Daily Archives: February 2, 2023

Feeling the Unthinkable (25TH HOUR)

From the January 17, 2003 issue of the Chicago Reader. For those who care about such things, there are spoilers ahead. — J.R.

25th Hour

**** (Masterpiece)

Directed by Spike Lee

Written by David Benioff

With Edward Norton, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Barry Pepper, Rosario Dawson, Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Tony Siragusa, and Levani.

I’ve complained a lot about Spike Lee as a filmmaker, before he made his remarkable Do the Right Thing (1989) and after. But the only time I’ve been tempted to accuse him of falling back on the tried and true was when he made Malcolm X and attempted to adapt his subject’s autobiography as if he were Cecil B. De Mille or David O. Selznick. I don’t mean that Lee hasn’t stubbornly stuck to the same stylistic tropes and mannerisms throughout most of his career — leaving them behind only when the occasion demanded it, as in his expert filming of Roger Guenveur Smith’s powerful performance piece The Huey P. Newton Story — but the stylistic consistency is his own. Moreover, taking on dissimilar projects he has always moved in exploratory directions, showing a lot of courage and initiative in his creative choices — even when they’re half-baked (as some are in Get on the Bus) or overblown (as in Bamboozled). Read more

How to Read a Movie [STONE READER]

From the Chicago Reader (July 18, 2003). — J.R.

Stone Reader

*** (A must-see)

Directed and written by Mark Moskowitz.

Cinema has traditionally been regarded as the art that encompasses all the other arts. But start considering how successfully cinema encompasses any particular art form and the premise falls apart.

Filmed theater, opera, ballet, and musical performance omit the existential and communal links between performer and audience that their live equivalents rely on. Paintings can be filmed, but films that allow us even some of the freedom viewers have in galleries, museums, and other public and private spaces are rare enough to seem like aberrations. Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet’s 1989 Cézanne [see above] — which has the nerve to give us extended views of C

Nina Simone, Love Sorceress…Forever

From the January 17, 2003 Chicago Reader. — J.R.

Rene Letzgus’ 1998 French documentary of a 1976 concert is hampered by a few distractions such as shots from inside a car cruising through Paris and actor Richard Bohringer in a studio muttering comments in unsubtitled French. (To all appearances these intrusions are simply efforts to paper over gaps in the visual continuity.) But the event being documented is so riveting and so eccentric in its own right that the interruptions hardly matter. The only time I’ve seen Simone live was when she sang “Mississippi Goddam” on the last lap of the Selma-Montgomery march, and although she doesn’t reprise that fiery anthem here, she’s just as unforgettable. This isn’t so much a concert as a work of performance art — one of the best I’ve seen since Richard Pryor–Live in Concert — in which Simone’s divalike behavior is as much a part of the show as her Juilliard-trained piano playing and her stupendous untrained voice. Whether she’s performing “Little Girl Blue” and a Langston Hughes tribute, alternately barking at or complimenting the audience (or getting them to sing with — or instead of — her), making cryptic comments to herself about show business or life in general, or dancing in high heels to African drums (when she isn’t simply listening to them, or adding a piano riff), she’s such a commanding and powerful presence that I was mesmerized for most of the film’s 75 minutes. Read more