From the Chicago Reader (October 13, 1998). — J.R.
Though Adrian Lyne’s clodhopper direction, underlined by a mushy Ennio Morricone score, predictably runs the gamut from soft-core porn in the manner of David Hamilton to hectoring close-ups, this is perhaps Lyne’s best movie after Jacob’s Ladder — a genuinely disturbing (if far from literary) adaptation of Nabokov’s extraordinary novel, written by former journalist Stephen Schiff and starring, predictably, Jeremy Irons. It shines in the areas where Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 adaptation is deficient: Dominique Swain, the actress playing Lolita here, actually looks 14, making this much more a story about corrupted innocence, and it unfolds in American locations in the late 40s. In every other respect, however, Kubrick’s version is superior and will clearly endure as the better movie: Frank Langella as Quilty can’t hold a candle to Peter Sellers, and Melanie Griffith plays a poor second to Shelley Winters as the heroine’s mother. Your time would be better spent reading or rereading the novel than seeing either film version, but this overproduced 1998 art film has its moments. (JR)
From the Chicago Reader (November 1, 1998). — J.R.
For the most part, this is a precise, shot-by-shot video “remake” of a little-known half-hour documentary film made in Chicago in 1967. The original film, made by Jerry Blumenthal, Sheppard Ferguson, James Leahy, and Alan Rettig, was a portrait of 22-year-old Shulamith Firestone as she was earning a BFA in painting and drawing at the School of the Art Institute, working for the postal service, and taking photographs (three years later she would publish The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution). The “remake” was made by Elisabeth Subrin (Swallow), a former grad student at the School of the Art Institute who worked with actors and detailed reproductions of Firestone’s paintings and drawings. This fascinating attempt at duplication ultimately has more to say about the 90s than the 60s: though it has some impact of its own as a document about prefeminist awakening, it?s more valuable as a commentary on what separates the past from the present. Kim Soss gives a good performance as Firestone, but her style of speaking is noticeably more guarded and unemotional, telling us a great deal about differences in everyday speech and body language 30 years apart.… Read more »
A good reason for including the name of the original author in the title of Francis Ford Coppola’s ambitious version of the famous vampire story is that most previous film versions have been based not on the 1897 novel but on Hamilton Deane and John Balderston’s 1927 stage adaptation. This version, written by coproducer James V. Hart, brings back the multiple narrators of the novel, leading to a somewhat dispersed and overcrowded story line that remains fascinating and often affecting thanks to all its visual and conceptual energy. (Some of this derives from the filmmakers’ musings about what was going on culturally in Europe at the turn of the century, including the decadent art of people like Beardsley, Klimt, and Huysmans and the birth of both movies and psychoanalysis.) Still the overreacher, Coppola suffers at times from a surfeit of ideas (rather than a dearth, like most of his colleagues); there are times when he squanders his effects (as he did in Rumble Fish), or finds some of them in unlikely places. (Murnau’s Faust has apparently exerted more of an influence than his Nosferatu, for instance.) But this is still the best vampire movie in ages — a visual feast with ideas, more disturbing than scary, though a rich experience in many other respects.… Read more »
Members of a farming family incessantly repeat the same lines of dialogue while a student prepares to leave home for school; guests at an interminable wedding cackle maniacally while the ghost of the groom’s lover interferes with the ceremony. Now over 70, the great Russian filmmaker Kira Muratova (The Asthenic Syndrome) seems to get wilder and more transgressive with every passing year. This updated merging of two early Anton Chekhov texts (the short play Tatiana Repina and the story Difficult Natures) veers closer to the mad lucidity of Gogol than to the wry realism of The Cherry Orchard. I found the extreme stylization mesmerizing, hilarious, and ultimately closer to hyperrealism than absurdism, though if you enter this without any warning you might wind up fleeing in terror. In Russian with subtitles. 120 min. (JR)
Marlon Brando is pitted against Anna Magnani in this 1960 adaptation by Tennessee Williams and Meade Roberts of Williams’s play OrpheusDescending, and as Dave Kehr once remarked in these pages, It’s the biggest grudge match since King Kong met Godzilla. Unfortunately, director Sidney Lumet, who’s sometimes out of his element when he leaves New York, seems positively baffled by the gothic south and doesn’t know quite what to do with the overlay of Greek myth either. With Joanne Woodward, Victor Jory, and Maureen Stapleton. 135 min. (JR)