Archive for June, 2009

ollie 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 111m) not on DVD

Seduced by sensual delights

p  Robert H.Solo, Ken Russell  d/w  Ken Russell  play  John Whiting  novel  “The Devils of Loudon” by Aldous Huxley  ph  David Watkin  ed  Michael Bradsell  m  Peter Maxwell Davies  art  Robert Cartwright, Derek Jarman

Vanessa Redgrave (Sister Jeanne), Oliver Reed (Fr Grandier), Gemma Jones (Madeleine), Dudley Sutton (Laubardemont), Max Adrian (Ibert), Murray Melvin (Fr Mignon), Michael Gothard (Fr Barre), Georgina Hale (Philippe), Brian Murphy (Adam),

John Trevelyan and his censors, not to mention the Daily Mail morality brigade, were just waiting for a film like this with which to accuse the entire film industry of perversion.  In America, the film was released in a butchered 103m version, so bad that US critics who attacked the film must be forgiven as they didn’t see the proper beast.  Even in the UK, it suffered.  I list the running time as 111m, which in all prints it is, but it should have been around 120m, and of the minutes cut out, by far the most important and controversial was the sequence that came to be known as ‘The Rape of Christ’.  Believed lost, it became, in the words of Mark Kermode, “the Holy Grail of Ken’s black mass.”  How fitting it was then than it was Kermode, the film’s biggest champion as he had been with The Exorcist, who was largely responsible for its recovery.  It hasn’t as yet been reinserted into the film as Warners are digging their heels in and refusing to release a DVD, but armed with an old semi-widescreen VHS and the clip of the Rape of Christ sequence sneakily downloaded off the internet, one can at last get an idea of the film as Ken intended it.  And as Vanessa Redgrave said, “I think every director should have the right to show their film the way they wanted it to be seen.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1972 100m) DVD1

Shake it loose and let it fall…

p  Ray Stark  d  John Huston  w  Leonard Gardner  novel  Leonard Gardner  ph  Conrad L.Hall  ed  Margaret Booth  md  Marvin Hamlisch  art  Richard Sylbert

Stacy Keach (Billy Tully), Jeff Bridges (Ernie Munger), Susan Tyrrell (Oma), Candy Clark (Faye), Nicholas Colosanto (Ruben), Art Aragon (Babe), Curtis Cokes (Earl),

It’s one of the forgotten greats of the seventies.  Perhaps because Huston was not a seventies director, a bit of a fossil from the old days who, as David Thomson observed in ‘Have You Seen?’, hadn’t made a decent film in years.   That’s perhaps part of what drew Huston to this tale.  It’s a film that looks back to past glories, to opportunities lost, to time standing still when actually it’s moving along so fast.  The pre-credit montage says all there is to say about the film; a film that’s like waiting for the funeral to begin. 

            It was set and filmed in Stockton, California, a town that resembles a patient on a Life Support Machine waiting to flatline.  In this dead town all people do is dream of escaping or think of what might have been.  It’s loser central, and one such loser is Billy Tully, a once promising boxer who went to the skids after a failed marriage led to losing his reputation in and out of the ring until he became a drunken bum.  On one of his occasional pie crust promises to himself to get off the wagon he goes to a local gym and spars with a young kid called Ernie Munger, and he sends Ernie off to his old trainer, the kindly Ruben, as he thinks he has something.  Billy tries to get back in shape for another fight and a comeback. (more…)

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straw dogs 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 118m) DVD1/2

Some men goes for women

p  Daniel Melnick  d  Sam Peckinpah  w  David Zelag Goodman, Sam Peckinpah  novel  “The Siege of Trencher’s Farm” by Gordon M.Williams  ph  John Coquillon  ed  Paul Davies, Roger Spottiswoode, Tony Lawson  m  Jerry Fielding  art  Ray Simm, Ken Bridgemann  cos  Tiny Nicholls

