Monthly Archives: February 1989

Painter at Work

From the Chicago Reader (February 17, 1989). I was extremely disappointed in the revised version of this film that was released about sixteen years later, which I also reviewed in the Reader, because I believe it essentially effaced or distorted many of the virtues I found in the original film. (One can find my arguments about this here.) — J.R.


**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn.

By and large, painting and cinema have always tended to be uneasy bedfellows. To film a stationary canvas with a stationary camera is to deprive the viewer of both the movement possible in film and the movement possible to the viewer of a painting in a studio or gallery. On the other hand, to find a stationary canvas with a camera in motion is to impose an itinerary on the painting in question, thereby limiting the reading of the individual viewer.

While there are a handful of interesting and respectable art documentaries in the history of film, such as Alain Resnais’ Van Gogh (1948) and Gauguin (1950), and Sergei Paradjanov’s recent Arabesques Around a Pirosmani Theme – all three of which significantly happen to be shorts — the overall failure of film to record a painter’s work without recourse to a gliding Cook’s tour or a mincemeat dissection of the work in question has been far from encouraging.… Read more »


Gregory Hines stars as Maxwell Washington, the son of a famous hoofer, who’s torn between following in his father’s footsteps and continuing a life of crime. This 1989 dance musical, written and directed by Nick Castle, isn’t everything it might have been—the numbers tend to be disappointingly short, often promising more than they deliver—but on the whole it’s a respectable revival of a sadly neglected genre (very nicely shot by David Gribble) with a lot of lively tapping (choreographed by Henry Le Tang and Hines). Among the strong secondary cast are Suzzanne Douglas, Savion Glover, Dick Anthony Williams, “Sandman” Sims, and Bunny Briggs, and there’s an especially enjoyable turn by Sammy Davis Jr. as Max Washington’s mentor Little Mo. 110 min.… Read more »

The Palm Beach Story

The all-time best Rudy Vallee performance is as a gentle, puny millionaire named Hackensacker in this brilliant, simultaneously tender and scalding 1942 screwball comedy by Preston Sturges–one of the real gems in Sturges’s hyperproductive period at Paramount. Claudette Colbert, married to an ambitious but penniless architectural engineer (Joel McCrea), takes off for Florida and winds up getting wooed by Hackensacker. When McCrea shows up she persuades him to pose as her brother. Also on hand are such indelible Sturges creations as the Weenie King (Robert Dudley), the madly destructive Ale and Quail Club, Hackensacker’s acerbic sister (Mary Astor), her European boyfriend of obscure national origins (Sig Arno), and many others. Hackensacker may be the closest thing to a self-parody in the Sturges canon, but it’s informed with such wry wisdom and humor that it transcends its personal nature (as well as its reference to such tycoons as the Rockefellers). With William Demarest, Jack Norton, Franklin Pangborn, and Jimmy Conlin; not to be missed. This screening will be accompanied by a lecture by Virginia Keller. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, February 14, 6:00, 443-3737)… Read more »

When the Wind Blows

From the Chicago Reader (February 3, 1989). Twilight Time has recently  (2014) released this film on Blu-Ray, with many extras. — J.R.


The point of director Jimmy Murakami and screenwriter Raymond Briggs’s rather original English animated feature is to get us to think the unthinkable — to imagine the aftereffects of a nuclear holocaust. But rather than force this bitter pill on us, they create a very funny and believable elderly English couple, Jim and Hilda Bloggs. These two are still mired in memories of World War II, but when nuclear war hits they are eager to do all the proper things and to follow the instructions in the government booklets correctly. Rather than stretch this fable out to a global scale, the filmmakers make all their essential points by sticking to this isolated couple in their country cottage, following them step-by-step through the experience. Aided by a realistic style of animation that incorporates some live action, by occasional stylistic changes that allow for more abstraction in some fantasy interludes, and by the expert speaking voices of John Mills and Peggy Ashcroft, the movie succeeds impressively. It’s rare that a cartoon carries the impact of a live-action feature without sacrificing the imaginative freedom of the pen and brush, but this one does — and does so well that we are even persuaded to accept the didactic framework.… Read more »

