These are the days that try cinephiles’ souls, and I suppose one may give one’s penchant for hyperbole a little extra elbow room on such mornings. Suffice to say that if I had a favorite living filmmaker, Ra(o)úl Ruiz was he. The only film course I’ve ever taught was on Ruiz; I’ve proselytized for him (as many long-suffering friends will report) at every opportunity. [This is true. —Adam]
The fact that his Mysteries of Lisbon was picked up for U.S. distribution by the good people at the Music Box seemed to me something of a miracle given his 100+ films’ failure to make much of a mark on American moviegoers, even when the five or six that have screened in theaters here over the last twenty years got seen, reviewed, etc. You are unlikely to see a better movie than Mysteries this year—it’s showing at Lincoln Center even now, and will be traveling west with the coming weeks. [For more on that film, see this article by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.]
What to say about Ruiz? Trite comparisons, like: he was (to quote J. Hoberman) “Mister early-Borges-plus-middle-period Welles, a Barthesian Bunuel, the Edgar G. Ulmer of the European art film”? Personal things, like: I would trade any and every Bergman film for a choice ten of RR’s, thank you very much? Literary things (since this is a literary site), like: he had the chutzpah to adapt Sadegh Hedayat, Pierre Klossowski, Marcel Proust, Balzac, Jean Giono, Massimo Bontempelli, Calderón de la Barca, Racine, and Dante, to name only a few?
Anyone with an interest in film and/or the construction of narrative owes it to themselves to pick up copies of Poetics of Cinema I and II, both of which are available in English, and are closer to speculative essay/fictions, à la Calvino or Gass, than simply (?) film criticism.
A very few of his movies are available on DVD in the States, but I would recommend that people check out The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting and Three Crowns of the Sailor, which are distributed by Facets for Americans without region-free players. [Three Crowns is also completely available online.]
This article, and others at Jonathan Rosenbaum’s site, will go some way toward being more eloquent than I am able, this morning.
The hoary old story goes that, at Lubitsch’s funeral, Billy Wilder said: “No more Lubitsch.” William Wyler replied, “Worse than that—no more Lubitsch films.”
Even I, who have scoured outlets both legal and illegal for copies of Ruiz’s movies, have seen barely a quarter of his total output. So it’s silly to say “no more Ruiz films.” But knowing that he’ll now never reach his second “century” casts a bit of a pall.
The best way to mourn Ruiz is perhaps to play with some model trains while suffering from massive head trauma and being observed by a blindfolded woman in white behind a two-way mirror. I hope you’ll join me in doing so.
[Jeremy M. Davies is the author of the critically-acclaimed film-centric novel Rose Alley, and an editor at Dalkey Archive Press in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.]