragonfly with iPhone—Tigers Are Not Afraid… * Little Women: The second time the camera accompanies Jo downstairs to see who’s at the kitchen table…. * Uncut Gems: Actress in school play spits gold coins, eliciting an unfeigned “wow” from Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler)…. * In Fabric: clunking of pneumatic tube as fingers explore red cloth… * Face broken on rock, Midsommar… * “The pie makes it worse.”—Marriage Story… * Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci) emerging from behind frosted glass after Hoffa walks away—The Irishman… * Ocean waves seen through/melding with rippled glass windows—Atlantics…
* The Souvenir: “Please tell me what I’ve done”—deception/self-deception in a mirror frame, tiny in center of suddenly large-seeming screen… * 1917: the falls… * Masterclass in filmmaking and film imagining, screenwriting and editing, performance and choreography: Spahn Ranch, Once upon a Time…in Hollywood…. * “It makes me feel like a brown belt to wear this brown belt!”—The Art of Self-Defense… * Queen & Slim: the second dance, after “I think we’re safe here”… * Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) at the window—Us… * The stillness at the core of Jimmie Fails, The Last Black Man in San Francisco… * Bobi’s Tupperware returned—Richard Jewell… * It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Episode finished, the movement from Mister Rogers exiting the back door, passing the monitor, and sitting at the piano as the crew shuts down for the day. Then he plays that chord… * “I’m going there to see my Mother…” Soldier boys in a grove listening to a mate sing “Wayfaring Stranger,” 1917… * Adam Driver, “Being Alive,” Marriage Story…
* Address inked on Frank’s palm, The Irishman… * Sunstroke, Pain and Glory… * The last smile, Transit… * Pirandellian grace notes: the sadness of the late Bruno Ganz leaking through his A Hidden Life role as the judge who must pronounce a death sentence; in Once upon a Time…in Hollywood, Jim Stacy’s casual departure, by motorcycle, at the end of a workday; and moments earlier, Luke Perry, unexpected ghost… * At the climax of 1917, more than one charging soldier crashing crossways into Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay), and vice versa… * For the last time? On Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the trapezoidal crawl preparing us to drop in medias res… * Dark Waters: Bill Camp’s utter inhabitation of a West Virginia farmer (though I knew this guy in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania)… * Midsommar: Mesmerizing tradeoff of graphic images for three-dimensional space, landscape master shots for subjective closeups, interior life for assimilation in an inscrutable epic… * Marriage Story: tying the shoelace… * “It’s what it is.” The Irishman… * One more music cue, the best for last. As benediction at the end of his Once upon a Time…in Hollywood, Tarantino summons Maurice Jarre’s theme for the John Huston-John Milius The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. That film’s epigraph: “Maybe this isn’t the way it was … it’s the way it should have been.”
Welcome 2020 with one last look back at the best releases of 2019, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends.
(In reverse alphabetical order by contributor)
Richard T. Jameson
1. Once upon a Time … in Hollywood
2. The Irishman
3. Marriage Story
4. Little Women
6. Richard Jewell
7. A Hidden Life
10. Pain and Glory / Parasite
A few steps behind, in alphabetical order:
1917, The Art of Self-Defense, The Dead Don’t Die, Dragged Across Concrete, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Joker, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Lighthouse, The Nightingale, The Souvenir, Uncut Gems
[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.”
