From the Chicago Reader (May 27, 1988). — J.R.
Carl Dreyer’s last film, one of the most controversial movies ever made, would be my own candidate for the most beautiful, affecting, and inexhaustible of all narrative films, but it is clearly not for every taste — not, alas, even remotely. Adapted from a long-forgotten play by Hjalmar Soderberg written during the early years of this century, it centers on a proud, stubborn woman (Nina Pens Rode) who demands total commitment in love and forsakes both her husband and a former lover for a young musician who is relatively indifferent to her. It moves at an extremely slow, theatrical pace in lengthy takes recorded mainly in direct sound (although shot principally in a studio), and deserves to be ranked along with The Magnificent Ambersons, Lola Montes, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance as one of the great haunted memory films. In a way, the meaning of this film partially hinges on the refusal and/or inability to compromise, and what this means over the range of an entire life (in this case, Dreyer’s as well as his heroine’s). The eponymous heroine may be regarded as a monster, a sublime and saintly martyr, or, most likely, as an impossible fusion of the two.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 27, 1988)….Seeing Konchalovsky’s latest, the powerful Holocaust drama Paradise, at Mar del Plata last month, I was reminded of what a terrific filmmaker he can be, which whetted my appetite to resee his powerful Runaway Train (a recent Twilight Time Blu-Ray that was waiting for me when I returned to Chicago). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
Written by Konchalovsky, Gerard Brach, and Marjorie David
With Jill Clayburgh, Barbara Hershey, Martha Plimpton, Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, and Mare Winningham.
I still have a lot of catching up to do with Andrei Konchalovsky. Out of his 11 or so features to date, the last 4 of which were made in the United States, I’ve seen prior to Shy People only 2. The Soviet Asya’s Happiness (1966), a film made with and about Russian peasants, was suppressed for many years because of its supposedly “gloomy” depiction of rural life but surfaced at the San Francisco Film Festival a couple of months ago. The other was Runaway Train (1985), costarring Jon Voight, Eric Roberts, and Rebecca DeMornay and adapted from a script by Akira Kurosawa. But a couple of things are already becoming clear from this limited if striking evidence.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 6, 1988). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Dennis Hopper
Written by Michael Schiffer and Richard Dilello
With Sean Penn, Robert Duvall, Maria Conchita Alonso, Randy Brooks, Grand Bush, Don Cheadle, Glenn Plummer, and Rudy Ramos.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Tengiz Abuladze
Written by Nana Djanelidze, Tengiz Abuladze, and Rezo Kveselava
With Avtandil Makharadze, Zeinab Botsvadze, Ketevan Abuladze, Edisher Giorgobiani, Kakhi Kavsadze, Iya Ninidze, and Merab Ninidze.
For several weeks now, I’ve been trying to get a fix on what irritates me so much about Colors. Seeing it again recently, and then seeing Repentance for the first time the next day, a few hours before I started this review, gave me the beginning of an answer, and it isn’t a pretty one. If these films can be said to represent what “social criticism” currently means in the respective cultures of the U.S. and the Soviet Union — and, after a certain amount of boiling and scraping, I think that they can — then it seems to me we’re in trouble.
