Jonathan Rosenbaum

  • Jacques Rivette

    ALTHOUGH JACQUES RIVETTE was the first of the Cahiers du Cinéma critics to start making films (his first amateur short dates from 1949), he differed from his colleagues—Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, Eric Rohmer, François Truffaut—in that he remained a cult figure rather than becoming an art-house staple. His career was hampered by false starts, delays, and interruptions, and it abruptly ended in 2009 with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, six years before his death this past January. But his legacy is immense.

    His career can easily be divided into two parts, although it’s not so easy

  • Robert J. Flaherty’s Moana with Sound

    “UNTIL RECENTLY,” anthropologist Jay Ruby wrote thirty-odd years ago, “the scholarship and popular press surrounding [Robert J.] Flaherty have tended toward two extremes—portraying him in mythical terms and ‘worshipping’ his films or debunking them as fakes and frauds and castigating him for a lack of social and political consciousness.” But the more balanced view of “Flaherty as a man of his time and culture” that Ruby saw succeeding these extremes still hasn’t fully taken hold, perhaps because the very meaning of the term documentary is still being debated. Even when we smile (or flinch)

  • Pedro Costa’s Horse Money

    Doctor: Has this happened to you before?

    Ventura: It will happen again, yes, it will.

    TRYING TO RATIONALIZE Pedro Costa’s Horse Money in terms of a synopsis—the film is mostly an achronological assembly of claustrophobic tableaux with one or two speaking characters—is ultimately a fool’s game, but connecting it to recent Portuguese history is a necessity. The April 25, 1974, coup known today as the Carnation Revolution, which was led by the left-wing Armed Forces Movement (MFA) and ended the long-standing Estado Novo dictatorship, took place when Costa was in his early teens. Ventura,

  • André Singer’s Night Will Fall

    DOOMED BY SHIFTING POSTWAR social and political agendas, the never-completed documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey—launched in April 1945 by the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and shelved in September of that same year—might have been the key nonfiction film on the subject had it been finished and shown as originally planned, as required viewing for German prisoners of war. Shot by trained GI cameramen accompanying British, American, and Russian troops as they liberated the camps, it might even have served as the principal disclosure to the rest of the

  • Claude Lanzmann’s The Last of the Unjust

    THE LAST OF THE UNJUST, the latest of Claude Lanzmann’s footnotes and afterthoughts to his 1985 masterpiece, Shoah, functions even more than that earlier film as a dialectical palimpsest, so its successive layers—which remain in perpetual dialogue with one another—should be identified at the outset:

    December 1944: Benjamin Murmelstein, a Vienna rabbi, is appointed by the Nazis as the third (and last) Jewish “elder” of Theresienstadt (Terezin, in Czech), a “model” or “showcase” ghetto set up in the former Czech Republic in 1941, his two predecessors having been executed the previous May

  • film December 08, 2010

    Tragic Proportions

    “THE HOLOCAUST is about six million people who get killed,” Stanley Kubrick reportedly said to screenwriter Frederic Raphael in the late 1990s. “Schindler’s List was about six hundred people who don’t.” One of the most striking things about this remark is its placement of the Holocaust in the present and a film made half a century later in the past.

    These are the priorities of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah (1985), 565 minutes long, widely and in some ways justly regarded as the greatest film about the Holocaust. But they’re also the priorities of Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol’s Nuit et brouillard (

  • film December 23, 2009

    Tony Tony Tony

    TERRY GILLIAM’S AMBITIOUS FANTASY, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, set to open in the US on Christmas Day, already did well in some parts of Europe when it premiered there in October—notably Italy and the UK, where it placed third during its opening weekends in both countries. I saw it the first time myself in Saint Andrews, Scotland, with an appreciative audience in early November. The lead character, Tony—played by the late Heath Ledger and three other actors (Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell) who were called in when Ledger died halfway through the filming—is partly conceived as

  • film April 03, 2009

    Trial and Era

    A CONSIDERABLE PART of what’s most fascinating and enjoyable about Jim McBride’s early films is also what’s most dated and therefore forgotten about them. So it seems pertinent that McBride’s first two films, David Holzman’s Diary (1967) and My Girlfriend’s Wedding (1969), an especially (and provocatively) dialectical twosome, are available on a DVD released in the UK by Second Run (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes) but can’t be found on their home turf.

