Offbeat collectibles screened at International Film Festival

April 17, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

The 24th annual Baltimore International Film Festival offers a glowing documentary tribute to the lengthy collaboration between composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. The film, called simply "Cage/Cunningham," was directed by Elliott Caplan; it will be shown at 8 tonight at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

That late starting time is calculated to move the starting time of film No. 2 to 11, where it belongs. This is an elaborate French production, called "Marquis," of some of the works of the Marquis de Sade. It features actors in masks, puppets and cartoons disporting in some of the gymnastics that nasty French genius concocted. I can't tell you what one of the puppets represents.

Tomorrow night at 7, the festival premieres George Sluizer's amusing little film, "Utz," based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin. It's a story of obsession -- a specialty of Sluizer's, since he did that amazing study of obsessiveness, "The Vanishing," and then an American version of that art-house legend. In this case, the obsession isn't for knowledge but for porcelain.

It follows Marius Fischer, a dyspeptic American "investigator" (actually, a greedy American art dealer, played with amusing world-weariness by Peter Riegert) as he tries to solve the mystery of the missing collection.

His friend and sometime quarry, the Baron Von Utz (Armin Mueller-Stahl) has just died, and the baron's extraordinary collection of pieces, including a rare complete set of monkey musicians, has vanished.

Since the material was stored in the baron's apartment in Prague, and since the Communist Party had carefully registered each piece in anticipation of coming into possession of the whole upon the baron's death, there's a lot of interest from all sides.

The true subject of "Utz" is obsession. Why do men become enchanted with small niches of culture and organize their lives around acquiring every object the niche creates?

Fischer, who's in it for the money, sifts through the rubble of the baron's life, looking for the missing monkeys.

Gradually, a portrait of the baron emerges. He's a fundamentally good man, but at some point he abandoned the human race and its morality in his search for that one last monkey. And then the monkey after that one and the monkey after that one.

Paul Scofield, the great Scottish actor, has an extremely amusing turn as Utz's friend, a doctor who is himself a collector -- of flies.

The ironic Scofield argues the movie's main thesis, which is that for the collector, it isn't the object that's the point, it's the hunt, the need to know everything.

"Utz" is nowhere near as intense as "The Vanishing," but it's nevertheless a witty and provocative little movie, quite charming on its own. I'm glad I added it to my collection.

MOVIE REVIEW

What: International Film Festival

When: "Cage/Cunningham" tonight at 8; "Marquis" tonight at 11; "Utz" tomorrow at 7 p.m.

Where: Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive.

Tickets: $6; $5 for Baltimore Film Forum and museum members.

& Call: (410) 889-1993.

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