While not really a success, Nicholas Ray’s 1956 film about urban Gypsies, made between two of his near-masterpieces (Rebel Without a Cause and Bigger Than Life), has its share of interesting moments and vibrant energies, many of them tied to Ray’s abiding interest in the folkloric. In some respects this color ‘Scope feature comes closer than any of his other movies to the musical that Ray always dreamed of making: there’s a defiant dance on the street performed by Cornel Wilde, a dynamic whip dance between Wilde and Jane Russell that’s even more kinetic, and a Gypsy chorus that figures in other parts. Definitely one of the more intriguing and neglected of Ray’s second-degree efforts. 85 min. A 35-millimeter ‘Scope print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Sunday, March 17, 6:00, 312-846-2800.
John Cassavetes’s galvanic 1968 drama about one long night in the lives of an estranged well-to-do married couple (John Marley and Lynn Carlin) and their temporary lovers (Gena Rowlands and Seymour Cassel) was the first of his independent features to become a hit, and it’s not hard to see why. It remains one of the only American films to take the middle class seriously, depicting the compulsive, embarrassed laughter of people facing their own sexual longing and some of the emotional devastation brought about by the so-called sexual revolution. (Interestingly, Cassavetes set out to make a trenchant critique of the middle class, but his characteristic empathy for all of his characters makes this a far cry from simple satire.) Shot in 16-millimeter black and white with a good many close-ups, this often takes an unsparing yet compassionate “documentary” look at emotions most movies prefer to gloss over or cover up. Adroitly written and directed, and superbly acted–the leads and Val Avery are all uncommonly good (the astonishing Lynn Carlin was a nonprofessional discovered by Cassavetes, working at the time as Robert Altman’s secretary)–this is one of the most powerful and influential American films of the 60s.… Read more »
From Film Comment, July-August 2001. I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to provide many illustrations for this that are tied to the films and videos discussed. Many of the ones I’ve used are drawn from earlier or later works by Saks, including paintings and photographs. — J.R.
It’s tempting to call Eric Saks’ preferred mode, in video and film alike, the pseudo-documentary — though there are times, mainly during my more apocalyptic moods, when I wonder if any other kind of American documentary currently exists. It’s less speculative to say that two of Saks’ main subjects are ecology and waste, but if you extend the meaning of those terms logically, you come up with just about the entirety of the sad American empire, President George W. Bush included.
Place Saks’ work in a drawer marked “weird stuff” or “marginal,” regardless of whether that drawer stays open or closed, and the gesture becomes the same kind of empty, self-fulfilling market judgment that his work laments — like the current functioning of national boundaries, simply a blind stab at demographics and market research rather than any valid estimation of universality. Yet Saks’ remarkable, neglected early 16mm feature Forevermore: Biography of a Leach Lord (89) and his more recent videos like Creosote and Dust breathe an everyday American desperation that we can all recognize, even when it comes wrapped (as it often does) in a literary tradition — a form of layered, weathered melancholy about American hunger that Thomas Pynchon captured perfectly (albeit in a more hippie-humanist register) on an early page of his 1966 novel The Crying of Lot 49.… Read more »