Daily Archives: April 1, 2000

Normal Love

Jack Smith directed this 1963 experimental film centered on his love of B-movie star Maria Montez. Not really a finished work, judging from the previous versions I’ve seen, but a rollicking piece of Smithiana just the same. (JR)… Read more »

Peter Pan

A beautiful restoration of the 1924 silent version, one of the loveliest movies for and about children ever made. Though he’s forgotten now, director Herbert Brenon was a formidable figure in the teens and 20s, also known for his work with Annette Kellerman and Theda Bara, his subsequent James Barrie adaptation A Kiss for Cinderella, and his 1926 adaptations of Beau Geste and The Great Gatsby. Peter Pan also benefits from a script by Willis Goldbeck, the superb cinematography of James Wong Howe, and some very charming special effects by Roy Pomeroy, who parted the Red Sea in De Mille’s 1923 The Ten Commandments. The cast includes Betty Bronson in the title role, Ernest Torrence as Captain Hook, and Anna May Wong as Tiger Lily. (My own favorite is the only carryover from the stage production, George Ali as Nana the dog.) 105 min. (JR)… Read more »

Khroustaliov, My Car!

Alexei Guerman’s mad, brilliant sequel to My Friend Ivan Lapshin (1982) was begun when the Soviet Union still existed and completed in 1998 with finishing money from France. Set in 1953, during the last days of Stalin’s regime, it has a narrative of sortsthe central character is a brain surgeon and former alcoholic Red Army general who’s sent to the gulag during the anti-Semitic doctors purge and released in a last-ditch effort to save Stalinbut one generally experiences it more as a visionary nightmare. Filmed in high-contrast, deep-focus black and white, in cluttered, claustrophobic interiors and snowy exteriors, often in long takes and with a moving camera, it suggests The Magnificent Ambersons, especially in the way its baroque mise en scene is organized around a subjective camera and various activities in the foreground. But its overall ambience certainly isn’t nostalgic as with the Welles film; it leaves one with a corrosive and unforgettable whiff of the Stalinist era. (JR) 137 min.… Read more »

The Annihilation Of Fish

James Earl Jones and Lynn Redgrave star as mutually insane neighbors in a California apartment house who become romantically involved (she thinks she’s sexually intimate with Puccini, and he periodically wrestles with a demon of his own named Hank). Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep, The Glass Shield) directed this whimsical, bittersweet 1999 feature, handling the actors with sensitivity, but the preciousness of Anthony C. Winkler’s screenplay, adapted from his own novel, only underlines how much better off Burnett is writing his own scripts (Nightjohn being an exception). With Margot Kidder. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

Selma, Lord, Selma

Charles Burnett directed this 1998 TV docudrama for the Disney Channel, about the emotionally charged 1965 voter registration drive Martin Luther King led in Selma, Alabama, just before the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Despite the sincerity of the project and some touching moments, this doesn’t measure up to the marvelous Nightjohn (1996), an earlier Disney feature directed by Burnett. The script (adapted by Cynthia Whitcomb from a childhood memoir by Sheyann Webb and Rachel West Nelson, as told to Frank Sikora) is too pedestrian, though it does have the virtue of contextualizing some of the major events that led to the famous march. Presumably because of clearance problems, James Reeb, the white Unitarian minister from the north who was clubbed to death while working on voter registration, has been turned into a white priest in training named Jonathan Daniels (MacKenzie Astin), who is shota change that leads to some confusion at the end, when a printed title informs us that Daniels was eventually canonized. With Jurnee Smollett and Clifton Powell (as King). (JR)… Read more »

The Triangle Of The Lake

Sincere but foolish, this clunky Bolivian SF effort concerns a man whose wife gets swallowed up by a parallel universe via the Bermuda Triangle, somewhere east of Atlantis, and who enlists a wise old parapsychologist to help him retrieve her (with a little help from hypnosis and a laptop computer). Like one character who can’t tell the difference between Mozart and Ray Conniff, director Mauricio Calderon can’t seem to distinguish between philosophical notions and generic standbys. I enjoyed some of the tatty special effects, gratuitous low angles, and Ed Wood profundities in this New Age nonsense, but its sluggish storytelling defeated me. (JR)… Read more »

