I’m pretty sure that my very first contributions to the Chicago Reader were these two capsule reviews, commissioned by Dave Kehr for their November 5, 1982 issue when these films were playing at the Chicago International Film Festival. — J.R.
The Night of the Shooting Stars.
The seventh feature written and directed by the talented Taviani brothers – Vittorio and Paolo, born respectively in 1929 and 1931 in San Miniato, Italy – and the third to open in America, The Night of the Shooting Stars is an Italian memory film that belongs to the same respectable company as Bertolucci’s The Spider’s Strategm, Fellini’s Amarcord, and Scola’s We All Loved Each Other So Much. The Tuscan town of San Martino during the last days of the war in 1944, as recounted by a woman who was six at the time to her daughter, provides the framework for this passionate and volatile fresco-in-motion, which radiates with unexpected and even startling moments of bucolic poetry. The actual war sequences contain some of the shocking beauty and giddy surprises one associates with the great Soviet directors, Dovzhenko in particular.… Read more »
Published in Omni circa 1982. I owe this assignment and all my others at this magazine to the late Kathleen Stein, my editor there — a former classmate at Bard College and flatmate in New York during one summer. — J.R.
The Arts: TV
How far can the human braln go in delvlng into its own workings? An
ambitious, new eight-part television series — being produced by WNET
for airing this fall — broaches this question at the same time that it
partially answers it, byproviding us with a veritable Cook’s tour
through the state of contemporary brain research. “What curious art the
brain, too finely wrought, /Preys on herself, and is destroyed by thought,”
glumly opined eighteenth century writer Charles Churchill, in an epistle
addressed to artist William Hogarth. But Churchill’s philosophical lament,
quite apart from its odd characterization of the brainas essentially
feminine, can’t hold water in relation to the healthy self-preying instinct
adopted, by the makers of The Brain and all that it uncovers.
“It’s totally addictive to go into this,” science editor Richard Hutton, a
writer and producer on the series, admitted to me about his own perusal
of brain research, in preparation for the eight one-hour shows.… Read more »
From the Chicago Reader (December 3, 2004). — J.R.
*** (A must-see)
Directed and Written by Ross McElwee
As a filmmaker who’s always philosophizing about his family, his southern heritage, and the meaning of life, Ross McElwee can get a little high-flown at times. The funniest shot in the latest installment of his autobiographical saga, Bright Leaves, brings him down to earth a bit — and shows that McElwee actually may have learned something from the deflation. The shot occurs toward the end of the film and there are several reasons it’s so funny.
(1) A noisy dog is following McElwee as he threads his way through a kitschy sculpture garden, whose relevance to the story remains obscure. Is it cemetery statuary? Whatever it is, it’s a visual and narrative non sequitur that only adds to the screwball ambience.
(2) The growling dog, seen near the lower edge of the frame, recalls a smudgy, minimalist black-and-white comic strip drawn by David Lynch between 1983 and ’92, The Angriest Dog in the World. (The graphics of the four panels in each strip were almost identical — the same dog angrily pulling at the same chain in a fenced-in backyard — but the introductory words and the balloons of dialogue coming from someone unseen inside the house were always different.)… Read more »