The Iron Triangle

An honorable failure, this Vietnam war drama and action film attempts to do something that, to the best of my knowledge, no other commercial movie about the war has attempted: represent the point of view of the Viet Cong as well as that of American soldiers. Given this ambition, it’s regrettable that director and cowriter Eric Weston leans as heavily as he does on previous Vietnam films: acerbic offscreen commentary (as in Apocalypse Now), choral music over action (as in Platoon), and a division between pure good and pure evil to describe soldiers in the same platoon (American sergeants in Platoon, Viet Cong fighters here). The film also gets into some trouble by conveying all of the dialogue in English, despite the fact that the American officer who narrates the story (Beau Bridges), and who eventually comes upon the diary of his Viet Cong counterpart (Liem Whatley)–based on the actual diary of an unknown Viet Cong fighter–speaks and reads Vietnamese. But the film has unmistakable virtues as well, including a good handling of the action sequences and a beautiful use of landscape. With Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields), Johnny Hallyday, James Ishida, Ping Wu, and Iilana B’tiste; coscripted by John Bushelman and Larry Hilbrand.… Read more »

Skin Deep

Although the title is descriptive and even self-critical, a more accurate label for this might be Blake Edwards’s Greatest Hits From Malibu. Characters, gags, and situations from 10, S.O.B., The Man Who Loved Women, and That’s Life! including a womanizing, alcoholic hero in therapy for a creative block (John Ritter), a series of comic car accidents, and a lot of old standards sung at the pianoare trotted out, and the overall sense of deja vu is intensified by the fact that, apart from a lazy ending that refuses to confront or resolve the hero’s problems, Edwards gives this comedy-drama pretty much the same degree of expertise and polish that he has its previous incarnations and variations. The movie certainly has its share of laughs, but don’t expect any sort of revelation, especially if you’ve seen one or more of its predecessors. With Vincent Gardenia, Alyson Reed (in the Julie Andrews part), Joel Brooks, Julianne Phillips, and Chelsea Field. (JR)… Read more »

Hell In The Pacific

During World War II, Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune confront each other on an otherwise uninhabited island in the Pacific. Director John Boorman (Point Blank, Deliverance, The Emerald Forest, Hope and Glory) makes very photogenic hay out of all the allegorical possibilities, with the help of cinematographer Conrad Hall and scriptwriters Alexander Jacobs and Eric Bercovici. This 1969 film is not one of Boorman’s best efforts, but fans of his other films will probably want to check it out. (JR)… Read more »

Weekend At Bernie’s

Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman star as bumbling go-getters in a large Manhattan insurance firm who are invited by their corrupt boss Bernie (Terry Kiser) to his place in the Hamptons; Bernie gets murdered before they arrive, and for the rest of the picture they’re carting his corpse around, trying to pretend that Bernie is still alive. Most of this silly farce depends on the use of the corpse as a comic prop (which yields a few laughs, despite Kiser’s variable success in impersonating a stiff) and the appeal of McCarthy and Silverman’s strident jabbering (which I found nil); Catherine Mary Stewart plays the putative love interest, Robert Klane wrote the script, and Ted Kotcheff directed. (JR)… Read more »

El Topo

From the Chicago Reader (February 1, 1989). — J.R.

Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1970 midnight cult hit from Mexico, which made quite a few waves in its time, is an extravagant hodgepodge of hand-me-down surrealism, mysticism, Italian westerns, theater of cruelty, and Buñuel — more enjoyable for its unending string of outrages than for its capacity to make coherent sense. The writer-director plays the lead, wandering through the Mexican desert in search of enlightenment from a series of enigmatic masters, and leaving behind (or experiencing) a great deal of grotesque violence. This was the first genuine midnight-movie hit, and if you’re looking for pure sensation with intimations of pseudoprofundity, this is the place to go. In Spanish with subtitles.… Read more »

36 Fillette

Precocious 14-year-old Lili wears the dress size of a child (36 fillette) but the bra size of a woman. During a summer beach holiday with her family, she becomes involved with a middle-aged playboy. This caustic, rather sub-Pialat coming-of-age tale with autobiographical elements, directed and cowritten by Catherine Breillat, is well observed but cold; your interest in it will depend largely on how much you can bear the heroineor, barring that, how edifying you find the process of her gradually losing her virginity. With Delphine Zentout, Etienne Chicot, Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Olivier Parniere. (JR)… Read more »

On The Road With Duke Ellington

Robert Drew produced this 58-minute TV documentary about Duke Ellington on the road in 1967the year he picked up honorary degrees at Yale and Morgan State and the year Billy Strayhorn, his principal collaborator, died. (Drew updated the film slightly in 1974.) It’s valuable mainly for the portrait it offers of Ellington as a person, pianist, and composer, in roughly that order, though not so much as a bandleader. Insofar as Ellington’s main instrument was his orchestra, this is a limitation, but On the Road is still valuable for giving us aspects of the man neglected elsewhere, and some of the musicmainly Duke on pianois great. (JR)… Read more »

Mississippi Burning

In this 1988 movie, Alan Parker’s taste for simpleminded, sordid fantasy is trained on the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi in 1964, and the feast for the self-righteous that emerges has little to do with history, sociology, or even common sense. The glorification of the FBI (which conveniently ignores the FBI’s hostility toward the civil rights struggle), the obfuscation about jim crow laws, and the absurd melodramatics may all have been well-intentioned, but the understanding about the past and the present of racism that emerges is depressingly thin. (The blacks in the plot, for instance, are depicted exclusively as noble sufferers who sing a lot of spiritualsthey aren’t even accorded the status of characters.) Gene Hackman and Willem Dafoe star as antagonistic FBI agents who disagree about how to proceed with their investigation; Brad Dourif, Frances McDormand, and R. Lee Ermey are among the local yokels, and Chris Gerolmo is responsible for the primitive script. (JR)… Read more »


This 1955 example of kitchen-sink realism about the awakening love life of a Bronx butcher (Ernest Borgnine) and his shy girlfriend (Betsy Blair), directed by Delbert Mann, has never been popular with auteurists, but Paddy Chayevsky’s script, adapted from his own TV play, shows his flair for dialogue at its best, and the film manages to be touching, if minor. Borgnine won an Oscar for his part, and he isn’t half bad. (JR)… Read more »

Magick Lantern Cycle

Kenneth Anger’s visionary magnum opus of the avant-garde, a work spanning 1947 almost to the present. Essential viewing. Approximately 150 minutes, at least at last count (the work is constantly being revised). (JR)… Read more »


Jerry Blumenthal and Gordon Quinn of Chicago’s Kartemquin Films focus for just under an hour on New York painter Leon Golub as he plans, executes, exhibits, and discusses one of his powerful canvases (1988). In the process Blumenthal and Quinn manage to make what is probably not only Kartemquin’s best film but also the best film account of the creation of a work of artan accomplishment that’s leagues ahead of such efforts as Clouzot’s The Mystery of Picasso and Paul Cox’s Vincent. Lucidly following the step-by-step process of Golub’s deliberations and creative work, the film also makes splendid use of TV news footage to pinpoint the social and political contexts of Golub’s artthe degree to which the violence and power relationships that he depicts with such clarity exist all around us. One of the inspirations of this highly concentrated and kinetic documentary was to eliminate the critical discourse of the art world entirely; what we get instead are the comments and reactions of ordinary spectators, many of which are penetrating and perceptive. Bristling with energy, movement, thought, and passion, and enhanced by an especially effective music score, this is essential viewing. 56 min. (JR)… Read more »