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Paul Winfield

Review: Sounder

[Originally published in Movietone News 22, April 1973]

Nice. Safe. Inoffensive. These words adequately characterize Sounder and confirm the precise, if surely unintentional, irony of its pitch: “If you are the sort of person who sees only one movie each year, Sounder is the movie you should see this year.” Sounder has little to do with movies except in relation to those patronizing, sociologically oriented terms dear to the hearts of the Judith Crists and Richard Meyers of the world. There are strength, dignity, and a wealth of cinematic possibility in this carefully respectful and humane story about a black man who goes to jail in 1933 Louisiana for stealing food with which to feed his family, about the family that stays behind on their sharecropper spread and lives on and loves him, and about the eldest son (around 14) who becomes the focus of all their hopes, the one who may manage to do better than to survive by the received terms of life’s contract for their kind of folks in that time and place. Unfortunately, Martin Ritt’s realization of those possibilities is inadequate save in the painlessly assimilable mode of Playhouse 90 on the big screen.

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Review: Damnation Alley

[Originally published in Movietone News 56, November 1977]

The gripping first few sequences of Damnation Alley are linked by slow-fade-to-black/ slow-fade-in interludes reminiscent of the time-passes-things-change ambience of 2001: A Space Odyssey; but the aimlessness of inconclusive ideas and what passes for special visual effects leave this new day-after-Doomsday thriller well out of the running in comparison with Kubrick’s masterpiece. There are pretensions aplenty, but the film tends to hinge on crucial assumptions that remain unexplained. The city of Albany, New York, survives as an unscathed verdant oasis through a massive nuclear strike that destroys most of the United States, and furious ecological disasters that follow; there is no evidence of radiation sickness in any of the survivors, despite the fact that they go outside only weeks after the holocaust. More trivial questions bother the mind as well, such as why Air Force Major Eugene Denton’s white shirt stays spotless throughout a cross-country odyssey involving tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, firestorms, and combat with mountain men left over from Deliverance and cockroaches left over from Bug. The pictures bother the eye the same way. Spectacular color effects are virtually ruined by brutally mismatched film stocks, painfully obvious composite splits, shaky rear-projection, unsteady matte lines. The disorienting effect created is quite different from the one that was apparently intended.

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