Daily Archives: November 17, 2020

The Struggle

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1988). — J.R.

D.W. Griffith’s last film (1931) was unquestionably dated when it was released at the height of the Depression, both as an antidrinking polemic — probably fueled in part by Griffith’s own struggles with alcoholism — and as a Victorian melodrama. Yet today it emerges as one of his most powerful and intensely felt works — not merely a heartbreaking story and a portrait of the Depression at its grimmest, but a poignant summary of everything that Griffith could do with a camera, even in low-budget, unspectacular circumstances. With Hal Skelly and Zita Johann. 87 min. (JR)

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Mélo

From the Chicago Reader (April 8, 1988). — J.R.

Alain Resnais’ masterpiece, easily his best film in years, is bound to baffle spectators who insist on regarding him as an intellectual rather than an emotional director, simply because he shares the conviction of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson that form is the surest route to feelings. In his 11th feature, he adapts a 1929 boulevard melodrama by a forgotten playwright named Henry Bernstein, and holds so close to this “dated” and seemingly unremarkable play that theatrical space and décor — including the absence of a fourth wall — are rigorously respected, and shots of a painted curtain appear between the acts. None of this is done to strike an attitude or “make a statement”: Resnais believes in the material, and wants to give it its due. Yet in the process of doing this, he not only invests the original meaning of “melodrama” (drama with music) with so much beauty and power that he reinvents the genre, but also proves that he is conceivably the greatest living director of actors in the French cinema, and offers a way of regarding the past that implicitly indicts our own era for myopia. (Mélo is certainly a film of the 80s and not an antique, but it may take us another 20 years to understand precisely how and why.)… Read more »

The Act Of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes

From the Chicago Reader (September 1, 1988). — J.R.

Stan Brakhage’s convulsive personal and silent documentary about a Pittsburgh morgue, made in 1971, is one of the most direct confrontations with death ever recorded on film. Included on the same program — along with a lecture by Chuck Kleinhans, professor of film at Northwestern University — are three other shorts that are not conventionally regarded as horror films, but that will be considered in relation to that genre: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid’s ground-breaking experimental film Meshes of the Afternoon (1943); Chris Marker’s innovative science fiction film La jetee (1964), which tells its story almost exclusively in stills; and Celia Condi’s 1982 combination of soap-opera characters and dark humor, Beneath the Skin. (JR)

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