My exposure to Stan Brakhage’s massive oeuvre has been somewhat limited, but these four works made in 1998 are among the most exciting and ravishing I’ve seen, rivaling even Scenes From Under Childhood (1970). Aptly described by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice as “scratch-and-stain films,” these mainly nonphotographic works “are, among other things, a visual analogue to abstract expressionism.” Reel 1 (22 min.) registers as visual music in its development of motifs and its use of rests to divide the work into discrete sections–a music that pulses, throbs, and sometimes winks on and off like a strobe light. Reel 2 (15 min.) credits Sam Bush as the “visual musician” and Brakhage as the “composer”; more staccato, dramatic, and richly orchestrated than the first reel, it occasionally recalls early Stravinsky in its fierce rhythms. Reels 3 (15 min.) and 4 (20 min.) are my favorites: the former uses bursts of photography (water, sky, birds, forest, sand, a nude child, merry-go-round horses), and the latter often suggests animation, with a black field disrupted by tantalizing bursts and smears of color. Also on the program are two Brakhage works I haven’t seen–Coupling (1999, 5 min.) and Night Mulch & Very (2001, 7 min.). Presented by Chicago Filmmakers in conjunction with a special issue of the Chicago Review on Brakhage’s work; the filmmaker was planning to attend, but serious health problems have kept him at home in Colorado. Columbia College Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan, Friday, April 26, 8:00, 773-293-1447.
Clare Peploe’s mainly traditional adaptation of Pierre Marivaux’s 18th-century gender-bending romantic comedy has many of the virtues one would expect from the woman who made the highly entertaining High Season and Rough Magic. But despite the wonderful conclusion, when the film turns into a musical performed before a live audience, as well as the pleasures of the cast and the screenplay — which Peploe, working from an English translation by Martin Crimp, wrote in collaboration with her husband, Bernardo Bertolucci, who’s the movie’s producer, and screenwriter Marilyn Goldin — I was periodically put off by a certain self-consciousness of delivery. Mira Sorvino stars as a princess who, along with her lady-in-waiting (Rachael Stirling), dresses in drag in order to get close enough to the crown’s true heir (Jay Rodan) to offer him the throne that is rightfully his. Others in the cast include Ben Kingsley and Fiona Shaw. PG-13, 107 min. (JR)
Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, tries for something equally wacky, in a comedy purporting to be about civilized and uncivilized behavior. A woman (Patricia Arquette) with a hormonal disorder that causes her to grow large amounts of body hair becomes a recluse living in the forest and writing about nature. Later she gets involved with a stunted scientist (Tim Robbins) who’s reduced by his own upbringing to teaching table manners to lab mice, and both link up with a feral man (Rhys Ifans) the scientist wants to civilize. All this leads to a lot of easy laughs as well as to declining narrative interest; the characters remain stuck in their cliche profiles, and the directionby music video specialist Michel Gondrydoesn’t improve matters. The castwhich also includes Miranda Otto, Rosie Perez, Robert Forster, and Mary Kay Placedoes pretty well with the limited material. 96 min. (JR)