Daily Archives: January 1, 1988

Sleepwalk

Sara Driver’s first featurea luminous, oddball comic fantasy about ancient Chinese curses and Xerox machines, set in Manhattan’s Chinatown and its immediate environsmay well be the most visually ravishing American independent film of its year (1986). Set in an irrational, poetic universe that bears a certain relationship to Jacques Rivette’s Duelle, this dreamy intrigue breaks a cardinal rule of fantasy by striking off in a number of directions: an executive barks in the street, a young Frenchwoman (Ann Magnuson) loses her hair, and machines in a copy shop start to purr and wheeze on their own initiative. The moods that are established are delicate, and not everyone will be able to go with them, but Driver, the producer of Stranger Than Paradise, sustains them with beauty and eccentric charm. Suzanne Fletcher, who also starred in Driver’s previous 50-minute You Are Not I, makes a compelling (if unconventional) heroine, and Lorenzo Mans’s screwball dialogue develops some engaging hallucinatory riffs. (JR)… Read more »

The Secret Life Of Adolph Hitler

Research hasn’t been able to uncover the director of this 1958 short documentary feature, a German-American coproduction that includes interviews with Eva Braun and narration by Westbrook Van Vorhees (The March of Time), but the fact that the title misspells its subject’s first name isn’t very promising. (JR)… Read more »

The Secret Cinema

To celebrate its fourth anniversary of screenings, the Experimental Film Coalition at Randolph St. Gallery is presenting a lively and varied program of (mainly) comic shorts. Leading off the evening is Paul Bartel’s paranoid black comedy The Secret Cinema (recently remade by Bartel as an Amazing Stories episode), to be followed by Germaine Dulac’s seminal and silent avant-garde masterpiece The Smiling Madame Beudet, a brand-new animated film by Sally Cruikshank called Face Like a Frog, Ramon Rivera Moret’s comic Cha Cha Cha, the latest film by Midwest animator Christopher Sullivan (Master of Ceremonies), Two Films I Never Made by Berkeley filmmaker Herb de Grasse, and Watersmith by the late Will Hindle, to whose memory the entire program is dedicated.… Read more »

Number 17

A peculiar and neglected early Hitchcock stage adaptation (1932), notable because it was intended partly as an absurdist send-up and none of the contemporary reviewers got the point. (The opening sequence suggests a kind of delirium of continuity that the picture periodically returns to.) Most of the film is set in an abandoned house, where enjoyably murky intrigues abound, and the last ten minutes feature a chase sequence with miniatures that is almost as much fun. 63 min. (JR)… Read more »

How To Stuff A Wild Bikini

Take Annette Funicello, add Dwayne Hickman, sprinkle bits of Brian Donlevy, Buster Keaton, and Mickey Rooney, and stir very, very slowly; bake for 90 minutes. William Asher directed, or claims he did (1965). (JR)… Read more »

Housekeeping

In his first American picture (1987) Scottish director Bill Forsyth adapts Marilynne Robinson’s much-acclaimed novel about two orphaned sisters (played by Sara Walker and Andrea Burchill) who share their ramshackle house with their eccentric aunt (Christine Lahti). The setting is the Pacific northwest in the 1950s, and Forsyth does a remarkable job with period detail and the beautiful natural settings, assisted by his own UK crew of cinematographer Michael Coulter, production designer Adrienne Atkinson, costume designer Mary-Jane Reyner, and editor Michael Ellis. But the most impressive thing about this haunting fable is Forsyth’s fluidity and grace as a storyteller, which gives this understated tale some of the resonance one associates with Terrence Malick’s Badlands and Days of Heaven. The story suggests a kind of feminist version of Huckleberry Finn, with the sisters playing Huck and Tom to their aunt’s Jim; the performances by all three actresses are impeccable. A film to be savored rather than gulped. (JR)… Read more »

Hot Blood

While not really a success, Nicholas Ray’s 1956 film about urban Gypsies in color and ‘Scope, made between two of his masterpieces (Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life), has its share of interesting moments and vibrant energies, many of them tied to Ray’s abiding interest in the folkloric. In some respects this comes closer to the musical that Ray always dreamed of making than any of his other movies: there’s a defiant dance performed by Cornel Wilde on the street, a dynamic whip dance between Wilde and Jane Russell that’s even more kinetic, and a Gypsy chorus that figures in other parts. Definitely one of the more intriguing and neglected of Ray’s second-degree efforts. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

Himatsuri

This controversial fourth feature by Matsuo Yanagimachi, one of the leading Japanese independents, is the story of a middle-aged lumberjack and hunter named Tatsuo living in a remote coastal village. A single male in a matriarchal family and a Shinto-inspired pantheist, Tatsuo refuses to sell his land for the construction of a highway leading up to a new marina, and after a religious experience during the district’s annual fire festival he kills his entire family as well as himself. Inspired by a 1980 news story about a stone mason, this 1985 film has been criticized for its male narcissism and praised for Masaki Tamura’s striking on-location cinematography. (JR)… Read more »

Happy-go-lucky

Vasily Shukshin’s 1973 film in black-and-white ‘Scopecommonly considered his finest, and also known as That’s How It Isstars Shukshin and his wife (Lydia Fedoseeva-Shukshin) as a couple who travel to a southern spa by train from their Siberian village. Accompanied by a lot of balalaika music on the sound track, this rambling satire about the various interactions between a country bumpkin and various urban types whom he meets on his travelsincluding a snob, an engaging con artist, and a professor in linguisticsseems to lose something in translation. The film certainly has its moments (including a brief and bizarre dream sequence), and one can see why the late Shukshin was able to attract a fanatical cult in his own country; but it appears that much of his popularity rested on his grasp of local folkways and accentsdetails that are lost on non-Russian-speaking spectatorsand without this context, much of the proceedings comes across as fairly lukewarm, both as comedy and as cinema. As a glimpse into Siberian culture, though, the film has its moments of interest, and Shukshin and his wife are both engaging actors. (JR)… Read more »

A Zed & Two Noughts

The boldest and arguably one of the best of Peter Greenaway’s fiction features, this extremely odd and perverse conceptual piece (1986) certainly isn’t for every taste, although Sacha Vierny’s cinematography makes it so luscious that you may be mesmerized in spite of yourself. The title refers to a European zoo; the curious plot involves two brothers who work as the zoo’s curators and who lose their wives in a freak auto accident. Only partially a narrative film, this elegant puzzle also involves amputees, painting, a menage a trois, and decomposing animalsalong with many other thingswhich are intricately interrelated thanks to Greenaway’s icy brilliance. Definitely a one-of-a-kind movie. With Andrea Ferreol, Brian and Eric Deacon, Frances Barber, and Joss Ackland. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

You Can’t Hurry Love

A feeble attempt at satire about LA lifestyles, this lightweight comedy stars David Packer as a spurned fiance from Ohio who travels out west to stay with his cousin (Scott McGinnis) and find a new life and love. Most of the story involves his dates with various oddball women whom he meets through a dating service and his yearning to find someone normal; unfortunately, this movie’s grasp of the normal is every bit as cliched and overdone as its pie-eyed attitude about what LA kooks are supposed to be like. The film misses the mark on nearly every target, but Charles Grodin is around for an amusing cameo (along with Kristy McNichol and Sally Kellerman). Other actors include Bridget Fonda, David Leisure, and Anthony Geary, but the main culprit is director Richard Martini and his own witless script. (JR)… Read more »

Women’s Moving Pictures: New Works By Six Experimental Film Artists

The half-dozen films to be shown: Chick Strand’s Anselmo and the Women, which explores the private life of a Mexican street musician; Gunvor Nelson’s Frameline, which combines memories and fantasies with physical reality; Barbara Hammer’s approximation of the viewpoint of her 97-year-old grandmother in Optic Nerve; Jean Sousa’s Spent Moments, which follows the domestic entrapment and chores of an anonymous woman; Margaret Ganahl’s Saving the Proof, which brings about the complex breakdown and transformation of a walking woman; and Ardath Grant’s lament in three movements for the late writer and video artist Theresa Cha, Departures.… Read more »

What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Arguably Woody Allen’s funniest movie (as well as his first), though he acts as if he’d prefer to forget it today, this redubbing of a Japanese James Bond spin-off bristles with loony invention and energy. The MacGuffin in this international intrigue, as rewritten by Allen (who appears as commentator in linking sections with China Lee), is an egg salad recipe; the characters include Phil Moskowitz and Terri Yaki; the music is by the Lovin’ Spoonful (who also appear in linking episodes). A riotous object lesson in how much dialogue can transform visuals, and Allen works wonders with it (1966). The title, incidentally, plays off What’s New, Pussycat?, written by and costarring Allen and released the previous year. 80 min. (JR)… Read more »

Village Tale

A rare screening of one of John Cromwell’s least seen featuresand, according to film historian William K. Everson and Cromwell himself, one of his best. A melodrama set in a small town in Iowa, full of intrigues and multiple subplots and revolving around a love triangle that leads to a feud between the two landowners involved, the film reportedly bears some relationship to Peyton Place in its realistic critique of provincial attitudes and behavior. Randolph Scott stars; adapted by Allan Scott from a novel by Phil Strong, and shot by Nicholas Musuraca (1935).… Read more »

Vera

Sergio Toledo’s first feature, from Brazil, describes the life and experiences of a fierce tomboy, Vera (Ana Beatriz Noguieira), who wants to be a man. Coming from a difficult boarding school background, she forms a relationship with a beautiful young woman named Clara, and her intense desire to be treated like a man leads her to consider a sex change operation. A brutual depiction of sexual conditioning, but as a treatment of gender confusion it’s questionable whether this has much more to say about the subject than the treatment of Linda Manz’s character in Dennis Hopper’s Out of the Blue; despite a liberal orientation, it’s surely no less bleak and defeatist. (JR)… Read more »