From the Chicago Reader (January 12, 1990). — J.R.
American TV watchers, eat your hearts out! These four selections from “Ten to Eleven” — a series of short, experimental “essay” films made for German television by the remarkable German filmmaker Alexander Kluge, to be shown here on video — are not always easy to follow in terms of tracing all their connections, but they’re the liveliest and most imaginative European TV shows I’ve seen since those of Ruiz and Godard. Densely constructed out of a very diverse selection of archival materials, which are manipulated (electronically and otherwise) in a number of unexpected ways, these historical meditations often suggest Max Ernst collages using the cultural flotsam of the last 100 years. Why Are You Crying, Antonio? relates fascism, opera, and domesticity; Articles of Advertising historicizes ads in a number of novel ways; Madame Butterfly Waits offers a compressed history of opera and its kitschy successors in pop culture; and the self-explanatory The Eiffel Tower, King Kong, and the White Woman makes use of comics, movies in the 1890s, a quote from Heidegger, and multiple images of the famous ape and tower. These are apparently fairly recent works. A Chicago premiere. (Randolph St. Read more
From the Chicago Reader (March 19, 2004). — J.R.
This experimental drama about the cruelty of a Rocky Mountain community toward a woman (Nicole Kidman) in flight from gangsters, shot with an all-star cast on a mainly bare soundstage, bored me for most of its 178 minutes and then infuriated me with its cheap cynicism once it belatedly became interesting — which may be a tribute to writer-director Lars von Trier’s gifts as a provocateur. The fact that he spends most of his time in Denmark as a porn producer seems relevant to his exploitation instincts, yet those who have called this blend of Brecht and Our Town anti-American may be overrating its ideological coherence. As in Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, the heroine suffers greatly, but whether she suffers at the hands of humanity or von Trier himself isn’t entirely clear. With Harriet Andersson, Lauren Bacall, James Caan, Patricia Clarkson, Ben Gazzara, Philip Baker Hall, Udo Kier, and Chloe Sevigny; John Hurt narrates. R. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (September 22, 1989). — J.R.
** (Worth seeing)
Directed by Lewis Gilbert
Written by Willy Russell
With Pauline Collins, Tom Conti, Julia McKenzie, Alison Steadman, Bernard Hill, Joanna Lumley, and Tracie Bennett.
I had my first experience of English theater in London’s West End around the mid-1960s–a program of three one-act plays written by and starring Noel Coward. (I no longer remember the show’s title, but I believe it was Coward’s last theater piece.) [2011 postscript: this was Suite in Three Keys, in 1966.] The plots of all three plays were fairly slender, and the mise en scene, as I recall, was strictly conventional. What was remarkable about the overall performance, and quite characteristic (as I soon discovered) of the English theater in general, was the extraordinary, almost conspiratorial rapport between Coward the actor and his audience — a very cozy kind of intimacy that reflected the appeal of the three characters Coward was playing and very little else. The stories and direction were nothing more than the recipes and the cooking necessary to serve these characters up to the public for its delectation, and once combined the ingredients retained no attributes of their own; all that remained was Coward’s plump, juicy, quirky personality. Read more
One of the best films of James Benning, one of this country’s leading experimental filmmakers, is this multifaceted look at the landscape and history of Utah (or Deseret, as the Mormon Church prefers to call it). Benning condenses 93 news stories from the New York Times from 1852 to 1992 (read offscreen by Fred Gardner) and sets them against contemporary Utah landscapes, the shots changing with each sentence. Benning’s eye for evocative beauty is as sharp as ever, and his complex invitation to the viewer to create a narrative space between his separate elements keeps this 1995 film continually fascinating. 82 min. (JR) Read more