Reel People

It's about the artists, not the stars at the 31st annual USA Film Festival

Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story
Wednesday, May 2, 9:45 p.m.

Interviews with John Waters, Patricia Hearst and filmmaker Paul Morrissey round out this docuprofile of aging Warholian superstar Brigid Berlin nee Polk. The star of Chelsea Girls and Bad has gone from a plump young heiress obsessed with food to a slim older woman obsessed with food--that is, monitoring every last portion, calorie and meal time of her punishing diet. Like almost any eccentric who toiled in Warhol's Factory, Berlin makes easy if forgettable entertainment--director Shelly Dunn Fremont keeps things sympathetic and unsensationalistic. The best parts of the documentary are long segments of recorded conversations with Warhol in which the prince of pop art is unironically geeky, insecure and even a bit old-fashioned, and the taped tirades of Berlin's socialite mother, who deplored the "pornography and degeneracy" of what The Factory was producing. When Berlin stops to recite some of these rants verbatim in a voice exactly like Mom's, we chillingly understand Brigid's obsession with the parents who abandoned her. Director Shelly Dunn Fremont is in attendance. (JF)

The Golden Bowl
Thursday, May 3, 7 p.m.

William H. Macy in Panic
William H. Macy in Panic

As always, this latest Merchant Ivory production is a feast for the eyes, with choice real estate, exquisite interior design and dazzling costumes. Adapted from a Henry James novel, it concerns Charlotte (Uma Thurman), an impoverished American expatriate living in England who encourages her aristocratic but penniless former lover, Prince Amerigo (Jeremy Northern), to marry her wealthy American school friend Maggie (Kate Beckinsale). Charlotte then marries Maggie's widowed father, Adam (Nick Nolte), an American billionaire who has devoted his life to his daughter ever since the death of his beloved wife. In marrying Amerigo, Maggie worries that she is abandoning her father. Rather than siphon attention away from him, she neglects her husband instead. Amerigo and Charlotte are increasingly thrown together, and it isn't difficult to predict what happens next. There is an ambiguity at the heart of The Golden Bowl that should have worked in the story's favor: Whom is the audience supposed to root for? The lack of a concrete villain is one problem. But the absence of a defined (not to be misconstrued as single) perspective from which to view the various machinations is an even greater flaw, leaving the viewer without an emotional connection to any of the personalities. The actors are less than stellar but more than adequate. Nonetheless, the film is worth seeing for the splendid settings--and to see the slinky Thurman decked out in a form-fitting, emerald-green sequined dress. The word "stunning" hardly does her justice. Producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory, writer Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and actress Uma Thurman are in attendance. (JO)

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