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toto-alfredo

by Sam Juliano

The Ridgefield Park Rialto closed its doors on June 13, 2008.  This local institution was the last single screen theaters in Bergen County, New Jersey, and the only one in that domain that had shown art house movies.  Opening in 1927 as a vaudeville showcase, it was soon enough transformed to a movie house in the late 30’s, and was purchased in the 70’s by a single owner.  That same person held ownership with his daughter all the way to the final days, showing mainstream fare until the mid 90’s, then catering to the Indian community for Bollywood features until 2001 when the schedule was comprised exclusively of foreign language and independent films.  The experiment yielded mixed results, though there were times when the 600 seat auditorium sold out, if the film was an appealing one.  The inevitable cessation of operations signified the end of an era, and left bewildered customers waxing lyrical about their own personal stories related to their attendance at the venerable institution.  The common lamentations were along the line that larger multiplexes had made it financially incompatible for the smaller operators to earn their keep, and equipment had become antiquated.  In any case the closing of the theater was an emotional time for workers and customers, and it had some regulars scurrying for souvenirs that included posters, marquee letters and actual seats that were unscrewed from the floor by employees.  Any token, big or small would provide some tangible physical evidence well into the future of   a place that helped formulate dreams and escape, a movie house mecca that in the end that left a more lasting impression than even the splendid product it served up to the public. Continue Reading »

Last-Year-Marienbad-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      The intricacies of Anton Corbijn’s film, A Most Wanted Man (2014), come down, it seems to me, to the readily ignored grace note of solitude. (For that matter, Jonathan Glazer’s Birth [2004] also exposes that elusive treasure.) In the Corbijn film it is only intimated by the disaster in its absence and the rumor of its presence in the sailing we hear about (once) but never see. On having, over the past four years, gathered together what sometimes seems to be a filmic mountain of exigencies painfully including that possibility of quiet, I think it is time to pay specific attention to three films from the dawn of contrarian go-for-broke, quite well-known but not widely enough cherished for their daring—namely, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Marguerite Duras’ India Song (1975). Generally understood as instances of a filmic tsunami of ennui and distemper triggered by a World War palpably obviating the allure of the kind of heroics which had served for so long as a cogent grace note, the choreographic imperatives of those hugely alienated creations have been substantively overlooked—in itself a powerful revelation of the hardness of the crisis they address. Continue Reading »

Romeo-Juliet-about-to-kiss-on-Balcony-1968-romeo-and-juliet-by-franco-zeffirelli-32614019-638-410 (1)

by Sam Juliano

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The idea was to honor the Bard’s own vision of teenagers playing the parts of his eternally popular play about the star crossed lovers.  The two leads in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet were chosen for their physical beauty, not for any special or proven acting prowess.  In fact the performances are far more affecting because they are natural, delivered without dramatic ostentation.  The director, Franco Zeffirelli, put the cart before the horse, confident in his own ability to turn his lead players into Shakespearean thespians.  The end result was a wildly successful film version that at the time eclipsed any film version of the author’s plays in popularity by quite some distance.  Forty-six years later it still holds poll position, and remains the odds-on choice of educators aiming to supplement study of the play with a worthy film adaptation.  The film was made during the heyday of the golden reign of youth and the hippie era.  Rumor in fact has it that Zeffirelli came within a hair of convincing Paul McCartney to play the lead. An extensive talent search yielded the hiring of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, two extraordinarily attractive actors who imbue their roles with a physical intensity of first love, the kind of love that only those who have experienced it can fully decipher.  Hence there is an innocence, purity and lack of self-awareness to these performances that make them far more affecting than could have been negotiated by older actors with proven credentials.  The film’s lovemaking scenes are charged with eroticism, and there is some nudity in a bedroom scene (that at the time was considered scandalous for a PG movie) to bring consummation to the romance.  Throughout the film the lovers endlessly embrace, kiss and neck far more than in any other version based on the play, and this propensity has interestingly brought into question whether the love would morph into a union of permanence or whether this is just the hormonal awakening of teenagers.  Obviously the right answer is the latter contention, but it is fully consistent with the manner in which Romeo and Juliet are shown in the play.  They are rash, impulsive, oblivious to the consequences of their actions and blind to everything around them save for the burning flames inside them.  Some would like to believe their love is epic and definitive, immortalized as it is through suicide, and borne from the mutual hatred of their brethren, but what we have are two people stung by Cupid’s Bow, helpless to temper their incomparable potent youthful passions.  Romeo and Juliet is not an idealized romance, but rather a cautionary tale about the dire consequences of recklessness, partially facilitated by unfortunate timing and the intrusion of fate. Continue Reading »

