It’s official: I’m on hiatus from film writing. The books have me. – RR
Irma Vep (1996) is a matryoshka of a film, one built of nested meanings with a black vinyl doll at its center. It’s a tribute to Louis Feuillade’s 1915 classic, Les vampires, a brief history of French cinema, and a meditation on various degrees of crime. But Olivier Assayas’ cult hit is also a treatment of drama both artistic and interpersonal—a condemnation of our preference for hollow histrionics over still honesty, onscreen and off. Assayas has drawn a paradox: a criticism and a celebration of French cinema and the problematic passions of its individual creators.
Due to a much needed server switch at In Review Online, some links to my original reviews, features, and capsules on their site are broken. We’re working to fix that now. — RR
Way back in the summer of 2010, the InRO staff planned a series of articles that each paired two recent (i.e. post-2000) Westerns. The project fell through, but not before I’d written my assignment: a retrospective on Seraphim Falls and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada. My editor at InRO recently posted that article to celebrate the release of Meek’s Cutoff.
The spectre of death is as present in the Western genre as leather, horses and guns, and it nearly always comes in the form of homicide. Characters don’t die by accident or illness — if you own a ranch or a saloon in the classic American West, or if you wear a badge or ride where the wind takes you, expect to meet your maker with the help of a bullet. Death at the hands of another is inscribed onto every plot and every finale, a solution to treachery and wrongdoing of all stripes, an art practiced by the good and the bad. The genre’s images of death are loud, dusty and sudden, but they aren’t always as cut and dried as a gunshot at high noon. In some Westerns, death isn’t a full stop but a beginning, of sorts. The leather and the dust lose materiality and give way to the supernatural, while the landscape onscreen reveals itself to be a halfway space between the hard world and the afterlife, where matter itself is doubtful, and where characters set for a time to sort through their differences, which almost always amount to questions of honor and revenge.
Jane Russell died yesterday and it hit surprisingly deep. I say surprising since I’ve never seen most of the big Jane Russell pictures, including The Outlaw. But I’ve owned Gentlemen Prefer Blondes for as long as I’ve collected film, and I watch it once a year. Something about this movie keeps me rapt besides the fashion, the bodies, and Marilyn’s signature number, which pops like a cosmic champagne cork even for someone who’s generally indifferent both to Marilyn and musicals. I’m pretty sure it comes down to Jane — to Dorothy Shaw, the fearless, sex-positive, I-am-who-I-am foil to Lorelei Lee’s grasping material girl. To Dorothy who only wants a true relationship and prefers that riches not factor into the equation. If Gentlemen Prefer Blondes mines Lorelei’s gold-digger stereotype and its essentialist bits about men and women for humour, Dorothy’s sensible-girl stereotype mitigates it all. She wants men: she wants men’s bodies, she wants men’s bodies for sex, and she wants to let everyone around her know she wants men’s bodies for sex, until she finds a good heart and a great wit in one of those fine male bodies. And the movie never shames her for it. It privileges not only her judgment but her desires and proves that sense and sensuality aren’t mutually exclusive in a woman. Moreover, it shows the value of sticking with your best girl, even if your best girl fucks up or — worse, in my mind — reinforces negative female stereotypes we’d all be better off without. This is life for the Dorothy Shaws of the world, and because it’s life even in 2011, sometimes, Jane’s Dorothy is eternal and unimaginable with any other actor in the role. – Ranylt Richildis
Dilettante Steve Antin proves the adage that persistence counts for more than talent in Hollywood. His resume is a scatter of acting, writing, production, and directing credits, all seemingly acquired by the skin of his teeth. The directing credits add up to exactly two since the opening of Burlesque, a vehicle for the distinct vocal stylings of Christina Aguilera and Cher. This latest endeavor won’t see Antin vaulted into the VIP room at long last, however — although, given the moderate success of some of its musical numbers, Burlesque might open a few doors for him as a Broadway choreographer or music video director. And that’s by no means a dig. Say what you will about the dead space between those numbers, where dialogue ails and characterization gasps for life; those sassy jazz-hands moments count for a lot when, as with porn, they’re really the only moments your audience anticipates going into the film, or recollects a day later.
For the past 20 years, Ottawa’s been home to the One World Film Festival, which raises awareness about social and global issues while exposing audiences to great documentaries. Now in its 21st year (and co-chaired by a friend of mine, so pay attention), the fest is the brainchild of World Inter-Action Mondiale (WIAM), a non-profit org that uses art and film to spread its message about economic, political, and environmental challenges the world over. That message — and its medium — has proven to be popular; 21 years is a lion’s age for a volunteer-run film festival, and its organizers year in and year out have our gratitude.