Monthly Archives: October 1992


A serious contemporary movie (1992) about a serial killer by flashy and talented genre director William Friedkin. Maybe that’s a contradiction in terms, and I certainly don’t want to oversell it, but the film at least has the distinction of its negative virtues: a refusal to manipulate the viewer, mythologize the subject, or deify the serial killer in the disgusting if effectively Oscar-mongering manner of The Silence of the Lambs. Held up from release for several years by Dino De Laurentiis’s bankruptcy, this film looks at some of the legal and psychiatric issues surrounding the trial of its serial-killer subject. Although the facts of the case are gory enough, Friedkin, adapting a novel of the same title by William P. Wood based on an actual case, goes to considerable lengths not to exploit the material for cheap thrills, preferring to explore the implications of certain legal issues. Without offering any definitive conclusion about whether or not we should regard this killer (well played by Alex McArthur) as insane (though arguing overall for capital punishment), the movie proceeds rather like an issue-oriented chamber drama of the 50s, with potent and naturalistically plausible performances by Michael Biehn, Nicholas Campbell, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, John Harkins, Art La Fleur, Royce D.… Read more »

The Public Eye

An interesting, melancholy mood piece (1992) written and directed by Howard Franklin (writer of Someone to Watch Over Me and writer and codirector of the underrated Quick Change) and set in New York City in 1942. Joe Pesci plays an artistically inclined tabloid photographer (loosely based on Weegee) and Barbara Hershey is a nightclub owner who enlists his aid. As the film itself suggests at one point, this is basically The Hunchback of Notre Dame relocated in Manhattan’s nightclub life of the 40s, and Franklin gives it all a memorable burnished finish. With Stanley Tucci, Jerry Adler, and Jared Harris; Robert Zemeckis is the executive producer. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »


Two contrasting and mutually reflecting and enhancing stories about consumption. One, set in contemporary Germany and featuring Jean-Pierre Leaud and Anne Wiazemsky (both dubbed into Italian), is about the son of a former Nazi who forsakes his fiancee to have sex with pigs; the other, set in the Middle Ages, features Pierre Clementi starving in the desert and eventually resorting to cannibalism. This isn’t one of Pasolini’s greatest films, though it’s possibly the one that today best shows the warp and woof of its period (1969). (JR)… Read more »

People Will Talk

Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz at his most pontifical, personal, and oddball, with Cary Grant as a surgeon and music conductor serving as his principal mouthpiece. Occasionally the hero stops talking long enough to court Jeanne Crain, one of his patients, and Finlay Currie, Walter Slezak, Hume Cronyn, and Sidney Blackmer are around in character parts to kibitz as well. Comedy, drama, romance, and lots of opinions about the state of the world circa 1951. (JR)… Read more »

Short Films By Pier Paolo Pasolini

Some of Pasolini’s very best work was done in his rarely screened shorts, to judge from the two in this program I’ve seen: La ricotta (1963), a satire about a big-budget film in progress depicting the Crucifixion, with Orson Welles as the director; and What Are the Clouds? (1968), the offstage meditations of marionettes who are performing Othello. The others in this program: Notes for a Film About India (1968), The Earth Seen From the Moon (1966), and The Paper Flower Sequence (1969). (JR)… Read more »

Oedipus Rex

One of the most underrated, neglected, and powerful of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s features, this 1967 film, shot in Morocco, is a retelling of the Sophocles tragedy that begins in antiquity and ends in the 20th century, with references to both the fascist period in Italy and Pasolini’s own life. With Franco Citti, Silvana Mangano, and Alida Valli. In Italian with subtitles. 119 min. (JR)… Read more »

Johnny Stecchino

Roberto Benigni (Life Is Beautiful) first hit the U.S. market as a writer-director-star in this 1991 comedy. He plays both a Mafia hood placed on a hit list for turning state’s evidence and a mousy school-bus driver who gets fingered by the hood’s wife. Coscripted by Vincenzo Cerami; with Nicoletta Braschi (Benigni’s wife, also a Jarmusch semiregular), Paolo Bonacelli, and Franco Volpi. In Italian with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

1492: Conquest Of Paradise

It’s news to me that Christopher Columbus spoke English with a heavy French accent (courtesy of Gerard Depardieu). In fact, most of this lame effort is high camp that even director Ridley Scott’s gilt-edged pictorialism and screenwriter Roselyne Bosch’s research can’t save. A chief problem may be that a conflict of interests exists between creating something halfway serious in terms of history and creating something ideologically salable; we don’t get nearly enough about Columbus’s passionate belief in slavery, but thanks to lots of sound bites and a ludicrous opening title that makes him sound like Rocky, we know he’s a man with a dream. Cecil B. De Mille used to work wonders with guff like this because, rightly or wrongly, he at least had a vision; this merely has some dim memories of Apocalypse Now, an extended running time, and a score by Vangelis that can’t compare to the one in Blade Runner. With Armand Assante, Sigourney Weaver, Angela Molina, Fernando Rey, Frank Langella, and Michael Wincott. (JR)… Read more »


This starts out promisingly as a hilarious, if unsettling, look at George Bush preparing his face for a TV appearance, but before long it turns into just another documentary about the 1992 presidential primary in New Hampshire. Some of it’s interesting and relevant, some of it’s familiar and out-of-date. The filmmakersKevin Rafferty and James Ridgeway, the team that made Blood in the Faceperiodically return to Bush and a few other candidates getting ready for the cameras, but the project’s success at inquiring into media processes a la Bob Roberts is only sporadic; otherwise the filmmakers seem happy to supply their sound bites along with everyone else’s. (JR)… Read more »

The Decameron

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1971 film of ten tales from the Boccaccio classic represents the first part of his celebrated trilogy of life, which also includes the less enjoyable The Canterbury Tales and the more enjoyable (though equally questionable) Arabian Nights. Working with an Italian classic, he seems less inclined to transform his material, though what emerges is entertaining, if only in a mild wayrather like Playboy’s Ribald Tales. With Franco Citti and Pasolini regular Ninetto Davoli. In Italian with subtitles. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Concerto For The Right Hand

Working almost entirely without dialogue, Michael Bartlett’s first feature, made in West Berlin, sounds like a very strange black comedy indeed. A park cleaner adopts a department store mannequin as his sole companion, but loses the mannequin’s right arm. A boutique owner who used to play concert piano finds it and uses it to replace his own missing right arm (lost in an accident), and it magically springs to life. Featuring music by director Bartlett’s employer, Berlin’s Radio Symphony Orchestra, the film is said to be modeled after Berlin chamber drama of the 20s.… Read more »


A dense and subtle masterpiece from Iran (1990, 97 min.) by Abbas Kiarostami (Taste of Cherry), this documentaryor is it pseudodocumentary?follows the trial of an unemployed film buff in Tehran who impersonated acclaimed filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf and became intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare a film that was to feature them. Kiarostami persuades all the major people involved to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. Much of the implicit comedy here comes from the way cinema changes and inflects the value and nature of everythingthe original scam, the trial, the documentary Kiarostami is making. Werner Herzog has called this the greatest of all documentaries about filmmaking, and he may not be far offif only because no other film does more to interrogate certain aspects of the documentary form itself. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

La Chienne

Jean Renoir’s first sound feature (1931) and one of his best, about a bored banker (Michel Simon) who becomes hopelessly smitten with a prostitute (Janie Mareze). This was later remade by Fritz Lang as Scarlet Street, a powerful film that nevertheless can’t hold a candle to the original. Strongly recommended. In French with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »


Like so many post-Val Lewton horror films, this 1992 feature starts out promisingly while the plot is mainly a matter of suggestion, but gradually turns gross and obvious as the meanings become literal and unambiguous. A University of Illinois grad student (Virginia Madsen) doing a dissertation on urban folklorespecifically on a legend about a killer with a hook (Tony Todd) associated with the Cabrini-Green public housing projectventures into the project for interviews and photographs and gets more than she bargained for, etc, etc. Adapted by writer-director Bernard Rose from a short story by executive producer Clive Barker that originally had an English setting, this depends for much of its shock and suspense on demonizing ghetto life beyond its real-life horrors, which is another way of saying that it exploits white racism to produce some of its kicks. Philip Glass contributed one of his monotonous hack scores; with Xander Berkeley and Kasi Lemmons. 93 min. (JR)… Read more »

Brain Damage

I haven’t been able to find a scrap of information about this feature, so its title will have to stand as its calling card.… Read more »