L'Atalante (France 1934)

By Tony d’Ambra

Jean Vigo when he made one of cinema’s poetic masterpieces was consumptive and likely had a keen awareness of the slender hold he had on life. L’Atalante was to be his last film and his enduring cinematic legacy. A simple romantic story told with a shimmering love for those that history ignores, for unaffected lives which have a glory beyond greatness, bound up in the simple verities. The early tentative days of a just-married couple have a romance and visual poetry tinged with the melancholy of the river’s flow, itself a metaphor for the ineluctable passing of time, and the ebbs and flows of life. A tale told without artifice and with a boundless optimism. A timeless story of young love, the tribulations of matrimony, the joys of friendship, the rewards of loyalty, and the delight from the comic mishaps that life thankfully can bring; along with the conflict, the suffering, and the heartache.

Continue Reading »

Jeremy poses with the great illustrator/painter Wendell Minor, with two of his supreme masterpieces, GALAPAGOS GEORGE and EDWARD HOPPER PAINTS HIS WORLD, both remarkable released during 2014. (At Bankstreet Bookstore in Manhattan).

by Sam Juliano

Time marches on.  Mid-September and moving closer to autumn.  Nothing too extreme weather-wise over the last week in the vicinity of the Big Apple, though it does appear that even so much as a wind breaker is still some time away.  But like everything else that scenario can change in a heart beat.  Here at Wonders in the Dark it is business as usual.  The long-running Greatest Romantic Films Countdown has entered the final leg, with the Top 15 set to post starting tomorrow.  Certainly the quality of the reviews over the past week has basically matched some of the great stuff we’ve seen here in previous weeks.  What with everyone on their best behavior the site is honored to have received some of the finest writings the esteemed authors have yet composed.  True, the comment and page view totals have dropped – this has been obvious throughout – but this has more to do with the general downtrend of blogsites, all of which have taken a major hit from the likes of Facebook and Twitter.  As many here will recall the most successful countdown (or any project for that matter) at this site was the Greatest Musical Films Countdown of 2011.  That 70 Film survey not only attracted some of the greatest film writing I have ever laid eyes on, but also the most spectacular comment totals ever recorded here.  Numerous posts amassed well over 200 comments, which a bunch of others pulled in over 100.  But numbers by themselves don’t add up to much – it was the quality and the passion of the responses that made them so memorable.  A dash of contentiousness also added some color to the proceedings.  In any case, Wonders in the Dark also scored big with the Greatest Comedy Films Countdown and the Greatest Westerns Film Countdown, even if both showed a progressive downward trend.  The community aspect of the site is still thriving -certainly well ahead of the life support that taken some less fortunate blogs over the past year.  In behalf of the site’s writing staff I want to thank all those who continue to read, leave likes and comments under all the latest posts.  This is alas, our life’s blood.

Specifically I want to take this opportunity to salute Jon Warner, John Grant, Frank Gallo, John Greco, Pierre de Plume, Jim Clark, Peter M., Judy Geater, Sachin Gandhi, Pat Perry,  Jeffrey Goodman, Duane Porter, Tony d’Ambra, Laurie Buchanan, Dee Dee, Jeff Stroud, Celeste Fenster, Maurizio Roca,  Robert Tower, Jaimie Grijalba,  Dean Treadway, Tim McCoy, Marilyn Ferdinand, David Noack, Karen, Joel Bocko, Ricky, Mark Sadler, Margaret B., JacquiWine, Ed Howard, Brandie Ashe, J.D. Lafrance, Stephen Mullen,  Shubhajit Lahiri, Mark Smith, Terrill Welch, David Schleicher, Anubavkist, Pedro Silva, Broadway Bob Eagleson, Mike Norton, Lucille Juliano, Melanie Juliano, John R. Thom Hickey, smallwoodryan, girlsdofilm, Giovanni Battista, Diana and Allan Fish for their essays, their comments and their “likes,” or any combinations of those.  51 reasons to celebrate!!!  If I have missed someone who may have left a comment or a like or several in fact, please accept my apology.  I have done my best to look back at every single review and corresponding comment section, but I am no longer as sharp as I once might have been.  Ha! Continue Reading »

allthatheavenallows

by Ed Howard

By now, the plot of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows should be very familiar, considering it has been adapted for both Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul and Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. It’s the story of the lonely widow Cary (Jane Wyman), who falls in love with her younger gardener Ron (Rock Hudson), and plans to marry him despite the differences in age and social class which put external pressures on the relationship. As a satire of upper-middle-class pettiness and hypocrisy, it occasionally lays it on too thick, a hallmark of Sirk’s work that nevertheless contributes to his satire’s biting wit. As the gossip and snarky jokes and open disapproval of Cary’s friends, neighbors, and even children begin to weigh on her, the relationship seems less and less stable or possible. Sirk’s portrayal of these ungenerous souls is unremittingly caustic, with a devastatingly sharp satirical eye that never fails to capture the bitchiness and jealousy hidden beneath the ever-present phony smiles and friendly banter.

