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Archive for March, 2011

Director and Producer: Otto Preminger

Screenwriters: Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein, and Elizabeth Reinhardt

Cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle

Music: David Raksin

Studio: 20th Century Fox 1944

Main Acting: Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, and Clifton Webb

Otto Preminger’s crowning achievement is one of the most elegant and dreamlike of film noirs. Made in 1944, the first year the classic cycle kicked into high gear, Laura was always a different type of noir. It didn’t reside in the dark urban sprawl of Murder My Sweet or swim in the moral murk of Double Indemnity. Here was a picture that had the sophistication of uptown New York with a MGM kind of outlook for its characters. While calling it glossy like Gaslight or Rebecca would be untrue, it has more in common with those movies than The Big Heat or Criss Cross. Its visual look is hardly filled with the standard dim and dusky design in which most have grown accustomed. There are moments where chiaroscuro lighting is present but it never lasts very long or to signify any action by the players. Camera-wise, the film mainly avoids exaggerated camera angles, consistently set up at eye-level position. The noirness of Laura comes mainly from its script. Right from the beginning, we are treated to some choice dialogue from Clifton Webb (who played socialite Waldo Lydecker): (more…)

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 Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

    Like  the films of Antonioni, those emanating, over the past five years, from Denis Côté do not lend themselves to sharp sound bites piercing to the heart of the matter. What reportage does have to work with, however, is a remark by the writer/director himself, disclaiming that his characters—Quebecois hillbillies showing striking affinities with violent death, particularly murder—should be construed as “unconventional.” Far better, from his point of view, that they be seen as “cinematic.”

    The film world teems with “unconventional” figures—Henry Higgins, General Patton, Nick and Nora, Carlos, etc—the unconventionality of whom remains fully entangled in classical culture. A discussion of Côté’s work that would get to the point must have nothing to do with Toast-to-the Bride contrariness, and everything to do with the elicitation of sensuous phenomena (the phenomenology, if you like) coming our way from the screen. (more…)

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Director: Abraham Polonsky

Producer: Bob Roberts

Screenwriter: Ira Wolfert and Abraham Polonsky

Cinematographer: George Barnes

Music: David Raksin

Studio: Enterprise and MGM 1948

Main Acting: John Garfield and Thomas Gomez

There is much more to Force Of Evil than what appears on the surface. As I once wrote on another blog:

“The scene where John Garfield (playing lawyer Joe Morse) descends into an allegorical hell to discover his brother’s body on the rocks was very powerful. It is clearly an attack on capitalism and greed. Polonsky shows how corruption can spread and hurt multiple people like a disease. The innocent victims are Leo’s employees, who are linked and compared to regular American workers being cast aside and exploited. He is being very subversive by comparing capitalism to gambling or the numbers racket. The director shows his contempt for America’s financial system by linking it to a shadowy illegal operation. In some ways, this film is like a harbinger to our current economic crisis where greed has dire consequences for society and the general population.”

While I could go on and on about the social message fused within the script and throughout this late 40s film noir, I find myself uninterested in discussing this aspect of the picture. My primary love and enjoyment of film noir has little to do with politics or social causes and more with investigating the struggle of the individual to battle personal demons and existential feelings. My favorite noirs are mostly about protagonists fighting the inevitable cruel hand of fate or trying to overcome bad choices they have foisted upon themselves. Force Of Evil is primarily concerned with economic realities and institutional injustices, but I primarily watch it (these days at least) for the way that Joe Morse fits in with the typical noir anti-hero. He is generally a good guy who lets materialism guide his actions until certain tragedies befall him. (more…)

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Director: Nicholas Ray

Producer: John Houseman

Screenwriter: A. I. Bezzerides

Cinematographer: George E. Diskant

Music: Bernard Herrmann

Studio: RKO Pictures 1952

Main Acting: Robert Ryan and Ida Lupino

Opening on the typically tough urban streets of most film noir, On Dangerous Ground adds a surprising twist less than halfway through its running time. Detective Jim Wilson (played by Robert Ryan) is a disillusioned and disgruntled cop that has a reputation for roughing up suspects. Without family, a wife, and any actual friends, he lives a lonely existence in a cramped apartment where scanning police photos for criminals counts as entertainment. The paradox of his life is that while being a policeman is his sole interest and obsession, he has increasingly become disenchanted with his work and everything it entails. He tells his partner, “What kind of job is this anyway? Garbage. That’s all we handle.” We see that Wilson is taking out his disappointments on all the hoodlums in which he comes in contact. He also shuns human interaction and rejects the invitation of his colleague to stop by for Sunday dinner with the family. The movie hints that at one time Jim Wilson was a steady visitor to his partner’s home. Now his isolation and withdrawal from humanity keeps him at arm’s length from everyone. He is existentially empty and going through the motions without much purpose. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1960 116m) DVD1/2

