Nihilism for Oligarchs
What is the state of Russian culture today, and what is its standing on the world stage? The multi-media extravaganza of Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s DAU—a controversy-courting product of the largesse of Russia’s oligarchic class—provides an instructive case study.
Tehran’s Universal Studios
A political history of Iranian film, tracing the origin of its plural genres through New Wave minimalism, war documentaries and cosmopolitan montage. In a society often caricatured as closed and backward, censorship and market pressures have unintentionally produced a world-class film culture—but how will it fare under the us sanctions regime?
A New Proletkino?
Is it possible to detect the contours of a new genre of proletarian cinema operating across the widely contrasted films of Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Robert Guédiguian, Aki Kaurismäki and Pedro Costa? What does this body of work say about contemporary working-class experience and its representations on the silver screen?
An Aphorist of the Cinema
Emma Fajgenbaum on Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematograph and Bresson on Bresson. The lapidary sayings and injunctions to the self, admiring interviews and guarded replies, of the most auratic and least documented director of post-war French cinema.
Fine-grained reading of the films of Andrei Zvyagintsev, from the abstract allegories of his earlier work to the unsparing portrayals of contemporary Russia in Elena and Leviathan, exemplary of a new social turn in post-Soviet cinema. Reflections of class polarization and fables of power, with Orthodoxy as its prop.
A Traveller’s Glance
Object of fierce controversy when first shown, Antonioni’s documentary Chung Kuo—filmed in the PRC during the Cultural Revolution—has since been largely overlooked within his oeuvre. The director of L’avventura as failed Marco Polo, whose patient, humanizing gaze left a record of China’s past that is belatedly being rediscovered.
The Three-Headed Horse
Echoes and parallels between the work of Eisenstein, Picasso and Orozco in the late 1930s. The recurring spectres of war, conquest and destruction stalking the world from Moscow to Guadalajara to Guernica, travelling back and forth between film, wall and canvas.
A screenplay from 1935, previously unpublished in English, by arguably the greatest Soviet writer. Amid far-reaching social transformation, notions of love, family and desire are also recast—with serious consequences for the simultaneously innocent and world-weary protagonists.
Suspense and . . . Surprise
Media projections of the ‘war on terror’ as manipulations of shock and time, purveyed through a perpetual present of 24-hour coverage and on-line news. Lessons from Hitchcock, Conrad and Benjamin on the poetics of suspense and possibilities for a rehistoricization of the attentat.
Cinema, Dream, Existence
With City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, Hou Hsiao-Hsien established the landmarks of Taiwan’s New Cinema—distinguished by aesthetic distance and break with political taboo. Chen traces the origins of Hou’s achievement to a mixture of an apprenticeship in commercial film, a unique synthesis of islander and high-modern culture, and impartial sympathy for those caught up in history’s storm.
Liberation from bourgeois marriage, central radical demand from Sand and Kollontai to Piercy, is subsumed in the age of global capital by calls for same-sex property rights. Wollen’s unmade film treatment celebrates loves unsanctified by church or state—de Beauvoir’s relationships with Sartre and Algren.
Ruins of the Future
West of the Tracks, Wang Bing’s stupendous documentary on the collapse of heavy industry and the fate of workers in China’s North-East, viewed in comparative perspective by a film-critic compatriot. Memories of the battlegrounds of Manchuria, and echoes of Lukács, Benjamin and Hobsbawm, amid the debris of an epoch and its human fall-out.
Formal rigour, social interrogation, poetic intensity: Jean-Luc Godard stands in the premier rank of contemporary artists. In this striking reconceptualization of his work, the movies take their place among sound compositions, TV, texts, videotape and graphic art, as elements of an ongoing multimedia installation.
The Camera Possessed
Extraordinary career of Jean Rouch—surrealist, engineer, anthropologist, cinéaste—synthesizing the gains of Vertov and Flaherty, to take his camera inside the taboo. In Abidjan and Paris, ethnographical films appropriated by their subjects as springboard for the New Wave.
On Cultural Markets
The ‘culture industry’ has typically been conceived as a unified, twentieth-century branch of production. Donald Sassoon reveals older, more variegated patterns of development, tracing international relations of cultural dominance from Scott and Verdi to the action movie.
The Frustrated Architect: The Cinema of Edward Yang
The Taiwanese New Wave has been described by Fredric Jameson as offering the finest cycle of any national cinema since the French. Leo Chanjen Chen explores the achievement of Edward Yang, one of its two greatest masters.
Time Unfrozen: The Films of Aleksei German
Virtually unknown in the West, Aleksei German is regarded by Russians as their most radical and original film director. Tony Wood considers his techniques of disorientation, and the craft of induced paranoia in his latest movie about the Doctors’ Plot of 1953—its title taken from Beria’s triumphant shout to his chauffeur.