Dustin Hoffman (David Sumner), Susan George (Amy Sumner), David Warner (Henry Niles), Peter Vaughan (Tom Hedden), Del Henney (Charlie Venner), Ken Hutchison (Scutt), T.P.McKenna (Maj.Scott), Colin Welland (Rev.Hood), Sally Thomsett (Janice), Jim Norton (Cawsey), Peter Arne, Donald Webster,

Head in a mantrap anyone?  I didn’t think so.  Here’s a film that must really have proved popular with the Cornish tourist board.  Straw Dogs is undoubtedly a film for very strong stomachs, but also one for people with thoughtful minds.  Anyone who sees it as merely an exercise in machismo and violence, sexual and otherwise, are totally missing the point in an alarming way.  At its heart, Peckinpah saw this as an Anglo western, with the homesteaders fighting off cattle barons replaced by a young couple fighting off angry villagers.  It’s a film that provokes an angry response, not just from its central protagonists, but from the audience. 

            Amy Sumner is returning home to her Cornish village to Trencher’s Farm with her American husband, David, a mathematics professor who wants a peaceful climate in which to write a treatise.  At first they are accepted into the community, but Amy’s ex, Charlie, contrives to get David out of the way so that he can rape Amy and, when local mental case Henry Niles accidentally murders a young girl and David steps in to protect him from the angry mob, they besiege his house in a fight to the death. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     The beauty about Manhattan theatre going is that diamonds are often found in the rough.  Straddling the precarious line between endearment and sappiness, Korean-American Lloyd Suh’s new short play, American Hwangap unearths some valid emotion from a story of abandonment and return.  Making superlative use of a sparsely-adorned stage, which includes a symbolic kitchen table, director Trip Cullmanachieves the intimacy that rarely informs larger productions with more elaborate sets.  The key to the effectiveness of this piece is that there is rarely more than two people on stage at the same time, and as a result there is a sense of urgency which often sheds light on the inner feelings of the work’s protagonists.  The four family members who were left behind by Min Suk Chun 15 years earlier are divided on whether to forgive him and extend to him the welcome carpet on the occasion of his 60th birthday.  Chun lost his job as an engineer and returned to Korea, while leaving his family in suburban West Texas to fend for themselves.  While the ex-wife professes surface indignation, she’s quite willing to engage in an extended ‘tumble in the hay’ which illustrates sustained deprivation in more ways than one.  She and her youngest son are willing to great clearance for an amicable reunion, but the daughter and the older son refuse to excuse past indiscretions, which are candidly revealed in some stimulating off stage monologues by the older son, speaking on a phone.  The older daughter confesses with irony:  “You weren’t there for either one of my weddings, “but I did get the toaster sent after my first divorce.”  (more…)

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deep end 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1970 88m) not on DVD

Just go along with the gag, that’s all they want

p  Judd Bernard  d  Jerzy Skolimowski  w  Jerzy Skolimowski, Jerzy Gruza, Boleslaw Sulik  ph  Charly Steinberger  ed  Barrie Vince  m  Cat Stevens, Can  art  Anthony Pratt

John Moulder-Brown (Mike), Jane Asher (Sue), Diana Dors (lady client), Karl Michael Vogler (instructor), Christopher Sandford (fiancé), Cheryl Hall (hot dog girl), Bert Kwouk (hot dog stand operator), Louise Martini (prostitute), Anita Lochner (Kathy),

The job pays reasonably well and if you work hard, who knows, you may end up behind this desk one day.”  A quote that doubtless thousands have people have heard in one variation or another in their lives and replied, murmuring under their breath “not if I can help it.”  Here our young hero is instructed by his new boss on the first morning of work.  It is left to his colleague, nineteen year old Sue, to give him the real instruction; “you know, old chap, ladies of a certain age tend to favour polite and obliging young boys…so do some gentlemen.”  That says it all really. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The dramatic fireworks that have always informed the tempestuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots has always fascinated biographers, historians and filmmakers, yet the proper venue for the high-stakes power games between the royal cousins is the stage.  After an absense of 40 years, Frederick Schiller’s Mary Stuart has been revived, in a dramatically exquisite production that showcases two of Britain’s finest actresses, Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter.  Mc Teer won a Tony Award in 1997 for her compelling performance as Nora in Ibsen’s A Doll House, while Ms. Walter is an acclaimed Shakespearean. 

