In Megacities (1998), Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger emulated the city symphony films of the 1920s, and for this 2005 documentary about manual labor around the world he also references film history with clips from Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm and Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts during the opening credits. Glawogger shoots coal miners in the Ukraine and sulfur miners working a volcanic crater in Java, the slaughter and rendering of goats and bulls in Nigeria, and the dismantling of tankers in Pakistan, emphasizing the workers’ small talk along with their physical activities. Less effective are the last two segments, which draw generalizations from a new blast furnace in China and an abandoned one in Germany. John Zorn wrote the percussive score, which is compelling throughout. In English and various subtitled languages. 122 min. (JR)
Japanese director Mikio Naruse cited this funny 1940 farce as one of his favorites among his own films, and though it’s uncharacteristic of his work, the overriding sense of class deprivation is typically Narusean. Performing in the boondocks, two Kabuki actors who play a horse learn that they may be replaced onstage by the real thing; the older of them proclaims his pride in his craft, but that doesn’t deter him from mangling the horse costume while he’s drunk. Also known as Actors Who Play the Horse. In Japanese with subtitles. 70 min. (JR)
As in Flamenco (1995), Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura places live music and dance in the abstract space of a soundstage, effectively isolating his material (in this case, music by 19th-century composer Isaac Albeniz) from its social and historical roots. The various numbers are named after locations in southern Spain, but despite all the mirrors, shadows, and projections of period photographs, the ambience is decidedly postmodern (some orchestrations reek of cool jazz, while some dance steps suggest Bob Fosse). The most striking effects in this 2005 feature involve fancy lighting on what looks like yards of cellophane and, at the end, a rainstorm. One can certainly enjoy the performances, but only inside a rather sterile spacio-temporal void. 99 min. (JR)
Australian graduate students David Barison and Daniel Ross named this sweeping 2004 video essay after a Friedrich H
Laurence Sterne’s 18th-century masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is still the best of all avant-garde novels, and most of the fun of watching this screen version is wondering how writer Martin Hardy and director Michael Winterbottom will adapt what’s plainly unadaptable. They manage to anticipate almost every possible objection (even finding a cinematic equivalent for Sterne’s purposely blank page). This farce eventually runs out of steam, devolving into a protracted docudrama about actor Steve Coogan (who plays the title hero as well as his father), but until then this is a pretty clever piece of jive. With Rob Brydon (as Toby), Dylan Moran (as Dr. Slop), Keeley Hawes, and Shirley Henderson. R, 94 min. Century 12 and CineArts 6, Pipers Alley.