Daily Archives: January 23, 1998

Cult Confusion (HAPPY TOGETHER)

From the Chicago Reader (January 23, 1998). Today I would probably rank this movie much higher. — J.R.

Happy Together

Rating ** Worth seeing

Directed and written by Wong Kar-wai

With Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung, and Chang Chen.

At some point in the mid-90s Wong Kar-wai’s exciting and hyperbolic style lost its moorings. Whether this happened between Days of Being Wild (1990) and Chungking Express (1994), during the two years it took to make Ashes of Time (1994), or between the latter two films and Fallen Angels (1995), Wong’s powerful organic flow, which makes Days of Being Wild his only masterpiece to date, has atrophied into a slag heap of individual set pieces.

Many of these set pieces are thrilling enough in their own right. Fallen Angels has plenty of them, spaced out like showstoppers in a vaudeville revue, though their effectiveness tends to diminish, their frenetic intensity ultimately becoming monotonous. Like the mannerist tics comprising Wong’s style — the use of different characters as narrators; the momentary freeze-frames punctuating Christopher Doyle’s slowed, slurred, or speeded-up cinematography; the shifts between color and black and white; and the bumpy transitions between garish forms of lighting and visual texture — his set pieces always provide a lively surface activity.… Read more »

Kundun

Kundun

Recounting the life of the 14th Dalai Lama prior to his departure from Tibet, this highly uncharacteristic feature by Martin Scorsese is his best since The King of Comedy, but you can’t profitably approach it expecting either the violence or the stylistic punchiness of something like GoodFellas. Scripted by Melissa Mathison (in close consultation with the Dalai Lama and his family) and cast almost exclusively with Tibetan exiles, this nonreligious movie about a religious leader is beautiful, abstract, charged with mystery, but never pretentious. Far from dictating a position on the Dalai Lama, the film doesn’t even define a particular point at which the spoiled toddler is transformed into a holy man; a good deal of the historical, political, and religious context is implied rather than explained, and most of the major events occur offscreen. Despite the somewhat questionable wallpaper score by Philip Glass, Scorsese’s delicate, inquisitive style has an inevitability and a rightness all its own. Gardens, Lake, Pipers Alley. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

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

Jour de fete

Jour de fete

Jacques Tati’s first feature, a euphoric comedy set in a sleepy village, was meant to be the first French feature in color; it was shot in 1947 using two cameras, one color and one black-and-white. But the new Thomson-Color process failed to yield results that could be printed, so in 1949 the film was released in black and white. Fifteen years later Tati released a recut version in which a few details were colored by means of stencils, the version generally available ever since–at least until Tati’s daughter Sophie, a professional film editor, and film technician Francois Ede decided to restore the original color in 1994. Their meticulous work took well over a year, and what emerges is truly precious: a color print that looks not like the films of 1947 but like 1947 itself. As in all of Tati’s features, the plot is minimal: during Bastille Day festivities, Francois (Tati), the local postman, encounters a newsreel about streamlined postal delivery in America and attempts to clean up his act accordingly. But the exquisite charm of this masterpiece has less to do with individual gags (funny though many of them are) than with Tati’s portrait of a highly interactive French village after the war–a view of paradise suffused with affection and poetry.… Read more »