Monthly Archives: July 2004

Outfoxing the Film Industry

From the Chicago Reader (July 30, 2004). — J.R.

Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism

Directed by Robert Greenwald.

DVDs are bringing about rapid and substantial changes in the way we consume movies, and in film culture itself. A case in point is Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, which premiered July 13 on DVD and video rather than in theaters. You could have seen it at one of more than 3,000 “house party” viewings organized by MoveOn.org two Sundays ago, or you can just buy it online for $9.95 plus shipping as I did. There must be lots of others like me, because Outfoxed has been Amazon’s top-selling video title for over a week now, and the last time I looked it had 133 customer reviews.

Watching the muckraking examination of the Fox News Channel at home had its advantages: as soon as it was over, I was able to switch directly to Fox to see if it really was as awful as Greenwald’s documentary maintained. (It was.) There are also advantages to keeping a DVD like this on the shelf: you can refer back to certain points in the film for clarification. And facts aren’t all you might want to go back to: if it’s an art film, for instance, you can jump to a favorite passage — a camera movement, a facial expression, a composition, or the delivery of a line of dialogue — the same way you can open a book to revisit some favorite lines of poetry.… Read more »

A Night At The Nickelodeon

Northwestern professor Scott Curtis will present a program of films from the first decade of the 20th century, including The Dancing Pig (1907), The Acrobatic Fly (1908), D.W. Griffith’s early masterpiece A Corner in Wheat (1909), and Teddy Roosevelt in Africa (1909). (JR)

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Maria Full of Grace

This watchable and well-made feature debut by American independent writer-director Joshua Marston is also very much a showcase for Catalina Sadino Moreno, who plays the eponymous lead with grit and energy. Maria is a fearless and attractive 17-year-old Colombian who leaves her job on a rose plantation to work as a drug mule. For $5,000 she swallows more than 60 rubber pellets of heroin, to be reclaimed from her stool after flying to New Jersey; should a pellet break internally, death will quickly ensue. The depiction of her risky voyage and what happens afterward is highly suspenseful and entirely believable. R, 101 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley.… Read more »

Global Discoveries on DVD: Diverse Displacements (6th column)

 

From Cinema Scope #19 (Summer 2004). — J.R.

Joan Hawkins opens her book Cutting Edge: Art Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde (Minneapolis/London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000) with an interesting and useful observation:

“Open the pages of any horror fanzine —- Outré, Fangoria, Cinefantastique —- and you will find listings for mail-order video companies that cater to aficionados of what Jeffrey Sconce has called `para-cinema’ and trash aesthetics. Not only do these mail-order companies represent one of the fastest-growing segments of the video market, but their catalogs challenge many of our continuing assumptions about the binary opposition of prestige cinema (European art and avant-garde/experimental films) and popular culture. Certainly, they highlight an aspect of art cinema generally overlooked or repressed in cultural analysis: namely, the degree to which high culture trades on the same images, tropes, and themes that characterize low culture.”

As a direct illustration of Hawkins’ point, check out the web site www.xploitedcinema.com, a U.S. importer of overseas DVDs that also sells some domestic items and caters mainly to trash aesthetics, but among whose 86 pages of sex, horror, action, and gore items I also recently found an Italian two-disc set of my favorite Bernardo Bertolucci film, Prima della Rivoluzione/Before the Revolution (his second feature, 1964 — subtitled in English, along with all the extras), not to mention English-friendly Spanish and/or Mexican editions of my two favorite Alex Cox films (the 1987 Walker and the 1994 Highway Patrolman), a Spanish edition of Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight, a Korean edition of Sam Peckinpah’s scandalously underrated Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), and Italian editions of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St.Read more »

THE ROOF OF THE WHALE

From Rouge No. 2 (2004). — J.R.

OnTopoftheWhale-poster

The Roof of the Whale aka On Top of the Whale
(Hek dak van de Valvis/Le Toit de la baleine, Netherlands/France, 1981)

on-top-of-the-whale

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The Roof of the Whale – the film of Ruiz’s with the most pronounced ideological/political/polemical thrust – deals brilliantly with the plight of an anthropologist trying to learn the language of an obscure Patagonian Indian tribe whose last surviving members he has discovered. Beautifully and inventively shot in colour by Henri Alekan, the film proceeds less as narrative or as drama than as a prodigious stream of visual, verbal and conceptual ideas centring around this theme. The performances are either minimal to the point of indifference or deliberately curtailed (so that, for instance, Willeke van Ammelrooy, who plays the anthropologist’s wife, appears to have learned her speeches in English phonetically) and, despite periodic bursts of portentous music, suspense exists only on a purely formal level.The Roof of the Whale b&wTwo sample narrative ideas, neither of which lead anywhere in particular: in a weird parody of Lacanian psychoanalysis, the anthropologist’s child – a creature of indeterminate gender – becomes pregnant after gazing into a mirror; as an apparent gloss on this event, his or her mother remarks that poetry is dangerous because ‘metaphors become a religion, and religion is the opiate of the masses’.

LE JEU DE L’OIE

From Rouge No. 2 (2004). — J.R.

Snakes and Ladders
(Le Jeu de l’Oie: La Cartographie, short, France, 1980)
Snakes&Ladders In the delightful Snakes and Ladders, ‘a didactic fiction about cartography’ made for French television to promote a map exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris – a Borgesian metaphysical fantasy whose hero progressively discovers that France is a life-size board game (devoted to Snakes and Ladders or ‘The Goose’s Game’) – one has to deal with tatty special effects of Edward D. Wood Jr calibre, along with the brilliant conceits and two separate off-screen narrators, male and female. Snakes&Ladders-mapAt the outset, the troubled hero (Pascal Bonitzer) – who is found to be vomiting out dice on one occasion, and shaken as dice by an enormous hand on another – discovers that ‘he is the victim of the worst kind of nightmare, the didactic nightmare.’ Some form of didacticism seems evident in every Ruiz project but, as with Borges, it is a didacticism that often parodies itself and becomes camp, yielding precisely the kind of nightmare that ensues when, through a delirium of literalism, thought becomes flesh and the universe becomes a brain dreaming of thoughts yet unborn.Snakes&Ladders3

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Unsafe at Any Size [THE CORPORATION]

From the Chicago Reader (July 23, 2004). — J.R.

http://thecia.com.au/reviews/c/images/corporation-1.jpg

The Corporation

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott

Written by Joel Bakan, Harold Crooks, and Achbar

Narrated by Mikela J. Mikael.

A month ago I attended back-to-back press screenings of two major documentaries, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Corporation, which finally opened here last week. Though it would have broken with industry protocol to have said so at the time, before both movies had opened, it was clear that The Corporation — a 2003 Canadian film by Mark Achbar, Jennifer Abbott, and Joel Bakan — was a better film, and second looks at both movies has only confirmed this impression. Michael Moore’s movie probably startles people who rely mostly on TV for their news, but The Corporation will shock even those who keep close track of newspapers and magazines. In fact, it goes beyond shocking in obliging us to ask ourselves how far we’re all prepared to go in our defense of capitalism.

Far enough to jeopardize our health and the survival of the planet? Maybe not, but at the moment it’s corporations that appear to have the power to decide. And the stories this film uses to demonstrate that are chilling.… Read more »

Seamen’s Wives

Henk Kleinman’s gritty 1930 drama in seven acts was meant to be the first Dutch talkie, but technical difficulties made it the last Dutch silent film. In 2003 composer Henny Vrienten did a postmodernist reconstruction of the original, adding music, sound effects, and synced dialogueand creating an obvious disjunct between the 30s visuals and the modern stereo sound. It’s a fascinating experiment, and not bad as a period melodrama: the realistic working-class details of waterfront life in Amsterdam occasionally evoke Stroheim’s Greed, and there are some hallucinatory split-screen effects toward the end. In Dutch with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Door In The Floor

A dysfunctional family drama to end all dysfunctional family dramas, Tod Williams’s adaptation of the John Irving novel A Widow for One Year depends a lot on delayed exposition to explain why a writer of children’s books (Jeff Bridges) and his wife (Kim Basinger), who have a four-year-old daughter but have lost their grown son in an accident, are so estranged. The dramatic catalyst is a teenager from the city (Jon Foster) who’s hired as the writer’s assistant and becomes the wife’s lover, and I wish some of Williams’s critical view of the family had extended to that character as well. The cast, which also includes Mimi Rogers, is strong, and by the end the story is more satisfying than you might expect. R, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Little Rascal

