Monthly Archives: September 1988

Friendship’s Death

Peter Wollen’s adaptation of his own science fiction story (included in his collection Readings and Writings) is mainly an exercise for two talking heads; this is Wollen’s first solo feature (after previous colloborations with Laura Mulvey), and is set in Jordan during the Black September of 1970. A British journalist (Bill Paterson) encounters a female extraterrestrial android named Friendship (Tilda Swinton) after she has been picked up by a PLO patrol, and the lengthy dialogues between them concentrate largely on her sympathy for and identification with the Palestinians; an epilogue focuses on a crystal she leaves behind containing thought images, which the journalist’s daughter is able to play back in London many years later. Although some of the ideas expressed in this talky film are interesting and provocative, writer-director Wollen remains a rather clunky and unimaginative filmmaker, and not even Friendship’s crystal message escapes the plodding banality of his mise en scene. The results are an intriguing appendage to a striking story (Wollen changes the sex of Friendship from male to female in the film), but are neither much of an improvement on the original nor much of a film (1987). (JR) Read more

Dark Habits

On its face this 1984 comedy by Pedro Almodovar (Law of Desire) ought to be one of his most irreverent: Yolanda (Cristina S. Pascual), a junkie and nightclub singer, runs to a convent to escape a murder rap, where the freewheeling nuns (including Carmen Maura, Julieta Serrano, and Marisa Paredes)who favor such things as LSD and soft-core porntry to save her soul. Unfortunately, the results are rather limp as narrative, and the better moments never quite make up for the sluggish filmmaking. Worst of all, the film commits an act of inexcusable (and tacky) vandalism: appropriating one of the most beautiful film scores ever written (by Miklos Rozsa, for Resnais’ Providence) without any acknowledgment and using diverse fragments of it with no sensitivity whatsoever. This is in no way an hommage, but an act of theft. (JR) Read more

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind

For better or worse, one of Steven Spielberg’s best films (1977), and perhaps still the best expression of his benign, dreamy-eyed vision. Humanity’s first contact with alien beings proves to be a cause for celebration and a form of showbiz razzle-dazzle that resembles a slowly descending chandelier in a movie palace. The events leading up to this epiphany are a mainly well-orchestrated buildup through which several diverse individualsRichard Dreyfuss, Francois Truffaut, Melinda Dillonare drawn to the site where this spectacle takes place. Very close in overall spirit and nostalgic winsomeness to the fiction of Ray Bradbury, with beautiful cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond that deservedly won an Oscar. This is dopey Hollywood mysticism all right, but thanks to considerable craft and showmanship, it packs an undeniable punch. With Teri Garr, Cary Guffey, and Bob Balaban. PG, 132 min. (JR) Read more

Black And White

Winner of the Camera d’Or at the 1986 Cannes film festival for best first feature, Claire Devers’ black-and-white French feature describes the extreme sadomasochistic relationship that develops between a shy, white married accountant who works at a health club and a young black masseur. The basic plot of this arty shockerwhich depends more on nuance and suggestion than on dialogue or on-screen actionis about the accountant’s discovery that he craves pain and the radical change in his life it brings about. Though this carefully crafted film has been praised for its subtlety, I found it opaque and at times downright irritating because of its puritanical peekaboo tastefulness; if the characters had been made more interesting, it might have added up to something more. (JR) Read more

The Astro-zombies

Tura Satana (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) stars in producer-director Ted V. Mikels’s grade-Z 1967 production about a mad scientist (John Carradine) who produces zombies (actors wearing skeleton masks) in his basement, creatures who like to rip out people’s vital organs. Scripted by Mikels and Wayne Rogers; with Rafael Campos and Wally Moon. 83 min. (JR) Read more