Daily Archives: August 1, 1998

Frozen

A rare example of independent cinema from mainland Chinaprivately financed, shot without authorization in Beijing, credited pseudonymously to Wu Ming (which means nobody in Chinese), and smuggled out of the countrythis odd and disturbing 1997 feature follows the morose tale of a performance artist who stages his own suicide. On the longest day of the year he plans to kill himself by melting a large block of ice with his own body warmth, a performance he calls Funeral in Ice. Given the importance of this film as a provocation and an act of courage, I wish I liked it more, but I can’t deny that there’s nothing else like it. (JR)… Read more »

Flashframes

A program of jazz-related films, showing in conjunction with the Chicago Jazz Festival. John Coney directed the 1974 film Space Is the Place, starring and cowritten by avant-garde composer, musician, and bandleader Sun Ra. In The Spitball Story, Jean Bach, director of the remarkable A Great Day in Harlem, uses the same techniques of oral history and thumbnail jazz portraiture to tell the story of why Dizzy Gillespie was fired from the Cab Calloway band and how this transformed his career; the film isn… Read more »

Red Psalm

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East Side Story, a recent documentary about communist musicals, assumes that communist-bloc directors were just itching to make Hollywood extravaganzas and invariably wound up looking strained, square, and ill equipped. But Red Psalm (1971), Miklos Jancso’s dazzling, open-air revolutionary pageant, is a highly sensual communist musical that employs occasional nudity as lyrically as the singing, dancing, and nature; within its own idioms it swings as well as wails. Set near the end of the 19th century, when a group of peasants have demanded basic rights from a landowner and soldiers arrive on horseback, it’s composed of less than 30 shots, each one an intricate choreography of panning camera, landscape, and clustered bodies. Jancso’s awesome fusion of form with content and politics with poetry equals the exciting innovations of the French New Wave in the 60s and early 70s. The music, ranging from revolutionary folk songs to {Charlie Is My Darlin’,} will keep playing in your head for days, and the colors are ravishing. The picture won Jancso a best director prize at Cannes, and it may well be the greatest Hungarian film of the 60s and 70s, summing up an entire strain in his work that lamentably has been forgotten here.… Read more »

Nights Of Cabiria

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

Federico Fellini’s restored 1957 masterpiece, starring his wife, Giulietta Masina. Though the additional scene — an incident involving a man who distributes food and clothing to the homeless — may have little consequence in terms of the overall plot, it changes one’s thematic and spiritual sense of the whole film. The story basically consists of five lengthy episodes in the life and career of a prostitute who repeatedly becomes disillusioned but keeps finding the resources to believe in romantic love just the same. Masina’s exaggerated grimaces and clownlike features, which hark back to the tradition of silent comics, are undoubtedly mannerist, but part of Fellini’s mastery is to make them necessary correlatives to his own vision of innocence. Too melodramatic and fanciful in turn to qualify as neorealism in the usual sense, despite the gritty Roman street slang contributed by Pier Paolo Pasolini, this gains immeasurably, like many other Fellini films, from Nino Rota’s wistful music. In Italian with subtitles. 117 min. (JR)

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Junk Food

This 1997 piece of Japanese exploitation by writer-director Masashi Yamamoto shuttles between a devout blind woman, a crazed drug addict, a gang war, a Pakistani thief who hopes to marry a Japanese woman, and a Japanese-American who works temporarily as a prostitute and hooks up with a guy from the provinces, all within the same 24-hour period in Tokyo. The strength of the pictureapart from its gritty stylistic eclecticism, which incorporates video and unorthodox editing that suggests various drug experiencesrests mainly in its uncharacteristic and unofficial glimpses of Japanese society, especially of people living on the fringes of that society. A somewhat noirish project occasionally confused by the filmmaker’s desire to hoke things up with as much sex, violence, and gore as possible. (JR)… Read more »

The Son Of Gascogne

Pascal Aubier directed this sweet and winsome 1995 French comedy. A 20-year-old tour guide (Gregoire Colin) in charge of Georgian singers giving a Paris concert pretends to be the son of a famous (but fictional) French New Wave director named Gascogne alleged to have left behind an unseen masterpiece when he died in the mid-70s. This impersonation momentarily gains him admission to the French film world, an identity, and even the love of a young Georgian woman, who accompanies him around Paris in a giddy sequence in which they reenact famous scenes from French New Wave classics. Part of what makes Aubier, a middle-aged filmmaker, tolerant about this deception is his hero… Read more »

Dr. Faustus

Richard Burton himself directed (with Nevill Coghill) this film version of the Christopher Marlowe play during the middle of what might be termed his Elizabeth Taylor period (1967), and the critics were not kind. Starring Burton himself, along with Andreas Teuber, Ian Marter, and Taylor, in a silent part, as Helen of Troy. Apparently Oxford University had a hand in the proceedings as well.… Read more »