Monthly Archives: April 1993

The Nation Erupts

A reflection on last year’s riot in Los Angeles put together for the grass-roots TV series Not Channel Zero–The Revolution, Televised and produced by Black Planet Productions, an inventive New York media collective with an afrocentric perspective and a refreshing way of combining aesthetic imagination with political savvy. However incendiary it may sound, its “Top 11 Reasons to Loot or Riot” is actually a model of reasoned analysis, which can also be said of many of the other discourses featured. A member of the Black Planet collective will be present for a discussion. Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Friday, April 30, 8:00, 281-8788. Read more

Chung Kuo China

A four-hour film about modern China made in 1972 by Michelangelo Antonioni. Though I’ve only been able to sample it, I believe it’s one of the very few comprehensive and serious Western documentaries on the subject. (The only other one that I’m aware of is Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan’s equally scarce six-part, 12-hour How Yukong Moved the Mountains, made four years later.) While the Chinese government invited Antonioni to make this film, and Western viewers at the time regarded it as a sympathetic portrayal, the results was widely denounced by the Chinese when it first appeared–a fascinating instance of radically divergent interpretations of the same images and camera angles. It now appears that the denunciation was partially dictated by government policies that had relatively little to do with Antonioni, and it’s worth pointing out that the Chinese offered a public apology to the filmmaker in 1980. For the past two decades or so this work has been completely unavailable in the U.S., and it still has no distributor, so this may well be your only chance to see it. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, May 2, 1:30, and Thursday, May 6, 6:00, 443-3737. Read more

Il ladro di bambini

The Italian title of this lovely, rambling feature by Gianni Amelio (Open Doors) translates unidiomatically as “The Children Thief,” and is undoubtedly meant to remind us of the 1948 film The Bicycle Thief. The “thief” in question is actually a young carabiniere officer (Enrico Lo Verso) based in Milan who’s given the job of escorting an 11-year-old girl (Valentina Scalici) and her 10-year-old brother (Giuseppe Ieracitano) to a religious home after their mother is arrested for forcing the daughter into prostitution. After the home turns them away the officer has to bring them to a reform school in Sicily, but he winds up taking his time about it–stopping off at his family home en route and finding other distractions. The biggest box-office hit in Italy last year, this also won the grand jury prize at the Cannes film festival, but the nice thing about it is that it doesn’t shove its virtues in your face; it’s made up of small discoveries and natural performances that raise as many questions about the characters as they answer. Accompanying some of the showings of this feature is an Oscar-nominated short film, Swan Song, starring John Gielgud and Richard Briers, directed by Kenneth Branagh, and adapted by Hugh Cruttwell from a short play by Anton Chekhov. Read more

Green on Thursdays

Astrong documentary by Dean Bushala and Deirdre Heaslip about gay bashing in Chicago, alternately terrifying and empowering in its matter-of-fact instructiveness about the extent of the problem and the response of local activists–including the Pink Angels street patrol, the Coalition Against Bashing, and Horizon’s antiviolence counseling and court advocacy program. Following many individual cases of violence against gay men and lesbians, the film makes effective use of several local talents: two videos by Charles Christensen, a song by the duo Ellen Rosner & Camille, and black-and-white photographs by Allen Nepomuceno, Paul Vosdic, and Paul Roesch. The title, if you’re wondering, originally referred to the 19th-century practice of gay men wearing green ties to work on Thursdays to identify themselves to each other; today it raises the issue of how much being “out” means being a target for a sociopath. The film deals only glancingly with the reasons for homophobic violence, but has a lot to say about the possible responses to it. A panel discussion with the filmmakers, film participants, and representatives from the Chicago Police Department and the mayor’s office will follow the Sunday screening. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, Friday and Saturday, April 23 and 24, 7:00 and 9:00; Sunday, April 25, 5:30; and Monday through Thursday, April 26 through 29, 7:00 and 9:00; 281-4114. Read more

The Last Days of Chez Nous

Even if you decide at times that the story telling and the visual style aren’t as compelling as the characters, this woman-oriented feature by Australian filmmaker Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, High Tide), working here with novelist and screenwriter Helen Garner, is so alive with felt and observed experience and subtle familial interaction that you may not care. The story concerns a group of people living in a ramshackle house in Sydney, among them a middle-aged novelist (Lisa Harrow), her teenage daughter (Miranda Otto), her French husband (Bruno Ganz), her younger sister (An Angel at My Table’s Kerry Fox), and a young male boarder (Kiri Paramore); the plot consists largely of what ensues when the sister has an abortion and then becomes involved with her brother-in-law. The performances are so powerful and persuasive–especially in the cases of Harrow, Ganz, and Bill Hunter, who plays the novelist’s father–that you may periodically forget they’re performances; these are complex characters you remember, not actors’ turns you’re asked to admire (1992). Music Box, Friday through Thursday, April 16 through 22. Read more

Like Water for Chocolate

Based on the best-selling novel by Laura Esquivel, who adapted her own work for the screen, this delightful piece of magical realism from Mexican director Alfonso Arau (1991) contemplates the unrequited love of a single woman for her brother-in-law, a passion that can only be expressed and sublimated through the sensual meals she prepares for him. (The original novel even contained recipes.) With Lumi Cavazos, Marco Leonardi, and Regina Torne. The title, incidentally, derives from a Mexican slang expression that means, approximately, “ready to boil.” Fine Arts. Read more

