VITAL SIGNSrnOedipal Angstrnby George McCartneyrnAmerican PiernProduced by Universal PicturesrnDirected by Paul WeitzrnScreenplay by Adam HerzrnReleased by Universal PicturesrnSummer of SamrnProduced by 40 Acres & a MulernFilmworks and Touchstone PicturesrnDirected by Spike LeernScreenplay by Victor Colicchio andrnMichael hnperiolirnReleased by Buena Vista PicturesrnEyes Wide ShutrnProduced by Warner Bros., Hobby Films,rnand Pole StarrnDirected by Stanley KubrickrnScreenplay by Frederic Raphael andrnStanley Kubrick from Arthur Schnitzler’srnnovella Dream StoryrnReleased by Warner Bros.rnOedipus reigns once more at ourrnneighborhood movie theaters, atrnleast in his Freudian guise. In Hollywood’srnmost recent calumny of hormonallyrndisturbed adolescence, American Pie,rnhe turns up as a high-school senior, arni^eefy mouth-breather suitably ])layed byrnJason Biggs. Wlien this lad’s mom bakesrnhim an apple pie, he can’t resist havingrnhis manly way with it. Needless to say,rnhis fatlier discovers him at the kitchenrncounter in flagrante delicto. Whoa! Talkrnabout your Sophoclean irony! And thenrnthere’s tiiis other kid? He, like, gets sedvicedrnby liis friend’s drunken mother?rnOn a pool table? Major, man, major,rnloo bad they didn’t, like, include somerneye-gouging expiahon. I mean, like, thatrnwould’ve been really cool. And maybe arnchick hanging herself, too, by her bra orrnsomething? Hey, like, why not? Can’trnfigiue out those prude dudes at thernMPAA giving this film an R rating. Irnmean, like, do they really want to deprivernour youth of a light-hearted introductionrnto one of our most enduring classics?rnFar more portentously but perhapsrnjust as inanelv, Spike Lee’s Summer ofrnSam includes its own dose of Oedipalrnangst. Putahvely concerned with the infamousrn”Son of Sam” murderer, DavidrnBerkowitz, and his 1977 New York Cityrnkilling spree, Lee’s new film seems farrnmore interested in the fortunes of arnyoung Italian with a Madonna/whore fixation.rnVinny (John Legviizamo, poorly cast)rnis a Bronx hairdresser who feels compelledrnto cheat on his young wife. It’s notrnthat he doesn’t love her. He does. That’srnjust it. She’s too pure for what he has inrnmind. He can be a tiger with her cousinrnin the backseat of his car, but he can’t bedrnhis wife without squirming in uncontrollablernremorse. Wherefore all this guilt?rnSpike Lee knows. Look at all those closeupsrnof crucifixes and Virgin Mary statues.rnCatholicism strikes again, thwarting ‘etrnanother sex life. Hev, Spike, fime to getrnsome perspective, no? Check out thosernclassics. That Vinny is unable to reconcilernwomen’s .sexual and maternal identities,rnthat he’s devastated to discover theyrnexist in a natural confinuum—all this hasrna long, long liistory. His problem revealsrna profound but hardly invincible ignorancernof the moral theology of thernChurch to which he nominally belongs.rnIf he had paid any attention at all tornBrother Augustine John in the tenthrngrade, he might have learned that intercoursernand motherhood are — gasp! —rnsupposed to go together.rnWliat has all this to do with the Son ofrnSam? I can onlv guess, but with the wavrnLee cuts back and forth behvcen re-creationsrnof the blood-spattered Son of Samrnshootings and the neon-spangled discornclubs Vinny haunts, I’d have to say he isrntiying to hang disco on Berkowitz alongrnwith the murders. Seems plausible.rnWho can doubt that the disco crazernsprang from a madman’s mind?rnAt some point during this haphazardrnproject, Lee must have realized he had arnturkey on his hands. You can sense hisrndesperation as he swings his camerarnright, left, up, down, and diagonally,rnfeverishly tr)’ing to impart some ersatz excitementrnto his shapeless story about aimlessrnpeople pursuing pointless lives.rnEven more desperately, he tries to layrnsome sociological heft on the proceedingsrnby bringing in veteran New Yorkrnjournalist Jimmy Breslin, who, some willrnremember, wrote a tabloid book aboutrnBerkowitz. At the beginning and end,rnBreslin faces the camera and intones thatrnthere are eight million stories in the bigrncity, and this is one of them. Based onrnLee’s film, I’d say the other 7,999,999 arernmore compelling.rnWhile Lee has been routinely overpraised,rnthere’s no denying he has madernsome interesting films. This, however, isrnnot one of them. With Summer of Sam,rnhe seems to have tripped over his ownrnswollen accolades. The Greeks called itrnhubris.rnThe late Stanley Kubrick (he died fourrndays after finishing Eyes Wide Shut) mayrnhave suffered from the same affliction. Ifrnso, he had far greater warrant Take hisrnmagisterial 2001; A Space Odyssey. Thirty-rnone years after its release, it remainsrnthe benchmark of science-fiction filmmaking.rnNothing else comes close to itsrnpoetic meditation on our cosmic destiny.rnAlthough Kubrick’s technical clevernessrnsometimes overwhelmed his thematicrnintentions, his films were always visuallyrnarresting. Even the misconceivedrnBarry Lyndon is worth watching, if onlyrnfor its scenery. And Kubrick never soughtrnto flatter his audience with market-testedrnsubject matter. If he had, he would notrnhave made Eyes Wide Shut, a film thatrndeliberately mocks fashionable contemporaryrnsexual attitudes at every turn. Itrndares to assume that, in matters of bothrnthe heart and loins, men and women arernfundamentally different and that thernperennial misunderstandings betweenrnthem are not socially constructed but biologicallyrndetermined. How’s that forrnsailing into the wind?rnKubrick takes on nothing less than thernperennial contradiefions that bedevil ourrnlives, the eonflicfing claims of reason andrnimpulse, soeietv and individuality, orderrnand energy, to say nothing of those forcesrnof nature, Nicole Kidman and TomrnCruise.rnAnd so the big question: Is the nuichrnballyhooed Kidman-Cruise-Kubrick collaborationrnworth seeing? I must answerrnwith a qualified “yes.” It’s not a greatrnfilm, not even a very good one. It’s oftenrnsilly, and many will find it offensive inrnOCTOBER 1999/41rnrnrn