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Entries in 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE (third dozen)

These are expanded Chicago Reader capsules written for a 2003 collection edited by Steven Jay Schneider. I contributed 72 of these in all; here are the third dozen, in alphabetical order. — J.R.

Salt of the Earth
This rarely screened 1954 classic is the only major American independent feature made by communists; a fictional story about the Mexican-American zinc miners in New Mexico then striking against their Anglo management, it was informed by feminist attitudes that are quite uncharacteristic of the period. The film was inspired by the blacklisting of director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun), producer and former screenwriter Paul Jarrico, and composer Sol Kaplan, among others; as Jarrico later reasoned, since they’d been drummed out of Hollywood for being subversives, they’d commit a “crime to fit the punishment” by making a subversive film. The results are leftist propaganda of a very high order, powerful and intelligent even when the film registers in spots as naive or dated. Basically kept out of American theaters until 1965, it was widely shown and honored in Europe, but it’s never received the recognition it deserves stateside. Regrettably, its best-known critical discussion in the U.S. is in Pauline Kael’s final essay in her first collection — a 1954 broadside in which this film is ridiculed as “propaganda” alongside a forgettable cold war thriller, Night People, that’s skewered as “advertising”.… Read more »

Desperate Measures [OUT OF SIGHT & THE BRIGANDS: CHAPTER VII]

From the Chicago Reader (July 3, 1998). — J.R.

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Out of Sight

Rating * Has redeeming facet

Directed by Steven Soderbergh

Written by Scott Frank

With George Clooney, Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Dennis Farina, Albert Brooks, Steve Zahn, and Catherine Keener.

The Brigands: Chapter VII

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Otar Iosseliani

With Amiran Amiranachvili, Alexi Djakeli, Dato Gogibedachvili, Guio Tzintsadze, Nino Ordjonikidze, Keti Kapanadze, and Nino Kartsivadze.

Which would you rather see? A Hollywood thriller with hot stars whose director is so alienated from his material that he’s reduced to a kind of ingenious doodling while his characters disintegrate? Or a witty, despairing French-Russian-Italian-Swiss art movie set in 16th-century Georgia, Stalinist Georgia, contemporary Georgia, and contemporary Paris, whose writer-director is so much in command of his materials that he can plant the same actors in all four settings yet provide a seamless continuity?

My question is mainly rhetorical because it’s already been decided for most people reading this. Out of Sight, a major Universal release written by Scott Frank and directed by Steven Soderbergh, is playing all over town and will be around for weeks; The Brigands: Chapter VII, written and directed by Otar Iosseliani, doesn’t even have a U.S.

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Two Deaths

From the October 1, 1996 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

TwoDeaths

I don’t know anything about the novel this Nicolas Roeg made-for-BBC film is drawn from — Stephen Dobyns’s The Two Deaths of Senora Puccini, adapted by Roeg’s longtime collaborator Allan Scott — but its mixture of metaphysical fireside tale and kinky guilt tripping reminds me of Graham Greene’s Doctor Fischer of Geneva. During a bloody 1989 student uprising in an unnamed country that seems to be somewhere in eastern Europe, a successful doctor (Michael Gambon) is holding his annual dinner for three of his former schoolmates and recounting in flashbacks the story of his sexual obsession with a schoolteacher (Sonia Braga) who despises him but now lives with him as his slave. As his three male guests relate their own sexual secrets and soldiers and police periodically break into the house, the pattern of an after-dinner parable laced with vague allegorical undertones gradually takes shape. The results are engaging (if unpleasant) as story-telling — and alternately striking and pretentious as only a Roeg film can be. With Patrick Malahide, Ion Caramitru, Nickolas Grace, and John Shrapnel. (JR)

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