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 honkhonk 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…
* “Shoot her before him and make sure he sees it.” Beria’s instructions for disposition of politically superfluous married couple—The Death of Stalin… * Recurrently in First Reformed, the sound of footsteps on bare wooden floors. Such sense of place, community, ethos… * Private Life punctiliousness: “The seltzer comes from one place, the syrup from somewhere else.”… * Blake Lively to Anna Kendrick post-sudden-kiss, A Simple Favor: “You’re OK. You wanna order pizza?”… * The Little Drummer Girl: in mid-interrogation, need 50p to turn lights on again… * The Favourite: “Must the duck be here?”… * Film freak: “I’m Marvin P. Fassbinder!” Jake Hannaford/John Huston: “Of course you are.” The Other Side of the Wind… * Bad Times at the El Royale: Far across rainswept parking lot, Jon Hamm’s glasses reflect lightning…. * Small plane like a dragonfly over arctic waste, Hold the Dark… * November, an Estonian ghost story: flying skull carries cow over treetops… * The reservoir and what might be in it—Burning… * Dying man singing along to ambient music; his killer lying down beside him and joining in—You Were Never ReallyHere… * Hereditary: papers blowing out through backseat window just before … you know… * Bird Box: Woman steps into blazing car and takes her seat…. * Les Affames/Ravenous: cow eating lawn along suburban street… * Zama: squeak of native-operated wood fan behind ambiguous flirtation… * Candles on railing of borrowed porch, Leave No Trace… * BlacKkKlansman: Flip (Adam Driver) and other cops turning as they hear Ron (John David Washington) on the phone listing all the types of nonwhite Americans he hates… * Motherhood is hard. “I am so sick of that face on your face!” Toni Collette, Hereditary… * “So grandma only wanted their money, not me?” Could be, kid. Then again, what’s family anyway? Shoplifters…
* Roma: Seriously stressed Galaxie pulls into frame below Aztec entablature…. * All the good doctors in Moscow having been liquidated, how to get medical assistance for Stalin? Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi) rationalizes: “If he recovers, then we got a good doctor, and if he doesn’t recover, then we didn’t, but he won’t know!” The Death of Stalin settles that…. * Night Eats the World: man contemplates suicide, nods off, accidentally discharges shotgun in his sleep…. * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: creak of Leone windmill that isn’t there… * Gray church, gray sky, gray dusk—First Reformed… * The Old Man and the Gun: Forrest, horseback on hilltop, watching caravan of cop cars on road below… * Torch-bearing riders spread into the night, The Favourite…. * Pact under red umbrella, If Beale Street Could Talk… * “I can take fuckin’ up all day but I can’t take not trying”—Support the Girls values… * The Sisters Brothers: riding through cemetery of discarded luggage on seashore… * A scattering of rocks in a green graveyard: rough memorials for Border’s deformed dead… * The Rider: Cat Clifford’s talking prayer by campfire… * The food no one ever gets to eat in You Were Never ReallyHere, until someone does… * “Kentucky Fried Chicken—in Kentucky! When’s that gonna happen?” Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) open to delight, Green Book… * Llama kibitzes at dashing of Zama’s (Daniel Giménez Cacho) hopes…
* Vigil in rain with two geese—Happy as Lazzaro… * The grandmother at the beach, setting about dying. The late Kirin Kiki, Shoplifters… * John Carroll, Norman Foster, Tonio Selwart; shades tenderly at large in The Other Side of the Wind… * Burning: The bewitching Haemi (Jun Jong-seo) slips out of her shirt to dance in the warm light of a setting sun; two young men watch (Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun), curiously impassive…. * The towering blond distraction of Elizabeth Debicki, Widows… * Kayli Carter’s misconstrued “OK,” Private Life. (Watch this young actress. And, to be sure, Thomasin McKenzie.)… * The Favourite: Emma Stone’s imposing lexicon of sniffles, snorts, head wags… * Zoe Kazan as Miss Longabaugh … Has Sarah Vowell seen The Ballad of Buster Scruggs?… * Cabiria-like, the unsought power to balance on one foot: Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio) at the martial arts field, Roma… * Night run through corn shocks, A Quiet Place… * Leave No Trace: Truck driver (Art Hickman) who has to know he’s doing the right thing… * The Armstrongs’ laughter at “kinda neat,” First Man… * Touching the nose, A Star Is Born… * Ants crawling over head as oblivious motorists drive past, Hereditary… * Elder doctor pursued across white plaza, The Death of Stalin… * Rooftop sleepwalk under full moon, November… * The Quake: shattered skyscraper like a tyrannosaur profile… * Nocturnal greeting from/to reindeer, Border… * Cold Skin: mermen climbing down off lighthouse in first rays of sun… * First Man: Pre-launch, bird flies past porthole…. * “You’re starting to harsh both of our mellows”—Sorry to Bother You… * “You know you’ve missed me.” The return of Frank Underwood. Kevin Spacey on YouTube. OMG…. * Zama: coy menace of Vicuña Porto (Matheus Nachtergaele)… * Ron’s karate-chop war dance in front of Records counter, BlacKkKlansman… * The Old Man and the Gun: Tom Waits’s reminiscence about why he hates Christmas… * Bad Times at the El Royale: Father Flynn (Jeff Bridges) and the right/wrong jukebox tune: “you’re just too good to be true”… * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs: the Impresario (Liam Neeson) walking back from the gorge… * “She died. Or maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she just moved back to the suburbs.“ Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) can’t be expected to remember everything. Can You Ever Forgive Me?…
* Eighth Grade: Dorky father (Josh Hamilton) wants to “say one thing.” She (Elsie Fisher): “Dad, this is more than one thing.” He: “It’s a chunk of things.”… * “Same thing that’s wrong with you isn’t wrong with me”—Leave No Trace…. * Dog running out to chase truck, Les Affames/Ravenous. Life goes on, even in zombie apocalypse.… * The Favourite: hand job disquisition on realpolitik… * Avengers: Infinity War: Dr. Strange saying douchebag… * Brotherhood of the toothbrush—The Sisters Brothers… * In Support the Girls, stormin’ Cubby (James LeGros) popped in stomach. Did not see that coming…. * HoldtheDark: Offered soup, sorely wounded Slone (Alexander Skarsgard) asks, “What kind?”… * President Pierce’s accommodation to change, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs… * Park Chan-wook’s red and green rooms, The Little Drummer Girl… * What rough beast sinks into the depths with its tender burden—You Were Never ReallyHere… * A Star Is Born: Ally’s final, hieratic closeup; Lady Gaga indeed… * Wig? No wig? Sharon (Regina King) calculates her best approach in Puerto Rico. If Beale Street Could Talk… * “Has anybody got a Swiss Army knife?”—First Man… * Somewhere Don Gabriel Figueroa smiles: in Roma, thundercloud light on cactus as mommy drives her family home from vacation…. * Schrader’s use of the classical 1.33:1 format in First Reformed: initially startling; effective at setting the tone of austerity; then disconcerting as, what, the whole film is going to be in this shape? Yes, and rightly so….
* Hulk towering darkly above parkway, bisecting Scope frame—You Were Never Really Here… * Cliff fall without end—Happy as Lazzaro… * Zama: ambush by red-painted phantoms amid the long grass… * Outlaw King: apples rolling in the road under horses’ hooves… * Molly Shannon murdering roast turkey, Private Life… * Daniel Kaluuya, stone cold malevolence in Widows… * “First time?” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs… * Hereditary: house swallowed in night, silver tree trunks shining above… * Atavistic thrill of that music coming on as Michael Meyers once again walks the streets of Haddonfield—but there’s still only one Halloween… * Border: smelling smartphone… * Cellphone call among tombstones, First Reformed… * Kid in hospital to fellow survivor of 22 July: “Cigarettes would be nice … except I don’t smoke.”… * Hold the Dark: Vernon reclaiming cigarette from windowsill after killing rapist… * Erramentari: torment by chick pea… * Apostle: the silhouettes around “the purification”… * Car painted pink by neon sign, Bad Times at the El Royale… * Suicide in white lake amid white trees, November… * Sarah (Golshifteh Farahani) appears to have won approval of zombie Alfred (a new frontier for Denis Lavant)—Night Eats the World…. * The Death of Stalin: breathtaking precision of comedic ensemble… * Unsettling, unexpectedly heartbreaking memento mori: in The Favourite, Olivia Colman’s final closeup, the Queen’s voice the slurry growl of a stroke victim… * “Cut” (The Other Side of the Wind). “Shantih Shantih Shantih” (Roma). Things Netflix didn’t want you bothered by… * Apollo 1 mission: the two shots of the cockpit hatch—First Man… * Ferocity of the Cheeon shootout, Hold the Dark (Julian Black Antelope as Cheeon)… * Emily Blunt cocking a pump shotgun, A Quiet Place…
* Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Parting after dinner, the shy dynamics of Lee (Melissa McCarthy) and Anna (Dolly Wells) wordlessly wondering what this might lead to… * Burning: The cat with no name has one…. * Queen passing offstage, leaving the screen to the vast crowd. Bohemian Rhapsody… * You Were Never Really Here: suicide skip on the check. “Have a nice day.”… * Profile, pirogue, endless carpet of green—Zama… * Seahorse frond, Leave No Trace… * “Whistle for him when you walk away, please”—The Rider…. * The Death of Stalin: furtive glances of the next men in line who suddenly, inexplicably, just avoided getting executed… * The Ballad of Buster Scruggs reaches its destination, the prairie precursor of the Hotel Earle…. * Roma’s transcendent final shot. Stay for the last plane….
