Monthly Archives: February 1992

Salt of the Earth

A rarely screened classic of 1954 that has the singularity of being the only major American independent feature made by communists. A fiction film about the strike by Mexican American zinc miners in New Mexico against their Anglo management, informed by feminist attitudes that are quite uncharacteristic of this period, it was inspired by the blacklisting of director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun), producer and former screenwriter Paul Jarrico, and composer Sol Kaplan, among others. As Jarrico later reasoned, since they’d been drummed out of the Hollywood industry for being subversives, they decided to commit a “crime to fit the punishment” and make a subversive film. The results are leftist propaganda of a very high order, powerful and intelligent even when the film registers in spots as naive or dated. Basically kept out of American theaters until 1965, it was widely shown and honored in Europe (it was selected, for instance, as the best film shown in France in 1955), but it has never received the stateside recognition it clearly deserves. If you’ve never seen it before, prepare to have your mind blown. (Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Monday, March 2, 8:00, 702-8575)… Read more »

Rivette’s Rupture (DUELLE and NORÔIT)

From the Chicago Reader (February 28, 1992). For earlier reflections on both films, go here and here. — J.R.

TWHYLIGHT (DUELLE)

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jacques Rivette

Written by Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini, and Rivette

With Juliet Berto, Bulle Ogier, Hermine Karagheuz, Jean Babilee, Nicole Garcia, and Jean Wiener.

NOR’WESTER (NORÔIT)

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Jacques Rivette

Written by Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini, and Rivette

With Geraldine Chaplin, Bernadette Lafont, Kika Markham, Larrio Ekson, Jean Cohen-Solal, Robert Cohen-Solal, and Daniel Ponsard.

Dagger in hand, I scaled the heights of raw power, thanks to the male role that Rivette gave me. . . . This kind of sexual metamorphosis, this strange androgyny, never appeared in the French cinema before Rivette. After I performed the role of Giulia in Norôit I felt that I was capable of anything. Rivette changed my ideas about acting; for me, he is a kind of Mao and his films are a Cultural Revolution. — Bernadette Lafont in an interview, 1977

Though no one would ever think to call Jacques Rivette a realist, the fact remains that all of his first six features take place in a sharply perceived environment that can arguably be called the “real world.” An acute sense of place and period brought into focus largely by means of “documentary” techniques informs these haunting movies, giving them all a pungent flavor that can only be described as the taste of a particular time, milieu, and culture.… Read more »

Chicago’s Own

Recent shorts by local filmmakers and video artists: Louise Bourque’s Just Words, Eric Koziol’s Invisible Heart, Dan Dinello and Sharon Sandusky’s Really Dead, Melinda Fries’s Sustenance, Carole Redmond’s Union, Tina Wasserman’s Scenes From the Abandoned City, Deborah Stratman’s Upon a Time, and Sera Furneaux’ Anxiety-Rest. The only film in the bunch that I’ve seen, Really Dead, does a nice job of relooping lines from Dracula and alternating shots from diverse vampire movies to create an eerie little tone poem. Most or all of the artists will be present. (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Saturday, February 22, 8:00, 281-8788) … Read more »

Close My Eyes

A remarkably accomplished and beautiful second feature by English playwright Stephen Poliakoff, whose previous movie (the 1987 Hidden City) apparently hasn’t been shown in the U.S., this lyrical drama might be described as a period film about the present. The plot concerns an incestuous affair that suddenly develops between a grown brother (Clive Owen) and sister (Saskia Reeves) who grew up with separate parents; the sister, now married to a wealthy entrepreneur (Alan Rickman), insists on ending the affair after the brother becomes hopelessly smitten with her. There’s nothing prurient about Poliakoff’s handling of this subject, though the movie certainly has its erotic moments. The focus is rather on how we live today–including the complications of sex and the chaos of recent real estate development, in which the brother is professionally involved: Poliakoff uses the incest theme as a pivot for an elegiac, quasi-apocalyptic, and ineffably sad reflection on life in the early 90s. (Though the settings and tone are quite different, this film may remind one in spots of Richard Lester’s underrated Petulia.) Most of the story takes place during an unusually hot English summer, and the settings are almost surreally radiant; the acting of the three leads is edgy, powerful, and wholly convincing, with Rickman (whose other recent films include Die Hard, Quigley Down Under, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Truly Madly Deeply) a particular standout.… Read more »

