Daily Archives: June 1, 1989

Surname Viet Given Name Nam

The third film of Trinh T. Minh-ha, the American-based Vietnamese experimental filmmaker (Reassemblage, Naked Spaces: Living Is Round), offers a multilayered, complex, and often moving depiction of Vietnamese women and their oppression, both in Vietnam and as refugees in the U.S. Organized musically and utilizing a variety of materials ranging from interviews to newsreel footage to diverse literary and critical commentaries on the sound track, the film is as much about how we as Westerners perceive Vietnamese women as it is about its subject. Trinh’s methods of questioning and dismantling the documentary forms that are generally used to confront such a subject are radically conceived, as well as cunningly and delicately employed. Not an easy film, but an unforgettable one (1989). (JR) Read more

Spider Baby, Or The Maddest Story Ever Told

Also known as The Liver Eaters and Cannibal Orgy, this low-budget black-and-white horror comedy from 1964 stars Lon Chaney Jr. (who also sings the title tune) as a member of and chauffeur to the inbred and deranged Merrye family, which includes two bloodthirsty nymphets and a drooling pinheadall of whom like to eat spiders, kill people, and do other nasty things. Jack Hill, the exploitation auteur best known for such works as Blood Bath, Coffy, The Swinging Cheerleaders, and Switchblade Sisters, keeps things moving at a snail’s pace, and the threadbare budget deprives this movie of the grand-scale climax it seems to need. An inept cheapo by any standard, only marginally more sophisticated than an Edward Wood Jr. productionyet it carries a certain demented charm, and there’s reason to suspect that Tobe Hooper checked it out before making The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. With Carol Ohmart, Mantan Moreland, and Sid Haig. 81 min. (JR) Read more

Nineteen Eighty-four

A remarkably good translation of George Orwell’s novel, deliberately (rather than coincidentally) made in 1984, and infinitely superior to the 1956 version. Written and directed by Michael Radford, this grim SF depiction of a totalitarian future is made especially vivid and relevant by addressing and bearing witness to three separate periods at once: the time when Orwell wrote the novel, the hypothetical future in which he set the action, and the actual present. Thus the film manages to remain true both to Orwell’s projections and their contemporary meanings; with powerful performances by John Hurt, Richard Burton (in his last significant screen appearance), Suzanna Hamilton, and Cyril Cusack. (JR) Read more

A Page Of Madness

Teinosuke Kinugasa’s mind-boggling silent masterpiece of 1926 was thought to have been lost for 40 years until the director discovered a print in his garden shed. A seaman hires on as a janitor at an insane asylum to free his wife, who’s become an inmate after attempting to kill herself and her baby. The film’s expressionist style is all the more surprising because Japan had no such tradition to speak of; Kinugasa hadn’t even seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when he made this. Yet the rhythmic pulsation of graphic, semiabstract depictions of madness makes the film both startling and mesmerizing. I can’t vouch for the live musical accompaniment by Pillow, an unorthodox quartet that’s reportedly quite percussive, but its instrumentationclarinet, dry ice, tubes, electric guitar, accordion, contrabass, cellosounds appropriate. 75 min. (JR) Read more

My Hustler

One of Andy Warhol’s earliest features to concentrate on the male body and have a narrative of sortsand, perhaps for the latter reason, his first hit (1965). It’s set on Fire Island and stars Paul America, Ed Hood, and Genevieve Charbon; Warhol regulars Paul Morrissey and Chuck Wein, who is credited with the direction, helped make the film. 70 min. (JR) Read more

Miracle Mile

Written and directed by Steve DeJarnatt, this taut, apocalyptic thriller shows some improvement over DeJarnatt’s previous Cherry 2000 (released here only on videotape), apart from some faulty continuity in the final reel. Most of the film concerns what happens when the young hero (Anthony Edwards) accidentally intercepts a phone call that announces an impending nuclear holocaust only 50 minutes away, and is desperate to find the woman (Mare Winningham) he has just fallen in love with. The action all unfolds in and around the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard that constitutes LA’s Miracle Mile, nearly all of it in the middle of the night; the strongest B-film virtues here (apart from a running time of only 87 minutes) involve a very nice feel for the particulars of time, milieu, and place; the biggest drawback is that the film doesn’t wind up going anywhere specific. Among the many interesting stars (including Lou Hancock, Danny de la Paz, Robert Doqui, Kelly Minter, and Denise Crosby) is a particularly nice cameo by John Agar as the heroine’s grandfather. (JR) Read more

The Man With Three Coffins

This experimental South Korean narrative feature, directed by Chang-ho Lee in 1987, seems closer in some ways to an Alain Resnais film than to most examples of Eastern cinema that come to mind. Interweaving several narrative strands and oscillating between the past and present, this allegorical parable is not always easy to follow in story terms, but its highly original editing, framing, and uses of color never fail to impress. (JR) Read more

Mamma Roma

The least known of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s features in this country also happens to be one of his best. It stars Anna Magnani at her most volcanic, hyperbolic, and magnificent as a Roman prostitute trying to go straight and provide a respectable middle-class existence for her teenage son. Interestingly enough, while the slums of Rome were Pasolini’s essential turf, he dealt with them directly only in his first two films, Accattone (1961) and Mamma Roma (1962), turning mainly to period films and allegories in his subsequent movies. But the ultimate rejection of the bourgeois and petit bourgeois world is as total in the subproletarian milieu of this film as it would be in his later work. Not to be missed; with Ettore Garofolo, Franco Citti, and Silvana Corsini. (JR) Read more

