Daily Archives: July 1, 1993

The Color Of Pomegranates: The Director’s Cut

The late Sergei Paradjanov’s greatest film, a mystical and historical mosaic about the life, work, and inner world of the 18th-century Armenian poet Sayat Nova, was previously available only in the ethnically dry-cleaned Russian versionrecut and somewhat reorganized by Sergei Yutkevich, with chapter headings added to clarify the content for Russian viewers. This superior 1969 version of the film, found in an Armenian studio in the early 90s, shouldn’t be regarded as definitive (some of the material from the Yutkevich cut is missing), but it’s certainly the finest we have and may ever have: some shots and sequences are new, some are positioned differently, and, of particular advantage to Western viewers, much more of the poetry is subtitled. (Oddly enough, it’s hard to tell why the new shots were censored.) In both versions the striking use of tableaulike frames recalls the shallow space of movies made roughly a century ago, while the gorgeous uses of color and the wild poetic conceits seem to derive from some utopian cinema of the future, at once difficult and immediate, cryptic and ravishing. This is essential viewing. (JR)… Read more »

Children Of Fate: Life And Death In A Sicilian Family

Winner of the best-documentary prize at Sundance, this 1992 feature by Andrew Young and Susan Todd updates a 1961 documentary shot by Robert Young (Andrew’s father) and Michael Roemer (The Plot Against Harry, Nothing but a Man) in a slum in Palermo, Sicily, that followed the struggles of a local family plagued with problems. The original black-and-white film was shot for the NBC White Papers series, but was never shown because it was deemed too gritty; this color sequel shows the persistence of many of the problems in the same family. The film is always interesting and often moving, though I was frustrated that it didn’t offer more than passing glimpses of the original. (JR)… Read more »

Cage/cunningham

Elliot Caplan’s sensitive and agreeable collection of sound bites and dance bits from the collaborations of the late composer-Zen philosopher John Cage and dancer-choreographer Merce Cunningham over the span of many decades. The sound bites (from Cage, Cunningham, and many collaborators and acquaintances) vary considerably in interest, but the clips from performances are invariably pungent and commanding. Caplan’s methods of organizing the material seem quite compatible with the methods of his subjects (1991). (JR)… Read more »

Benefit Of The Doubt

A pretty good thriller of the creepy sort, set in rural Arizona, this loses its steam when it turns into a mechanical cross-country chase but works fairly well up till then thanks to the two leads, Amy Irving and Donald Sutherland. Sutherland plays Irving’s father, just out of prison after a 22-year incarceration for killing her mother, which he still denies doing. His daughter’s testimony at age 12 was pivotal in convicting him. Certain ambiguities and ambivalences keep us guessing about the characters for a while. Jonathan Heap does a routine job of direction, working from a script by Jeffrey Polman and Christopher Keyser; with Rider Strong, Christopher McDonald, Graham Greene, and Theodore Bikel. (JR)… Read more »

Another Stakeout

Another takeoutuntidily slapped into a Styrofoam containeris more like it. Aimed at less discriminating viewers, this sequel to the 1987 Stakeout, again directed by John Badham, isn’t too bad if you’re looking for nothing more than good-natured silliness, low comedy, gratuitous tilted angles, and protracted dog jokes. Richard Dreyfuss and Emilio Estevez are reunited as buddies and veteran cops, this time working under the thumb of an assistant DA (Rosie O’Donnell); they’re assigned to spy on a key witness in a mob trial (Cathy Moriarty) who’s hiding out with friends (Dennis Farina and Marcia Strassman). Coproducer Jim Kouf wrote the script to allow for action special effects (explosions at the beginning, a collapsing dock toward the end) and long stretches of affectionate bickering between the three principals. (JR)… Read more »

American Friends

A satisfying if small-scale 1991 love story, written by and starring Monty Python regular Michael Palin and inspired by his great-grandfather’s unpublished travel diaries. Not really a comedy, though it has its share of humor, this is about a senior tutor at Oxford’s Saint John’s College (Palin), a middle-aged bachelor who takes a holiday in Switzerland in 1861 and meets two American women, a philanthropic Bostonian (Connie Booth) and her 18-year-old niece and ward (Trini Alvarado). Some romantic stirrings pass between him and the niece, but this is the 19th century and he’s an Oxford tutor, unable to keep his job unless he’s singlea lot more has to happen before the two can deal with their mutual attraction, even after the two women make the daring move of visiting him in Oxford. The director is English TV veteran Tristram Powell, son of the novelist Anthony Powell, and he does a fine job. (JR)… Read more »

American Fabulous

One hundred and five minutes of spontaneous talk from a homosexual named Jeffrey Strouth, seated in the back of a 1957 Cadillac in Columbus, Ohio, may sound like thin fare for a feature, but Reno Dakota’s 1992 moviea tribute to his wild and uninhibited friend, who subsequently died of AIDSkept me mesmerized and entertained. Recounting various episodes in his difficult lifebouts with his alcoholic and abusive father; being kept at age 14 by a 400-pound drag queen; hitchhiking to Hollywood with a campy boyfriend, a tiny dog, and a caged bird; numerous tragicomic scrapes with the police; and much, much else involving sex and drugsStrouth often calls to mind some of the comic gross-outs of William Burroughs (whom he openly imitates at one point) and the picaresque hard-luck stories of Nelson Algren, not to mention the road adventures of Kerouac. This has more of the flavor of an epic American narrative than most conventional features, and it certainly offers a more comprehensive look at our national life. (JR)… Read more »