From the Chicago Reader (January 5, 1996). — J.R.
I can’t recall a worse year for Hollywood than 1995. This suggests that either my memory or the studio system is disintegrating. My guess is it’s the latter. I don’t mean to say the business is coming apart; sadly, Hollywood has often found it easy to make money with junk, especially if the public is willing — as it still apparently is — to go along with the film industry’s manipulations. (However, given the scant means available to most people to make themselves heard on such matters in this “free” society, I don’t want to jump to too many conclusions about this.) Rather I believe that what’s coming apart is the social contract between the industry and filmgoers, which allows some form of customer satisfaction that isn’t predicated on deception and a fundamental contempt for the audience.
A symptom of the problem could be found in an article by Peter Bart in Variety late last October bemoaning the poor box-office returns for “such pricy projects” as Jade, The Scarlet Letter, Strange Days, and Assassins. “Rubbing salt into the wound,” added Bart, “is a new Yankelovich opinion survey…which indicates that 43 percent of filmgoers interviewed say they would attend more films all year round if a ‘better selection’ of movies were available.… Read more »
Rumor has it that director Terry Gilliam hasn’t even seen La jetee (1962), Chris Marker’s half-hour SF masterpiece that served as the basis for David and Janet Peoples’s script. In a future world following a global epidemic that has eradicated most of humanity, time travel becomes the only hope of mankind’s survival. A volunteer (Bruce Willis) gets sent back to Philadelphia in the year 1996, where he’s promptly locked away as a madman while trying to find the source of the epidemic and simultaneously clear up a troubling childhood memory. La jetee, told almost exclusively in black-and-white still photographs, is the only purely fictional work of one of the greatest film essayists (whose work tends to circulate around issues involving memory and photography) and has a form, a style, and a subject that reinforce one another; this grungy thriller by contrast merely takes over the story, though it’s a haunting enough tale in its own right. (David Peoples also scripted Unforgiven, and one finds much of the same craft, as well as the same gratuitous unpleasantness, kicking about here.) I find all of Gilliam’s movies worth seeing, and this is no exception, though you should expect to find a fair amount of his characteristic designer grimness mixed in with cabaret comedy, which seems less fresh now than it did in Brazil in 1985.… Read more »