Monthly Archives: July 1993

Orlando

Sally Potter’s well-appointed fashion show and pithy, symmetrical period spectacle (1993, 92 min.), loosely adapted from Virginia Woolf’s fanciful novel, which follows the adventures of the eponymous protagonist (Tilda Swinton)a man who eventually turns into a womanfrom 1600 to the present. Compared with Potter’s bold, beautiful, original, and witty (albeit unpopular and seldom seen) first feature, The Gold Diggers, this is safe, crowd-flattering stuff, the Driving Miss Daisy of art picturesa film with practically no ideas at all, but lots of fancy trimmings (including Peter Greenaway’s production designers and Derek Jarman’s costume designer) and plenty of attitude. As a drag show, it’s far from inspired (though Quentin Crisp’s Queen Elizabeth I is a lot more convincing than Swinton’s male Orlando), and as upscale entertainment it’s about as radical as Woody Allen. Yet Potter’s musical score, written in collaboration with David Motion, is lovely. With Billy Zane, Lothaire Bluteau, John Wood, Charlotte Valandrey, and Heathcote Williams. (JR)… Read more »

Mozart Quartier

In Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s 1992 comedy-fantasy charmer from Cameroon, a young girl betrays too much curiosity for her age, and a witch transforms her into a man. He/she promptly joins a male gang and starts romancing the daughter of a neighborhood copherself. The plot carries a few echoes of George Axelrod’s play Goodbye Charlie, but what’s most notable about this first feature is how much its eclectic style owes to Spike Lee, even though its folkloric content and sexual politics are quite different. Bekolo’s overall handling of his cast is delightful. With Sandrine Ola’a, Serge Amougou, Jimmy Biyong, and Essindi Mindja. (JR)… Read more »

Move Over, Darling

This comedy, about a wife returning from five years on a desert island to discover that her husband has remarried, began as Something’s Got to Give, the last feature Marilyn Monroe worked on, directed by George Cukor. It wound up as a Doris Day vehicle with James Garner, Thelma Ritter, and Polly Bergen, directed by Michael Gordon (1963). (JR)… Read more »

Montparnasse 19

A transitional film (1958, 108 min.) between the French tradition of quality and the New Wave, this slick biopic about the last year or so in the life of the painter Amedeo Modigliani (the title alludes to the bohemian quarter and the year, 1919) is a highly personal effort by one of the idols of the New Wave generation, the neglected Jacques Becker (Casque d’or, Le trou). At once clunky, overproduced, and naive, it’s also sincere and moving, in spite of its faults as a statement about the gulf between serious artists and marketers. It’s both helped and hindered by its glamorous cast: Gerard Philipe, Anouk Aimee, and Lilli Palmer. Jean-Luc Godard memorably defended this film when it came out by writing, Everything rings true in this totally false film. Everything is illuminated in this obscure film. For he who leaps into the void owes no explanations to those who watch. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Modesty Blaise

Joseph Losey’s adaptation of the comic strip, starring Monica Vitti as a spya deliriously campy and at times angry parody of James Bond films, pop art, op art, and a lot else that was modish in 1966. It’s too perverse at times to work entirely on its own terms, but the lively castincluding Dirk Bogarde, Terence Stamp, and Harry Andrewskeeps it watchable. It certainly survives as an interesting period piece. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Memoirs Of A River

Hungarian filmmaker Judit Elek’s ambitious and serious, but also ponderous, long (147 minutes), and mainly slow-moving account of the last Jewish ritual murder trial in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which took place in 1882 after several Jewish raftsmen in the Carpathian Mountains were accused of murdering a girl. The film lingers over the beautiful settings, Jewish rituals, the torture of many Jews to extract false testimonies, and the subsequent trial, during which one 14-year-old boy accused his own rabbi father of participating in a ritual murder. Also known as The Raftsmen (1989). (JR)… Read more »

The Long Day Closes

The 1992 conclusion of Terence Davies’s second autobiographical trilogy may not achieve the sublime heights of parts one and two (which comprised 1988′s Distant Voices, Still Lives) , but it’s still a powerful film, possibly even a great onethe sort of work that can renew one’s faith in movies. Part three chronicles his life in working-class Liverpool between the ages of 7 and 11, a period he compresses into the years 1955 and 1956, but Davies focuses less on plot or memory as they’re usually understood than on the memory of emotions and subjective consciousness. Music, lighting, elaborate camera movements, and the sound tracks of other films are among the tools he uses in relation to the basic settings of home, street, school, church, pub, and movie theater. Davies emphasizes the continuities and discontinuities between these places and the emotions they evoke, creating a consistent sense of religious illumination and transfiguration. What he does with the strains of Tammy in one climactic sequence and with the drift of moving clouds in another are alone worth the price of admission. (JR)… Read more »

