Monthly Archives: November 2006

Nouvelle Vague

Alain Delon stars in what may be the last truly great theatrical feature by Jean-Luc Godard to date (1990), though it’s never had a U.S. distributor. It’s also one of his most challenging and difficult films, which helps to explain its scarcity, but it’s also hard to think of many films in Godard’s career that look as beautiful. Filmed in lush Swiss locations that are very close to where Godard grew up, the film is in part a sustained reverie on what it means both to be rich and not to be rich, and the contrapuntal role played here by the wealthy characters and their servants is part of what makes this film so operatic in feeling. In keeping with Godard’s compulsive practice of quoting, every line of dialogue is purportedly traceable to a literary source, with Raymond Chandler and William Faulkner among the many authors utilized. In French with subtitles. 84 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Driller Killer

I put off seeing Abel Ferrara’s second feature (which came after his pseudonymous Nine Lives of a Wet Pussy) for years because of its title, but when I finally caught up with it I found it a lot more interesting and substantial than I’d imagined — and only incidentally the exploitation horror item it was apparently supposed to be. Ferrara stars (again pseudonymously) as a painter sharing a downtown Manhattan loft with two women who, gradually driven insane by money problems, a punk band located on the floor below, and other frustrations, starts murdering street derelicts with a power drill. The script by Nicholas St. John (who would become a Ferrara regular) not only anticipates American Psycho but offers a fascinating look at New York’s bohemian art scene circa 1979. 96 min. (JR)… Read more »

Films by Pere Portabella

Two of the greatest works by Catalan underground filmmaker Pere Portabella. The Franco-era black-and-white Umbracle (1970, 85 min.) is a provocation and protest composed of many dissimilar parts, ranging from Christopher Lee touring Barcelona to aggressive repetitions of sound and image. The more opulent, post-Franco color film Warsaw Bridge (1990, 85 min.) threads its own anthology of attractions (including operas, concerts, a lecture, a novel, a swank party, a forest fire, and sex) into something resembling a single narrative. Both are in Spanish and Catalan with subtitles. a Fri 11/17, 8 PM (Warsaw), Sat 11/18, 5 PM (Umbracle), Mon 11/20, 6 PM (Warsaw), and Wed 11/22, 8 PM (Umbracle), Gene Siskel Film Center.… Read more »

Fast Food Nation

This angry and persuasive piece of agitprop by writer-director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, A Scanner Darkly) and writer Eric Schlosser, adapting the latter’s nonfiction book of the same title, isn’t simply an account of how shit gets into our hamburgers. It’s also about Mexican immigrants who sneak across the border and wind up enslaved (or literally ground up) by meat packers, teenagers who work for fast-food companies and want to fight the system but don’t know how, and many other social as well as environmental factors. Many reviews have suggested that this is as politically mild as a John Sayles movie, but Linklater clearly agrees with the frustrated kid who says, “Right now, I can’t think of anything more patriotic than violating the Patriot Act.” The strong cast spelling this out includes Ashley Johnson, Patricia Arquette, Luis Guzman, Bruce Willis, Kris Kristofferson, Greg Kinnear, Ethan Hawke, and Catalina Sandino Moreno (Maria Full of Grace). R, 114 min. a Century 12 and CineArts6, Crown Village 18, Landmark’s Century Centre, River East 21. … Read more »

Film history that is open to the present [Chicago Reader blog post, 2006]

Film history that is open to the present

Posted By on 11.14.06 at 04:07 PM

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Last month Alexander Horwath, director of the Austrian Film Museum, sent me a press release about an ambitious and audacious retrospective he’s presenting throughout November entitled “Notre Musique,” devoted to “forty major works of fictional and documentary cinema made between 2000 and 2006.” “Film museums are often — and justifiably — viewed as places where an awareness of the historic foundations of contemporary cinema can evolve,” he begins. ”Yet a reverse perspective is equally important — an approach to film history that is open to the present.” His selection, he adds, “is not so much influenced by the best-known or `most-discussed’ films of recent years but rather by the unbroken capacity of cinema to bear witness to life on this planet [his emphasis] — not just in the sense of documentation but also as an illumination of circumstances that habor a potential for change.” What he’s put together, in short, is a group of films that are supposed to bear witness, politically and responsibly, to the present moment — a daring gesture if one considers Jacques Rivette’s plausible statement in a Cahiers du Cinéma roundtable over 40 years ago, that it’s virtually impossible for a critic to know the long-term value of a film when it first appears. 

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Film History that is open to the present (2006 Reader blog post)

This was my second posting for the Chicago Reader blog post, although it might have been the first one I wrote (and the second to have been edited) — I can no longer remember for sure. –J.R.

 

 

 

 

 

Film history that is open to the present

Tue, Nov 14, 2006 at 4:07 PM

Last month Alexander Horwath, director of the Austrian Film Museum, sent me a press release about an ambitious and audacious retrospective he’s presenting throughout November entitled “Notre Musique,” devoted to “forty major works of fictional and documentary cinema made between 2000 and 2006.” “Film museums are often — and justifiably — viewed as places where an awareness of the historic foundations of contemporary cinema can evolve,” he begins. ”Yet a reverse perspective is equally important — an approach to film history that is open to the present.” His selection, he adds, “is not so much influenced by the best-known or `most-discussed’ films of recent years but rather by the unbroken capacity of cinema to bear witness to life on this planet [his emphasis] — not just in the sense of documentation but also as an illumination of circumstances that habor a potential for change.” What he’s put together, in short, is a group of films that are supposed to bear witness, politically and responsibly, to the present moment — a daring gesture if one considers Jacques Rivette’s plausible statement in a Cahiers du Cinéma roundtable over 40 years ago, that it’s virtually impossible for a critic to know the long-term value of a film when it first appears. … Read more »

Jack Smith And The Destruction Of Atlantis

Maria Montez gave socialistic answers to a rented world, declared underground filmmaker, photographer, and performance artist Jack Smith (1932-’89) in a statement that was reportedly printed and handed out at his funeral. It’s to the credit of Mary Jordan’s documentary that whatever else it overlooks, it makes that pronouncement comprehensible. Smith was a visionary anarchist artist whose pansexual and exotic utopian fantasies yielded only two finished films, Scotch Tape and Flaming Creatures, the first of which is mentioned only in Jordan’s final credits. He resisted commodification by continuously reediting his other films and reworking his live performancesa dazzling legacy that influenced everyone from Warhol to Fellini to John Waters. In some ways Smith’s art became commodified only after he died and his estranged sister gained control over his work, though that did lead to this documentary, a fascinating introduction to his special world. 94 min. (JR)… Read more »

Happy Feet

Let’s see if I have this straight: in an animated tribe of penguins who talk and sing like inner-city residents, Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) can’t sing but can tap-dance like crazy. When the tribe starts ailing due to lack of fish, he follows the aliens netting the fish all the way to the city, where he discovers that his dancing just might persuade them to stop overfishing. This curious ecological parable was directed by George Miller (Babe: Pig in the City), who still has an eye and a sense of humor but on this particular outing can’t get the script he wrote with three others to make much sense. Other voices include those of Hugh Jackman, Robin Williams, Nicole Kidman, and Brittany Murphy. PG, 98 min. (JR)… Read more »

Copying Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven never had a woman copyist, much less the gifted and attractive 23-year-old student and aspiring composer played by Diane Kruger, which might tempt one to scoff at this romantic biopic as eyewash. But Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, The Secret Garden) directs with obvious feeling rather than cynicism, and I was swept away by it despite the story’s anachronisms. Ed Harris, offering another mad-genius portrait after playing Jackson Pollock, goes to town with his hokey part, and one gets to hear a sizable chunk of the Ninth Symphony at its 1824 premiere. Writer-producers Stephen J. Rivele and Christopher Wilkinson won’t win over any purists, but if they introduce a few people to the excitements of Beethoven, they can hardly be accused of wasting their time. PG-13, 104 min. (JR)… Read more »

A Summer In La Goulette

A 1996 feature by the talented Tunisian filmmmaker and film critic Ferid Boughedir (Halfaouine) focusing on teenage girls during the summer of 1967. In French, Arabic, and Italian with subtitles. 100 min. (JR)… Read more »

Vampir-Cuadecuc

The second word in the title of Pere Portabella’s ravishing 1970 underground masterpiece, made in Spain while General Francisco Franco was still in power and shown clandestinely, means both worm’s tail and the unexposed footage at the end of film reels. The film is a silent black-and-white documentary about the shooting of Jesus Franco’s Count Dracula, with Christopher Lee, that becomes much more: the lush, high-contrast cinematography evokes deteriorating prints of Nosferatu and Vampyr, and the extraordinary soundtrack by composer Carles Santos intersperses the sounds of jet planes, drills, syrupy Muzak, and sinister electronic music, all of which ingeniously locate Dracula and our perceptions of him in the contemporary world. Moving back and forth between Franco’s film (with Dracula as an implicit stand-in for the generalissimo) and poetic production details, Portabella offers witty reflections on the powerful monopolies of both dictators and commercial cinema. The only words heard are in English, spoken by Lee and written by Bram Stoker. 75 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Bridesmaid

Like The Ceremony (1995), Claude Chabrol’s previous adaptation of a Ruth Rendell novel, this 2004 French feature seems concerned not so much with the psychopathology of everyday life as with psychopaths who lurk behind the everyday. On a more obvious level the hero (Benoit Magimel) falls in love with his sister’s bridesmaid (Laura Smet) but gradually discovers how weird she is; on a more subtle and in some ways more interesting level he lives in denial of how weird his own supposedly normal family is. Chabrol develops both stories with a great deal of finesse. With Aurore Clement. In French with subtitles. 111 min. (JR)… Read more »

Iraq in Fragments

Documentary filmmaker James Longley (Gaza Strip) has a flair for cinematography and editing and a poetic sensibility that informs both these talents. He’s also responsible for this film’s music. But the most significant credits for this examination of Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds may be the dozen translators listed. (“The future of Iraq will be in three parts,” says one Kurd. “How can you cut a country into three parts?” asks another.) Much as Emile de Antonio’s neglected In the Year of the Pig (1968) may be the only major documentary about Vietnam that actually considers the Vietnamese, this film allows the people of Iraq to speak, and what they say is fascinating throughout. In Kurdish and Arabic with subtitles. 94 min. a Landmark’s Century Centre. … Read more »

Cuadecuc-Vampir

The first word in the title of Pere Portabella’s ravishing 1970 underground masterpiece, made in Spain while General Francisco Franco was still in power and shown clandestinely, means both “worm’s tail” and the unexposed footage at the end of film reels. The film is a silent black-and-white documentary about the shooting of Jesus Franco’s Count Dracula, with Christopher Lee, that becomes much more: the lush, high-contrast cinematography evokes deteriorating prints of Nosferatu and Vampyr, and the extraordinary sound track by composer Carles Santos intersperses the sounds of jet planes, drills, syrupy Muzak, and sinister electronic music, all of which ingeniously locate Dracula and our perceptions of him in the contemporary world. Moving back and forth between Franco’s film (with Dracula as an implicit stand-in for the generalissimo) and poetic production details, Portabella offers witty reflections on the powerful monopolies of both dictators and commercial cinema. The only words heard are in English, spoken by Lee and written by Bram Stoker. 75 min. Reviewed this week in Section 1. a Sat 11/11, 5 PM, and Wed 11/15, 8 PM, Gene Siskel Film Center. I will introduce the Wednesday screening and lecture on Portabella afterward. … Read more »

3 Needles

Directed by Thomas Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden), this sprawling and ambitious three-part Canadian film (2005) traces the spread of AIDS on three continents, but it gets off to a confusing start: its South African story of infected teenage boys being treated by three nuns (Chloe Sevigny, Olympia Dukakis, Sandra Oh) is interrupted to recount how an entire Chinese village is stricken after farmers sell their blood to a naive government worker (Lucy Liu). Then a Canadian porn actor (Shawn Ashmore), eager to keep working, tries to hide his condition by stealing his father’s blood, while his mother (Stockard Channing) devises even more baroque ways of coping with the problem. By the time the movie returned to Africa, it had lost me despite its talented cast and its noble intentions. In English and various subtitled languages. 124 min. (JR)… Read more »