Sunday, December 26, 2010

Jonathan Rosenbaum's Blog



Jonathan Rosenbaum's blog has become the cinema website I visit most religiously. In just over two years, what a great model of a critic's archive this site is turning out to be! Especially given that Rosenbaum is arguably the most highly respected English-language film critic in global film culture, this is a great boon to film lovers.

The site is updated many times weekly with essays and reviews from a prolific, globetrotting lifetime of reading, thinking and writing about films -- but not only about films. Rosenbaum once said in an interview: "Film is an integral part of life and the world, not an alternative to life and the world." This statement -- which signals his twin commitments to aesthetics and politics -- conveys crucially the sensibility that animates his writing.

One of this week's posts is a 1998 essay that provocatively and productively pairs Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan with Joe Dante's Small Soldiers. The essay begins with Rosenbaum's capsule reviews of the two films, which make the arguments of the essay in condensed form. Here is an excerpt from each capsule:

Small Soldiers. Director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Innerspace, Explorers, Matinee) is a national treasure, and his lack of recognition by the general public may actually make it easier for him to function subversively. His unpretentious fantasy romps have more to say about the American psyche, pop culture, and the ideology of violence than anything dreamed up by Steven Spielberg or George Lucas [...] His films are about not just culture and violence but also everyday cultural violence, something we all have to cope with.

Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg’s 1998 exercise in Oscar-mongering is a compilation of effects and impressions from all the war movies he’s ever seen, decked out with precise instructions about what to think in Robert Rodat’s script and how to feel in John Williams’s hokey music. There’s something here for everybody — war is hell (Sam Fuller), war is father figures (Oliver Stone), war is absurd (David Lean, Stanley Kubrick), war is necessary (John Ford), war is surreal (Francis Coppola), war is exciting (Robert Aldrich), war is upsetting (all of the preceding and Lewis Milestone), war is uplifting (ditto) — and nothing that suggests an independent vision ...


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There is one design singularity that I should point out: The website consists of not one but two main pages that are updated regularly. In addition to the home page I linked to at the start of this post (this home page is called "Featured Texts" and contains mostly essay-length reviews), there is another page called "Notes" that houses lectures, essays and notes. Both pages are essential reading.

Let me link to some additional Rosenbaum-related reading material:

-- His collected writings at Chicago Reader; at Moving Image Source; and at DVD Beaver.

-- A recent Cineaste piece called "DVDs: A New Form of Collective Cinephilia."

-- His "Essential Cinema" list of 1000 films.

-- A collection of his annual top 10 lists from 1974-2006.

-- His latest book, "Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia" (from University of Chicago Press), which is one of the best cinema reads of the year.


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Let me also share a few recent links:

-- David Hudson collects reports and reflections on the terrible news from Teheran: Jafar Panahi has been jailed for 6 years and banned from making films for 20. Also: Rafi Pitts' open letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

-- At Caboose, great news of the upcoming "Introduction to a True History of Cinema and Television," a transcript of fourteen one-hour talks delivered by Jean-Luc Godard at Concordia University in Montreal in 1978 and translated into English for the first time. Also available at this page are two sample PDFs from the talks, on Alphaville and À bout de souffle.

-- In the new issue of Cineaste, Richard Porton has a large piece on the Toronto International Film Festival that refers to the post and discussion we had here at the blog a few months back.

-- Two year-end polls of best films: Village Voice poll; and Sight & Sound.

-- Many interesting posts at Zach Campbell's place, on subjects ranging from "snobbery" and comic acting to Minnelli's Some Came Running and Godard's Film Socialisme.

-- Recent blog discoveries: Sudhir Mahadevan's Ambrotypes and Ferrotypes; Drew McIntosh's The Blue Vial; and Jaime Christley's Unexamined Essentials.

-- At Ignatiy Vishnevetsky's: lots of capsule reviews originally written for Cine-File, plus a nice defense of Tony Scott.

-- Insightful commentary by Jean-Pierre Gorin on his ten favorite Criterion films.

-- Catherine Grant announces the new issue of Screening the Past.

-- David Hudson collects obituaries and tributes to Blake Edwards and Jean Rollin.

-- J. Hoberman on Norman Rockwell in Artforum.