Daily Archives: October 1, 1994

When Pigs Fly

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Sara Driver’s principal films are surrealist works whose images tend to linger like half-remembered dreams. The ferocious You Are Not I (1982), adapted from a Paul Bowles story, unfolds inside the mind of a schizophrenic; the much gentler Sleepwalk (1986) is a dreamlike fairy tale set in lower Manhattan. The still gentler When Pigs Fly (1993) — set in an east-coast port town, though filmed in Gemany — is a whimsical ghost story inspired by Topper. If the tone seems light, the images, filmed by the great Robby Muller, nevertheless persist. The hero, beautifully played by Alfred Molina, is a sweet-tempered jazz musician who subsists mainly on the money he earns from giving music lessons and is sustained by the companionship of a dog (whose jazz-inspired dreams, rendered by Driver in full, are as lyrical as the hero’s). Some of the action takes place in a shabby Irish pub lorded over by Seymour Cassel, and when a barmaid gives Molina’s character an old rocking chair, he inherits a pair of ghosts (Marianne Faithfull and child actress Rachel Bella) along with it. Written by Driver and novelist-playwright Ray Dobbins, this is a sweet mood piece that, like some English comedies, is driven more by character than by plot.… Read more »

Clerks

At the time reportedly the cheapest American independent feature ever to be shown at Sundance (it cost less than $28,000), this raunchy 1994 black-and-white comedy by Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy) follows a day in the life of a beleaguered New Jersey convenience store clerk whose best friend (Jeff Anderson in a neat debut performance) operates the adjoining video-rental outlet. Most of the film’s prodigious energy is verbalscuzzy gross-out humor involving the customers and the sex lives of the two heroes and their girlfriendsand if not all the gags work, the overall irreverence and all-American anomie are fairly contagious. 89 min. (JR)… Read more »

Sergeant Rutledge

For once, John Ford gave his black company player Woody Strode a starring title role as a cavalry officer being tried for the rape of a white woman and a double murder. Told mainly in flashbacks, this effective if slightly overlong western thriller (1960) represents one of Ford’s late efforts to treat minority members with more respect than westerns usually did (Cheyenne Autumn was another), and Strode takes full advantage of the opportunity. With Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Towers, and Billie Burke. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

London

This fictionalized English documentary (1994) sounds a bit better than it plays, though I was fascinated by all the historical details. It consists of documentary footage of London shot by art teacher and former architect Patrick Keiller and commentary by an unseen fictional narrator (Paul Scofield) returning to London after a seven-year absence, who describes various extensive walking tours taken with a former male lover named Robinson, also unseen. The narration offers fanciful, surrealistic interpretations of what we’re seeing as well as hard facts and caustic remarks about the Tory government. Quite effective as a melancholy travelogue (Keiller has an eye as well as a mind), the film has less substance as fiction. In some ways it suggests an anglicized Chris Marker, with the filmmaker fictionalized and distanced through a separate narrator (as in Sans Soleil). 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

Dream Of Light

For all my admiration for Victor Erice’s first two features (Spirit of the Beehive and El sur), I wasn’t entirely won over by this meticulous 139-minute documentary (1992) about artist Antonio Lopez Garcia painting a small quince tree in a Madrid courtyard, even though many of my smartest colleagues were bowled over by it (the Chicago International Film Festival awarded it a Gold Hugo). Like the painter, it’s painstakingly serious about what it’s up to. Also known as The Quince Tree Sun. In Spanish with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

I Don’t Want To Talk About It

Argentinean filmmaker Maria Luisa Bemberg’s 1993 adaptation, with Jorge Goldenberg, of an original story by Julio Llinas in some ways resembles an anecdote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A wealthy widow living in a remote town in the 30s denies that her daughter and only child , whom she raises with loving care, is a dwarf, and a recently arrived stranger (Marcello Mastroianni) who befriends the mother falls desperately in love with the daughter and wants to marry her. Rather than play this premise for black comedy, Bemberg fashions a delicate and mysterious film, with both the strengths and limitations of an evocative short story. The characters are all nicely played (Luisina Brando is especially good as the mother), but we know only enough about them for the tale to function as a parable; if we want to understand them as people, we’re left somewhat dissatisfied. (JR)… Read more »

Atlantis

Seventy-odd minutes of lush, deep-sea ‘Scope cinematography by French filmmaker Luc Besson (La femme Nikita), shot all over the world (1991). Though preceded by some brief, ponderous narration in English and parceled out with some dubious thematic titles that often seem either anthropomorphic (tenderness, love, hate) or arbitrary (mind, rhythm, spirit), the eye-filling visuals of diverse sea creatures are mainly allowed to speak for themselves. (Happily, the creatures and locations aren’t identified until the closing credits.) At its best this contemplative documentary recalls some of the drifting outer-space segments of 2001: A Space Odyssey, though without Kubrick’s exquisite sense of structure; at its worst it’s a New Age variant on Fantasia with an undistinguished score by Eric Serra. (At one point sea snakes are seen copulating to a disco beat.) (JR)… Read more »

Chungking Express

An immensely charming and energetic comedy (1994, 97 min.) by Wong Kar-wai, one of the most exciting and original contemporary Hong Kong filmmakers. Though less ambitious than Days of Being Wild (1990) or Ashes of Time (1994) and less hyperbolic than Fallen Angel (1995), this provides an ideal introduction to his work. Both of its two stories are set in present-day Hong Kong and deal poignantly with young policemen striving to get over unsuccessful romantic relationships and having unconventional encounters with women (a mob assassin and an infatuated fast-food waitress respectively). Wong’s singular frenetic visual style and his special feeling for lonely romantics may remind you of certain French New Wave directors, but this movie isn’t a trip down memory lane; it’s a vibrant commentary on young love today, packed with punch and personality. In Cantonese and Mandarin with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Helas Pour Moi

Jean-Luc Godard’s most spiritual film is also his most opaque (1991). But the beauty of his work is often breathtaking, and I’d rather hear Godard talking to himself than Spielberg speaking to half the planet. Two principal points of reference are Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837) and the Greek myth about Zeus impersonating and cuckolding Amphitryon, as treated by Jean Giraudoux and othersboth having to do with cosmic injustice and the relationship between love and war. Gerard Depardieu is the Amphitryon figure, and Zeus is a croaking voice on the sound track, dimly related to the voice of the computer in Alphaville. I also spotted references to Kierkegaard, Hitchcock’s I Confess (known as La Loi de Silence in French), and Straub-Huillet’s From the Cloud to the Resistance and Antigone. For all the hermetic poetry and esoteric mysticism, this film also has concrete things to say about the bombing of Baghdad and the slaughter in Bosnia. In French with subtitles. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

Imaginary Crimes

I’m not sure what the title means, but this is an affecting heartbreaker about a con man (Harvey Keitel) trying to raise two daughters in Oregon during the 50s and early 60s after his wife (Kelly Lynch) dies, adapted by Kristine Johnson and Davia Nelson from a book by Sheila Ballyntine and directed by Anthony Drazan (Zebrahead). The script is brave enough to jump around in time but not always accomplished enough to bring it off, and for all his sensitivity Drazan sometimes seems to be taking on more than he can handle; nevertheless the movie leaves a poignant aftertaste. With Fairuza Balk and Elisabeth Moss (as the two sisters), Chris Penn, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Seymour Cassel. (JR)… Read more »

Love After Love

A conventional, dull soap opera (1992) by Diane Kurys about middle-class adultery as a way of life. Isabelle Huppert plays a novelist married to an architect with a long-term mistress and two kids from that relationship; she becomes involved with a pop musician who’s married as well, and various recriminations and complications ensue. The French title is Apres l’amour, but the U.S. distributor apparently wanted to make it sound more upbeat. (JR)… Read more »

Cyberpunk

An hour-long documentary (1993) by Marianne Trench about cyberculture and its many spin-offs, including some fascinating interviews with William Gibson, Michael Synergy, Timothy Leary, In Living Color’s Vernon Reid, and others. It looks like a cross between a commercial and a music video, but if you can get past the irritating breeziness, which places far-flung speculations and no-brain promos on the same level, this offers plenty of food for thought. Gibson in particular makes a fine interview subject. (JR)… Read more »

Bride Of The Monster

Tim Burton’s Ed Wood concludes with the statement that no animals were harmed during the making of his reverential, if fanciful, biopic, apparently because of some adventures with a rubber octopus during the shooting of this grade-Z 1955 Wood opus. This stupid and inept but unwaveringly personal horror effort stars Bela Lugosi, in his last speaking role, as a scientist who uses atomic energy to create superbeings in a swamp, including Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy (whose father supplied the film’s budget), and Loretta King. Incidentally, contrary to the Burton film, a stunt double wrestles here with the rubber octopus, not Lugosi, proving that Wood was more considerate of his ailing friend than legend would have it. Also known as Bride of the Atom. 69 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Best Of Intercom ’94

A program of independent and industrial videos, all winners of a festival-run competition: Will Vinton’s clay animated God Down Death, Ted Kay and Allen Secher’s Holocaust documentary Choosing One’s Way, Mark Pedersen’s corporate sales video We’ll Be Right Back, and Tom Gliserman’s A Diversity Tale.… Read more »

Ed Wood

Tim Burton’s charming black-and-white fantasy biopic about the late Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp), a writer-director-actor at the lowest reaches of Z-budget filmmaking who won posthumous cult status by virtue of his eccentric personality (as a straight transvestite) and his very personal form of ineptitude. Such a project requires the historical imagination to re-create a time before camp had entered the mainstream sensibility as an attitude of affection; instead Burton and writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski opt for a pie-eyed postmodernist fancy that in effect transports today’s audience back into the 50s (derisive at a premiere of Bride of the Monster, respectful at a premiere of Plan 9, absurdly set in Hollywood’s plush Pantages Theater). As a result Wood’s singularly miserable and abject career, which ended in alcoholism and indigence, is magically transformed into the feel-good movie of 1994, budgeted for a cool $18 million and radiating tenderness (at least for the guys; nearly all the women are regarded as betrayers and spoilsports). Yet the movie still manages some remarkable achievementsin particular, a tour de force performance by Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi (whose friendship with Wood becomes the film’s emotional center) and some glorious cinematography by Stefan Czapsky.… Read more »