Monthly Archives: October 1992

Rampage

A serious contemporary movie about a serial killer by flashy and talented genre director William Friedkin may sound like a contradiction in terms, and I certainly wouldn’t want to oversell a movie whose distinction largely consists of negative virtues: its refusal to manipulate the viewer, mythologize the subject, or deify the serial killer in the disgusting if effectively Oscar-mongering manner of The Silence of the Lambs. Made several years ago, but held up from release by Dino De Laurentlis’s bankruptcy, this film is a somber investigation of the legal and psychiatric issues surrounding the trial of a serial killer. Although the facts of the case are gory enough, Friedkin, adapting a novel of the same title by William P. Wood that’s based on an actual case, goes to considerable lengths not to exploit this material for cheap thrills. Refusing to offer any authoritative conclusion about whether or not we should regard this killer (well played by Alex McArthur) as insane, but considering the various legal and ethical ramifications involved, the movie proceeds rather like an issue-oriented chamber drama of the 50s, with potent and naturalistically plausible performances by Michael Biehn, Nicholas Campbell, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, John Harkins, Art La Fleur, Royce O.… Read more »

Teorema

Apart from his final feature, Salo, this is probably Pier Paolo Pasolini’s most controversial film, and to my mind one of his very best, though it has the sort of audacity and extremeness that sends some American audiences into gales of derisive, self-protective laughter. The title is Italian for “theorem,” in this case a mythological figure: an attractive young man (Terence Stamp) who visits the home of a Milanese industrialist and proceeds to seduce every member of the household–father, mother (Silvana Mangano), daughter (Anne Wiazemsky), son, and maid (Laura Betti). Then he leaves, and everyone in the household undergoes cataclysmic changes. Pasolini wrote a parallel novel of the same title, part of it in verse, while making this film; neither work is, strictly speaking, an adaptation of the other, but a recasting of the same elements, and the stark poetry of both is like a triple-distilled version of Pasolini’s view of the world–a view in which Marxism, Christianity, and homosexuality are forced into mutual and scandalous confrontations. Like Pasolini at his best, this is an “impossible” work: tragic, lyrical, outrageous, indigestible, deeply felt, and wholly sincere (1968). A newly subtitled print will be shown. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson , Friday and Saturday, October 23 and 24, 8:00, 443-3737) … Read more »

This Week at the Chicago Film Festival

The 28th Chicago International Film Festival moves into its top-heavy second week, with a disproportionate number of high points scheduled for this weekend. The first four features that I cited last week as my favorites among the festival selections I’d seen so far–Actress, Angel of Fire, Hyenas, and Reservoir Dogs–will all be showing simultaneously this Friday night. Admittedly, all except Hyenas will be screened again, and two (including Hyenas) have been screened already, but a few more scheduling conflicts crop up again later, e.g., Actress and Angel of Fire overlap a second time on Saturday, and another of my favorites, Another Girl, Another Planet overlaps with Angel of Fire when the latter shows for the third and last time on Sunday. A certain number of such conflicts is no doubt unavoidable, and the Chicago Festival is certainly not alone–some of the conflicts at the Toronto Festival of Festivals over the last couple of years have been equally acute. But I do hope that in the future more effort can be made to distribute the goodies more evenly throughout the week rather than pile them together like the ingredients in a banana split.

On the basis of what I’ve seen, I can offer only one minor recommendation after the weekend–In the Soup–although some of the reviews that follow will offer others.… Read more »

Close-Up

Much acclaimed in France for its fascinating take on the cinematic apparatus, this masterpiece from Iran by the highly talented Abbas Kiarostami (And Life Goes On…) combines fiction with nonfiction in novel and provocative ways. It starts with the real-life trial in Tehran of an unemployed film buff who impersonated the celebrated filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed). His charade included becoming intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare for a film that was to feature them. To complicate matters, Kiarostami persuaded the major players to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. Much comedy is derived from the ways “the cinema” changes and inflects the value and nature of everything taking place–the scam, the trial, Kiarostami’s documentary, and so on (1990). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, October 18, 4:15, 443-3737)… Read more »

