November 14, 1994
By now everybody knows that Quentin Tarantino is the happiest man in the world. Not so many years ago he was a clerk in a California video store, devouring film film film. Then he tried to break into filmmaking himself, first by writing scripts. It took years to get in. But those video days and the buff-dom of his boyhood sustained him, and now he is where he dreamed of being. He is making the films that will stock those video stores. Some younger aspirant will sell Tarantino tapes.
What America does not need is another instance of the way that our film world chews up talent, especially acting talent. But the troublesome news is that Meryl Streep is giving us another such instance.About her talent there has been so little doubt that, almost from the moment she became visible, a chief concern was whether our theater-film world would allow her to fulfill herself.
Silence. Black screen. Three words appear--"Sigh no more," the opening of the lovely song in the play. The rest of the words then follow, and Emma Thompson's voice begins to speak them. The film cuts to a glorious Tuscan hillside, with a picnic of ladies and a few old men spread upon it and with Thompson, nestled in a tree, reading the song from a book.As she finishes, a messenger arrives to report that Don Pedro and friends are returning from the wars. Then far below we see a group of galloping riders. Patrick Doyle's score surges in. The ladies rush to bathe and prepare.
Federico Fellini can be called the most naked genius in the history of film. In 1963 he made 8 1/2, a quasi-confessional comedy-drama about the modern artist's torment: he or she is bursting with talent and can find nothing to expend it on. Out of this crisis Fellini made a masterpiece; since then, that same crisis has been often more evident than acknowledged in his work. Then in 1987 he faced it again, without pretense, and made a film although he had no film to make.
Q&A Tri-Star There are fashions in slurs. When I was a schoolboy in New York in the 1920s, just at the end of the great wave of immigration to America, most of the slurs were national. Derogatory terms for Swedes, Irishmen, Hungarians, Poles, Germans, and Greeks, among others, were common; and of course each derogated group used slurs about the others. As time moved, as second and third generations were born, national slurring diminished. Three other derogations that were current then—national, supranational, and racial—still flourish: Italian, Jewish, and black.
“Can Movies Teach History?” asks the title of a recent New York Times feature article. The answer for Glory is yes. It is not only the first feature film to treat the role of black soldiers in the American Civil War; it is also the most powerful and historically accurate movie about that war ever made. If it wins a deserved popularity, it will go far to correct the distortions and romanticizations of such earlier blockbuster films as Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind.
Meryl Streep is back in top form. This means that her performance in Out of Africa is at the highest level of acting in film today. Also, since she is Streep, it means that a return to form is not a return: she has realized a character utterly different from any she has done before. As was true of Brando, Streep uses her star status to risk versatility, not to sell a standard product. In her last film, Plenty, she faltered: as the postwar Englishwoman, she lacked confidence, the crisp English enjoyment of comic bitterness. As Karen Blixen, Streep is superb.
When I took a college course in Wagner, our professor told us on the first day that the final exam would consist of one question: Who was Wagner? On exam day he wrote that question on the blackboard, then left the room. At the end of the three-hour exam period, some of us were still writing. So when I heard recently of a nine-hour film that attempted to answer our exam question, it didn't strike me as grotesque. I looked forward to it as eagerly as one can possibly anticipate spending nine hours in one seat from noon to something past 11 p.m.
“Symbol of the American Spirit." That's the headline in the ads for Rambo, which is about its hero's foray into Vietnam today to rescue American POWs. The subject has been used before, in Uncommon Valor with Gene Hackman, in Missing in Action and Missing in Action II, with Chuck Norris: but Rambo outdistances them. Three facts: Rambo is the current box-office champion in the country. ("Rambo Ahead by a Mile," Variety, June 5.) Like the second Norris film, Rambo is a sequel.
Stingo comes back to his newly rented room in the Brooklyn boarding house bearing a carton of Spam packages on his shoulder, looking apprehensively at the ceiling of his room. The sounds of what is presumably a torrid sexual encounter are coming from above. The carton totters on Stingo's shoulder as he totters into his room. I hoped--in vain. The sounds so unnerve Stingo that he stumbles into cinematic cliche: he spills the packages, I'd hoped he wouldn't. The chandelier in his ceiling is shaking. Again I hoped--in vain--that the camera wouldn't go in for a close-up.