    The first of these movies virtually launched the American pseudo-documentary long before postmodernist skepticism ungracefully redubbed

  • film April 01, 2009

    The Sun Also Sets

    NO MAJOR FIGURE IN POSTWAR JAPANESE CINEMA eludes classification more thoroughly than Nagisa Oshima. The director of twenty-three stylistically diverse feature films since his directorial debut in 1958, at the age of twenty-six, Oshima is, arguably, the best-known but least understood proponent of the Japanese New Wave that came to international prominence in the 1960s and ’70s (though it is a label Oshima himself rejects and despises). Given the size of his oeuvre and the portions that remain virtually unknown in the West—including roughly a quarter of his features and most of his twenty-odd

  • film March 12, 2009

    Never Too Late

    ONE REASON WHY it never seems like an inappropriate time to have a Carl Theodor Dreyer retrospective is that most of his films haven’t dated, even though reactions to his works have fluctuated quite a bit over the years. Based on my own experiences in recently showing his 1943 Day of Wrath to students, I would venture that fewer spectators nowadays are likely to regard the film’s slow tempo as intolerable the way that the New York Times’s Bosley Crowther did over sixty years ago. (“Dreyer has kept his idea so obscure and the action so slow and monotonous that the general audience will find it

  • THE SUN ALSO SETS: THE FILMS OF NAGISA OSHIMA

    The indisputable highlight of the 2008 New York Film Festival is a complete retrospective of the films of Japanese provocateur Nagisa Oshima. As “In the Realm of Oshima” unspools this month at the Walter Reade Theater in New York, we asked critic Jonathan Rosenbaum to take the measure of a man who is perhaps Japan’s most unquantifiable cinematic master.

    NO MAJOR FIGURE IN POSTWAR JAPANESE CINEMA eludes classification more thoroughly than Nagisa Oshima. The director of twenty-three stylistically diverse feature films since his directorial debut in 1958, at the age of twenty-six, Oshima is, arguably, the best-known but least understood proponent of the Japanese New Wave that came to international prominence in the 1960s and ’70s (though it is a label Oshima himself rejects and despises). Given the size of his oeuvre and the portions that remain virtually unknown in the West—including roughly a quarter of his features and most of his twenty-odd

  • BEST OF THE ’90s: FILM



    CINDY SHERMAN, artist:
    Thomas Vinterberg’s brilliant The Celebration (1998) is especially important because it signals the future of the medium, away from Hollywood’s excesses.

    JOHN WATERS, filmmaker: During the 1994 Cannes Film Festival I was sick in bed with the flu on the night Pulp Fiction premiered. Suddenly, from blocks away I heard the most stupendous roar of approval from the opening-night audience. I was so pissed to have missed the night Quentin Tarantino became an instant cinematic icon. But once I saw the movie I knew he deserved it. I guess you could call me a Quentin-hag.

    KIMBERLY

  • the Good, the Bad, and the Overlooked

    IN OCTOBER I COMPILED three lists for my own schizoid edification. The first consisted of the 50 best films I had seen this year at festivals in Berlin, Cannes, Locarno, and Toronto and as a member of the New York Film Festival selection committee (which entailed a screening of 100 more films in August). The second was my impression of what comprised the 50 most discussed films released in the United States this year; my third list was a selection of what I considered the 20 most important releases, whether they were widely discussed or not. Only one feature appears on all three lists—Todd

  • Toronto Film Festival

    The Toronto Film Festival, now in its seventh year, takes place over ten days every September. Proudly dubbing itself a “Festival of Festivals,” it actually deserves that moniker a lot more than the New York Film Festival does, and not only because it shows about five times as many films. Insofar as its giddy pluralism derives from an overlap of disparate and even antithetical individual tastes rather than from a distillation based on committee decisions, Toronto democratically permits those attending to select their own festivals out of an overflowing mixed bag. This year, apart from the main