The Oyster Princess

Ernst Lubitsch’s first feature-length comedy (1919), about an American millionaire trying to acquire a noble title for his daughter by marrying her off to a Prussian prince, is an unalloyed delight–a perfect rejoinder to those critics who maintain that Lubitsch only found “the Lubitsch touch” after he moved to Hollywood in the 1920s. The satire is sharp, and the visual settings are sumptuous and gracefully handled; with Ossi Owalda, Harry Liedtke, and Victor Janson. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, February 8, 8:30, 443-3737)… Read more »

Images of the World and the Inscription of War

A fascinating 1988 film essay about photography by Harun Farocki. One of Germany’s most interesting independent filmmakers, he combines the freewheeling imagination of a Chris Marker with the rigor of an Alexander Kluge, and has a materialist approach to editing sound and image that suggests both Fritz Lang and Robert Bresson. Central to the argument of this film are some aerial photographs of Auschwitz taken by American bombers looking for factories and power plants and missing the lines of people in front of the gas chambers–which are contrasted with Nazi photographs and images drawn by an Auschwitz prisoner, Alfred Kantor. Farocki’s provocative reflections on these and related matters and his highly original fragmentization and manipulation of music make this an excellent beginning to a long-overdue retrospective of his work, which until now has not been available in the U.S. Farocki will be present for a discussion; cosponsored by the Goethe-Institut. (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Wednesday, February 12, 7:30,281-8788) … Read more »

State Fair

The first of two remakes of a 1933 Fox picture, this 1945 color musical features Rodgers and Hammerstein’s only film score (including the Oscar-winning It Might as Well Be Spring). The usually undistinguished Walter Lang directed; with Jeanne Crain, Dana Andrews, Dick Haymes, Vivian Blaine, and Charles Winninger. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Noroît

The strangest by far of Jacques Rivette’s films (1976), and perhaps the last gasp of the modernist strain that infused his work from L’amour fou to Out 1 to Celine and Julie Go Boating, this is a violent and unsettling fusion of a female pirate adventure (filmed on some of the same locations used for The Vikings and inspired in part by Lang’s Moonfleet, but set in no particular place or period), mythological fantasy, Jacobean tragedy (with many lines borrowed from Tourneur’s Revenger’s Tragedy), experimental dance film (with live improvised music from a talented trio of musicians), and personal psychodrama. The eclectic cast includes Geraldine Chaplin, Bernadette Lafont, Kika Markham (Two English Girls), and a few members of Carolyn Carlson’s dance company. While the mise en scène and locations are often stunning, the film seems contrived to confound conventional emotional reactions of any sort. It’s a movie where the casual slitting of someone’s throat and the swishing sounds of Lafont’s leather pants are made to seem equally relevant — a world apart from Rivette’s more recent La belle noiseuse. Yet Rivette’s feeling for duration, immediacy, and moods of menace are fully present here, and days or weeks after you see this chilling conundrum of a movie, sounds and images may come back to haunt you.… Read more »

How To Live In The Federal Republic Of Germany

A devastating 1989 documentary feature by Harun Farocki, one of the most interesting and original independent filmmakers in Germanya mordantly comic montage of short scenes taken from 32 instructional classes, as well as therapy and test sessions. The film alternates between two kinds of activity: simulations and exercises carried out by human beings (learning about everything from child care to striptease to war to sales techniques to auto safety) and products being tested without visible human intervention. The relationships between the two become increasingly disturbing, even chilling: dolls and dummies frequently figure in the simulations in a way that suggests people are being taught to treat other people like objects, while the products being tested are often accorded a kind of care and scrutiny denied to people. The thin line separating socialization from indoctrination is repeatedly traversedand the implication is that while diverse appliances are being tested for human use, humans are being trained and tested so they can aspire to the performance level of appliances. No offscreen commentary is needed to convey Farocki’s eerie message; the brilliant rhymes and contrasts of his montage say everything. (JR)… Read more »

