Monthly Archives: March 1990

Mountains Of The Moon

Bob Rafelson’s ambitious and elusive 1990 account of the African explorations of Richard Burton (Patrick Bergin) and John Speke (Iain Glen) in the mid-19th century, based on the biographical novel Burton and Speke by William Harrison and the journals of Burton and Speke, and scripted by Harrison and Rafelson. The search for the source of the river Nile, filled with adventures and hardships, makes up most of the film, and it works fairly well (with attractive location photography by Roger Deakins). What works less well is the elliptical account of the two men’s troubled friendship, which eventually supplants the first storysome debatable liberties have been taken with the historical facts to further muddle matters. (Making Burton an anticolonialist and Speke a repressed homosexual are two examples; the depiction of Burton’s wife Isabelnicely played by Fiona Shawis a third.) Rafelson appears to be attempting to make a comment on Burton’s heroic distance from Victorian England, but only certain parts of this strategy register with any persuasiveness. With Richard E. Grant, John Savident, and James Villiers. (JR) Read more

The Miracle Woman

Frank Capra’s 1932 film about a thinly disguised Aimee Semple McPherson (Barbara Stanwyck), adapted by Jo Swerling from Bless You Sister, Robert Riskin and John Meehan’s popular satirical play about the famous evangelist. The movie never goes quite as far in its exposure of religious confidence games as you want it to, but Stanwyck is wonderful, and the gritty punch of Capra’s early 30s work certainly keeps this lively. With Sam Hardy and David Manners. 90 min. (JR) Read more

Lord Of The Flies

For roughly its first half, this second film adaptation of William Golding’s parable novel about English schoolboys stranded on an island after a plane crash and eventually reverting to savagery works pretty well as a straight adventure story, thanks to director Harry Hook’s eye and the lush Jamaican locations. But around the time that Philippe Sarde’s score is overtaken by pretentious, uncredited, and distorted derivations from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, the movie becomes similarly overburdened by its hectoring themea sort of pseudoanthropological schema whereby the rational intellectuals in possession of the means to make fire are opposed by the crude blood lust of the huntersand the decision to turn Golding’s public-school boys into American military-school cadets, while theoretically defensible, throws the characters and situations slightly out of kilter. Peter Brook’s 1963 black-and-white version worked better as drama; this one gets all dressed up, but finds it has no place to go. Scripted by Sara Schiff; with Balthazar Getty, Chris Furrh, Danuel Pipoly, and Badgett Dale. (JR) Read more

The Gold Diggers

Sally Potter’s surrealistic and metaphorical epic about women, gold, and cinemashot in ravishing black and white by Babette Mangolte on location in Icelandis a good deal wittier and more fun than its checkered career would lead you to expect. Starring Julie Christie and Colette Laffont, this feminist fantasy-musical, set in the past and the future, was financed by the British Film Institute in 1983 and has a relatively lavish budget for an experimental feature. What keeps it aliveapart from the arresting music and uncanny, haunting imagesis Potter’s imaginative grasp of film history: odd references to Chaplin’s The Gold Rush and Kuleshov’s By the Law are recalled in the mise en scene, but the ambience may also remind you a little bit of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. Not a film for everyone, but if you like it, chances are you’ll like it a lot. (JR) Read more

The Fourth War

John Frankenheimer still hasn’t regained his stride since his black-and-white films of the 60s, but he’s settled down into being a pretty good director of thrillers, and this is one of his more recent bestcomparable to the lean, purposeful work he used to do for such 50s TV shows as Studio One and Playhouse 90. On the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia in November 1988, American and Soviet border control commanders Roy Scheider and Jurgen Prochnow, embittered veterans of Vietnam and Afghanistan, get embroiled in a petty personal war of their own. That’s about all that the plotadapted by Stephen Peters and Kenneth Ross from Peters’s novelconsists of, but Frankenheimer handles it tersely and professionally, and coaxes an exceptionally good performance out of Harry Dean Stanton as an American general. Gerry Fisher handled the cinematography, and Tim Reid and Lara Harris also costar. (JR) Read more

Found Footage Films

A free program devoted to a fascinating subgenre of the avant-gardefilms that take footage from other sources and use it for their own ends. Along with Joseph Cornell’s seminal Rose Hobart (1939), the films include works by Stan Brakhage (Murder Psalm), Bruce Conner (Report, Marilyn Times Five), Bruce Posner, and Gabor Csazari. Read more

Forty Guns

Samuel Fuller’s wild, wonderful, semicoherent black-and-white ‘Scope western (1957) was shot in ten days, and in some ways looks it. But it’s also the feature that fully announces his talent as an avant-garde filmmaker, even in this unlikeliest of genres. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the woman with a whip, the land baroness of Tombstone Territory. She’s assisted by the 40 dudes of the title, and Barry Sullivan is the marshal who turns up to challenge her. There’s a hilarious romantic subplot involving a female gunsmith (whose sexual initiation is handled through an iris and dissolve that Godard incorporated into Breathless), an endless crane-and-track shot through a western town that defies belief, a lot of delirious violence, perverse sexuality, imaginative visual energy, and several startling plot twists. If you’ve ever wondered why Godard and other French New Wave directors deify Fuller, this movie explains it all. With Dean Jagger, John Ericson, and Gene Barry. 80 min. (JR) Read more


Alexander Dovzhenko’s ravishing and lyrical 1930 film about life on a collective farm in the Ukraine, the last and best of his silent features, shows his pantheism and poetry at their most exalting. The compositions are breathtaking, the evocations of death and social transformation powerful, the eroticism remarkably potent. Incontestably one of the greatest of all Soviet films. In Russian with subtitles. 62 min. (JR) Read more

The Dybbuk

A beautiful restoration of the 1937 Yiddish film directed in Poland by Michal Waszynski. Based on S. Ansky’s play Between Two Worlds, it takes place in several small, remote eastern European Hasidic towns (or shtetlach) near the end of the 19th century and contains various supernatural and folkloric elements that are roughly analogous to magical realismthough a more precise genre description would be Hasidic grotesque or Hasidic gothic. An interesting document of Yiddish theater and a watershed in Yiddish cinema, with expressionist touches in both the acting and Waszynski’s direction. With Abram Morewski, Lili Liliana, Dina Halpern, and Leon Liebgold. In Yiddish with subtitles. 125 min. (JR) Read more

Dante’s Inferno

Spencer Tracy is at his near best as a cynical showman and shipbuilder in this enjoyable if moralistic 1935 melodrama directed by Harry Lachman. The title refers to a lurid carnival attraction, the film’s most memorable set piece. Rudolph Mate was the cinematographer. Claire Trevor, Henry B. Walthall, and Alan Dinehart costar; also watch for Rita Hayworth in her first appearance as a dancer. 89 min. (JR) Read more

Boxcar Bertha

It’s a pity in some ways that Martin Scorsese’s first Hollywood film, made for Roger Corman in 1972, didn’t take advantage of the extraordinary memoir of the same title about Bertha Thompson, a radical during the early 20th century who spent much of her life on boxcars. (The shards of this source that remain are barely recognizable.) What we get instead is Scorsese obliquely sketching out a few of his basic themes in a Bonnie and Clyde spin-off about a union organizer turned train robber (David Carradine) and a female hobo (Barbara Hershey) during the Depression, complete with a climactic crucifixion of sorts. But it’s not done in a way that suggests a fully formed talentpromising juvenilia is about the most one can say for it. With Barry Primus, Bernie Casey, and John Carradine. 88 min. (JR) Read more

Bad Influence

A thriller of sorts, although it may take you about half of the movie’s running time to figure this out. Strangers on a Train is the approximate model, with Rob Lowe playing Mephistopheles to James Spader’s Fausttaking over his life and coaching him to be more aggressive with women and at his job as a marketing analyst, but gradually revealing himself as a demented power freak. David Koepp, who collaborated on the script for Apartment Zero (which has a closely related theme), seems to have lost much of his savvy here, and director Curtis Hanson manages to dissipate part of what remains by avoiding the homoerotic subtext and paying heed only occasionally to thriller mechanics. The film manages to work in allusions to both Rob Lowe’s real-life scandal involving videotape and Spader’s part in sex, lies, and videotape, but the topicality doesn’t add much. The results are uneven but fairly watchable. With Lisa Zane, Christian Clemenson, and Kathleen Wilhoite. (JR) Read more

Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein

The only thing Andy Warhol had to do with Paul Morrissey’s campy 3-D gorefest (1974), also known as Flesh for Frankenstein, was give his name to the title and possibly pick up a check or two. Shot in Italy with Udo Kier, Joe Dallesandro, Monique Van Vooren, and lots of blood. (JR) Read more


An interminable Japanese SF animated feature (1989), based on the graphic novel by Katsuhiro Otomo, who scripted and directed this adaptation. Set in the metropolis of Neo-Tokyo 30 years after an atomic bomb has been dropped on Tokyo Bay, this superviolent epic borrows liberally (if unimaginatively) from Blade Runner, The Road Warrior, Japanese disaster movies, Brian De Palma’s telekinesis movies, and SF writer Alfred Bester to create the equivalent of the dullest of all possible computer games. The backgrounds tend to overpower and be more interesting than the foregrounds, which are usually cluttered by interchangeable teenage bikers with nerdy, dubbed-in American voices and what appear to be white gums instead of teeth. Grade-school violence freaks may find a few kicks here, but even they may have trouble coping with this ugly movie’s ending about eight separate times. 124 min. (JR) Read more

Abraham Lincoln

Both of D.W. Griffith’s sound filmsAbraham Lincoln (1930, 81 min.) and The Struggle (1931)were scorned as archaic when they came out, which helps explain why he wasn’t allowed to direct again for the 17 remaining years of his life. But both films look better and better with the passage of time, suggesting that Griffith continued to grow as an artist as long as he made films. Working with the sort of mythic material later associated with John Ford, Griffith gives us a primordial Lincoln, perfectly incarnated by Walter Huston, and a dreamlike sense of destiny that his camera fully articulates. With Una Merkel, Russell Simpson, and Henry B. Walthall. (JR) Read more