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Cable review
By Miles Beller

Three of Hollywood's top directors bring their favorite works of art to life in a provocative new trilogy...

Television Reviews
Picture Windows

Three of Hollywood's top directors bring ther favorite works of art to life as Showtime presents the
intriguing second trilogy of Picture Windows

Leisures Arts

Masterpieces Theater
By Robert Goldberg

Every summer for the past 63 years,the town of Laguna Beach, Calif., has hosted what it calls the Pageant of the Masters.


Cable review

By Miles Beller

Three of Hollywood's top directors bring their favorite works of art to life in a provocative new trilogy.

Paintings have inspired poetry as well as music, from Wallace Stevens' meditation spurred by Charles Demuth's "I Saw the Figure Five in Gold" to Mussorgsky's acoustic musing "Pictures at an Exhibition." And now with Showtime's "Picture Windows," painting is the source of engaging television slated for a limited run series.

For as devised here, a painting serves as inspiration for a filmed narrative, a means of integrating the painted work of art into an unfolding story. Indeed, as director Norman Jewison, one of "Windows' " executive producers, recently noted, the intent of the series is to have a famous painting play into the action of a scripted story.

Indeed, the first "Picture Windows" trilogy broadcast kicks off with Jewison's haunting "Soir Bleu," a title and theme taken from the Edward Hopper painting (interestingly, the Hopper piece in question is more Picasso-derived and European than one usually associates with Hopper's homegrown American style). It stars Alan Arkin, Dan Hedaya and Rosana DeSoto and focuses on amour and retribution in the circus. Here the surreal collides with the all-too-real, resulting in an acute tragedy that yet packs the remorseful loneliness informing the inspirational source. "Bleu" is followed by Peter Bogdanovich's "Song of Songs," a quirky love story starring George Segal, Sally Kirkland, Bogdanovich and Brooke Adams that uses Sandro Botticelli's "La Primavera" to tell of love requited and then gone kaputski.

And the third member of the trio is Jonathan Kaplan's "Language of the Heart," which stars Michael Lerner and deploys Edward Degas' painting "The Rehearsal" as its point of departure to say something about art and desire in conflict and in harmony.

In addition to Jewison, Bogdanovich and Kaplan, other directors who have helmed installments for "Picture Windows" include John Boorman, Joe Dante and Bob Rafelson.

And all were able to select the writer and cast of their choosing. Yet one thing all had in common was a 51/2-day shooting schedule and a budget of $700,000.

If the succeeding presentations are as smartly evocative as "Picture Windows' " opening assortment, the series will be cause for no small celebration.



Picture Windows

(Sun. (29). 8-10:30p.m., Showtime)

Three of Hollywood's top directors bring ther favorite works of art to life as Showtime presents the
intriguing second trilogy of Picture Windows.

Filmed in Los Angeles, Toronto and Anjou, France, by Yorktown Prods, in association with Skyvision Partners. Executive producers, Norman Jewison, Gayle Fraser-Baigelman, Howard Rosen; producers, Scott JT Frank, Dan Halperin, David Wesley Wachs; supervising producer, Jeff Freilich; series creators, Frank, Halperin, Wachs.


Director, Joe Dante; writer, Jim Bymes, based on a short story by Zane Grey; camera, Jamie Anderson; editor, David Hickes; production design, Nanette Vanderbilt; sound, Geoffrey Patterson; music, Hummie Mann.

"Armed Response"

Director, Bob Rafelson; writer, Fredric Rafael, based on his story "Merce"; camera, Miroslaw Baszak; editor, Lorenzo Massa; production design, Valanne Ridgeway; sound, Doug Johnson; music, Hummie Mann.

"Two Nudes Bathing"

Director-writer-producer, John Boorman; camera, Seamus Deasy; editor, Ron Davis; art director, Derek Wallace; sound, Brendan Deasy; music, Jocelyn West.

Casts: "Lightning": Brian Keith, Kathleen Quinlan, Ron Perlman, Henry Jones;'' Armed Response ": Robert Loggia, James Calvert, Steve Zahn, Cyndy Preston, Cliff Saunder, Maria Macratsis, Laura Press; "Two Nudes Bathing": John Hurt, Charley Boorman, Juliette Caton, Angeline Ball, Britta Smith, Jocelyn West.

Big-name helmers have crafted small-screen jewels for Showtime's "Picture Windows" short-film series. Literary/arty pretensions of theme - each pic is inspired by a work of art or classic literature - gives the series a rather higher-brow feel, which, thankfully, doesn't spell filmmaker self-indulgence. First trilogy showcased Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Kaplan and Norman Jewison (one of the series' exec producers); second trilogy features pics from Joe Dante, Bob Rafelson and John Boorman; all are worthy and worth a good look.

Based on a Zane Grey story and visually inspired by the works of Frederick Remington, "Lightning" - Dante's offering - top - lines Brian Keith as an ornery gold prospector who strikes it rich.

His life is saved by Lightning, a recently purchased mule who seems to possess preternatural intelligence - at least for a mule. Ron Perlman and Kathleen Quinlan are a gambler and whore, respectively, who plot to take his gold. Story trades on an O. Henry type of irony with a twisted, satisfying conclusion.

Dante directs this wry shortie with a sure hand. Keith, Perlman and Quinlan are relaxed, and production values are tops.

Rafelson's entry, "Armed Response," takes off from the David Hockney painting "Portrait of an Artist (Pool With Two Figures)," with all the post-modern chilliness that painting embodies.

Fabulously wealthy lawyer Robert Loggia discovers that surfaces are misleading and that digging deeper reveals a lurid, sordid underbelly to his "perfect'' family. In the end, Loggia is painted into a corner by his kids - closing shot drives the point home.

Visually, Rafelson keeps "Armed Response" looking like a cinematic Hockney, bolstering pic's theme.

Boorman's "Two Nudes Bathing" was well-received when it debuted in Cannes in Un Certain Regard. The strongest of the trio, "Bathing" is Boorman's witty musing on how that famous anonymous painting from the 16th century, which hangs in the Louvre, came to be.

Gorgeously filmed by Seamus Deasy in a French chateau, "Bathing" assumes a sweet fairytale quality with helmer's son Charley Boorman portraying the "anonymous" painter Henri, commissioned to paint the two daughters of a tyrannical nobleman. Henri educates the girls about love and finds love himself with the saucy maid.

The beautiful Juliette Caton and Angeline Ball give the sisters a wonderful aching curiosity about love and sex; rest of cast, including John Hurt as the comte, are top-notch, as are tech credits.

- Carole Horst 


Masterpieces Theater

Every summer for the past 63 years,the town of Laguna Beach, Calif., has hosted what it calls the Pageant of the Masters. The crowds jam in, the curtain pulls back and there, under the lights, is the evening's entertainment: a genuine re-creation of an old master artwork, with real people. For five frozen minutes the actors stand there, locked in position as "The Last Supper" or "St. George and the Dragon." Nobody's been able to figure out the purpose of this pageant, but it's been astounding audiences for more than six decades.

This week Hollywood goes Laguna Beach one better in the new anthology series "Picture Windows" (Showtime, Sunday, 8-9:30 p.m. EDT). A trilogy of half-hour episodes inspired by famous paintings, "Picture Windows" aims to 'tell the stories behind the tableaux, to bring the pictures to life-which is, depending on how you look at it, either an intriguing formalistic conceit or a really silly idea. But the level of talent behind the camera instantly elevates this series, for "Picture Windows" calls upon top
Hollywood directors Peter Bogdanovich, Bob Rafelson, John Boorman, Joe Dante and Jonathan Kaplan under executive producer Norman Jewison to interpret the works of Botticelli and Degas, Hopper (Edward, not Dennis or Hedda) and Hockney. With so many big names packed into the same place, how can the results be anything other than wildly uneven . . . and well worth a look. There is an emptiness to Hopper's paintings that lends itself to story-telling-a spare, introverted melancholy that seems to call out for an explanation. That's the case of "Soir Bleu," directed by Norman Jewison, the story of an unhappy love triangle set backstage at a circus. In this rendering of the "II Pagliacci" tale, the sad clown Tully (Alan Arkin) is in love with the wife of his friend and rival, the impresario Carl (Dan Hedaya). Under all the festive makeup, the passion that burns below is sure to bring a bad end.

The story that unfolds is unsurprising but well played. You can guess every turn in this tears-of-a-clown tale, but Mr. Arkin brings tragic weight to his Tully. Above all, Mr. Jewison gives the story a great patina: His palette glows with great nocturnal hues-rich shades of black and brown. In all, an obvious tale, done with panache.

Moving from tragedy to farce, Peter Bogdanovich's "Song of Songs" doesn't exactly play by the rules of the game. His reference to Botticelli's "Primavera" is glancing at best, for the picture is simply stuck in the window of a naughty lingerie shop that opens in a Greek neighborhood. Bakery owner Theodore (George Segal) is outraged at first, then enticed into an affair with sexy shop owner Blossom (Sally Kirkland): "She's the kind of woman Helen of Troy must've been ... the kind that starts wars." "Song of Songs" is light comedy played ever so broadly, with as little connection to reality as to Botticelli. Blossom spurs Theodore on: "You took me like a warrior, returning to his lover after a long campaign."

Jonathan Kaplan's "Language of the Heart" draws on the shimmering, luminous colors of Degas's ballet-school pastels, especially "The Rehearsal." A period drama set in the early 20th century, "Language of the Heart" follows the story of Anna (Tamara Gorski), a beautiful young dancer in the corps de ballet. The maestro (Michael Lerner) tries to seduce her - "adagio . . . allegro . . . crescendo! "-but she's fallen in love with a penniless but dashing street violinist (Joel Bissonnette). And when the orchestra's first violinist breaks his arm, there's only one way this sentimental episode can turn out.

At its best and at its worst, "Language of the Heart" is like the picture that inspired it-the segment radiates with the warm orange light of Degas, and the elegant lines of the dancers. Even the slums are stylized, airy, lovely. In a way, this episode sums up the graces and the faults of the entire series, for like the other "Picture Windows," it is as polished and attractive as the stories are formulaic and trite.

The half-hour format is not easy, especially for feature directors. Like a short story for the screen, it has its own rules, its own demands. The segment must be big enough to carry our attention but small enough to be wrapped up at the end of the 30 minutes. The second trilogy (to be broadcast Oct.29) uses the format to slightly greater effect, especially Bob Rafelson's enigmatic "Armed Response "-which examines the tensions that lie beneath the glittering surface of David Hockney's pool paintings-and my personal favorite, John Boorman's "Two Nudes Bathing," the story behind the strange, anonymous 16th-century painting of two young women in a tub. "Two Nudes Bathing" is a lively period drama, filmed in the south of France (with John Hurt and Charley Boorman, the director's son) that boasts sprightly writing, lush production values and several jaunty plot twists.

In all, some "Picture Windows" offer better views than others. But no matter what, the larger trend should not be over-looked-the trend that's luring major stars and directors to cable TV, specifically Showtime and HBO. With Showtime's anthologies ("Fallen Angels," "Rebel Highway") and HBO's movies ("Citizen Cohn," "And the Band Played On"), cable is becoming the alternative venue of choice for the talent frustrated with the commercial demands of big-budget Hollywood. The results are uneven. That's part of the price you pay for the freedom to experiment. But each success is worth a hundred "Home Improvement's."