The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
This is not simply director Akira Kurosawa's version of Lear, as he himself denies. After all, Ran is a visually stunning depiction of an aging warrior's struggle with his sons, closing with an eyeless transvestite contemplating an abyss, the ruins of his ancestral castle. Ran-or rebellion-portrays the chaos which occurs when men challenge the sources of authority, and when scheming women take on the attributes of men. But Shakespeare's Lear made such a chaos the occasion for the King's discovery of philosophy; Kurosawa's fool does not disappear.
The Most Underrated Film of the Year:
The white nights are the daylight the northern Soviet Union experiences during summer evenings. One can forget whether it is 4 p.m. or 4 a.m. These are times for all-night parties, but such are not in evidence in this film. Yet this freak in nature is nothing compared with the distortion of ordinary human relations experienced in the Soviet Union.
Gregory Hines plays a Paul Robeson-like black entertainer (we see him first in Porgy and Bess) and tap dancer who has sought exile and found a wife in the Soviet Union. An airliner crash hurls a celebrated ballet dancer (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov) back into the Soviet Union he had fled and, improbably, into Hines's life. With pictures of Robeson and Martin Luther King adorning his depressing Siberian apartment, Hines damns America for its racism, cruelty, and deception, while Baryshnikov chides Hines for his willingness to be used by the KGB, which dangles Moscow stardom before both of them. Baryshnikov tutors Hines in freedom: The education of the body through dance reflects the expatriate's growing desire for freedom, resolved upon once the responsibility of family arises. But how can a supple body avoid housing a simply malleable soul?
The Soviet state certainly rests on a violation of common decency. Music and feigned conversation are used to disguise true feelings from KGB microphones. The multi-lingual KGB agent embodies the universal claims of Marxism, which cannot, however, suppress its inherent racism. A vast open mine reveals an antheap of human beings. "Modern man is so confused," the KGB agent laments, leaving us to wonder whether the confusion lies in the failure of the ants to conform rather than in the tyranny which established slave labor camps.
But this is as much a film about America as it is about modern tyranny. The worth of the human soul is as miraculous a notion for the basis of politics as the sun at midnight is a marvelous natural principle.
The depravity of Hollywood does not require the proof of the Motion Picture Academy's honoring of The Kiss of the Spider Woman. Best Actor Oscar-winner William Hurt portrays a convicted homosexual child-molester, who initially appears to befriend but would betray a leftist revolutionary journalist, thrown together in a commodious and private Brazilian prison cell. In the course of this relationship the two became lovers, ignoring "safe sex" rules. One might interpret the film as the "evolution" of the Hurt character-from utter contempt for morality to a supporter of the revolution. But is this progress?
Perhaps the Academy needs further "liberation." When will it honor a film such as The Color Purple, whose central characters are bisexual women, set upon by their depraved fathers and husbands? Or could the Academy members have thought that by showering honors on the vacuous Out of Africa they might redeem themselves?
Hannah and Her Sisters and Gung Ho
Woody Allen's latest comedy may possibly be his least insane. That is, while the film stresses the typical Allen themes-neuroses, infidelity, purposelessness, the breaking of all social bonds making human life worth living-its ending nonetheless disavows a purposeless universe. Allen effectively spoofs the themes of Ingmar Bergman films, as long-time Bergman actor Max van Sydow's presence makes evident.
Gung Ho caricatures both the Japanese auto manufacturers who establish a plant in a depressed town in Pennsylvania and the blue-collar auto workers (especially boorish foreman Michael Keaton) who are whipped into line by Japanese management techniques. But the frequently grotesque exaggerations prevent the film from degenerating into either self-flagellation (and submission to an Oriental despotism) or jingoism (and racial slurs). Gung Ho avoids the pedantic carping of a documentary and thereby guides the viewer to reflect on such themes as lovers of Woody Allen films thought were his specialty. But Gung Ho assumes the natural sociality of human beings and shows that their division into tribes is essentially accidental, not providential; cultural differences do not reflect essential human ones.