Ivan The Terrible, Part Two

The second feature in Sergei Eisenstein’s controversial, unfinished trilogy, also known as The Boyar’s Plot, with a Prokofiev score and a histrionic, campy (albeit compositionally very controlled) performance in the title role by Nikolai Cherkassov (1946). The ceremonial high style of the proceedings has been interpreted by critics as everything from the ultimate denial of a cinema based on montage (under Stalinist pressure) to the greatest Flash Gordon serial ever made. The second part climaxes in a dazzling, drunken dance sequence that features Eisenstein’s only foray into color. Thematically fascinating both as submerged autobiography and as a daring portrait of Stalin’s paranoia, quite apart from its interest as the historical pageant it professes to be, this is one of the most distinctive great films in the history of cinemafreakishly mannerist, yet so vivid in its obsessions and expressionist angularity that it virtually invents its own genre. (JR)… Read more »

Goldfinger

This 1964 entry is the most enjoyable of the James Bond thrillers starring Sean Conneryperhaps because it’s the most comic and cartoony in look as well as conception. Still, it’s every bit as imperialist and misogynistic as the other screen adventures based on Ian Fleming’s books (among John F. Kennedy’s favorites). Guy Hamilton directed; with Honor Blackman, Gert Frobe, and Harold Sakata. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Delivered Vacant

This documentary feature about gentrification is uncommonly goodmade by School of the Art Institute graduate Nora Jacobson over eight years in Hoboken, New Jersey, in the neighborhood where she still lives. Alert and lucid without a trace of sentimentality, Jacobson focuses on a number of related events, including the torching of rent-controlled buildings (and subsequent condo conversions), and interviews local residents, landlords, developers, activists, and others about what’s going on. An eye-opener (1992). (JR)… Read more »

Dead Alive

Peter Jackson charts new highs (or lows) in free-flowing gore and nonstop, torrential splatter with this modestly budgeted comic horror extravaganza (1993), originallyand more appropriatelyknown as Braindead. The standard-issue plot unfolds from the poisonous bite of a Sumatran rat monkey in a New Zealand zoo circa 1957. Yet the only meaningful bill of fare here is deliberately stomach-turning showstoppers involving dismemberment, disfigurement, disembowelment, gallons of spewing blood and bile, and related gross-outsmore the stuff of animated cartoons than live action. Ordinarily I don’t care for this kind of thing at all, but something must be said for Jackson’s endless reserves of giddy energy, which are clearly meant to be silly. Written by Jackson, Stephen Sinclair, and Frances Walsh; with Timothy Balme, Elizabeth Moody, Ian Watkin, and Diana Pe… Read more »

The Color Of Pomegranates: The Director’s Cut

The late Sergei Paradjanov’s greatest film, a mystical and historical mosaic about the life, work, and inner world of the 18th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, was previously available only in the ethnically dry-cleaned Russian versionrecut and somewhat reorganized by Sergei Yutkevich, with chapter headings added to clarify the content for Russian viewers. This superior 1969 version of the film, found in an Armenian studio in the early 90s, shouldn’t be regarded as definitive (some of the material from the Yutkevich cut is missing), but it’s certainly the finest we have and may ever have: some shots and sequences are new, some are positioned differently, and, of particular advantage to Western viewers, much more of the poetry is subtitled. (Oddly enough, it’s hard to tell why the new shots were censored.) In both versions the striking use of tableaulike frames recalls the shallow space of movies made roughly a century ago, while the gorgeous uses of color and the wild poetic conceits seem to derive from some utopian cinema of the future, at once difficult and immediate, cryptic and ravishing. This is essential viewing. (JR)… Read more »

Children Of Fate: Life And Death In A Sicilian Family

Winner of the best-documentary prize at Sundance, this 1992 feature by Andrew Young and Susan Todd updates a 1961 documentary shot by Robert Young (Andrew’s father) and Michael Roemer (The Plot Against Harry, Nothing but a Man) in a slum in Palermo, Sicily, that followed the struggles of a local family plagued with problems. The original black-and-white film was shot for the NBC White Papers series, but was never shown because it was deemed too gritty; this color sequel shows the persistence of many of the problems in the same family. The film is always interesting and often moving, though I was frustrated that it didn’t offer more than passing glimpses of the original. (JR)… Read more »

Cage/cunningham

Elliot Caplan’s sensitive and agreeable collection of sound bites and dance bits from the collaborations of the late composer-Zen philosopher John Cage and dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham over the span of many decades. The sound bites (from Cage, Cunningham, and many collaborators and acquaintances) vary considerably in interest, but the clips from performances are invariably pungent and commanding. Caplan’s methods of organizing the material seem quite compatible with the methods of his subjects (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Benefit Of The Doubt

A pretty good thriller of the creepy sort, set in rural Arizona, this loses its steam when it turns into a mechanical cross-country chase but works fairly well up till then thanks to the two leads, Amy Irving and Donald Sutherland. Sutherland plays Irving’s father, just out of prison after a 22-year incarceration for killing her mother, which he still denies doing. His daughter’s testimony at age 12 was pivotal in convicting him. Certain ambiguities and ambivalences keep us guessing about the characters for a while. Jonathan Heap does a routine job of direction, working from a script by Jeffrey Polman and Christopher Keyser; with Rider Strong, Christopher McDonald, Graham Greene, and Theodore Bikel. (JR)… Read more »