Citizen Langlois

Edgardo Cozarinsky’s 68-minute documentary about Henri Langlois, the idiosyncratic cofounder of the French Cinematheque and spiritual father of the French New Wave, was awarded the 1995 Forum prize at the Berlin gathering of the International Federation of Film Critics; the jury (of which I was a member) cited it as a brilliant essay revealing a multifaceted grasp of a major pioneer for whom cinema was the ultimate nationality. Langlois (1914-1977), a Turkish exile, was forced to flee Izmir when the Turks reclaimed it from Greek troops in 1922, setting off fires that destroyed three-fifths of the city, and Cozarinsky (One Man’s War), himself an exile who left Buenos Aires for Paris, uses film images bursting into flames as a recurring motif — not so much Langlois’ Rosebud as the furnace consuming his beloved sled. Langlois’ passion for film preservation and multifaceted hatred for state bureaucracies were the traits of a complex individual, and Cozarinsky’s portrait is far from exhaustive; in keeping with a certain French etiquette, there’s nary a word about Langlois’ homosexuality, and aspects of his paranoia are skimped. But the man is there and recognizable, and so is his divine madness, as reflected in the words of his companion Mary Meerson — that Josef von Sternberg’s lost The Case of Lena Smith will reappear one day when mankind deserves it.… Read more »

Joe Gould’s Secret

This charming and evocative period piece about Greenwich Village in the 40s is also a subtle cautionary tale for writers against the danger of losing all your work in talk. The delicate and wryly witty screenplay by Howard A. Rodman, perhaps best known for his work with Steven Soderbergh, tells the true story of shy southern New Yorker editor Joseph Mitchell (Stanley Tucci, who also directed) discovering and profiling the legendary Joe Gould (Ian Holm in a career-defining performance). Gould, a homeless bohemian and raging lunatickind of a Mr. Natural before the factprofesses to be writing something called The Oral History of Our Time, but it never quite materializes. The fact that Mitchell himself retreated into silence after writing a second Gould profile in the 60s suggests either that Gould’s dissipation had a snowball effect or that Mitchell became Gould’s doppelganger. Either way, this is a movie to savor, not one to scarf. 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

Journey Into Night And Phantom

Two of the earliest surviving works by F.W. Murnau, one of the giants of 1920s cinema, both presented in beautiful restorations carried out by Enno Patalas, former director of the Munich Film Archive. Journey Into Night (1920) is Murnau’s sixth feature but the earliest to survive; I’ve seen this melodrama only in incomplete form, but even in that condition it prefigures Nosferatu (1922) in many ways. Phantom is more interesting; made the same year as Nosferatu, it’s like an anthology of tropes illustrating the tradition of the German romantic novel. One insanely irrational and beautiful image, of a motorcyclist spinning over the heads of characters in a nightclub, anticipates the complex rendering of mental states in Murnau’s Sunrise. (JR)… Read more »

Nosferatu

The Munich Film Archive’s invaluable restoration of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1923), the first and probably the greatest of all vampire films, which at around 95 minutes is a good ten minutes longer than previous versions. Henrik Galeen scripted this unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the film shows Murnau’s uncanny mixture of expressionism and location shooting at its finest. (JR)… Read more »

Girl Happy

Part of Elvis Presley’s comeuppance for his fame was having to make films like this 1965 musical, in which he chaperones a mobster’s daughter (Shelley Fabares) in Fort Lauderdale. (If only the Colonel had allowed him and Sammy Davis Jr. to costar in The Defiant Ones, history might have been different.) Boris Sagal directed, and the secondary cast includes Paramount standby Harold J. Stone, Gary Crosby, and Jackie Coogan. (JR)… Read more »