A Thousand Words 

Made for the unthinkable sum of $7,000, Paul E. Garstki's independent black-and-white Chicago-based feature both profits and suffers from its impoverished budget. On the plus side, a largely postdubbed sound track allows the filmmakers to tell parts of the story through the ingenious economical device of using answering-machine messages and imaginary phone conversations offscreen. A thoughtful use of local talent (stage actors John Ellerton, Warren Davis, and Diana Zimmer as the three leads and lots of local independent filmmakers in secondary parts) and locations also makes the best use of William Holst's somewhat minimalist script, adapted from a story by Garstki. A reclusive art critic hires a young protege, who moonlights as a surveillance photographer, to go to work on a young woman (an odd plot with faint echoes of The Draughtsman's Contract and Paul Bartel's The Secret Cinema, without much of the humor connected to either). The main budgetary drawback is the nearly nonexistent social context; the stilted art-world talk generally fails to convince because there isn't enough of a world in the film to establish it as either parody or the genuine article, and the characters themselves seem at times excessively limited by the exigencies of the plot. The result, then, is uneven but singular--a quirky, rather disturbing little film about voyeurism and loneliness. (Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Saturday, April 16, 6:00 and 8:00, 443-3737)

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