Daily Archives: April 14, 1989

A Cut Above [HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER]

From the Chicago Reader (April 14, 1989). — J.R.

HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by John McNaughton

Written by Richard Fire and McNaughton

With Michael Rooker, Tracy Arnold, and Tom Towles.

Properly speaking, the slasher movie made its debut almost 30 years ago, with two features by middle-aged Englishmen, which coincidentally opened on separate continents within a few months of each other — Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, which premiered in England in May 1960, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, which opened in the United States three months later. The parallels between these two movies remain striking — especially their puritanical and voyeuristic underpinnings, which give us sexually repressed heroes whose morbid scopophilia (pleasure in gazing) leads directly to their brutal murders of women. And both occasioned critical protests of rage and disapproval when they first appeared.

But it was Psycho and not Peeping Tom that went on to launch a subgenre and receive exhaustive (and exhausting) analysis. And from the vantage point of the present, it is probably the shower murder of Psycho rather than the Odessa Steps sequence of Potemkin that has become the most chewed-over montage sequence in the history of cinema. But how much concrete edification has grown out of this close study?… Read more »

Seated Figures

Any new film by experimental filmmaker and artist Michael Snow is a major event, and this 41-minute “road” movie of shifting landscapes shot from the bottom of a truck, and accompanied by the sounds of a film audience, is no exception. The title apparently stems from the common identity of Snow, who drove the truck, and the audience watching the film. Judging from a first viewing, Seated Figures lacks the pristine excitement of Snow’s monumental camera movement trilogy of the late 60s and early 70s (Wavelength, Back and Forth, and La region centrale), but it is full of different kinds of suspense and surprises for spectators who are prepared to experience a painterly film without a story line but with a great deal of luscious Canadian landscape, seen at close range and in motion. Snow himself will be present to answer questions, and he’ll also be showing his wonderful So Is This (1982), a remarkable film consisting of words flashed on a screen that manages to extend that minimal conceit into complex and entertaining strategies for addressing an audience. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Monday, April 17, 7:00, 443-3737)… Read more »

High Hopes

Mike Leigh’s very watchable up-to-the-minute bulletin from Thatcher England centers on a posthippie working-class couple in London named Cyril (Philip Davis) and Shirley (Ruth Sheen), who are beautifully conceived and realized, as well as on Cyril’s mother (Edna Dore), his middle-class sister (Heather Tobias) and brother-in-law (Philip Jackson), and his mother’s yuppie next-door neighbors (Leslie Manville and David Bamber), most of whom live around King’s Cross. The texture of everyday life in contemporary London is precisely rendered. Leigh, a household name in England because of his extensive theater and TV work and one previous feature (the 1971 Bleak Moments), tends to satirize and even caricature the upper-class characters, but the jabs are generally accurate, and the overall construction of this episodic movie is deft and ingenious, pointing up parallels and contrasts in the sexual habits of his three couples and making interesting connections between other characters as well. Alternately bleak and hilarious, saddening and refreshing, this very political reflection on the state of England today is not to be missed. (Fine Arts)… Read more »