RTJ wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Kathleen Murphy to this year’s edition.
Welcome 2019 with one last look back at the best releases of 2018, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.
1. First Reformed 2. The Rider 3. Roma 4. Leave No Trace 5. If Beale Street Could Talk 6. Private Life 7. Burning 8. BlackKkKlansman 9. Hereditary 10. Zama
A second ten (in alphabetical order): Annihilation, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Cold War, The Favourite, First Man, Happy as Lazzaro, Revenge, Shoplifters, Support the Girls, Suspiria
Cinematic achievement of 2018: the decades-in-the-making completion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, left incomplete at the time of his death.
David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)
Best DC non-theatrical Premieres: An Elephant Standing Still Family Tour
Singular Blessing: The Other Side of the Wind
And the 11 best of the rest, listed alphabetically BlacKkKlansman Black Panther Claire’s Camera First Reformed Happy Hour Loveless Madeline’s Madeline Private Life Roma Sorry to Bother You Wormwood
Robert C. Cumbow
The Top 10
(Disclaimer – The list of important 2018 films I have not yet seen is embarrassingly long—so many movies, so little time—and is included here for context: If Beale Street Could Talk; Roma; Black Panther; Transit; Other Side of the Wind; Can You Ever Forgive Me?; Eighth Grade; Mid-90s).
Of the ones I did see, the ones I enjoyed most: First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Hostiles (Scott Cooper; technically 2017 but released in Seattle—scantly—in 2018) The Party (Sally Potter) The Old Man and the Gun (David Patrick Lowrey) The Endless (Aaron Moorehead & Justin Benson) You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay; year’s best example of telling a story in sound design) Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) First Man (Damien Chazelle, whom I still don’t like, but I can’t deny how much this film affected me) Green Book (Peter Farrelly) Annihilation (Alex Garland)
A Little Respect (because it’s actually been a pretty good year for movies): Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Coen Bros.) The Mule (Clint Eastwood) The Wife (Björn Runge) Mary Queen of Scots (Josie Rourke) The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos) The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) A Quiet Place (John Krasinski) A Simple Favor (Paul Feig) A Star Is Born (Bradley Cooper—a few things about this movie made me like it a lot more than I expected to, and persuaded me that Cooper has a directorial eye and instinct to be reckoned with)
2/3 of a Good Movie: Vice Hereditary BlacKKKlansman
1/3 of a Good Movie: Sorry to Bother You
Music: Justin Hurwitz, First Man Max Richter, Mary Queen of Scots
Too many great performances this year to list favorites, so I’ll just mention Cynthia Erivo, a compelling presence in Widows and Bad Times at the El Royale, whose name should be a household word by this time next year.
