Film Reviews

USA Film Festival

Page 6 of 8

Tuesday, April 23
7 p.m.
* Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick. William A. Wellman may not be as well-known as John Ford, but he was, along with Ford, one of Hollywood's scrappiest directors, the kind who would insult a studio head to his face, or dump a truckload of manure in his office to protest the lack of quality of the scripts he was assigned. He was also one of the most prolific directors in the studio system, guiding 76 films, among them Wings, The High and the Mighty (the first airline-disaster film), the original version of A Star is Born, and Battleground. He was a walking clich of the macho director, a real tough guy and war hero who tempered his steel in the skies of Germany during World War I. This documentary, produced by his son, is a suitable tribute to him--if perhaps too loving as it looks at its subject through the forgiving lens of a child. In fact, aside from his notorious temper and rascally mischievousness, Wellman seems wholly vice-free, a family man who found time to make dozens of movies in between attending school plays. But whether it's a whitewash or not, Wellman directed some of the top films Hollywood produced during the '30s and '40s, and his films have left a lasting imprint. His gangster epic, The Public Enemy, most famous for the grapefruit-in-the-face scene, shot James Cagney to stardom in 1931, the year after Edward G. Robinson made Little Caesar and a year before Scarface. And The Ox-Bow Incident, a chillingly accurate profile of mob violence, has stuck with me since I saw it at age 11 because of its emotional power and sincere, affectless acting. While not groundbreaking, Wild Bill covers all the bases in showing the enduring quality of its subject's work. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Wellman's birth; it's about time for a reevaluation of his films, and this is an excellent beginning. Narrated by Alec Baldwin. (AWJ) Director Todd Robinson and producers William Wellman Jr. and Kenneth Carlson in attendance.

* Boom!. Mysteriously, there is only one film included in the Festival's new feature, "John Waters Presents." I suggest an entire festival chosen and personally introduced by Waters, long pigeonholed as a trash auteur but deserving recognition as a droll, whip-smart cinematic historian. Imagine Martin Scorsese as an articulate gay man who's honest about his Catholic love for violence and depravity, and you have some idea of how high Waters places on the ladder of independent American-filmmaking history. The writer-director stops in Dallas to introduce a personal favorite among truly monumental messes--the hilarious 1968 Joseph Losey-directed, Liz-and-Dick debacle Boom! Universal Pictures, which shot Boom! on a lavish budget, prayed that the success of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 1966's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? could be carried over to another work by a great American gay playwright. Unfortunately, the Edward Albee of Virginia Woolf was on his way up, and the Tennessee Williams of The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore had already drowned in the near-psychotic sentimentality his brilliant characters warned about. (JF) John Waters in attendance.

* Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills. New York documentary filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky won the audience award at Sundance for their 1992 feature debut Brother's Keeper, which profiled the squalid rural lifestyles of the three brothers Ward. Past middle age, the illiterate Ward brothers ran a small dairy farm inherited from their parents, and were thrust into the national spotlight when a fourth brother died mysteriously in bed. The documentary featured the perplexed, disgusted attitudes of residents of an upstate New York county who suddenly wanted to defend the brothers when they saw uppity national correspondents invading their business. Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills is a second enthralling analysis of "white trash" America as it reacts to national TV's lust for sensationalistic stories. The tabloid press descended on West Memphis, Arkansas, after the bodies of three second-graders were discovered in a ditch beside the highway--naked, beaten, sodomized, mutilated, and repeatedly stabbed. When three local teen-agers who'd confessed an interest in Satanism were charged with the murders, the town began to generate wildly false rumors about homosexual orgies and dismembered penises in jars. Paradise Lost follows the trial of each teen-ager and spares no one involved--including the tiny community--from the damning details of their behavior. (JF)

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Jimmy Fowler
Arnold Wayne Jones
James Mardis