Monthly Archives: February 2000

Incubus

A genuine curiosity, this 1965 horror feature starring William Shatner, written and directed by Leslie Stevens (Private Property, Hero’s Island), and shot by the great Conrad Hall is the only film ever made in Esperanto, a language optimistically invented in the late 19th century to foster world peace. In 1968, after failing to find a distributor, producer Anthony Taylor stored the masters and what he thought were all the copies at an LA lab, which lost them. But in 1996, years after giving up on the project, he learned that the Cinematheque Francaise had a print and had been showing it since the 70s. After a year of negotiations, he obtained a copy, restored it, added English subtitles, and put it out on video, which is how it will be shown here. Not to be confused with John Hough’s 1981 horror film The Incubus. 78 min. (JR)… Read more »

Back And Forth: Films By Martin Arnold

Short works by the Austrian experimental filmmaker, known for his manipulation of images from Hollywood’s studio period. I’ve seen Piece touchee (1989), which is derived from brief snatches of The Human Jungle (1954); Passage a l’acte (1993), which makes similar use of To Kill a Mockingbird (1963); and Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998), which does extremely creepy things with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. The last is the most impressive; its manipulations simultaneously dehumanize the stars and highlight the repressed subtexts of their actions and interactions. I’m not sure what kind of artistic or technical accomplishment these short works represent, but there’s no question that they’re very scary. (JR)… Read more »

Place Vendome

This 1999 French film by actress Nicole Garcia is striking above all because of its lead performanceCatherine Deneuve as a recovering alcoholic who springs back into action when she discovers seven diamonds squirreled away by her late husband, a big-time jeweler. What transpires after that may have some of the trappings of an exotic thriller, but it’s basically a character study, and Deneuve and her fellow actorsin particular Emmanuelle Seigner and Jean-Pierre Bacri (Same Old Song)shine in these circumstances. 117 min. (JR)… Read more »

Houdini

A typically deceitful but fairly absorbing 1953 biopic about the famous magician and escape artist, mainly made bearable by costars Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh. George Marshall directed. (JR)… Read more »

My Best Fiend

Werner Herzog’s surprisingly slim and relatively impersonal 1999 feature charts his relationship with the mad actor Klaus Kinski on the five features they made together. Though Herzog has plenty to say about Kinski’s tantrums on the Peru locations of Aguirre: The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo and even interviews other witnesses on the same subject, he says next to nothing about his own involvementsuch as why he hired Kinski in the first place or how the overreaching heroes Kinski played for Herzog were clearly modeled after the director, metaphorically speaking. Like many other Herzog features, this carries a certain morbid fascination but provides little edification; Kinski’s extensive career apart from Herzog is barely acknowledged. 95 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Mutants

This 1998 Portuguese film is a searing cri de coeur on behalf of Lisbon’s homeless children. Rejected by dysfunctional families, often escaping from heartless institutions, they’re victimized by others (Pedro and Ricardo by pornographers, Andreia by a boyfriend who leaves her pregnant) and not surprisingly victimize one another as well. Director Teresa Villaverde makes their plight come alive with a variety of isolating compositions: a boy arriving home appears framed in the front doorway against the landscape, his family invisible, and more than once a kid riding in a vehicle is shot from above, the character’s head backed by the moving roadway. In one terribly painful sequence a variety of unbalanced compositions show Andreia screaming as she gives birth to her child in a lavatorywhere she then abandons it. These decontextualizations convey the children’s separation from society, making them the pained subjects of our gaze, and the film’s warped visual spaces make that separation seem unnatural, even wrong. (FC)… Read more »

The Little Thief

Lasting only 65 minutes, The Little Thief, Erick Zonca’s lean and purposeful 1999 second feature (after The Dreamlife of Angels), confirms his talent while pointing it in a somewhat different direction. He continues to focus on the lower economic strata, but this time he explores the progress of a baker’s assistant who decides to join a band of thieves. The results are gripping. (JR)… Read more »

Isn’t She Great

A major washout. One might think that a campy, 50s-style showbiz biopic about best-selling sleaze novelist Jacqueline Susann written by Paul Rudnick, directed by Andrew Bergman, and starring Bette Midler couldn’t miss, but in fact this misses on just about every level. Maybe it’s because camp is defined by lack of self-consciousness, or because coherent comedies of any kind have to be built on consistent premises, or because biopics that lie or evade the truth about their subjects have to come up with some other story to tell. This seems at times to be trying to emulate John Waters’s Female Trouble (with Midler standing in for Divine), and it periodically comes up with bouts of WASP bashing (David Hyde Pierce, as Susann’s editor, is the butt of most of these jokes), but without much passion or unity of purpose; the signs of studio committeethink are everywhere. Everyone must have been afraid of a lawsuit, because genuine irreverence and vulgarity are ultimately avoided like the plaguewhich is not to say that we get reverence or good taste eitherand nothing of substance from Susann’s work is ever really evoked. Check out the 1975 movie Jacqueline Susann’s Once Is Not Enough for a few clues about what this could and should have been like.… Read more »

The Big Tease

A laughless, brainless, styleless, and clueless comedy about a hairdresser from Glasgow (cowriter Craig Ferguson) who winds up in Los Angeles to compete in an international competition. (Guess who wins.) But it has at least two limited virtues: it’s good-natured, and it has a cameo by Russ Meyer axiom Charles Napier. Somebody must have had some other reason in mind for making it. Directed by Kevin Allen, cowritten by Sacha Gervasi; with Frances Fisher and Mary McCormack. (JR)… Read more »

Dancehall Queen

Set in the Kingston ghetto, this 1997 reggae crime musical is reportedly the highest grossing movie in Jamaican history and the first to be shot on digital video. Its heroine, a street vendor and single mother, comes into her own after entering a dance-hall contest in hopes of keeping various thugs and potential protectors from controlling her life. The narrative isn… Read more »

The Delicate Art Of The Rifle

D.W. Harper directed this 1996 feature about the infamous Charles Whitman, who climbed a Texas tower in the mid-60s and shot people at random. Screenwriter Stephen Grant (who also plays the crazed killer) updates the story to the present and tries to milk it for absurdist humor, telling it from the bemused viewpoint of the killer’s nerdish roommate. Ambitious and inventive, but unevenly acted and overextended, this will certainly hold one’s interest, despite its hit-or-miss qualities. (JR)… Read more »

Le Franc

A penniless musician wins a lottery in a 45-minute film by the late, highly talented Djibril Diop Mambety. This 1994 release isn’t up to the level of his extraordinary Touki Bouki or Hyenas, but it’s highly distinctive and creditable all the same. (JR)… Read more »