If Sirk’s satirical touch can sometimes be heavy and unsubtle, his visual sense is unfailingly exactly the opposite. Here, his style is most effective in contrasting the harshness of his high society satire with the lush warmth of his visuals, especially in the scenes set at Ron’s country retreat. Ron’s lifestyle evokes the pastoral philosophy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which is quoted from in one scene. Ron’s true-to-himself philosophy and rugged life, continually in touch with nature, is a stark contrast to the hermetically sealed spaces of Cary’s old-money mansion, her dead husband’s ancestral home and a constant reminder of her widowhood. Her daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott), a social worker who provides some of the film’s funniest comic relief in her straight-faced presentations of Freudian psychobabble, tells her mother about the old, outdated Egyptian custom of entombing the wife with her dead husband so she might enter the afterlife with him. That custom is long gone, the daughter assures her, but Cary isn’t so sure, and with good reason. What is her house but a brightly lit tomb, with her dead husband’s possessions all around her? And the townspeople are only too glad to make sure she stays in this tomb, alone and unhappy, unless of course she decides to marry a socially acceptable man like the much older Harvey (Conrad Nagel), who lacks passion or emotion but offers her at least, in his dry way, “companionship.” Continue Reading »

5_haroldmaudeplage

By Dean Treadway 

MAUDE: A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they’re not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.

Rewatching Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude again for the first time for what must be at least a decade, I’m struck most–in my middle age–by its naivete and glorious youthfulness. With its gorehound death fascination and breathy strivings for an actively-voiced life, it feels like a movie written by a smart, frustrated teenager (screenwriter Colin Higgins penned the piece in his mid-20s while attending Stanford University, studying alongside Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader). It is a work that assuredly cleaves to simple wisdoms, further seasoned by Ashby’s then-still nascent filmic style (Roger Ebert, who hated the film upon release, slammed it for not having a visual sense, but I strongly disagree; it’s the first of Ashby’s works sporting a creative, even meticulously designed look). To go even further–way further–I don’t think it’s out of order to declare Harold and Maude one of the most loved movies ever made. Ask anyone who’s seen it and they’ll tell you it’s among their favorites. Lots of guys adore it but women, especially, seem to respond remarkably to its charm (when I worked at video stores, 9 times out of 10 when the film was being rented, it was by a woman, and most likely one going back for seconds or thirds). I’m not usually one to react favorably to unassailably popular movies, but this is one I firmly stand behind. Even today, I see a lot of what is admired in, say, Wes Anderson’s work as totally dependent on this film both in style and emotion.

As a kid, after years of hearing about it, I pretty much fell into an immediate crush on Harold and Maude. I can easily flash back to my first time seeing it, 14 years old circa 1981, at Atlanta GA’s now-defunct Rhodes Theater. I remember the look of the deep red velvet chairs in the theater auditorium being mirrored by the warm browns and reds of Hal Ashby’s sly opening sequence, set to the first of Cat Stevens’ many contributions to the soundtrack, the gentle and ultimately vociferous “Don’t Be Shy.” I remember the vaguely cola-tinged smell of the theater, and feeling disturbed that Ashby and cinematographer John Alonzo chose not to reveal Harold’s face until way deep into its its oddly-paced, strangely-framed single-shot opening (Harold isn’t seen until he suitably blows out a match). Meanwhile, Cat Stevens’ work had long been a staple on our turntable at home, thanks to his Greatest Hits record, so hearing his voice so brilliantly used throughout must have made full impact on my rather instant love for this film (Stevens’ creaky vocal style is unmistakable). Years later, after I had tried to hunt down a soundtrack to no avail, I finally realized watching Harold and Maude was the only way I would ever hear some of these tunes (“Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” were written specifically for the film, and a soundtrack has now been properly compiled here; I’m dismayed that Stevens wasn’t nearly well enough considered for the Best Song Oscar in 1971).  Continue Reading »

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