Kent Jones and French Cinema

Kent Jones
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Kent Jones was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA in 1960. He has written about cinema since the 1980s and has contributed to Film Comment since 1996, he also contributes to Cahiers du Cinema and Trafic. He dropped out of NYU studying first Film Production then Film Studies. He worked as a carer for people with autism in the 1980s. He has worked with Martin Scorsese since the early 90s first as an archivist. Jones was also a film programmer at Film Society at Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater and New York Film Festival Selection Committee between 1998 and 2009, after which he become the director of World Cinema Foundation (2009-2012). He is currently the director and chairman of Selection Committee for The New York Film Festival (2012-) .His favourite films include Fanny and Alexander (Bergman, 1982) The Puppetmaster (Hou, 1993) and The Magnificent Ambersons (Welles, Fleck and Wise, 1942).


Jones stated in 2003, “I got interested in French cinema in the early ’90s. I went there and saw Van Gogh (Maurice Pialat, 1991), J’embrasse Pas (Techiné, 1991), Paris At Dawn (Assayas, 1991) and Les Amants Du Pont-Neuf (Léos Carax, 1991). I was working for Marty at that point and made sure he saw that movie, because I thought he’d be excited about it. At that point, the American view of modern French cinema was limited to say the least. Olivier remembers coming here when he showed Disorder (Assayas, 1986) and seeing a marquee that said “Yves Robert is the glory of French cinema.” In those days, that’s what it was like. In everyone’s minds, French cinema was Truffaut, even though he’d been dead for six years, still fighting with Godard. That’s why Maurice Pialat was never popular here. Waves just come and go. Once they come, there’s a lot invested in keeping it new, especially for people who lived through them.”


Amongst Jones’ favourite directors other than those already menti.ned are Chantal Akerman (1950-2015), Robert Bresson, (1901-1999), David Fincher and Arnaud Desplechin. Jones was inspired to be a film critic by the writing of Manny Farber (1917-2008) and Andrew Sarris (1928-2012) who Jones both knew personally. Andre Bazin (1918-1958) also shaped his ideas on cinema. Jones has written five books, The first Memorable Movie Roles and the Actors Who Played Them (1992) Andre Techine: Strategy of Tension (1997, available only in Spanish) L’Argent (BFI Modern Classics, 1999), Physical Evidence: Collected Film Criticism (2007) and Olivier Assayas (editor and contributor, 2012). Jones’ book on L’Argent is a lovely tribute to Bresson, which discusses amongst other things Bresson’s use of doorways in his films and how he sees Bresson not as a filmmaker of grace, he states (2000) “No one ever made films at once so concentrated and so expansive, so precise in their mapping of action and so careful to allow for a resonance beyond the imagination of almost anyone else who has ever worked in the medium. No other filmmaker has followed everyday existence with such patience, care and love. The tension between what is seen and what is felt, what is understood and what is undefinable yet present, lies at the core of Bresson’s work.” Physical Evidence is a ten year anthology of Jones’ writing for various publications. I love how he describes Lucrecia Martel’s films, her use of framing and sounds, his piece on Hou Hsiao-hsien is also beautiful at describes Hou’s  uses of colour, sounds and framing.  Jones is also a filmmaker, he has directed four films, Lady by the Sea: The Statue of Liberty (Scorsese and Jones, 2004) Val Lewton: A Man in the Shadows (Jones, 2007) A Letter to Elia (Scorsese and Jones, 2010) and Hitchcock/Truffaut (Jones, 2015). He also co-wrote My Voyage to Italy (Scorsese, 2001) and Jimmy P. (Desplechin, 2013).


I find Jones’ writing style to be personal, articulate and clear, he comes across so an interviews to very passionate cinema and life. His first piece for Film Comment was on Olivier Assayas, it is a very beautiful piece of writing. I have not seen the films that Jones refers to but I could picture them in my head. Jones (2001) said of In the Mood for Love (Wong, 2000), “But even within the film’s locked-down symmetries (which replace Wong Kar-wai’s usual lachrymose voiceover as a structuring device), every shot remains a quietly ravishing event. Cheung passing her hand over her husband’s back as he plays mahjong, then sitting on the edge of his chair, in slow motion: a sad, graceful moment, where the line of her body conveys the sense of a woman playing the dutiful, admiring wife. The palette may be more restrained than in the previous movies (heavy on grays, whites and beiges, with great swathes of red), but every object glows as ecstatically as ever”.

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