Daily Archives: January 24, 2003

Power And Terror: Noam Chomsky In Our Times

This Japanese video documentary (2002, 74 min.) about the most acute American critic of U.S. foreign policy is conventionally made but valuable for its currency and its capacity (which matches that of Chomsky) to remain upbeat about a seemingly hopeless topic. Director John Junkerman, an American based in Tokyo, records Chomsky’s comments about the war on terror at speaking engagements in Berkeley and the Bronx and interviews him at some length in his office at MIT, yielding some of the professor’s best long-range insights. (JR)… Read more »

Super Sucker

After reportedly making half a million dollars on his first indie comedy, Escanaba in da Moonlight, which played almost exclusively in the midwest, Michigan resident Jeff Daniels wrote and directed this feature about a grudge match between two small-town door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen (Daniels and Harve Presnell) and their respective teams to win a contest run by their company. The main plot twist involves one team’s idea to sell an archaic accessory to the Super Sucker as an aid to masturbation. Stridently overacted and very broadly directed, the movie is uninhibited and energetic, to say the least, but the giddiness tends to be too scattershot to work as either satire or farce. With Matt Letscher and Dawn Wells of Gilligan’s Island, playing herself. (JR)… Read more »

The Last Of The Blue Devils

A first-rate 1979 documentary by Bruce Riker about Kansas City jazz and its most famous musicians, with particular attention devoted to Count Basie and the players who worked for him. Much of it was shot over a five-year period at the Mutual Musicians Foundation and other Kansas City locations, though vintage film clips abound. 91 min. (JR)… Read more »

On Snow’s Wavelength, Zoom Out

Despite its misleading title, this is not a film by Michael Snow but a Canadian documentary by Teri Wehn-Damisch (2001, 56 min.) about some of Snow’s work. A sort of Michael Snow 101, it’s a catalog focusing on his camera-related works and his piano playing, touching only briefly on Wavelength and ignoring his painting and sculpture, his jazz group, and other important aspects of his career. It’s also fairly sketchy even on its chosen terrain, overlooking at least one major film (So Is This) and other major works involving photography (e.g., Two Sides to Every Story, A Casing Shelved, and Flight Stop). The best parts are Snow’s own lucid explication of his oeuvre, much of which emphasizes his critiques of photographic illusionism, but the clips from his films are far too skimpy to give novices a clear sense of what they’re like. (JR)… Read more »

The Student Prince In Old Heidelberg

The enormous success of Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow led to a desire for spin-offs, and Ernst Lubitsch reluctantly took on this silent adaptation (1927) of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta after Stroheim turned it down. He did manage to infuse it with his own sort of wit, especially at the beginning, though the dorkiness of Ramon Novarro in the title role appears to have made this an uphill battle. Norma Shearer plays the lively barmaid with whom he has a fling. Approximately 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Cluny Brown

This late, delicious comedy of manners by Ernst Lubitsch is a notch below his best, but the character acting is so good one hardly notices. A plumber’s daughter (Jennifer Jones) and a refugee (Charles Boyer) meet in England prior to World War II, and Una O’Connor, Peter Lawford, Helen Walker, Reginald Gardiner, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Owen, and Richard Haydn are around to take up what slack there is. This 1946 film is the last one Lubitsch completed. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »