Monthly Archives: May 1988

Vampires in Havana

This is almost as much fun as it sounds: a Cuban feature-length animated film (by Juan Padron) that makes fun of horror and gangster movies in a bawdy and caricatural style. Among the heavies who are out to steal Professor von Dracula’s formula, which allows vampires to survive in sunlight, are the European Group of vampires from Dusseldorf and the Vampire Mafia from Chicago. Although the animation style is less than brilliant, there are enough action and high spirits here to make this lively and amusing. With a good Afro-Cuban jazz score by Rembert Egues, featuring Arturo Sandoval’s trumpet (1985). (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, May 20 and 21, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, May 22, 5:30 and 7:30; and Monday through Thursday, May 23 through 26, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114)… Read more »

The Funeral

This first film of Japanese writer-director and former actor Juzo Itami lacks the freewheeling episodic form and comic exhilaration of his second, Tampopo; but as a sustained social satire, it succeeds more than either that film or his third, A Taxing Woman. Itami’s subject is a family funeral that lasts three days and the elaborate preparations, considerations, and rituals that accompany it–from expenses to the videotape advising both the family and the guests what to say to one another. The results are perhaps a mite overlong, but Itami’s vigorous filmmaking keeps things lively, and Ozu veteran Chishu Ryu is especially welcome in a cameo as the officiating priest. One also gets some early indications of Itami’s handling of food and sex, which reaches full flower in Tampopo. With Nabuko Miyamoto (Itami’s wife) and Tsutomu Yamazaki (1984). (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, May 20 through 26)… Read more »

Return Trip Tango

Although it only runs for half an hour, Angelo Restivo’s cunningly ordered, well-crafted, and locally made adaptation of a Julio Cortazar story makes use of so many free-floating narrative signifiers–including an adept use of sound and music–that it comes across as an outline for a novel. Circling around an ambiguous murder mystery that isn’t so much solved as multiplied and varied like a musical theme, this tantalizing short provides a kind of do-it-yourself fiction kit; what you bring to it is what you get. With Marika Turano, Celia Lipinski, and Mark Dember. (International House, 1414 E. 59th St., Friday, May 20, 8:00 and 10:00, to be shown with Luis

Buñuel‘s Susana, 753-2274)… Read more »

The Mozart Brothers

Like Borges and Bioy-Casares’s no less questionable Chronicles of Bustos Domecq, this satirical look at the presumptions of the avant-garde is apt to be funnier to people who dislike most of the avant-garde on principle than to those with more sympathy–who maybe in for a bumpy ride. Either way, Suzanne Osten’s Swedish comedy certainly has its laughs, although a certain rhythmic monotony and sameness in the scenes prevents it from building as much as it should (in the sense that, say, Mel Brooks’s The Producers and Albert Brooks’s Real Life do, to cite two other celebrations of eccentric theatrical excess). A typical scene begins with the director of an avant-garde production of Don Giovanni asking members of his company to do something outrageous (“Do something erotic with objects”), and ends with a musician grumbling or making threats (“If you say I’m antagonistic once again, I’ll hit you with my shoe”). On the other hand, I previewed this movie on tape, and the big-screen treatment in Dolby that it’ll be getting at its Chicago premiere will undoubtedly help. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)… Read more »

Stormy Monday

A watchable first feature by English writer-director Mike Figgis, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. It’s “America Week” in Newcastle, and an American gangster/businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to take advantage of this by forcing the owner of a local jazz club (Sting) to sell his building. Meanwhile, a Polish free jazz group arrives at the club, and a young Irishman (Sean Bean) working there gets involved with a part-time hooker (Melanie Griffith) from Minnesota working for the American. While there’s something rather glacial about this international parable and noirish exercise, apart from a few amusing gags, the actors, settings, and music manage to hold the interest, and the underlying theme–the precise equivalence of Reaganism and gangsterism for most English people–is timely and pointed. (Oakbrook Center, Ford City, Fine Arts, Old Orchard)… Read more »

Stormy Monday

A watchable first feature by English writer-director Mike Figgis, beautifully shot by Roger Deakins. It’s America Week in Newcastle, and an American gangster/businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) is trying to take advantage of this by forcing the owner of a local jazz club (Sting) to sell his building. Meanwhile, a Polish free jazz group arrives at the club, and a young Irishman (Sean Bean) working there gets involved with a part-time hooker (Melanie Griffith) working for the American. While there’s something rather glacial about this international parable and noirish exercise, apart from a few amusing gags, the actors, settings, and music manage to hold the interest, and the underlying themethe precise equivalence of Reaganism and gangsterism for most English peoplestill has its points. (JR)… Read more »

Speak, Silent One

The first feature of Manuel Gutierrez Aragon, Habla, mudita (1973), focuses on the relationship between a book publisher (Lopez Vazquez) and a deaf-mute shep<-herd<-ess (Kiti Manver) in a mountainous countryside setting. Interpreted by some as an allegory about the isolation of Spanish intellectuals toward the end of Franco's regime, the film was shot by cinematographer Luis Cuadrado. … Read more »

68

A rather awkward and ineffectual story about two Hungarian-American brothers in San Francisco trying to establish their identities, directed by Steven Kovacs. Despite the evident sincerity of the themethe generational and cultural gap between the values of the father and those of his two sons (one of whom eventually discovers he is gay)and its treatment, the film lacks the craft to put it all together into a coherent form. With Eric Larson, Robert Locke, Tara Erra, Vander Gaw, and Neil Young.… Read more »

Shy People

Andrei Konchalovsky’s engrossing feature about a New York journalist (Jill Clayburgh) who invites her teenage daughter (Martha Plimpton) along on an expedition to the remote bayous of Louisiana to hunt up some remote relatives for a magazine article she’s writinga journey that leads her to the imperious and eccentric widow Ruth (Barbara Hershey) and her family. The interesting and exciting thing about this exercise in comparative anthropologywhich can incidentally be read as a brilliantly understated cold-war allegoryis that it is never complacent or obvious; the relative values of civilization and primitivism are constantly juxtaposed, but without the kind of facility that one would expect from such a venture. The mysticism and poetry of Konchalovsky’s conception, moreover, are never forced, and never allowed to interfere with the film’s value as entertainment (adventure, comedy, and melodrama, with a faint touch of fantasy)yielding a movie that manages to be Russian in conception without sacrificing any of its local truths. Gerard Brach and Marjorie David collaborated with Konchalovsky on the script; with Merritt Butrick, John Philbin, and Mare Winningham. Chris Menges is the talented cinematographer; the music is by Tangerine Dream. (JR)… Read more »

Shakedown

The cops and the crack dealers are in cahoots in this New York smash-banger, and a legal aid attorney (Peter Weller) and an undercover cop (Sam Elliott) mutter macho witticisms out of the sides of their mouths, kick occasional ass, and allow their stuntmen stand-ins to prove that they’re the good guys. The problem with routine crime and law enforcement fantasies of this kind is that their vague stabs at authenticity are completely subverted by action sequences that belong in Road Runner cartoons. James Glickenhaus wrote and directed this childish nonsense pretty skillfully, as if it made sense. With Patricia Charbonneau, Antonio Fargas, and Blanche Baker. (JR)… Read more »

Sexuality In Experimental Cinema

Pretty much a hodgepodge program, with the following titles: James Broughton’s Four in the Afternoon (1951) and This Is It (1971), Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954), Paul Sharits’s Peace Mandala/End War (1966), George Kuchar’s Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966), Ed Emshwiller’s Relativity (1966), and the late Curt McDowell’s Nudes (A Sketchbook) (1975). The problem with collections of this kind is that, interesting as many of the individual titles are, they seldom go well together, and seeing half a dozen very different experimental filmmakers at one stretch tends to require too many mental gear changes.… Read more »

Never Say Die

Bob Hope plays a hypochondriac millionaire who thinks that he only has two weeks to live; Martha Raye plays a gold digger who marries him at a Swiss spa. Elliott Nugent directed this 1939 comedy, scripted by Preston Sturges along with Don Hartman and Frank Butler; Andy Devine, Alan Mowbray, Gale Sondergaard, Sig Rumann, and Monty Woolley are among the stars. Graham Greene seemed rather fond of this when it came out.… Read more »

The Nether Regions

This varied program of ten short, tasteless underground shockers is also billed as The Lower Depths, but if we listed it that way, you might confuse it with the adaptations of the Gorki play by Renoir and Kurosawa. The films to be shown: John Waters’s notorious and very early The Diane Linkletter Story (with Divine), 14 short films made with Otto Muehl’s Reichian Viennese commune, Willard Maas’s self-regarding Orgia (filmed by his wife Marie Menken), Curt McDowell’s Polanski parody Stinkybutt, Rudy Burckhardt’s satiric Sodom and Gomorrah, Stan Brakhage’s The Women, Herbert Jean de Grasse’s satiric The Organic Vampire, David Devensky’s Caterpillars and Ants, Richard Beveridge’s Keep Bright the Devil’s Doorknobs, and Osamu Tezuka’s Jumping. A presentation of the Experimental Film Coalition.… Read more »

Naked Spacesliving Is Round

Significantly, when Vietnamese filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha gives herself a director’s credit in her remarkable meditation on West African life and architecture, she places an X over the word directed. Why? Because a central aspect of her project is the dislocation of the authority by which we generally presume to understand the alien, and redirection and indirection are equally descriptive of what she is up to. A composer and a poet, she pans and cuts in irregular rhythms, continually stopping and starting, and rather than direct our focus and interpretation like an anthropologist, she interweaves three distinctly accented female voices speaking English, each of which conveys a different kind of discourse, traversing the images at different angles. Like the separate typefaces in Mallarme’s poem A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance, these voices and mesmerizing recordings of African music encircle and commingle with their subjects rather than appropriate them in linear/colonial/narrative fashion. (Sample: The house is composed like the human body. The earth or clay is the flesh, the water the blood, the stones the bones, and the placid surface of the walls the skin.) The results are both beautiful and instructive, a duet between filmmaker and subject, disclosures and enclosures, which remains perpetually fresh and unpredictable over the film’s 134 minutes.… Read more »

Homecoming

Cantonese director Yim Ho’s delicate and touching film charts the return of Coral (Josephine Koo), an attractive Hong Kong businesswoman in her thirties, to her native village in southern mainland China. Staying with her childhood friend Pearl (Si Quin Gao Wa)now a school principal married to a farmer, with a daughtershe discovers that her urban life and problems have irrevocably estranged her from the ways and attitudes of the village, although she and Pearl make many heartfelt efforts to bridge their differences. Kong Liang’s screenplay eschews melodrama and big events for quiet insights, and a remarkably dense portrait of the village emerges, framed by Yim with a distinctive grasp of composition, landscape, and personal detail that occasionally evokes the complexity of a Brueghel. The performances are nuanced and moving, and one comes to know these peoplenot only the heroines, but Pearl’s defensive and tongue-tied husband, an unruly and mercenary little boy, a man who can’t read the letters in English his son sends him from UCLA, a wise uncle, and many otherson a first-name basis.… Read more »