The Ultimate Chain Reaction


Suspended from the ceiling, a slowly rotating, overstuffed plastic garbage bag nudges a rubber tire that inches forward and tilts a plank—and for the next half-hour, a number of household objects and jerry-built constructions are sliding and falling, precipitating foamy floods or triggering fiery explosions. Consider this warehouse a universe.

The Way Things Go, a 1987 16mm feature by the Swiss art duo Fischli and Weiss, has intimations of Rube Goldberg’s imaginary contraptions and their countryman Jean Tinguely’s actual ones, but—silent except for the continual pop-glug-bang-hiss-smash-pop-splat backbeat—it’s also a new sort of cinema slapstick. The timing is at once unpredictable and inevitable. In the absence of an obvious human presence, tires and teakettles are the key performers in this wacky ballet mécanique. Of course, somebody is moving the camera —and perhaps other things as well. As raw as
The Way Things Go may appear, the movie isn’t without its tricks. The not-quite-invisible match cuts suggest that the artists may be presenting a series of discrete events rather than a single sustained utterance. In any case, it’s a great action (or rather, reaction) film.

Fischli and Weiss’s magnum opus will show with two of their early “funny animal” productions. February 22, 7 and 9:30 p.m., Anthology Film Archives.

Also: Buff central this week will be Film Forum, where a half-dozen newly exhumed 1930s features, all produced by cine- showman Merian C. Cooper and ballyhooed as unseen here in any format for nearly 50 years, are having their restoration premieres. RKO Lost & Found opens with a couple of pre–Production Code comedies, both from 1933: Double Harness features the impossibly urbane William Powell as a wastrel playboy and Rafter Romance stars the pre-Fred Ginger Rogers as a wisecracking telephone salesgal. The auteurist must-see, however, is the climactic double bill: William Wellman’s 1934 musical cum Australian western, Stingaree, and A Man to Remember, directed by Garson Kanin from a Dalton Trumbo screenplay.
February 23 through March 1, Film Forum.

Picture, longtime New Yorker journalist Lillian Ross’s acerbic and witty account of John Huston’s vicissitudes in adapting The Red Badge of Courage for MGM, was first published in book form in 1952 and has never gone out of print. Ross will read excerpts in An Evening with Lillian Ross and, following a screening of Huston’s film, return to talk about it.
February 23, 8:30 p.m., Museum of Modern Art.

The Museum of the Moving Image’s “Great Documentaries” series ends on a superbly exploitative note with a 35mm IB Technicolor print of the pseudo-anthropological Mondo Cane, the cine-outrage of 1962. Critic Lou Lumenick selected the movie and will introduce its Saturday
screening. February 24 and 25, 2 p.m., MOMI.