Daily Archives: April 5, 1996

These Magic Moments (THE NEON BIBLE)

From the Chicago Reader (April 5, 1996). — J.R.

The Neon Bible

Directed and written by Terence Davies

With Gena Rowlands, Diana Scarwid, Jacob Tierney, Denis Leary, Leo Burmester, Frances Conroy, and Peter McRobbie.

Two paradoxical facts about Terence Davies’s first film adaptation:

(1) It follows fairly closely The Neon Bible, a novel written by John Kennedy Toole for a literary contest in the mid-50s, when he was 16 — a decade before he finished work on his second novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, and about 15 years before he, still unpublished, committed suicide (A Confederacy of Dunces was published ten years later, The Neon Bible ten years after that). I don’t care much for The Neon Bible, a hackneyed mood piece set in a rural backwater of the deep south, but I think the movie, which seems 100 percent Davies, is wonderful.

(2) Of all the English-speaking films shown at Cannes last May, the two that got the most boorish and least comprehending reception by the English-speaking press were The Neon Bible and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, though for nearly opposite reasons. Jarmusch, who’s long been criticized for coasting along in Down by Law, Mystery Train, and Night on Earth on the same kind of hip humor he virtually invented for Stranger Than Paradise, finally broke free and did something bold, original, political, dark, scary, outspoken, witty, and often beautiful — a black-and-white western that should be opening here sometime next month.… Read more »

A Family Thing

Robert Duvall plays an Arkansas cracker in his 60s who discovers that his biological mother was black and drives to Chicago to meet his half-brother–a policeman played by James Earl Jones–and other newly discovered relatives. Directed by Richard Pearce from an original script by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton (who also collaborated on One False Move), this picture is a labor of love that glimmers with feeling and insights at every turn, above all in its performances. Duvall is wonderful and Jones is, quite simply, magnificent (the manner in which he assigns his character a slight stammer is only one example of his perfection), while Irma P. Hall as one of the relatives isn’t far behind. With Michael Beach, Regina Taylor, and David Keith. Hyde Park, Webster Place, Ford City, Bricktown Square, Gardens, Golf Glen, Lincoln Village, McClurg Court.

–Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »