An Angel at My Table

Jane Campion’s stirring follow-up to Sweetie adapts the autobiographical trilogy of New Zealand writer Janet Frame into a 163-minute feature, originally made for New Zealand TV–clearly a labor of love by a masterful talent responding to a soulmate. The poetic empathy, the beautiful, offbeat framing and unexpected transitions, and the magnificent handling of actors are all pure Campion. (Her work is especially impressive with the three who play Frame at different ages–Alexia Keogh, Karen Fergusson, and Kerry Fox–whose suggestions of fragility, painful shyness, and passionate inner life effortlessly dovetail into one another.) On the other hand, the form–a miniseries about the formation of a writer–is a lot more conventional and straightforward than that of Sweetie, as are the script (by High Tide’s Laura Jones) and cinematography (by Stuart Dryburgh). Basically composed of short, elliptical scenes, this work’s three parts were intended to be seen separately, which a theatrical presentation regrettably makes impractical. (In a better world, PBS would have snapped this up, but perhaps it would have been too glaring a contrast to the pallidness of its other dramatic offerings.) Charting Frame’s life through the hell of being different (misdiagnosed as schizophrenic during her teens, she was forced to submit to hundreds of shock treatments) toward some adult fulfillment, Campion makes this a genuinely inspirational story without a breath of sentimentality. No less remarkably, she has managed to convey a writer’s sensibility by getting us to share in a life lived in and through words–no mean feat for such an intensely visual director (1990). (Fine Arts)

Published on 21 Jun 1991 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Strand: Under the Dark Cloth

A fascinating and intelligent Canadian documentary by John Walker about the life and career of the great American photographer Paul Strand that includes interviews with Georgia O’Keeffe, Milton Brown, Fred Zinnemann, Leo Hurwitz, and Virginia Stevens, as well as tantalizing clips from Strand’s films (including Manhatta, arguably the first American experimental film, The Wave, Heart of Spain, and Native Land). The film does a good job with both the work and the enigmatic personality of Strand, and for people like me whose acquaintance with Strand’s work is limited, this makes an ideal introduction (1989). (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Tuesday, June 18, 6:00, 443-3737)

Published on 14 Jun 1991 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Jungle Fever

Spike Lee’s high-powered, all-over-the-place movie about interracial romance (Wesley Snipes and Annabella Sciorra), crack addiction (a remarkable turn by Samuel L. Jackson), breaking away from one’s family (a theme that crops up in at least five households, with Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Anthony Quinn, and Frank Vincent among the parents), and corporate advancement for blacks (Snipes again), chiefly set in two New York neighborhoods (Harlem and Bensonhurst). The disparate themes never quite come together, but with strong and inventive direction, juicy dialogue, and many fine performances–John Turturro, as Sciorra’s ex-boyfriend, is especially impressive, Lonette McKee is good as Snipes’s aggrieved wife, and Lee is also around briefly as Snipes’s best friend–you won’t be bored for a minute. There’s also a richly upholstered score featuring Stevie Wonder, a huge orchestra, and the Boys Choir of Harlem, along with recordings by Mahalia Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and others. The overall effect is that of a kind of living newspaper, with stories and subplots crowding one another for front-page space, and so many voices heard that you may feel at times like you’re swimming through a maelstrom; but thanks to Lee, it’s a maelstrom that’s superbly orchestrated. (Broadway, Burnham Plaza, Chestnut Station, Golf Glen, Plaza, Evanston, Hyde Park, Norridge, Harlem-Cermak, Double Drive-In, Bel-Air Drive-In)

Published on 07 Jun 1991 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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