Monthly Archives: April 2018

Aspects of the Avant-Garde: Three lnnovators

From American Film (September 1978). -– J.R.

Talking about avant-garde film these days raises a quandary. For one thing, no one can agree on precisely what the label means. Start by asking the proverbial man on the street what an avant-garde movie is. Chances are, if you don’t get insulted, the description that’s offered won’t exactly be a heartening one.

On the other hand, address your query to “an avant-garde filmmaker,” and you’re just as likely to get a moralistic distinction between art and commerce — or between art and entertainment calculated to shrivel your own sense of seriousness to the size of a pea.

The fact that there are such disagreements about simple definitions only helps to keep the term loaded and half-cocked. A Cuban director at a film festival once allegedly shunned an American director’s gesture of friendship by saying, “I only talk to people with guns. My film is a gun; your film isn’t. ” In analogous fashion, the mere concept of avant-garde film is often used as a gun by friends and foes alike. This scares off countless spectators who fall in between these categories — less committed souls who understandably run for cover as soon as any shots are fired. Read more

True Lies

From the Chicago Reader (July 1, 1994). — J.R.

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One hundred million dollars and 141 minutes’ worth of comic book action from Arnold Schwarzenegger and writer-director James Cameron, most of it pitched at the level of the good-natured imperial arrogance and high-tech nonsense associated with the James Bond films. The obligatory birdbrained plot has something to do with Schwarzenegger as a secret agent — an identity kept from his wife (Jamie Lee Curtis) and teenage daughter — who neglects family duties in order to pursue Arab terrorists and tango with Tia Carrere, who works for them, until wife and daughter get sucked into the various intrigues. The comedy is extremely broad (with Curtis eliciting almost as many laughs as Schwarzenegger), the action sequences are as well crafted as one can expect from Cameron, and the meaning is as root basic as anyone would wish. If the gulf war gave you an insatiable taste for burning oil and burning Arabs, this extravaganza will tide you over for at least a couple of days. With Tom Arnold (as the hero’s wisecracking sidekick, delivering one-liners with a nasal Alan Alda-ish edge), Bill Paxton, Art Malik, and Eliza Dushku. (JR)

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Hollywoodland

From the Chicago Reader (September 8, 2006). — J.R.

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A neo-noir in the tradition of Chinatown, this fine collaboration between director Allen Coulter (The Sopranos) and writer Paul Bernbaum revolves around the mysterious 1959 death of George Reeves (Ben Affleck), who played the title role in the TV series The Adventures of Superman. The shooting was ruled a suicide, but conspiracy theories persist, and the film uses flashbacks to meticulously work out the possibilities (including two murder scenarios) while the fictional story of an investigating detective (Adrien Brody) provides suggestive counterpoint. The period details and performances are uniformly superb (Bob Hoskins is especially good as MGM executive Eddie Mannix), and the major characters are even more complex than those in Chinatown. With Diane Lane, Robin Tunney, Joe Spano, and Molly Parker. R, 126 min. Century12 and CineArts 6, Crown Village 18, Davis, Gardens 1-6, Lake, Norridge, River East 21, Webster Place.

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One Way Boogie Woogie/27 Years Later

From the Chicago Reader (April 13, 2007). 

Both of these films, the more recent One Way Boogie Woogie 2012, and Benning’s earlier 11 X 14 will all become available soon in one two-disc DVD set from www.edition-filmmuseum.com/. — J.R.

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Titled after Piet Mondrian’s painting Broadway Boogie Woogie, James Benning’s experimental masterpiece One Way Boogie Woogie (1977) consists of 60 one-minute takes shot with a stationary camera in an industrial valley near his native Milwaukee. The film strikes a graceful balance between abstraction (either found or created) and personal history, with ingenious uses of on- and offscreen sound, and it plays like a portfolio of 60 miniature films, each a suspenseful puzzle and a beautifully composed mechanism. A few years ago Benning returned to his hometown to fashion this shot-for-shot remake (2005), planting his camera in the same places and, whenever possible, using the same people. It screens on a double bill with the original, and though it’s not on the same level, it’s a poignant and fascinating companion piece.  Sat 4/14, 7 PM, Univ. of Chicago Film Studies Center.

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