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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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My Favorite Roger: Matt Zoller Seitz

"Stormy Monday"

Why did I choose this review?

My favorite Roger Ebert piece is his review of Mike Figgis' "Stormy Monday," a thriller starring Melanie Griffith, Sean Bean, Tommy Lee Jones and Sting. I was in college when Roger published this review in 1988. None of the newspapers in my hometown of Dallas carried him at that time, so I didn't chance upon it until a few years later, when I came across it in a "Movie Home Companion" collection. 

It impressed me as much as Jonathan Rosenbaum's free-associative columns, Pauline Kael's reveries, James Agee's "suffering gentleman" confessionals, and Armond White's politically charged screeds, and for the same basic reason: it disregarded what we'd all be raised to think was the "proper" form and focus of a film review and did its own deeply personal thing. Roger's "Stormy Monday" review is one of the great examples of form following function that I've encountered. Most critics would have simply told us that in a film such as this, the images, sounds, music and atmosphere matter more than the plot. Roger, who always had a streak of poetry in him, goes one imaginative step further and builds a whole review of descriptions and observations—a stream of impressions that gradually accumulates into an accurate picture of "Stormy Monday" as both story and experience.

I love this review so much that a few years ago, my friend Kim Morgan and I did a video essay based on it. I cut "Stormy Monday" clips and soundtrack music to Roger's words, and Kim read them in her smoky voice. Watching it again today, it feels as though we turned Roger's love letter to "Stormy Monday" into a love letter to Roger's writing. 

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