Monthly Archives: May 1988

Gertrud

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 »

A Bankable Feast [BABETTE’S FEAST]

From the May 20, 1988 Chicago Reader.  — J.R.

BABETTE’S FEAST

** (Worth seeing)

Directed and written by Gabriel Axel

With Stephane Audran, Jean-Philippe Lafont, Gudmar Wivesson, Jarl Kulle, Hanne Stensgard, Bodil Kjer, Vibeke Hastrup, and Birgitte Federspiel.

Only when she had lost what had constituted her life, her home in Africa and her lover, when she had returned home to Rungstedlund a complete “failure” with nothing in her hands except grief and sorrow and memories, did she be come the artist and the “success” she never would have become otherwise — “God loves a joke,” and divine jokes, as the Greeks knew so well, are often cruel ones. What she then did was unique in contemporary literature though it could be matched by certain nineteenth century writers — Heinrich Kleist’s anecdotes and short stories and some tales of Johann Peter Hebel, especially Unverhofftes Wiedersehen come to mind. Eudora Welty has defined it definitively in one short sentence of utter precision: “Of a story she made an essence; of the essence she made an elixir; and of the elixir she began once more to compound the story.” — Hannah Arendt on Isak Dinesen

When Ernest Hemingway accepted his Nobel prize in 1954, he was gracious enough to acknowledge that it should have gone to Isak Dinesen instead.… Read more »

Vampires in Havana

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 »

The Funeral

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 »

Return Trip Tango

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 »

The Mozart Brothers

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 »

Reel Life: Richard Pena’s Film Center Testament

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 »

Stormy Monday

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 »

The Struggle

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)

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Stormy Monday

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 »

Speak, Silent One

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.

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68

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 »

Shy People

Andrei Konchalovsky’s engrossing feature about a New York journalist (Jill Clayburgh) who invites her teenage daughter (Martha Plimpton) along on an expedition to the remote bayous of Louisiana to hunt up some remote relatives for a magazine article she’s writinga journey that leads her to the imperious and eccentric widow Ruth (Barbara Hershey) and her family. The interesting and exciting thing about this exercise in comparative anthropologywhich can incidentally be read as a brilliantly understated cold-war allegoryis that it is never complacent or obvious; the relative values of civilization and primitivism are constantly juxtaposed, but without the kind of facility that one would expect from such a venture. The mysticism and poetry of Konchalovsky’s conception, moreover, are never forced, and never allowed to interfere with the film’s value as entertainment (adventure, comedy, and melodrama, with a faint touch of fantasy)yielding a movie that manages to be Russian in conception without sacrificing any of its local truths. Gerard Brach and Marjorie David collaborated with Konchalovsky on the script; with Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, and Mare Winningham. Chris Menges is the talented cinematographer; the music is by Tangerine Dream. (JR)… Read more »

Shakedown

The cops and the crack dealers are in cahoots in this New York smash-banger, and a legal aid attorney (Peter Weller) and an undercover cop (Sam Elliott) mutter macho witticisms out of the sides of their mouths, kick occasional ass, and allow their stuntmen stand-ins to prove that they’re the good guys. The problem with routine crime and law enforcement fantasies of this kind is that their vague stabs at authenticity are completely subverted by action sequences that belong in Road Runner cartoons. James Glickenhaus wrote and directed this childish nonsense pretty skillfully, as if it made sense. With Patricia Charbonneau, Antonio Fargas, and Blanche Baker. (JR)… Read more »

Sexuality In Experimental Cinema

Pretty much a hodgepodge program, with the following titles: James Broughton’s Four in the Afternoon (1951) and This Is It (1971), Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Paul Sharits’s Peace Mandala/End War (1966), George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), Ed Emshwiller’s Relativity (1966), and the late Curt McDowell’s Nudes (A Sketchbook) (1975). The problem with collections of this kind is that, interesting as many of the individual titles are, they seldom go well together, and seeing half a dozen very different experimental filmmakers at one stretch tends to require too many mental gear changes.… Read more »