Daily Archives: October 27, 1989

Last Days of the Film Festival

“We were filling the gap in the 60s. We started changing people’s tastes in filmgoing to make them want to see more of this kind of product. And now the theaters that used to show it all have stopped showing it because the distributors do not buy foreign product anymore and foreign product is not being shown in the local theaters anymore. So, ironically, we’ve become the only source now, the festival, for this new kind of film.”

“I have always found that in Chicago, depending on the year, I find the critics to be a rather provincial lot, and they do tend to destroy their own [film festival] but they like seeing the very same film when they can get out of Chicago on a comp or a VIP tour to another festival. They seem to like it more when they can be extracted from their own city and relax and see films.”

“Kieslowski is a director we discovered, and the Decalogue would not exist without us, interestingly enough.”

These modest remarks by Michael J. Kutza, director of the Chicago International Film Festival, are quoted verbatim from John Callaway’s show Chicago Tonight on October 17. (In the interest of brevity, I’ve omitted Kutza’s groundless attacks on the aesthetic tastes of the programmers of the Toronto film festival and on the historical acumen of Dave Kehr.) Read more

Drugstore Cowboy

Set in Portland, Oregon, in 1971, this amiable, no-nonsense account of the exploits of a quartet of junkies who live together (Matt Dillon, Kelly Lynch, James Le Gros, and Heather Graham) fully lives up to the promise of Mala Noche, director Gus Van Sant’s previous feature. Based on an unpublished autobiographical novel by James Fogle that Van Sant adapted with Daniel Yost, the movie has the kind of stylistic conviction that immediately wins one over, conveying something of a junkie’s inner life (in the film’s editing rhythms, unorthodox use of sudden close-ups, and Dillon’s offscreen narration, as well as in a few hallucinatory passages) and the outer necessities of the life-style (which, in this case, include many drugstore robberies and changes of address). The characters are all quirky and life-size (the Dillon character’s superstitiousness is one of the principal motors of the plot, and the story’s outcome doesn’t prove him wrong), and, as with the burglaries in Breaking In, the treatment of drugs is refreshingly free of either moralizing or romanticizing. It’s one indication of Van Sant’s ease and assurance that he’s the first director to successfully integrate the persona of William S. Burroughs in a fiction film: all of the actors are used expertly, but it’s Burroughs, cropping up near the end, who articulates the film’s sociopolitical moral in a contemporary context. Read more


This is my first encounter with Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr (Family Nest) and I hope it won’t be my last. People who don’t have much use for the existential gloom of Antonioni and Tarkovsky are advised to stay away, because many of the hallmarks of that relentless black-and-white style and vision–lots of rain, fog, and stray dogs; murky and decaying bars; artfully composed long takes made up of very slow and almost continuous camera movements; offscreen mechanical noises–are so forcefully present here that one might argue that the film makes a voluptuous fetish of gloom. The rather bare story line in the middle of this–a reclusive loner (Miklos Szekely) is hopelessly in love with a cabaret singer (Vali Kerekes), hopes to find salvation in her, and gets her husband involved in a smuggling scheme so he can spend some time with her–seems almost secondary to the formal beauty of Tarr’s spellbinding arabesques around the dingiest of all possible industrial outposts. The near miracle is that something so compulsively watchable can be made out of a setting and society that seem so depressive and petrified (1987). (Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Saturday, October 28, 9:00, and Sunday, October 29, 7:30, 281-4114) Read more