Monthly Archives: July 1992

Right On! The Original Last Poets

A fascinating time capsule-shot in 1968, released in 1970–this is a filmed performance by three angry, talented black poets. Gylan Kain, Felipe Luciano, and David Nelson recite their rhythmic, passionate work to Afro-Cuban percussion (with occasional flute and guitar) on a rooftop and other urban ghetto settings, working out a highly politicized poetics that anticipates rap while conveying much of the essence of black-power rhetoric of the late 60s. More than a simple objective rendering of an event, this film is interspersed with cutaways and found footage in a very effective fashion by director Herbert Danska, probably best known for his 1967 jazz feature with Dick Gregory, Sweet Love, Bitter. To be shown on video; the run will extend through August 13. (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Thursday, August 6, 7:00 and 9:00, 281-4114) … Read more »

The Swordsman in Double-Flag Town

A visually impressive ‘Scope “western” from mainland China, reportedly the first, directed with flair and economy by He Ping. It may occasionally suggest Sergio Leone in aspects of its spare, confrontational plot, but its subject (Gao Wei as a young hero protecting his child fiancee from bullies) and its style of presenting action (slower and faster than what we are accustomed to in westerns) seems more Asian than European or Hollywood, which is entirely to this picture’s benefit. Whether you take it as pure Chinese or ersatz American or both, it certainly packs a wallop (1991). A Chicago premiere. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, July 25, 6:00 and 8:00, and Sunday, July 26, 4:00, 443-3737) … Read more »

Voices From the Front

A powerful and highly informative feature-length documentary by the Testing the Limits collective (Robyn Huff, Sandra Elgear, and David Meieran) about AIDS activism and, more specifically, the self-empowerment of people with AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. Two of the more eye-opening subjects broached here are discrimination against women with AIDS and the drug profiteering that is promoted and protected by the Bush administration. Many people tend to be scared away from documentaries of this sort because of the unpleasantness of the subject matter, but the passion and determination of the activists seen here (including quite a few, such as Vito Russo, who are no longer alive) make this inspiring rather than hopeless–if only because we see that these activists have been far from ineffectual (1990). (Music Box, Sunday through Wednesday, July 19 through 22)… Read more »

The Underworld Story

The first feature by the underrated writer-director Cy Endfield to attract much attention was this pungent noir item, socially corrosive in the best Endfield manner. The plot, based on a story by Craig Rice, follows the ruthless, cynical machinations of a newspaperman (Dan Duryea) taking over a small-town newspaper and boosting circulation by exploiting various aspects of a local murder case, including false accusations made against the victim’s black maid. Herbert Marshall plays a corrupt tycoon, and Howard da Silva is sensational as a cheerfully creepy hood. This isn’t quite on the same level as Endfield’s next feature, Try and Get Me, but it’s still essential viewing (1950). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Friday, July 17, 6:00, 443-3737) … Read more »

Letter to VIDEO WATCHDOG (1992)

This was (mainly) published in Video Watchdog‘s July/August 1992 issue, with an accidentally deleted passage included in the errata section of their September-October 1992 issue.  -– J.R.

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A brief note of clarification about my liner notes to the Criterion laserdisc of CONFIDENTIAL REPORT -– cited and questioned by Tim Lucas at the beginning of his excellent article [VW 10: 42-60]. The only reason why I failed to mention a third and (in my opinion) better version of MR. ARKADIN in these notes –- a version discussed by Lucas elsewhere in this issue –- is that I was under strict instructions from Criterion not to bring this matter up. I reluctantly agreed to this suppression of information only because I knew I would be writing about this version elsewhere (in [the January-February 1992 issue of] Film Comment), and I’m mentioning this anecdote now because I think it dramatizes the thin line separating criticism from publicity in most liner notes -– a general problem that readers of this magazine should be alerted to.

I don’t wish to denigrate the often fine work done by Criterion in making many important works available, but I do believe that the level of scholarship that’s attainable in commercial enterprises of this sort varies considerably from case to case.… Read more »

Potent Pessimism [on Cy Endfield]

From the Chicago Reader (July 10, 1992). For more on Endfield, see Brian Neve’s excellent new biography, The Many Lives of Cy Endfield: Film Noir, the Blacklist, and Zulu, as well as my subsequent Reader article about him and my essay “Pages from the Endfield File,” which grew out of the preceding two pieces and is reprinted in my 1997 collection Movies as Politics. This particular piece has been upgraded in terms of illustrations. — J.R.

FILMS BY CY ENDFIELD

The role of a work of art is to plunge people into horror. If the artist has a role, it is to confront people — and himself first of all — with this horror, this feeling that one has when one learns about the death of someone one has loved. — Jacques Rivette in an interview, circa 1967

Cyril Raker Endfield, who will turn 78 this November, is the sort of filmmaker auteurist critics like to call a “subject for further research.” To the best of my knowledge, he has directed 21 features — the first 7 in the United States between 1946 and 1951, the remainder in England, continental Europe, and South Africa between 1953 and 1971 — and worked on the scripts for most of them, as well as on the scripts of two Joe Palooka films (apart from the two he directed), a Bowery Boys picture (Hard Boiled Mahoney, 1947), Douglas Sirk’s Sleep My Love (1948), a prison picture called Crashout (1955), Jacques Tourneur’s Curse of the Demon (1958), and Zulu Dawn (1979), a sort of prequel to Endfield’s only hit, Zulu (1964).… Read more »

Unlawful Entry

An efficient little thriller that imparts loads of queasiness and reasonable amounts of suspense while serving as an excellent corrective to the shameless celebrations of LA police power and brutality in Lethal Weapon 3. The LA cop in this case (effectively played by Ray Liotta) is a psycho who falls for an attractive yuppie housewife (Madeleine Stowe) after helping her and her husband (Kurt Russell) install an elaborate security system in their house. The movie runs through several changes on the different meanings that police power can have and the ways that burglar alarms can make homes resemble prisons. Neither Lewis Colick’s script nor Jonathan Kaplan’s direction is quite as streamlined as it could be, but you certainly get a run for your money; with Roger E. Mosley and Ken Lerner. (Bricktown Square, Broadway, Burnham Plaza, Golf Glen, Ford City, Esquire, Old Orchard) … Read more »

Night on Earth

Extending the episodic construction of his four previous features and the principle of simultaneity underlying the last of these, Mystery Train, Jim Jarmusch creates a comic sketch film out of five taxi rides and existential encounters occurring at the same time: a teenager (Winona Ryder) driving a Hollywood casting agent (Gena Rowlands) in Los Angeles at dusk; a former circus clown from Dresden (Armin Mueller-Stahl) chauffeuring–or being chauffeured by–a streetwise hipster (Giancarlo Esposito) from Manhattan to Brooklyn, with the hipster’s sister-in-law (Rosie Perez) getting corralled en route; an angry driver from the Ivory Coast (Isaach de Bankole) picking up a self-reliant blind woman (Beatrice Dalle) in Paris; a speedy cabbie (Roberto Benigni) in Rome delivering an obscene confession to an ailing priest (Paolo Bonacelli); and a morose driver (Matti Pellonpaa) in Helsinki recounting a hard-luck story to three drunken passengers (Kari Vaananen, Saku Kuosmanen, Tomi Salmela) at dawn. Although the hints of homage (to Cassavetes, Spike Lee, Benigni himself, and the Kaurismaki brothers) usually promise more than they deliver, and the movie peaks rather early (in the second episode), Jarmusch gets a fair amount of formal play from the sameness of and/or differences between the five episodes, which helps to sustain interest in the minimalist concept.… Read more »

Zulu

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1992). Reseeing the film recently in a splendid new Blu-Ray edition from Twilight Time, I now regard this as Cy Endfield’s greatest film — and one the best war films ever made, a magnificent epic that succeeds on many levels. — J.R.

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The only commercial hit made by Cy Endfield, the neglected, blacklisted American writer-director who emigrated to England in the 50s — an epic and visually quite impressive account of an attack by 4,000 Zulu warriors on 105 British soldiers in Natal in 1879. While the incident is recounted wholly from the British viewpoint, the film is not racist, as some charged when it was released in 1964. Reflecting Endfield’s career-long refusal to plumb his characters’ motivations, it presents all the events at face value, not even delving directly into the causes of the Zulu attack. (Reportedly, Endfield tried to compensate in the script he wrote for the 1979 Zulu Dawn, directed by Douglas Hickox.) While it might be argued that Endfield’s greatest work (i.e., Try and Get Me!) shows a political and social lucidity about class divisions and group behavior that is only hinted at here, the handling of action and spectacle and the direction of actors are truly masterful.… Read more »

The Swordsman In Double-flag Town

A visually impressive ‘Scope western, reportedly the first from mainland China, directed with flair and economy by He Ping. It may occasionally suggest Sergio Leone in a few aspects of its spare confrontational plot, but its subject (Gao Wei as a young hero protecting his child fiancee from bullies) and its style of presenting action (slower and faster than what we are accustomed to in western cinema) seems more Asian than European or Hollywood, which is entirely to this picture’s benefit. Whether you take it as pure Chinese or ersatz American or both, it certainly packs a wallop (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Sands Of The Kalahari

Shot on location in South Africa, this adventure and social allegory, adapted by the highly talented director Cy Endfield from a novel by William Mulvihill, reveals the ethics of a group of plane-crash survivors as they move through the desert wildsincluding a self-absorbed, gun-packing American (Stuart Whitman), an English divorcee (Susannah York), a failed mining engineer (Stanley Baker), and a couple of middle-aged men from eastern Europe. Brittle and acerbic in the Endfield manner, with a fine visual sweep, this is a capable genre piece with little wasted motion; it can also be read as a brutal critique of American self-interest in a third-world context. With Harry Andrews, Theodore Bikel, Nigel Davenport, Barry Lowe, and a lot of justifiably pissed-off baboons (1965). (JR)… Read more »

House Of Frankenstein

An all-star Universal Pictures monster show (1944) about a mad scientist (Boris Karloff) and a hunchback (J. Carroll Naish), not to mention the Frankenstein monster (Glenn Strange), Dracula (John Carradine), and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney Jr.). Director Erle C. Kenton was no James Whale, but he made this fairly enjoyable; Edward T. Lowe and Curt Siodmak collaborated on the script. 71 min. (JR)… Read more »

Honey, I Blew Up The Kid

A worthy if often predictable sequel (1992) to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids that once again suggests a Joe Dante project developed by othersin this case writers Thom Eberhardt, Peter Elbling, and Garry Goodrow and director Randal Kleiser (White Fang). The setting is Las Vegas and environs, where a brilliant but absentminded, gadget-happy scientist (Rick Moranis) accidentally causes his two-year-old son (played by the twins Daniel and Joshua Shalikar) to grow to a height of seven feet and upward (eventually topping out at more than 100 feet), terrorizing everyone with some fair-to-middling special effects. Credibility is strained by the safe bet that no one will get killed, even though the near deaths are so plentiful that the plot comes to resemble a tricked-up theme park ride. Still, the allegorical possibilities of infantile innocence run amok (particularly as a view of this country in relation to the remainder of the globe) are amusing and potent, and the cast (also including Marcia Strassman as the kid’s mother, Robert Oliveri as his older brother, Lloyd Bridges, John Shea, and Keri Russell) does a good-natured job in holding up its end of the bargain. (JR)… Read more »

The Hairdresser’s Husband

Like his earlier Monsieur Hire, this 1990 feature by Patrice Leconte, written with Claude Klotz and filmed in ‘Scope, is a claustrophobic, bittersweet tale of middle-aged sexual obsession. But I enjoyed it more, perhaps because the colors and moods tend to be brighter, with more of a sense of comedy. After 40 years of dreams about marrying a hairdresser, the hero (Jean Rochefort) meets the manager of a hair salon (Anna Galiena). Peter Greenaway regular Michael Nyman composed the music; with Roland Bertin and Maurice Chevit. In French with subtitles. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Voices From The Front

A powerful and highly informative feature-length documentary by the Testing the Limits collective (Robyn Huff, Sandra Elgear, and David Meieran), about AIDS activism and, more specifically, the self-empowerment of people with AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. Two of the more eye-opening subjects broached here are discrimination against women with AIDS and drug profiteering as promoted and protected by the Bush administration. Many people tend to be scared away from documentaries of this sort because of the unpleasantness of the subject matter, but the passion and determination of the AIDS activists seen here (including quite a few, such as Vito Russo, who are no longer alive) make this inspiring rather than hopelessif only because this film shows that the major demonstrations of AIDS activists have been far from ineffectual (1990). (JR)… Read more »