From the June 9, 2006 Chicago Reader. I can happily report that Roads of Kiarostami has appeared as an extra on the DVD of Kiarostami’s Shirin released by Cinema Guild. — J.R.
Roads of Kiarostami
*** (A must see)
Directed and written by Abbas Kiarostami
The definition of what qualifies as commercial movie fare seems to have shrunk to works that appeal to teens and preteens. Meanwhile the definition of experimental film — which traditionally has meant abstract, nonnarrative, and small-format works produced in a garret — has been expanding to address wider audiences. An ambitious DVD box set released last year, “Unseen Cinema: Early American Avant-Garde Film 1894-1941,” includes lavish Busby Berkeley production numbers and juvenilia by Orson Welles. And last year’s Onion City Experimental Film and Video Festival opened with a dazzling 35-millimeter short by Michelangelo Antonioni, Michelangelo Eye to Eye.
This year Onion City’s opening-night program reflects this tendency even more: it includes a video by cult horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Peter Tscherkassky’s radical reworking of footage from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in 35-millimeter and ‘Scope, Andy Warhol’s two 1966 “screen tests” with Bob Dylan, and best of all Abbas Kiarostami’s half-hour Roads of Kiarostami.… Read more »
Published by DVD Beaver in June 2006. — J.R.
It might be argued that many of the most famous and celebrated westerns qualify as eccentric in one way or another. Rio Bravo mainly consists of friends hanging out together; its memorable action bits are both infrequent and usually over in a matter of seconds. The Searchers often feels like medieval poetry, and its director John Ford once complained that parts of its score seemed more appropriate for Cossacks than for cowboys. Even High Noon has so many titled angles of clocks and reprises of its Tex Ritter theme that you might feel like you’re trapped inside a loop, and it’s hard to think of many sequences more mannerist than the opening one in Once Upon a Time in the West.
The dozen favorites that I’ve listed here are all basically auteurist selections. I’ve restricted myself to only one per director (although I’ve cited other contenders and/or noncontenders by the same filmmakers), and included both ones that are available on DVD and ones that aren’t but should be — or, in some cases, will be. The order is alphabetical:
|| 1. The Big Sky (Howard Hawks, 1952). This isn’t simply the only Hawks western that doesn’t star John Wayne (not counting his uncredited and piecemeal work on Viva Villa!
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The fairy-tale-kingdom musicals directed by Ernst Lubitsch during the Depression are supposedly inimitable, but this 1933 powder puff is a reasonable and entertaining facsimile. It’s based on a 1931 German comedy partly written by Billy Wilder, whose masquerade theme is already firmly in place. A princess posing as a manicurist (Janet Gaynor) falls for an army captain posing as a delicatessen worker (Henry Garat), and there’s a lot of ambiguity about who’s in charge. William Dieterle directed with a sufficiently light touch, and C. Aubrey Smith (Love Me Tonight) plays the flustered prime minister. 87 min. (JR)… Read more »
Directed by Frank Borzage, this mawkish, dated love story (1929) was released by Fox in both a silent and a sound version; for years both versions were considered lost, but a silent print turned up in the 90s. An uneducated farm girl (Janet Gaynor, lively as usual) fights with a utility man (Charles Farrell, boring as usual), then becomes romantically devoted to him after he returns from World War I in a wheelchair. The rustic sets appear to have been redressed from F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise; some of the turgid melodrama seems derived from D.W. Griffith, but not at his best. 86 min. (JR)… Read more »
Bret Wood, an enterprising film scholar and DVD producer, wrote and directed this illustrated video version of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s 1886 medical catalog of sexual perversions, and it manages to revel in kinkiness while bypassing eroticism completely. Wood was interested in showing Krafft-Ebing’s scientific objectivity as well as his Victorian moralism, even when they’re in conflict (which is often). The director’s familiarity with silent cinema enhances the prudish pornographic footage, but when he starts cutting between separate perversions, I began to wonder if he was getting as bored with the material as I was. 102 min. (JR)… Read more »
A comprehensive notion of what turned American soldiers against the Vietnam war has taken some time to reach us, and this affecting documentary by David Zieger collects many potent testimonies evoking veterans’ activism from 1966 to ’71 (a period when the Pentagon recorded 503,926 “incidents of desertion”). Zieger interviews about a dozen vets from all branches of the service and finds that the war’s injustice, particularly the systematic killing of innocent civilians, was a galvanizing factor. (John Kerry was excluded as a possible distraction, but Jane Fonda speaks eloquently about her “Fuck the Army” tour of U.S. military bases with Donald Sutherland.) I expected to emerge depressed by how long these stories have gone untold, but the speakers’ courage and humanity are a shot in the arm. 84 min. Landmark’s Century Centre.… Read more »
Even as commercial moviemaking becomes more geared to teens and preteens, this crackerjack survey, the opening-night program of the 18th Onion City festival, shows how some contemporary experimental work approaches and interacts with the mainstream. Among the shorts screening are Soul Dancing (2004), a weird video by Japanese cult horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa; Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005), a 35-millimeter ‘Scope reworking of a Sergio Leone western by Austrian filmmaker Peter Tscherkassky; Here (2005), in which Fred Worden shuffles images from Georges Melies and the Laurence Olivier Henry V; and Andy Warhol’s 1966 screen tests featuring Bob Dylan. Best of all is Roads of Kiarostami (2005, 32 min.), in which Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami introduces his black-and-white landscape photography but also includes a startling and topical finale in color. The program’s running time is 95 minutes. The festival continues Friday through Sunday, June 16 through 18, at Chicago Filmmakers; for more information see next week’s issue or visit www.chicagofilmmakers.org. Roads of Kiarostami is reviewed in Section 1. Thu 6/15, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »