Daily Archives: July 2, 2020

Hamlet

From the Chicago Reader (May 19, 2000). — J.R.

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It’s fitting that the most existential of plays should function as a kind of test, and fortunate that the first Michael Almereyda picture to get full mainstream exposure should also turn out to be his best to date. But what’s being tested isn’t either Shakespeare or Almereyda but the present moment: that is, the film asks how and how much we’re capable of living in the world Shakespeare wrote about. Wittily and tragically updating the play’s action to corporate America in general and New York in particular, Almereyda is no Orson Welles, but he begins to seem like one when he’s castigated for not doing his Shakespeare like Kenneth Branagh; the censure recalls all the times square and professional Laurence Olivier was used as a reproach to Welles’s hip “amateurism.” This is gloriously amateurish, the way all of Almereyda’s best movies are, so it’s rewarding to see how Julia Stiles’s Ophelia harks back to Suzy Amis in Almereyda’s Twister, how some of the intimate interiors recall Another Girl Another Planet (his second-best movie), and how the use of video as a kind of Greek chorus to the action, an Almereyda specialty, bears special fruit in a postmodernist climate where “To be or not to be” is recited in the action section of a Blockbuster and Hamlet (Ethan Hawke, better than you’d expect) lards his video production of The Mousetrap with all sorts of found footage.… Read more »

Man on a Shoestring: An On-Location Report on Mark Rappaport’s IMPOSTORS

From American Film (October 1979). -– J.R.

 

The actors playing Chuckie and Mikey, a sinister vaudeville team dressed in matching tuxedos, top hats, and capes, are pretending to walk toward the camera. They move their feet without advancing anywhere. Behind them, a gigantic black-and-white blowup of a garden at Versailles, mounted on a platform, is slowly rolled away to further the partial illusion. Then they turn around and pretend to walk away from the camera, and the Versailles backdrop is slowly wheeled toward them. All this time the characters discuss a woman they have killed in Budapest.

“Think of it, ” Mikey says wistfully in a Russian accent. “I could have married a princess. ”

“All bourgeois dreams end the same way,’’ Chuckie replies in a disdainful tone. ”Marry royalty and escape.”

“OK, cut!” says Mark Rappaport, concluding the fifth and final take.

It’s the first day of shooting on Impostors, a macabre comedy by the Brooklyn-born independent filmmaker. The movie, Rappaport’s fifth feature, is being shot in his loft in the SoHo section of Manhattan, and spirits are running high. A young crew of about twenty persons — fifteen of them on the regular payroll — are clustered on one side of the loft.… Read more »

Belle de jour

From the Chicago Reader (July 14, 1995). — J.R.

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Though it may not reach the level of sublimity of his three last features, Luis Buñuel recounts the story of a frigid upper-class housewife (Deneuve), devoted to her husband (Jean Sorel), who secretly works at a high-class brothel every weekday afternoon in order to satisfy her masochistic impulses. Placing the heroine’s fantasies, dreams, and recollections on the same plane as her everyday adventures, Buñuel comes closer to the French New Wave than he did before or after, and much of his secondary cast reinforces this association (including Michel Piccoli, Macha Meril, and, most memorably, Pierre Clementi as a dandyish gangster), but there are also many explicit visual and aural echoes of his surrealist beginnings (Un chien andalou and L’age d’or). Haunting, amusing, provocative, teasing, and elegant in its puzzlelike ambiguities, this is essential viewing. With Genevieve Page, Francisco Rabal, Georges Marchal, and Francoise Fabian (a couple of years before Eric Rohmer “discovered” her in Ma nuit chez Maud). Fine Arts.

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The Bible

From the December 1, 1992 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

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Not nearly as bad as it could have been. John Huston finally wound up as the director of this Dino De Laurentiis blunderbuss (1966), and the overall ambience is much closer to Huston’s high-toned literary adaptations than to Cecil B. De Mille’s biblical epics. Despite the title, the story only makes it through the first 22 chapters of Genesis. The script is credited only to Christopher Fry, but Orson Welles wrote most of the Abraham and Jacob episodes, removing his name from the credits after his ending to the Abraham episode was altered. Probably the best performance is given by Huston himself as Noah, in what is probably also the best segment; other actors include Michael Parks, Ulla Bergryd, Richard Harris, Stephen Boyd, George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, Peter O’Toole, and Franco Nero. 174 min. (JR)

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Film Writing Degree Zero: The Marketplace and the University

From the Autumn 1977  Sight and Sound. — J.R.

Perhaps it is time to study discourse not only according to its expressive values, or in its formal transformations, but also according to its modes of existence: the modes of circulation, attribution and appropriation of discourse vary with each culture. . . . [T]he effect on social relationships can be more directly seen, it seems to me, in the interplay of authorship and its modifications than in the themes or concepts contained in the works.
— Michel Foucault, “What Is an Author?”

Movies and Methods

It seems likely that Hollywood Directors 1914–1940 and Movies and Methods[*] are the two most interesting anthologies of writing about film recently published in English. Each marks a substantial foray beyond the standard recycling operations of most anthologies, making available a wealth of helpful material that is otherwise hard to come by. An easy enough assessment, on the face of it, yet one that conceals a nagging question: what do we mean by “interesting” and “helpful”? In what way can both books be considered deserving of the same ambiguous adjectives? How far do they allow themselves to be considered within the same universe of discourse?

First, a few basic distinctions.… Read more »

Emotional Striptease [EXOTICA]

From the Chicago Reader, March 17, 1995. — J.R.

Exotica

Rating *** A must see

Directed and written by Atom Egoyan

With Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Mia Kirshner, Don McKellar, Arsinee Khanjian, and Sarah Polley.

The saddest parts of Exotica — Atom Egoyan’s lush and affecting sixth feature, a movie inflected like its predecessors by obsessive sexual rituals and desperate familial longings — are moments when money awkwardly changes hands. This film is every bit as allegorical as his Speaking Parts, The Adjuster, and Calendar — and every bit as concerned with a need for family surrogates as Next of Kin and Family Viewing — but it is only incidentally a movie about capitalism and its ability to pervert personal relationships. It does involve voyeurism, corruption, and a form of prostitution; all these things are conventionally associated with capitalism, but they’ve been around much longer.

Exotica has plenty to say about the modern world, including the psychological, social, and racial (even colonial) ramifications of “exotic” sexual tastes, but class difference isn’t a significant part of its agenda either. The personal and professional links forged between individuals — and there are very few relationships in this movie that aren’t both personal and professional — all seem predicated on forms of barter, as well as the assumption that everyone is, or eventually becomes, either a substitute for a missing family member or a virtual double for someone else.… Read more »