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In Memory of Raúl Ruiz (a guest post by Jeremy M. Davies)

Raúl Ruiz (1941–2011)

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.]

  • A. D. Jameson is the author of five books, most recently I FIND YOUR LACK OF FAITH DISTURBING: STAR WARS AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE and CINEMAPS: AN ATLAS OF 35 GREAT MOVIES (with artist Andrew DeGraff). Last May, he received his Ph.D. in Creative Writing from the Program for Writers at UIC.

11 thoughts on “In Memory of Raúl Ruiz (a guest post by Jeremy M. Davies)

  1. I want to echo Jeremy’s tribute, though I’m far less able to do so. To my shame, and despite Jeremy’s constant urging, I’ve still seen only a handful of Ruiz films: Klimt, Three Crowns, On Top of the Whale, Dog’s Dialogue. Looks like it’s well past time for me to start catching up…

    But favorite living filmmaker? Not Rivette? I guess Rivette can be that now…. (Me, I’d probably pick Rivette or Tsai. Godard isn’t eligible since he’s immortal.)

    1. Rivette is also my favorite living filmmaker. Do I need to have only one? Rivette will die one day and I will not get out of bed for a week. Or perhaps ever again.

      Is anyone else suspicious that de Oliveira is outliving all of these younger men? Does he bathe in their blood to stay young?

  2. Hello, I’m Sabbir Chowdhury, a film critic from Bangladesh. Like many film critics, I had the chance to watch a handful of his films. I met him once at Rotterdam Film Festival back in 2004 (where I was a member of the jury of the Internarnational Film Critics Association, FIPRESCI). It’s a great loss for cinema, because filmmakers like Raul Ruiz are not born every year. We’ll miss him indeed!

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