Monthly Archives: February 1993

He Ran All the Way

John Garfield’s last film–made in 1951, shortly before its talented and neglected director, John Berry, was driven into European exile by the Hollywood blacklist and Garfield himself died of a heart attack at 39 (many believe because of related pressures)–is a fitting and powerful testament to the actor’s poignancy and power as a working-class punk. (As critic Thom Andersen has noted, he is an “axiom,” especially in relation to the socially caustic noirs that proliferated in Hollywood just before many of the artists involved in them were hounded into silence by the HUAC.) Here Garfield plays a hoodlum in flight from a bungled robbery, falling for a young woman (Shelley Winters) and holding her family hostage as he oscillates wildly between mistrust and a desire to be part of this family circle. Combining an effective script (Guy Endore and Hugh Butler adapting a Sam Ross novel), superb cinematography by James Wong Howe, and a keen sense of working-class manners shared by Berry and Garfield, this is a highly affecting thriller that draws us relentlessly into its plangent moral tensions; with Wallace Ford, Selena Royale, Gladys George, and Norman Lloyd. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, February 26, 6:00 and 7:30, 443-3737)… Read more »

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media

This is the Chicago premiere of a first-rate, 167-minute Canadian documentary by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick about the brilliant linguist and radical political commentator Noam Chomsky, probably the best living critic of American foreign policy as viewed through the media. He’s so articulate and intelligent that this extended look at his thought remains compulsively watchable throughout, and the filmmakers pull off the unlikely feat of making a film about him genuinely humorous in spots (1992). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, February 20, 3:00, and Sunday, February 21, 6:00, 443-3737)

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Renzo.… Read more »

Rock Hudson’s Home Movies

This brilliant hour-long video by independent filmmaker Mark Rappaport (The Scenic Route) is in effect a subversive piece of film criticism that departs from the fictional conceit of Hudson himself (represented through clips from his films and by actor Eric Farr) speaking from beyond the grave about his homosexuality and what this did or didn’t have to do with his countless heterosexual screen roles. Part of what emerges, to hilarious effect, is the extraordinary amount of male cruising and number of barbed allusions to Hudson’s gayness that his movies of the 50s and 60s contain; what also emerges is the sexual ideology of the period. Though much of this essential work is extremely funny, it is also very much about death in relation to movies (1992). (Music Box, Friday and Saturday, February 12 and 13, midnight)… Read more »

War Fever [on MATINEE]

This review appeared in the Chicago Reader on February 5, 1993. —J.R.

 

MATINEE

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Joe Dante

Written by Charlie Haas and Jerico

With John Goodman, Cathy Moriarty, Simon Fenton, Omri Katz, Lisa Jakub, Kellie Martin, Jesse Lee, Lucinda Jenney, James Villemaire, and Robert Picardo.

I suggested a few new promotional gimmicks for the play — a closed black coffin outside the theater and Oriental incense to get the audiences in the mood. The stage manager agreed to try another of my ideas — Count Dracula would vanish on stage in a cloud of smoke, then suddenly reappear in the audience. Snarling at the frightened spectators, he would again vanish and appear back on stage. I began to learn firsthand the value of good publicity and showmanship.

Adolf Hitler was unwittingly to teach me the lesson again nine years later. Hitler was indirectly responsible for opening the doors of Hollywood for me. — William Castle, Step Right Up! I’m Gonna Scare the Pants Off America: Memoirs of a B-Movie Mogul

It’s not the Russians — it’s Rumble-Rama. Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) in Matinee

As luck would have it, I saw Joe Dante’s ferocious and lighthearted new comedy, Matinee — about John F.… Read more »

Visions of Light: The Art of Cinematography

Just when you thought there was nothing left for talking heads to say about movies, here’s a first-rate visit with many of the best cinematographers in the business–John Bailey, Vilmos Zsigmond, Laszlo Kovacs, Conrad Hall, the late Nestor Almendros, Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler, Vittorio Storaro, and Sven Nykvist, among others–talking with rare insight and perception about their craft (and discussing some of their predecessors, such as Billy Bitzer and Gregg Toland). The filmmakers, Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels, are smart enough not only to listen to what these artists have to say, but to come up with the best 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, though that’s not surprising considering that the American Film Institute, which coproduced the movie, pretty much limits its efforts to preserving and promoting local mogul interests, unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the world. (The many non-American cinematographers are also shown discussing almost exclusively 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?… Read more »

Intolerance

This presentation of the Museum of Modern Art’s elaborate reconstruction of D.W. Griffith’s 1916 masterpiece–a reconstruction similar to the one done by the UCLA Film Archives on Cukor’s A Star Is Born in employing single-frame images where consecutive footage no longer survives–is a major film event. Described by Pauline Kael as “perhaps the greatest movie ever made and the greatest folly in movie history,” the film cuts between four stories linked by images of Lillian Gish and a quote from Whitman (“Out of the cradle, endlessly rocking…”: “The Nazarene” starring Bessie Love; “The Medieval Story,” involving the 1572 Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots; “The Fall of Babylon,” featuring Constance Talmadge, Elmo Lincoln, Seena Owen, Tully Marshall, and eye-popping sets; and “The Mother and the Law,” an exciting contemporary story starring Mae Marsh and Robert Harron. Probably the most influential of all silent films after The Birth of a Nation, the film launched ideas about associative editing that have been essential to the cinema ever since, from Soviet montage classics to recent American experimental films; and for the sheer generating of suspense through crosscutting and action the film’s climax hasn’t been surpassed in 77 years. It runs four hours and ten minutes, including intermission, and will be shown with an original score by Joseph Carl Breil, performed by members of the University Symphony Orchestra and conducted by the Library of Congress’s Gillian Anderson.… Read more »

