Daily Archives: October 1, 1989

Swamp Water

This is commonly known as Jean Renoir’s first American film (1941), although Renoir scholar Alexander Sesonske has established that Renoir’s creative role in the project was severely hampered by producer Darryl F. Zanuck and that he didn’t regard much of the film as his own. (The ending, for instance, was written by Zanuck and directed by Irving Pichel.) Nevertheless, the film has certain beauties and pleasures. Part of it was shot in Georgia’s Okefenokee swamp, and the treatment of the small community living nearby is often pungent and distinctive. With Dana Andrews, Walter Brennan, Anne Baxter, Walter Huston, John Carradine, Ward Bond, and Eugene Pallette. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Street To Die

The first feature of Australian director Bill Bennett (1985) focuses on a Vietnam war veteran (Chris Haywood) who contracts leukemia after his exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange and proceeds to fight the government bureaucracy, with the aid of his wife (Jennifer Cluff), in order to get compensation. Acutely realist in presentation, with solid performances from all of the actors, this is a straightforward, serious drama with a great deal of quiet power. (JR)… Read more »

When The Whales Came

Paul Scofield and Helen Mirren are both certainly able as the stars of this ecological parable, which is set on England’s Isle of Bryher at the time of the outbreak of World War I. But it’s not hard to imagine this sentimental, goodhearted effort as a low-budget Technicolor MGM family picture of the early 50s, with, say, Greer Garson and Donald Crisp. Seventy years before the story opens, the Isle of Samson has been blighted by a curse brought by the inhabitants’ preying on a school of beached whales. One of the survivors, now a deaf social outcast known on Bryher as the Birdman (Scofield), teaches two children on the island (Helen Pearce and Max Rennie) how to appreciate and respect nature, and when the whales begin to turn up on Bryher, it becomes their job to avert a repetition of the disaster that befell Samson in 1844. Adapted by Michael Morpurgo from his own novel and directed by Clive Rees, this is a pleasant enough family picture, although not a very dynamic one. (JR)… Read more »

The Water Magician

Also known as White Threads of the Waterfall, this 1933 film by the sublime Kenji Mizoguchi is one of his two silent features to have survived intact. The plot concerns a female entertainer, whose act involves juggling jets of water, and her romantic relationship with a shy young man; years later the man has become a judge and presides over her trial for murder. A major reason why sound films came later to Japan than to almost everywhere else was the figure of the benshithe explainer of silent films who acted out all the parts and added commentary of his or her own, and whose popularity with Japanese audiences was such that they often went to hear and see their favorite benshi rather than their favorite film star. In the new subtitled print that will be shown, the sound track features music as well as narration by the late Shunsui Matsuda, one of the most acclaimed of the benshi perfomers. (JR)… Read more »

Vernon, Florida

Errol Morris’s second film (1981), made after Gates of Heaven and before The Thin Blue Line, is a 55-minute documentary about the eccentric residents of a small town. Not as interesting as Morris’s other films, although it has its moments. (JR)… Read more »

Toby Dammit

This extravagant Fellini phantasmagoria, about 40 minutes long, was the best episode of Spirits of the Dead, a 1968 anthology of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations. It’s usually shown dubbed in English. With Terence Stamp. (JR)… Read more »

These Are The Damned

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

Joseph Losey’s black-and-white SF thriller, made in 1962 during his pre-Pinter British period, begins as a sort of love story — MacDonald Carey is an American businessman who shows interest in Shirley Anne Field and as a consequence gets beaten up by teddy boys led by Oliver Reed — then gradually turns into an antinuclear parable about radioactive children sequestered from humanity in an underground cave. Originally titled The Damned, the film was mangled by distributors but later restored for TV; more than an interesting curiosity, it’s one of Losey’s best English efforts, and Viveca Lindfors contributes a striking part as an eccentric sculptress. 96 min. (JR)

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The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!

More memorable for its title than for anything elsethe Harvard Lampoon once suggested pairing it with Inside Daisy Clover on a double billthis mild Norman Jewison comedy about what happens when a Russian submarine turns up off the New England coast features Alan Arkin (in his film debut), Carl Reiner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Keith, Jonathan Winters, Paul Ford, and Theodore Bikel. (JR)… Read more »

Report

Bruce Conner’s remarkable and disturbing 1965 treatment of the John F. Kennedy assassination is simultaneously a personal account of a national tragedy and a challenging analysis of the media that uses startling repetitions and juxtapositions to reformulate the event in all its complex horror. 15 min. (JR)… Read more »

Penn & Teller Get Killed

Whether this goofy 1989 black comedy is a total success is debatable, but you’ve got to admit it’s different. Postmodern comic magicians Penn Jillette and Teller play themselves in a script of their own devising, which is deftly delivered by director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, Night Moves). After Jillette brazenly announces on national TV that his life would be more exciting if someone tried to kill him, a bizarre series of murder attempts ensues during an engagement in Atlantic City, and it becomes increasingly difficult to determine who’s pulling the strings. Deconstructing illusion, Penn and Teller’s stock in trade, becomes the modus operandi of the plotlike a farcical version of House of Games, with heaps of good-natured gore added and a literally unbelievable grand finaleand the dynamic duo make the most of it. With Caitlin Clarke, David Patrick Kelly, Leonardo Cimino, and Celia McGuire. (JR) 90 min.… Read more »

On Tour With Pina Bausch

Perhaps the most conventional work of the gifted Belgian experimental filmmaker Chantal Akerman, this documentary about the 1983 tour of Italy and France by German choreographer Pina Bausch is still personal and interesting. (JR)… Read more »

Old Gringo

Like much of Reds, this is a very old-fashioned Hollywood blockbuster that is supposed to be progressive, although the sentimentality and simplicity of the conception tend to drag it down. An American spinster (Jane Fonda) goes to Mexico in 1913 to teach English, but finds herself in the midst of the Mexican revolution, and drawn to both a neurotic general in Pancho Villa’s army (Jimmy Smits) and a crochety, 71-year-old former journalist from the U.S. (Gregory Peck), the old gringo of the title, who turns out to be Ambrose Bierce. Directed and cowritten by Luis Puenzo (The Official Story), this adaptation of Carlos Fuentes’s novel, a long-nurtured project developed over eight years by Fonda, ultimately founders due to a surfeit of old Hollywood thinking: a rather soggy conception of Bierce and an unconvincing performance by Peck that both smack of shameless Oscar-mongering, a cliched view of Mexicans (including such standbys as the life-enhancing prostitute), and a surprisingly drab and uninteresting performance by Fonda that seems intended to stir us with its simplicity. Not entirely uninterestingsome of the crowd scenes and location shooting is watchable, and Peck can be charming when he doesn’t try too hardbut Fonda’s soupy offscreen narration tends to drown the film’s occasional virtues in unearned pieties (1989).… Read more »

Love, Mother

Janos Rosza’s Hungarian comedy-drama about a contemporary family whose members are too busy to talk to each other, written by Miklos Vamos, begins promisingly with witty notations about the various ways the members of the family get up in the morning, avoid each other, and go about their business. The plot gets fairly convoluted after that, and as its various strands build to a climaxthe mother wants a divorce, the father cheats on her, the son plays hooky and spies on the other family members and neighbors through a periscope, the daughter has no one to talk to and eventually attempts suicide, and all of them neglect a grandmother who is dying in a hospitalthe pacing becomes more willful and leaden, and the film seems especially unsure about when to stop. But there’s still enough humor and observation to keep one interested much of the time. Dorotyya Udvaros, who plays the mother, won the best-actress prize at the Moscow film festival, and the film won the grand prize at Budapest’s film festival (1988). (JR)… Read more »

Limit Up

Nancy Allen plays a runner at the Chicago Board of Trade who seemingly sells her soul in order to become a successful soybean trader; Dean Stockwell is her evil and greedy employer who later becomes her rival. Writer-director Richard Martini tries to dress this premise up in cutesy behavior and some pithy moral adages about the state of the world, but delivers it in such a listless, uninvolving manner that it’s hard to be carried along by the movie’s honorable intentions. Brad Hall is rather likable as the romantic lead, and Danitra Vance and Ray Charles are around to deliver most of the moral lessons; Sally Kellerman does a bit as a nightclub singer. (JR)… Read more »

La Lectrice

Miou-Miou works as a professional reader in a French comedy directed by Michel Deville, adapted from two books by Raymond Jean. Lots of not very whimsical whimsy and not very erotic eroticism make up the bulk of this minor effort, which pivots around the various eccentricities, desires, and imaginations of the heroine’s various clients, who include an invalid (Regis Royer), a general’s widow (Maria Casares), and a businessman (Patrick Chesnais). This is Deville’s 24th feature; every once in a while he turns out an interesting film (e.g. Le paltoquet), but this isn’t one of them (1989). (JR)… Read more »