      The new version of the play by Peter Oswald and directed by PyllindaLloyd is an examination of entrapment, which in literal terms informed Schiller’s interpretation of the imprisonment of the Tutor monarch Elizabeth, who for a period of four years was incarcerated in the Tower of London, before her triumphant return to cheering throngs to become Queen of England.  Once in power, Elizabeth was assailed as “illegitimate” by Mary, who her herself  is imprisoned.  Her nurse Hanna declares emphatically that she’s “bricked up alive.”  The question of course as to who will survive in this scintillating battle of the wills is easily answered by a cursory look back at history, where both woman are revealed as intelligent, savvy and politically adroit, but where one uses her new-found power and popularity to expectedly prevail.  Yet, even though the emotional and fiery Catholic Mary is far different in this sense than the icy Protestant Elizabeth, both are reliant on the support of the masses, who could change on a dime, and both were raised on a public stage, and know what it takes to remain in favor. 


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swedish 1

by Allan Fish

(Sweden 1970 120m) DVD2 (Sweden only)

Aka. En Kärlekshistoria

The world’s not meant for lonely people

p/d/w  Roy Andersson  ph  Jorgen Persson  ed  Kalle Boman  m  Björn Isfält

Ann-Sofie Kylin (Annika), Rolf Sohlman (Pär), Anita Lindblom (Eva), Bertil Norström (John, Annika’s father), Margreth Weivers (Elsa, Annika’s mother), Gunnar Ossiander (Pär’s grandfather), Lennart Tellfeldt (Lasse, Pär’s father), Maud Backéus (Gunhild, Pär’s mother), Björn Andresen, Arne Andersson,

Here’s a truly obscure one for many cineastes, a film barely heard of outside its native Sweden, but so cherished within its confines that it’s amazing that it’s so unknown to the English-speaking world.  Even after the success of Andersson’s Songs from the Second Floor in 2000, no-one seemed interested in going back to find what still remains his masterpiece, and one of the great Swedish films of the post-war period not directed by Ingmar Bergman.  At its heart is a simple love story.  Films about adolescents, teens rebelling against the world, are commonplace and rarely out of the ordinary.  Films detailing young adult lovers on the run from the law and/or authority are also rather plentiful, and rarely up to much either.  Rarer achievements than both of these, however, are films dealing with the onset of first love among young teens of the Romeo and Juliet generation.  Of course there is alienation and rebellion in the air, a rejection of the attitudes of their forefathers, a futile attempt to be cool.  What’s different is the lack of cynicism.  Its protagonists are simply meant to fall in love with each other, and coming from an anti-romantic, that’s saying a great deal. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

With the melancholy strains of Beethoven’s “Pathetique Sonata” circulating the grand lobby of Avery Fisher Hall for a Sunday matinee classical concert, patrons were primed for an afternoon of somber listening from the visiting Texas Chorale as part of the “Distinguished Concerts Orchestra International” touring schedule.  The Sunday venue, dubbed “The Music of Haydn and Mozart” was conducted by the popular Brad Bouley with Cynthia Douglas as the featured soprano, Erin Elizabeth Smith as mezzo-soprano, Steven Sanders as tenor and Noel Bouley as bass.

