Monthly Archives: May 1998

The Brothers Karamazov

While not as terrible as his subsequent adaptation of Lord Jim, this 1958 Hollywoodization of the Dostoyevsky novel by writer-director Richard Brooks is pretty grotesque all the same. John Alton’s color cinematography and some candy-box decor and lighting fare a lot better than the cast (Yul Brynner, Claire Bloom, Richard Basehart, William Shatner, Lee J. Cobb, and Maria Schell). (JR)… Read more »

Halsted Street, Usa

A pretty good survey of the diversity and range of inhabitants on the famous street. This video by David Simpson (who coproduced When Billy Broke His Head . . . and Other Tales of Wonder with journalist Billy Golfus) gets additional vigor and flavor from a wonderful prologue and epilogue narrated by Studs Terkel. 57 min. (JR)… Read more »

Wild Man Blues

High-grade infotainment, even though it’s directed by Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A., American Dream), this is an intimate documentary of Woody Allen’s 1996 European tour with his Dixieland band, filmed at Allen’s instigation by his own production company, with Allen rather than Kopple retaining final cut, though it’s made to seem that Allen went along with the scheme rather than dreamed it up himself. On the plus side, it shows him at his most serious, as a dedicated (and better than average) clarinetist performing with an OK New Orleans-style band, and it provides some generous insights into his psychic background when his unsupportive parents greet him back in New York at the end. It also furnishes plenty of evidence of his outsize European reputation as he… Read more »

Documenta X: The Films

Art 1998 Chicago presents continuous showings of films that debuted at the Documenta X festival in Kassel, Germany, last summer. The Final Insult is Charles Burnett’s first foray into digital video, released in 1997 and running 55 minutes. It’s a fictional story about a homeless middle-aged man (Ayuko Babu of When It Rains) interspersed with a lot of documentary footage about the homeless, including several interviews. Both blocks of material have their own strength and validity, but they seldom mesh comfortably, and their juxtaposition tends to distract one from the subject at hand. Mother and Son (1997) is by the Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov. Apart from the eye-filling black-and-white video Oriental Elegy Sokurov’s painterly, visionary side has seldom been more evident than in this gorgeous contemplation of a son caring for his dying mother. The story is minimal, but the color images are so breathtaking that there’s never a lax moment; even when the already slow action is reduced to a virtual standstill, Sokurov’s intensity insures that something is always happening, both on the screen and inside us. (This is only 73 minutes long, but if you’re hungry for plot, it will seem like an eternity.) In his taste and his patience, Sokurov may be our only truly 19th-century avant-gardist—which means in effect that his works are timeless.… Read more »

Casanova’s Big Night

Bob Hope disguises himself as Casanova (Vincent Price) and bores the hell out of everyoneincluding 1954 audiences, who stayed away in droves. With Joan Fontaine, Audrey Dalton, Basil Rathbone, and Raymond Burr; Norman Z. McLeod directed. (JR)… Read more »

Post Coitum, Animal Triste

Brigitte Rouan’s 1997 comedy-drama opens with an image of a cat in heat. A 40ish book editor, wife, and mother (Rouan) falls in love with a hydraulics engineer about half her age (Boris Terral) and goes slightly gaga during and after their short-lived affair. In a contrapuntal subplot her lawyer husband (Patrick Chesnais) is defending an older woman who’s murdered her adulterous husband, and then goes gaga himself once he finds out about his wife. The film is pretty good at suggesting various mental states in physical and cinematic termsthe heroine floating on a motorized cloud, the husband experiencing a growing chasm between himself and his clientyet its greatest virtue could be its low-key reasonableness in showing how everyone copes with crisis, a modest and affectionate detachment that approaches wisdom. Rouan has acted in films by Alain Resnais, Jacques Rivette, and Bertrand Tavernier, among many others; as director, screenwriter, and star, she… Read more »

Giants And Toys

From the Chicago Reader (May 1, 1998). — J.R.



Yasuzo Masumura (1924-1986) tended to alter his visual style with every film, according to the needs of the story; this 1958 effort is a heavy-duty satire about three competing candy companies trying to outdo one another’s promotional campaigns, and its garish and ugly color photography seems just as functional and deliberate as the beautiful black and white of A False Student and Red Angel. Against a backdrop of hysterical competition and industrial espionage, a slum girl with bad teeth is discovered and transformed into a mascot for one of the candy companies by a cynical porn photographer. The film has rightly been compared to some of Frank Tashlin’s pop-culture comedies, made in Hollywood around the same time, and though it’s probably less funny than Tashlin at his best, its anger is more savage and leaves a more corrosive aftertaste; the apocalyptic ending, for that matter, is worthy of Douglas Sirk. (JR)


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Thousand Cranes

An intriguing but not entirely successful 1969 ‘Scope feature by the idiosyncratic Yasuzo Masumura, adapted from a famous novel by Yasunari Kawabata about a tea ceremony master (Mikijiro Hira) who becomes sexually involved with two of his late father’s girlfriends (one played by the great Machiko Kyo). Masumura (1924-’86) clearly had a feeling for kinky subjects of this kind, but here his mise en scene tends to be relatively flat and predictable. (JR)… Read more »

Where Is The Friend’s House?

It’s entirely possible that Abbas Kiarostami, who’s been making films in Iran for about three decades, is our greatest living filmmaker. The problem isn’t that his films are esoteric, simply that they’re different from Western and other Iranian films alike, in the way they’re put together (without scripts and in most cases without professional actors), in the way they address us, and in what Kiarostami includes and leaves out. Where Is the Friend’s House? (1987, 85 min.), one of his most popular films in Iran, is a miniature epic about a schoolboy trying to return a classmate’s notebook. Like the somewhat related Life and Nothing More (1992; also known as And Life Goes On . . .) and Through the Olive Trees (1994), both shot in the same section of northern Iran, this is a sustained meditation on singular landscapes and the way ordinary people live in them; an obsessional quest that takes on the contours of a parable; a concentrated inquiry that raises more questions than it answers; and a comic as well as cosmic poem. It’s about making discoveries and cherishing what’s in the worldincluding things that we can’t understand. In Farsi with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Automatic Writing

Canadian filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, a child of Chinese and Australian parents, directed this intriguing and original 1996 film about her Chinese great-great-grandfather. An orphan in 19th-century Hong Kong, he was kidnapped, put to work in a brothel, and taken to San Francisco; there he converted to Christianity, worked as a servant to a Jewish family, and returned to Hong Kong, where he worked for a doctor and eventually became a surgeon. Fleming’s approach to this colorful material is extremely playful and ironic, mixing fiction and documentary as she uses both actors (including Kwok Wing Leung, George Chiang) and herself to recount the story in a highly stylized manner. (JR)… Read more »