It’s been estimated that over 60 million Russians have already seen Repentance, the most prominent of all the belated, post-glasnost Soviet releases — scripted in 1981-82, filmed in 1984, and apparently shelved for only two years prior to the thaw.… Read more »
This is almost as much fun as it sounds: a Cuban feature-length animated film (by Juan Padron) that makes fun of horror and gangster movies in a bawdy and caricatural style. Among the heavies who are out to steal Professor von Dracula’s formula, which allows vampires to survive in sunlight, are the European Group of vampires from Dusseldorf and the Vampire Mafia from Chicago. Although the animation style is less than brilliant, there are enough action and high spirits here to make this lively and amusing. With a good Afro-Cuban jazz score by Rembert Egues, featuring Arturo Sandoval’s trumpet (1985). (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, May 22, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, May 23 through 26, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114)… Read more »
This first film of Japanese writer-director and former actor Juzo Itami lacks the freewheeling episodic form and comic exhilaration of his second, Tampopo; but as a sustained social satire, it succeeds more than either that film or his third, A Taxing Woman. Itami’s subject is a family funeral that lasts three days and the elaborate preparations, considerations, and rituals that accompany it–from expenses to the videotape advising both the family and the guests what to say to one another. The results are perhaps a mite overlong, but Itami’s vigorous filmmaking keeps things lively, and Ozu veteran Chishu Ryu is especially welcome in a cameo as the officiating priest. One also gets some early indications of Itami’s handling of food and sex, which reaches full flower in Tampopo. With Nabuko Miyamoto (Itami’s wife) and Tsutomu Yamazaki (1984). (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 20 through 26)… Read more »
Although it only runs for half an hour, Angelo Restivo’s cunningly ordered, well-crafted, and locally made adaptation of a Julio Cortazar story makes use of so many free-floating narrative signifiers–including an adept use of sound and music–that it comes across as an outline for a novel. Circling around an ambiguous murder mystery that isn’t so much solved as multiplied and varied like a musical theme, this tantalizing short provides a kind of do-it-yourself fiction kit; what you bring to it is what you get. With Marika Turano, Celia Lipinski, and Mark Dember. (International House, 1414 E. 59th St., Friday, May 20, 8:00 and 10:00, to be shown with Luis
Buñuel‘s Susana, 753-2274)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 13, 1988). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Alan Rudolph
Written by Rudolph and Jon Bradshaw
With Keith Carradine, Linda Fiorentino, Geneviève Bujold, Geraldine Chaplin, Wallace Shawn, Kevin J. O’Connor, and John Lone.
For its first hour, at least, The Moderns gives us an Alan Rudolph very nearly back at the top of his form, on a level that approaches that of his two masterpieces, Remember My Name and Choose Me. The effort isn’t sustained — and the movie encounters a number of booby traps, emerging more than a little battle scarred — but it still qualifies as far and away the most ambitious Rudolph movie to date. Painters and art critics who were offended by the treatment of art forgery in Orson Welles’s F for Fake will probably be even more outraged by Rudolph’s tracing of related ironies, set in what purports to be the Paris of 1926. But those who are will be missing something enjoyable.
Fundamentally a gifted stylist with only a couple of effective stories to tell — usually “romantic” yarns that progressively unravel their own artificiality, inviting the viewer to reassemble them — Rudolph has had an unusually scattered and elusive career.… Read more »
Like Borges and Bioy-Casares’s no less questionable Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, this satirical look at the presumptions of the avant-garde is apt to be funnier to people who dislike most of the avant-garde on principle than to those with more sympathy–who maybe in for a bumpy ride. Either way, Suzanne Osten’s Swedish comedy certainly has its laughs, although a certain rhythmic monotony and sameness in the scenes prevents it from building as much as it should (in the sense that, say, Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Albert Brooks’s Real Life do, to cite two other celebrations of eccentric theatrical excess). A typical scene begins with the director of an avant-garde production of Don Giovanni asking members of his company to do something outrageous (“Do something erotic with objects”), and ends with a musician grumbling or making threats (“If you say I’m antagonistic once again, I’ll hit you with my shoe”). On the other hand, I previewed this movie on tape, and the big-screen treatment in Dolby that it’ll be getting at its Chicago premiere will undoubtedly help. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)… Read more »
From the May 13, 1988 Chicago Reader. The recent news that Richard has departed as director of the New York Film Festival has led me to recall the last time he left an important programming job. — J.R.
The notion of the “testament” — the final work of a major filmmaker — is an important one to film lovers. It can be traced back to the 60s, specifically to the French New Wave and the forging in this country of the concept of the film auteur, a time when these and related phenomena were altering the official canons of movie culture. Starting next Tuesday, May 17, the Film Center of the Art Institute will present a weekly series of testaments to run through the end of June.
