Daily Archives: February 23, 2007

The True Story Of Jesse James

Though hardly Nicholas Ray’s sturdiest effort, this 1957 ‘Scope western began as one of his more ambitious conceptions, with an unorthodox narrative structure and deliberately theatrical sets. Both ideas were rejected by 20th-Century Fox in favor of genre conventions, and the experience helped to precipitate Ray’s departure for Europe (he left even before the editing was completed, to embark on the much superior Bitter Victory). Ray’s special feeling for young mavericksin this case Frank and Jesse James (Jeffrey Hunter and Robert Wagner)is still apparent, and one brief sequence offers a brilliantly compact lesson in anarchist economics. With Hope Lange, Agnes Moorehead, and John Carradine; the script is mainly by Walter Newman. 92 min. (JR)… Read more »

Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property

Charles Burnett’s brilliant 2003 TV documentary about Nat Turner, the black slave in Virginia’s Southhampton County who led an 1831 revolt that resulted in the slaughter of 57 white men, women, and children and then, in retribution, the slaughter and mutilation of 60 to 80 slaves. Interviewing two dozen historians and theorists, half of them black, Burnett treats all their interpretations, many of which he dramatizes, as equally crediblea radical but plausible approach given how little is known about Turner. He’s most interested in charting how the interpretations were arrived at and why those of white and black commentators often differ, and that allows him to offer an exemplary history lesson on why, for a nation unable to come to terms with the legacy of slavery, Nat Turner remains a troublesome property. 57 min. (JR)… Read more »

2 Or 3 Things I Know About Her

The most intellectually heroic of Jean-Luc Godard’s early features (1966) was inspired by his reading an article about suburban housewives day-tripping into Paris to turn tricks for spending money. Marina Vlady plays one such woman, followed over a single day in a slender narrative with many documentary and documentarylike digressions. But the central figure is Godard himself, who whispers his poetic and provocative ruminations over monumentally composed color ‘Scope images and, like James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, continually interrogates his own methods and responses. Among the more memorable images are extreme close-ups of a cup of coffee, while another remarkable sequence deconstructs the operations of a car wash. Few features of the period capture the world with as much passion and insight. In French with subtitles. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

Beautifully Fake and Just Plain Phony

From the Chicago Reader (February 23, 2007). — J.R.

NAT TURNER: A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY ****

DIRECTED BY CHARLES BURNETT | WRITTEN BY BURNETT, FRANK CHRISTOPHER, AND KENNETH S. GREENBERG

WITH CARL LUMBLY, TOM NOWICKI, TOMMY HICKS, JAMES OPHER, WILLIAM STYRON, ERIC FONER, MARY KEMP DAVIS, OSSIE DAVIS, EKEWUEME MICHAEL THELWELL, AND BURNETT

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER *

DIRECTED BY MICHAEL POLISH | WRITTEN BY MARK AND MICHAEL POLISH

WITH BILLY BOB THORNTON, VIRGINIA MADSEN, BRUCE DERN, MAX THIERIOT, TIM BLAKE NELSON, BRUCE WILLIS, KIERSTEN WARREN, AND RICHARD EDSON

Very little is known about Nat Turner, the black slave in Virginia’s Southampton County who led a revolt by more than 50 other black slaves in August 1831. Over two days they slaughtered 57 white men, women, and children, and after the rebellion was suppressed, 60 to 80 slaves were summarily executed and mutilated. As one historian notes in Charles Burnett’s hour-long TV documentary, Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property (2003), screening Sunday at the DuSable Museum of African American History, we have precise information about Turner’s victims but know almost nothing about the slaughtered blacks.

Most of what’s known about Turner is based on his unverifiable “confession” to a white lawyer, Thomas Gray, before he was executed.… Read more »