Monthly Archives: March 1997

Random Harvest

A shell-shocked World War I amnesiac (Ronald Colman) marries a music-hall singer (Greer Garson), but a collision with a taxi makes him forget her and return to his original family. James Agee compared watching this 1942 MGM feature, derived from a James Hilton story, to eating a bowl of shaving soap for breakfast, but it has a kind of deranged sincerity and integrity on its own terms, and it acquired a slew of Oscar nominations. Mervyn LeRoy directed. 126 min. (JR) Read more

Le Beau Serge

Technically this 1958 Claude Chabrol film was the first feature of the French New Wave to be releasedthough it was Chabrol’s second film, Les cousins, with the same stars, Gerard Blain and Jean-Claude Brialy, that had an international impact. Brialy plays a tubercular theology student who returns to his hometown to convalesce and becomes reacquainted with a childhood friend (Blain), an alcoholic stuck in a bad marriage. Roland Barthes attacked this film for its right-wing and static image of man, and even Chabrol fan Tom Milne has found its Hitchcockian theme of transference expressed too overtly in terms of Christian allegory. I barely remember it, but it has a certain fascination as Chabrol’s first practical (as opposed to critical) encounter with mise en scene. (JR) Read more

Stardust-stricken, Mohsen Makhmalbaf: A Portrait

This feature-length 1996 video documentary by Houshang Golmakani about the eclectic and prolific Iranian filmmaker has the worst English subtitles of any Iranian film I’ve seen (which is saying a lot), and the editing is needlessly fussy and fancy. But it has a lot of interesting things to say about Makhmalbaf, with loads of material about his early life and career, many clips, archival material, and interviews, including a brief dialogue with filmmaker Werner Herzog. Anyone who wants to understand Makhmalbaf’s work better shouldn’t pass up this film, though it arguably goes beyond acceptable bounds when it includes footage of him grieving at his wife’s funeral. (JR) Read more


One of American independent Robert Kramer’s strongest underground features (1969), arguably his best, made in and around New York before he resettled in Paris. This potent and grim SF thriller about urban guerrillas of the radical left, shot in the manner of a rough documentary in black and white, has an epic sweep to it. (Like many politically informed art movies of the period, starting with Alphaville and including even THX 1138, it was set in the future mainly as a ruse for critiquing the present.) Now as then, the power of this creepy movie rests largely in its dead-on critique of the paranoia and internecine battles that characterized revolutionary politics during the 60s; the mood is terrorized and often brutal, but the behavioral observations and some of the tenderness periodically call to mind early Cassavetes. A searing, unnerving history lesson, it’s an American counterpart to some of Jacques Rivette’s conspiracy pictures, a desperate message found in a bottle. 130 min. (JR) Read more


A 1980 New York slasher thriller that, according to the Psychotronic Encyclopedia, managed to offend even many gore fans. Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide finds it claustrophobic, sickening. William Lustig directed a story written by executive producer Joe Spinell, who also plays the title role. Not to be confused with features of the same title by Dwain Esper (1934), Michael Carreras (1962), and Richard Compton (1978). Read more

Troublesome Creek: A Midwestern

A touching 1996 documentary by a wife-and-husband team, Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher, about Jordan’s parents’ farm in Iowa, first plowed by her great-grandparents over a century ago and lost to a bank in the 1990s. The filmmakers discuss the family’s struggle in relation to the various westerns they watch on TV (hence the subtitle), but they cover life in rural America from many different angles. (JR) Read more

Umm Kulthum, A Voice Like Egypt

A fascinating and intelligent feature-length documentary (1996) by Michal Goldman about the late Egyptian singer, the best-selling female vocalist in the Arab world. Goldman uses many archival clips of her performances (including some from Egyptian films) and interviews with several Egyptians; the narrator is Omar Sharif. Like many such informative works, it leaves one wanting to know more. Recommended. 67 min. (JR) Read more

Hide And Seek

Su Friedrich’s 64-minute black-and-white 1996 narrative about lesbian adolescence in the 60s makes impressive use of found footage from that period; the match between this material and the film’s fiction is often uncanny, assisted by wonderful performances from Chels Holland, Ariel Mara, and Alicia Manta, among others. Friedrich scripted with Cathy Nan Quinlan. (JR) Read more

Murder And Murder

Gutsy experimental filmmaker Yvonne Rainer tackles two personal issues at oncehaving a lesbian relationship for the first time in middle age and developing breast cancerin one of her most direct and accessible semiautobiographical narratives. This 1996 film has a rich sense of social history, and the wisecracking irreverence of Rainer’s earlier work (e.g., Film About a Woman Who . . . , Privilege) is back in force, though for once the humor seems homey, even homespun, and not merely angry. With Joanna Merlin and Kathleen Chalfont; Rainer also turns up periodically in a tuxedo. (JR) Read more


Richard Linklater, adhering to the 24-hour frame of his first three features (Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise), directs a fine 1996 adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s tragicomic play about the frustrated lives of several 20-year-old suburbanites. They spend their time mainly in parking lots and are pushed to a crisis point when an old friend who’s made it big as a rock star (Jayce Bartok) stops by for a visitmaterial that’s conventional to the point of being generic, even in its surprises, and that remains obstinately stage bound. Nevertheless, the cast of mainly unknowns is so good, and Linklater is so adept at playing them off one another, that the two-hour running time never seems overextended. With Giovanni Ribisi (especially impressive), Steve Zahn (That Thing You Do!), Amie Carey, Nicky Katt, Ajay Naidu, Samia Shoaib, and the ubiquitous Parker Posey. (JR) Read more

Films By Frederick Marx

Films by one of the directors of Hoop Dreams, an Illinois-based film and video maker whose experimental and political interests sometimes inform each other. House of Un-American Activities (1983) is a documentary that mixes personal and public history as it describes the 1956 persecution of Marx’s fathera Jewish refugee from Germany who joined the Communist Party in 1945. Dreams From China was shot while Marx was working as an English teacher in China between 1983 and 1985; the portrait of China it presents is highly personal, full of fascinating details, and, given Marx’s leftist background, unfashionably negative. Also showing are Higher Goals, an offshoot of Hoop Dreams, about a children’s program; Jail Vision, an excerpt from a play written and acted by Cook County Jail inmates; and excerpts from works in progress. (JR) Marx will attend the screening. Read more

The Garden

A 1995 Slovak feature, directed and cowritten by Martin Sulik, about a 30-year-old schoolteacher beset by problems who gradually becomes enlightened by the experience of spending time in his late grandfather’s overgrown garden. If memory servesI saw this a couple of years ago and retain only a few imagesthis is an intriguing and poetic piece of magical realism. It was nomiated for an Oscar. (JR) Read more

Queen Of Outer Space

Believe it or not, Ben Hecht wrote the original script for this deliberate hoot of 1958, and Charles Beaumont gave it a polish. Producer Walter Wanger turned the project over to director Edward Bernds, a Bowery Boys and Blondie specialist; Laurie Mitchell was cast in the lead, and Zsa Zsa Gabor and several others filled out the cast, which largely consists of Venusian amazons in miniskirts, along with Eric Fleming and Paul Birch. (JR) Read more