Monthly Archives: May 1990

Motion And Emotion: The Films Of Wim Wenders

Though very polite and British, this feature-length documentary about German filmmaker Wim Wenders offers the most penetrating insights into and the best overall critique of his work that I’ve encountered. Paul Joyce, who directed it, has also made documentaries about Nicolas Roeg, David Cronenberg, Nagisa Oshima, and Dennis Hopper, and he knows the conventional format well enough to get the most out of it. There are good clips and interesting commentaries from the interviewed subjects, who include Wenders himself, cinematographer Robby Muller, filmmaker Sam Fuller, novelist Patricia Highsmith, musician Ry Cooder, actors Harry Dean Stanton, Peter Falk, and Hanns Zischler, and critic Kraft Wetzel, who is especially provocative. A must-see for Wenders fans, highly recommended for everyone else (1989). (JR) Read more

Mr. Hoover And I

The last film of radical documentary filmmaker Emile de Antonio (Point of Order, In the Year of the Pig), completed only a few months prior to his death in December 1989, proves to be not only a moving testament to the power and conviction of his career but also a remarkable formal departure that’s pungent and provocative. Addressing the camera, de Antonio mounts a comprehensive frontal attack on J. Edgar Hoover, discussing in detail his own FBI file, which he obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, and which ran to more than 10,000 pages. He proceeds from there into a witty and forthright self-portrait that includes a lengthy conversation with composer John Cage about indeterminacy, a discussion with a college audience about the McCarthy and the Iran-contra hearings, and a good many personal reminiscences. De Antonio comes across as an excellent raconteur and a lucid political thinker, and his unorthodox method of cutting between several different blocks of material creates a number of interesting ambiguities. In all, a fascinating, self-reflexive personal essaycomparable in some respects to Orson Welles’s Filming Othello. (JR) Read more


A musical about a showboat singer (Bing Crosby) who has a questionable reputation, with comic interludes offered by W.C. Fields (including a famous poker game). Based on a Booth Tarkington story and directed by Edward A. Sutherland, with a score by Rodgers and Hart. Among the other actors are Joan Bennett, Queenie Smith, and a briefly glimpsed Ann Sheridan (1935). (JR) Read more

Longtime Companion

Thankfully, the first commercial feature about AIDS (1990) didn’t follow the obscene Reagan-Bush approachsaving all its tears for children, with the unmistakable implication that other AIDS victims don’t count. It follows a group of adult friends and acquaintances, including a few who work for television, who spend their vacations on Fire Island and who are all struck directly or indirectly by AIDS. Though it contains some useful information, this is not really a preachy filmit is simply a very human and compassionate one about a tragedy that affects us all. Written by Craig Lucas (author of the play Prelude to a Kiss) and directed by Norman Rene, with a good cast that includes Stephen Caffrey, Patrick Cassidy, Brian Cousins, Bruce Davison, John Dossett, Mark Lamos, Dermot Mulroney, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Schoeffling, and Campbell Scott. 96 min. (JR) Read more

Letter To The Next Generation

A watchable and interesting personal documentary by James Klein, the codirector (with Julia Reichert) of Union Maids and Seeing Red, about the lives and values of students at Kent State University and how they differ from those of Kent State students at the time of the 1970 killings. While none of the discoveries made by Klein are startling, the honesty and thoughtfulness of his investigation and his probing intelligence are apparent throughout. Not content with a simplistic contrast between the political commitments of the 60s and the preoccupations with business and self-interest of the present, he digs deeper and comes up with some interesting observations, including some ideas about how and why historical events are remembered or forgotten. He also finds freshmen and sophomores at present-day Kent more politically involved than juniors and seniors. (JR) Read more

Julius Caesar

Unimaginative but intelligent filming of the Shakespeare play, in black and white, with a team of MGM’s finest circa 1953Louis Calhern, Greer Garsonaided and abetted by James Mason, John Gielgud, Edmond O’Brien, Deborah Kerr, George Macready, and none other than Marlon Brando as Marc Antony. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed and adapted, and Miklos Rozsa did the score. John Houseman produced, but this clearly isn’t a patch on the modern-dress, politicized stage version he did with Orson Welles in the 30s. 120 min. (JR) Read more

I Was Born, But . . .

One of Yasujiro Ozu’s most sublime films, this late Japanese silent (1932) describes the tragicomic disillusionment of two middle-class boys who see their father demean himself by groveling in front of his employer; it starts off as a hilarious comedy and gradually becomes darker. Ozu’s understanding of his characters and their social milieu is so profound and his visual stylewhich was much less austere and more obviously expressive during his silent periodso compelling that the film carries one along more dynamically than many of the director’s sound classics (including his semiremake 27 years later, the more purely comic Ohayo, which has plenty of beauties of its own). Though regarded in Japan mainly as a conservative director, Ozu was a trenchant social critic throughout his career, and the devastating understanding of social context that he shows here is full of radical implications. With Hideo Sugawara, Tatsu Saito, and Chishu Ryu. In Japanese with subtitles. 91 min. (JR) Read more

Driving Me Crazy

British documentarist Nick Broomfield (Soldier Girls, Lily Tomlin) was hired to document the preparations for an all-black stage musical, Body and Soul. Between its New York casting and its Munich opening, Broomfield encountered and precipitated a number of disasters and decided to make a stupefying film about themeveryone involved comes off rather badly, Broomfield included. If there’s any entertainment or edification to be gleaned from this masochistic navel gazing, I managed to miss it. (JR) Read more

Date With An Angel

Insofar as director Tom McLoughlin triesand abjectly failsto do with a nubile angel (Emmanuelle Beart) what Ron Howard did with a nubile mermaid in Splash, a more appropriate title for this dumb, cloddish movie might be Flap. Michael Knight receives a visit from the angel, causing jealous consternation in his girlfriend (Phoebe Cates) and other sundry complications, which are spun out endlessly. Some would-be satire about the efforts of the hero’s buddies and his girlfriend’s father to commercialize the angel is a good example of the pot calling the kettle black. Grossly overplayed and underproduced (the special effects and ethereal lighting aren’t even bargain basement Spielberg), this shaky vehicle doesn’t even begin to fly. (JR) Read more


Lou Diamond Phillips stars in this ineptly told and rather bathetic 1988 tale of a runaway teen who gets a job at a Texas horse ranch, renovates a 1911 Oldsmobile for a cross-country race, and gradually becomes involved in the lives of the family he lives witha crippled boy (Jordan Burton), his older sister (DeeDee Norton), and their father (Eli Cummins). (JR) Read more

Back To The Future Part Iii

Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd go on their third journey through time, this one winding up in the wild west, where Lloyd falls in love with schoolteacher Mary Steenburgen. Once again, Robert Zemeckis directed from a script he did with Bob Gale, and again Lea Thompson and Thomas F. Wilson costar. This is a good deal more likable than part two because the product plugs have been held back, and Zemeckis is clearly having fun alluding to his favorite westerns; there’s also a certain sweetness and charm in the Lloyd-Steenburgen romance, although, like most elements in this trilogy, these qualities tend to be more conceptual and programmed than felt. (JR) Read more