The 37 items on view in this package, which range from 30 seconds to eight minutes, include TV commercials and logos, music videos, abstract work, old-fashioned cartoons, and documentary bits that explain how several segments (the Amazing Stories logo, a sequence from The Great Mouse Detective, an ad for the National Canned Food Information Council) were made. Two disturbing aspects of 90 minutes of this stuff in one go are: an overreliance on the same formal devices and stylistic models (including the same tacky colors), and an obsessive thematic interest in either objects resembling people/animals or people/animals resembling objects. Anthropomorphism has always been a basic part of animation, and Tanya Weinberger’s Kiss Me You Fool is a nice classic example: a funny version of the frog prince story. But most of the other animation seems hung up on robotics of one kind or another; after awhile all that heavy metal starts to clank. The dehumanized climate even extends to the narrator’s voice in the documentary sections; and in Philippe Bergeron’s French-Canadian Tony de Peltrie–featuring a digitized pianist who resembles the Elephant Man–the posthuman tendency assumes truly nightmarish proportions. Three of the better works–Luxo, Jr., Red’s Dream, and Oilspot and Lipstick–were already shown in the last International Tournee of Animation, and many others may be familiar from TV. My favorite is John Whitney’s rock video Hard Woman, perhaps because Mick Jagger appears live, and the animation is truly imaginative. But for much of the rest, the use of the James Bond theme over the final credits seems grimly appropriate: ugly sound, ugly images, and “good” technology add up to interior decoration, not art. (Music Box, Friday, December 25, through Sunday, January 3)
Jose Alvaro Morais’s first feature, O bobo, winner of first prize at the Locarno Film Festival, is set in 1978 during the onset of the right-wing backlash against the Portuguese revolution. A group of friends are staging a play adapted from Alexandre Herculano’s novel The Jester–a mythic romance built around scenes from Portuguese history–in the abandoned film studio Lisboa Filmes. The film alternates between scenes from the play and intrigues among the friends who are putting it on–including the murder of the instigator of the project, whose body is discovered in the studio during the rehearsal of the final scene. Six years in the making, the film presupposes a certain knowledge about Portuguese culture and recent history that admittedly I don’t have; but even though I occasionally found myself at sea in following all the significations, the beauty of the mise en scene and Mario de Carvalho’s photography, and the grace with which Morais negotiates between different time frames and modes of narration, kept me entranced. Combining the meditative offscreen dialogue of a film like India Song with the use of a historical play to investigate national identity (as in Ruiz’s Life Is a Dream), The Jester offers a complex, multilayered view of revolutionary retrenchment that is worthy to stand alongside some of the best films of Manoel de Oliveira. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, December 19, 4:00, and Sunday, December 20, 2:00, 443-3737)
Jean-Luc Godard’s short feature about the PLO was initially shot with Jean-Pierre Gorin in the Middle East in 1970, but when he edited the footage with Anne-Marie Mieville several years later, many of the soldiers that had been filmed were dead. Reflecting on this fact, as well as on the problems of recording history and of making political statements on film, Godard and Mieville produced a thoughtful and provocative essay on the subject. Coming after the mainly and reaches of Godard’s “Dziga Vertov Group” period (roughly 1968-1973), when his efforts were largely directed toward severing his relation with commercial filmmaking and toward forging new ways to “make films politically,” this film assimilates many of the lessons he learned without the posturing and masochism that marred much of his earlier work. The results are a rare form of lucidity and purity. All proportions guarded, it is a little bit like hearing John Coltrane’s “Blues for Bessie” after the preceding explorations of “Crescent” and “Wise One” on his Crescent album. This film, which will be projected in a video copy, will be accompanied by a lecture by Dr. Julia Lesage. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, December 15, 6:00, 443-3737)
To the editors:
Jonathan Rosenbaum screwed up in his review of the movie Cross My Heart [”A Time to Lie,” November 20]. Rick Moranis, not Martin Short, portrayed the unctuous and egocentric Dick Cavett on SCTV, including the SCTV skit in which Cavett interviewed himself, which was one of the most brilliantly conceived, written, and performed moments in the history of television. Short was probably backstage at the time, playing Kate Hepburn rearranging her privates.
President, Committee to Discredit Dick Cavett, Martin Short, and Jonathan Rosenbaum