Sweet Love, Bitter

Though not a success, this independent black-and-white drama about the friendship between a down-and-out but brilliant jazz musician loosely based on Charlie Parker (Dick Gregory in his first film appearance) and a onetime professor (Don Murray) is an unusual and thoughtful effort. Adapted from John Williams’s novel Night Song by director Herbert Danska and Lewis Jacobs, with a good secondary cast, including Diane Varsi and Robert Hooks (1967). (JR)… Read more »

Strictly Ballroom

A festival favorite in 1992, this flamboyant Australian crowd pleaser and first feature by Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge) struck me then as one of the more horrific and unpleasant movies I’d seen in quite some timea glib, brassy, and strident Rocky-style comedy about a 21-year-old ballroom champion who teams up with a flamenco dancer. With Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, and lots of show-offy ballroom dancing. R, 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

He Ran All The Way

Shortly before he was driven into exile by the Hollywood blacklist, the talented and neglected John Berry made this 1951 film, the last of John Garfield, who died of a heart attack at 39 (many believe because of pressures related to the blacklisting). It’s a fitting and powerful testament to the actor’s poignancy and power as a working-class punk. Here he plays a hoodlum fleeing a bungled robbery, falling for a young woman (Shelley Winters), and desperately holding her family hostage while oscillating wildly between mistrust and a desire to be part of this family circle. Enhanced by an effective script (Guy Endore and Hugh Butler adapted a Sam Ross novel), superb cinematography by James Wong Howe, and a keen sense of working-class manners, this is a highly affecting thriller that draws us relentlessly into its plangent moral tensions; with Wallace Ford, Selena Royale, Gladys George, and Norman Lloyd. 77 min. (JR)… Read more »

Transatlantic

A rarely shown early talkie directed by the neglected William K. Howard and shot by James Wong Howe in a pre-Citizen Kane style featuring deep focus, wide angles, and claustrophobic sets with ceilings. The episodic plot involves a con man and gambler (Edmund Lowe) on an ocean liner; with Lois Moran, Myrna Loy, and Jean Hersholt (1931). (JR)… Read more »

Rich In Love

I don’t get what the title is supposed to mean precisely, but it’s characteristic of the nuzzling vagueness of the movie as a wholea reunion of Driving Miss Daisy’s producers (Richard D. and Lili Fini Zanuck), screenwriter (Alfred Uhry, here adapting a novel by Josephine Humphreys rather than his own work), and director Bruce Beresford, who again make plentiful use of an idyllic southern location (this time Charleston, South Carolina) and eccentrics in domestic settings. The plot focuses on the responsibilities assumed by a teenage girl (Kathryn Erbe) in taking care of her unemployed father (Albert Finney) after her mother (Jill Clayburgh) unexpectedly walks out on themresponsibilities that are both lessened and complicated when her older sister (Suzy Amis) suddenly turns up pregnant and with a Yankee husband (Kyle MacLachlan) in tow. Not much else happens, so most of what this movie has going for it is the resourceful cast (which also includes Piper Laurie, Alfre Woodard, and Ethan Hawke) and color-calendar settings. I found the charm a bit calculated in spots, but the actorly talents on view provide plenty of distraction. (JR)… Read more »

Prince Of The City

Director Sidney Lumet flourishing on his home turf and in his generic speciality, the New York police thriller. Clocking in at 167 minutes, scripted by Lumet regular Jay Presson Allen, and starring Treat Williams as a corrupt narcotics cop turned informer, this movie swims freely in the moral ambiguities Lumet seems to thrive on; the secondary castJerry Orbach, Richard Foronjy, Don Billett, Kenny Marino, Carmine Caridi, Lindsay Crouse, and Bob Balabanhelp hold one’s interest. (1981). (JR)… Read more »

Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky And The Media

A first-rate Canadian documentary (1992) by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick about the brilliant linguist and radical political commentator Noam Chomsky, probably the best living critic of American foreign policy as viewed through the media. Chomsky is so articulate and intelligent that this extended look (167 minutes) remains compulsively watchable, and the filmmakers pull off the unlikely feat of making the film genuinely humorous in spots. (JR)… Read more »

Lenz

The first feature of Alexandre Rockwell (In the Soup), based on Georg Buchner’s short story about a young schizophrenic sent to live with a country pastor (also one of the sources of Herzog’s Every Man for Himself and God Against All), transposed here to a New York punk milieu. Rockwell’s budget was only $12,000 (1981). (JR)… Read more »

Island In The Sun

Back in 1957 this adaptation of Alec Waugh’s novel about racial and sexual strife in the West Indieswritten by Alfred Hayes and directed by Robert Rossenwas banned in most of the deep south because Harry Belafonte kisses or almost kisses Joan Fontaine. As far as I know, that’s the only time anyone ever showed the slightest bit of excitement about this ‘Scope melodrama. With James Mason, John Williams, Dorothy Dandridge, Joan Collins, and Michael Rennie. (JR)… Read more »