Knight at the Movies ARCHIVES
Something to satisfy everyone's taste -- if you don't mind leftovers
It’s retread week at the movies – on all fronts – from the Hollywood blockbuster remake of The Omen, to Robert Altman’s latest
social study, A Prairie Home Companion, to an experimental art film obviously made for a fringe audience, Psychopathia Sexualis.
Though all three are good examples of their type, none of them are likely to evince any kind of passionate following or hang around
long in theatres. Neither particularly memorable nor dreadful, these movies are instead simply “Okay.”
In the 31 years since Nashville, Robert Altman has directed scores of movies that follow the pattern of his controversial masterpiece.
This is Altman’s patented style of honing in on a particular sub culture of society and examining its flaws and pleasures – usually
through a large cast of characters riddled with eccentricities. But after A Wedding, A Perfect Couple, Health, The Player, Cookie’s Fortune,
Pret-a-Porter, and Gosford Park, to mention enough examples to prove my point, Altman’s latest feels like just another chapter in his
long cinematic novel.
Like many of the director’s films, this fictionalized version of the long running public radio show A Prairie Home Companion, is
packed to the rafters with stars. Garrison Keillor (who wrote the script) appears, as he does on the radio show, as the deadpan
emcee who presides over an hour of down home, folksy-country music and comedy complete with vintage flavored commercials. The
film follows what is to be the last on-air performance of the show because the old theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota where the show is
broadcast live has been sold to a developer who wants to tear down the building.
Meryl Streep and out lesbian and Altman company player Lily Tomlin head the bill as a singing sister act, Lindsay Lohan plays
Streep's daughter, Kevin Kline a security guard stuck back in the 1940s (and given the name – ouch – of Guy Noir). Virginia Madsen
plays a mysterious blonde in a white trench coat (who’s listed in the credits as “Dangerous Woman”), Woody Harrelson and John C.
Reilly play bickering singing cowboys, Maya Rudolph the show’s stage manager, and Tommy Lee Jones a representative from the
evil corporation sent to make sure the group of ragtag performers packs it in.
The movie pretty much follows the final performance (onstage and off), which is long on charming, heartfelt songs (with the real
Prairie Home Companion band providing expert backing) and short on comedy onstage. Not much happens backstage, though
Streep’s hippy-dippy character (with a Minnesota accent that comes and goes) with her nostalgic dressing room monologues full of
self regret reminds one of Barbara Jean, the tragic country music star played by Ronee Blakely in Nashville. Tomlin is funny and
biting as the more realistic sister while Lohan’s character seems to be there to react. Kline wrings some comedy out of his role while
Madsen is again underused. Keillor himself, the star of the whole shebang, with his frog-sized mouth beneath oversized glasses,
surprisingly, given his appearance, leaves little or no impression other than the fact that his caramel coated voice was meant for the
airwaves. Radio truly is the best place for his odd talents.
The songs, which allow the actors to delve deeper into their characters, and the instrumentals are by far the strongest things in the
movie – though there’s nothing here as memorable as the endless Nashville musical highlights – Keith Carradine singing “I’m Easy”
to a roomful of former lovers, Blakely’s “Tapedeck in his Tractor” or achingly beautiful “Dues.” It is these constant musical numbers
that give the movie its structure and keep this pleasant and inoffensive movie from floating away even as you’re watching it.
Damien, son of the devil has returned 30 years on in a note for note remake of 1976’s The Omen. This time the producers have
gone younger with their leads, recasting the parts of Damien’s parent’s, British ambassador Robert Thorne and his wife, played by
Gregory Peck and Lee Remick with Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles. Mia Farrow, who gave birth to Satan’s son in 1968’s Rosemary’s
Baby now acts as his nanny protector, stepping in for Billie Whitelaw. The script is again by David Seltzer – though based on this
almost word for word remake – one seriously wonders if some anonymous studio executive simply took the old one out of a drawer
and declared, “This is good enough as it is. Let’s just shoot this.”
I’d have guessed that this was another case of Gus Van Sant reshooting a movie frame for frame ala his Psycho homage except that
director John Moore does add some visually arresting material that the junky original never had. The film is really quite beautiful –
as is the music by Marco Beltrami. Jerry Goldsmith, one of the cinema’s greatest composers, won his only Oscar for his over the top
score to the original which, ironically, was its campiest element. The uninitiated may have a good time but are warned to stay away
from the DVDs of the original’s many sequels if they want to avoid knowing what comes next before the remake sequels squeeze
more dollars out of this hell spawn of a franchise.
Finally, for the truly adventurous cinemagoer, comes the sorta adventurous Psychopathia Sexualis (which plays one week only at
the Gene Siskel Film Center). This is writer-director Bret Wood’s experimental take on the 19th century reports on “deviant human
sexuality” by psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing. The film eschews typical narrative and is presented in several unconnected segments that are
narrated in a style highly reminiscent of Fassbinder’s homoerotic fantasy Querelle. We get stylized examples of 19th century cases
involving S&M, vampirism, necrophilia, and, naturally, the most perverse of all – homosexuality and lesbianism. Wood purposely
patterns the look and acting of the segments along the lines of silent German classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Pandora’s
Box and traces of experimental filmmakers Kenneth Anger and Guy Maddin are discernable. What was missing for me was the
purpose of making the movie in the first place. These acts in and of themselves are not in the least shocking to modern audiences
and the recreations are pallid to say the least. If Wood had located a cache of hitherto unseen footage, like last year’s fascinating
Electric Edwardians, or even assembled authentic, antique photographs of the acts he wants immortalized anew (or a compelling
storyline to frame them in), this material might have had some resonance or shock value.
June is Gay Pride month and in honor of that, Windy City Times and Knight at the Movies is presenting The First Annual GLBT Pride
Movie Survey. This is your chance, dear reader, to weigh in with your thoughts on the Best, the Worst, the Campiest, and the Sexiest
GLBT movies (and more) of all time. Click HERE to fill take part in the survey and enter the drawing for a pretty nifty prize!
A Prairie Home Companion-The Omen-Psychopathia Sexualis
6-7-06 Knight at the Movies/Windy City Times Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.