Glengarry Glen Ross

The underrated James Foley (After Dark, My Sweet) shows an excellent feeling for the driven and haunted jive rhythms of David Mamet, macho invective and all, in a superb delivery of Mamet’s tour de force about desperate real estate salesmen, adapted for the screen by Mamet himself. Practically all the action occurs in an office and a Chinese restaurant across the street, and Foley’s mise en scene is so energetic and purposeful (he’s especially adept in using semicircular pans) that the unexpected use of a ‘Scope format seems fully justified, even in a drama where lives are resurrected and destroyed according to the value of offscreen pieces of paper. The all-expert cast consists of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, and Ed Harris (labor), Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey (management), and Jonathan Pryce (a customer); the wholly appropriate jazz score, with fine saxophone solos by Wayne Shorter, is by James Newton Howard. (Bricktown Square, Golf Glen, Water Tower, Webster Place, Ford City, Wilmette)… Read more »

Cinema Glut: Here Comes the 28th Chicago International Film Festival

The 28th Chicago International Film Festival looks better on paper than most of the others I’ve written about over the past five years. Last year I noted some improvements in film selection and overall efficiency, and they seem to be continuing, thanks I suspect to the presence of Marc Evans, who joined the festival staff last year as program director. Another plus for this year is that the activity is focused on only two sites–four screens at Pipers Alley (which now boasts free parking) and one at the Music Box–which helps in terms of both convenience and continuity. And while there’s no large-scale retrospective that can compare with the ones devoted to 3-D in 1990 and CinemaScope in 1991–just sidebars devoted to Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal (six features), Israeli filmmaker Dan Wolman (five features), and Switzerland-based producer Arthur Cohn (five features), all three of which are new names to me–a greater number of the main selections can be defended as responsible and intelligent choices. There’s still a certain amount of sofa stuffing (beware of some of the American independent selections in particular), but in general the list comes closer to representing an international consensus on the best new films available than an arbitrary string of also-rans selected by bureaucrats and embassies (but don’t expect the latter category to be entirely unrepresented).… Read more »

Improving Mr. Welles

From Sight and Sound (October 1992). –- J.R.

Most of the American press has been all too happy to declare the new version of Orson Welles’ Othello as “expertly restored”, as Vincent Canby put it in the New York Times. But restored from what and to what? Even rudimentary information about the film’s original form is not easy to come by in the U.S., where 0thello brought in only $40,000 on its belated first release in 1955 and has been screened only sporadically since. Mutatis mutandis, the acclaim that has greeted the restoration recalls the unqualified press endorsements of Francis Coppola’s presentation of Abel Gance’s ‘complete’ Napoléon at Radio City Music Hall in 1981, in a version that eliminated an entire subplot so that the print wouldn’t run past midnight and jack up the theatre’s operating costs.

To make matters more complicated, two different versions of the ‘restored’ Othello have been presented to the public so far, although only the second of these is currently in circulation. The first, worked on in Chicago by a team headed by Michael Dawson and Arnie Saks, premiered at New York’s Lincoln Center late last year; I saw it several weeks afterwards at a private screening in Chicago.… Read more »

The Road to Overload [NORTH ON EVERS]

From the Chicago Reader (October 2, 1992). — J.R.

NORTH ON EVERS

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by James Benning.

A good many of the fine points of the film business elude me. But if I understand some of the current rules correctly, it’s poison to use black-and-white cinematography, letterboxing (for framing wide-screen formats on video), or subtitles –unless they appear in music videos or, in the case of subtitles, in Dances With Wolves or The Last of the Mohicans, when they automatically become commercially desirable.

I cite these ridiculous rules of thumb to show just how fanciful most such commercial “rules” turn out to be. Producers, distributors, and exhibitors often claim that their choices are dictated by the well-researched desires of audiences; of course audiences counter that they can only choose from what’s put in front of them. In other words everyone passes the buck when it comes to explaining why black-and-white features can’t get bankrolled in this country and why foreign-language films have a tough time — only 1 percent of all movies shown here are subtitled. And the industry takes enormous pains to ensure that we don’t see letterboxing on TV or video — except on MTV.… Read more »

Laws of Gravity

In his first feature–a cut-rate effort shot in only 12 days for $38,000–writer-director Nick Gomez, the editor of Hal Hartley’s Trust, catches the surface behavior of Italian-American hoods in Bensonhurst so perfectly that you may not even care that you already know this material like the back of your hand. The inconsequential plot involves the efforts of a couple of petty criminals (Peter Greene and Adam Trese) to unload an illegal stash of handguns; what really matters are the dead-on performances and the overlapping dialogue with its compulsive four-letter words (“Chill fuckin’ out” is a typical remark) and its even more compulsive characters. It’s an impressive debut, though it would be nice to see what Gomez can do outside of Scorseseland. With Edie Falco, Arabella Field, Paul Schulze, and Saul Stein. (Fine Arts) … Read more »

Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut

Far and away the best SF movie of the 80s, though a critical and commercial flop when it first appeared (1982), Ridley Scott’s visionary look at Los Angeles in the year 2019–a singular blend of glitter and grime that captures both the horror and the allure of capitalism in the Reagan era with the claustrophobic textures of a Sternberg film–is back in a new version that more closely approximates the director’s original intentions, minus the offscreen narration and happy ending and with a few brief additions. Loosely adapted by David Webb Peoples (who later scripted Unforgiven) and Hampton Fancher from Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the story mainly concerns the tracking down and killing of “replicants” (lifelike androids) by the hero (Harrison Ford), and much of the film’s erotic charge and moral and ideological ambiguity stems from the fact that these characters–Joe Turkel, Sean Young, Darryl Hannah, Rutger Hauer, and Joanna Cassidy–are very nearly the only ones we care about. (We never know for sure whether Ford is a replicant himself, and one advantage to this version is that it makes this uncertainty more explicit.) Though some dysfunctional overlaps grow out of the grafting together of 40s hardboiled detective story and SF thriller, and the movie loses some force whenever violence takes over, this remains a truly extraordinary, densely imagined version of both the future and present, with a look and taste all its own.… Read more »

Storyville

Taking as his basic text an unattributed line from Faulkner (The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past), Mark Frost, David Lynch’s coproducer on Twin Peaks, goes for baroque in his first featurea slow-moving murder mystery set in New Orleans involving a powerful local family that includes a congressional candidate (James Spader) and his wily uncle (Jason Robards). Adapted by Frost and Lee Reynolds from the novel Juryman by Frank Galbally and Robert Macklin, this is handsome to look at, likably acted, and with a good sense of local color, but very difficult to follow in terms of plot and arguably not always worth the botherthough it’s certainly a better movie than Twin Peaks. With Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Charlotte Lewis, Michael Warren, Michael Parks, and a striking cameo by John Ford veteran Woody Strode. (JR)… Read more »

Night And The City

It’s symptomatic of this vastly inferior 1992 remake of Jules Dassin’s 1950 film noir, transplanted from London’s East End to lower Manhattan, that the title is no longer evocative of the film itself, most of which seems to take place in the daytime. Still, it’s an improvement over producer Irwin Winkler’s debut feature as a director, Guilty by Suspicion, if only because this time out Robert De Niro offers a somewhat more resourceful performanceas a small-time lawyer hoping to make a financial killing with a boxing match (though De Niro’s not as interesting as Richard Widmark was in the original, as a nightclub entrepreneur setting up a wrestling match). The basic problem here is that everybody from Winkler to screenwriter Richard Price to the talented supporting cast (Jessica Lange, Cliff Gorman, Alan King, Jack Warden, Eli Wallach, and Barry Primus) tries too hard, grabbing us by the lapels and hollering at us, spelling everything out in neon; the use of The Great Pretender over the concluding credits to tell us what the movie and leading character were all about is emblematic of the way the audience is treated like a pack of dunderheadsa problem in Guilty by Suspicion as well. (JR)… Read more »

Films By Peter Hutton

Five films by the highly acclaimed experimental filmmaker, who generally uses opposition between still photography and moving images to describe urban landscapes: In Titan’s Goblet (1991), Landscape (1987), Lodz Symphony (1993), and Budapest Portrait (Memories of a City) (1986). (JR)… Read more »

H.e.a.l.t.h.

This rather tired and airless 1979 satire, which Robert Altman spun off from his own Nashville and (somewhat less tired) A Wedding, plunks its many oddball characters down in a health-food convention in a Florida hotel and asks us to smirk along with the direction. The cast includes Carol Burnett, Glenda Jackson, Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Henry Gibson, Alfre Woodard, and Dick Cavett (playing himself, and clearly pleased as punch about it). 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Zebrahead

Anthony Drazan’s slick first feature about a racially mixed group of teenagers, including a Jewish boy immersed in black music who has a black girlfriend, is a controversial picture by someone who signed a contract with Steven Spielberg, so don’t expect to be too shocked by what you see and hear. Drazan shows a certain amount of craft as well as craftiness in representing the hip-hop scene for the mainstream, however. The film was shot in a racially segregated section of Detroit and won the 1992 Sundance festival’s filmmaker award. With Ray Sharkey, Michael Rapaport, N’Bushe Wright, Ron Johnson, Paul Butler and DeShonn Castle; the score is by Taj Mahal, and Oliver Stone was an executive producer. (JR)… Read more »