Salt of the Earth

A rarely screened classic of 1954 that has the singularity of being the only major American independent feature made by communists. A fiction film about the strike by Mexican American zinc miners in New Mexico against their Anglo management, informed by feminist attitudes that are quite uncharacteristic of this period, it was inspired by the blacklisting of director Herbert Biberman, screenwriter Michael Wilson (A Place in the Sun), producer and former screenwriter Paul Jarrico, and composer Sol Kaplan, among others. As Jarrico later reasoned, since they’d been drummed out of the Hollywood industry for being subversives, they decided to commit a “crime to fit the punishment” and make a subversive film. The results are leftist propaganda of a very high order, powerful and intelligent even when the film registers in spots as naive or dated. Basically kept out of American theaters until 1965, it was widely shown and honored in Europe (it was selected, for instance, as the best film shown in France in 1955), but it has never received the stateside recognition it clearly deserves. If you’ve never seen it before, prepare to have your mind blown. (Univ. of Chicago, 1212 E. 59th St., Monday, March 2, 8:00, 702-8575)

Published on 28 Feb 1992 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Chicago’s Own

Recent shorts by local filmmakers and video artists: Louise Bourque’s Just Words, Eric Koziol’s Invisible Heart, Dan Dinello and Sharon Sandusky’s Really Dead, Melinda Fries’s Sustenance, Carole Redmond’s Union, Tina Wasserman’s Scenes From the Abandoned City, Deborah Stratman’s Upon a Time, and Sera Furneaux’ Anxiety-Rest. The only film in the bunch that I’ve seen, Really Dead, does a nice job of relooping lines from Dracula and alternating shots from diverse vampire movies to create an eerie little tone poem. Most or all of the artists will be present. (Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Saturday, February 22, 8:00, 281-8788)

Published on 21 Feb 1992 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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Close My Eyes

A remarkably accomplished and beautiful second feature by English playwright Stephen Poliakoff, whose previous movie (the 1987 Hidden City) apparently hasn’t been shown in the U.S., this lyrical drama might be described as a period film about the present. The plot concerns an incestuous affair that suddenly develops between a grown brother (Clive Owen) and sister (Saskia Reeves) who grew up with separate parents; the sister, now married to a wealthy entrepreneur (Alan Rickman), insists on ending the affair after the brother becomes hopelessly smitten with her. There’s nothing prurient about Poliakoff’s handling of this subject, though the movie certainly has its erotic moments. The focus is rather on how we live today–including the complications of sex and the chaos of recent real estate development, in which the brother is professionally involved: Poliakoff uses the incest theme as a pivot for an elegiac, quasi-apocalyptic, and ineffably sad reflection on life in the early 90s. (Though the settings and tone are quite different, this film may remind one in spots of Richard Lester’s underrated Petulia.) Most of the story takes place during an unusually hot English summer, and the settings are almost surreally radiant; the acting of the three leads is edgy, powerful, and wholly convincing, with Rickman (whose other recent films include Die Hard, Quigley Down Under, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Truly Madly Deeply) a particular standout. The haunting music is by Michael Gibbs (1991). (Music Box, Friday through Thursday, February 14 through 20)

Published on 14 Feb 1992 in Featured Texts, by jrosenbaum

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