Monthly Archives: May 1988

Heimat

Edgar Reitz’s 15<4-hour film is an attempt to restore a sense of continuity to 20th-century German history by presenting 63 years, from 1919 to 1982, in the life of Schabbach, a small village in the Hunsruck region. The chief characters are the members of the Simon familythe grandfather is a blacksmith, the grandson will be the founder of a precision optical companyand the shape of the plot is dictated by the century's constantly changing economic and political conditions, driving some members of the family to emigrate, others to form alliances with the Nazis, others to find prosperity in the postwar economic miracle. Reitz avoids the ceremonial eventsbirths, deaths, marriagesthat usually punctuate this sort of family chronicle, concentrating instead on the textures of daily existence and the shifting relationships among the characters. Though not without its longueurs (the treatment of the 50s, for example, is largely limited to an extremely conventional tale of adolescent frustration and romantic revolt) and marked by a rising nostalgia for the good old days as opposed to the debased present, Reitz's project stands as a monumental act of imagination, teeming with evocative incident and Proustian detail. (JR) … Read more »

Zabriskie Point

Though Michelangelo Antonioni’s only American film was very poorly received when it was released in 1969, time has been much kinder to it than to, say, La Notte, which was made a decade earlier. Antonioni’s nonrealistic approach to American counterculture myths and his loose and slow approach to narrative may still put some people offalong with the uneven dialogue (credited to Fred Gardner, Sam Shepard, Tonino Guerra, Clare Peploe, and the director)but his beautiful handling of ‘Scope compositions and moods has many lingering aftereffects, and the grand and beautiful apocalyptic finale is downright spectacular. With Mark Frechette, Daria Halprin, and Rod Taylor. 112 min. (JR)… Read more »

Willow

A George Lucas special-effects fantasy epic about war, peace, munchkins, and magic directed by Ron Howard, although reportedly executive producer Lucas periodically took over the reins to make it his own. Screenplay by Bob Dolman, based on a story by Lucas; the lead actors are Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, Joanne Whalley, Jean Marsh, and Billy Barty. This is pretty much the Lucas mixture as usual, this time in a Tolkien mode, with everything from the Old Testament to Kurosawa to Disney fed into a blender and turned into wallpaper. For easy-to-please five-year-olds of all ages. (JR)… Read more »

White Mischief

Michael Radford’s follow-up feature to Nineteen Eighty-Four deals with the hedonism and decadence of aristocratic English colonialists in Kenya in 1940, where the opening months of World War II had relatively little impactspecifically, in a place called Happy Valley near Nairobi. Drugs, sexual intrigue, and the murder of the Earl of Erroll (Charles Dance) comprise the main bill of fare. Based on the best-selling book by James Fox, with an all-star cast including Greta Scacchi, Joss Ackland, Sarah Miles, Geraldine Chaplin, Ray McAnally, Murray Head, John Hurt, and Trevor Howard. An exceedingly handsome filmthanks to Roger Deakins’s cinematography, and the beauty of both the African settings and Scacchibut also a fairly empty one whose voyeuristic relationship to the upper-class decadence seems rather two-faced. Although far from boring, this is a serious disappointment for fans of Nineteen Eighty-Four. (JR)… Read more »

Waterwalker

This new feature by independent filmmaker, artist, and canoeist Bill Mason (Cry of the Wild) describes a lyrical journey through the white-water rapids and swamp country around Lake Superior. On the same program is another Chicago premiere: Judith Hadel and Wade Black’s Dorothy Molter: Living in the Boundary Waters, a documentary featurette about a contemporary folk hero of northern Minnesotaa backwoods settler who spent 56 of her 79 years in the Boundary Waters canoe area and a spiritual grandmother of the north woods who has been widely celebrated in the media for her strength, endurance, and individuality. Although Molter is a fascinating film subject, the ultraconventional film treatment that she’s given here tends to sentimentalize her unconventionality without digging too deeply into its implications. Hadel and Black will be present at the Friday and Saturday screenings.… Read more »

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 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). (JR)… Read more »

Two Rode Together

This rather atypical late (1961) John Ford western stars James Stewart as a cynical marshal hired to negotiate with the Comanches for white prisoners and Richard Widmark as a cavalry officer who comes along with him. Not a film with any of the resonance of The Searchers, despite a certain similarity in theme, but interesting nonetheless. With Linda Cristal, Shirley Jones, Andy Devine, John McIntire, Mae Marsh, Henry Brandon, and Anna Lee. 109 min. (JR)… Read more »

Throne Of Blood

Akira Kurosawa’s remarkable 1957 restaging of Macbeth in samurai and expressionist terms is unquestionably one of his finest workscharged with energy, imagination, and, in keeping with the subject, sheer horror. Incidentally, this was reputed to have been T.S. Eliot’s favorite film. With Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada. In Japanese with subtitles. 110 min. (JR)… Read more »

Three In The Attic

This feature by former Orson Welles associate Richard Wilson is both a fascinating period piece (1968) and a memorable black comedy whose quasi-feminist theme was rather ahead of its time. Each of three college womenYvette Mimieux, Judy Pace, and Maggie Threttdiscovers that her boyfriend, Christopher Jones, is secretly sleeping with the other two. They join forces to hold him captive in an attic, where they gradually service him sexually to near death by running a carefully scheduled relay. Good, disturbing fun. (JR)… Read more »

Riddles Of The Sphinx

Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s second feature, made in 1977, relates a feminist parable in 13 360-degree pans. Considered a basic work by many academics, it has very little filmmaking skill or intellectual originality, but it’s so teachable that a lot of film teachers find it very useful. Like many other experimental narratives made in England during this period, it could be described as a film designed to be discussed more than seen (or heard), though it’s at least more watchable (and hearable) than Wollen and Mulvey’s previous feature, Penthesilea: Queen of the Amazons. (JR)… Read more »

Repentance

Tengiz Abuladze’s dreamlike allegorical fantasy about Stalinism, as well as despotism in general, is probably the best known and almost certainly one of the best Soviet films to have surfaced as a result of glasnost. Part three in a trilogy, the film needs no special knowledge or background to be enjoyed and appreciated. Avtandil Makharadze is especially effective (and funny) as the despotic Georgian mayor who represents a composite of famous dictators (Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini), a comic-opera figure who literally sings arias at his victims, and also as his divided son who has to justify his father’s outrages many years later. While possibly overlong at 150 minutes, the film represents a complex achievement: an attempt to work through the unacknowledged nightmares of the past, often using fantasy and comedy as essential ingredients, and a striking stylistic effort in its own right. Winner of the special jury prize at the 1987 Cannes film festival. (JR)… Read more »

Powaqqatsi: Life In Transformation

Godfrey Reggio’s 1988 follow-up to his 1983 Koyaanisqatsi, working again with a score by Philip Glass, turns to the third world to mount its essayistic propositions. Ken Richards collaborated with Reggio on the script. Part two of a nonverbal trilogy that already sounds suspiciously like the kitschy Family of Man photography exhibit of the 50sa heap of high-tech platitudes about human endeavor. Quatsi, incidentally, is the Hopi Indian term for life. 99 min. (JR)… Read more »

Perceval

Eric Rohmer’s least typical and least popular film also happens to be his best: a wonderful version of Chretien de Troyes’ 12th-century epic poem, set to music, about the adventures of an innocent knight. Deliberately artificial in style and settingthe perspectives are as flat as in medieval tapestries, the colors bright and vivid, the musical deliveries strange and often comicthe film is as faithful to its source as it can be, given the limited material available about the period. Rohmer’s fidelity to the text compels him to include narrative descriptions as well as dialogue in the sung passages. Absolutely uniquea must for medievalists, as well as filmgoers looking for something different. This film also features the acting debut of the late and very talented Pascal Ogier (1978). (JR)… 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 may be 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 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). (JR)… Read more »

The Moderns

Set in Paris in 1926 among American expatriates, this Alan Rudoph feature (1988) isn’t everything one might hope for; Rudolph had wanted to film his and Jon Bradshaw’s script since the mid-70s, and it probably stewed in his consciousness too long. But for the first hour it’s very nearly as good as Choose Me and Remember My Name, and even when it isn’t working it remains fascinating. Set in a claustrophobic world of cafes, studios, and other cluttered interiors, with a great many smoky close-ups and drifting camera movements, the film is about the public profile of modernism more than its inner workings. Rudolph treats all his characters as contemporaries rather than historical figures, and as usual in his work the cover stories of the characters count for more than anything else, even when slipping away. The cast is by and large superb: Keith Carradine, Geraldine Chaplin, Linda Fiorentino, Genevieve Bujold, Kevin J. O’Connor (as Ernest Hemingway), Wallace Shawn, and John Lone. 128 min. (JR)… Read more »