Aka. Purple Noon

A preface on Fra Angelico

p  Robert Hakim, Raymond Hakim  d  René Clément  w  René Clément, Paul Gégauff  novel  “The Talented Mr Ripley” by Patricia Highsmith  ph  Henri Decaë  ed  François Javet  m  Nino Rota  art  Paul Bertrand

Alain Delon (Tom Ripley), Marie Leforêt (Marge Duval), Maurice Ronet (Philippe Greenleaf), Erno Crisa (Riccordi), Frank Latimore (O’Brien), Bill Kearns (Freddy Miles), Elvire Popesco (Mrs Popova), Ave Ninchi (Signora Gianna), Romy Schneider,

By the 1960s René Clément was not a name bandied about in circles of the intelligentsia, far too old-fashioned for the national cinema beating to the rhythm of the nouvelle vague.  His last major film, Plein Soleil, based on Patricia Highsmith’s famous novel from 1955 thus became if not forgotten, then at least marginalised.  Cut forward the best part of forty years and another director, Anthony Minghella, decided to do a remake, and all of a sudden, as is the wont these days, any previous version of the story became hot property.  Those who believed Delon came to prominence in the films of Visconti and Antonioni were forced to take stock.  Could the remake top the original?

            The Talented Mr Ripley is a fine film in its own right, perhaps overlooked at the time because the tone was so different to the preceding Minghella epic The English Patient, but offering fine acting opportunities to Matt Damon (the first in a strain of coldly conditioned characters that would prove his metier in the upcoming years), Cate Blanchett, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, especially, Jude Law.  What made Law so perfect was that he could have been Ripley himself, as that’s essentially the plot’s premise.  For here was Tom Ripley; wastrel, moocher, leech, call him what you like, but employed by Philippe Greenleaf’s father to persuade him to come back from his playboy Mediterranean lifestyle to San Francisco.  Ripley has bigger ideas, though, using his knack for thinking on his feet and forgery, and the fact that he looks quite like Greenleaf, to kill him, steal his identity, his money and, perchance, his girl. (more…)

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Mia Wasikowska in ravishing and atmospheric version of timeless "Jane Eyre"

by Sam Juliano

     Since the advent of the silent era there have been no less than 26 films and television properties based on Charlotte  Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  This would surely place the Victorian Age gothic melodrama among the most filmed stories of all time, standing in the overall pantheon with the likes of Bram Stoker’s parasitic count and two novels by Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol.  Undoubtably the most famous adaptation was a brooding black and white version from 1944 directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Orson Welles as Rochester and Joan Fontaine as Jane.  With cinematographer George Barnes, composer Bernard Herrmann and writer John Housman making major contributions it is no wonder the film is still generally regarded as the finest Jane Eyre on record.  A few years earlier in 1942, producer Val Lewton and director Jacques Tourneur used prominent elements from the story for the second of their low-budget horror films at RKO, the elegant and poetic I Walked With A Zombie, set in the West Indies.   Yet there always seems to be a filmmaker or screenwriter that falls smitten to this sensual story, and there is certainly no dearth of ardent movie goers in the willingness to sit through yet another interpretation. (more…)

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Director: Fred Zinnemann

Producer: William H. Wright

Screenwriter: Robert L. Richards

Cinematographer: Robert Surtees

Music: Bronislau Kaper

Studio: MGM Pictures 1948

Main Acting: Van Heflin and Robert Ryan

Many film noirs deal with the aftermath of World War II and the effects it had on the surviving combatants and their families. Act of Violence is one that is explicit in drudging up the pain that was still fresh on the minds of most viewers. Frank Enley (Van Heflin) is a former POW who has made it home and is looked upon as a war hero in his community. He succeeded in claiming a stake in the American dream: he’s got a good family, a stable job, and a loving wife (played by Janet Leigh). He leads an idyllic life in a normal suburb with citizens that respect and admire his bravery and courage. The fact that a menacing ex-soldier who walks with a limp shows up to rattle this perfectly cozy world indicates a past that maybe is not as admirable as everyone was lead to believe. Past infractions come bubbling up to the surface and we realize that the world is not as sunny of a place as Enley has created for himself. The grim reaper has arrived and he is looking to collect for past sins. Though this figure of death is not a supernatural being with cloak and scythe, but a crippled former comrade who is determined to set things straight. (more…)

