I am really happy that this project finally materialised: Jonathan Rosenbaum, the critic whom Godard compared to Bazin, spent a period working and teaching at our programme here in St. Andrews.
I have been a fan of Jonathan’s since 1996 when I lived in Chicago and first came across his writing in the free local weekly, The Chicago Reader. I since became an admirer, mostly in response to his insightful Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Limit What Movies We Can See, a real eye opener which exposes the deeply problematic status quo in global film distribution (even if his focus is mostly on American film, which is not one that I am interested in, really). Jonathan’s writing spans a range of topics in film, yet to me his contributions on matters related to festivals as well as his observations on the clandestine distribution matters are of most interest. Most of his oeuvre is featured at the eponymous blog.
So, when I was teaching at the University of Chicago last fall (October 2008, in the context of the Chicago euphoria preceding the US presidential election), I finally managed to get in touch with Jonathan. During lunch at the famous Medici on 57th in Hyde Park (where at the time waiters were wearing T-Shirts with a sign ‘Obama Eats Here’), I extended an invitation for him to come to St. Andrews as our visiting professor in the Fall of 2009. He since joined the international advisory board for our Dynamics of World Cinema project. Now, more than a year later, I am so happy to report that it all worked, in spite his busy schedule and writing commitments. I believe we all, faculty and postgraduate students, benefited from his presence. His lecture on Iranian cinema to undergraduate students seems to have triggered serious interest among second year students in this film tradition, as I understand they have produced numerous essays on the subject. PhD students have enter dialogue with him on a variety of matters, as one can see, for example, in this entry on Matthew Holtmeier’s blog Cinema Without Organs. Jonathan helped us with a review of the manuscript of our forthcoming Film Festival Yearbook 2: Film Festivals and Imagined Communities; he also praised William Brown’s film, En Attendant Godard, which premiered here during his visit.
Rosenbaum keeps saying he is now retired. What does this mean, however? When I introduced him for the talk he gave here on 27 October 2009, Goodbye Cinema, Hallo Cinephilia!, I could not help noticing his writing was everywhere: I had just read Richard Porton’s collection Decalog 3: On Film Festivals, where Jonathan has got a contribution; I had just browsed through recent issues of Film Quarterly, and in each one there was a contribution by Rosenbaum. And, just the previous day, I had just received a gift from him and Claudia Siefen, The Unquiet American; Transgressive Comedies from the U.S., the fabulous illustrated book published by the Austrian Film Museum in conjunction with the programme at Viennale.
I hope we are all as prolific in retirement as he is!
© Dina Iordanova
29 November 2009