From the Chicago Reader, March 1, 1997. This neglected gem has recently become available on DVD. — J.R.
From the dazzling opening shot on, this vest-pocket Grand Hotel, set around a big-city train station, is a good example of the tangy Warners movies of the Depression that film histories tend to neglect — as they do its talented director, Alfred E. Green. But pay them no mind. This 1932 film manages to sock a lot into 75 minutes, and the cast alone — Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Joan Blondell, Alan Hale, Frank McHugh, David Landau, and Guy Kibbee — keeps it special. (JR)
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From the Chicago Reader (March 1, 1997). — J.R.
A rare chance to see Buster Keaton’s two greatest features on the same program. In Sherlock Jr. (1924) — his most imaginative and freewheeling work, as well as one of his funniest — he plays a movie projectionist who falls asleep during a detective movie and dreams that he literally walks into the screen, with surreal and bewildering consequences. In The General (1926), probably his most beautiful effort, he plays a railroad engineer during the Civil War whose train is stolen by Union soldiers, who also kidnap his girlfriend (Marian Mack); Clyde Bruckman codirected. Both are indispensable viewing.
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The kind of postmodernist exercise designed to set purists’ teeth on edge, though perhaps it will interest others: a series of silent films, including some experimental works, will be shown to the improvised accompaniment of some local bands. David Grubbs will improvise music to go with new, untitled works by Chicagoan Braden King (Dutch Harbor), Clay Harper will do something with Ernie Gehr’s Wait, Salome will accompany three films (Flip Johnson’s The Roar From Within, Tony Conrad’s Film Feedback, and Barbara Hammer’s Vital Signs), and the Flying Luttenbachers will play along with Otto Muehl’s Materialaktionsfilm. I’m not entirely sure that all these films are silent; but a previous program of this kind with many of the same performers, included a sound film with a score by Maya Deren that presumably had to be suppressed, so I suppose anything is possible. (JR)… Read more »
A 1996 video documentary by Maani Petgar, an Iranian emigre based in Australia, about the making of Mohsen Makhmalbaf’s Salaam Cinema (see separate listing). Almost an adjunct to Makhmalbaf’s film rather than a commentary on it (it’s only three minutes shorter), this makes an interesting companion piece. (JR)… Read more »
The underrated Carl Reiner (All of Me) directed this carnivalesque romantic farce, written by Leslie Dixon expressly for Bette Midler. The form and style are traditional Hollywoodcloser to Hollywood of the 30s and 40s than to that of todaybut the film comes across as positively rebellious in the present conservative climate. The long-divorced and feuding parents (Midler and Dennis Farina) of a straitlaced bride (Paula Marshall) desert their spouses at the wedding party to go off on a fling, and before the picture’s over, bounds of propriety concerning marital fidelity, class, and age have all been joyously crossed. This celebration of middle-age sex and paean to irresponsibility works with broad characterizations and predictable plot turns, but Reiner and his actors know what they’re doing every step of the wayand they have a ball. With Gail O’Grady, David Rasche, Jamie Denton, and Danny Nucci. (JR)… Read more »
I haven’t seen the original release version of Wolfgang Petersen’s 1981 U-boat thriller, so I can’t compare it to this 210-minute version, which is 65 minutes longer. But even though it’s easy to respond to the epic sweep of this claustrophobic World War II adventure, which is well crafted in terms of both sound and image, atmosphere and suspense, I preferred the first and last hours to the middle 90 minutes when most of the action takes place. Oddly enough, the overall themethe courage of Nazi soldiers not as Nazis but as German patriotsbears a certain resemblance to a controversial blockbuster that Arnold Schwarzenegger has been trying to launch for years (albeit with Austrians instead of Germans). J… Read more »
This won a slew of major Australian Film Institute awards (their Oscar equivalents) in 1995best picture, director, actor, actress, original screenplay, cinematography, and editing, no less. Maybe that’s what’s wrong with it, because despite many appealing elementsincluding sizable performances by John Lynch and Jacqueline McKenzie and a fair amount of charm and gritwriter-director Michael Rymer aims so doggedly to please in this love story about two psychotics that he all but hands you a bouquet of flowers on your way out of the theater. This is probably at least as good as the similarly themed David and Lisa, and it certainly gives you an emotional workout. But I can’t say the memory of it lingers. (JR)… Read more »
Flora Gomes’s beautiful 1995 feature from Guinea-Bissaua beguiling piece of African folklore that equates human lives and trees, both traversed by lyrically choreographed pans and cranes. (JR)… Read more »
Preston Sturges’s first film as writer-director (1940) and one of his most cynical comediesa cut below his best work, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see it. Brian Donlevy plays a bum who cheats and lies his way into the office of the governor of his state, then is toppled when he’s tempted to become honest. As in a lot of Sturges’s work, the funniest lines and moments tend to come from the secondary players; Akim Tamiroff and William Demarest are particular treats. 81 min. (JR)… Read more »
A shell-shocked World War I amnesiac (Ronald Colman) marries a music-hall singer (Greer Garson), but a collision with a taxi makes him forget her and return to his original family. James Agee compared watching this 1942 MGM feature, derived from a James Hilton story, to eating a bowl of shaving soap for breakfast, but it has a kind of deranged sincerity and integrity on its own terms, and it acquired a slew of Oscar nominations. Mervyn LeRoy directed. 126 min. (JR)… Read more »
Technically this 1958 Claude Chabrol film was the first feature of the French New Wave to be releasedthough it was Chabrol’s second film, Les cousins, with the same stars, Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy, that had an international impact. Brialy plays a tubercular theology student who returns to his hometown to convalesce and becomes reacquainted with a childhood friend (Blain), an alcoholic stuck in a bad marriage. Roland Barthes attacked this film for its right-wing and static image of man, and even Chabrol fan Tom Milne has found its Hitchcockian theme of transference expressed too overtly in terms of Christian allegory. I barely remember it, but it has a certain fascination as Chabrol’s first practical (as opposed to critical) encounter with mise en scene. (JR)… Read more »
This feature-length 1996 video documentary by Houshang Golmakani about the eclectic and prolific Iranian filmmaker has the worst English subtitles of any Iranian film I’ve seen (which is saying a lot), and the editing is needlessly fussy and fancy. But it has a lot of interesting things to say about Makhmalbaf, with loads of material about his early life and career, many clips, archival material, and interviews, including a brief dialogue with filmmaker Werner Herzog. Anyone who wants to understand Makhmalbaf’s work better shouldn’t pass up this film, though it arguably goes beyond acceptable bounds when it includes footage of him grieving at his wife’s funeral. (JR)… Read more »
One of American independent Robert Kramer’s strongest underground features (1969), arguably his best, made in and around New York before he resettled in Paris. This potent and grim SF thriller about urban guerrillas of the radical left, shot in the manner of a rough documentary in black and white, has an epic sweep to it. (Like many politically informed art movies of the period, starting with Alphaville and including even THX 1138, it was set in the future mainly as a ruse for critiquing the present.) Now as then, the power of this creepy movie rests largely in its dead-on critique of the paranoia and internecine battles that characterized revolutionary politics during the 60s; the mood is terrorized and often brutal, but the behavioral observations and some of the tenderness periodically call to mind early Cassavetes. A searing, unnerving history lesson, it’s an American counterpart to some of Jacques Rivette’s conspiracy pictures, a desperate message found in a bottle. 130 min. (JR)… Read more »
A 1980 New York slasher thriller that, according to the Psychotronic Encyclopedia, managed to offend even many gore fans. Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide finds it claustrophobic, sickening. William Lustig directed a story written by executive producer Joe Spinell, who also plays the title role. Not to be confused with features of the same title by Dwain Esper (1934), Michael Carreras (1962), and Richard Compton (1978).… Read more »
A touching 1996 documentary by a wife-and-husband team, Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher, about Jordan’s parents’ farm in Iowa, first plowed by her great-grandparents over a century ago and lost to a bank in the 1990s. The filmmakers discuss the family’s struggle in relation to the various westerns they watch on TV (hence the subtitle), but they cover life in rural America from many different angles. (JR)… Read more »