Eleanor’s ‘Movies to Watch’ list – these from the early ‘80s"Streamers"
By Eleanor Ringel Cater
There’s plenty around to worry about, from pandemics to social unrest, but for me, the headache closest to home is…What to Watch.
There are no lack of lists: some themed, some not, some tied to what’s new on whatever streaming service you follow, some not.
Still, I was surprised when some friends asked that I start my own version of the New York Times “What to Watch” list (or something like that).
So, I thought I’d give it a try. For the most part, these are titles dating back to the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, when I began reviewing movies. I can’t guarantee how they’ll hold up. I can’t guarantee how my taste has held up. But let’s give this a try and see if something clicks. Again, no themes, chronology, geography, anything. Just…suggestions.
“Sugar Cane Alley” Really, a marvel. In her feature debut, Martinique-born Euzhan Palcy dares to tackle the complex and troubling issues of racism and Third World poverty without condescension or embittered condemnation. Set in her homeland in the 1930s, the film is a Horatio Alger story about a Black kid who lives on a sugar-cane plantation. Thanks to his indomitable grandmother, he goes from the rags of ignorance to the riches of knowledge. Palcy later made “A Dry White Season,” starring Donald Sutherland.
“Streamers”: The title is Army lingo for a paratrooper whose parachute fails to open. In his approach to David Rabe’s scathing play about sexual and racial tensions among four soldiers waiting to be shipped to Vietnam in 1965, director Robert Altman takes a piercingly claustrophobic approach, confining his actors (among them, Matthew Modine and David Alan Grier) to quarters and his camera to close-ups. The overall effect is imperfect but explosive.
“Danton”: Ok, it’s talky. Very. If the French Revolution had consisted of as much chat and as little action as Andrzej Wajda’s movie, well, France might still be a monarchy. It’s based on a 1931 play about the rivalry between Danton (Gerard Depardieu), the earthy, passionate man of the people, and Robespierre, the Reign of Terror’s chilly, fanatical architect. Though it can’t really be counted as a triumph, anyone with an interest in the period — or in Depardieu — should check it out. Two stand-out scenes: a dinner between the two adversaries and a “frenemy” visit to artist Jacques-Louis David’s studio.
“My Dinner with Andre”: A coupla white slicks sittin’ around talking. Writer/director Wallace Shawn and stage director Andre Gregory are the two and only performers in this exquisite comedy of table manners that’s actually nothing more than two hours of semi-polite conversation about the Meaning of Life and other small matters. Playing practical Mole to Gregory’s visionary Toad, Shawn struggles with his roast quail and a barely-seen, supercilious waiter while Gregory regales him with tales of dancing nude in Polish forests and talking to trees in Scotland. Somehow, mid-Covid, it seems to make even more sense than it did decades ago.