Monthly Archives: November 1999

Fables of the Reconstruction: The 4-Hour GREED

From the Chicago Reader, November 26, 1999. —J.R.

There’s surely no more famous lost film than Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, a silent film made in 1923 and ’24 and released by MGM in mutilated form in late 1924. If you believe the hype of Turner Classic Movies, what’s been lost has now been found —- even though the studio burned the footage it cut almost 75 years ago, in order, according to Stroheim, to extract the few cents’ worth of silver contained in the nitrate.

TCM’s ad copy states, “In 1924, Erich von Stroheim created a cinematic masterpiece that few would see — until now.” This is a lie, but one characteristic of an era that wants to believe that capitalism always has a happy ending, no matter how venal or stupid or shortsighted the capitalists happen to be. What TCM really means is that at 7 and 11:30 PM on Sunday, December 5, it will present a 239-minute version of Greed, which is 99 minutes longer than the 1924 release. The 99 minutes aren’t filled with rediscovered footage: instead the original release version has been combined with hundreds of rephotographed stills, sometimes with added pans and zooms, sometimes cropped, often with opening and closing irises.… Read more »

Phantom India

The only time I’ve watched Louis Malle’s six-hour, seven-part 1968 documentary series in its entirety was 27 years ago, but seeing two sections again recently reminded me why this may be my favorite of all of his films. Malle’s upper-class misanthropy and morbidity have generally alienated me from his work, but this essayistic travel diary avoids any pretense of objectivity in order to present itself as a highly personal search, narrated in excellent English by Malle himself. In the first episode, “The Impossible Camera,” Malle addresses the problem of everyone he meets in India describing the country in Western terms, then goes on to reflect on how his filmmaking affects his subjects; from there he takes in everything from a water buffalo being devoured by vultures to interviews with a few European hippies about why they’re in India. “Dream and Reality,” the fourth part, is centered on Kerala and considers the use of elephants as a workforce, Indians’ reverence for life, the destruction of the environment, and the three political parties comprising Kerala’s communist majority. With his wide-ranging but rambling approach Malle undoubtedly misses or skimps on certain topics, but his mercurial intelligence keeps this lively and fascinating. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E.… Read more »

Greed

There’s surely no more famous lost film than Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, a silent film made in 1923 and ’24 and released by MGM in mutilated form in late 1924. If you believe the hype of Turner Classic Movies, what’s been lost has now been found–even though the studio burned the footage it cut almost 75 years ago, in order, according to Stroheim, to extract the few cents’ worth of silver contained in the nitrate.

TCM’s ad copy states, “In 1924, Erich von Stroheim created a cinematic masterpiece that few would see–until now.” This is a lie, but one characteristic of an era that wants to believe that capitalism always has a happy ending, no matter how venal or stupid or shortsighted the capitalists happen to be. What TCM really means is that at 7 and 11:30 PM on Sunday, December 5, it will present a 239-minute version of Greed, which is 99 minutes longer than the 1924 release. The 99 minutes aren’t filled with rediscovered footage: instead the original release version has been combined with hundreds of rephotographed stills, sometimes with added pans and zooms, sometimes cropped, often with opening and closing irises. There’s also a “continuity screenplay” dated March 31, 1923, a new score, and varying amounts of ingenuity.… Read more »

Sleepy Hollow

This 1999 supernatural serial-killer movie by Tim Burton, set in the late 18th century, isn’t what it purports to bean adaptation of Washington Irving’s great story The Legend of Sleepy Holloweven if the main setting (a village on the Hudson River in upstate New York) is roughly the same and the major characters have the same names. (For an adaptation halfway worthy of the name, you’d have to check out Walt Disney’s Ichabod and Mr. Toad, a cartoon turned out half a century earlier.) But it’s a visually impressive tribute to the Hammer horror movies Burton saw as a boy, and if that’s all you want you’ll probably have a blast, even if the script by Andrew Kevin Walker (Seven) is fairly formulaic. The castJohnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper Van Dien, and Jeffrey Jonesis fun to watch, and the pictorialism is often stunning. R, 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

