Monthly Archives: October 1992


A serious contemporary movie about a serial killer by flashy and talented genre director William Friedkin may sound like a contradiction in terms, and I certainly wouldn’t want to oversell a movie whose distinction largely consists of negative virtues: its refusal to manipulate the viewer, mythologize the subject, or deify the serial killer in the disgusting if effectively Oscar-mongering manner of The Silence of the Lambs. Made several years ago, but held up from release by Dino De Laurentlis’s bankruptcy, this film is a somber investigation of the legal and psychiatric issues surrounding the trial of a serial killer. Although the facts of the case are gory enough, Friedkin, adapting a novel of the same title by William P. Wood that’s based on an actual case, goes to considerable lengths not to exploit this material for cheap thrills. Refusing to offer any authoritative conclusion about whether or not we should regard this killer (well played by Alex McArthur) as insane, but considering the various legal and ethical ramifications involved, the movie proceeds rather like an issue-oriented chamber drama of the 50s, with potent and naturalistically plausible performances by Michael Biehn, Nicholas Campbell, Deborah Van Valkenburgh, John Harkins, Art La Fleur, Royce O. Read more

This Week at the Chicago Film Festival

The 28th Chicago International Film Festival moves into its top-heavy second week, with a disproportionate number of high points scheduled for this weekend. The first four features that I cited last week as my favorites among the festival selections I’d seen so far–Actress, Angel of Fire, Hyenas, and Reservoir Dogs–will all be showing simultaneously this Friday night. Admittedly, all except Hyenas will be screened again, and two (including Hyenas) have been screened already, but a few more scheduling conflicts crop up again later, e.g., Actress and Angel of Fire overlap a second time on Saturday, and another of my favorites, Another Girl, Another Planet overlaps with Angel of Fire when the latter shows for the third and last time on Sunday. A certain number of such conflicts is no doubt unavoidable, and the Chicago Festival is certainly not alone–some of the conflicts at the Toronto Festival of Festivals over the last couple of years have been equally acute. But I do hope that in the future more effort can be made to distribute the goodies more evenly throughout the week rather than pile them together like the ingredients in a banana split.

On the basis of what I’ve seen, I can offer only one minor recommendation after the weekend–In the Soup–although some of the reviews that follow will offer others. Read more


Much acclaimed in France for its fascinating take on the cinematic apparatus, this masterpiece from Iran by the highly talented Abbas Kiarostami (And Life Goes On…) combines fiction with nonfiction in novel and provocative ways. It starts with the real-life trial in Tehran of an unemployed film buff who impersonated the celebrated filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Peddler, Marriage of the Blessed). His charade included becoming intimate with a well-to-do family while pretending to prepare for a film that was to feature them. To complicate matters, Kiarostami persuaded the major players to reenact what happened, finally bringing the real Makhmalbaf together with his impersonator for a highly emotional exchange. Much comedy is derived from the ways “the cinema” changes and inflects the value and nature of everything taking place–the scam, the trial, Kiarostami’s documentary, and so on (1990). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, October 18, 4:15, 443-3737) Read more

Glengarry Glen Ross

The underrated James Foley (After Dark, My Sweet) shows an excellent feeling for the driven and haunted jive rhythms of David Mamet, macho invective and all, in a superb delivery of Mamet’s tour de force about desperate real estate salesmen, adapted for the screen by Mamet himself. Practically all the action occurs in an office and a Chinese restaurant across the street, and Foley’s mise en scene is so energetic and purposeful (he’s especially adept in using semicircular pans) that the unexpected use of a ‘Scope format seems fully justified, even in a drama where lives are resurrected and destroyed according to the value of offscreen pieces of paper. The all-expert cast consists of Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Alan Arkin, and Ed Harris (labor), Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey (management), and Jonathan Pryce (a customer); the wholly appropriate jazz score, with fine saxophone solos by Wayne Shorter, is by James Newton Howard. (Bricktown Square, Golf Glen, Water Tower, Webster Place, Ford City, Wilmette) Read more

Cinema Glut: Here Comes the 28th Chicago International Film Festival

The 28th Chicago International Film Festival looks better on paper than most of the others I’ve written about over the past five years. Last year I noted some improvements in film selection and overall efficiency, and they seem to be continuing, thanks I suspect to the presence of Marc Evans, who joined the festival staff last year as program director. Another plus for this year is that the activity is focused on only two sites–four screens at Pipers Alley (which now boasts free parking) and one at the Music Box–which helps in terms of both convenience and continuity. And while there’s no large-scale retrospective that can compare with the ones devoted to 3-D in 1990 and CinemaScope in 1991–just sidebars devoted to Indian filmmaker Shyam Benegal (six features), Israeli filmmaker Dan Wolman (five features), and Switzerland-based producer Arthur Cohn (five features), all three of which are new names to me–a greater number of the main selections can be defended as responsible and intelligent choices. There’s still a certain amount of sofa stuffing (beware of some of the American independent selections in particular), but in general the list comes closer to representing an international consensus on the best new films available than an arbitrary string of also-rans selected by bureaucrats and embassies (but don’t expect the latter category to be entirely unrepresented). Read more

Laws of Gravity

In his first feature–a cut-rate effort shot in only 12 days for $38,000–writer-director Nick Gomez, the editor of Hal Hartley’s Trust, catches the surface behavior of Italian-American hoods in Bensonhurst so perfectly that you may not even care that you already know this material like the back of your hand. The inconsequential plot involves the efforts of a couple of petty criminals (Peter Greene and Adam Trese) to unload an illegal stash of handguns; what really matters are the dead-on performances and the overlapping dialogue with its compulsive four-letter words (“Chill fuckin’ out” is a typical remark) and its even more compulsive characters. It’s an impressive debut, though it would be nice to see what Gomez can do outside of Scorseseland. With Edie Falco, Arabella Field, Paul Schulze, and Saul Stein. (Fine Arts) Read more


Taking as his basic text an unattributed line from Faulkner (The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past), Mark Frost, David Lynch’s coproducer on Twin Peaks, goes for baroque in his first featurea slow-moving murder mystery set in New Orleans involving a powerful local family that includes a congressional candidate (James Spader) and his wily uncle (Jason Robards). Adapted by Frost and Lee Reynolds from the novel Juryman by Frank Galbally and Robert Macklin, this is handsome to look at, likably acted, and with a good sense of local color, but very difficult to follow in terms of plot and arguably not always worth the botherthough it’s certainly a better movie than Twin Peaks. With Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, Charlotte Lewis, Michael Warren, Michael Parks, and a striking cameo by John Ford veteran Woody Strode. (JR) Read more

Night And The City

It’s symptomatic of this vastly inferior 1992 remake of Jules Dassin’s 1950 film noir, transplanted from London’s East End to lower Manhattan, that the title is no longer evocative of the film itself, most of which seems to take place in the daytime. Still, it’s an improvement over producer Irwin Winkler’s debut feature as a director, Guilty by Suspicion, if only because this time out Robert De Niro offers a somewhat more resourceful performanceas a small-time lawyer hoping to make a financial killing with a boxing match (though De Niro’s not as interesting as Richard Widmark was in the original, as a nightclub entrepreneur setting up a wrestling match). The basic problem here is that everybody from Winkler to screenwriter Richard Price to the talented supporting cast (Jessica Lange, Cliff Gorman, Alan King, Jack Warden, Eli Wallach, and Barry Primus) tries too hard, grabbing us by the lapels and hollering at us, spelling everything out in neon; the use of The Great Pretender over the concluding credits to tell us what the movie and leading character were all about is emblematic of the way the audience is treated like a pack of dunderheadsa problem in Guilty by Suspicion as well. (JR) Read more

Films By Peter Hutton

Five films by the highly acclaimed experimental filmmaker, who generally uses opposition between still photography and moving images to describe urban landscapes: In Titan’s Goblet (1991), Landscape (1987), Lodz Symphony (1993), and Budapest Portrait (Memories of a City) (1986). (JR) Read more


