Monthly Archives: July 1994

Angels In The Outfield

The abrasive manager (Danny Glover) of the California Angels is humanized by an orphan who becomes the team’s official mascota foster child with a pipeline to a flock of angels who end the team’s losing streak by invisibly assisting them on the playing field. Back in 1951, when this story was first filmedunder Clarence Brown’s direction, with Paul Douglas as the manager of the Pittsburgh Pirateswhat saved the potentially treacly material, if memory serves, was the good-natured sincerity. The same can be said for this version, directed by William Dear from a script by Holly Goldberg Sloan. Narrative suspense is admittedly kept to a minimum, and baseball purists may be offended by the role played by divine intervention. But as a neo-Dickensian Disney exercise in old-fashioned sentiment this has a certain charm and a sense of human decency that tended to win me over. The castGlover, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Christopher Lloyd, Tony Danza, Brenda Fricker, Milton Davis Jr., Ben Johnson, and Jay O. Sandersis better than average too. (JR)… Read more »

Suture

As far as I know this was something of a first, at least since the 20s or 30s: a movie predicated on film theory that opened commercially. Written, directed, and produced by American independents Scott McGehee and David Siegel, this odd black-and-white ‘Scope thriller (1993) about identity and social construction concerns a young man named Clay who becomes briefly acquainted with his half brother Vincent. Vincent, who wants to flee the country, stages an accident meant to look like his own death, but substitutes Clay in his place. With everyone believing he’s dead, Vincent can easily disappear. But Clay survives the explosion, though he has amnesia, and with the help of a plastic surgeon and a psychoanalyst is restored to an identity that was never hisVincent’s. A subversive spin is given to this material: Clay and Vincent are said by all the characters to be dead ringers, yet Clay is played by a black actor and Vincent by a white oneand no one ever comments on it. The film may be at times a little too smart (as well as a little too drab and mechanical) for its own good, but the witty, provocative implications of the central concept linger, and the story carries an interesting sting: this is a head scratcher that actually functions.… Read more »

Sopyonje

It isn’t a patch on Im Kwon-taek’s previous Fly High Run Far, though unlike that masterpiece, this 1993 feature made a killing at the Korean box office. How you respond to it will probably have a lot to do with how you respond to pansori, a traditional dirgelike Korean song form; the story recounts the travails of an itinerant pansori singer and the sacrifices made by his family, including two adopted children, over many years to sustain that art. With Kim Kyu-chul and Kim Myung-gon. In Korean with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Wonderful Horrible Life Of Leni Riefenstahl

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1994). — J.R.

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A fascinating if irritating and ultimately unsatisfactory 1993 German documentary by Ray Müller about the remarkable filmmaker whose work provided Nazi Germany with its greatest propaganda. It’s important to know that this film was made at Riefenstahl’s own instigation, clearly designed to accompany her then recently published autobiography, and that she had veto power over who would be interviewed (don’t expect to see Susan Sontag here). Consequently this is more often self-portrait than portrait; like Hitler in Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will, she’s presented as a fully formed deity without family background or ideology except for a reverence for beauty and strength. Admittedly, compared to the Nazi industrialists who went unpunished, she has suffered disproportionately for her Nazi associations (albeit far less than any Jew who was gassed), and she deserves full recognition as an extraordinary woman; even in her early 90s she remained a courageous deep-sea diver, as the film shows. But at 182 minutes the film has only a few skeptical asides, and it shirks certain basic historical facts — allowing its subject to insist, for instance, that Triumph of the Will was a “straight” documentary, with no allusion to all the carefully crafted studio retakes.… Read more »

Two Small Bodies

A single mother (Suzy Amis) comes home one day to find her suburban house in disarray and her two young children missing; a police lieutenant (Fred Ward) turns up and, convinced she murdered the children, proceeds to question her at length. These are the only two characters in this playlike, rather ritualized chamber piece (1993) with sadomasochistic overtones, which never strays from the house and its immediate environs. Written and precisely directed by Beth B (Vortex, Belladonna) and shot in Germany, this independent effort is sustained by the talented actors, though how much one warms to the ambiguous goings-on will depend a great deal on one’s own psychosexual predilections. (JR)… Read more »

The Tempest

Derek Jarman’s rarely seen, highly personalized 1979 version of the Shakespeare play, in an assortment of period styles; Caliban is an Edwardian butler, the settings are crumbling abbeys and mansions, and Elizabeth Welch is on hand to sing Stormy Weather. (JR)… Read more »

A Tajik Woman

Chicago-based film and video artist Mehrnaz Saeed-Vafa (Ruins Within) directed this 20-minute video documentary (1994) about Muslim, Farsi-speaking women in the U.S.many of them political exiles from Iran, Tajikistan, or Afghanistanand their problems reconciling their American identity with their religion and culture. A personal and thoughtful work, charged with feeling. (JR)… Read more »

Poor Little Rich Girl

Andy Warhol’s characteristically unscripted 1966 feature with Edie Sedgwick was shot twice: the first time a technical problem with the lens caused both 33-minute reels to be out of focus; the second time everything was fine. But in a classic Warholian gesture, the filmmaker decided the final version should be made of the first reel of the first version and the second reel of the second. Unavailable since it was withdrawn from distribution in 1972, it’s bound to be interesting. (JR)… Read more »

Multiple Maniacs

John Waters’s first sync-sound feature (1970), starring the traveling show Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversions and described by J. Hoberman as the filmmaker’s most overtly Catholic film. Violence was this generation’s sacrilege, Waters once said, so I wanted to make a film that would glorify carnage and mayhem for laughs. Hippies and revolutionaries are ridiculed along with straights, and downtown Baltimore has probably never looked so depraved. With Divine, David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Edith Massey, Mink Stole, et alWaters’s original Whole Sick Crew. (JR)… Read more »

Mondo Trasho

The late 300-pound transvestite Divine, John Waters’s most enduring muse, makes his/her first star entrance in this 1969 featurethe first Waters movie to play outside Baltimoredriving a 1959 Eldorado to the strains of The Girl Can’t Help It. She inadvertently runs over Mary Vivian Pearce and stuffs the body in the trunk, and they both eventually wind up in a lunatic asylum orgy where Mink Stole tap-dances topless; more adventures and outrages ensue. (JR)… Read more »

Living Proof: Hiv And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Broadly speaking, this cheerful documentary by Kermit Cole does for HIV-positive people what Frank Perry’s On the Bridge did for people with canceri.e., offer a constructive set of strategies for dealing with a difficult and socially unacceptable medical condition. The principal difference in method is that Cole deals with a wide variety of people and Perry dealt mainly with himselfwhich has positive as well as negative consequences. On the plus side we see a broad range of likable individualsmale and female, gay and straight, of diverse ages and from all walks of lifesharing their experiences and exhibiting a great deal of wisdom and resourcefulness. Less helpful is the formulaic editing stylecrosscutting and frequent sound-biteswhich tends to work against the range and variety of the individuals. On the whole, this is well worth seeing. (JR)… Read more »

Grief

This campy, low-budget American independent comedy by Richard Glatzer covers five workdays in a daytime-TV production office where various employees are competing for the same job. It’s neither Soapdish nor Executive Suite, but if you’re looking for some lighthearted sleaze you may have a good time. The gay hero (Craig Chester, who played Nathan Leopold in Swoon) is the story editor of a courtroom soap opera, and most of what keeps the plot going is the bisexual office intrigue. With Jackie Beat, Lucy Guttridge, Illeana Douglas, Alexis Arquette, Carlton Wilborn, and Robin Swid. (JR)… Read more »

Fly High Run Far

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1994). — J.R.

A beautiful and powerful spiritual epic from South Korea (1991), directed by Im Kwon-taek — Korea’s most famous and popular film director, whose filmography runs to 80-odd titles — from an ambitious script by Kim Yong-ok. Covering roughly four decades from the 1860s through the 1890s, the film charts the growth and eventual stamping out of Kae Byok (from which comes the film’s original Korean title), a radically humanist and egalitarian religious sect founded on the belief that God is everyone and everything; in particular it focuses on the sect’s charismatic leader, Hae-Wol (very effectively played by Lee Duk-hwa), who was born a poor farmer, and his three wives. Though closer in some ways to a historical pageant than a conventional narrative, with numerous printed titles inserted at the beginning of various episodes to explain their historical contexts, the film is anything but slow or ponderous (unlike Wyatt Earp, for instance). Composed mainly of short, economical scenes, flurries of action against breathtaking landscapes that stunningly reflect the seasons, this may make more intoxicating use of color than any Asian film I’ve seen since Mizoguchi’s New Tales of the Taira Clan, and the story itself has an epic grandeur worthy of Mizoguchi.… Read more »

Drunken Master Ii

A fleet, enjoyable Jackie Chan romp, this belated sequel to the 1979 Drunken Master, which served to launch Chan’s career, brings back his turn-of-the-century folk hero Wong Fei-hong exercising his virtuoso drunken fist sallies against thugs after a long string of provocations. The climactic choreographic rumble is well worth waiting for. The credited director, Lar Kar-leung, who was responsible for the original, was fired by Chan halfway through the shooting, and this appears to be Chan’s show all the way. (JR)… Read more »

Desperate Living

In his first feature without Divine, John Waters finds himself without a moral center. This 1977 prepunk midnight shocker and scabrous fairy tale is full of deviant sexuality, violent excess, and plenty of other Waters regulars, including Liz Renay, Mary Vivian Pearce, Susan Lowe, Mink Stole as a murderous housewife, and Edith Massey as the Queen of the Underworld; there’s also the hefty Jean Hill, who murders one hapless victim by sitting on his face. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »