From the Chicago Reader (October 6, 2006). — J.R.
Pynchon freaks can be divided into two categories: those fascinated by his work, who respect his wish to be known through it, and those fascinated by his life, who see his writing as an illustration of his experiences. Aimed at the latter group, this 2001 Swiss documentary by Fosco and Donatello Dubini begins by enlisting a former Pynchon squeeze to show us his LA digs from the early 70s (she’s identified as Bianca from Gravity’s Rainbow, which discounts whatever art he brought to his experiences) and goes mostly downhill from there. Pynchon groupies weigh in while significant critics like Edward Mendelson are omitted, and even as gossip the movie reflects poorly on some of the author’s old friends. But the archival footage does include Lee Harvey Oswald (who may have been in Mexico City at the same time as Pynchon) and a cat freaking out on mescaline. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »
The Iraq war makes perfect sense for defense contractors like Blackwater USA, Halliburton KBR, and Titan Corporation, which pocket billions of tax dollars as they demonstrate capitalism at its most remorseless. Protected from prosecution, their personnel sometimes trained by U.S. soldiers, these companies pull off such scams as charging $99 for each bag of poorly washed laundry (soldiers are forbidden to clean their own) and making dangerous delivery runs to needy soldiers even though the trucks are empty. MoveOn house director Robert Greenwald (Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price) is a mediocre filmmaker, but this expos… Read more »
The original version of Orson Welles’s landmark 1952 independent featurenot the so-called restoration released in 1992, but the film as it originally looked and sounded, courtesy of a 16-millimeter print owned by cinematographer Gary Graver, one of Welles’s key collaborators during the last phase of his career. For all the liberties taken with the play, this may well be the greatest Shakespeare film (Welles’s later Chimes at Midnight is the only other contender)a brooding expressionist dream of the play made in eerie Moorish locations in Morocco and Italy over nearly three years, yet held together by a remarkably cohesive style and atmosphere (and beautifully shot by Anchisi Brizzi, G.R. Aldo, and George Fanto). Welles, despite his misleading reputation in the U.S. as a Hollywood filmmaker, made about 75 percent of his films as a fly-by-night independent in order to regain the artistic control he’d had on Citizen Kane; Othello, the first of these features, is arguably an even more important film in his career than Kane, since it inaugurated the more fragmented shooting style that dominates his subsequent work. The most impressive performance here is that of Micheal MacLiammoir as Iago; Welles’s own underplaying of the title role meshes well with the somnambulistic mood, but apart from some magnificent line readings makes less of a dramatic impression.… Read more »
Ever since Benito Mussolini invented the film festival, in Venice in 1932, art and industry have merged at festivals to create strange bedfellows. Now the workings of film culture are highlighted by incongruous blends of polemics and test marketing, promotion and education, displays of power and tributes to art and artistry.
The fascist splendor of the outdoor screenings in Venice, involving grandiose fountains and light displays, lasted for at least a half century (I saw one with Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers in 1979). Now they’re gone, but vestiges of the portentous atmosphere linger, including elaborate security measures this year–every viewer was searched thoroughly before entering any of the festival’s half-dozen venues. But the seriousness of the jury, headed by Catherine Deneuve, was no less striking, as it gave the two top prizes to the best films I saw there, Alain Resnais’ Hearts and Jia Zhang-ke’s Still Life.
Both movies were shown at the Toronto film festival afterward, but neither is coming to the Chicago International Film Festival, whose programming this year seems to suffer, as usual, from minimal clout, bad timing, disorganization, and the tendency of its better programmers to move on. (This year’s notable loss was Helen Gramates.) Of the other ten best features I saw in Venice and Toronto–Paul Verhoeven’s Black Book, Abderrahmane Sissako’s Bamako, Jafar Panahi’s Offside, Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa, Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth, Ron Mann’s Tales of the Rat Fink, Manoel de Oliveira’s Belle Toujours, Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Invisible Waves, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Syndromes and a Century–only the last three have made it into the Chicago festival.… Read more »
Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann (Grass, Go Further) may be more a fan of pop culture than a critic, but he’s also a closet art historian, as evidenced by this documentary about the eccentric and influential hot-rod designer and outsider artist Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Seeing Roth’s goofy imagery in everything from comic books to beach party movies to the shapes of electric guitars, Mann enlists writer Solomon Vesta to adapt Roth’s prose as narration, John Goodman to deliver the result, and Michael Roberts to turn Roth’s visions into animated cartoons. Some of Roth’s cars become characters, their voices furnished by Ann-Margret, Jay Leno, Brian Wilson, Matt Groening, Tom Wolfe, and others. The pace never flags, and the enthusiasm is infectious. 76 min. a Gene Siskel Film Center. … Read more »
Three screenings this week showcase the work of Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Tropical Malady, Blissfully Yours), who studied at the School of the Art Institute and now ranks as one of the most creative and unpredictable film artists working anywhere. With a few notable exceptions, all Weerasethakul’s work is experimental, though the seven lovely shorts (1994-2003) screening at Chicago Filmmakers are experimental in the classic sense of being painterly, musical, and nonnarrative. The stories that do surface come from such sources as a comic book (Malee and the Boy), a radio play (Like the Relentless Fury of the Pounding Waves), and an offscreen conversation (Thirdworld). In more recent works screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, the presence of nature begins to overwhelm the more formal elements; one of them, Worldly Desires (2005), was inspired by “memories of the jungle, 2001-2005″ and wittily juxtaposes the shooting of a soap opera and a music video there. Weerasethakul’s latest feature, Syndromes and a Century, also screens as part of the Chicago International Film Festival (see Section 1 pullout). a Wed 10/11, 7:30 PM, Chicago Filmmakers; also Thu 10/12, 6 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »