Monthly Archives: July 1993

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 »

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 »

Another Stakeout

Another takeoutuntidily slapped into a Styrofoam containeris more like it. Aimed at less discriminating viewers, this sequel to the 1987 Stakeout, again directed by John Badham, isn’t too bad if you’re looking for nothing more than good-natured silliness, low comedy, gratuitous tilted angles, and protracted dog jokes. Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez are reunited as buddies and veteran cops, this time working under the thumb of an assistant DA (Rosie O’Donnell); they’re assigned to spy on a key witness in a mob trial (Cathy Moriarty) who’s hiding out with friends (Dennis Farina and Marcia Strassman). Coproducer Jim Kouf wrote the script to allow for action special effects (explosions at the beginning, a collapsing dock toward the end) and long stretches of affectionate bickering between the three principals. (JR)… Read more »

American Friends

A satisfying if small-scale 1991 love story, written by and starring Monty Python regular Michael Palin and inspired by his great-grandfather’s unpublished travel diaries. Not really a comedy, though it has its share of humor, this is about a senior tutor at Oxford’s Saint John’s College (Palin), a middle-aged bachelor who takes a holiday in Switzerland in 1861 and meets two American women, a philanthropic Bostonian (Connie Booth) and her 18-year-old niece and ward (Trini Alvarado). Some romantic stirrings pass between him and the niece, but this is the 19th century and he’s an Oxford tutor, unable to keep his job unless he’s singlea lot more has to happen before the two can deal with their mutual attraction, even after the two women make the daring move of visiting him in Oxford. The director is English TV veteran Tristram Powell, son of the novelist Anthony Powell, and he does a fine job. (JR)… Read more »

American Fabulous

One hundred and five minutes of spontaneous talk from a homosexual named Jeffrey Strouth, seated in the back of a 1957 Cadillac in Columbus, Ohio, may sound like thin fare for a feature, but Reno Dakota’s 1992 moviea tribute to his wild and uninhibited friend, who subsequently died of AIDSkept me mesmerized and entertained. Recounting various episodes in his difficult lifebouts with his alcoholic and abusive father; being kept at age 14 by a 400-pound drag queen; hitchhiking to Hollywood with a campy boyfriend, a tiny dog, and a caged bird; numerous tragicomic scrapes with the police; and much, much else involving sex and drugsStrouth often calls to mind some of the comic gross-outs of William Burroughs (whom he openly imitates at one point) and the picaresque hard-luck stories of Nelson Algren, not to mention the road adventures of Kerouac. This has more of the flavor of an epic American narrative than most conventional features, and it certainly offers a more comprehensive look at our national life. (JR)… Read more »