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Screening Room

'Tunnel' Has a Bold Vision

The suspenseful movie, which is based on a true story, digs into a plan to get past the Berlin Wall.


Among such highly touted films as opening attraction "Dark Blue World," "No Man's Land" and "Lantana" in AFI Fest 2001, which commences today at the Egyptian and other Hollywood Boulevard venues, is "The Tunnel" (Monday at the Egyptian), which is flat-out the most exciting movie from Germany since "Das Boot."

Director Roland Suso Richter glues attention to the screen so solidly it's about as easy to look away as it is to eat just one potato chip.

Based on an amazing true story that occurred just after the Berlin Wall went up, it stars Heino Ferch as a champion swimmer who, with his engineer friend (Sebastian Koch), masterminds an attempt to dig a tunnel under the wall through which some two dozen people hope to escape to the West.

Richter and writer Johannes W. Betz miss absolutely no opportunity to generate and sustain suspense. Will the tunnel collapse or flood? Hit an unexpected obstacle or meet some other unanticipated delay? Come out at the wrong site?

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday November 3, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Screening date--The Andy Warhol movies "Couch" and "Imitation of Christ" will screen today starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theater. The date was incorrect in Calendar Weekend's Screening Room on Thursday.

The possibilities for catastrophic miscalculation are as infinite as they are for betrayal since so many people on both sides of the wall must be trusted if so ambitious and risky an operation is to have a prayer of succeeding.

Amid all the tension and paranoia Richter stirs up, he presents a raft of sharply drawn individuals that allows full expression of the tragic absurdity of the wall, which divided Germany and isolated West Berlin for 28 years.

Yet for all the somberness of the circumstances, "The Tunnel" is terrifically stirring, inviting us to cheer the heroes and hiss the villains. It is the kind of superbly crafted, intelligent entertainment, a classic suspense thriller, that is nowadays as rare as it is welcome.

"The Tunnel also opens the Made in Germany festival, which runs Nov. 9-15 at the Music Hall. It also screens Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. AFI Fest 2001: (866) AFI FEST.


"The Annihilation of Fish," which debuted at the first Silver Lake Film Festival last year, opens Friday at the Music Hall. It's so theatrical it could go fatally awry at any moment, lapsing into excess or mere whimsy. However, the solid subtext to Anthony C. Winkler's script and the ability of director Charles Burnett to see Winkler's seeming crazies steadfastly as real people allows Lynn Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Margot Kidder to soar.

Out of desperate loneliness Redgrave's faded Poinsettia has imagined composer Giacomo Puccini back to life as her lover; Jones' Fish has conjured a demon he must repeatedly wrestle with. These two people end up in the right place, in apartments in an old Hollywood hillside home whose silver-haired landlady (Kidder) has obsessions of her own. Poinsettia is a would-be Blanche Dubois made brave and tenacious by love, and Redgrave even surpasses her Oscar-nominated performance in "Gods and Monsters." Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd. (310) 274-6869.


In association with the UCLA Hammer Museum, LACMA will present two more restorations from the Andy Warhol Film Project Sunday at 7:30 p.m., "Couch" (1964) and "Imitation of Christ" (1967-69), both of which have been among the least available of the many films Warhol shot between 1963 and 1968.

Warhol shot an eight-hour version of "Couch," and this version is 58 minutes of the 21/2 hours of footage known to exist. Frankly, an hour is just about right for a series of 4-minute loops of Warhol's entourage shown engaged in various activities on the large sofa that was a key piece of furniture in Warhol's famous factory.

Some scenes show people eating bananas rather suggestively, a precursor to the sequences that made this film such a challenge to exhibit back in the '60s, for they depict people engaged in sex. (Even so, Warhol's 1968 "Blue Movie," regarded as the first theatrical feature to show actual sexual intercourse, did play L.A. and elsewhere.) Yet these sequences stand in stark contrast to the deliberate, often impersonal intensity of pornography. The film's various groupings--two men, two men and a woman--are at once casual, spontaneous and tender; one sequence is merely foreplay.

"Couch" also has much humor: A couple can become amorous while someone runs a vacuum in complete disinterest. Another loop features the nude and voluptuous Naomi Levine, best known for Jack Smith's underground classic "Normal Love," reclining on the couch and trying in vain to attract a man absorbed in working on his motorcycle. "Couch" has a refreshing naturalness and remains a harbinger of the sexual revolution that was to emerge as the tumultuous decade progressed.

While "Couch" would be one of the last films Warhol shot (in black-and-white) with his silent Bolex, "Imitation of Christ" is one of his earliest in sound and was originally part of Warhol's 25-hour, double-projection "* * * * " (1967). When first extracted from "* * * * " "Imitation of Christ" ran eight hours; mercifully, Warhol himself oversaw the editing of this 85-minute version for a commercial release that never occurred.

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