Director going strong at age 101; ‘Cropsey’ relates scary urban myth

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, July 22, 2010 10:38pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Two films open this week at the Northwest Film Forum — wildly different in style and content, but each interesting on its own terms.

“Eccentricities of a Blond-Hair Girl” formerly held a record: the movie made by the oldest filmmaker. However, its director, Portugal’s 101-year-old Manoel de Oliveira, just finished another film, so never mind.

However, Oliveira has created a dandy with “Eccentricities.” Utterly assured, soberly whimsical, this brief feature (it clocks in at 60 minutes) is based on a short story by Eca de Queiros.

It is narrated by a man (Ricardo Trepa, the director’s grandson) riding a train in Portugal. Agitated, he tells his woeful story to the woman sitting next to him.

He describes his fixation on a young woman (Catarina Wallenstein) he sees on her balcony across the street from his office, where he labors as an accountant in his uncle’s Lisbon business. That fixation will drive all the other events in the movie: family estrangement, a long trip abroad, financial ruin.

The film is stately but somehow playful. No psychological explanations are offered for certain behaviors; we just have to accept them. It really seems like something sprung from the 19th century, except all the settings and people are modern.

The punch line is a corker — and then the movie ends, allowing us to imagine where the man on the train might be going next. An hour is short for a feature, but this movie is so utterly droll, it feels just exactly right.

“Cropsey” is playing at late shows only, 11 p.m. tonight and Saturday night — which seems appropriate for this spooky documentary.

Two Staten Island filmmakers, Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, have culled together some of the urban legends and authentic crime headlines of their youth and made a film that explores the weird underside of New York borough life.

Legends about a mad killer, possibly housed near the scary, old, abandoned mental asylum Willowbrook (its horrors were documented in a famous Geraldo Rivera TV report) abounded during the 1970s and ’80s. The eerie thing was, children really were disappearing on Staten Island then.

Was the killer a local handyman, eventually caught and accused of murder? Or were devil worshippers or other rumored bogeymen to blame?

“Cropsey” bites off a little more than it can chew, but the story is a haunting one, and demonstrates how campfire stories dovetail into real-life horrors. If someone were trying to scare you with tales of the crumbling Willowbrook hospital, they could make up a story about a system of tunnels running beneath the place — and in this case, once again, it would be true.

“Eccentricities of a Blond-Hair Girl”

A droll 60-minute feature from 101-year-old director Manoel de Oliveira, about a man recalling the disasters that resulted from his fixation with a beautiful young woman he spots on a balcony. Somehow both stately and playful, this movie offers no explanations and closes with an abrupt ending — which feels exactly right. In Portuguese, with English subtitles

Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for subject matter

Showing: Northwest Film Forum

“Cropsey”

Spooky documentary about a real-life case of child murders, which dovetails with urban legends surrounding the abandoned Willowbrook mental asylum on Staten Island. It’s as though the movie’s telling us that sometimes those old campfire stories are true.

Rated: Not rated; probably R for subject matter

Showing: Northwest Film Forum

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