Favorites of 2018 1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Joel & Ethan Coen) 2. Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) 3. The Rider (Chloé Zhao) / The Sisters Brothers (Jacques Audiard) 4. If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) 5. Leave No Trace (Debra Granik) 6. Blindspotting (Carlos López Estrada) 7. Hereditary (Ari Aster) 8. Bird Box (Susanne Bier) / A Quiet Place (John Krasinski) 9. Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) / Mid90s (Jonah Hill) / Minding the Gap (Bing Liu) 10. First Reformed (Paul Schrader)
1. Leave No Trace 2. First Reformed 3. Fair Game (director’s cut) 4. Springsteen on Broadway 5. Three Identical Strangers 6. Love, Gilda 7. The Death of Stalin 8. A Moment in the Reeds 9. Sorry to Bother You 10. Outside In
Also recommended: We the Animals, BlacKkKlansman, Return to Mount Kennedy, On Chesil Beach
1. The Rider 2. Support the Girls 3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 4. Lean on Pete 5. First Reformed 6. Roma 7. Hereditary 8. Zama 9. You Were Never Really Here and Leave No Trace 10. First Man
My Top 10 honorable mentions would have the slow-winding Korean gem Burning; the psychotropic Nicolas Cage thriller Mandy; Bo Burnham’s very funny coming-of-age tale Eighth Grade; the Melissa McCarthy film Can You Ever Forgive Me?, which is as much about loneliness as literary scandal; the cutting British comedy The Death of Stalin; the torrid black-and-white romance of Cold War (opens locally in January); Yorgos Lanthimos’s wicked comedy The Favourite; Hirokazu Kore-eda’s prizewinner Shoplifters; Alex Garland’s sci-fi puzzler Annihilation, with a strong Natalie Portman performance; and Charlize Theron’s postpartum workout in Tully.
Richard T. Jameson
1. Roma 2. First Reformed 3. Leave No Trace 4-12 alphabetical: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs Border Burning The Death of Stalin Hereditary If Beale Street Could Talk The Rider Shoplifters You Were Never Really Here
In alphabetical order: Black Panther Can You Ever Forgive Me? If Beale Street Could Talk Mary Poppins Returns Paddington 2 The Rider Roma Shoplifters Widows Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
A splendid second 13: BlacKkKlansman, Crazy Rich Asians, Disobedience, Eighth Grade, The Favourite, Incredibles 2, Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Searching, A Star Is Born, Where Is Kyra?, Whitney, Wildlife
Most Memorable Movies (2018) 1. Leave No Trace 2. First Reformed 3. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 4. Roma 5. Shoplifters 6. Burning 7. You Were Never Really Here 8. The Rider 9. Support the Girls 10. If Beale Street Could Talk Documentary: Struggle: Life and Lost Art of Szukalski
1. Suspiria 2. Revenge 3. Apostle 4. Hereditary 5. Mandy 6. Sorry To Bother You 7. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 8. Eighth Grade 9. Love, Gilda 10. Black Panther
1. The Ballad of Buster Scruggs 2. Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts 3. Hereditary 4. Paddington 2 5. You Were Never Really Here 6. First Reformed 7. Roma 8. The Rider 9. Mandy 10. Cold War
Filmmakers and film programmers
Brian Alter (programmer, Grand Illusion)
Best gut-punch ending: BlacKkKlansman Best film about millennials: Never Goin’ Back Most depressing film: First Reformed Best weird film: Mandy Favorite repertory screening: AGFA’s restoration of Godmonster of Indian Flats
Megan Griffiths (filmmaker, Sadie, The Night Stalker, Lucky Them)
You Were Never Really Here (d. Lynne Ramsey) Eighth Grade (d. Bo Burnham) The Rider (d. Chloé Zhao) Minding the Gap (d. Bing Liu) Destroyer (d. Karyn Kusama) Roma (d. Alfonso Cuarón) Madeline’s Madeline (d. Josephine Decker) Outside In (d. Lynn Shelton) Leave No Trace (d. Debra Granik) Sorry To Bother You (d. Boots Riley)
Jennifer Roth (producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)
Cold War Shoplifters Zama You Were Never Really Here American Animals Land of Steady Habits (self-promotion aside) Can You Ever Forgive Me Roma Private Life The Rider
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.
[originallywritten 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).
[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 RedRiver. 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.
[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.
[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
“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.
[Originally written for Mr. Showbiz, March 20, 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
It will be fascinating to see what Primary
Colors, Mike Nichols’s smart, creepy, scrupulously ambivalent movie
inspired by a certain 1992 campaign for the Democratic Presidential nomination,
plays like in two months. And six months. And next year. Likewise, it wouldn’t
have seemed quite the same movie if it had been released two months ago, before
l’affaire Lewinsky. And surely it’s
not quite the same film that Nichols, screenwriter Elaine May, et al. thought
they were going to make after buying the screen rights to the 1996 roman à clef by veteran political
reporter Joe Klein—even if it’s still, word for word and shot for shot, the
movie they envisioned at the time.