Daily Archives: January 1, 2002

Reel Life Jazz

The challenge of the jazz documentary is combining talk and music without allowing one to ride roughshod over the other. Peter Bull’s stirring Steve Lacy: Lift the Bandstand (1985, 50 min.), about soprano saxophonist and Thelonious Monk disciple Steve Lacy, compromises neither the performances of Lacy’s inventive sextet nor Lacy’s observations about his career. John Jeremy’s first-rate Born to Swing (1973, 50 min.), about various alumni of Count Basie’s 1943 band reuniting, also finds a successful balance. I haven’t seen the other entries in this five-and-a-half-hour program of jazz filmsPeter Kowald: Off the Road, a recent French documentary about the bassist’s solo tour of the U.S.; Frans Boelen’s Dutch film Sonny Rollins: Live at Loren (1973, 37 min.); and a selection of clips from the excellent collection of Jazz Record Mart owner Bob Koesterbut it sounds like a great show. (JR)… Read more »

Early German Films

Two silent films from 1913: The Mysterious Club (47 min.), a detective thriller, was directed by former circus performer Joseph Delmont, whose acrobatic talents are featured in the final third. The Black Ball, or The Mysterious Sisters (40 min.), directed by Franz Hofer, is a revenge story.… Read more »

Ten Nights In The Bar Room

This 1926 adaptation of a temperance play performed in black communities had the longest run of any race film in the silent erafour weeks in New York. Roy Calnek directed two leading black stage actors of the period, Lawrence Chenault and Charles Gilpin. 65 min.… Read more »

Gosford Park

This upstairs-downstairs comedy drama, set in 1932 in an English country house, is probably Robert Altman’s most accomplished film since the 70s. Among its virtues are the discipline exercised by its fine English cast, a good script by Julian Fellowes (based on ideas by Altman and costar Bob Balaban) that incorporates certain aspects of Agatha Christie-style whodunit, and the interesting ground rule that no guest be shown unless a servant is present in the same scene. There are more characters of interest here than in Nashville, and an almost constantly moving camera (less noticeably employed than in The Long Goodbye) tends to objectify the relationships among them. Some of the most prominent are played by Eileen Atkins, Balaban (a Hollywood producer), Alan Bates (a butler), Charles Dance, Stephen Fry (a police inspector who impersonates Jacques Tati’s Mr. Hulot in garb and body language), Michael Gambon, Richard E. Grant, Tom Hollander, Derek Jacobi, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Jeremy Northam (real-life movie star and composer Ivor Novello), Kristin Scott Thomas, and Emily Watson. 137 min. (JR)… Read more »

Orange County

A teen comedy that smacks of second-generation Hollywood insofar as the director, Jake Kasdan, is the son of Lawrence, and the two leads, Colin Hanks and Schuyler Fisk, are the offspring of Tom Hanks and Sissy Spacek respectively. But for my money, what keeps it bearable is mainly the mugging of the older folksnot just Jack Black, who steals the show in a part seemingly inspired by John Belushi, but Catherine O’Hara, John Lithgow, and, in cameos, Chevy Chase, Lily Tomlin, and Kevin Kline. Mike White’s script, about a surfer turned writer (Hanks) determined to get into Stanford, is perfunctory but serviceable. 90 min. (JR)… Read more »

The Man In The Gray Flannel Suit

The title of Sloan Wilson’s 50s best-seller became a catchphrase for corporate anonymity, a trait embodied by stolid Gregory Peck in this lush 153-minute ‘Scope drama (1956) about a Madison Avenue executive trying to adjust to life after World War II. The film may seem mediocre now (it did back then), but it probably speaks volumes about the period, and Bernard Herrmann composed the score. Written and directed by Nunnally Johnson; with Jennifer Jones, Fredric March, Marisa Pavan, Lee J. Cobb, Keenan Wynn, Gigi Perreau, and Arthur O’Connell. (JR)… Read more »

Como Su Ritmo No Hay Dos

The title of Andy Garcia’s serviceable 1993 documentary about Cuban composer and bassist Israel Cachao Lopezsomething of a mambo specialist in communist Cubameans his rhythm is like no other. The concert material here more or less proves the point. 120 min. (JR)… Read more »


Produced by Merian C. Cooper as a follow-up to King Kong, this 1935 adventure saga adapts the H. Rider Haggard novel She Who Must Be Obeyed, transposing the story from Africa to arctic Asia. Explorers Randolph Scott and Nigel Bruce discover the art deco palace of the seemingly immortal title character (stage actress Helen Gahagan in her only film role). Irving Pichel and Lansing G. Holden directed, and Ruth Rose and Dudley Nichols are credited with the script; the score is by Max Steiner. 102 min.… Read more »

Ten Dark Women

An entertaining curiosity in black-and-white ‘Scope, Kon Ichikawa’s noirish 1961 comedy concerns a smug philanderer whose current wife and nine former mistresses plot to kill him, letting him know something about their scheme in advance. Like many of the best Ichikawa films (including those with a feminist dimension), this was scripted by his wife, Natto Wado, and was recently rereleased in Japan to great commercial success. In Japanese with subtitles. 103 min. (JR)… Read more »

Odd Obsession

Kon Ichikawa’s kinky black comedy in ‘Scope (1959, 96 min.) adapts the powerful Junichiro Tanizaki novel The Key, in which an old man tries to revive his virility by arranging various sexual encounters for his own vicarious enjoymentespecially one between his younger wife and a doctor. The novel alternates between the old man’s diary entries and the wife’s; Ichikawa’s more straightforward narrative method doesn’t do justice to all the ironies, but this is a still a singular and memorable movie, and the great Machiko Kyo is a particular standout as the wife. Almost a quarter century later, Ichikawa returned to Tanizaki’s work for The Makioka Sisters. In Japanese with subtitles. (JR)… Read more »