The best new experimental work I’ve seen in ages, Bill Viola’s hour-long video (1991), shot in ravishing black and white, is like a string of epiphanies generated by lush and ambiguous encounters between the natural world (basically the American southwest) and the world of dreams and sleep. The minimal stereo sound track consists chiefly of Viola’s own breathing while he sleeps and the ticking of a clock; the haunting images encompass the death of Viola’s mother and the birth of his children as well as a good many surreal events that transpire underwater and in slow motion. If I had to come up with parallels, it would be necessary to grope in contrary directions–to the works of Stan Brakhage on the one hand and to Eraserhead on the other. But the musical pulse and flow of the images and their mesmerizing beauty throughout don’t deserve cross-references–they sing and vibrate with maximal intensity on their own. This gave me much more pleasure than any Hollywood movie I’ve seen this year. Chicago Filmmakers, 1229 W. Belmont, Saturday, June 26, 8:00, 281-8788.
A sincere, intelligent, and effectively acted independent feature from 1964, about a black worker (Ivan Dixon) and his wife (Abbey Lincoln) struggling against prejudice and trying to make a life for themselves in Alabama. Directed by the able Michael Roemer (who made The Plot Against Harry five years later) from a script written in collaboration with Robert Young, who served as cinematographer; with Gloria Foster, Julius Harris, Martin Priest, and Yaphet Kotto. Music Box, Friday through Thursday, June 4 through 10.
An interesting, albeit not entirely successful, feature by Jean-Charles Tacchella (Cousin, cousine), based on Elvire Murail’s novel, about the neighbors in the back of a Paris apartment house, among them a tormented, cynical male-chauvinist art critic (Robin Renucci); a solitary, middle-aged, half-Jewish and half-Arab woman; and a young gay man recovering from the physical abuse of his lover. Eventually the focus narrows to the story of the art critic’s spiritual regeneration, which isn’t entirely convincing. Still, the events leading up to this hold one’s interest. With Jacques Bonnagge, Jean-Pierre Bacri, Catherine Leprince, Jacques Weber, and Claude Rich (1985). (JR)