Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Family Triangle

"Intimate Relations" among new releases.

By Rob Nelson, Jim Ridley and Noel Murray

MARCH 23, 1998: 

On the wall--recommended new releases

Intimate Relations. Like Heavenly Creatures, if less effective, this British drama gives a perverse spin to the true story of murder in a '50s-era small town. First-time writer-director Philip Goodhew borrows from newspaper reports and classic film noir, while adding all manner of cold sarcasm, camp humor, and familial horror. Julie Walters plays a bored housewife named Marjorie Beasley, whose prim and proper manner barely conceals a desperate sexual appetite. She and her older husband Stanley (Matthew Walker) maintain separate bedrooms "for medical purposes"--her polite way of saying that she can't stand to be near him. Working part-time in a Laundromat, Marjorie jumps at the chance to take in a young lodger, Harold Guppy (Rupert Graves), and then wastes little time jumping into his bed. Soon, both mother and smitten daughter Joyce (Laura Sadler) turn to sexual blackmail as a means of keeping him around. Black humor abounds, but there's nothing funny about a grisly denouement that ironically made this "family" story an appealing film property. This is an outrageous, at times nasty piece of work, humanized somewhat by a cast that isn't afraid to break down and act up. (RN)

Lamerica. In poverty-stricken Albania, two Italian con men scheme to set up a fly-by-night manufacturing plant and make off with government capital. But they need an Albanian citizen to serve as the dummy president. Where to find a patsy? In prison, where a World War II fascist fighter (Michele Placido) has lost all track of family and time during 50 years of communist rule. With this humane, immensely moving satire, director Gianni Amelio (Stolen Children) emerges as the true heir to De Sica and Rossellini--not because he's a slave to neorealist tradition, but because he states bedrock human conflicts so simply that they have the symbolic force of silent cinema. What stays with you are the faces of the destitute Albanians--especially Placido, whose rumpled decency and incredible good humor will break your heart--and the movie's sustained closing note of desperate, maybe unwarranted hope. (JR)

The Line King: The Al Hirschfeld Story. When famed New York Times theater critic Brooks Atkinson collected his life's work, he called the volume The Lively Years: 1920-1973, and he decorated it with the work of caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, his featured illustrator for almost every one of those very lively years. This functional documentary traces the life and career of Hirschfeld--an American original, if not a household name. A Hirschfeld cartoon is instantly recognizable, with its exaggerated features, clean lines, and the cartoonist's daughter's name "Nina" hidden in the folds. Susan Dryfoos' film attempts to make Hirschfeld himself equally known; and after two-plus hours of watching him propped up in a barber's chair, hunched over a drawing table, eyes seemingly buried in his long, white beard, the viewer can't help but intertwine the figure with his work. Even more remarkably, Hirschfeld's story makes a fascinating shadow history of the American theater, as his Times cartoons cover everything from Showboat to Rent, with hundreds of landmark shows and revivals in between. (NM)

Off the wall--alternatives to new releases

Jeffrey. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick's subversive humor is currently flying off video shelves under the blanket of the mainstream comedy In & Out. If you enjoy that film--and for all its faults, it is a sweetly funny tale--you owe it yourself and to Rudnick to check out Christopher Ashley's adaptation of Rudnick's acclaimed Off-Broadway play. Stephen Weber stars as the title character--a closeted gay man with a fear of AIDS and activism. Through a series of black comic fantasies, Rudnick's script satirizes the anxiety of the post-AIDS gay community. Like In & Out (and Addams Family Values and Rudnick's other writings), the film runs on fumes for long stretches; but the performances by Weber and company (including Patrick Stewart as a fiery interior designer and Nathan Lane as a zany gay priest) are engaging, and Rudnick's claim that life can be fun even in the shadow of death is both touching and inspiring. (NM)


Crash (Criterion). Flesh and machinery recombine in all of David Cronenberg's movies--remember Videodrome's VCR-as-vagina?--but the explicit connection here appalled literal-minded reviewers, who laughed off his horror-show meditation on celebrity fetishism and on car crashes as ritualized sex. Then, as Scene media critic Henry Walker observed, CNN reenacted Princess Diana's fatal wreck down to the money shot and bounced it off every satellite in the universe. I'll admit the movie's cold formality is rough going--in structure, it's sort of like Bu-uel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, with unattainable orgasms standing in for unconsummated meals. But its skin-is-metal vision of sexuality in a world imprisoned by mechanization is nothing short of profound. To see how profound, insert this gleaming, clinically perfect disk into a machine so you can watch strangers have sex with their scar tissue. (JR)

Prom Night (Elite Entertainment). Pop Culture Rule Number One: Wait long enough, and even the stinkiest trash gets recycled as art. Rule Number Two: Trash often conveys the odor of its era more faithfully than perfumed classics. Featuring a ferociously hair-flipped Jamie Lee Curtis as yet another stalked (and virginal) Final Girl, the no-budget psycho thriller Prom Night has been given the widescreen laserdisc treatment--apparently owing to the hip genre necrophilia of the Scream films (see Rule One). Unlike Wes Craven's hit flicks, Prom Night isn't clever about how it carves up pretty young things, though the disc's appended coming-attractions trailer practically adopts the teen killer's split personality. It starts out selling Prom Night as Saturday Night Fever and ends as Halloween--as if to say that, in 1980, disco equals death (note Rule Two). Sure enough, the film's boogie-inflected climax, in which Jamie Lee raises an ax to the psycho's head, seems to mark the end of an era--at least until 1998's Miramaxed Halloween sequel (Rule One again). And although hack director Paul Lynch can't resist making a color-coordinated cut between a woman's slit throat and the prom's blood-red punch bowl, Prom Night is appreciably less misogynistic than most slasher films. Still, it's probably best to watch this trashy "art" within reaching distance of Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film (Princeton University Press). (RN)

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