A lot of the movies included in “Testaments: Final Films of the Great Directors” were getting their first releases back in those days. And almost invariably, they were dying at the box office and at the hands of most mainstream reviewers, while a team of passionate and informed enthusiasts were singing their praises. Bloody religious wars were waged over these movies; in most cases, they’re still being waged.
Fritz Lang’s The Thousand Eyes of Dr.… Read more »
As far as I know, this is the only surviving remnant, at least on paper, of a lecture I gave at what may have been the first international and academic conference devoted to Orson Welles, held at New York University in May 1988. The footnotes haven’t survived. — J.R.
Note: The following is a revised version of a paper which was initially structured around four lengthy excerpts from the Huckleberry Finn radio show presented on The Campbell Playhouse. In order to make this adaptation, I have eliminated all of my remarks about music and sound effects and given more emphasis to allusion and description rather than citation. Interested readers are urged to consult the radio show, available on Mark 56 Records (no. 634), P.O. Box One, Anaheim, CA 92805. [April 2015: This can now be accessed online and for free here.]
Huckleberry Finn was broadcast on The Campbell Playhouse on March 17, 1940, during the period when Orson Welles was commuting every week between Hollywood and New York. Herman Mankiewicz was working on the first draft of the Citizen Kane script at the time. Three and a half months had passed since the final version of the film script of Heart of Darkness had been completed, and two months since the final script of The Smiler with the Knife.… Read more »
A watchable first feature by English writer-director Mike Figgis, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. It’s “America Week” in Newcastle, and an American gangster/businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to take advantage of this by forcing the owner of a local jazz club (Sting) to sell his building. Meanwhile, a Polish free jazz group arrives at the club, and a young Irishman (Sean Bean) working there gets involved with a part-time hooker (Melanie Griffith) from Minnesota working for the American. While there’s something rather glacial about this international parable and noirish exercise, apart from a few amusing gags, the actors, settings, and music manage to hold the interest, and the underlying theme–the precise equivalence of Reaganism and gangsterism for most English people–is timely and pointed. (Oakbrook Center, Ford City, Fine Arts, Old Orchard)… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1988). — J.R.
D.W. Griffith’s last film (1931) was unquestionably dated when it was released at the height of the Depression, both as an antidrinking polemic — probably fueled in part by Griffith’s own struggles with alcoholism — and as a Victorian melodrama. Yet today it emerges as one of his most powerful and intensely felt works — not merely a heartbreaking story and a portrait of the Depression at its grimmest, but a poignant summary of everything that Griffith could do with a camera, even in low-budget, unspectacular circumstances. With Hal Skelly and Zita Johann. 87 min. (JR)
… Read more »
A watchable first feature by English writer-director Mike Figgis, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. It’s America Week in Newcastle, and an American gangster/businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to take advantage of this by forcing the owner of a local jazz club (Sting) to sell his building. Meanwhile, a Polish free jazz group arrives at the club, and a young Irishman (Sean Bean) working there gets involved with a part-time hooker (Melanie Griffith) working for the American. While there’s something rather glacial about this international parable and noirish exercise, apart from a few amusing gags, the actors, settings, and music manage to hold the interest, and the underlying themethe precise equivalence of Reaganism and gangsterism for most English peoplestill has its points. (JR)… Read more »
The first feature of Manuel Gutierrez Aragon, Habla, mudita (1973), focuses on the relationship between a book publisher (Lopez Vazquez) and a deaf-mute shep< -herd<-ess (Kiti Manver) in a mountainous countryside setting. Interpreted by some as an allegory about the isolation of Spanish intellectuals toward the end of Franco’s regime, the film was shot by cinematographer Luis Cuadrado.
… Read more »
A rather awkward and ineffectual story about two Hungarian-American brothers in San Francisco trying to establish their identities, directed by Steven Kovacs. Despite the evident sincerity of the themethe generational and cultural gap between the values of the father and those of his two sons (one of whom eventually discovers he is gay)and its treatment, the film lacks the craft to put it all together into a coherent form. With Eric Larson, Robert Locke, Tara Erra, Vander Gaw, and Neil Young.… Read more »