Monthly Archives: November 1999

Phantom India

The only time I’ve watched Louis Malle’s six-hour, seven-part 1968 documentary series in its entirety was 27 years ago, but seeing two sections again recently reminded me why this may be my favorite of all of his films. Malle’s upper-class misanthropy and morbidity have generally alienated me from his work, but this essayistic travel diary avoids any pretense of objectivity in order to present itself as a highly personal search, narrated in excellent English by Malle himself. In the first episode, “The Impossible Camera,” Malle addresses the problem of everyone he meets in India describing the country in Western terms, then goes on to reflect on how his filmmaking affects his subjects; from there he takes in everything from a water buffalo being devoured by vultures to interviews with a few European hippies about why they’re in India. “Dream and Reality,” the fourth part, is centered on Kerala and considers the use of elephants as a workforce, Indians’ reverence for life, the destruction of the environment, and the three political parties comprising Kerala’s communist majority. With his wide-ranging but rambling approach Malle undoubtedly misses or skimps on certain topics, but his mercurial intelligence keeps this lively and fascinating. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E.… Read more »

Greed

There’s surely no more famous lost film than Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, a silent film made in 1923 and ’24 and released by MGM in mutilated form in late 1924. If you believe the hype of Turner Classic Movies, what’s been lost has now been found–even though the studio burned the footage it cut almost 75 years ago, in order, according to Stroheim, to extract the few cents’ worth of silver contained in the nitrate.

TCM’s ad copy states, “In 1924, Erich von Stroheim created a cinematic masterpiece that few would see–until now.” This is a lie, but one characteristic of an era that wants to believe that capitalism always has a happy ending, no matter how venal or stupid or shortsighted the capitalists happen to be. What TCM really means is that at 7 and 11:30 PM on Sunday, December 5, it will present a 239-minute version of Greed, which is 99 minutes longer than the 1924 release. The 99 minutes aren’t filled with rediscovered footage: instead the original release version has been combined with hundreds of rephotographed stills, sometimes with added pans and zooms, sometimes cropped, often with opening and closing irises. There’s also a “continuity screenplay” dated March 31, 1923, a new score, and varying amounts of ingenuity.… Read more »

Hollow Rendition [on SLEEPY HOLLOW]

From the November 19, 1999 issue of the Chicago Reader. –J.R.

Sleepy Hollow

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Tim Burton

Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and Kevin Yagher

With Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, Jeffrey Jones, and Christopher Walken.

Tim Burton’s new movie is gorgeous — shot by shot it may be the most impressive thing he’s done. So I hope I’m not being too disrespectful if I balk at the idea that his movie is based on Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

I was an English major in college and graduate school, yet I can’t remember reading a word of Irving until I read this wonderful 180-year-old story a few days after seeing the movie. He may be one of America’s great writers, but apparently few people still read him, even though his prose is clear and vivid. Take the seventh paragraph of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” for instance:

I mention this peaceful spot [Sleepy Hollow] with all possible laud for it is in such little retired Dutch valleys, found here and there embosomed in the great state of New York, that population, manners, and customs, remain fixed, while the great torrent of migration and improvement, which is making such incessant changes in other parts of this restless country, sweeps by them unobserved.Read more »

Eternity and a Day

Winner of the 1998 Palme d’Or at Cannes, this rambling but beautiful feature by Theo Angelopoulos may seem like an anthology of 60s and 70s European art cinema: family nostalgia from Bergman and seaside frolics from Fellini; long, mesmerizing choreographed takes and camera movements from Jancso and Tarkovsky; haunting expressionist moods and visions from Antonioni. Yet it’s so stirring and flavorsome–far richer emotionally and poetically than Woody Allen’s derivations–that I was moved and captivated throughout its 132 minutes. Bruno Ganz is commanding as a Greek writer who’s recently learned that he’s terminally ill; the part was conceived for the late Marcello Mastroianni, yet Ganz seems perfect for it (though he’s dubbed by a Greek actor, as Mastroianni undoubtedly would have been). Brooding over the loss of his seaside retreat and family home in Thessaloniki, the hero meets an eight-year-old illegal alien from Albania (Achilleas Skevis) and spends the day crisscrossing the past and visiting his familiar haunts, sometimes in the flesh and sometimes in his imagination, and Angelopoulos is masterful in orchestrating these lyrical and complex encounters. With Isabelle Renauld. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, November 19 through 25.… Read more »

Sleepy Hollow

This 1999 supernatural serial-killer movie by Tim Burton, set in the late 18th century, isn’t what it purports to bean adaptation of Washington Irving’s great story The Legend of Sleepy Holloweven if the main setting (a village on the Hudson River in upstate New York) is roughly the same and the major characters have the same names. (For an adaptation halfway worthy of the name, you’d have to check out Walt Disney’s Ichabod and Mr. Toad, a cartoon turned out half a century earlier.) But it’s a visually impressive tribute to the Hammer horror movies Burton saw as a boy, and if that’s all you want you’ll probably have a blast, even if the script by Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) is fairly formulaic. The castJohnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, and Jeffrey Jonesis fun to watch, and the pictorialism is often stunning. R, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

End Of Days

In a millennial mood and neat black clothes, the devil (Gabriel Byrne) arrives in New York in search of a brideRobin Tunney plays his unsuspecting choiceand apparently the only one who can stop him from taking her (and humanity into the bargain) is Arnold Schwarzenegger, as an alcoholic ex-cop. He protects the young lady, whips Satan’s ass, gets crucified at least twice, and briefly turns into Lucifer himself, but saves the human race just the same. In real life, of course, Schwarzenegger is a millionaire, so who would dare begrudge him his desire to play Christ and the Antichrist at practically the same time? Catholics should find this loud, campy horror show a lot more offensive than Dogma, but I guess money speaks louder than faithand here, as in Paradise Lost, Satan gets all the best lines. Peter Hyams, a pretty good cinematographer but a mediocre director, goes to work on a script by Andrew W. Marlowe that… Read more »

The World Is Not Enough

James Bond will return, says the closing title of this somewhat better than average 007 adventure, but the bottom line is that he’s never been away. The cold war may be dead and buried, but British intelligence needs to be kept busy, even if this meansas the script briefly and wittily suggestscreating its own enemies. With an appropriately imperialistic title (does it apply to the villains or to Anglo-American intelligence? does it matter?), a better than average director (Michael Apted), and locations ranging from Spain to Azerbaijan to Turkey, this keeps one reasonably amused, titillated, and brain-dead for a little over two hours. The principal Bond babes this time around are Sophie Marceau and Denise Richards, not counting Judi Dench as Bond’s boss; Bruce Feirstein and Michael France had something to do with the script (1999, 127 min.). (JR)… Read more »

Going Nomad

Sincere, likable, self-conscious, periodically arch, and maybe a little too slick for its own good, this independent feature by Art Jones, about a spiritually drifting New Yorker (Damian Young as El Cid Rivera, named after a movie his mother loved), his idle pals, and his faltering relationship with a female cop he knew in grammar school (Jourdan Zayles), mainly goes nowhere amiably. Things are slowed down by monologues delivered to the camera (generally well done) and by the hero’s conversations with his unseen mother (usually embarrassing). But if you’re in a leisurely mood you may not mind. With Victor Argo, Jose Yenque, Tom Oppenheim, and Craig Smith. (JR)… Read more »

Light It Up

Given the familiarity and even, at times, predictability of the elements on view here–a multiracial high school from hell in Queens, a siege staged by six alienated students after a favorite teacher is fired, a wounded cop (Forest Whitaker) held hostage–this is mainly lively and compelling stuff, thanks to fresh, well-defined characters and the writing and direction of Craig Bolotin, who’s worked on everything from Ridley Scott’s Black Rain to Desperately Seeking Susan to TV’s Miami Vice. The passionate and carnivalesque sense of politics reminded me at times of Dog Day Afternoon, but despite the absence of cynicism this is a 90s story in every sense. With Usher Raymond, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa L. Williams, Judd Nelson, Robert Ri’chard, Fredro Starr, Clifton Collins Jr., Sara Gilbert, and Glynn Turman. Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Evanston, Ford City, Hyde Park, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, North Riverside, 62nd & Western, Water Tower, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Where’s Marlowe?

Two filmmakers fresh out of school (John Livingston and Mos Def) are shooting a documentary in Los Angeles about a private detective (Miguel Ferrer). When their subject’s partner (John Slattery) gets involved with a client’s wife and quits, the filmmakers take his place. Originally put together as a TV pilot and then expanded, this goofball comedy is easy to take and just as easy to leave aloneunless you develop an affection for the hapless characters, which isn’t too hard to do. Daniel Pyne directed from a script he wrote with John Mankiewicz; with Allison Dean. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Light It Up

Given the familiarity and even, at times, predictability of the elements on view herea multiracial high school from hell in Queens, a siege staged by six alienated students after a favorite teacher is fired, a wounded cop (Forest Whitaker) held hostagethis is mainly lively and compelling stuff, thanks to fresh, well-defined characters and the writing and direction of Craig Bolotin, who has worked on everything from Ridley Scott’s Black Rain to Desperately Seeking Susan to TV’s Miami Vice. The passionate and carnivalesque sense of politics reminded me at times of Dog Day Afternoon, but despite the absence of cynicism this is a 90s story in every sense. With Usher Raymond, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa L. Williams, Judd Nelson, Robert Ri’chard, Fredro Starr, Clifton Collins Jr., Sara Gilbert, and Glynn Turman. (JR)… Read more »

All About My Mother

According to most of the American mainstream press at the 1999 Cannes film festival, this consciousness-raising transsexual soap opera by aging Spanish enfant terrible Pedro Almodovar should have walked off with all the prizes. I guess it represents a significant advance in his career, giving us a kinder, gentler, more soulful Almodovar who makes a lot more references than usual to other movies: All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire especially, but also (in terms of the story’s point of departure) John Cassavetes’s Opening Night. For me it felt like a good many weeks at a politically correct summer camp, though the talented actorsincluding Cecilia Roth, Eloy Azorin, Marisa Paredes, Toni Canto, Antonia San Juan, and Penelope Cruzseem to enjoy the taste of the characters they’re playing. In Spanish with subtitles. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Phantom India

Louis Malle’s seven-part, 378-minute 1968 documentary series is one of my favorites among his works. His upper-class misanthropy and morbidity usually alienate me, but this essayistic travel diary avoids any pretense of objectivity in order to present itself as a highly personal searchnarrated in excellent English by Malle himself in the version I’ve seen, but in French with subtitles in this version. In the first episode he addresses the problem of everyone he meets in India describing the country in Western terms, then goes on to reflect on how his filmmaking affects his subjects; from there he takes in everything from a water buffalo being devoured by vultures to interviews with a few European hippies about why they’re in India. With his wide-ranging but rambling approach Malle undoubtedly misses or skimps on certain topics, but his mercurial intelligence keeps this lively and fascinating. (JR)… Read more »

West Beirut

Quentin Tarantino’s cameraman, Lebanese filmmaker Ziad Doueiri, wrote and directed this autobiographical first feature (1998) about his early teens in Beirutset in 1975, during the onset of the country’s civil warand cast his younger brother Rami as himself. In fact, Doueiri scores with every member of his wonderful cast, which consists of nonprofessionals in the child roles and seasoned veterans playing the grown-ups. This is one of the best coming-of-age movies I’ve seen, largely because the characters are so full-bodied and believable without falling into predictable patterns. The excellent score is by Stewart Copeland. In French and Arabic with subtitles. 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chronique D’un Ete

A joint effort by the great (and recently deceased) French ethnographer-filmmaker Jean Rouch and the important French sociologist Edgar Morin (The Stars) yielded this remarkable 1961 documentary investigation into what Parisiansregarded as a strange tribewere thinking and feeling during the summer of 1960, when the war in Algeria was still a hot issue (although many other issues are discussed as well, private as well as public). The filmmakers treat their interview subjects with respect and sensitivity, among them Marilu Parolini, a secretary at Cahiers du Cinema who later became a screenwriter for Jacques Rivette, and Marceline Loridan, a concentration camp survivor who later became the collaborator and companion of Joris Ivens. Rouch and Morin even screened their first interviews for the participants and then filmed their responses, catching the shifting emotional tenor of their lives over a certain period. A seminal work. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »