Daily Archives: February 1, 1995

Goldstein

Shot on the cheap in Chicago locations with postsync sound, this flaky, black-and-white absurdist beatnik comedy (1963) by Benjamin Manaster and Philip Kaufman is interesting today mainly as a period piece. The cast includes Second City veterans (Severn Darden, Anthony Holland, Tom Erhard), novelist Nelson Algren (as himself) delivering a wry, characteristic monologue, and one of the stars of John Cassavetes’s Shadows (Ben Carruthers). I found a lot of the humor resistibleand it certainly isn’t helped by the ribs-nudging scorebut the freewheeling camera style is attractive and inventive. Adolfas Mekas was in charge of the hit-and-miss editing. (JR)… Read more »

Federal Hill

This promising first feature by writer-director-producer Michael Corrente is based on Corrente’s somewhat autobiographical one-act play about young petty criminals in a working-class Italian neighborhood in Providence known as Federal Hill. Shot in black and white, and undoubtedly more realistic as a result, the movie grapples with several familiar themesblood ties, close friendships, and macho posesbut Corrente’s handling of class divisions (one of the heroes starts seeing a Brown University senior he sells cocaine to) and the body language of the performances keep things fresh. With Nicholas Turturro (brother of John), Anthony De Sando, Libby Langdon, Michael Raynor, Jason Andrews, Robert Turano, and Frank Vincent. (JR)… Read more »

Angele

By reputation, this glorious 1934 feature by Marcel Pagnol is his very best, though it’s atypical in that it adapts the work of another writer, a novel by Jean Giono. Set in Provence, like most Pagnol works, and filmed exclusively on location and in direct sound, it recounts the story of a farmer’s daughter seduced by a pimp from Marseilles; she follows him to the city, has an illegitimate child, and becomes a prostitute, which leads to serious conflict with her father when she returns to the farm. With Orane Demazis, Fernandel, and Jean Servais. (JR)… Read more »

Call Me Madame

In addition to being a good many other things, Francoise Romand’s first three feature-length films are poetic and highly original meditations about personal identity. Neither as dense nor as inventive as Mix-up (1985), the film that preceded it, and without the degree of experimentation and lyricism that makes Past Imperfect (1994) such a haunting experience, Call Me Madame (1986) is nonetheless a provocative and memorable work. It’s a multifaceted portrait of Ovida Delecta communist poet and novelist living near Rouen who’s published close to 40 books. Tortured by the Gestapo at 17 as a member of the French underground and honored by Paul Eluard, she’s a 60-year-old who had a sex-change operation at the age of 55. Formerly known as Jean-Pierre Voidies, she continues to live with her former wife and 20-year-old son, both of whom reveal some of the difficulties they’ve encountered living with such a singular and egocentric individual. As with Mix-up, Romand labels this film a fictional documentary because its subject and style relate to Delect’s self-image as well as her objective reality. Indeed Delect controls Call Me Madame just as she controls her own persona, depriving the film of the free-ranging imagination of Romand’s other two features.… Read more »

The Pharaoh’s Belt And The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner

Experimental animator Lewis Klahr’s most impressive workan eerie, suggestive 43-minute assemblage of advertising and consumer images from the 50s and earlier that slides across the screen like emanations from the American dream, or perhaps the American nightmare (1994). (JR)… Read more »

Exotica

This 1994 film may be the best of writer-director Atom Egoyan’s slick, Canadian carriage-trade productions (the other two are Speaking Parts and The Adjuster), though it’s also a regression, both formally and thematically, compared to his previous film, Calendar. The central locationa triumph of lush, imaginative set designis a sort of strip club where young female dancers sit at male customers’ tables and verbally cater to their psychic needs; at the center of this faux-tropical establishment is an odd little house where the club’s pregnant owner hangs out with the jaundiced announcer (Egoyan regulars Arsinee Khanjian and Elias Koteas), voyeuristically overseeing the voyeuristic clientele. The main customer is still mourning the death of his young daughter, and other significant characters include a dancer who sits at his table, a baby-sitter, and an eccentric smuggler whose path briefly crosses that of the bereaved father. As a narrative this is something of a tease, building toward a denouement straight out of Freud; its structure both benefits and suffers from Egoyan’s customary splintered focus and repetition compulsion, and there’s an unmistakable sadness in its pornographic luster. But as mise en scene it’s rich and accomplishedfor better and for worse, a place to get lost in.… Read more »

Shallow Grave

Filmed in Glasgow and Edinburgh, this dark Scottish comedy follows the misadventures of two men and a woman who advertise for a roommate and wind up with a guy who dies of a drug overdose, leaving behind a suitcase of money. What ensues after they decide to keep the money and get rid of the body determines the rest of the plot, in which the sexual and psychological ambiguity of this heartless trio gets run through a good many changes. Directed by TV veteran Danny Boyle from a script by one Dr. John Hodge, this is a fairly accomplished first featureperky, visually inventive, and unusually nasty, though I suppose a humanist message of some sort lies vaguely at its core. With Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, and Keith Allen. (JR)… Read more »

The Walking Dead

Not a horror movie, at least in the usual sense, but a disappointing feature by writer-director Preston A. Whitmore II about four black marines dropped into a combat zone in Vietnam in 1972. Even if one accepts the absence of Vietnamese in the storya standard omission in Hollywood movies about Vietnam, ratified by Forrest Gump and sadly indicative of a continuing blind spot in this country’s post-60s imaginationthe flashbacks to what the four marines did back in the States are especially perfunctory and feeble. And after a promising early stretch that offers some lively, raunchy dialogue, the movie quickly settles down to formulaic speeches and music-video pacing. With Joe Morton, Eddie Griffin, Allen Payne, Vonte Sweet, and Roger Floyd. (JR)… Read more »

The Lodger

The second remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent classic, directed by John Brahm in 1944. A Jack the Ripper tale, it’s something of a spin-off of Brahm’s Hangover Square, made the same year and also starring Laird Cregar as a demented villain. Effective in terms of atmospherics, the film also features Merle Oberon, George Sanders, Cedric Hardwicke, and Sara Allgood; Lucien Ballard is in charge of the impressive cinematography. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Martha & Ethel

An interesting, if somewhat class-bound, documentary (1994) by Jyll Johnstone and Barbara Ettinger about two nannies, one of them an exile from Nazi Germany, the other a black woman from the rural south. Intelligent, searching, and often touching, the film still suffers from a certain distance from and condescension toward its subjects, though it remains fascinating in spite of these limitations. As critic Georgia Brown points out, the film can be read as a scathing critique of the mothers the nannies replaced. (JR)… Read more »

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

This begins promisingly as A Nightmare on Elm Street meets Pirandello, as Heather Langenkamp, star of the original Nightmare, begins to notice various sorts of domestic disturbances involving her family that seem provoked by the plans of writer-director Wes Craven and actor Robert Englund (both also playing themselves) to attempt yet another sequel in the series. Unfortunately, without even the most cursory effort to establish some notion of normality, the movie progressively gets duller and duller as its mechanical horror fancies spin themselves out; unlike Renny Harlin’s masterful and imaginative A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, which used the series’s baggage only as an excuse for its own fun and games, this one’s defeated by the rigid formula (1994). With Miko Hughes and John Saxon. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Family Life And La Pirate

In its latest act of trail blazing, the Film Center is offering the first U.S. retrospective devoted to Jacques Doillon, a post-New Wave French director whose singular movies have received next to no attention here. Emotionally unbridled and extreme in their depictions of passion and familial tensions, they are not for every taste, but it’s hard to think of many other films like them. La pirate (1984), probably the wildest in the bunch, centers on the amour fou of an anguished lesbian couple (Jane Birkin and Maruschka Detmers) reigniting their affair, with the former’s husband (perversely played by Birkin’s brother), a mysterious little girl, and an eccentric friend named Number Five (Philippe Leotard) all in tow. Family Life (1985), which begins with a comparable amount of screaming and thrashing around, eventually settles down into a quieter studythis time of a broken family and the efforts of an estranged father (Sami Frey) to establish rapport with his ten-year-old daughter (Maro Goyet) during an extended car trip to Spain. Aiming for the intensity of a Racinian tragedy, La pirate sticks so closely to the hothouse atmosphere generated by its five characters that we’re made to feel like intruders on a cryptic, brutal psychodrama; the more naturalistic Family Life allows us and the characters to breathe more freely, but a sense of emotional impasse is equally present.… Read more »

The Family Album

A narrative of life cycles by Alan Berliner, composed from home movies and family conversations on the sound track (1986). To be shown with Barbara Hammer’s Optic Nerve (1985), which uses an optical printer to represent the approaching death of the filmmaker’s 97-year-old grandmother.… Read more »

Exposure

I didn’t make it to the end of this unthrilling thriller about an American photographer in Brazil (Peter Coyote) pursuing the villain who murdered his prostitute friend (Giulia Gam); it may have got better, but I wouldn’t stake money on it. Dozens of Eurotrash thrillers like this get released overseas every year and almost never reach American shores; why this one did is anyone’s guess. Directed by Walter Salles Jr., a Dutchman, from a script by Rubem Fonseca based on his own novel High Art; Tcheky Karyo, Amanda Pays, and Raul Cortez costar. (JR)… Read more »

The Epic That Never Was

If it had ever been completed, Josef von Sternberg’s big-budget 1937 adaptation of Robert Graves’s I, Claudius for Alexander Korda might have been his masterpiece. But a series of calamities plagued the production, and all we have left today are some tantalizing rushesand this excellent 1968 British documentary about the doomed project hosted by Dirk Bogarde, which includes many of these rushes and interviews with surviving participants, including Graves, Sternberg, Merle Oberon, and Emlyn Williams. But the best reason for seeing this film is the glimpse we get of Laughton’s extraordinary performance as the crippled, stuttering, and otherwise afflicted Claudius. An actor who underwent torturous preparations for some of his roles, Laughton drove Sternberg and others crazy with his agonizing over getting this part right. But when he finally locked Claudius into place, he produced what is arguably the greatest piece of acting in all of sound cinema: better than Brando, better than Olivier, better even than Chaplin in Monsieur Verdoux. The evidence is there to be seen (and heard) in two stunning scenesClaudius groveling at the feet of Caligula to save his own life, and, even better, his assuming power over the Roman senateand the film lets us watch him building and refining this monumental role step-by-step.… Read more »