End Of Days

In a millennial mood and neat black clothes, the devil (Gabriel Byrne) arrives in New York in search of a brideRobin Tunney plays his unsuspecting choiceand apparently the only one who can stop him from taking her (and humanity into the bargain) is Arnold Schwarzenegger, as an alcoholic ex-cop. He protects the young lady, whips Satan’s ass, gets crucified at least twice, and briefly turns into Lucifer himself, but saves the human race just the same. In real life, of course, Schwarzenegger is a millionaire, so who would dare begrudge him his desire to play Christ and the Antichrist at practically the same time? Catholics should find this loud, campy horror show a lot more offensive than Dogma, but I guess money speaks louder than faithand here, as in Paradise Lost, Satan gets all the best lines. Peter Hyams, a pretty good cinematographer but a mediocre director, goes to work on a script by Andrew W. Marlowe that… Read more »

Going Nomad

Sincere, likable, self-conscious, periodically arch, and maybe a little too slick for its own good, this independent feature by Art Jones, about a spiritually drifting New Yorker (Damian Young as El Cid Rivera, named after a movie his mother loved), his idle pals, and his faltering relationship with a female cop he knew in grammar school (Jourdan Zayles), mainly goes nowhere amiably. Things are slowed down by monologues delivered to the camera (generally well done) and by the hero’s conversations with his unseen mother (usually embarrassing). But if you’re in a leisurely mood you may not mind. With Victor Argo, Jose Yenque, Tom Oppenheim, and Craig Smith. (JR)… Read more »

Light It Up

Given the familiarity and even, at times, predictability of the elements on view here–a multiracial high school from hell in Queens, a siege staged by six alienated students after a favorite teacher is fired, a wounded cop (Forest Whitaker) held hostage–this is mainly lively and compelling stuff, thanks to fresh, well-defined characters and the writing and direction of Craig Bolotin, who’s worked on everything from Ridley Scott’s Black Rain to Desperately Seeking Susan to TV’s Miami Vice. The passionate and carnivalesque sense of politics reminded me at times of Dog Day Afternoon, but despite the absence of cynicism this is a 90s story in every sense. With Usher Raymond, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa L. Williams, Judd Nelson, Robert Ri’chard, Fredro Starr, Clifton Collins Jr., Sara Gilbert, and Glynn Turman. Bricktown Square, Burnham Plaza, Chatham 14, Evanston, Ford City, Hyde Park, Lawndale, Lincoln Village, North Riverside, 62nd & Western, Water Tower, Webster Place. –Jonathan Rosenbaum… Read more »

Where’s Marlowe?

Two filmmakers fresh out of school (John Livingston and Mos Def) are shooting a documentary in Los Angeles about a private detective (Miguel Ferrer). When their subject’s partner (John Slattery) gets involved with a client’s wife and quits, the filmmakers take his place. Originally put together as a TV pilot and then expanded, this goofball comedy is easy to take and just as easy to leave aloneunless you develop an affection for the hapless characters, which isn’t too hard to do. Daniel Pyne directed from a script he wrote with John Mankiewicz; with Allison Dean. 97 min. (JR)… Read more »

Light It Up

Given the familiarity and even, at times, predictability of the elements on view herea multiracial high school from hell in Queens, a siege staged by six alienated students after a favorite teacher is fired, a wounded cop (Forest Whitaker) held hostagethis is mainly lively and compelling stuff, thanks to fresh, well-defined characters and the writing and direction of Craig Bolotin, who has worked on everything from Ridley Scott’s Black Rain to Desperately Seeking Susan to TV’s Miami Vice. The passionate and carnivalesque sense of politics reminded me at times of Dog Day Afternoon, but despite the absence of cynicism this is a 90s story in every sense. With Usher Raymond, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa L. Williams, Judd Nelson, Robert Ri’chard, Fredro Starr, Clifton Collins Jr., Sara Gilbert, and Glynn Turman. (JR)… Read more »

All About My Mother

According to most of the American mainstream press at the 1999 Cannes film festival, this consciousness-raising transsexual soap opera by aging Spanish enfant terrible Pedro Almodovar should have walked off with all the prizes. I guess it represents a significant advance in his career, giving us a kinder, gentler, more soulful Almodovar who makes a lot more references than usual to other movies: All About Eve and A Streetcar Named Desire especially, but also (in terms of the story’s point of departure) John Cassavetes’s Opening Night. For me it felt like a good many weeks at a politically correct summer camp, though the talented actorsincluding Cecilia Roth, Eloy Azorin, Marisa Paredes, Toni Canto, Antonia San Juan, and Penelope Cruzseem to enjoy the taste of the characters they’re playing. In Spanish with subtitles. R, 101 min. (JR)… Read more »

Chronique D’un Ete

A joint effort by the great (and recently deceased) French ethnographer-filmmaker Jean Rouch and the important French sociologist Edgar Morin (The Stars) yielded this remarkable 1961 documentary investigation into what Parisiansregarded as a strange tribewere thinking and feeling during the summer of 1960, when the war in Algeria was still a hot issue (although many other issues are discussed as well, private as well as public). The filmmakers treat their interview subjects with respect and sensitivity, among them Marilu Parolini, a secretary at Cahiers du Cinema who later became a screenwriter for Jacques Rivette, and Marceline Loridan, a concentration camp survivor who later became the collaborator and companion of Joris Ivens. Rouch and Morin even screened their first interviews for the participants and then filmed their responses, catching the shifting emotional tenor of their lives over a certain period. A seminal work. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (JR)… Read more »

Eternity And A Day

Winner of the 1998 Palme d’Or at Cannes, this rambling but beautiful feature by Theo Angelopoulos may seem like an anthology of 60s and 70s European art cinema: family nostalgia from Bergman and seaside frolics from Fellini; long, mesmerizing choreographed takes and camera movements from Jancso and Tarkovsky; haunting expressionist moods and visions from Antonioni. Yet it’s such a stirring and flavorsome examplemdfar richer emotionally and poetically than Woody Allen… Read more »

Street Fighter Ii

Not a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme opus made the same year (1994) but a Japanese animated feature based on a video game of the same name; whether the video game itself is a sequel is a matter I’ll leave to the specialists. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Family Diary

By reputation, one of the best features of one of the best (and, in this country, more neglected) Italian directors, Valerio Zurlini. I’ve seen only his Girl With a Suitcase (1961), which suggests that his reputation was deserved. This 1962 film stars Marcello Mastroianni as a fraternal twin grieving over the loss of his brother. (JR)… Read more »

The Source

As he revealed in Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol (1991), documentary filmmaker Chuck Workman has a slick and entertaining way of stitching together old footage and practically no analytical or historical insight at all. Consequently, this breezy if terminally square account of the beats and their generation is fairly watchableespecially for its glimpses of the writers themselves (mainly Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, and Gary Snyder) and some effective readings by John Turturro, Johnny Depp, and Dennis Hopperbut for anyone under 50, this is bound to be more mystifying than enlightening. According to Workman, anything and everything in the pop culture of the 50s, 60s, and 70s is equally germane to the beats (including such irrelevancies as Jack Nicholson humiliating a diner waitress in Five Easy Pieces), yet his footage from the major beat film Pull My Daisy (1959) is so brief that it fails to impart any of the flavor. What I miss here is the magic of reading On the Road for the first time, or the way New York’s MacDougal Street in the early 60s (where poets read aloud in coffeehouses) looked a bit like Baghdad, or the experience of smoking dope in cold lofts.… Read more »