Nicholas Roeg

Culture Warrior

This time last month, critics across the web and in print were compiling their mandatory best-of lists. While I often get annoyed when some lists with grander goals are given a degree of resonance they don’t in fact deserve (I’m looking at you, AFI), I do see the fun of the end-of year list ritual and honestly enjoy reading and writing such lists myself. But the thing is, I’m not primarily a critic for FSR, I’m a columnist. Thus, it’s nowhere near mandatory that I see everything released in a given year. I’ve been generously given the privileged position here of seeing what I want to see and writing about what I find interesting to write about week-in and week-out. While I receive occasional screeners for indie flicks and docs, I no longer live in a town that holds press screenings, so any new releases I choose to write about come into fruition because I, like your average cinephile (take note, Kevin Smith), have paid to see a movie that I think deserves my time, words, and money. This long digression is to ultimately say that my critical opinion of a given year at the end of that calendar year doesn’t ultimately mean all that much. My annual Top 5 contributions are based on comparatively few films seen by December 31. It’s typically not until sometime in February that I have anything resembling a top 10 list of my own that I can stand by, having finally seen former limited […]

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Criterion Files

The word “cult cinema” is thrown about quite liberally in film criticism, but it takes a dense history to firmly qualify a given film as “cult.” Nicholas Roeg’s sci-fi headtrip The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) is certainly a cult film, as its audience was never “found” in a traditional, straightforward way (i.e., in its original theatrical release). The spotty, complex reception history of The Man Who Fell to Earth has a great deal to do not only with what it was, but when it was. Based on the 1963 novel by Walter Tevis, the film secured financing mostly because of the bankability of its star, David Bowie, in his first starring film role, yet the final product was something of a mystery and an infuriation for initial audiences and critics: a psychedelic bad-trip ruminating on sexual frustration, identity crises, and alcoholism. It was hardly the piece of science-fiction entertainment audiences were used to, as the storytelling frequently cut away to impenetrable, chaotic imagery that was elusive in meaning in Roeg’s signature idiosyncratic visual style. A formal experimenter working with non-experimental material, Roeg made something that was, historically speaking, an anomaly. Just as Roeg’s semi-experiments belonged in neither the movie theater nor the Whitney Museum, The Man Who Fell to Earth sat in a curious liminal space between 1970s sci-fi and New Hollywood countercultural cinema while comfortably embodying neither.

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Criterion Files

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a truly unique film by several definitions. Japanese master filmmaker Nagisa Oshima’s first English-language film (and it is worth noting here that much of it is in Japanese) embodies some dense discourses about Japanese identity, yet in many respects this is a film without a nation. But that’s exactly the point, for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence embodies a host of contradictions in terms of how we’re used to experiencing films of its relative ilk: it is a film about war, yet it is never about patriotism or combat; it is a film about an intersection of cultures, yet it never seeks to deliver a message of sameness of common ground; and it is a film about sexual tensions between males, yet homosexuality is never explicitly addressed in a way that would place it fittingly in the canon of “queer cinema.”

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