Monthly Archives: November 1992

Simple Men

The third feature by Hal Hartley (The Unbelievble Truth, Trust) stars Robert Burke as a small-time computer criminal who’s just been betrayed by his girlfriend. He teams up with his younger brother (William Sage) to look for their runaway father, a radical activist, and in the course of their search they meet a couple of unusual women, the proprietress of an oyster bar (Karen Sillas) and an epileptic Romanian (Elina Lowensohn). Closer in spirit to the Godardian mannerism of Hartley’s shorts than to his more naturalistic previous features–though with the same impulse toward the manic (and mantric) repetitions of both–this has his best and funniest dialogue to date. It’s not entirely clear where this movie winds up, but it’s a provocative journey. With Martin Donovan and Mark Chandler Bailey. (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, November 27 through December 3) … Read more »

Samantha

Martha Plimpton stars as the title heroine–a classical musician who discovers on her 21st birthday that she’s adopted and undergoes an extreme identity crisis. It’s a quirky enough premise to build a whimsical comedy on, and first-time director Stephen La Rocque, who wrote this with John Golden, sees the situation and the unstereotypical characters with such freshness that he keeps one interested and amused. The other cast members certainly help–Hector Elizondo and Mary Kay Place as the adoptive parents, Dermot Mulroney as a childhood friend and fellow musician, Ione Skye as his huffy girlfriend–and the integral use of chamber music, with Mulroney actually playing his own cello parts, is often delightful. (Pipers Alley) … Read more »

Cornucoppola [BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA]

From the Chicago Reader (November 27, 1992). I couldn’t (and wouldn’t) argue that this treat is necessarily Coppola’s best movie, for reasons given below, but I wonder if it might actually be his most pleasurable, at least on a moment-by-moment (and shot-by-shot) basis. The new Blu-Ray edition only adds to and enhances the richness.  — J.R.

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola

Written by James V. Hart

With Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Sadie Frost, Tom Waits, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves, Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, and Bill Campbell.

Geographical spread accounts for some of the major differences between the film culture in this country and the various film cultures in Europe. While overseas the principal film-production centers and intellectual centers are usually located in the same cities — Paris, Rome, London, Madrid, Lisbon, Stockholm, Budapest, Prague — most of the United States stretches between our main film-production center, Hollywood and environs, and our main intellectual center, New York. The practical consequence is that our left hand hasn’t the faintest idea what our right hand is doing.

So much for the geographical split. What might be called the institutional gap is even worse. I’m referring to the profound lack of communication between the film industry (including most movie reviewers) and academic film studies (including intellectuals in adjacent or related fields).… Read more »

Rock Criticism

From the November 20, 1992 Chicago Reader. –J.R.

ROCK HUDSON’S HOME MOVIES

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed and written by Mark Rappaport

With Rock Hudson and Eric Farr.

In the creation of art, the verb is there to authenticate the subject with the same name.

To paint is the act of painting. . . . To write becomes the act of writing and of the writer. To film, that is, to record a sight and project it, is the act of cinema and of the makers of films . . .

Only television has no creative act or verb to authenticate it. That’s because the act of television both falls short of communication and goes beyond it. It doesn’t create any goods, in fact, what is worse, it distributes them without their ever having been created. To program is the only verb of television. That implies suffering rather than release. — Jean-Luc Godard

You were a great star, Mr. Hudson — one of the biggest. Sorry it all had to end like this. — director Mark Rappaport’s voice in Rock Hudson’s Home Movies

The precipitous decline in the quality of American movies since the 1970s can be attributed to several factors, but three interconnected changes in U.S.… Read more »

Flirting

Part two of Australian writer-director John Duigan’s trilogy about teenage life in the 60s (which commenced with 1987′s The Year My Voice Broke) follows Danny Embling (Noah Taylor) to a ritzy boarding school, where he becomes involved with Thandiwe Adjewa (Thandie Newton), a beautiful and precocious black girl from Uganda, at a nearby girls’ school. Not only worthy of its fine predecessor, this tender, perceptive, and gorgeously acted memory piece may even surpass subtlety, feeling, and depth of characterization. (Nicole Kidman is also very fine as one of Thandiwe’s classmates.) A winner of many prizes in Australia, this lovely feature probably deserves them all. (Fine Arts) … Read more »

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

A good reason for including the name of the original author in the title of Francis Ford Coppola’s ambitious version of the famous vampire story is that most previous film versions have been based not on the 1897 novel but on Hamilton Deane and John Balderston’s 1927 stage adaptation. This version, written by coproducer James V. Hart, brings back the multiple narrators of the novel, leading to a somewhat dispersed and overcrowded story line that remains fascinating and often affecting thanks to all its visual and conceptual energy. (Some of this derives from the filmmakers’ musings about what was going on culturally in Europe at the turn of the century, including the decadent art of people like Beardsley, Klimt, and Huysmans and the birth of both movies and psychoanalysis.) Still the overreacher, Coppola suffers at times from a surfeit of ideas (rather than a dearth, like most of his colleagues); there are times when he squanders his effects (as he did in Rumble Fish), or finds some of them in unlikely places. (Murnau’s Faust has apparently exerted more of an influence than his Nosferatu, for instance.) But this is still the best vampire movie in ages–a visual feast with ideas, more disturbing than scary, though a rich experience in many other respects.… Read more »

Ecotalk [MINDWALK]

From the Chicago Reader (November 13, 1992). — J.R.

