From the Chicago Reader (July 15, 1994). — J.R.
The second installment (1992) in Eric Rohmer’s “Tales of the Four Seasons” centers on a young Parisian woman, aptly called Felicie, who fluctuates between two suitors — a pensive local librarian and the owner of a chain of beauty salons who’s moving to Nevers and wants her and her young daughter to come live with him. But in the back of her mind she’s holding out for the return of a former lover, the father of her daughter, whom she lost track of after they spent a summer holiday together; she accidentally gave him the wrong address when he moved away and she never heard from him again. The conception may be a little too rigorously Catholic for some tastes (including mine), but Rohmer has become such a master of his chosen classic genre — the crystalline philosophical tale of character and romantic choice — that this is a nearly perfect work, in performance as well as execution, with an apposite if ambiguous extended reference to Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale in the penultimate act. With Charlotte Very, Frederic Van Dren Driessche, Michel Voletti, and Herve Furic. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, July 15 through 21.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (January 1, 1992). — J.R.
It’s a critical commonplace that the only good film of William Faulkner’s work is The Tarnished Angels (from Pylon) though some critics give an additional nod to Tomorrow for Robert Duvall’s performance. I would add this 1949 adaptation of Faulkner’s early response to southern racism, improbably made at MGM, though shot mainly on location in Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. Perhaps because he was a southerner himself, Clarence Brown, best known as Greta Garbo’s favorite director, brought an unusual amount of feeling and taste to the material. An uppity black man (Juano Hernandez) is accused of murder, a potential lynch mob forms as he refuses to defend himself, and a white boy he’s befriended tries to get to the bottom of what actually happened. The story is treated with an unsensationalized and unsentimentalized clarity that seems unusually sophisticated for the period, and the other cast members — David Brian, Claude Jarman Jr., Porter Hall, and Elizabeth Patterson — are almost as good as Hernandez. 87 min. (JR)
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Another chapter from Film: The Front Line 1983. I can happily record that a good many of Breer’s films are available online, especially on YouTube. So even though he died last August and he remains flagrantly under-represented on DVD (although an excellent collection of 11 of his shorts, Recreation, was released some time ago on VHS, by Re:Voir in Paris), his art remains visible in some form, and Anthology Film Archives has prints of all or most of his works in 35mm. But I’m sorry I haven’t been able to find any online illustrations for my discussion of his film 77. — J.R.
All the major recent films of Robert Breer, an American who spent a crucial decade in Paris (1959-1969), are available in this country. But considering the fact that they’re independent animation, and that Breer is a one-man industry and not a Hollywood studio, they might as well be on the moon. They clearly inhabit a ghetto even more confining than that of the “foreign film,” because most critics lack an apparatus for dealing with them; hence, they find it easier to pretend that these works don’t exist. As uncontroversial as it might appear to be in most contexts, it is probably not irrelevant to note that when one of Breer’s most recent films, the characteristically brilliant Swiss Army Knife with Rats and Pigeons (1980) was screened at a New York Film Festival press show in 1982, it was rudely and audibly (if inexplicably) hissed. … Read more »
From the September 1, 1994 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Ruth Chatterton and George Brent, a real-life married couple at the time of this 1933 feature, star as the tyrannical head of a major auto company and the independent-minded guy who comes along to challenge her and win her heart. Before it (and its heroine) abjectly cop out in the closing minutes, this hour-long precode feature offers a bracing feminist fever dream of a young woman commanding a huge corporation and a stable of attractive young men, whom she invites over to her house for one-night stands. Breezily directed by Michael Curtiz and William Dieterle; with Johnny Mack Brown, Ruth Donnelly, and some very sumptuous set design — Depression fantasy of the good life at its most hyperbolic. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (October 20, 1994). — J.R.
Alan Parker’s flair for vulgar showmanship pays off in his funny, entertaining 1994 adaptation of T. Coraghessan Boyle’s novel. The movie’s set in 1907 in Michigan’s Battle Creek Sanitarium, which is presided over by pre-New Age guru Dr. John Harvey Kellogg (Anthony Hopkins). Health — the open sesame of the sucker’s purse, says a con man played by Michael Lerner, and while Parker’s satirical viewpoint encompasses this judgment and plenty of chicanery, it’s also sympathetic enough in the bargain to honor the sincerity of fanatics like Kellogg and many of his patients. Among the other leading characters are a dysfunctional married couple played by Bridget Fonda and Matthew Broderick who check into the sanitarium and wind up getting various forms of sex therapy (inadvertent and otherwise), Kellogg’s rebellious adopted son (Dana Carvey), and a young entrepreneur in town (John Cusack) who’s interested in becoming a breakfast cereal tycoon. The treatment of period is both fanciful and highly enjoyable, and if the story seems to run out of both ideas and energy before the end, it’s still an entertaining ride most of the way. With Colm Meaney, John Neville, Lara Flynn Boyle, Traci Lind, and Camryn Manheim.… Read more »