Daily Archives: October 1, 1992

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 »

Visions Of Light: The Art Of Cinematography

A visit with many of the best cinematographers in Hollywood, including Nestor Almendros, Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler, Vittorio Storaro, and Sven Nykvist (who also discuss some of their predecessors, e.g. Billy Bitzer and Gregg Toland). Directors Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels come up with clips from the best prints available to illustrate their comments. It’s a pity they’ve basically restricted their inquiry to the U.S. industry; the American Film Institute, which coproduced the movie, pretty much limits its efforts to preserving and promoting domestic interests, unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the world. (The many non-American cinematographers almost exclusively discuss their American work.) But the uncommon virtue of this 1992 documentary is that it teaches us a great deal about things we think we already know. Why, for instance, was the lighting so low in the Godfather films? You might be surprised to find out. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Tune

A 1992 cartoon feature by independent animator Bill Plymptoncoscripted with P.C. Vey and Maureen McElheron, who also composed the music and supplies the voice of the heroinefeaturing both his taste for nonstop surreal inventions and his usual distaste for people. The putative story line has to do with a nerdy songwriter hoping for a hit who winds up in the town of Flooby NoobyPlympton’s version of Wonderlandwhich furnishes enough musical and narrative padding to turn this into a feature-length collection of a dozen music videos, many of them made up largely of still shots. (Bits and pieces of this feature appeared in various Plympton shorts over a couple of yearse.g. a sadistic duel between two poker-faced executives.) While the acerbic style has its moments of genuine witI especially enjoyed the Elvis parodythe rough line drawings can get a little tiresome over 72 minutes. (JR)… Read more »

That Cold Day In The Park

Robert Altman’s inauspicious first theatrical featurerecognizably his work, meandering zooms and all, but the material is somewhat pretentious and hackneyed: spinster Sandy Dennis picks up hippie Michael Burns in a Vancouver park, and, needless to say, goes nuts. The intermittent homophobia isn’t exactly winning either (1969). (JR)… 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 send some American audiences into gales of derisive, self-protective laughter (1968). 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 householdfather, 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 worlda view in which Marxism, Christianity, and homosexuality are forced into mutual and scandalous confrontations. It’s an impossible work: tragic, lyrical, outrageous, indigestible, deeply felt, and wholly sincere. (JR)… Read more »

Rampage

A serious contemporary movie (1992) about a serial killer by flashy and talented genre director William Friedkin. Maybe that’s a contradiction in terms, and I certainly don’t want to oversell it, but the film at least has the distinction of its negative virtues: a 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. Held up from release for several years by Dino De Laurentiis’s bankruptcy, this film looks at some of the legal and psychiatric issues surrounding the trial of its serial-killer subject. Although the facts of the case are gory enough, Friedkin, adapting a novel of the same title by William P. Wood based on an actual case, goes to considerable lengths not to exploit the material for cheap thrills, preferring to explore the implications of certain legal issues. Without offering any definitive conclusion about whether or not we should regard this killer (well played by Alex McArthur) as insane (though arguing overall for capital punishment), 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 D.… Read more »

The Public Eye

An interesting, melancholy mood piece (1992) written and directed by Howard Franklin (writer of Someone to Watch Over Me and writer and codirector of the underrated Quick Change) and set in New York City in 1942. Joe Pesci plays an artistically inclined tabloid photographer (loosely based on Weegee) and Barbara Hershey is a nightclub owner who enlists his aid. As the film itself suggests at one point, this is basically The Hunchback of Notre Dame relocated in Manhattan’s nightclub life of the 40s, and Franklin gives it all a memorable burnished finish. With Stanley Tucci, Jerry Adler, and Jared Harris; Robert Zemeckis is the executive producer. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Pigsty

Two contrasting and mutually reflecting and enhancing stories about consumption. One, set in contemporary Germany and featuring Jean-Pierre Leaud and Anne Wiazemsky (both dubbed into Italian), is about the son of a former Nazi who forsakes his fiancee to have sex with pigs; the other, set in the Middle Ages, features Pierre Clementi starving in the desert and eventually resorting to cannibalism. This isn’t one of Pasolini’s greatest films, though it’s possibly the one that today best shows the warp and woof of its period (1969). (JR)… Read more »

People Will Talk

Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz at his most pontifical, personal, and oddball, with Cary Grant as a surgeon and music conductor serving as his principal mouthpiece. Occasionally the hero stops talking long enough to court Jeanne Crain, one of his patients, and Finlay Currie, Walter Slezak, Hume Cronyn, and Sidney Blackmer are around in character parts to kibitz as well. Comedy, drama, romance, and lots of opinions about the state of the world circa 1951. (JR)… Read more »

Short Films By Pier Paolo Pasolini

Some of Pasolini’s very best work was done in his rarely screened shorts, to judge from the two in this program I’ve seen: La ricotta (1963), a satire about a big-budget film in progress depicting the Crucifixion, with Orson Welles as the director; and What Are the Clouds? (1968), the offstage meditations of marionettes who are performing Othello. The others in this program: Notes for a Film About India (1968), The Earth Seen From the Moon (1966), and The Paper Flower Sequence (1969). (JR)… Read more »

Oedipus Rex

One of the most underrated, neglected, and powerful of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s features, this 1967 film, shot in Morocco, is a retelling of the Sophocles tragedy that begins in antiquity and ends in the 20th century, with references to both the fascist period in Italy and Pasolini’s own life. With Franco Citti, Silvana Mangano, and Alida Valli. In Italian with subtitles. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »