This Japanese video documentary (2002, 74 min.) about the most acute American critic of U.S. foreign policy is conventionally made but valuable for its currency and its capacity (which matches that of Chomsky) to remain upbeat about a seemingly hopeless topic. Director John Junkerman, an American based in Tokyo, records Chomsky’s comments about the war on terror at speaking engagements in Berkeley and the Bronx and interviews him at some length in his office at MIT, yielding some of the professor’s best long-range insights. (JR)
A first-rate 1979 documentary by Bruce Riker about Kansas City jazz and its most famous musicians, with particular attention devoted to Count Basie and the players who worked for him. Much of it was shot over a five-year period at the Mutual Musicians Foundation and other Kansas City locations, though vintage film clips abound. 91 min. (JR)
Despite its misleading title, this is not a film by Michael Snow but a Canadian documentary by Teri Wehn-Damisch (2001, 56 min.) about some of Snow’s work. A sort of Michael Snow 101, it’s a catalog focusing on his camera-related works and his piano playing, touching only briefly on Wavelength and ignoring his painting and sculpture, his jazz group, and other important aspects of his career. It’s also fairly sketchy even on its chosen terrain, overlooking at least one major film (So Is This) and other major works involving photography (e.g., Two Sides to Every Story, A Casing Shelved, and Flight Stop). The best parts are Snow’s own lucid explication of his oeuvre, much of which emphasizes his critiques of photographic illusionism, but the clips from his films are far too skimpy to give novices a clear sense of what they’re like. (JR)
The enormous success of Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow led to a desire for spin-offs, and Ernst Lubitsch reluctantly took on this silent adaptation (1927) of Sigmund Romberg’s operetta after Stroheim turned it down. He did manage to infuse it with his own sort of wit, especially at the beginning, though the dorkiness of Ramon Novarro in the title role appears to have made this an uphill battle. Norma Shearer plays the lively barmaid with whom he has a fling. Approximately 105 min. (JR)
Ernst Lubitsch’s only completed film in Technicolor (1943), and the greatest of his late films, offers a rosy, meditative, and often very funny view of an irrepressible ladies’ man (Don Ameche in his prime) presenting his life in retrospect to the devil (Laird Cregar). Like a good deal of Lubitsch from roughly The Merry Widow on, this is a movie about death as well as personal style, but rarely has the former been treated with such affection for the human condition. Samson Raphaelson’s script is very close to perfection, the sumptuous period sets are a delight, and the secondary cast–Gene Tierney, Charles Coburn, Marjorie Main, Eugene Pallette, and Spring Byington–is wonderful. In many respects, this is Lubitsch’s testament, full of grace, wisdom, and romance. 112 min. A 35-millimeter print will be shown. Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State, Monday, January 27, 8:00, and Thursday, January 30, 6:00, 312-846-2800.