Daily Archives: May 18, 2007

Fay Grim

Hal Hartley’s fall from fashion seems to correspond to his shift away from emulating 60s Godard and toward more ambitious contemporary satire (though his underrated The Girl From Monday managed to balance the two). Shot in New York, Berlin, Paris, and Istanbul, this sequel to Henry Fool (1997) is a cloak-and-dagger pastiche that sometimes asks to be taken halfway straight as it comments on American paranoia toward the Muslim world. The involved backstory and Hartley’s own generic music both prove burdensome; the main attraction is the cast’s amusing way of handling Hartley’s mannerist dialogue and conceits. With Parker Posey, James Urbaniak, Saffron Burrows, and Jeff Goldblum, occasionally hilarious as a CIA operative. 118 min. (JR)… Read more »

Charged In The Name Of Terror: Portraits By Contemporary Artists

Former Chicagoan Paul Chan curated this hour-long program of video documentaries about remarkable, patriotic Americans who’ve been persecuted for their political convictions, partly thanks to the Patriot Act. All the shorts are experimental in their pairing of sound and image yet plainspoken in their address, and their portraiture is partly concerned with the glory of particular ways of being alive. The first and best is Chan’s Untitled Video on Lynne Stewart and Her Conviction, the Law, and Poetry (2006), in which the human-rights lawyer reads poetry and reflects on her life, work, and prospects. The others are Jim Fetterley and Angie Waller’s Steve Kurtz Waiting (2006); Susan Youssef’s For the Least, about Catholic Workers who marched to Guantanamo, and Mary Billyou and Annelisse Fifi’s Mohamed Yousry: A Life Stands Still (2006), about an academic who worked as Stewart’s translator. (JR)… Read more »

Cosmic Voyage

Made in 1935 and set 11 years later, Vasil Zhuravlev’s silent Soviet feature is a space opera about a privately financed and successfully launched rocket to the moon, with hero, heroine, and scientist on board. Furnished with charming constructivist sets and miniatures and quaint-looking intertitles that weren’t translated in the version I previewed (unlike the one to be screened), this exudes the slightly campy innocence one associates with SF movies made a decade earlier, though the science appears to be less silly than in Fritz Lang’s 1928 Woman in the Moon. (Here, at least, the cosmonauts wear space suits equipped with oxygen.) 70 min. (JR)… Read more »

First On The Moon

Deftly combining actual and ersatz archival footage, Alexei Fedorchenko’s 2005 Russian pseudodocumentary maintains that the first flight to the moon occurred in 1938 but remained a secret after the rocket crash-landed in Chile. A deadpan satire about Stalinist secrecy and surveillance that draws upon diverse sources, including the 1936 Cosmic Voyage (see separate listing), this video is more ingenious than absorbing, perhaps because it’s twice as long as it needs to be. It isn’t really a mockumentary because it mainly exploits rather than unpacks the potential deceptions of the documentary form. I might have enjoyed its cynical gallows humor more if I’d seen it with an audience. In Russian with subtitles. 76 min. (JR)… Read more »

Death by Hanging

One of Nagisa Oshima’s very best, this Japanese feature from 1968 is concerned with the death penalty and the public’s understanding of a rape and murder committed by a Korean youth. The inventive staging is not merely dazzling but purposeful: a group of Japanese officials discovers, through a fantasy conceit, that the Korean prisoner refuses to die because the issues of his crime and his punishments aren’t understood, and the film works through a series of imaginative reconstructions of the events leading up to the rape and murder. (The issue of Japanese persecution of Koreans is also pertinent to the proceedings.) The results are Brechtian in the best sense: entertaining, instructive, gripping, mind-boggling, often humorous, and very much alive. In Japanese with subtitles. 117 min. a Tue 5/22, 7 PM, Univ. of Chicago Doc Films. … Read more »

Brand Upon the Brain!

This weekend four special screenings of Guy Maddin’s latest piece of deranged heterosexual camp feature live onstage narration by Crispin Glover, sound effects by a trio of Foley artists, music by the ten-piece Ensemble Noamnesia, and vocals by an alleged castrato. (The rest of the screenings this week will feature a recorded soundtrack with narration by Isabella Rossellini.) A house painter named Guy Maddin comes home after 30 years to fulfill his dying mother’s request that he repaint the sinister orphanage she runs inside a lighthouse. The kids all have mysterious holes in their heads, and additional intrigues involve a teenage sleuth and a harpist posing as her brother. Enhanced by Jason Staczek’s superb score, this is characteristically intense and, unlike most of Maddin’s silent-movie models, frenetically edited. 95 min. Tickets for the special screenings are $30; to order visit www.musicboxtheatre.com. a Music Box. … Read more »