Two uninspired films and one that's a treat
The movies still have some class, after all. Behind the disco din of ''Flashdance'' and ''Staying Alive,'' you can actually hear a bit of classical music on current sound tracks. In fact, symphonic sounds play a prominent part in three new pictures from three continents.
''And the Ship Sails On'' is the latest extravaganza from Federico Fellini, the most flamboyant of Italian directors. Not long ago, in his comedy ''The Orchestra Rehearsal,'' he used a music group as a metaphor for mankind, showing - in the movie's own catchphrase - ''the decline of the West in C-sharp major.''
In his new picture he goes a step further, serving up a whole boatload of musicians, music teachers, and music lovers. They're headed for the funeral of a diva, whose ashes are to be scattered near a remote island. It's a typical Fellini microcosm, illustrating all kinds of human foibles, and even veering toward history and politics, since the year is 1914 and World War I is heating up.
Fellini starts the picture with a parody of old-time movies, introducing the characters in a series of brief, silent, comical scenes in black and white. It's an amiable gimmick, and it sets the whimsical-historical tone of the film. But it's choppy, and drags on too long - exactly the faults of the picture as a whole. Though the director wants to encapsulate both cinema history and human nature, his methods lack sparkle and bite.
Of course, this is the one-and-only Fellini we're dealing with here, and his perennial talent does show through - in some delicious character details and a few delightfully inventive scenes, including an operatic recital in a boiler room that's both sad-hilarious and serious-ridiculous. Still, many of the performances are as ordinary as the romantic and professional jealousies that fuel the story; and the visual style rarely transcends the oddly stretched-out screenplay.
Only in a poignant subplot about Serbian refugees taken aboard does Fellini generate some real emotional momentum. And even this gets dissipated by the goofball humor he chooses to crown this unusual voyage. In the end, ''And the Ship Sails On'' is a cruise to nowhere - diverting, but a bit dull. Latest remake
Unfaithfully Yours is the latest product of Hollywood's busy remake factory. It takes its cue from a 1948 gem by comedy master Preston Sturges.
The original version was a sharp, merciless, uproarious picture that somehow failed to connect with audiences. Perhaps it was too fierce and original for the ''comedy'' standards of its day. In any case, it flopped, putting a major dent in Sturges's hitherto spectacular career - which had been weakened by the failure of ''The Great Moment'' and would soon be virtually snuffed out by the bizarre ''Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend.''
The remake of ''Unfaithfully Yours'' is just a shadow of its source, using the basic plot and characters, but diluting Sturges's ideas. In his '40s version , an orchestra conductor - convinced his young wife is cheating on him - imagines wacky scenarios for killing her, each accompanied by an amusingly apt piece of music. The '80s version leaves out Sturges's ingenious variations, keeping only the basic theme: The conductor suspects his wife, dreams up a daft murder plan, and bungles it, finally realizing that she was innocent all along.
Dudley Moore gives a nicely low-key performance as the murderous musician, though he never manages to seem menacing, as a would-be killer ought to now and then. Nastassja Kinski, as the springtime half of the May-October couple, is appropriately elegant. The rest of the cast is excellent, particularly Albert Brooks as the conductor's confidant. Comedy specialist Howard Zieff directed, suggesting if not reprising the unique zing of Sturges's own rendition. The rating is PG, reflecting brief nudity and a little rough language. The Kirov
Fans of the gorgeous ''Children of Theatre Street'' should flock to Backstage at the Kirov, another documentary focusing on a Soviet dance institution. This time it's the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad, which has spawned many renowned figures during its 200-year history. In a refreshing gesture of international cooperation, the company closed its doors to the public for four days so Armand Hammer Productions, based in California, could film freely and at leisure.
The results are a treat for the eyes and ears. There's a loose sort of plot, about a young dancer training for her solo debut in ''Swan Lake,'' but this is just a skeleton for the movie's real business: a nonstop display of balletic beauty, onstage and off. We watch beginners learning the basics and future stars honing their talents; we listen to teachers cajoling and dancers gossiping. And through it all we sense the vast stores of discipline, tradition, and dedication that make this two-century-old company still a glowing and vibrant enterprise.
It's a rare feast for balletomanes, neophytes, and everybody in between. And in this period of ''evil empire'' political rhetoric, it's a valuable reminder that the impulse toward beauty and artistic excellence is as universal as it is inspiring.