From Cineaste, Fall 1998. –J.R.
Speaking About Godard
by Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki; foreword by Constance Penley. New York/London: New York University Press, 1998. 245 pp., illus. Hardcover: $55.00, Paperback: $17.95.
Negative Space: Manny Farber at the Movies (expanded edition)
by Manny Farber; preface by Robert Walsh. New York: Da Capo Press, 1998. Paperback: $15.95.
Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki’s dialogues about eight features by Jean-Luc Godard, stretching from Vivre sa vie (1962) to Nouvelle vague (1990), is a book I’ve been awaiting ever since coming across its sixth and seventh chapters, on Numéro deux (1975) and Passion (1981), in issues of the journals Camera Obscura and Discourse, respectively. The two best critical studies I’ve encountered anywhere of these difficult, neglected masterworks, they manage to account for a great deal of what’s going on in them, metaphorically, ideologically, and intellectually, and the graceful division of labor between the two critics as they proceed through the films — roughly speaking, a dialectical exchange between Freud (Silverman) and Marx (Farocki) — makes the process of their exploration all the more illuminating. Silverman, a film theorist who teaches at Berkeley, and Farocki, a German essayistic filmmaker with over seventy films to his credit, are both primarily concerned with what these two films mean, and they attack this question with a great deal of lucidity and rigor.… Read more »
The putative setting is New Mexico, but this is basically Kentucky-style ethnic cleansing that harks back to mountain feuds like the McCoys versus the Hatfields. Strictly 90s are the nonstop gore and the unpleasantness of all the characters. Adapted by Don Jakoby from John Steakley’s novel Vampire$, this dull splatterfest (1998) follows an exceptionally mean and single-minded vampire slayer (James Woods) who heads a team of Vatican mercenaries bent on finding and destroying a 600-year-old vampire priest (Thomas Ian Griffith) and not caring much who gets mauled in the process. Apart from the bitter glee of the anti-Catholic asides and the obligatory nods to Howard Hawks, the nastiness of the good guys is so unrelentingit extends even to Daniel Baldwin, who plays Smiley Burnette to Woods’s Gene Autrythat I was rooting for the vampires, albeit without much enthusiasm. It’s hard to be on anyone’s side when the genocidal fervor is so dogged and dehumanizing that characterization scarcely exists and the closest thing to wit is an epithet directed at a woman stabbed in the heart: How d’ya like your stake, bitch? (JR)… Read more »
Though not really as accomplished as it’s cracked up to be, this Cannes and Sundance prizewinner about a young rap poet (Saul Williams) finding himself in prison with the help of a sensitive writing teacher (Sonya Sohn) has all the inspirational uplift it strives for, and some pretty good rap performances as well. The fact that it wears its good intentions so clearly on its sleeve limits it. Directed by Marc Levin from a script he authored with Richard Stratton, Sohn, Williams, and costar Bonz Malone. (JR)… Read more »
The first feature of Samira Makhmalbaf (the eldest daughter of Iranian writer-director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who furnished the script and edited) is a wonder–a comic, lyrical, and “politically incorrect” poetic docudrama so acutely focused in its characters and ethics that it can afford to be relaxed about them, all the more remarkable coming from a director still in her teens. The film reenacts the true story of illiterate, 11-year-old twin sisters who were kept in their house from birth, until a social worker discovered them and enabled them to step outside. Their encounters with the world outside their home and the neighborhood’s reaction to them are the twin subjects that keep this feature going, exposing how involved people are in their neighbors’ lives, for better and for worse, in everyday communal Iran. (The twins and most of the other participants play themselves.) These two screenings are previews; the film will open commercially in Chicago at a later date. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, October 24, 6:00, and Sunday, October 25, 4:00, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »
Teenage siblings from a broken family (Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon) find themselves transported via a mysterious TV repairman (Don Knotts) to the “perfect” town of a 50s black-and-white sitcom called Pleasantville; eventually they bring about changes in the town and TV show, introducing rain, fire, reading, rock, jazz, and above all color. The directorial debut of Gary Ross (screenwriter of Big and Dave), this ideologically confused but fascinating postmodernist fantasy is about five years off — the date is 1958, but the clothes and decor are much closer to 1953. Furthermore, one might argue that Ross, who also scripted and coproduced, is even more hypocritical than he claims the 50s were: his film is about the 90s bringing life and spirit to the 50s, yet its emotional thrust — which is what makes it so interesting — is to reject the 90s in toto, in favor of the 50s and the onset of the 60s. It’s axiomatic that we’re supposed to be more sophisticated than our predecessors, but then people in the 50s could choose between color and black-and-white movies, while black-and-white movies can be made or seen today only with arcane excuses (like the plot of this one).… Read more »
As the 34th Chicago International Film Festival moves into its second week, my favorite new movie among the selections this year, Manoel de Oliveira’s Anxiety, has come and gone, but a lot of other worthy fare is playing. An especially welcome last-minute addition, though I haven’t seen it, is Theo Angelopoulos’s Eternity and a Day, winner of the top prize at Cannes this year.
My major recommendations day by day this week begin with Monte Hellman and Rudolph Wurlitzer’s 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop, probably the most underrated road movie of the 70s, playing Friday at 7:00 at the Music Box along with a short film about Hellman by George Hickenlooper, and Ko I-cheng’s Taiwanese feature Blue Moon–a film designed to be shown each time with the reels in a different order–showing at the same location at 9:30. If interactive cinema isn’t your thing, you might want to check out Stefan Rozowitzky’s Austrian rural parable, The Inheritors, playing at the other Music Box screen at 9:30, about the efforts of Alpine farmhands to collectively run the farm they inherit shortly after World War I.
For Saturday I strongly recommend the talented Tsai Ming-liang’s apocalyptic musical of Taiwanese alienation, The Hole, at 600 N.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (October 13, 1998). — J.R.
Though Adrian Lyne’s clodhopper direction, underlined by a mushy Ennio Morricone score, predictably runs the gamut from soft-core porn in the manner of David Hamilton to hectoring close-ups, this is perhaps Lyne’s best movie after Jacob’s Ladder — a genuinely disturbing (if far from literary) adaptation of Nabokov’s extraordinary novel, written by former journalist Stephen Schiff and starring, predictably, Jeremy Irons. It shines in the areas where Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation is deficient: Dominique Swain, the actress playing Lolita here, actually looks 14, making this much more a story about corrupted innocence, and it unfolds in American locations in the late 40s. In every other respect, however, Kubrick’s version is superior and will clearly endure as the better movie: Frank Langella as Quilty can’t hold a candle to Peter Sellers, and Melanie Griffith plays a poor second to Shelley Winters as the heroine’s mother. Your time would be better spent reading or rereading the novel than seeing either film version, but this overproduced 1998 art film has its moments. (JR)
… Read more »
As was apparent in the uneven Funny Bones, there’s something pretty shameless about director Peter Chelsom when he goes into tear-jerking mode, and this six-handkerchief weepieadapted by Charles Leavitt from Rodman Philbrick’s novel Freak the Mightypulls out all the stops. A large, friendless, apparently retarded 13-year-old (Elden Henson) who lives with his grandparents (Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton) teams up with the fast-talking, brilliant cripple (Kieran Culkin) who’s moved in next door with his mother (Sharon Stone); together they come on like gangbusters. There’s a lot of magical-realist stuffor should I say guff?about King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table, most of which I could have done without, an offscreen narration by Henson that I rarely believed in, and a snarling villain out of D.W. Griffith. But portions of this inspirational claptrap touched me in spite of everything. (JR)… Read more »
“See for yourself” is the slogan of the 34th Chicago International Film Festival–which, as one of my colleagues has noted, could probably be translated as “Don’t listen to the critics.” Such an admonition would be understandable given what many in my profession do in relation to world cinema. As Stuart Klawans remarks in the October 12 issue of the Nation, reporting on the Toronto film festival last month, only a few dozen members of the international press and industry went to see the sole Congolese feature made in the last 12 years–an opportunity they weren’t likely to have again–but several hundred made tracks to the Robert Towne movie that Warner Brothers was releasing the following day. Since I made it to neither movie, I’d rather recall the time a few years back when a colleague I otherwise admire admitted to me that he’d rather see four bad movies than Bela Tarr’s seven-hour Satantango, which attracted fewer press people in Toronto than the Congolese film–though it nearly packed the house at the Chicago Film Festival a month later, and most of the audience stayed to the end.
My colleague didn’t give me his reasons for avoiding this Hungarian film, but they’re easy enough to guess: a long foreign-language masterpiece from an unfashionable country is precisely what his fashion-magazine editors didn’t want to hear about.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (October 2, 1998). — J.R.
Un Air De Famille
Rating *** A must see
Directed by Cedric Klapisch
Written by Agnes Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Bacri, and Klapisch
With Bacri, Jaoui, Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Catherine Frot, Claire Maurier, and Wladimir Yordanoff.
Foreign-film distribution in this country often operates on the brand-name principle — as is apparent with Un air de famille (1996), playing at the Music Box this week. Director and cowriter Cedric Klapisch had considerable commercial success here with his third picture, the 1995 When the Cat’s Away (this one is his fourth). I haven’t seen Klapisch’s first two; what I know about him mainly is that he received a degree from New York University’s graduate film school and worked as a director of photography on a dozen short films in New York before returning to France to make his own films.
When the Cat’s Away is an intelligent enough movie, but the adjectives I’d apply to it are “charming” and “slight”; Un air de famille, which I like a good deal more, is neither. The most significant aspect of the film is the couple, Agnes Jaoui and Jean-Pierre Bacri, who wrote the very successful play on which it’s based.… Read more »
The 1998 first feature of Samira Makhmalbaf (the eldest daughter of Iranian writer-director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who furnished the script and edited) is a wondera comic, lyrical, and politically incorrect poetic docudrama so acutely focused in its characters and ethics that it can afford to be relaxed about them, all the more remarkable coming from a director still in her teens. The film reenacts the true story of illiterate 11-year-old twin sisters, kept in their house from birth until a social worker discovered them and enabled them to step outside. Their encounters with the world outside their home and the neighborhood… Read more »
Daniele Wilmouth’s striking 13-minute Curtain of Eyes (1997), an experimental film working with elements of Japanese butoh. On the same program, Wilmouth’s work in progress Pinman and a short video by Ximena Musch entitled Compose. (JR)… Read more »
This 1992 feature about impoverished bricklayers was originally banned in Iran, then mutilated through the addition of an offscreen narration by its boy hero, which director Abolfazl Jalili had nothing to do with; this year it surfaced at the Locarno film festival in its original form and won several prizes. It… Read more »
Though one might critique its sexual politics, this is a lovely, memorable feature from Burkina Faso (1994), directed by Dani Kouyate, about a young boy who’s torn between the influence of a modern schoolteacher and the influence of a griot. Well worth checking out. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »
A rough-and-ready and, if memory serves, heroic piece of radical agitprop produced by Newsreel in 1969 about a student strike at Columbia over the University’s policy toward the surrounding community of Harlem. On the same program, two 25-minute Newsreel documentaries of the same year, San Francisco State: On Strike and People’s Park. For a genuine whiff of this era, you probably couldn’t do much better. (JR)… Read more »