Daily Archives: May 1, 1988

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 »

Never Say Die

Bob Hope plays a hypochondriac millionaire who thinks that he only has two weeks to live; Martha Raye plays a gold digger who marries him at a Swiss spa. Elliott Nugent directed this 1939 comedy, scripted by Preston Sturges along with Don Hartman and Frank Butler; Andy Devine, Alan Mowbray, Gale Sondergaard, Sig Rumann, and Monty Woolley are among the stars. Graham Greene seemed rather fond of this when it came out.… Read more »

The Nether Regions

This varied program of ten short, tasteless underground shockers is also billed as The Lower Depths, but if we listed it that way, you might confuse it with the adaptations of the Gorki play by Renoir and Kurosawa. The films to be shown: John Waters’s notorious and very early The Diane Linkletter Story (with Divine), 14 short films made with Otto Muehl’s Reichian Viennese commune, Willard Maas’s self-regarding Orgia (filmed by his wife Marie Menken), Curt McDowell’s Polanski parody Stinkybutt, Rudy Burckhardt’s satiric Sodom and Gomorrah, Stan Brakhage’s The Women, Herbert Jean de Grasse’s satiric The Organic Vampire, David Devensky’s Caterpillars and Ants, Richard Beveridge’s Keep Bright the Devil’s Doorknobs, and Osamu Tezuka’s Jumping. A presentation of the Experimental Film Coalition.… Read more »

Naked Spacesliving Is Round

Significantly, when Vietnamese filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha gives herself a director’s credit in her remarkable meditation on West African life and architecture, she places an X over the word directed. Why? Because a central aspect of her project is the dislocation of the authority by which we generally presume to understand the alien, and redirection and indirection are equally descriptive of what she is up to. A composer and a poet, she pans and cuts in irregular rhythms, continually stopping and starting, and rather than direct our focus and interpretation like an anthropologist, she interweaves three distinctly accented female voices speaking English, each of which conveys a different kind of discourse, traversing the images at different angles. Like the separate typefaces in Mallarme’s poem A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, these voices and mesmerizing recordings of African music encircle and commingle with their subjects rather than appropriate them in linear/colonial/narrative fashion. (Sample: The house is composed like the human body. The earth or clay is the flesh, the water the blood, the stones the bones, and the placid surface of the walls the skin.) The results are both beautiful and instructive, a duet between filmmaker and subject, disclosures and enclosures, which remains perpetually fresh and unpredictable over the film’s 134 minutes.… Read more »

Homecoming

Cantonese director Yim Ho’s delicate and touching film charts the return of Coral (Josephine Koo), an attractive Hong Kong businesswoman in her thirties, to her native village in southern mainland China. Staying with her childhood friend Pearl (Si Quin Gao Wa)now a school principal married to a farmer, with a daughtershe discovers that her urban life and problems have irrevocably estranged her from the ways and attitudes of the village, although she and Pearl make many heartfelt efforts to bridge their differences. Kong Liang’s screenplay eschews melodrama and big events for quiet insights, and a remarkably dense portrait of the village emerges, framed by Yim with a distinctive grasp of composition, landscape, and personal detail that occasionally evokes the complexity of a Brueghel. The performances are nuanced and moving, and one comes to know these peoplenot only the heroines, but Pearl’s defensive and tongue-tied husband, an unruly and mercenary little boy, a man who can’t read the letters in English his son sends him from UCLA, a wise uncle, and many otherson a first-name basis.… Read more »

Heimat

Edgar Reitz’s 15<4-hour film is an attempt to restore a sense of continuity to 20th-century German history by presenting 63 years, from 1919 to 1982, in the life of Schabbach, a small village in the Hunsruck region. The chief characters are the members of the Simon familythe grandfather is a blacksmith, the grandson will be the founder of a precision optical companyand the shape of the plot is dictated by the century’s constantly changing economic and political conditions, driving some members of the family to emigrate, others to form alliances with the Nazis, others to find prosperity in the postwar economic miracle. Reitz avoids the ceremonial eventsbirths, deaths, marriagesthat usually punctuate this sort of family chronicle, concentrating instead on the textures of daily existence and the shifting relationships among the characters. Though not without its longueurs (the treatment of the 50s, for example, is largely limited to an extremely conventional tale of adolescent frustration and romantic revolt) and marked by a rising nostalgia for the good old days as opposed to the debased present, Reitz’s project stands as a monumental act of imagination, teeming with evocative incident and Proustian detail. (JR)… Read more »

Zazie In The Metro

Arguably Louis Malle’s best work (1960). Based on Raymond Queneau’s farcical novel about a little girl (Catherine Demongeot) left in Paris for a weekend with her decadent uncle (Philippe Noiret), this wild spree goes overboard reproducing Mack Sennett-style slapstick, parodying various films of the 1950s, and playing with editing and color effects (the cinematography is especially impressive), all in an effort to create equivalents to Queneau’s extravagant wordplay, though gradually it becomes a rather disturbing nightmare about fascism. Forget the preposterous claim by a few critics that the movie’s editing influenced Alain Resnais, but there’s no doubt that Malle affected Richard Lesterand was clearly influenced himself by William Klein, credited here as a visual consultant. A rather sharp, albeit soulless, film, packed with ideas and glitter and certainly worth a look. In French with subtitles. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Zabriskie Point

Though Michelangelo Antonioni’s only American film was very poorly received when it was released in 1969, time has been much kinder to it than to, say, La Notte, which was made a decade earlier. Antonioni’s nonrealistic approach to American counterculture myths and his loose and slow approach to narrative may still put some people offalong with the uneven dialogue (credited to Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe, and the director)but his beautiful handling of ‘Scope compositions and moods has many lingering aftereffects, and the grand and beautiful apocalyptic finale is downright spectacular. With Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, and Rod Taylor. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Willow

A George Lucas special-effects fantasy epic about war, peace, munchkins, and magic directed by Ron Howard, although reportedly executive producer Lucas periodically took over the reins to make it his own. Screenplay by Bob Dolman, based on a story by Lucas; the lead actors are Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, and Billy Barty. This is pretty much the Lucas mixture as usual, this time in a Tolkien mode, with everything from the Old Testament to Kurosawa to Disney fed into a blender and turned into wallpaper. For easy-to-please five-year-olds of all ages. (JR)… Read more »