This rather tired and airless 1979 satire, which Robert Altman spun off from his own Nashville and (somewhat less tired) A Wedding, plunks its many oddball characters down in a health-food convention in a Florida hotel and asks us to smirk along with the direction. The cast includes Carol Burnett, Glenda Jackson, Lauren Bacall, James Garner, Henry Gibson, Alfre Woodard, and Dick Cavett (playing himself, and clearly pleased as punch about it). 100 min. (JR) Read more


Anthony Drazan’s slick first feature about a racially mixed group of teenagers, including a Jewish boy immersed in black music who has a black girlfriend, is a controversial picture by someone who signed a contract with Steven Spielberg, so don’t expect to be too shocked by what you see and hear. Drazan shows a certain amount of craft as well as craftiness in representing the hip-hop scene for the mainstream, however. The film was shot in a racially segregated section of Detroit and won the 1992 Sundance festival’s filmmaker award. With Ray Sharkey, Michael Rapaport, N’Bushe Wright, Ron Johnson, Paul Butler and DeShonn Castle; the score is by Taj Mahal, and Oliver Stone was an executive producer. (JR) Read more

Visions Of Light: The Art Of Cinematography

A visit with many of the best cinematographers in Hollywood, including Nestor Almendros, Gordon Willis, Haskell Wexler, Vittorio Storaro, and Sven Nykvist (who also discuss some of their predecessors, e.g. Billy Bitzer and Gregg Toland). Directors Arnold Glassman, Todd McCarthy, and Stuart Samuels come up with clips from the best prints available to illustrate their comments. It’s a pity they’ve basically restricted their inquiry to the U.S. industry; the American Film Institute, which coproduced the movie, pretty much limits its efforts to preserving and promoting domestic interests, unlike its counterparts elsewhere in the world. (The many non-American cinematographers almost exclusively discuss their American work.) But the uncommon virtue of this 1992 documentary is that it teaches us a great deal about things we think we already know. Why, for instance, was the lighting so low in the Godfather films? You might be surprised to find out. 92 min. (JR) Read more

The Tune

A 1992 cartoon feature by independent animator Bill Plymptoncoscripted with P.C. Vey and Maureen McElheron, who also composed the music and supplies the voice of the heroinefeaturing both his taste for nonstop surreal inventions and his usual distaste for people. The putative story line has to do with a nerdy songwriter hoping for a hit who winds up in the town of Flooby NoobyPlympton’s version of Wonderlandwhich furnishes enough musical and narrative padding to turn this into a feature-length collection of a dozen music videos, many of them made up largely of still shots. (Bits and pieces of this feature appeared in various Plympton shorts over a couple of yearse.g. a sadistic duel between two poker-faced executives.) While the acerbic style has its moments of genuine witI especially enjoyed the Elvis parodythe rough line drawings can get a little tiresome over 72 minutes. (JR) Read more

That Cold Day In The Park

Robert Altman’s inauspicious first theatrical featurerecognizably his work, meandering zooms and all, but the material is somewhat pretentious and hackneyed: spinster Sandy Dennis picks up hippie Michael Burns in a Vancouver park, and, needless to say, goes nuts. The intermittent homophobia isn’t exactly winning either (1969). (JR) Read more


Apart from his final feature, Salo, this is probably Pier Paolo Pasolini’s most controversial film, and to my mind one of his very best, though it has the sort of audacity and extremeness that send some American audiences into gales of derisive, self-protective laughter (1968). The title is Italian for theorem, in this case a mythological figure: an attractive young man (Terence Stamp) who visits the home of a Milanese industrialist and proceeds to seduce every member of the householdfather, mother (Silvana Mangano), daughter (Anne Wiazemsky), son, and maid (Laura Betti). Then he leaves, and everyone in the household undergoes cataclysmic changes. Pasolini wrote a parallel novel of the same title, part of it in verse, while making this film; neither work is strictly speaking an adaptation of the other, but a recasting of the same elements, and the stark poetry of both is like a triple-distilled version of Pasolini’s view of the worlda view in which Marxism, Christianity, and homosexuality are forced into mutual and scandalous confrontations. It’s an impossible work: tragic, lyrical, outrageous, indigestible, deeply felt, and wholly sincere. (JR) Read more