Daily Archives: April 26, 2002

Umberto D

Screenwriter Cesare Zavattini likely deserves as much credit as director Vittorio De Sica for such masterpieces of Italian neorealism as The Bicycle Thief (1947) and this 1952 feature about a retired civil servant (schoolteacher Carlo Battisti) who discovers that his meager pension won’t pay the rent for his room. He’s befriended by a maid in the same flat who’s pregnant but unsure of the father’s identity; apart from her the only creature he feels close to is his dog, and though he contemplates suicide, he has to find someone to care for it. This simple, almost Chaplinesque story of a man fighting to preserve his dignity is even more moving for its firm grasp of everyday activities–such as the maid’s skirmishes against ants in the kitchen. Clearly Zavattini’s contribution, this fascination with the ordinary anticipates Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). This is truly a great film, recently celebrated at length in My Voyage to Italy, Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Italian cinema. 89 min. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 26 through May 2. … Read more »

Hollywood Confidential [THE CAT'S MEOW]

From the Chicago Reader (April 26, 2002). — J.R.

The Cat’s Meow

*** (A must-see)

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Written by Steven Peros

With Kirsten Dunst, Cary Elwes, Edward Herrmann, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Tilly, Victor Slezak, James Laurenson, and Claudia Harrison.

ORSON WELLES: In the original script [of Citizen Kane] we had a scene based on a notorious thing Hearst had done, which I still cannot repeat for publication. And I cut it out because I thought it hurt the film and wasn’t in keeping with Kane’s character. If I’d kept it in, I would have had no trouble with Hearst. He wouldn’t have dared admit it was him.

PETER BOGDANOVICH: Did you shoot the scene?

ORSON WELLES: No, I didn’t. I decided against it. If I’d kept it in, I would have bought silence for myself forever.  — This Is Orson Welles

I edited This Is Orson Welles, a series of interviews Peter Bogdanovich did with Welles, at the request not of Bogdanovich but of Oja Kodar, Welles’s companion and collaborator for the last 20-odd years of his life, to whom Welles had willed the rights. The incident Welles alluded to in this exchange is the subject of The Cat’s Meow, directed by Bogdanovich and adapted by Steven Peros from his own play.… Read more »

Ellipses Reels 1-4

Ellipses3

My exposure to Stan Brakhage’s massive oeuvre has been somewhat limited, but these four works made in 1998 are among the most exciting and ravishing I’ve seen, rivaling even Scenes From Under Childhood (1970). Aptly described by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice as “scratch-and-stain films,” these mainly nonphotographic works “are, among other things, a visual analogue to abstract expressionism.” Reel 1 (22 min.) registers as visual music in its development of motifs and its use of rests to divide the work into discrete sections–a music that pulses, throbs, and sometimes winks on and off like a strobe light. Reel 2 (15 min.) credits Sam Bush as the “visual musician” and Brakhage as the “composer”; more staccato, dramatic, and richly orchestrated than the first reel, it occasionally recalls early Stravinsky in its fierce rhythms. Reels 3 (15 min.) and 4 (20 min.) are my favorites: the former uses bursts of photography (water, sky, birds, forest, sand, a nude child, merry-go-round horses), and the latter often suggests animation, with a black field disrupted by tantalizing bursts and smears of color. Also on the program are two Brakhage works I haven’t seen — Coupling (1999, 5 min.) and Night Mulch & Very (2001, 7 min.).… Read more »