Daily Archives: October 1, 1997

The Spitball Story

Jean Bach, director of the remarkable A Great Day in Harlem, utilizes the same techniques of oral history and thumbnail jazz portraiture to tell the story of why Dizzy Gillespie was fired from the Cab Calloway band and how this transformed his career. This isn’t on the same level as Bach’s previous film, but it’s still a precious document, especially for its footage of Gillespie shortly before his death. 21 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Wings Of The Dove

This 1997 British film updates Henry James’s late novel in more ways than one, not only setting the story several years later but also inverting the morality of the original: in keeping with 90s ethics, the gold-digging villains have been transformed into sympathetic heroes. By literary standards this is disgraceful, but for armchair tourists and oglers it’s a nice, glossy spread. Apparently director Iain Softley and screenwriter Hossein Amini decided, contra prudish James, that marrying a dying American heiress for her loot is exactly what a penniless English journalist should do, even when it involves the collusion of his mistress, so heiress Milly Theale, the soul of the novel, barely exists here. This movie is about pretending to catch up with what you didn’t read in college, and oohing and aahing over conspicuous consumption and pretty sites in Venice, including Helena Bonham Carter’s bare ass. With Linus Roache, Alison Elliott, Elizabeth McGovern, Charlotte Rampling, and Michael Gambon. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Voyage To The Beginning Of The World

Born in 1908, Manoel de Oliveira is the only working director anywhere in the world who started his career in the silent era. For this meditative feature he enlisted the somewhat younger Marcello Mastroianniin what proved to be Mastroianni’s last performanceto play someone very much like de Oliveira, an aging film director named Manoel setting out on a car trip with a few of his coworkers. Basically an exploration of the director’s Portuguese roots and the French and Portuguese roots of one of the actors, the film is laden with memories both personal and historical, and associations both cultural and familial; a moving (as well as slow-moving) road movie, it resembles many of de Oliveira’s other works in its paradoxical combination of 19th-century modernism and aristocratic Marxism. Not the least of its oddities is the fact that it starts out as a film about Manoel, then shifts focus halfway through to the French actor Jean-Yves Gautier, whose father was Portuguese and who’s meeting his Portuguese aunt for the first time. On the basis of a single viewing, I wouldn’t call this a great film on the level of de Oliveira’s Doomed Love or his recent Inquietude, but it’s one of his best since Valley of Abraham and one of his most accessible.… Read more »

Fate

I’m sorry I haven’t been able to preview this 1994 first feature by German filmmaker Fred Kelemen, a former cameraman for Bela Tarr; Susan Sontag has called it a visionary, one-of-a-kind achievement, and others whose taste I respect have been praising it for years. Consisting of a dozen sequences, many of them shot and choreographed in single takes, the film unfolds in a single evening in a grim, post-cold-war Europe populated by displaced people. Groping for comparisons, partisans of this film have mentioned Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovsky; if I were in town, I’d certainly check it out myself. (JR)… Read more »

Chantal Akerman By Chantal Akerman

Made for the prestigious and long-running French TV series Cinema de notre temps (originally known as Cineastes de notre temps), this 1996 self-portrait by the highly talented Belgian-born filmmaker consists mainly of clips from her previous films, but the selection and arrangement of these are canny and subtle, and Akerman’s on-camera introduction is touching and revealing. It’s an excellent introduction to her work, though the many glimpses offered here of her best filmsnotably Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, From the East, and Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brusselscan’t really take the place of seeing these works whole. (JR)… Read more »

Floating Weeds

Not to be confused with the Yasujiro Ozu film of the same title, this is a two-part, two-and-a-half-hour made-for-TV video by Edward Yang, supreme modernist of the Taiwanese New Wave. His first work as a director, this 1981 video is the tale of a girl from the country town of Joufen (subsequently used in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s City of Sadness) who comes to to Taipei with dreams of entering the entertainment industry. (JR)… Read more »

The Terrorizers and Expectations

Expectations (1982), also known as Desires, is a first film of Edward Yang, a major filmmaker of the Taiwanese new wave, along with Hou Hsiao-hsien. A suggestive and affecting sketch made for the episodic feature In Our Time, it concerns a girl in primary school during the 60s who harbors a secret crush on a university student staying at her house. The Terrorizers (1986),Yang’s evocative and deliberately ambiguous third feature, pivots around a chance encounter between a rebellious Eurasian girl and a novelist and housewife who decides to leave her husband, a lab technician. As Taiwanese film critic Edmund Wong has noted, the film offers a refreshing look at Yang’s theme of urban melancholy and self-discoverya preoccupation running through Yang’s early work that often evokes some of Antonioni’s poetry, atmosphere, and feeling for modernity. Well worth checking out. (JR)

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The House Is Black

Forugh Farrokhzad’s black-and-white documentary (1962, 19 min.) about a leper colony in northern Iran is the most powerful Iranian film I’ve seen. Farrokhzad (1935-’67) is widely regarded as the greatest Persian poet of the 20th century; her only film seamlessly adapts the techniques of poetry to its framing, editing, sound, and narration. At once lyrical and extremely matter-of-fact, devoid of sentimentality or voyeurism yet profoundly humanist, the film offers a view of everyday life in the colonypeople eating, various medical treatments, children at school and at playthat’s spiritual, unflinching, and beautiful in ways that have no apparent Western counterparts; to my eyes and ears, it registers like a prayer. (JR)… Read more »

A Moment Of Innocence

This 1996 film by Mohsen Makhmalbaf is one of his most seminal and accessiblea reconstruction of a pivotal incident during his teens that landed him in prison for several years during the shah’s regime. A fundamentalist and activist at the time, Makhmalbaf stabbed a policeman; as a consequence he was shot and arrested. Two decades later, while auditioning people to appear in his film Salaam Cinema, he encountered the same policeman, now unemployed, and the two wound up collaborating on this film about the incident involving them, trying (with separate cameras) to reconcile their versions of what happened. Though no doubt prompted in part by Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up (1990), this is a fascinating humanist experiment and investigation in its own right, full of warmth and humor as well as mystery. The original Persian title, incidentally, translates as Bread and Flower. In Farsi with subtitles. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »