By William Wolf

RAINER ON FILM  Send This Review to a Friend

Film Critic Peter Rainer has compiled a collection of his reviews and appraisals written over a thirty-year period into his new book “Rainer on Film: Thirty Years of Film Writing in a Turbulent and Transformative Era.” His critiques have been culled from the many sources of his published works during a distinguished career. His credits include film critic for the Christian Science Monitor, a columnist for Bloomberg News, president of the National Society of Film Critics, a reviewer for FilmWeek on NPR, as well as having been film critic for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, the Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles magazine, New York magazine and New Times Los Angeles. There’s more, all adding up to a portrait of a writer whose work merits special consideration.

The measure of such a critic does not lie in to what extent one may agree or disagree with his viewpoints. It lies in his power to engage a reader or listener in thoughtful and meaningful ways, to stimulate argument, to make one feel that what he has to say is worth paying attention to and being taken seriously, as well as to entertain. Measured by such criteria Rainer stands tall.

The pages in this volume (Santa Monica Press, 576 pages, $24.95; phone order: 1-800-784-9553) make clear that Rainer has had a long-term love affair with film. His passion never subsides, whether he is enthusiastically embracing a film or a director, or aiming his sharp wit at a work he disdains. Always there is the intelligence that gives his viewpoints weight.

Inevitably another critic will find disagreement as well as agreement. That is the nature of holding strong opinions, a requisite for being a critic or reading a critic. For example, I enjoy Rainer’s description of Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita” as “like a compendium of everything that had been done in comedy up to that time: a screwball romantic farce crossed with slapstick tragedy and presided over by Peter Sellers’s hepcat scattershot torments.” That doesn’t mean that I may not quarrel with some of his other Kubrick observations.

I admire Rainer’s acidic description of Baz Lurhmann’s “Romeo and Juliet”: ‘The film isn’t just in-your-face; it’s also in your mouth, ears, nose, and arse.” Or with respect to Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”: “Luhrmann can’t be criticized for not achieving what he set out to do. ‘Moulin Rouge’ has the awful completeness of a fully realized bum vision.” The book is filled with such Rainerism sharpness.

On the other hand, I take issue with the author’s, in my opinion, overly harsh critique of the recent “Zero Dark Thirty,” a very topical inclusion. I disagree with him on the evaluation of the torture sequences. I greatly approve of the use of the specific torture scenes, because it is about time someone had the guts in a mainstream film to show what our government has been doing in our name. Rainer contends that the scenes are presented without the film taking a moral stance, but I submit that their very inclusion is a moral stance. However, this is a case in point of Rainer’s writing inviting serious discussion of contemporary issues.

The volume is well-organized in a manner that makes it easy for a reader to follow personal interests. There are chapters titled, for example. “Overrated, Underseen,” “Auteurs,” “About Acting, Star Actors, and Acting Stars” and “Literary and Theatrical Adaptations.”

In short, I find that “Rainer on Film” provides a service of bringing to wider attention the elegant writing and provocative analysis by a critic who has earned a solid reputation over the years. Would that all critics wrote with his gift for turning a phrase and clarity in effectively setting forth his views that may endorse or challenge one’s own. Reviewed June 2, 2013.


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