Monthly Archives: March 2000

Carmen Mcrae Live

A feature-length 1986 documentary by Hiroshi Fukumoto chronicling a Tokyo performance by the great jazz vocalist and pianist. (JR)… Read more »

Panic In Needle Park

By their own admission, screenwriters Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne spent only a day or so researching their assigned topicNew York junkiesand this early Jerry Schatzberg feature (1971) shows it, though Al Pacino plays one of the two romantic leads (along with Kitty Winn), and many of Schatzberg’s fans have praised the mise en scene. With Richard Bright, Raul Julia, and Paul Sorvino. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Not One Less

Working with nonprofessionals who play characters much like themselves, director Zhang Yimou recounts the adventures of a 13-year-old girl assigned to work as a substitute teacher at a provincial primary school while the usual teacher spends time with his ailing mother. Promised payment if none of the students defect, the girl is flummoxed when an unruly student leaves for the city, sent by his mother to cover family debts, and after many struggles she finds a way of traveling to the city to find him. Considering how many cliches of capitalist propaganda we’re offered daily, I’m inclined to tolerate the relatively few cliches of communist propaganda we encounter in movies, and the first half of this one held my interest and sympathy with its glimpses of Chinese rural schooling. I was especially interested in its ambiguous treatment of the young heroine’s motives, which may be more selfish than communal, until the script tried to make us forget this was ever an issue. Ultimately this isn’t a worthy successor to either The Bicycle Thief or, much further down the scale, The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), Zhang’s previous government-sanctioned ode to a female peasant who persists in trying to get the government’s attention.… Read more »

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai

Jim Jarmusch’s seventh narrative feature (1999) focuses on a solitary inner-city maverick and hit man (Forest Whitaker) who lives on a rooftop with pigeons and has trained himself as a samurai according to the 18th-century book Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai, pledging loyalty to a New Jersey gangster (John Tormey) who once saved his life, whom he communicates with mainly by carrier pigeon. Like some of Jarmusch’s other films, this is essentially a poetic comic fantasy that has a lot to say about contemporary global culture; it’s beautifully cast and filmed (cinematography by the matchless Robby M… Read more »

Mother

A film recording of the Berliner Ensemble’s 1958 staging of Brecht’s social realist play; the running time is 147 minutes, and I’ve been told that the final reel is missing English subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

Moloch

Alexander Sokurov’s other recent featuresStone, Whispering Pages, Mother and Sonhave extremely aggressive styles and simple, often reactionary contents. Here the subject is a day in the life of Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler, at Hitler’s mountain retreat in late spring 1942, and the film strives, with some success, to be believable making it more than simply rhetorical or bombastic (despite the mythical opening in which a naked Braun, played by Elena Rufanova, dances and cavorts on the huge terraces of a fortress in the cloudsnot quite Leni Riefenstahl, but suggestive of her manner). The script is by Sokurov’s usual screenwriter, Yuri Arabov, and it was shot in Germany with theater actors from Saint Petersburg who were subsequently dubbed by Germans (including Eva Mattes as Eva Braun); the central characters also include Joseph and Magda Goebbels, Martin Bormann, and a priest. Sokurov’s films usually project moods and emotions, but this one mainly provokes thoughts and reflections. Sokurov has noted that he used Braun largely as a distancing and demystifying lens for viewing Hitler: I couldn’t love him, and that’s why I needed somebody [Eva] to love him. Otherwise it would have been impossible to discern him: you can’t see anything black against a black background.… Read more »

The Lost Garden: The Life And Cinema Of Alice Guy-blache

A fascinating 1995 Canadian documentary by Marquise LePage about Alice Guy-Blache, the French film pioneer (1873-1968) who was the head of production at Gaumont for several years after the turn of the century. It’s estimated that she produced, directed, or wrote more than 700 films. Several talking-head interviews are featured, including ones with Guy-Blache, near the end of her life, and with Francis Lacassin, a major historian of early French silent cinema. (JR)… Read more »

Kitchen

I saw this intriguing 1997 Hong Kong drama before I read Banana, Yoshimoto’s touching best-selling Japanese novella on which the film is based; clearly the changes from Japanese locations and idioms to Chinese equivalents, not to mention other alterations in the narrative, are both subtle and complex. The gifted writer-director Yim Ho (Homecoming, The Day the Sun Turned Cold) is an able storyteller with a visual flair and some feeling for actors, but what really unifies the film (and the novella) is the powerful feeling of intimacy it creates, as well as the offbeat handling of gender roles. When a young woman’s grandmother dies, she moves into the home of a young hairdresser and his chic mother, who runs a nightclub and has an unexpected pastwhich you may figure out before the film tells you. A touching, fairly unpredictable love story with wacky comic touches, Kitchen is one more illustration of the axiom that Asia is where you go nowadays to find modernity, not to mention the future. (JR)… Read more »

