Critic's Choice Spotlight: Glenn Kenny

Critic's Choice Spotlight: Glenn Kenny

GLENN KENNY is the author of “Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas.” He writes film reviews for The New York Times and and elsewhere.

This is the final film by the Polish director Andrzej Wajda (1926-2016), whose wide-ranging filmography always rewards exploration; he may indeed by THE great Polish filmmaker, which is saying a lot considering his contemporaries. (You know, Skolimowski, Polanski, Holland, Zanussi, and more.) This picture is an energetic, indignant account of an avant-garde artist oppressed by Stalinism. In my review for The New York Times, I wrote: “This is an angry, vivid, passionate film. Cinema is worse off now that Wajda, one of the truly towering greats of the form, is dead; there is some consolation, though, that he went out with his boots still most defiantly on.”

The final film by Luchino Visconti is a substantial return to form after the bumpy 1974 CONVERSATION PIECE. Adapted from a Gabrielle D’Annunzio novel about the perversity of the adulterer, it stars Giancarlo Giannini and Laura Antonelli, the biggest international art house stars Italy had to offer at the time, along with American actress and model Jennifer O’Neill at the height of her porcelain beauty. The story is more terrifying than melodramatic and Visconti examines his characters from an almost clinical distance while still allowing the charisma of his performers to run rampant. The results are unhinged in the best way.

Cinephiles associate the great Irish actress Maureen O’Hara with director John Ford, but did you know her first major role was in a Hitchcock picture? Indeed it is so. JAMAICA INN, the last movie the Master of Suspense made in Britain before emigrating to the States to make Rebecca for David O. Selznick, wasn’t one of Hitch’s favorites — he thought male lead Charles Laughton kind of hijacked the picture — but this period tale of high seas hijinks and kidnapping is full of innovative touches. Not to mention thrills galore. O’Hara is high-spirited, and Laughton’s hijacking of the picture is terrifically entertaining whether Hitchcock liked it or not.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder. You know him, you love him. You’ve seen him act, mostly in his own movies. But have you seen him playing a cop — a cop of the future at that? In this 1982 feature directed by Wolf Gremm, Fassbinder, near the end of his life and clearly not in great shape, lumbers around in an outrageous leopard-print suit, investigating a string of bombings that disturb what seems to be an otherwise ideal society, one in which ecological and economic woes seem to have been ended. Based on a story by Per Wahloo (co-author of The Laughing Detective). While Fassbinder didn’t direct, this movie certainly has some affinities with his WORLD ON WIRE and THE THIRD GENERATION.

Eric Rohmer’s films teem with irony applied to moral conundrums great and small and are mostly set in the contemporary world. His period films are fascinating and just as vital, and this is one of his best; indeed, it’s one of Rohmer’s greatest pictures overall. Based on a tale by the stupendous German writer Heinrich von Kleist, this faithful adaptation tells of a mysterious pregnancy. The solution of the mystery provides an opportunity for either condemnation or forgiveness, but in the early 19th century, what’s a woman actually able to do? Bruno Ganz and Edith Clever (the latter is rarely seen in film, and most frequently in the work of Hans Jurgen Syberberg) give spectacular performances here.

“Not an untalented man,” Christopher Lee allowed of notorious, and notoriously prolific moviemaker Jess Franco when I interviewed the legendary star in the early ’90s. A connoisseur of the perverse, Franco filled his over 200 picture filmography with noir, horror, erotica, and a sense of the surreal that was sometimes playful, sometimes dreadful, and sometimes entirely inadvertent. These two early- ’60s items find him working as conventional a register as he’d ever reach while also allowing him to indulge his passion for jazz. RIFIFI IN THE CITY, its title capitalizing on the Dassin heist classic but otherwise unrelated, is a languid paranoid thriller while DEATH SINGS THE BLUES is a more fevered revenge tale.

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Critic's Choice Spotlight: Glenn Kenny
  • Afterimage

    Legendary director Andrzej Wajda's final film is a passionate portrait of renowned avant garde painter Wladyslaw Strzeminski, who challenged Stalinist orthodoxy. In post-war Poland, Strzeminski works as a professor at the National School of Fine Arts in Lodz. His students treat him like the "mess...

  • L'Innocente

    Gabriele d'Annunzio’s passionate novel is brought to life in the final masterpiece from acclaimed director Luchino Visconti. In late-nineteenth century Italy, Tullio (Giancarlo Giannini), an insatiable aristocrat, grows bored with his timid wife Giuliana (Laura Antonelli) and neglects her for his...

  • Jamaica Inn

    Adapted from the Daphne du Maurier (Rebecca, The Birds) novel of the same name, Jamaica Inn was the last British film that Alfred Hitchcock directed before heading to Hollywood. An often overlooked gem from the master of suspense, its story of cutthroats luring ships to be wrecked and then robbed...

  • Kamikaze 89

    In his final acting role, legendary auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder (clad in an iconic leopard skin suit) stars as hardboiled detective Jansen. In a neon-drenched futuristic dystopia ruled by a multimedia conglomerate called The Combine, Jansen is sent on a labyrinthine investigation when their h...

  • The Marquise of O...

    Already an established filmmaker by the 1976 release of THE MARQUISE OF O, an adaptation of Heinrich von Kleist's classic short story, the film stands as Eric Rohmer's "dazzling testament to the civilizing effects of several different arts, witty, joyous and so beautiful to look at" (The New York...

  • Rififi in the City

    Following his international breakthrough with THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, director Jesús Franco delivered a startling crime thriller that pistol-whipped European notions of film noir while lighting the fuse on Uncle Jess' own insane aesthetic. Jean Servais of RIFIFI fame stars in RIFIFI IN THE CITY, a ...

  • Death Whistles the Blues

    Following his international breakthrough with THE AWFUL DR. ORLOFF, director Jesús Franco delivered a startling crime thriller that pistol-whipped European notions of film noir while lighting the fuse on Jess' own insane aesthetic. Set in New Orleans and based on a novel by the authors of VERTIGO...