This rarely seen and recently restored Dutch feature was directed by Douglas Sirk in 1939, when he was still calling himself Detlef Sierckhe’d recently fled Germany and would soon depart for the U.S. Adapted by Carl Zuckmayer from a popular play about a thieving ragamuffin in Rotterdam, it’s one of Sirk’s least personal efforts, most notable for having the 12-year-old boy hero played by the 45-year-old actress who had the part onstage, Annie van Ees. The prominent role played by a priest in the story may call to mind The First Legion, one of Sirk’s most interesting early features in the U.S., but the mise en scene is far more routine. Also known as Wilton’s Zoo. In Dutch with subtitles. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Little Giant

A reasonably plucky spin-off of Little Caesar made three years later (1933), with Edward G. Robinson playing a bootlegger who tries to improve himself and crash high society. With Mary Astor and Helen Vinson; the reliable Roy Del Ruth directed. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Corporation

Absorbing and instructive, this 2003 Canadian documentary tackles no less a subject than the geopolitical impact of the corporation, forcing us to reexamine an institution that may regulate our lives more than any other. Directors Mark Achbar (Manufacturing Consent) and Jennifer Abbott and writer Joel Bakan cogently summarize the history of the chartered corporation, showing how it accumulated the legal privileges of a person even as it shed the responsibilities. This conceit allows the filmmakers to catalog all manner of corporate malfeasance as they argue, wittily and persuasively, that corporations are clinically psychotic. The talking heads include not only political commentators like Noam Chomsky, Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein, Michael Moore, and Howard Zinn, but CEOs such as Ray Anderson, Sam Gibara, Robert Keyes, Jonathon Ressler, and Clay Timon, whose insights vary enormously. This runs 165 minutes, but it’s so packed with ideas that I wasn’t bored for a second. Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »

I, Robot

It’s much more of an action flick than either Metropolis or Blade Runner, but there’s a provocative and visionary side to this free adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s SF classic that puts it in the same thoughtful canon. The story is set in Chicago in 2035, and the cityscape, designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, is futuristic yet Victorian around the edges. Built into the mystery plot are reflections about robots as extensions of human will that build up to a wide-ranging but unpreachy critique of everything from corporate malfeasance to the Patriot Act. Will Smith plays an old-fashioned homicide cop investigating the ostensible suicide of a scientist; Bridget Moynahan is an expert in robot psychology. Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) directs a script by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldman that’s lively enough to justify a few hokey flourishes. R, 100 min. Burnham Plaza, Century 12 and CineArts 6, Chatham 14, Crown Village 18, Davis, Ford City, Gardens 1-6, Golf Glen, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, Norridge, North Riverside, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Village North, Webster Place.… Read more »

Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy

From the Summer 2004 issue of Cineaste. — J.R.

Godard: A Portrait of the Artist at Seventy

by Colin MacCabe. Filmography and picture research by Sally Shafto. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003. 432 pp, illus. Hardcover: $25.00.

This isn’t an authorized biography of Jean-Luc Godard. But it appears to have qualified briefly as a book that might have become one after Colin MacCabe first embarked on it in the mid-Eighties. “Two years later,” he reports in his Preface, “he” — meaning Godard — “asked me how the work was progressing and this encouraged me to bury my own doubts and to prepare a very detailed treatment. By the early nineties, however, it was clear that Godard no longer had any faith in the project.”

MacCabe says nothing to explain this change of heart and loss of faith. A look, however, at one version of his detailed treatment — “Jean-Luc Godard: A Life in Seven Episodes (to Date),” published in Raymond Bellour’s 1992 Museum of Modern Art collection Jean-Luc Godard Son + Image, 1974-1991 – provides a plausible reason, especially if one zeroes in on the following passage in the second episode: “The South American journey came to an end [in Rio] when Godard’s father once again refused to support his son any longer.… Read more »

I, Robot

It’s much more of an action flick than either Metropolis or Blade Runner, but there’s a provocative and visionary side to this free adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s SF classic that puts it in the same thoughtful canon. The story is set in Chicago in 2035, and the cityscape, designed by Patrick Tatopoulos, is futuristic yet Victorian around the edges. Built into the mystery plot are reflections about robots as extensions of human will that build up to a wide-ranging but unpreachy critique of everything from corporate malfeasance to the Patriot Act. Will Smith plays an old-fashioned homicide cop investigating the ostensible suicide of a scientist; Bridget Moynahan is an expert in robot psychology. Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) directs a script by Jeff Vintar and Akiva Goldman that’s lively enough to justify a few hokey flourishes. R, 100 min. (JR)… Read more »