“With the release of Lars Von Trier’s The Idiots (1998), the work of a group of Danish film makers who work collectively and individually under the ‘documentary’ and verité demands of Dogme 95 has now begun to achieve a measure of critical visibility. In fact, with the release . . .” read more
Play It Again, or, Old-Time Cuban Music on the Screen
“A friend of mine, a Cuban film director, writes to me about visiting the Salzburg Festival. After enjoying operas by Berlioz and Mozart, he says, the big surprise was the Festival’s closing event, a concert by the Cuban old-timers La Vieja Trova Santiaguera, chosen by the Festival’s special . . .” read more
“At the climax of Amistad, Steven Spielberg’s rescue fantasy about the rebellion, recapture, and courtroom liberation of African slaves, the slave leader Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) teaches John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) the value of ancestor worship. He thereby authors the Supreme Court brief that wins back his freedom. . . .” read more
Cinematic Ethnology: Siegfried Kracauer’s 'The White Collar Masses'
“In the Introduction to his last, posthumously published book History: The Last Things Before the Last (1969), Siegfried Kracauer formulates a summa of his intellectual existence. The discovery of the hidden connection between his interest in history and his interest in the photographic media reveals to him the . . .” read more
The Bourgeois Paradigm and Heritage Cinema
“Present disaffection with key institutions of the British state—the monarchy and the Palace of Westminster for instance—has brought about what Tom Nairn described recently as a transitional time, one in which ‘former subjects. . .have unintentionally half-mutated into citizens.’ He added that ‘in a society still unprogrammed for . . .” read more
Nikita Mikhalkov and Burnt by the Sun: A Monarchist Film-Maker Confronts Humane Socialism
“Despite the deep hostility of present-day Russian film-makers to the concept of socialism, a considerable number of films about the Soviet past have been made in Russia during the past decade. For the most part, the directors of these films have sought to outdo one another in depicting . . .” read more
A Note on 'Jumanji'
“Parents have a different experience of cinema going from the childless or ‘child free’: instead of the Art-Deco bar of the local art house, the cavernous spaces of the multiplex and a sense of having been magically transported to the United States as kids in baseball caps and . . .” read more
The Hollywood Left: Aesthetics and Politics
“Two generations after McCarthyism, the Hollywood Left has almost receded from living memory. Its principal figures now show up mainly in the obituary columns of the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, their experiences with the blacklist reduced to a sentence or deleted entirely. The most politically . . .” read more
From Courtly Love to 'The Crying Game'
“Why speak about courtly love (amour courtois) today, in the age of permissiveness, when sexual encounter is often nothing more than a ‘quickie’ in some dark corner of an office?The impression that courtly love is something out of date, long superseded by modern manners, is a lure which . . .” read more
The Story of the Lost Reflection
“The feeling of strangeness that overcomes the actor before the camera, as Pirandello describes it, is basically of the same kind as the estrangement felt before one’s own image in the mirror. But now the reflected image has become separable, transportable. And where is it transported? Before the . . .” read more
The Education of a Film-Maker
“When I was asked to deliver their annual lecture by the Amal Bhattacharji Centre for European Studies, my immediate response was to say no. It was easy for me to do so, since 15 years of saying no to such requests has turned it into a habit. The . . .” read more
On an Aside by Eagleton
“It is always more difficult to criticize a publishing journal than a book or article; even so, Terry Eagleton’s remarks on Screen (nlr 107) are not adequate to the rigour and seriousness of that journal’s project. Essentially, Eagleton reproaches Screen with formalism. More than merely the willingness . . .” read more
Six Films by Douglas Sirk
“‘Film is like a battleground’ Sam Fuller, who once wrote a script for Douglas Sirk, said in a film by Jean-Luc Godard, who, shortly before he made A Bout de Souffle, wrote a rhapsody on Douglas Sirk’s A Time to Love and a Time to Die. But not . . .” read more
Signs and Meaning in the Cinema
“The existential value of the work of art, as a declaration about being, cannot be extracted from the adherent signals alone (its symbolism), nor from the self-signals alone (the medium). The self-signals taken alone prove only existence; adherent signals taken in isolation prove only the presence of meaning . . .” read more
Comment on Rohdie’s 'Signs and Meaning in the Cinema'
“Sam Rohdie’s review of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema makes a number of telling and important criticisms, but I should like to append this comment since it seems to me that on one simple point he has missed the author’s intention, and, more seriously, in certain respects . . .” read more
Cinema--Code and Image
“In recent years a considerable degree of interest has developed in the semiology of the cinema, in the question whether it is possible to dissolve cinema criticism and cinema aesthetics into a special province of the general science of signs. It has become increasingly clear that traditional theories . . .” read more
“Rossellini’s reputation has ebbed and flowed more perhaps than that of any other leading director. In part this has been because of the nexus between politics and film criticism in Italy, in part because of changes in fashion and taste, in part because of the personal scandals which . . .” read more
“During the English lessons in Bande `Part the teacher asks Odile to quote what T. S. Eliot says about tradition: ‘Everything that is really new is by that fact automatically traditional’. Godard’s films may strike one at first as a bewildering complex of inter-related themes: all the central . . .” read more
