Color of a Brisk and Leaping Day

on March 23, 1996 by S.L.
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   Screened at Sundance Film Festival in Competition. Won Cinematography Award.
   The title is poetic. The black-and-white cinematography is breathtaking. The production design delicate and detailed. One wishes as much care was taken to develop the story and present the characters. Though clearly crafted by a caring filmmaker, passionate about his subject matter, "color of a Brisk and Leaping Day" disintegrates under his fingers--all the more surprising, since Munch's previous effort, "The Hours and Time," was something of a minor masterpiece.
   Peter Alexander stars as John Lee, a subdued young man at the end of World War II with a passion for trains. Struggling against the indifference of his Chinese-American father and French mother, Lee pursues his dream to save the Yosemite Valley Railroad, soon convincing rail tycoon and financeer Pinchot (John Diehl) to give him a shot at running the railroad back into profit. Given a year to complete his mission, Lee befriends fellow railroad men Robinson (Henry Gibson) and Skeeter (R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe in his feature film debut) as the rag-tag team works to save the soon-to-be-scrapped short line.
   As passionate as Lee is about the railroad, he is that dispassionate about every other aspect of his life, especially the women he's involved with. There is an ill-concieved, under-developed incestuous relationship with his kid sister, Wendy (Diana Larkin) and an even more under-developed, homoerotic connection with Skeeter.
   Stipe seems to be going for a Lyle Lovett-like performance, all stiff and strange. Alexander has a powerful presence, but is given little to do. Welcome energy is brought into the film with the arrival of another love interest--a Native American park ranger (Jeri Arredondo). Arredondo fares well beside Alexander, since they are the only two actors who comfortably and engagingly encapsulate the dry, desolate, empty tone of the film without effort or posturing. But once again, nothing is developed between them; it'slike Munch filmed an idea for a movie, rather than the movie itself.
   Beautiful but languid, this expansive travelogue and heavy historical story would have fared better as a coffee table book than it does as a motion picture. Starring Peter Alexander, Jeri Arredondo, Henry Gibson and Michael Stipe. Written and directed by Christopher Munch. Produced by Andrea Sperling. Drama. Running time: 90 minutes
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