A gritty, powerful first feature by Lee Tamahori, a director with a Maori father and a European mother, adapted by Maori playwright Riwia Brown from a popular novel by Alan Duff. The film focuses on a contemporary Maori family living in urban New Zealand and steeped in violencethe family includes an abusive but passionate father, a volatile but devoted wife, and, among the children, one gang member, one son at reform school, and an intellectually ambitious teenage daughter. Reportedly the original novel is stream of consciousness, switching between family members in the manner of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, and Brown was brought in to tell the story mainly from the viewpoint of the wife. At once upsetting and highly involving, it packs an undeniable punch. With Rena Owen, Temuera Morrison, Mamaengaroa Kerr-Bell, and Julian Sonny Arahanga. (JR)
To my ears at least, writer-director John Sayles does an impressive job of impersonating traditional Irish storytellers in this sweet-tempered if slightly dull piece of magical realism (1994, 103 min.), which he adapted from Rosalie K. Fry’s 1957 novella Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry and filmed on Ireland’s west coast. A little girl is sent to live with her grandparents; her grandfather tells her a story about the disappearance of her baby brother when a wave carried away his cradle, and after her 13-year-old cousin suggests that the boy is still sailing in it around the remote island Roan Inish, the girl gets an opportunity to explore the island, finding a few traces of human habitation. This is all rather low-key and uninsistent, but the settings are gorgeous, and Haskell Wexler’s cinematography makes the most of them. With Jeni Courtney, Mick Lally, Eileen Colgan, Richard Sheridan, and John Lynch. (JR)
In the first of his independent features as producer-director (1953) Otto Preminger adapts his most successful stage production, a light romantic comedy by F. Hugh Herbert that ran for over 900 performances. Released without production code approval and condemned by the Legion of Decency for its use of such taboo phrases as “virgin,” “seduce,” and “pregnant,” none of which bothered anyone in the stage run, it’s regarded today mainly as a curio. Yet for all the movie’s staginess and datedness, it’s a more personal and ambiguous work than it initially appears to be. Architect William Holden ogles and picks up “professional virgin” Maggie McNamara at the Empire State Building and brings her back to his apartment, where his next-door neighbors–his former girlfriend (Dawn Addams) and her playboy father (David Niven)–quickly involve this potential couple in various intrigues. A certain prurient (as well as analytical) curiosity in Preminger’s distanced and mobile camera style makes McNamara seem slightly corrupt and Holden and Niven slightly innocent, despite all appearances to the contrary, and the sour aftertaste to this frothy material is an important part of what keeps the picture interesting. Incidentally, Preminger simultaneously shot a German-language version of the same film, the stars of which have cameos in the last scene of the American version. A new 35-millimeter print will be shown. Music Box, Saturday and Sunday, February 11 and 12.
Ron Vawter (1948-1994), who died of AIDS, was one of those rare actors who, like Tilda Swinton in England and the late Delphine Seyrig in France, remained equally active in commercial and experimental productions. He played the psychiatrist in sex, lies, and videotape and appeared in such Hollywood features as The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia. But Vawter also played the male lead in Mark Rappaport’s ground-breaking and visually stunning Postcards and in Bruce and Norman Yonemoto’s Made in Hollywood (both from 1990) and appeared with Willem Dafoe and other members of the Wooster Group in Ken Kobland’s elegantly creepy and cadaverous video Flaubert Dreams of Travel but the Illness of His Mother Prevents It (1986), a series of surrealist tableaux presented with diverse sound elements. Remembering Ron includes the Rappaport and Kobland tapes, a ten-minute excerpt from Made in Hollywood (unfortunately too fragmented to give much sense of the whole), and Leslie Thornton’s brand-new The Last Time I Saw Ron. This powerful memoir combines glimpses of Vawter in a Belgian stage production, Philoktetes Variations, with diverse kinds of found and new footage and uncanny sound effects. The directness of Thornton’s own moving narration represents a breakthrough in her work. Presented by the Video Data Bank. John M. Flaxman Screening Room, 112 S. Michigan, Saturday, February 11, 5:30, 345-3550.