Daily Archives: November 1, 1998

The Young Girls Of Rochefort

In choosing Jacques Demy’s greatest feature, one might argue strongly for Lola (1960), The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964), or the lesser-known Une Chambre en Ville (1982). But Demy’s most ambitious film and the one I cherish the most is this 1967 big-budget musical shot exclusively on location, a tale of various dreamers searching for and usually missing their ideal mates, who are usually only blocks away. The score is Michel Legrand’s finest, with various jazz elements, lyrics in alexandrines by Demy, and intricately structured reprises that match the poetic, crisscrossing plot. Demy pays tribute to the American musical yet mixes in accoutrements of French poetic realism: dreams and reality coexist more strangely and stubbornly than in most other musicals. The results may be quintessentially French, but the energy and optimism are clearly inspired by America, and Gene Kelly’s appearances are sublime. With Catherine Deneuve, Francoise Dorleac, Daniele Darrieux, George Chakiris, Grover Dale, and Michel Piccoli. In French with subtitles. 124 min. (JR) Read more


Woody Allen at his most inconsequential and insubstantial; don’t expect to remember this black-and-white throwaway of comic sketches five minutes after it’s over. The art movie reference this time is La dolce vita, and Kenneth Branagh has been enlisted to play Allen playing the Marcello Mastroianni part. Judy Davis, as Branagh’s estranged spouse, also plays Allen, at least until she starts imitating Mia Farrow. It appears that the widespread critical support of sexist and racist films like Mighty Aphrodite and Deconstructing Harry has further emboldened Allen in depicting women as blow-job machines and blacks as sexual athletes; he knows in advance that most of the New York press will never desert him and probably will applaud his courage in the bargain. Others in the cast include Melanie Griffith, Leonardo DiCaprio (playing himself much as Quentin Tarantino did in Four Rooms), Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Michael Lerner, Famke Janssen, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria, and Bebe Neuwirth (1998). (JR) Read more

What Farocki Taught

Jill Godmilow describes this half-hour short as a precise remake, in color and English, of Harun Farocki’s 1969 black-and-white German film Inextinguishable Fire. Farocki’s powerful film describes Dow Chemical’s development and manufacture of Napalm B and the effects of its use during the Vietnam war. By adroitly remaking the film three decades later Godmilow wants to call attention to a model of political filmmaking, though one might argue that she runs into trouble when she describes her own work as agitprop in the same sense that Farocki’s was: after all, he was addressing a contemporary issue, and in a sense her kind of political filmmaking is yet another excuse for avoiding our current problems. On the other hand, Godmilow does a fine job of stirring the pot, and this fascinating intervention is bound to generate some interesting debate. (JR) Read more

Apocalyptic Visions: Films About The End Of The World

Five short films, at least one of which (Chris Marker’s 1963 La jetee) is a masterpiece. The other four are Christopher MacLaine’s The End (1953), Arthur Lipsett’s 21-87 (1963), Heather McAdams’s Fetal Pig Anatomy (1985), and Robert Flowers’s The Garden of Eden (1988). (JR) Read more


Andy Warhol’s 35-minute film from 1963 is a slow-motion sequence of a person’s face in close-up as he experiences fellatio. Like all Warhol work from this period, it’s well worth seeing. (JR) Read more

House On Haunted Hill

As unfashionable as it may be to say so, none of William Castle’s horror movies lives up to the promise of his early noirs, such as The Whistler and its sequels and When Strangers Marry. But if one had to pick the best of the campy horror films that made his reputation, this 1958 feature would probably be it, with or without its promotional gimmick of Emergo (an illuminated skeleton flying over the heads of the audience). Vincent Price plays a wealthy man who offers a group of people $10,000 to spend a night in his haunted mansion; Robb White wrote the script, and the costars include Richard Long, Carol Ohmart, and the ever reliable Elisha Cook Jr. 75 min. (JR) Read more

Public Housing

This in-depth 1997 look at everyday life in Chicago’s Ida B. Wells housing project, running 195 minutes, is one of Frederick Wiseman’s greatest documentaries to date. Few of the points in its epic analysis are obvious; though it gives the overall impression that public housing is like living in a concentration camp, the film favors exploration and understanding over finger-pointing and polemicizing. Wiseman presents a wide array of materials, and because you have to reflect on the film to realize how the various pieces of its design hang together, you’re liable to be thinking about it months afterward. (JR) Read more

American History X

When his white-supremacist brother (Edward Norton) is released from prison, Danny (Edward Furlong), another Venice Beach skinhead, is assigned to write a paper about the circumstances that led to his incarceration. Though this 1998 movie clearly takes on more than it can handletrying to merge the classical narrative elements of 40s film noir and 50s social-problem films with the rougher and more improvisational shooting methods of 60s and post-60s filmmakingthat’s vastly preferable to the agendas of most other commercial films these days, which take on too little. The movie can’t explain as much as it wants to about what makes (and unmakes) a skinhead, but it carries us a fair distance. English advertising tyro Tony Kaye directed a screenplay by David McKenna and also served as cinematographer. The performances of Norton and Furlong are wonderful, and others in the cast, including Stacy Keach and Ethan Suplee, are equally fine. With Fairuza Balk, Jennifer Lien, Elliott Gould, William Russ, and Beverly D’Angelo. (JR) Read more

Over On The Big Ranch

Fernando de Fuentes directed this 1936 Mexican musical about a romantic triangle. The picture won the great Gabriel Figueroa his first award for cinematography, at the 1938 Venice film festival. With Tito Guizar, Rene Cardona, and Esther Fernandez. (JR) Read more

Love Is The Devil

John Maybury’s first feature, subtitled Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, is a passionate and highly personal work whose impact will partially depend on how you feel about Bacon’s paintings. Maybury didn’t receive permission to use any of those paintings in the film, but one could argue that this homage goes well beyond the range we associate with biopics of artists. Basically set during the 60s and early 70s, the film concentrates on the sadomasochistic relationship between Bacon (played by Derek Jacobi) and his hard trade model and lover over seven years, a burglar and petty thief named George Dyer (Daniel Craig). There’s also a detailed portrait of Bacon’s foppish salon that gathered at London’s Colony Room, presided over by Tilda Swinton. I admire this movie more than I like it, maybe because I’m not very partial to Bacon’s work, but there’s no question that it carries a visceral charge and lots of inventive energy. (JR) Read more

East Palace, West Palace

In a Beijing park one night, a gay writer is arrested by the policeman he has a crush on, prompting a long, ambiguous battle of wills and a series of psychological games. Director Zhang Yuan (Mama, Beijing Bastards, Sons), a mainland Chinese independent, is heterosexual but seems to have read Genet: this 1996 feature reaches for a mise en scene more theatrical than one finds in his earlier documentaries and semidocumentaries. The results are more querulous than clearly focused, though the edginess may keep one interested. The title, incidentally, is a gay joke referring to the public toilets located east and west of the Forbidden Palace. (JR) Read more