Reply to Robin Wood on Godard
“I had intended to write about Godard before reading Robin Wood’s article; the first thing which struck me as I read it was that, though I agree that the issue which he raises is one of the key ones, the words which he uses and stresses are quite . . .” read more
Joseph von Sternberg
“Josef Von Sternberg remains best known as the director of a sequence of films with Marlene Dietrich in the thirties, starting with The Blue Angel in Germany and then continuing in Hollywood. Usually these are thought of as ‘glamour’ films, successful because they took people’s minds off the . . .” read more
“Hitchcock, of course, is a household name. His first film was made in 1921, his first sound film (Blackmail) in 1929, his first American film (Rebecca) in 1940. He has come to dominate completely the suspense thriller genre; his silhouette on publicity posters is enough to chill spines . . .” read more
“Budd Boetticher is not a well-known director; indeed, even such a knowledgeable critic as Andrew Sarris ranks him among ‘esoterica’. Most critics would be inclined to dismiss him as responsible for no more than a few run-of-the-mill westerns, hardly distinguishable from his equally anonymous fellows—a typical Hollywood technician, . . .” read more
“If Godard is the most difficult, Truffaut is the most elusive of all the directors of the one-time New Wave. As a man and as a director he seems given over to self-contradiction, and his career to date appears to be an intricate web of unresolved paradoxes. He . . .” read more
“The cinema of John Ford is rooted in history. He has steeped himself in those crucial periods of American history which have determined popular American consciousness: the colonization of the west, the waves of immigrants, the three great wars, the depression. Today America has emerged as the most . . .” read more
“It is a strange but much noted fact that in the cinema there is rarely any simple correlation between a director’s output and his reputation. John Ford had made some 50 films, mostly two-reelers, before ever making a name for himself: Roger Corman has made over 40 in . . .” read more
“Samuel Fuller’s film Shock Corridor—described by Lee Russell in an article on Fuller in New Left Review 23—is not to be shown in England, apparently because it has been refused a certificate by the censor. Decisions like this pass alsolutely unnoticed as a rule—certainly there has been no . . .” read more
“Stanley Kubrick, by his meteoric rise to the top of the industry, has so far managed to outpace critical appraisal. At first he was greeted as the regenerator of the thriller; suddenly he turned to good causes and social content. And then no sooner had he won new . . .” read more
“In 1936, it is often forgotten, Jean Renoir made a propaganda film, La Vie est a nous, for the French Communist Party, starring Maurice Thorez, Jacques Duclos etc; in 1937, he made La Marseillaise for the Trade Union movement (cgt). Then the war and exile in Hollywood. . . .” read more
“‘I do not think one can love any film deeply if one does not deeply love the films of Howard Hawks.’ This dogma—to be found in a review of The Big Sky in Cahiers du Cinema 29 (1953)—has rightly infuriated many film-viewers. Their fury, in turn, has provoked . . .” read more
“Samuel Fuller was one year old when Walsh made his first film, three years old when Chaplin made his first, four years old when Griffith made Birth of a Nation, six years old when Ford made his first. Many veterans of the silent film are still alive, working . . .” read more
Introduction to 'Motifs'
“Throughout the world, art and art criticism are perplexingly fluid. It is at this moment that socialist artists and art critics can intervene decisively, staking out the arena for debate, indicating and achieving the next steps forward. In this section of New Left Review we shall publish a . . .” read more
L'Annee Derniere a Marienbad
“Ideally, criticism of L’Année Dernière à Marienbad should be totally superfluous. One would say: ‘A lot of money has been spent, a troupe of actors and technicians has been engaged, and three châteaux invaded to serve as decor, for an entertainment devised by Alain Robbe-Grillet, and presented in . . .” read more
“wilfred fienburgh’s story of a Labour M.P. No Love for Johnnie is a bad novel. The film that the Rank Organisation have made from the book is even worse. Ralph Thomas has directed No Love for Johhnie with absolutely no imagination or feeling (not that one would . . .” read more
“arthur seaton, the hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (novel) is trying to come to terms with an unsatisfactory world. In this he is like the heroes of Lucky Jim, Room at the Top, Look Back in Anger, and other recent plays and novels. Although Saturday . . .” read more
“This is the first of a regular series of columns in NLR on the cinema. Alan Lovell writes: “I am not aiming at a comprehensive coverage of what is happening in the cinema. I intend to write only about films or developments in the cinema which are important . . .” read more
What Comes on Monday?
“after taking a novel through eight drafts in almost as many years it is a great relief to have it published. The first real indication that its spell has been broken is when the six presentation copies arrive. You put them on a shelf and stand back . . .” read more
Come Back Africa
“the second most impressive thing about Come Back Africa is that it was made at all. Lionel Rogosin, its creator, spent a year in South Africa simply getting to know the Africans, and after months of wrangling with suspicious white authorities, got permission to shoot a film, . . .” read more
On the Beach
“nevile shute expected the third world war to begin (and end) next year, 1961; and within a few months of the end of the war (which will last approximately 37 days) the entire human race will be burned, blasted or, if they are outside the battle areas, . . .” read more