Jonathan Rosenbaum Interview

By King, Noel | Framework, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Jonathan Rosenbaum Interview


King, Noel, Framework


This interview took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, April 20, 2002.

NK: In Movie Wars you are very critical of aspects of the U.S. movie business, and in an earlier autobiographical book, Moving Places, you explain that your family was involved in film exhibition. So when you make your criticisms of the way the movie business works now you do so from a position of informed, long-term historical knowledge. What do you think the main, deleterious effects are?

JR: The thing that is important to make clear at the outset is that film exhibition is radically different from when I was growing up in the movie business. It could be argued by people currently working in the business that it's very easy for me to make my criticisms because I'm not actually running the business the way they are. But on the other hand I don't know if everything can or should be reduced to matters of business. And I think that's part of the problem now, the belief that it's totally a business and shouldn't be anything else.

NK: Has Miramax ever responded to your criticisms of them, as given in Movie Wars and also in your book on Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man [U.S./Germany, 1995]?

JR: I've had no response whatsoever from Miramax, either because I don't exist for them, I'm not considered important enough, or because it's just not their style to respond. But when they were getting ready to release the DVD of Dead Man they asked Jarmusch who might be able to do a commentary and he must have mentioned me, because they called me up and asked if I would like to do the commentary. I asked whether any payment would be involved, they said no, and also said it had to be done immediately. So I declined and suggested Greil Marcus. They wound up not having any commentary. Anyway, I think it's safe to say that there's been no feedback from Miramax.

Ray Privett in a piece in Cinema Scope said my claim-actually the claim of a curator I quoted-that Miramax destroyed all the American prints of Through the Olive Trees [Abbas Kiarostami, Iran, 1994] wasn't true because in fact someone had requested a print of that film and did receive one, so they haven't destroyed all the prints. I think it often depends on who you get on the phone. What happens with Miramax is often very haphazard. Films will be press-screened in Chicago and we find out that whatever was going to be the opening date has been changed, they've decided to open it six months later, or not open it at all. So as a reviewer it's very difficult to deal with Miramax's films because one is constantly being manipulated in certain ways. Sometimes they show a film simply to see if people like it, and then take it back afterwards and re-cut it, but they still call it a press screening, so you're always one step behind them.

NK: Could you say something about how you came to be a consultant on the re-editing of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil [U.S., 1958]? Did that follow on from your piece in Film Quarterly in 1992?

JR: The Film Quarterly piece came from my editing of the Orson Welles and Peter Bogdanovich book, This Is Orson Welles. It was an outtake from that. The memo was initially part of the book, until the editor at Harper Collins said the book was too long and we had to cut it. So I asked Oja Kodar if we could publish it elsewhere.

Here, it's worth pointing out-because people are shocked to hear this, and they should know about it-that before Film Quarterly agreed to publish that piece it was rejected by Film Comment and by Premiere. The theneditor of Film Comment, Richard T. Jameson, wasn't even interested in reading the piece before deciding. He said, "We've done too much on Welles lately," and yet he later wound up publishing a general piece on Welles and Touch of Evil And The Third Man [Carol Reed, GB, 1949] around the time the memo came out in Film Quarterly. I was a little shocked by that because there was a Welles conference in Munich that showed a lot of restorations of his films, a lot of things that had never been seen before, and I asked if I could write about them in Film Comment and once again, there was no interest. …

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