MINDWALK

** (Worth seeing)

Directed by Bernt Capra

Written by Floyd Byars, Fritjof Capra, and Bernt Capra

With Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston, John Heard, and Ione Skye.

Made two years ago, Mindwalk is finally arriving in Chicago (at Facets Multimedia for a week), after having been announced and then withdrawn as an attraction at the Fine Arts many months ago. However, the surprise isn’t so much that the movie is turning up here late as that it’s turning up at all. In this virtual talkfest about Serious Matters set on Mont-Saint-Michel — the islet in the English Channel a mile off the coast of France — three people discuss the state of the world over the course of an afternoon. An American senator (Sam Waterston), a conservative Democrat who has just done poorly in a presidential primary, has gone to visit an expatriate poet friend (John Heard), and the two of them meet by chance a disillusioned European-born physicist (Liv Ullmann). She does most of the talking while they all walk around Mont-Saint-Michel; the two men chiefly ask questions and occasionally offer a skeptical rejoinder or corroborating gloss. The only other character of any importance is the physicist’s daughter (Ione Skye).… Read more »

November Days: Voices and Choices

The highly skilled documentarist Marcel Ophuls (The Sorrow and the Pity, Hotel Terminus) turns his sights on the reunification of Germany in this 1990 BBC program, 129 minutes long, to be shown on video. Much of this becomes in effect a critical reassessment of East Germany, with Ophuls skeptically interviewing such former officials as Communist Party chief Egon Krenz and secret police strategist Markus Wolf, and such figureheads as Bertolt Brecht’s daughter Barbara, as well as ordinary East Germans who have crossed into West Germany for the first time. He also punctuates his material with film clips and pop songs, often to make satiric points, and if these whimsical intrusions don’t always work, the nature and subtlety of his inquiry remain fascinating throughout. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1617 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, November 6 and 7, 6:30 and 9:00; Sunday, November 8, 5:00 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, November 9 through 12, 6:30 and 9:00; 281-4114) … Read more »

Hard-boiled

John Woo’s violent crime thriller and last Hong Kong production to date (1992) stars Chow Yun-fat as a tough Hong Kong cop who loses his best friend and partner in a teahouse shoot-out and joins forces with a hired killer (Tony Leung) who appears to operate on both sides of the law. Choreographically stunning like most of Woo’s work, especially before he headed West. 132 min. (JR)… Read more »

Simple Men

The third feature by Hal Hartley (The Unbelievable Truth, Trust) stars Robert Burke as a small-time computer criminal who’s just been betrayed by his girlfriend. He teams up with his younger brother (William Sage) to look for their runaway father, a radical activist, and in the course of their search they meet a couple of unusual women, the proprietress of an oyster bar (Karen Sillas) and an epileptic Romanian (Elina Lowensohn). Closer in spirit to the Godardian mannerism of Hartley’s shorts than to his more naturalistic previous featuresthough with the same impulse toward manic (and mantric) repetitionsthis has the best and funniest dialogue of any of his films. It’s not entirely clear where this 1992 movie winds up, but the journey is provocative. With Martin Donovan and Mark Chandler Bailey. R, 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Samantha

Martha Plimpton stars as the title heroinea classical musician who discovers on her 21st birthday that she’s adopted and undergoes an extreme identity crisis. It’s a quirky enough premise to build a whimsical comedy on, and first-time director Stephen La Rocque, who wrote this with John Golden, sees the situation and the unstereotypical characters with such freshness that he keeps one interested and amused. The other cast members certainly helpHector Elizondo and Mary Kay Place as the adoptive parents, Dermot Mulroney as a childhood friend and fellow musician, Ione Skye as his huffy girlfriendand the integral use of chamber music, with Mulroney actually playing his own cello parts, is often delightful. (JR)… Read more »

Salo, Or The 120 Days Of Sodom

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s last feature (1975) is a shockingly literal and historically questionable transposition of the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom to the last days of Italian fascism. Most of the film consists of long shots of torture, though some viewers have been more upset by the bibliography that appears in the credits. Roland Barthes noted that in spite of all its objectionable elements (he pointed out that any film that renders Sade real and fascism unreal is doubly wrong), this film should be defended because it refuses to allow us to redeem ourselves. It’s certainly the film in which Pasolini’s protest against the modern world finds its most extreme and anguished expression. Very hard to take, but in its own way an essential work. In Italian with subtitles. 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

Nitrate Kisses

A strikingly shot and edited 1992 black-and-white documentary feature by experimental filmmaker Barbara Hammer, about the effacing of gay experience from official histories, beginning with the life of novelist Willa Cather. Setting offscreen commentaries and conversations against various kinds of archival and new footage (including bold images of lovemaking between women in the 70s), this far-ranging and compelling essay seems limited only by the sound-bite and image-bite format, which gives it a slightly rushed feeling. 67 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Hours And Times

Christopher Munch’s brilliant and concise account of what might have happened during John Lennon and Brian Epstein’s four days of vacation in Barcelona in 1963written, directed, produced, and shot by Munch (who also photographed The Living End) on location in black-and-white 35-millimeter. Visually spare and running for only an hour, this benefits not only from one terrific performance (David Angus as Epstein) and a pretty good one (Ian Hart as Lennon), but also from a filmmaking confidence and lack of pretension that makes every passing nuance register keenly (1991). (JR)… Read more »