Hear My Song

An English concert promoter (Adrian Dunbar) who hopes to revive a failing theater club as well as his relationship with his girlfriend (Tara Fitzgerald) books someone who might be the famous Irish tenor Josef Locke. Years earlier Locke fled the country after being charged with evading taxes, breaking the heart of the mother of the promoter’s girlfriend. The singer turns out to be an imitator and the promoter is denounced as a fraud, whereupon he and a friend (James Nesbitt) set out to find the real Locke (Ned Beatty), who’s now hiding out in Ireland, and bring him back to England. Peter Chelsom makes his directorial debut here; he wrote the screenplay with Dunbar (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Wayne’s World

Bill & Ted’s Aurora Adventures might almost serve as the subtitle for this very silly but enjoyable 1992 comedy, developed from characters introduced on Saturday Night Liveheavy-metal fans (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) with a cable access show in Aurora, Illinois. The first feature produced by Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels, directed by heavy-metal specialist Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization) from a script authored by Myers, Bonnie Turner, and Terry Turner, this has a minimal plot relating to the attempted co-option and exploitation of the lead dudes by evil Chicago entrepreneurs (headed by Rob Lowe), but most of it is just Hellzapoppin-style gags, with a nice turn by Tia Carrere as a Chinese-born heavy-metal performer. Smaller parts are doled out to Brian Doyle-Murray, Lara Flynn Boyle, Colleen Camp, Meat Loaf, and Alice Cooper playing himself. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Twilight

A dirgelike Hungarian thriller by Gyorgy Feher about the search for a serial killer whose victims are little girls. The striking visual style (high-contrast black-and-white cinematography by Miklos Gurban) and creepy pacing tend to dominate the plot so thoroughly that I found myself tuning the narrative out and not being terribly worried about what I was missing. While the slow-as-molasses dialogue delivery and camera movements superficially suggest Tarkovsky (or, closer to home, Bela Tarr’s Damnation), Feher’s script and mise en scene are considerably more manneristemployed more to conjure an atmosphere than to convey a particular vision or a distinctive moral universe. The closest American equivalent to this sort of exercise might be Rumble Fish: sumptuous visuals that impart more filigree than substance (1990). (JR)… Read more »

This Is My Life

Nora Ephron’s directorial debut, a film she scripted with her sister Delia, adapting the novel This Is Your Life by Meg Wolitzer, is a very personal effort, quite close to her own writinga mixed blessing in more ways than one. The cleverness and the cruelty come in equal doses, and I can’t recall another recent picture with so many unattractive Jewish characters. The plot involves a single mother (Julie Kavner) from New York making her way as a stand-up comic while raising two daughters (Samantha Mathis and Gaby Hoffmann). One sign of trouble is the fact that Mathis, wonderful as the female lead of Pump Up the Volume, is reduced to a ghost here as the awkward older sister. Other awkward presences include Carrie Fisher, Dan Aykroyd, Bob Nelson, and Marita Geraghty. Despite a few laughs and insights along the way, the casual mean-spiritedness leaves a sour aftertaste. (JR)… Read more »

35 Up

The fifth in a series of English documentaries made since 1964 that chart the lives of several people at seven-year intervals; Michael Apted, a researcher on the first film, directed all the subsequent films. As Dave Kehr has previously remarked, the series as a whole can be seen from an English perspective as a demonstration of the rigidity of the class system, though this is far from the only perspective one can bring to the material. Significantly, some of the participants declined to be interviewed for this installment, but what seems most conspicuously absent is any inquiry into the quality of the interviewers’ questions over the past 28 years. There’s certainly plenty of food for thought here, but most of it is served raw rather than cookedmost of the significance of the development of faces, physiques, aspirations, and attitudes over three decades is left to the subjects themselves (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Thank You And Goodnight

Many years in the making, Jan Oxenberg’s highly personal, often engaging, and suprisingly entertaining documentary about the death of her maternal grandmother has a lot to say about New York Jewish families, the meaning of home, memories of food, and the complex work of mourning. One sign of Oxenberg’s eclecticism is the frequent jokey uses of painted cutouts of herself and her grandmother to represent various themes and issues; they don’t always work, but it’s still interesting to see how much creative use she can make of them. We learn a lot about her grandmother and other family members over the course of the filmeverything from the meaning of life and death to the question of who inherits the grandmother’s TV gets pondered and negotiatedand their awareness that they’re being filmed adds a great deal to the emotional resonance. While there’s an occasional strain in the film’s efforts to remain cheerful at all costs, the overall achievement is impressive and full of reverberations (1991). (JR)… Read more »