From the August 1985 issue of Video Times. — J.R.
(1984), C, Director: Sidney Lumet. With Anne Bancroft, Ron Silver, Catherine Hicks, Carrie Fisher, Howard Da Silva, Hermione Gingold. 104 min. PG-13. Hi-Fi, CBS/Fox, $79.98. Three stars.
Perhaps the most delightful single aspect of thus warm, contemporary New York comedy is the degree to which it suggests anything but a movie of the present. From the animated cartoon behind the opening credits to the winsome conclusion in central Park, Garbo Talks registers more like a Hollywood film of the sixties or seventies than an expression of today’s sensibilities. (Where’s Poppa?, an absurdist comedy of 1970, provides a useful cross-reference.) The fact that scriptwriter Larry Grusin and director Sidney Lumet both seem perfectly aware of this adds a tang of irony to the film’s pleasure. They know, as we do, that lovable, eccentric radical like Estelle Rolfe (Anne Bancroft), who would have seemed almost commonplace in a movie 10 or 15 years ago, comes across as an audacious concept in the mid-eighties.
The plot of Garbo Talks is built around Estelle, and the role fits Anne Bancroft like a glove. The movie manages to milk the maximum out of her performance — one of the best in her impressive career — without keeping her onscreen any longer than is absolutely necessary. Read more
From the May 1, 1998 Chicago Reader. — J.R.
High-grade infotainment, even though it’s directed by Barbara Kopple (Harlan County U.S.A., American Dream), this is an “intimate” documentary of Woody Allen’s 1996 European tour with his Dixieland band, filmed at Allen’s instigation by his own production company, with Allen rather than Kopple retaining final cut, though it’s made to seem that Allen went along with the scheme rather than dreamed it up himself. On the plus side, it shows him at his most serious, as a dedicated (and better than average) clarinetist performing with an OK New Orleans-style band, and it provides some generous insights into his psychic background when his unsupportive parents greet him back in New York at the end. It also furnishes plenty of evidence of his outsize European reputation as he’s mobbed by fans in Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Venice, Milan, Bologna, Turin, Rome, and London. The controlled casualness of Allen’s breakfast patter with his young wife, Soon-Yi Previn, which tends to foster the pretense that a camera crew isn’t around, seems to balance candor with concealment, just as his fictional features do. All in all, I found this more absorbing than Everyone Says I Love You and Deconstructing Harry, though it certainly isn’t a patch on Manhattan Murder Mystery. Read more
From Sight and Sound (Spring 1985). — J.R.
With its continuing devotion to the independent and marginal, the Rotterdam Film Festival offered fewer peaks this year than last, but more than enough rolling happy valleys in between. Full-bodied retrospectives given to Jonathan Demme and Nelson Pereira dos Santos wove their way almost contrapuntally through the nine days of movies -– providing the selection with a sturdy populist backbone. Guided by the Langlois-like eclecticism and passion of director Hubert Bals, the festival virtually rebaptises every film that it shows under the banner of a relaxed, low-budget freedom that the Spielbergs and Coppolas can only dream about.
Pereira dos Santos and Demme are cases in point. From the sixteenth century (How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman) to the post-nuclear future (Who Is Beta?) to the impoverished present (Rio, 40 Degrees; Vidas Secas), dos Santos’ films blend anthropological wit with neo-realist compassion. The sociological wit and Renoir-like warmth of Demme exude a comparable bias towards the downtrodden. Oddly enough, the two sensibilities nearly come together in the very different pop/folk musicals Estrada da Vida (1980) and Stop Making Sense (1984). Respectively a docu-drama about wall painters who make it big as country singers in Sao Paulo, and an on-stage concert performance by the Talking Heads, both films make striking use of flat colour backdrops to objectify and enhance the cultural clout of the performers. Read more
From the September 1985 Video Times. — J.R.
Ivan the Terrible
(1944), B/W, Director: Sergei Eisenstein. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 96 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.
(1946), B/W & C. With N. Cherkassov, S. Birman, P. Kadotchnikov, and V. Pudovkin. 90 min. Subtitled. Corinth, $59.95.
For all the growing availability of many film masterpieces on tape, there is such a world of difference between good and bad prints that we may wind up possessing less than we think we do. This is starkly illustrated by Corinth’s new editions of Ivan the Terrible, which offer the last work of Sergei Eisenstein in such a splendid condition that it automatically makes all the previous tape editions inadequate and obsolete.
What makes this offering so special is that it comes directly from the original source. Striking prints from the nitrate negative stored at Gosfilmofond (Moscow Film Archives), Corinth has restored the brilliance of the photography. The film’s subtle gradations and intricate lighting schemes are very much in evidence (the sinister gleams in certain characters’ eyes, for instance, are now fully visible). More importantly, thanks to the two full-color retimings, it has given us the climactic color sequence near the end of Part II, with its full range of reds, oranges, browns, grays, and blues — hues that have been virtually absent in the faded prints we have had to contend with over the past few decades. Read more