     Haydn’s “Mass No. 9 in C major” actually dates from 1796 and the Napoleonic Wars.  Purportedly, while Haydn was writing the music, the invading French army reached the Austrian city of Graz.  In Vienna, there was said to be a general mobilization of the citizenry and a widespread sense of great urgency about the need to keep the French out of the capital.  In reaction to what was going on around him, Haydn gave this mass a martial air, with beating drums that have led to its being known as Paukenmesse (or Timpani Mass) and with blaring trumpets that bring the sounds of war to the prayer for piece in the sublime concluding section, the “Agnes Dei.”  The spirited Texas ensemble gave exalted readings of the Gloria (“Gloria in excelsis Deo”) and the powerful Benedictus (“lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy on us”)  The mass includes the lengthy “Credo” and the glorious “sanctus” and the choral group was rarely off-key and most effective at transcribing a Haydn work that is almost always overshadowed on concert lineups with his far more auspicious later works like his masterpiece The Creation (Die Schopfung).  While the mass is a rigidly constructed piece with perfect choral precision, it lacks the lyrical power and scope of Haydn’s greater choral works.  Still, it’s a work of considerable inspiration and compelling musical ardor, that no doubt commanded mesmerizing effect in churches. (more…)

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i claudius 1

by Allan Fish (sorry, couldn’t resist the title change)

(UK 1976 652m) DVD1/2

Old King Log

p  Martin Lisemore  d  Herbert Wise  w  Jack Pulman  novels  “I, Claudius” and “Claudius the God” by Robert Graves  m  Wilfrid Josephs  art  Tim Harvey

Derek Jacobi (Claudius), Siân Phillips (Livia), Brian Blessed (Augustus), George Baker (Tiberius), John Hurt (Caligula), Margaret Tyzack (Antonia), Patrick Stewart (Sejanus), Patricia Quinn (Livilla), David Robb (Germanicus), Fiona Walker (Agrippina), Beth Morris (Drusilla), Sheila White (Messalina), James Faulkner (Herod Agrippa), Kevin McNally (Castor), John Castle (Postumus), Frances White (Julia), Ian Ogilvy (Drusus), John Paul (Agrippa), Barbara Young (Agrippinilla), Christopher Biggins (Nero), Bernard Hepton (Pallas), John Cater (Narcissus), John Rhys Davies (Macro), Stratford Johns (Piso), Charles Kay (Gallus), Freda Dowie (The Sibyl/Caesonia), Ashley Knight (Young Claudius), Kevin Stoney (Thrasyllus), Donald Eccles (Pollio), Bernard Hill (Gratus), Charlotte Howard (Scylla), Esmond Knight (Domitius), Moira Redmond (Domitia),

There are few more beloved BBC serials in history than this immensely detailed adaptation of the two Claudian novels of Robert Graves.  In truth, the second novel is rather sparsely translated, forming barely 20% of the series at its finale, entirely missing out the massive section on the conquest of Britain and the subduing of Caractacus.  But no matter, for as an adaptation of the first book, one could hardly have done a better job than Jack Pulman.  For a long time it seemed as if Claudius would have the last laugh, for everyone recalled the disastrous aborted film of 1937 (pics at the bottom of the piece), with Charles Laughton, Alexander Korda and Josef Von Sternberg going together like oil, water and cement.  One mourns its never being completed, if only because of the décor and the promise of the performances of Laughton and Emlyn Williams from the surviving footage, but it was left to the Beeb to finally complete the job nearly forty years later. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Belgium/France 1975 201m) DVD1/2 (Belgium only)

Aka. Jeanne Dielman

Those darn potatoes

p  Corinne Jénat, Evelyne Paul  d/w  Chantal Akerman  ph  Babette Mangolte  ed  Patricia Canino  art  Philippe Graff

Delphine Seyrig (Jeanne Dielman), Jan Decorte, (Sylvain Dielman) Henri Storck (1st caller), Yves Bical (3rd caller), Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (2nd caller), Chantal Akerman (neighbour – voice),

This list of mini-essays is supposed to cover the history of the moving image; large screen, small screen, wide screen and standard screen; silent, talkie, English language and foreign language.  Of all the works put forward, few can be seen as more problematic than Chantal Akerman’s seminal feminist work of the seventies.  There is no other work listed within – at least no work made after 1915 – that is actually a non-moving picture.  In short, the camera never moves, and remains static for its full three hour plus duration.  More than that, even the action itself could be seen as tending towards inertia.  Yet that in itself is precisely the point. (more…)

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