Daily Archives: March 21, 2003

Eye Of The Storm

A punchy, engaging promo by Raphael Lyon and Andres Ingoglia for Indymedia, a grass-roots media activist network that took root at the time of the Seattle riots, with particular attention to the chapter founded in Buenos Aires. (JR)… Read more »

Mcluhan’s Wake

At first I was put off by the hagiographic and metaphoric aspects of this 2002 Canadian documentary about communications essayist Marshall McLuhan (1911-’80); director Kevin McMahon and screenwriter David Sobelman seem to regard their subject as Moses, Hegel, and Northrop Frye rolled into one. But I was won over by the film’s mimetic process, as McLuhan’s endlessly suggestive (if sometimes fruitless) probes are matched by fragmented voices intoning all the praise and criticism that have circled his work (among the commentators are Gerald O’Grady, Lewis Lapham, Neil Postman, Laurie Anderson, and McLuhan’s son Eric). Ultimately this adds up to a comprehensive and highly ambitious study of McLuhan’s life, thought, and influence. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Echelon: The Secret Power

A creepily effective French documentary by David Korn-Brzoza (2002, 82 min.) about the international surveillance networks that have proliferated since the mid-1940s, featuring interviews with former spies from Canada, England, New Zealand, and the U.S. With its cloak-and-dagger music, percussive electronic signals, jazzy computer graphics, and deft split-screen effects in ‘Scope, this film sometimes seems to enjoy the terrifying visions it illustrates. But I couldn’t tear my eyes from the screen, and some of the epigrams are memorable (Too much power can be synonymous with loss of control; Everyone’s at it, so you can’t denounce your neighbors). Understandably, American snooping gets the most attention, though the French aren’t excludedmight one concoct a paranoid scenario explaining why Australia gets so little play? In English and French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Murder Of Emmett Till

Stanley Nelson’s 2002 documentary retells the powerful story of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy who visited Mississippi in 1955, made the mistake of insulting a white woman, and was abducted, tortured, and killed. I was grateful for the attention paid to Till’s mother, Mamie, whose insistence on displaying her son’s mangled corpse to 50,000 fellow Chicagoans dramatized the miscarriage of justice when a Mississippi jury acquitted the known killers. But Nelson’s frequent use of spirituals on the sound track is needlessly sappy, and Marcia A. Smith’s script is parochial in some respects. She concludes that the Till case sparked the civil rights movement, which is certainly accurate, yet many subsequent horror stories fanned the flames. She also implies that white southerners unanimously supported such atrocities, omitting any mention of Alabama reporter William Bradford Huie, who bribed Till’s killers into confessing and later made a career of defying southern racism. 53 min. (JR)… Read more »

Oporto Of My Childhood

From the Chicago Reader (March 21, 2003). — J.R.



Manoel de Oliveira’s 2001 masterpiece explores the Portuguese city where he’s lived for more than 90 years, though it concentrates on the first 30 or so. It’s remarkable for its effortless freedom and grace in passing between past and present, fiction and nonfiction, staged performance and archival footage (including clips from two of his earliest films, Hard Work on the River Douro and Aniki-Bobo) while integrating and sometimes even synthesizing these modes. He’s mainly interested in key images, music, and locations from the Eden of his privileged youth, and some of the film’s songs are performed by him or his wife — though we also get a fully orchestrated version of Emmanuel Nunes’s Nachtmusik 1. In Portuguese with subtitles. 61 min. (JR)


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Sweet Sixteen

Ken Loach’s 2002 feature about a poor 15-year-old boy living in a seaside town in western Scotland is a real heartbreaker; like The Bicycle Thief and Rebel Without a Cause, it confronts the tragedy of someone trying to be a good person who finds that the world he inhabits won’t allow it. Liam (played by teenage soccer pro Martin Compston) has a mother in prison; his sister loves him but can’t understand why he gets into so many fights, just as his mother’s lover can’t understand why he refuses to slip drugs to his mother in prison. Paul Laverty’s script, which won the best screenplay prize at Cannes, never sentimentalizes Liam, yet it fully draws us into his world. I’m not prone to like socially deterministic films of this kind, yet Loach is so masterful at squeezing nuance and truth out of the form that I was completely won over. The Scottish brogue is subtitled. 106 min. Gene Siskel Film Center, Saturday, March 22, 5:30, and Monday, March 24, 6:15.… Read more »