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Modern 'diner' set used in Jonathan Miller's City Opera production of Gaetano Donizatti's "The Elixir of Love"

by Sam Juliano

Jamie Uhler’s ‘Rilke designs’ will now be published as part of an upcoming project.  As per Jamie’s recent report on an e mail:

“At least three of my ‘Letters’ from the Rilke designs will be published in an anthology book highlighting unique visual designs for classic works of literature. The publisher is Seven Stories press. http://home.sevenstories.com/    Will provide more details as they emerge.”

 Everyone at Wonders in the Dark is thrilled for Jamie, and we look forward to the completed work.  This is one of the site’s proudest moments, but more than that it finally gives recognition to Jamie’s artistry.

Things in Tokyo remain tenuous at best, but that man ‘Murderous Ink’ remains a role model of inspiration and tenacity as he has returned to blogging, while enduring all the consternation that seems to underline the daily reports out of his great city.  Our thoughts and prayers remain firnly affixed in the far East.

My own week included an appearance at Lincoln Center (with Broadway Bob and music teacher Frederick Fochesato) on Thursday night to take in a marvelous updated version of Gaetano Donizetti’s bel canto opera masterpiece L’Elixir d’Amour by the City Opera, which I am planning to review soon at the site.  I loved that 50′s diner set and the soaring voice work by the leads, and thought “Una Furtiva Lagrima” came off magnificently. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

In the first episode of Matt Groening and David X. Cohen’s Futurama, there’s an exchange  that more or less sums up a whole generation’s worth of sci-fi imagination– “You’d really want a robot to be your best friend?” the hard-drinking, chain-smoking tinman Bender asks, incredulously. “Sure,” the fish-out-of-20th-century-water Fry responds, “ever since I was a kid.” As children, how many of us imagined that we might grow up into a time decades hence where robots could not just be automatons operating on assembly lines or remote-controlled drones patrolling the rocky terrain of alien planets and the wartorn skies of our own? Did we like to think that we might make friends with them the same way we meet schoolmates outside during recess? Or that our parents would be scheduling playdates with mad-scientists seeking to better socialize their juvenile inventions? As we grew older and discovered more mature science-fiction, did we then daydream that our robotic companions might mature alongside us, and provide more than just friendship? Was it really inconcievable to watch the tragic replicants of Blade Runner and wonder if you could fall in love with an android, and more importantly, if that love could be requited? Hell, nowadays thanks to modern fare like the Battlestar Galactica remake, it’s not enough to wonder if you could have a robot for a girlfriend, but what would happen if you knocked her up. Eventually, we may even come to imagine what the experience of growing old will be like surrounded by our artificial playmates, collegues and concubines, and whether or not they’ll begin to rust and fall apart alongside our weary flesh, or if their indestructible frames will bear the weight of the ages with an endurance that outlasts petty mortality. But in all our extended thought-experiments on the condition of human-robot relations, we must always remember that ever since the concept of the robot was first introduced in Karl Capek’s R.U.R., that a robot is not merely an artificial sentient being, but one that is used for forced labor. The very word itself derives from the Russian term for slavery, so when we ask ourselves the questions that attempt to uncover the future of man’s relationship with his constructed children, we’re really asking ourselves questions as old as those posed by Moses before the Pharoah, and recent as Mandella in his prison cell. We may draw a line between us and robots to distinguish what is human, but can we draw a line in the treatment of the two between what is humane?

(more…)

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Murderous Ink speaks:

“It’s Friday already. I am sorry for checking in so late.

I really appreciate your concern on the situation here. Thank you, Thank you. Thank you all of you.

As you already know from various news and other sources, crisis in Japan is still not over. Nuclear disaster is not getting any better. Probably the level of fallout in Tokyo, Kanagawa and other Kanto areas are not as serious, but still people are scared. Report of tap water contamination and ban on vegetable markets is not helping at all. No, you can’t buy any bottled water anymore in Japan, because the government ordered all the stocks to be redirected to relief effort and supplies for infants in affected areas. We pray (literally) for the digits for isotope readings not to increase any more than it is now. (more…)

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