Daily Archives: March 23, 2007

The truth about “It’s All True” [Chicago Reader blog post, 3/23/07]

Posted By on 03.23.07 at 08:07 PM

 ItsAllTrue-carnival

I’d like to beat the drum a little for a terrific new book just published by University of California Press, Catherine Benamou’s It’s All True: Orson Welles’s Pan-American Odyssey, which is far and away the definitive book on It’s All True, Welles’s doomed documentary project about Latin America in the 1940s. Maybe the fact that the same publisher is bringing out a book of mine about Welles in a couple of months gives me a special interest in the subject; I should also note that Benamou, who’s been working on her book for well over two decades, is an old friend. (She also arranged recently for the purchase of two major Welles collections by the University of Michigan, which are going by the name “Everybody’s Orson Welles.” I was privileged to be the first visitor to this mountain of material in Ann Arbor last summer, which is where I collected the stills used on my own book jacket.)

Some readers may be put off a bit by Catherine’s academic language, but the fact remains that so much fresh and even startling information is available here—information that corrects countless myths—that if you care about Welles at all, you can’t afford to ignore this book.

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The Exterminating Angels

In 2005, French writer-director Jean-Claude Brisseau was convicted of sexual harassment for pressuring actresses to masturbate in his presence during auditions for his feature Secret Things. Now he’s made a sexually explicit film fictionalizing the whole episode, which is unbelievably pretentious and a bit of a hoot but rarely boring. Critics I admire have assured me that many of Brisseau’s earlier films are less silly, more interesting, and even commendable. Hearing him try to defend himself at a recent festival, backed up by the actresses from this 2006 feature, was even more fun than this screwy movie. In French with subtitles. 108 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Secret Life Of Words

Sensitive yet somewhat opportunistic, this 2005 Spanish feature by writer-director Isabel Coixet transfers to a Europudding context the sort of disabled characters so popular with Oscar voters. A withdrawn, traumatized, and hearing-impaired factory worker (Sarah Polley) volunteers to take care of a foulmouthed, burned, and temporarily blinded oil rigger (Tim Robbins, Mr. Oscar Grubber himself). Neither disability is handled convincingly, but despite all the emotional showboating, the story is affecting whenever it strays from its most obvious points. Julie Christie contributes an impressive cameo toward the end. 115 min. (JR)… Read more »

Unrequited Love

This 2006 feature is my favorite to date by English writer-director Christopher Petit (Radio On). Subtitled both On Stalking and Being Stalked and A Story of Obsessive Passion, it’s about a young woman (Rebecca Marshall) stalking a London academic (Gregory Dart, author of the source novel) who is himself obsessed with a woman in Leipzig. Both paranoid and lyrical, the movie visualizes its strange tale mainly through ersatz surveillance footage, and the music is appropriately Hitchcockian. To complicate matters, the first-person voice-over is shared by Marshall and Petit himself (his portion is full of film references). Formally this is a dazzler. 77 min. (JR)… Read more »

Regular Lovers

Philippe Garrel’s bittersweet 178-minute epic about the May 1968 demonstrations in Paris and their aftermath is one of his finest narrative films. Shot in ravishing black and white by the great William Lubtchansky, it distills the brooding melancholy of Garrel’s meditative and romantic oeuvre, which has always been tied to the legacy of silent cinema (as the solo piano score here reflects). This 2005 feature focuses on a young Parisian poet played by Garrel’s son Louis (who played a similar if cockier role in Bertolucci’s less authentic The Dreamers) and his relationship with a sculptress (Clotilde Hesme). It’s ultimately limited by its political defeatism, which Garrel characteristically treats as a voluptuous embrace tied to the hero’s opium addiction. But it’s very good in showing his pampered life, which comes to the fore comically when he goes on trial for evading the draft. In French with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »

The Great Communist Bank Robbery

In 1959 six Romanian Jewsfive communist officials who’d been drummed out of the party and the wife of oneheld up the national bank in Bucharest for reasons that remain unclear (the stolen cash was traceable inside Romania and worthless outside). After hundreds of arrests and thousands of interrogations, they were caught and, in order to avoid death sentences, agreed to reenact their heist for a propaganda film called Reconstruction; except for the wife, all of them were executed anyway after a show trial. Filmmaker Alexandru Solomon deftly explains what he can in this 2004 documentary, using interviews and excerpts from the mendacious Reconstruction, but the surviving wife apparently eluded his grasp. In English and subtitled Romanian. 70 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Great Garrick

Conceivably the most neglected of James Whale’s better works, this hilarious period farce (1937, 91 min.) imagines a hoax perpetrated by the Comedie-Francaise to teach the conceited English actor David Garrick (Brian Aherne) “a lesson in acting.” The only problem is, Garrick is in on the gag, which leads to a variety of comic complications at a country inn. This boisterous movie helps to justify critic Tom Milne’s claims that Whale was a kind of premodernist Jean-Luc Godard. Rarely have the art and pleasure of acting, demonstrated here in countless varieties of ham, been expressed with as much self-reflexive energy, and Whale’s enjoyable cast (including Olivia de Havilland, Edward Everett Horton, Melville Cooper, Lionel Atwill, Lana Turner, Marie Wilson, Albert Dekker, Fritz Leiber, and the wonderfully manic Luis Alberni) takes full advantage of the opportunity. 16mm. Also on the program: Skip the Maloo! (1931), a Charley Chase short directed by James Parrott. a Sat 3/24, 8 PM, LaSalle Bank Cinema. … Read more »