Monthly Archives: September 1990

Last Exit To Brooklyn

A very earnest 1990 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s celebrated short-story collection about violence and suffering in the lower reaches of Red Hook, Brooklyn, in the early 50s, directed by German filmmaker Uli Edel (Christiane F.). The stories encompassed the 40s as well, but screenwriter Desmond Nakano has attempted, with mixed results, to compress all six of them into a single tale set in 1952. By attempting to deal with street gangs, prostitution, drug use, homosexuality, and union corruption, the film ends up having a scattered, mosaic effect. The castincluding Stephen Lang, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Burt Young, Peter Dobson, and Jerry Orbachis excellent, and Edel’s stylized mise en scene purposefully frames and distances much of the action; but despite his obvious sincerity and goodwill, and the intrinsic interest of a very European handling of an American subject, the movie’s bleakness and despair aren’t accompanied by the unified vision that this sort of material requiresa problem that can be traced in part back to the print source, which at times wallows in violence and misery. (JR)… Read more »

Jaguar And Les Maitres Fous

Much as history is written by survivors, film history is frequently written by distributors. So the greatness of the serials of both Louis Feuillade and Jacques Rivette must remain a postulate for Americans who can’t see them, and the towering importance of the fascinating ethnographic filmmaker Jean Rouch is usually something U.S. viewers can only read about. Rouch was a pioneer in working with sync sound and in mixing fiction and narrative with documentary, usually through the creative intervention of the subjects being filmedaspects that were to fundamentally influence the French New Wave. Fortunately, one of Rouch’s finest (and earliest) features has been unearthed for a rare screening: shot in the 50s and completed in 1967, Jaguar is a semifictional story about three young men who leave Niger to find work in Ghana prior to its independence. Rouch invited the major characters to improvise a narrative over the footage, which is an amazing and often funny document in its own right. If you care about cinema and haven’t yet encountered Rouch, this shouldn’t be missed. Perhaps even greater is Les maitres fous, Rouch’s seminal ethnographic short of 1955 about the Hauka of West Africa, whose violent trance rituals imitate and mock British colonialism, apparently purging them of their fury so that they can return to their dull labors afterward.… Read more »

Last Images Of The Shipwreck

Argentinean filmmaker Eliseo Subiela’s third feature is in many respects a worthy successor to his second, Man Facing Southeast, and even more difficult to synopsize. A writer saddled with a dull job and an unhappy marriage encounters a woman on the subway. As he gradually becomes acquainted with her and her eccentric family, he pays her for the story of her life, which he wants to use as material for his novel in progress. Following a somewhat novelistic and rambling mode of exposition, Subiela has a good many quirky ideas about mise en scene and magical realismunexpected camera placements, surrealist interludes, and offbeat conceits (Jesus Christ is a character the heroine visits periodically)that never quite cohere, though they certainly reveal a singular sensibility. Thoughtful, provocative, and highly original, this 127-minute film requires a certain amount of patience, but one is well rewarded for the effort. With Lorenzo Quinteros, Noemi Frenkel, and Hugo Soto (1989). (JR)… Read more »

I Married A Witch

Produced by Preston Sturges and directed by Rene Clair, this 1942 adaptation of The Passionate Witch, the last novel of Thorne Smith (who also wrote the novel that Topper was based on), is a light bit of whimsy about a Salem witch (Veronica Lake) and her sorcerer father (Cecil Kellaway) haunting the descendant (Fredric March) of the Puritan who had them burned. (As spirits, they’ve been hiding mainly inside a couple of wine bottles.) Smith, who’s been adapted here by Robert Pirosh and Marc Connelly, once was considered fairly ribald, and while some of the erotic material from the original has been dry-cleaned, fans of Veronica Lake won’t be disappointed; the special effects are nicely done too. With Robert Benchley, Susan Hayward, Elizabeth Patterson, and Robert Warwick. 82 min. (JR)… Read more »

Going Places

Bertrand Blier’s rampantly and repulsively misogynist first feature (1973), known as Les valseuses in French (which translates roughly as the testicles), stars Gerard Depardieu and the late Patrick Dewaere as a couple of violent lowlifes merrily abusing womenincluding Isabelle Huppert, Miou-Miou, and Jeanne Moreausome of whom come back for more. The popularity of this obnoxious buddy film made Blier’s reputation, though U.S. viewers were deprived by censors of about five minutes of nastinesswhich have now been thoughtfully restored. (JR)… Read more »

Funny About Love

A Feiffer-like New York cartoonist (Gene Wilder) meets and marries a chef (Christine Lahti), and their marriage gradually comes apart at the seams after they discover that they can’t have a baby; he gets involved with a forthright TV sports producer (Mary Stuart Masterson). All three leads do their likable best with underdeveloped characters, a meandering script by Norman Steinberg and David Frankel, and flat-footed direction by Leonard Nimoy, but at best they and Fred Murphy’s able cinematography only keep the film watchable, not interesting. The credits, by the way, claim that the script was based upon an article by Bob Greene, although all Greene did was write a column about a Delta Gamma convention that figures as a brief episode here. (JR)… Read more »

Devil Bat’s Daughter And Strangler Of The Swamp

Two low-budget horror pictures directed in 1946 for the PRC studio by Frank Wysbar, a German director who emigrated to Hollywood in the 40s. The most notable thing about Devil Bat’s Daughtera quiet psychological thriller in the Val Lewton mode about a young woman (Rosemary LePlanche) who may or may not be murdering people and animals in her sleepis the low-key avoidance of cliches in the performances. Strangler of the Swamp, which I only sampled, is a remake of Wysbar’s German film Fahrman Maria, starring LePlanche and none other than Blake Edwards in his predirectorial days; this film seems to do a bit more with mood and atmosphere. (JR)… Read more »

The Big Bang

James Toback’s ruminations about the Meaning of It All (1989), as expressed through conversations with a wide variety of people of different ages and ethnic backgrounds — artists, athletes, businesspeople, students, the film’s producer, and so on. Needless to say, sex and death are two of the main topics on the table. Toback has found various ways of keeping both the talking heads and the ways they’re shown fairly diversified, and the results hold one as well as a good TV talk show — though as in his fiction features (Fingers, Exposed) Toback’s inflated sense of what he’s about occasionally gets in the way. (JR)

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The second part of a loose trilogy by Finnish cult director Aki Kaurismaki, this 1988 feature was preceded by Shadows in Paradise (1986) and followed by The Match Factory Girl (1989). Kaurismaki seems bent at times on remaking a proletarian Warners melodrama of the 30s (as in The Match Factory Girl, his postmodernist models seem to be Bresson and Fassbinder), albeit with rock tunes on the sound track. A taciturn hero (Turo Pajala) leaves Lapland for Helsinki after the mine employing him and his father shuts down; en route he’s mugged and robbed of his savings. He winds up moving in with a divorced meter maid and eventually finds himself edged into a life of crime. Wittily laconic in style and attractively sharp in its images, it’s the kind of low-budget genre movie they don’t make so well anymore, at least not in the U.S. In Finnish with subtitles. 73 min. (JR)… Read more »