Nightly dose

May 16, 2007 at 12:00 am

The Murder of Fred Hampton/ American Revolution 2

Most film buffs probably don’t know the name Mike Gray. But the Chicago-based filmmaker is a force, wearing many hats behind and away from the camera. He penned the great China Syndrome, directed Wavelength, produced 13 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was even second A.D. on The Fugitive. But far from being another figure who flittered around the film industry for decades taking one odd job after another, Gray is primarily a political activist and, from 1969 to 1971, was on the cutting edge of the cinéma vérité movement with his American Revolution 2 (which he directed) and The Murder of Fred Hampton (which he shot and produced). Both documentaries deal with police brutality and repression in ’60s Illinois, and neither has aged a day. We need only to look back to November of last year, when Queens police officers fired 50 bullets at an unarmed African-American man as he was leaving his bachelor party, to acknowledge that the utopia so naively envisioned by the Black Panthers is a long way off.

American Revolution 2 (so refreshing to see a film with a numeral in the title that isn’t a sequel), the first of the two movies, uses the riots following the 1968 Democratic National Convention to open a dialogue about race, class and standing up to The Man. A literal dialogue, in this case. While the opening minutes, set within the tumult of the riot, feature amazing reportage from the front lines, most of the movie is comprised of a series of filmed rallies in which groups like the Black Panthers and the Young Patriots uplift crowds of progressives with calls for change. The energy and rage in these discussions is infectious and never boring, and concludes with a long-awaited exchange with a white police chief who shows surprising candor and lack of spin in conceding his officers’ racism.

Doing more justice than any fictive biopic could, The Murder of Fred Hampton is the grandest feather in Gray’s cap, an extraordinary use of film as investigative report. What began as a documentary account of the titular Illinois Black Panther leader shifts to a CSI-like dissection of a notorious homicide when the doc’s subject is killed in a police raid. So we get half a movie detailing the young (he was only 21 when he died) chairman’s charismatic mystique and enormous appeal, and half a movie cementing his martyrdom. Evidence from the crime scene and interviews with eyewitnesses glaringly conflict with the saintly police testimony, which states the officers only fired after being fired upon. Gray weaves the two sides of the argument together beautifully, understanding the political context as more than just an isolated raid but as part of the ongoing struggle between perceived fascism and socialism.

The audio quality on these Facets discs is less than could be desired, but for the period and the technology of the time, the restoration is acceptable. Both movies provide a candid, fly-on-thewall look at a specific, well, facet of the ongoing race war, eloquently and timelessly. —John Thomason


Tartan Home Video

While movie studios in this country are busy remaking every seminal horror flick from the ’70s (Amityville Horror, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas), Asian filmmakers seem hellbent on repeating the same tired formula laid down by The Ring. You know the one — a creepy, pale ghost seeks revenge for the wrongs done to her as a living being. Shutter is the Thai equivalent.

A photographer named Tun and his girlfriend Jane mow down a young woman with their car and flee the scene. Soon they discover mysterious figures and blurs in their photographs. It’s a grudge-holding ghost, a girl in fact, out for Tun and his best friends. Jane investigates the photos and discovers that her boyfriend knows more than he’s letting on. And this haunting comes with a moral: If you don’t deal with your past, then the past will deal with you.

Formula aside, directors Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom do a more than competent job and manage to ratchet up the tension and deliver a handful of jump-from-your seat moments. Surprising too is the acting, which is much better than the storyline calls for. Still, there’s that colorby- numbers plot nagging at you while a running checklist goes off in your head. Is she dead? Check! Is her hair hanging over one eye? Check! Is she seeking revenge? Check! Is Shutter a derivative but inexplicably enjoyable horror flick? Check! —Paul Knoll


The Perfect Marriage

Saying this is an aboveaverage Lifetime film is like saying “my girlfriend with Tourette’s Syndrome only blurts out inappropriate things to other people.” At least they cast a female lead who isn’t postmenopausal. You need someone younger and sexier such as Jamie Luner (Melrose Place) sticking a potassium chloride-filled needle into her husband’s neck or else it seems like a mercy killing, or in the case of most Lifetime films, a very special episode of The Golden Girls.

As the homicidal homemaker Annie attempts to outdistance her murderous past, her former lover/accomplice returns to seduce her into once again stealing hubby’s bundle the quick and clinical way. In keeping with the Lifetime formula, here’s a woman with everything — a good husband, a great job, concerned co-workers, trusted family friends etc. — and she still can’t resist turning into a human lawnmower before credits roll. And once again the collagen-lipped Sophie Gendron, who must own Lifetime by now, plays the understanding colleague who gets too close to the rotating blades.

Shopper alert: This DVD is packaged in the same misleading generic packaging that could leave bloodied-gothchick- in-duct-tape bondage fans mighty steamed. —Serene Dominic

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