Monthly Archives: December 1989

The Big Picture

Christopher Guest’s hilariously canny 1989 satire about contemporary filmmaking in Hollywood was one of David Puttnam’s last projects at Columbia, made with the support of Steve Martin’s production company. The movie turns mushy and conventional whenever it tries to become serious (which fortunately isn’t too often), and ends with a querulous cop-out, but otherwise it’s pretty clear sailing. A prizewinning graduate (Kevin Bacon) of the National Film Institute (read: American Film Institute) is courted by the studios and gets a chance to direct a big Hollywood movie, but the bright ideas of the studio head (J.T. Walsh)whose office, incidentally, is said to be modeled directly after Spielberg’squickly make hash of his script, and other complications, personal as well as professional, follow. Director Guest collaborated on the screenplay with Michael Varhol and Michael McKean; Emily Longstreth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Martin Short (at his absolute best as the hero’s agent), Teri Hatcher, and McKean costar, and Roddy McDowall and Eddie Albert, among others, offer cameos. (JR) Read more


Simultaneously Steven Spielberg’s most personal film and his most tedious, this 1989 remake of A Guy Named Joe (1943), with the action transferred from World War II to a vaguely contemporary team of fire-fighting forest rangers, tells the story of a daredevil pilot (Richard Dreyfuss) who dies in an explosion, then returns as a ghost to guide a rookie pilot (Brad Johnson) in the air and into the arms of his own former girlfriend (Holly Hunter). John Goodman plays his best friend, and Audrey Hepburn is around briefly as an advising angel. After groping unsuccessfully for Only Angels Have Wings atmosphere with 1941 trimmings to frame its romantic love story, the movie settles down to some mawkishly earnest soul-searching, with Dreyfuss clearly standing in for Spielberg himself as a happy-go-lucky fellow who wants to do right by the people who go on without him. Despite the obvious sincerity of the project and the energy of both Hunter and Goodman, the disembodied quality of the production makes it far from involving: both the action sequences and the gags are surprisingly lukewarm for Spielberg, and the central dramatic situation — Dreyfuss hovering voyeuristically and paternally outside the action — seems too willed to flow naturally. Read more

Weapons of the Spirit

Pierre Sauvage’s fascinating personal documentary about the remarkable French town of Le Chambon, only 20 miles from Vichy, where the 5,000 inhabitants, most of them devout Protestants, managed to shelter 5,000 Jews during the Nazi occupation. Whatever one’s misgivings about the ultraconventional form of this documentary and the excessive use of music–which tends to register as so much lily gilding–the story that this film has to tell is such a remarkable and inspiring one that it still has the force of a revelation. Sauvage is a Jew who was born in Le Chambon in 1944, and as he interviews many of the surviving inhabitants of the town today, their simple and unpretentious goodness, which somehow managed to “subvert” even certain Vichy officials, gives us a look at that era that forces us to revise somewhat the conclusions reached in Shoah, The Sorrow and the Pity, and Hotel Terminus. Offering a healthy and bracing alternative to the ethnocentrism that informs so much commentary about the holocaust, this is a film that quite simply restores one’s faith in humanity. A presentation of the Jewish Film Foundation. (Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Sunday, December 3, 6:00; also Deerbrook, Monday, December 4, 7:00; also Skokie, Tuesday, December 5, 7:00 and 9:00; 588-2763) Read more

Short Films

The only unifying principle behind this assembly of 16-millimeter and Super-8 shorts is that all are made by members, friends, or “reasonably close” acquaintances of Chicago’s wonderful Theater Oobleck. Yet for all the differences in style, theme, and technical proficiency, there’s a fair amount of homogeneity–at least among the films I was able to sample (about 75 percent of them). My favorites include Ross Lipman’s 10-17-88, which uses archival footage (including shots of European Jews during World War II), deft optical printing, and a fascinating musical collage by Reader staffer and former Ooblecker John Shaw to yield a densely layered combo of sound and image; Prunella Vulgaris’s crisp, six-minute Doors and Doors That Slam, narrated by and starring two Barbie dolls; and Laurie Dunphy’s Journalism Conducts a Tour, an acerbic account of what the media do to (and with) minds and bodies, with accompaniment by Al Jolson and an aggressively stuttering text. There’s also Frank Rawland’s goofy and silent Agoraphobia, Rachel X. Weissman’s grimly intriguing I Just Want to Talk to You, and some watchable home movies by several hands, among other items. Check it out. (Theater Oobleck, 3829 N. Broadway, Friday and Saturday, December 1 and 2, 9:00, 384-3346) Read more