Tesis (1995), the first feature of Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar, is an adroit and imaginative slasher movie set at a film school. This more ambitious if less satisfying second feature, one of the top grossers in Spain in 1999, shows he still has an uncanny flair for producing dread. A wealthy young man (Eduardo Noriega) finds himself in a psychiatric prison for committing a murder he can’t clearly remember, and flashbacks take us into his dark recent past, in which he snubs an old girlfriend (Najwa Nimri) in order to pursue another (Penelope Cruz), is disfigured in a suicidal car accident staged by the old girlfriend, and discovers that the new girlfriend has changed into the old one. The experience of going mad, conveyed so vividly by pulp writer Cornell Woolrich, is the main bill of fare, and as with Woolrich, it works better than the denouement explaining what brought it about. Even if the script (written by the director and Mateo Gil) and direction are patchy, the obsessive theme is gripping — much more so than in Vanilla Sky (2001), the Tom Cruise remake. In Spanish with subtitles. 117 min.… Read more »
Ed Harris reportedly spent years preparing for the role of action painter Jackson Pollock and also wound up directing this downbeat biopic (2000). It would be churlish to say that all his efforts were in vain; he gives an interesting performance and manages to duplicate portions of Pollock’s drip technique himself, a rather impressive tour de force. But the film suffers from problems endemic to movies about artists: trying to make taciturn types interesting and rendering messy lives meaningful (or meaningfully meaningless). The script focuses on Pollock’s relationship with fellow painter Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden) and curiously enough recalls the tragic showbiz biopics that Hollywood ground out in the 50s. Any insight into Pollock’s work is overshadowed by the usual message of such enterprises — that artists are reckless, childish lunatics who suffer a lot and make others suffer as well. R, 119 min. (JR)
Q: In Chapter Five, you argue that the cable channel Turner Classic Movies does a more responsible job of preserving our ﬁlm heritage than the American Film Institute, citing what they’ve recently done in “restorations, revivals, documentaries about ﬁlm history, and even in presenting foreign-language movies.” Of course TCM has vastly more economic and material resources at its disposal than the AFI does, which suggests that big business versus state funding isn’t always the enemy.
A: Yes, and I’d stand by that comparison — although I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that TCM has any sort of edge over the Cinémathèque Française, especially when it comes to varied and knowledgeable programming of world cinema (which includes certain categories like experimental ﬁlm that TCM completely ignores). I had to wait for years in Chicago before I could get TCM, and friends of mine in New York and Los Angeles had comparable problems. Now that we have it, it’s certainly a boon to get the sort of balance between structured and unstructured programming of older ﬁlms that the Cinémathèque has often specialized in.… Read more »
Commissioned by BFI Video for an April 2015 release. — J.R.
L’amore: Due storie d’amore (Love: Two Love Stories, 1947-1948), as it was originally known, is the first feature of Roberto Rossellini to have been completed after his celebrated war trilogy of Rome Open City (1945), Paisà (1946), and Germany Year Zero (1947), although in fact its first episode, A Human Voice (a one-act play by Jean Cocteau), was shot just before Germany Year Zero, and its second, The Miracle, was shot afterwards. A sort of two-part concerto-showcase for Anna Magnani, designed as a single feature, it was originally released outside in Italy only in truncated form due to a failure to clear the rights for the Cocteau play. Gavin Lambert noted in his review of the second film for Monthly Film Bulletin in 1950, ‘Although The Miracle is strong enough to stand on its own, and can fairly be judged as a film in itself, the fact that it is now shown partially out of context has meant some shifting of emphasis: it appears as an isolated tour de force, whereas if it had followed La Voix Humaine, the dedicatory tribute would have been reinforced, the spotlight focused even more sharply on Magnani.’… Read more »
“What is your feeling towards your audiences — towards the public?”
“Which public? There are as many publics as there are personalities.”
— Gilbert Burgess, “A Talk with Mr. Oscar Wilde” (1895)
QUESTION: Aren’t you laying yourself open throughout this book to the charge of sour grapes?
ANSWER: What do you mean?
Q: I mean attacking critics like Janet Maslin and David Denby because you’d so obviously like to have their jobs yourself.
A: If that’s really your impression of what lies behind my arguments, then my arguments have failed. There’s a hefty price tag for whatever prestige and power comes with writing for The New York Times and The New Yorker, and I consider myself fortunate that I don’t have to worry about paying it. Film critics for those publications — including Vincent Canby and Pauline Kael as well as Maslin and Denby — ultimately wind up less powerful than the institutions they write for, and insofar as they’re empowered by those institutions, they’re disempowered as independent voices.… Read more »