Fly Low

It sounds like a good idea for a movie: intercutting two separate stories centered on the same location. In one story, three male youths who’ve escaped from an orphanage hide from the authorities in an abandoned schoolhouse; in the other, three young women who once attended the school make a sentimental journey there. Like many South Korean films, Kim Sion’s 1998 feature is attractively filmed in vibrant colorsa direct or indirect legacy of the Technicolor equipment purchased long ago from this country, the kind that’s no longer used hereand for the most part the two stories unfold in markedly different photographic styles. Unfortunately, neither story is very interesting or compelling apart from its visual treatment, and when one character from each story meets the other at the schoolhouse in a brief epilogue, the effect is mainly gratuitous. (JR)… Read more »

Flamenco

An enjoyable and well-crafted 1995 dance film from Spain by Carlos Saura that left me feeling unsatisfied, perhaps because the decision to film the dancers, singers, and musicians (gathered from all over the world) in an abstract space cuts this material off from its social and historical roots. In this respect, Saura’s movie follows an aesthetic that’s precisely the reverse of that found in the Gypsy musical Latcho Drom, a cult masterpiece. However, if you care about flamenco, you probably shouldn’t miss this. The great Vittorio Storaro contributed the lush cinematography. In Spanish with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Finished

William E. Jones’s audacious and often compelling experimental essay film (1997) recounts his personal investigation into the life of a young gay porn star, Alan Lambert, who committed suicide at age 25 in Montreal. What’s most audacious is that Jones refuses to include porn footagealthough many of Lambert’s films are described and discussedthereby defying genre expectations and aiming at something more introspective. Sometimes Jones avoids certain tired conventions only to seize upon others (e.g., focusing at length on ocean waves to accompany ruminations on mortality), but the seriousness of this haunting meditation is never in question. (This is one of the last American experimental films to receive NEA funding, but contrary to rumor, the funding had nothing to do with the absence of porn footage.) 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

Film Novelthree Sisters

In 1977 Istvan Darday and Gyorgyi Szalai (the couple who went on to make the remarkable and comparably lengthy Documentator in 1989) codirected this 270-minute experimental feature with nonprofessional actors and no script. (JR)… Read more »

The Love Goddesses

A feature-length compilation of clipsif memory serves, more fun than scholarlyput together by Saul J. Turrell and Graeme Ferguson in 1966 and revised in 1972 for a theatrical rerelease. Among the featured actresses are Marilyn Monroe, Theda Bara, Jean Harlow, Mae West, Claudette Colbert, Rita Hayworth, and Dorothy Lamour. (JR)… Read more »

Herbert’s Hippopotamus

Danish-born Paul Alexander Juutilainen wrote and directed this informative, passionate, and moving 1996 video documentary about Frankfurt-school philosopher and social theorist Herbert Marcuse during his final teaching stint at the University of California at San Diego during the late 60s and 70s. The treatment of Marcuse’s thought and writing is sketchy to say the least, but the accounts of radical campus activities during this era and Marcuse’s role within them are instructive and highly evocative. Among those interviewed are Angela Davis, Fredric Jameson, William McGill, Reinhard Lettau, Page DuBois, and Herbert Schiller. (JR)… Read more »

Kiss Or Kill

Who needs another killer couple fleeing cross-country with cops in hot pursuit? Yet thanks to this 1998 Australian thriller’s aggressive and unnerving formal approachjump cuts that hurtle us through the story like a needle skipping across a record and an inventive camera style that defamiliarizes characters as well as settingsthe characters’ paranoia is translated into the slithery uncertainty of our own perceptions: this is the most interesting reworking of noir materials I’ve seen since After Dark, My Sweet and The Underneath. The creepy alienation of the lead couple (Frances O’Connor and Matt Day) from their victims and the world in general is eventually replicated in their own relationship, and variations on the same kind of mistrust crop up between the cops pursuing them and in just about every other cockeyed existential encounter in the film. Apart from some juicy character acting and striking uses of landscape, what makes this genre exercise by veteran director Bill Bennett special is the metaphysical climate produced by the style, transforming suspense into genuine dread. The outback is an eyeful too. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »