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Essential Cinema
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Jonathan Rosenbaum is unquestionably one of the leading film critics working today. He is an invaluable guide to current movies-not because one always agrees with him, but because he enlarges our perceptions and often points us in the right direction, because he is intelligent and engages our intelligence-and has a sound grasp of the history of film, its aesthetic values and its social and political content. In many ways he is singularly well equipped for the project he undertakes in Essential Cinema: to establish a pantheon of great films in world cinema. This idea may be controversial nowadays but, in my view, that only makes it all the more worth undertaking. Bringing fresh acumen and insight to both established classics and more recent films, this book will inspire debate among those who care about the art of film. -- Gilberto Perez, author of The Material Ghost Given the current intellectual environment, nothing could be more provocative or welcome than a film critic who openly defends the making of canons, and who compiles an informed, discriminating list of the best pictures ever made. Jonathan Rosenbaum's Essential Cinema performs both tasks brilliantly, at the same time giving us a bracing series of essays on the artistic, political, and entertainment value of individual films and film makers. Everyone who loves motion pictures ought to read this book. Rosenbaum's personal canon will stimulate debate, enhance education, and provide a valuable guide to a thousand nights of pleasurable viewing. -- James Naremore, author of More Than Night As one of our few truly thoughtful, regularly-appearing film critics, Jonathan Rosenbaum strives less to simply describe or evaluate a film than engage the reader in an argument about values. He understands that film canons need not be a conservative listing of masterpieces, but an ongoing struggle for the richness of cinema and art in a world of commercialized leisure and passive politics. -- Tom Gunning, author of The Films of Fritz Lang

Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroductionI. ClassicsFables of the Reconstruction: The Four-Hour GreedFascinating Rhythms: MThe Color of Paradise: Jour de feteBackyard Ethics: Hitchcock's Rear WindowSongs in the Key of Everyday Life: The Umbrellas of CherbourgA Tale of the Wind: Joris Ivens's Last TestamentKira Muratova's Home Truths: The Asthenic SyndromeThe Importance of Being Sarcastic: SatantangoBlushThe CeremonyThievesTrue Grit: RosettaII. Special ProblemsMalick's ProgressImprovisations and Interactions in Altmanville, with an Afterword: NashvilleMixed Emotions: Breaking the WavesFast, Cheap & Out of ControlThe Sweet Cheat: Time RegainedJames Benning's Four CornersOverrated Solutions: L'humaniteThe Sound of German: Straub-Huillet's The Death of EmpedoclesBeyond the Clouds: Return to BeautyReality and History as the Apotheosis of Southern Sleaze: Phil Karlson's The Phenix City StoryIs Ozu Slow?The Human Tough: Decalogue and FargoIII. Other Canons, Other CanonizersLfie Intimidates Art: Irma VepStanley Kwan's Actress: Writing History in QuicksandCritical Distance: Godard's ContemptRemember Amnesia? (Guy Maddin's Archangel), with an Afterword: Ten Years Later (Please Watch Carefully: The Heart of the World)Ragged but Right: Rivette's Up Down FragileCritic with a Camera: Marker on TarkovskyRiddles of a Spinx: From the Journals of Jean SebergInternational Harvest: National Film Histories on VideoInternational Sampler: Ghost Dog: The Way of the SamuraiNot the Same Old Song and Dance: The Young Girls of RochefortFlaming Creatures and Scotch TapeRuiz Hopping and Buried Treasures: Twelve Selected Global SitesIV. Disputable ContendersBack in Style: Bertolucci's BesiegedThe Young One: Bunuel's Neglected MasterpieceIn Dreams Begin Responsibilities: Kubrick's Eyes Wide ShutThe Best of Both Worlds: A.I. Artificial IntelligenceUnder the Chador: The Day I Became a WomanChains of Ignorance: Charles Burnett's NightjohnGood Vibrations: Waking LifeHell on Wheels: Taxi DriverMeat, John, Dough: Pretty WomanTashlinesqueWeird and Wonderful: Takeshi Kitano's KikujiroCorpus CallosumV. FilmmakersMann of the WestOtto PremingerNicholas RayExiles in Modernity: Films by Edward YangHou Hsiao-hsien: Becoming TaiwaneseThe Countercultural Histories of Rudy WurlitzerSam Fuller: The Words of an Innocent WarriorThe Mysterious Elaine May: Hiding in Plain SightVisionary Agitprop: I Am CubaThe Battle over Orson WellesLicense to Feel: Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Neon BibleDeath and Life: Landscapes of the Soul-The Cinema of AlexanderDovzhenkoAppendix: 1,000 Favorites (A Personal Canon)Index

About the Author

Jonathan Rosenbaum is film critic for the Chicago Reader and the author or editor of fourteen books, including Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Films We Can See, Movies as Politics, and Placing Movies: The Practice of Film Criticism.

Reviews

Film critic for the Chicago Reader, an alternative weekly, Rosenbaum presents a new collection of film essays, some rather lengthy, others just extended notes, and most previously published in his weekly. The result is a highly personal look at world filmmaking and directors that combines celebrations, rediscoveries, polemics, and autobiographical reflections (Rosenbaum is the son and grandson of small-town movie exhibitors). It is not, however, as the publisher claims, a reference of must-see films. Some of the better essays include an extended look at a recent restoration of Erich von Stroheim's silent film classic Greed and trenchant appreciations of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Jacques Demy's musicals, and Stanley Kubrick's later films. Rosenbaum isn't afraid to throw the spotlight on obscure international films and directors and almost forgotten American films like The Phenix Story. There are also brief essays on American directors like Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without a Cause), Otto Preminger (Laura), and Western auteur Anthony Mann (El Cid). The book concludes with a personal canon of favorite films, listed year by year from 1895 to the present. Well written, though not always exciting, this work should be considered by academic libraries. Public and school libraries would be better served by Pauline Kael's 5001 Nights at the Movies, Danny Peary's various books on cult films, or the annual compilation of Roger Ebert's film reviews.-Stephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

A virtuoso collection by one of the finest film critics currently active... His passions are unusually diverse... There's nothing here that won't enrich the reader in some way. If you have seen the film already, you will see it better. If you haven't seen it, you will want to. The Times of London Rosenbaum's passionate, thoughtful, and richly informed advocacy of the films he cares about earns this book a place on any cinephile's shelf... Rosenbaum, an enormously erudite and deeply reflective viewer unbeholden to academic norms and taboos, is ideally positioned to propose a canon of great works... An essential guide. Boston Globe Accessible without being dumbed down... Filled with perceptive insights and fascinating juxtapositions... A closing list of 1,000 favorite films is sure to spark debate among cineastes while offering a long checklist of films to watch. Publishers Weekly Every essay demonstrates Rosenbaum's fervent dedication to the cinema and, more important, that he has the knowledge and insight to support his impassioned opinions. Booklist Jonathan Rosenbaum is one of the most invested voices in writing about movies. When there's a subject he's spent decades thinking on, he's nonpareil. Newcity Essential Cinema... is a chance to enjoy a bunch of reviews from the best long form critic on the planet. Memphis Flyer Rosenbaum is one of those rare film critics who isn't too cool to tell us when a film gives him excitement, pleasure, and hope... Sometimes Rosenbaum becomes so strident about 'the lies' that Hollywood films and their publicists feed us that you want to whack him on the head with a copy of Entertainment Weekly. But, we need to hear about film lies from someone. And besides, there's no such thing as Jonathan Rosenbaum lite. Jewish Herald-Voice [Rosenblaum's] canon is not exclusively Western, goes beyond purely aesthetic considerations, is a process of selection rather than reportage, and sees cultural criticism as valid. Reference and Research Book News This is a road map for anyone who cares about discovering new cinematic terrain. Choice Rosenbaum proves he is an essential critic, one we mustn't fail to read. Senses of Cinema Important book. -- Steven Peacock Film Studies His observations on film composition are astute and thought-provoking... Essential Cinema is essential reading for the movie buff. -- Rebecca Oppenheimer Howard County Times

In combining his reviews from the Chicago Reader with writing he's done for other magazines, Rosenbaum doesn't so much argue in favor of specific canons of film masterpieces as defend the very process of choosing films of artistic or cultural significance that deserve to be remembered and merit repeat viewing. His global approach is evident from the opening section, "Classics," which discusses films from Germany, France, Russia, Hungary, China and Belgium; even the two American selections (Greed and Rear Window) were made by expatriate directors. Rosenbaum largely ignores mainstream Hollywood; except for a review of Pretty Woman (negative) and A.I. (positive with reservations), Stanley Kubrick is about as commercial as it gets. Instead, Rosenbaum rails against an attitude he sees perpetuated by American studios and critics alike, in which a film isn't worthy of discussion unless it's in wide release or prominently displayed on the video shelves. He'd rather call readers' attention to things they probably wouldn't have seen otherwise, yet his treatment of individual films and filmmakers is accessible without being dumbed down, filled with perceptive insights and fascinating juxtapositions (the Coen brothers, for example, come up in a chapter-long comparison with Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski). A closing list of 1,000 favorite films is sure to spark debate among cineastes (Ishtar?) while offering a long checklist of films to watch. (Apr. 27) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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