Monthly Archives: May 1997

Katzelmacher

Katzelmacher

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s second feature (1969) is something like the decanted essence of his work. There’s less plot than usual, but the portraiture already seems firmly in place. Based on his own play, the film consists largely of a lot of deadbeats standing around on the street in a Munich suburb, abusing women and showing one another how macho they are. (The title is Bavarian slang for “stud.”) Eventually a Greek immigrant (played by Fassbinder himself) turns up and becomes the target of their xenophobia. Hanna Schygulla is also present in one of her earliest roles. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, May 31, 7:45, 312-443-3737. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »

Children of the Revolution

Children of the Revolution

For a notion of how cockeyed the cold war and its aftermath look to an Australian, this bubbly comedy, written and directed by newcomer Peter Duncan, is a good place to start. Judy Davis plays a fervent Australian communist who writes passionate letters to Stalin in the early 50s, is invited to the Soviet Union to see him, and appears to go to bed with him just before he dies. Back in Australia she gives birth to a son she names Joe, who grows up to become a radical labor organizer. A spy (Sam Neill) who may also be Joe’s father turns out to be the father of the Latvian policewoman who repeatedly arrests Joe for being a subversive and winds up marrying him. If all this sounds silly, it’s also highly suggestive as an Australian myth of origins–and Duncan puts it together with a stylish flair that occasionally evokes Ernst Lubitsch. With F. Murray Abraham, Shine’s Geoffrey Rush, Richard Roxburgh, and Rachel Griffiths. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 30 through June 5. –Jonathan Rosenbaum

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.… Read more »

The Line King:The Al Hirschfeld Story

Recently nominated for an Academy Award, this portrait of the great Broadway caricaturist by Susan Dryfoos is absorbing not only because of his work and milieu, but also because he’s been around so long, from his early career in Hollywood to a period working for New Masses to a long tenure at the New York Times. Still working at 94, he’s seen a lot, and this decade-by-decade account is a very entertaining history lesson. On the same program, Jessica Yu’s Better Late and Martin Murphy’s Adventures of Handyman. Film Center, 4:00. –Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

The Eighth Day

My candidate for the most disgusting feature at Cannes in 1996, this French-Belgian film by Jaco van Dormael is shameless. The obvious precedent is Rain Man, but that film’s opportunism hinged on the decision of a famous star, Dustin Hoffman, to play an idiot savant alongside Tom Cruise. Here the recipe consists of casting a star, Daniel Auteuil, alongside a person who really has Down’s syndrome, Pascal Duquenne. The danger of such calculation is that the pseudoreality of the star and the hyperreality of his costar might clash, a possibility cleverly avoided through the use of an expanding magical realism that turns both characters into animated cartoon figures, so that the best reference may be neither Rain Man nor the lachrymose Zorba the Greek but the overblown child’s landscape of the tear-jerking Dumbo. In awarding the actor’s prize jointly to both leads, the Cannes jury took the bait, and the tearful standing ovation in the Palais seemed to express a self-congratulatory recognition that a handicapped person is just as lovable as a movie star, that a movie star is just as real as a handicapped person, and that genuine innocence can’t survive in the worldexcept it does, because this film exploits it.… Read more »

Addicted To Love

The girlfriend of a small-town astronomer runs off to New York and shacks up with a French restaurant owner (Tcheky Karyo); her obsessed ex-boyfriend (Matthew Broderick) sets up shop in a nearby condemned building to spy on the couple with astronomical equipmentshortly to be joined by the Frenchman’s jilted lover (Meg Ryan), who decides to bug their conversation as well. There’s too much pain in this light 1997 romantic comedy, physical as well as emotional, for it to come across as funny, though it certainly has its share of offbeat premises, and Ryan’s abrasive and rather creepy character is something of a departure for her. Griffin Dunne directed the script by Robert Gordon; with Kelly Preston and Maureen Stapleton. (JR)… Read more »

Female Perversions

From the Chicago Reader (May 2, 1997). — J.R.

An adventurous and sometimes sexy, if only fitfully successful, adaptation of Louise Kaplan’s celebrated nonfiction book by Susan Streitfeld, working with a script she wrote with Julie Hebert (1996). The focus is on the life of a successful single prosecutor (British actress Tilda Swinton, displaying an impeccable American accent) as she waits to discover whether she’s been appointed as a judge, her kleptomaniac-scholar sister (Amy Madigan), the prosecutor’s boyfriend, a lesbian psychotherapist she has a fling with, and other people in her orbit. Oscillating between everyday events in her life and her dreams and fantasies, the film is much more successful with the former than with the latter, which often get heavy-handed and obscure. But the freshness of Streitfeld’s approach toward gender anxiety and social conditioning fascinates even when the overall clarity diminishes. Not for everyone, but those who like it will probably like it a lot. With Karen Sillas, Clancy Brown, Frances Fisher, Laila Robins, Paulina Porizkova, and Dale Shuger. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 2 through 8. — Jonathan Rosenbaum

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The Moment Of Truth

Francesco Rosi’s 1965 feature is widely (and plausibly) considered the best movie about bullfighting, in part because of its irony and finesse in capturing how the sport springs from and plays against the social reality of Spain. The young hero is played by Miguel Mateo Miguelin, Spain’s third-ranking matador at the time. (JR)… Read more »

Hands Over The City

This 1963 Italian film by Francesco Rosi features Rod Steiger as a real estate developer in Naples, one of whose tenement buildings collapses. Like many of Rosi’s films, this is an intricate political and social analysis, and Rosi actually managed to cast some real-life Neapolitan town councillors as deputies. (JR)… Read more »

Coloring Outside The Lines: Films By Robert Breer

To my taste, Robert Breer is the greatest living experimental filmmaker working in animation, and this program of 11 short films spanning his careerfrom A Man and His Dog Out for Air (1957) to Sparkill Ave! (1992)is essential viewing. I’ve seen everything here but Sparkill and the 1986 Bang!; the brilliant LMNO (1978) is probably my favorite, but all the others66 (1966), Gulls and Buoys (1972), Fuji (1974), Rubber Cement (1976), 77 (1977), Swiss Army Knife With Rats and Pigeons (1981), and Trial Balloons (1983)are well worth seeing and reseeing. (JR)… Read more »

Night Falls On Manhattan

Director Sidney Lumet and the New York legal system seem to go together like ham and eggs, and in one way or another Lumet has been periodically remaking and refining his own Serpico, about police corruption, over the past quarter of a century, in pictures like Prince of the City and Q & A. Night Falls on Manhattan, which he adapted from Robert Daley’s novel Tainted Evidence, may well be his best effort yet in this direction. Even if Andy Garcia as an honest rookie cop turned DA is no Al Pacino, the overall New York ambience and the street-smart grasp of the way this world operates keep this movie potent throughout. And some of the performancesespecially by Ron Leibman and James Gandolfinivirtually knock you out of your seat. With Ian Holm, Lena Olin, Richard Dreyfuss, and Shiek Mahmud-Bey. (JR)… Read more »

Children Of The Revolution

For a notion of how cockeyed the cold war and its aftermath look to an Australian, this bubbly comedy, written and directed by newcomer Peter Duncan, is a good place to start. Judy Davis plays a fervent Australian communist who writes passionate letters to Stalin in the early 50s, is invited to the Soviet Union to see him, and appears to go to bed with him just before he dies. Back in Australia she gives birth to a son she names Joe, who grows up to become a radical labor organizer. A spy (Sam Neill) who may also be Joe… Read more »

Short Films By Rainer Werner Fassbinder

The two earliest surviving films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (the very first, in 8-millimeter, no longer exists), as well as his powerful half-hour self-portrait in the collective 1978 feature Germany in Autumn. The City Tramp (1966), in 16-millimeter, is about a tramp who finds a gun in an alley; The Little Chaos (1967), in 35-millimeter, is about three young people attempting a swindle. Fassbinder appears in all three. (JR)… Read more »

Fathers’ Day

Billy Crystal and Robin Williams costar in yet another Hollywood remake of a Francis Veber boulevard comedy, this one taken from Les comperes (1984). A mother trying to recover her runaway son recruits two of her ex-lovers in the search (Crystal as a big-time lawyer and Williams as a weepy neurotic) by telling each that he’s the boy’s real father. Ivan Reitman directs Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel’s adaptation like standard-issue sitcom, inviting Williams to pursue his usual overacting shtick and Crystal, who seems much closer to an actual human being, to adhere to his terse one-liners. What Dave Kehr wrote here about Les comperes applies equally to the recycling: The mechanical possibilities are worked out with precision and relish, but [the director] is careful not to allow the comedy to linger too long in the realm of real feelings. A platitudinous ending restores a safe and sane emotional order. With Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nastassja Kinski. (JR)… Read more »

Rio Das Mortes

The first of seven features directed (and in most cases written) by Rainer Werner Fassbinder in 1970, this early work makes one wonder if his prolific output was always worth the trouble. Two young workers scheme to leave Germany and go after a treasure they believe is hidden in Peru, but a lot of this movie simply fills up space. In contrast to the painterly qualities of the director’s best work, this has the pasty, overlit look of a Bavarian sex comedy. On the other hand, Hanna Schygulla is great in a featured part. (JR)… Read more »

The Curse Of The Cat People

Though not the best of Val Lewton’s superb B movies of the 40s, this putative sequel to Cat People presents a finely shaded poetic and psychological portrait of childhood lonelinessthe fantasies of a little girl about her father’s mysterious first wife (Cat People’s Simone Simon). Beautifully atmospheric and suggestive, this 1944 film runs for 70 minutes, and hardly a moment is wasted. Written by DeWitt Bodeen and codirected by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise (the latter’s directorial debut); with Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, and Elizabeth Russell. (JR)… Read more »