James Ivory, as a writer in the Cannes-Matin notes, has become a genre unto himself, and you couldn’t ask for a more thoroughgoing manifestation of that genre than The Golden Bowl. Adapted by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala from one of Henry James’s most intricate novels, mounted in exquisite European locations and handsomely photographed as ever by Tony Pierce-Roberts, this latest Merchant Ivory production will neither disappoint devotées nor persuade unbelievers to take an adjacent pew. In both cases, that’s because The Golden Bowl is more a Cliff’s Notes version of Henry James than the real thing (to coin a phrase).
[Originally published in Movietone News 33, July 1974]
Henry James took as one of his major themes the amusing—more often, tragic—encounters between representatives of the Old and New Worlds. His Americans were brash, uncomplicated, crudely ignorant, or gloriously innocent. He pitted them—sometimes on their own ground, sometimes overseas—against European complexity and wisdom that occasionally ran to decadence. If the New Worlders looked optimistically towards a utopian future, the denizens of the Old were the products of an immensely rich past, and layers upon layers of civilization provided them with a patina of cosmopolitan sophistication and worldliness that the parochial inhabitants of the new Eden could either admire or outrage, but never hope to equal. In a sense, Peter Bogdanovich is similarly caught between two worlds: as a director who admittedly admires the great filmmakers of the past—Ford, Hawks, Welles—his films have been, to a greater or lesser degree, hommages to classical direction, to genres made generic by Pantheon auteurs. But Bogdanovich also lives in the here and now, and his work must look to its future. For he can never really reattain the innocence of those early halcyon days of making movies: he knows too much, is too selfconscious to successfully recreate what the masters originally conceived. Howard Hawks made movies for the fun of it long before the French critics “discovered” and enshrined his films in learned exegesis—and the tone of director-critic Bogdanovich’s films, for me, has always been less fun, more learned.
[Originally published in Movietone News 62-63, December 1979]
With the likes of Grease and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre packin’ ’em in, people keep saying the cinema is going to hell and only the most crass hold sway. However, if the Seventies gave the world porno and John Travolta, the decade also saw a revival, on a fairly grand scale, of interest in Henry James. Of all authors! What could so fastidious an artist have to say to our vulgarian’s age? Well, quite a lot, it would seem, for there have been more ventures into Jamesiana in the Seventies than in the entire previous history of film – several TV movies (two by Claude Chabrol), announced projects (Chabrol’s proposed film of The Wings of the Dove was called off, not for want of backing, but because he changed his mind about it), two wildly unJamesian but nevertheless James-inspired movies (The Nightcomersand Celine et Julie vont en bateau), and three major adaptations:Daisy Miller, La Chambre verte(fromThe Altar of the Dead), and nowThe Europeans. This last seems to me the best James movie to date, in terms of catching the author’s essence, and it’s an exquisite entertainment, immensely worth seeing.