From the April 1, 2002 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
Disgusting yet interesting, Lars von Trier’s much heralded musical (2000) — or, more precisely, feature-length music video with interspersed dialogue — deserves to be seen because it’s a freakish provocation, not just because it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. A Czech immigrant working at a factory in rural Washington State in the early 60s (Icelandic pop star Bjork) is going blind and knows her son will too if she can’t save enough money for an operation; the story gets even more melodramatic once a murder trial takes over. Reportedly shot with 100 digital video cameras (very few of which manage to find a good angle), the film reprises the sadomasochistic celebration of female suffering in Breaking the Waves, and with it von Trier affirms his solidarity with America’s impoverished and downtrodden people (apparently a diversion from his career in Denmark as a porn producer). The musical numbers are a weird blend of rock video and Jacques Demy postmusicals, with lousy songs and choreography and a distance between the music and the action that suggests an amateur remake of Pennies From Heaven. But in spite of everything, Bjork’s absolute dedication and submission to the material periodically blew me away.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1989). — J.R.
James Benning’s 1988 feature, a substantial letdown after his Landscape Suicide, charts the filmmaker’s involvement with Lawrencia Bembenek, a former Milwaukee policewoman who, despite her persistent claims of innocenc, was convicted of killing her husband’s first wife in the early 80s. (Her case led to articles in Cosmopolitan and People, in part because of her achievements in prison reform while serving a life term.) Although several commentators have compared this film to The Thin Blue Line, there are many crucial differences: Benning’s friendship with his subject, a more extensive use of actors, and Benning’s background as an experimental filmmaker who generally uses narrative only in a skeletal and simplified form. (Bembenek’s own voice — like Benning’s — is used throughout, but an actress plays her on-screen.) Perhaps the principal problem lies in Benning’s failure to set down all the relevant facts of the case in an easily digestible form; he chooses, rather, to introduce them out of chronological sequence. In addition, his own semi-maudlin confessional letters, which are read offscreen (along with Bembenek’s terser ones), keep clouding the various issues raised. As in Benning’s earlier and better films, long takes that focus on midwestern landscapes are often employed, but without the sense of mystery and provocation that they usually have.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (April 26, 2002). — J.R.
The Cat’s Meow
*** (A must-see)
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Steven Peros
With Kirsten Dunst, Cary Elwes, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Victor Slezak, James Laurenson, and Claudia Harrison.
ORSON WELLES: In the original script [of Citizen Kane] we had a scene based on a notorious thing Hearst had done, which I still cannot repeat for publication. And I cut it out because I thought it hurt the film and wasn’t in keeping with Kane’s character. If I’d kept it in, I would have had no trouble with Hearst. He wouldn’t have dared admit it was him.
PETER BOGDANOVICH: Did you shoot the scene?
ORSON WELLES: No, I didn’t. I decided against it. If I’d kept it in, I would have bought silence for myself forever. — This Is Orson Welles
I edited This Is Orson Welles, a series of interviews Peter Bogdanovich did with Welles, at the request not of Bogdanovich but of Oja Kodar, Welles’s companion and collaborator for the last 20-odd years of his life, to whom Welles had willed the rights. The incident Welles alluded to in this exchange is the subject of The Cat’s Meow, directed by Bogdanovich and adapted by Steven Peros from his own play.… Read more »