Story Of A Love Affair

Michelangelo Antonioni’s haunting first feature (1950)a remarkable formal effort involving a detective, an adulterous trio, a murder plot, a choreographic mise en scene, and an extended flashbackqualifies in many ways as an Italian noir, set in the milieu of the Milanese upper classes; with Lucia Bose (The Lady Without Camellias) and Massimo Girotti. In Italian with subtitles. 98 min. (JR) Read more

How To Steal A Million

William Wyler wasn’t generally known for his light touch, but he made this comic 1966 piece of fluff about a million-dollar heist from a Paris art museum pretty easy to takehelped no doubt by his charming leads, Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, not to mention Charles Boyer, Eli Wallach, and Hugh Griffith. Harry Kurnitz wrote the script. This is forgettable, but to hazard a paradoxpricelessly forgettable. 127 min. (JR) Read more

Who’s The Man?

Doctor Dre and Ed Lover, hosts of the Yo! MTV Raps TV show, star as sidekicks who become Harlem policemen and help to expose a gentrification scam and extortion ring, in a funny, lighthearted, and enjoyably overplayed hip-hop comedy shot on location in Harlem. Directed by Ted Demme from a script by Seth Greenland, this costars Badja Djola (A Rage in Harlem), Denis Leary, Colin Quinn, Jim Moody, and Richard Bright, and over 40 rap artists ranging from Ice-T to Public Enemy make cameo appearances. (JR) Read more

The Trial

Though debatable as an adaptation of the Franz Kafka novel, Orson Welles’s nightmarish, labyrinthine comedy of 1962shot mainly in Paris’s abandoned Gare d’Orsay and various locations in Zagreb and Rome after he had to abandon his plan to use setsremains his creepiest and most disturbing work; it’s also a lot more influential than people usually admit (e.g., After Hours, the costume store sequences in Eyes Wide Shut). Anthony Perkins gives an adolescent temper to Joseph K, a bureaucrat mysteriously brought to court for an unspecified crime. Among the predatory females who pursue him are Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, and Elsa Martinelli; Welles himself plays the hero’s tyrannical lawyer, and Akim Tamiroff is one of his oldest clients. Welles adroitly captures the experience of an unsettling and slightly hysterical dream throughout. Given the impact of screen size on what he’s doing, you can’t claim to have seen this if you’ve watched it only on video. 118 min. (JR) Read more

Three Of Hearts

Yurek Bogayevicz, the Polish stage and film director who previously showed some real promise with Anna (1987), dissipates much of it here. This less interesting script (by Adam Greenman and Phillip Epstein) is about a male escort (William Baldwin) in flight from a jealous husband, who becomes involved with a bisexual woman (Sherilyn Fenn). Bogayevicz still shows some feeling for marginal Manhattan lifestyles, but without an actor of the caliber of Sally Kirkland in Anna, he seems as adrift as most viewers are likely to feel; Kelly Lynch costars. (JR) Read more

The Robe

The first film in CinemaScope (a process spearheaded by Fox), though it was also shot simultaneously in a normal screen ratio. This pious claptrap (1953) about the Roman centurion (Richard Burton) who presided over Christ’s crucifixion has Jean Simmons and one of Victor Mature’s more likable performances. The unmemorable Henry Koster directed; with Michael Rennie, Richard Boone, Dawn Addams, and Dean Jagger. 135 min. (JR) Read more

The Queen

Frank Simon’s cinema-verite documentary chronicling the Miss All-American Camp Beauty Pageant held in New York City in February 1967 is more interesting in some ways for its period flavoras a zoom-happy, all-over-the-place 60s documentthan for its depiction of the drag event, though both aspects have some value. (JR) Read more

Olivier Olivier

You might think Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa) has double titles on the brain, but at least on this project, which dates back to 1984, there’s an eerie logic to the impulse. The original inspiration comes from a French news story, though The Return of Martin Guerre may have exerted some influence as well: a nine-year-old boy named Olivier (Emmanuel Morozof) mysteriously disappears, and after exhaustively searching for the boy, his father (Francois Cluzet) leaves his mother (Brigitte Rouan) and sister for a job in Africa. Six years later, the police inspector (Jean-Francois Stevenin) originally assigned to the case comes across a teenage boy (Gregoire Colin) who may be Olivier, and introduces him to the family, who greet him with mixed reactions: the parents want to believe he’s their son, but the sister is unconvinced. Holland is always an interesting director, and this arresting and disturbing tale commands some attention, but the impact of the story is blunted by irrelevant asides concerning telekinesis and more loose ends than you can shake a stick at (1991). (JR) Read more

The Oberwald Mystery

This is an experimental film in the original rather than fashionable sense of that terma 1980 adaptation by Michelangelo Antonioni of Jean Cocteau’s play The Eagle Has Two Heads that reunites the filmmaker with Monica Vitti in the starring role as a widowed queen who falls in love with an anarchist poet sent to assassinate her. What makes this experimental is neither the play nor the performances, but the fact that Antonioni shot it in color video (later transferred to 35-millimeter), regarding the medium not as television but as a new kind of cinematography, and associating each character with a different color as part of his visual exploration. The choice of the Cocteau play seems more arbitrary than inevitable, which raises the form-versus-content issue even more than in most Antonioni features. The results are singular, to say the least. In Italian with subtitles. 128 min. (JR) Read more