Little Vera

Vasily Pichul’s Soviet film Malinkaia Vera, starring newcomer Natalya Negoda, never was quite the soft-core sizzler the publicity seemed to promise, but it’s a good movie about the dreariness of cramped family life in an industrial Ukrainian seaport, its family spats and volatile performances actually evocative of certain Italian pictures. The main characters are Vera, her alcoholic truck-driver father (Yuri Nazarov), her disapproving mother (Ludmila Zaitzeva), her somewhat sympathetic older brother, and a university student named Sergei (Andrei Sokolov), who moves into the family’s flat. (JR) Read more

The Life Of Juanita Castro

Made in 1965, this black-and-white Warhol feature was one of the first of his films to use sound, as well as some erratic camera movements. Scripted by Ronald Tavel, one of the stars, the film also features Marie Menken as Juanita Castro and Elektrah as Raoul. On the same program, the earlier half-hour silent and black-and-white short Blow Job (1963), which focuses for all of its running time, and in slow motion, on the face of a young man who is presumably being serviced offscreen. (JR) Read more

22nd International Tournee Of Animation

Like the earlier versions of this annual animation anthology, this is a worldwide selection, including shorts from Canada, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, France, Japan, the Netherlands, the USSR, Yugoslavia, and the U.S. (especially prominent this time). Once again, the work is lively and varied, although if you’ve seen any of the previous collections, you may find yourself a little worn out by the requisite cuteness and/or nastiness that seem standard by now in most animated shorts, as well as by having to see so many works in a row. I was especially taken by Karen Aqua’s jazzy and angular Kakania, featuring a dance of hieroglyphiclike figures, and Nedjeljko Dragic’s extremely varied and imaginative Pictures From Memory (the longest short included), which follows a life in eastern Europe between 1940 and 1960; among the ones that irritated me the most were the slew of grotesque (but by now familiar) Bill Plympton blackout gags and Jan Kounen’s abrasively pixilated Gisele Kerozene. (JR) Read more

Fright Night Part 2

Softheaded and silly vampire farce, for undiscriminating audiences only. Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale are back as the vampire killers; costars include Traci Lin, Julie Carmen, Russell Clark, Brian Thompson, and Jonathan Gries; Tommy Lee Wallace directed from a script he authored along with Miguel Tejada-Flores and Tim Metcalfe. For my money, it’s not a patch on Vampire’s Kiss, but it’s certainly closer to the usual cliches of the genre. 104 min. (JR) Read more

Dead Poets Society

Peter Weir (Witness) directs Robin Williams as a popular, freethinking English teacher in a strict boys’ prep school who inspires his students to think for themselves. The major problem with this 1989 male weepie is Tom Schulman’s script, which falters on several counts: the story is supposed to be taking place in 1959, but apart from a couple of rock songs there’s not even an attempt to capture the period; the moral divisions set up between characters are childishly overdrawn; and, worst of all, the behavior shown by the boys and adults frequently reeks of falsity and contrivance, despite a generally able cast that includes Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, and Dylan Kussman. (To cite one instance out of many, what teenage boy of your acquaintance would invite all his buddies to surround him while he telephones the girl of his dreams?) Sometimes Weir’s directorial craft makes one overlook some of the wobbles of this teetering vehicle, but at other times he makes things worse by stretching out some of the dramatic climaxes interminably. Williams is as good as ever, but as in Good Morning, Vietnam, the concerted effort to soften his rough edges doesn’t really enhance his talent. Read more

The Chelsea Girls

The most celebrated Andy Warhol feature (1966), and for many the best, is made up of a dozen 33-minute reels that are projected two at a time, side by side. The sound varies according to chance and the projectionist, as only one sound track is played at a time. The people shown include such Warhol superstars as Nico, Ondine, Gerard Malanga, Marie Menken, Mary Woronov (who later costarred in Eating Raoul), Ingrid Superstar, Brigid Polk, and International Velvet. All apparently residents of Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel, they engage in a number of activities and dialogues for 210 minutes, and the results are often spellbinding; the juxtaposition of two film images at once gives the spectator an unusual amount of freedom in what to concentrate on and what to make of these variously whacked-out performers. (JR) Read more

Calling The Shots

A watchable and interesting documentary by Janis Cole and Holly Dale about women who make moviesmainly directors, but also a few screenwriters, producers, and actresses. Among the women interviewed are Lee Grant, Susan Seidelman, Lizzie Borden, Joyce Chopra, Joan Micklin Silver, Martha Coolidge, Joan Tewkesbury, Amy Heckerling, Claudia Weill, Sandy Wilson, Jeanne Moreau, Sherry Lansing, Agnes Varda, Penelope Spheeris, and, more briefly, Chantal Akerman and Lea Pool; some filmmakers, such as Coolidge and Wilson, are also shown at work. The main limitation of this intelligent if somewhat breezy survey is its overall slant toward the contemporary North American mainstream; while a few pioneers are evoked, figures as important as Maya Deren, Leni Riefenstahl, Vera Chytilova, and such contemporary experimental filmmakers as Yvonne Rainer, Leslie Thornton, and Trinh T. Minh-ha go unmentioned. Still, the exploration of contemporary attitudes towards women making movies is broad and informative (1988). (JR) Read more