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Archive for May, 2011

Brad Pitt plays male lead in Terrence Malick's awe-inspiring "The Tree of Life"

by Sam Juliano

For the second time in five years an American director has crafted a cosmic, impressionistic light show with profound spiritual underpinnings and an existential inquiry into the meaning of life and the indominability of love in the general scheme.  Terrence Malick’s long anticipated The Tree of Life, like it’s 2006 cinematic soulmate The Fountain, explores the sensual possibilities of the cinema in an astounding rebuke to the conventions of multiplex fare that recalls Kubrick while at the same time establishing its own irregular aesthetic.  This is the second time (after The New World)  the reclusive director has opted to scrap any semblance of a narrative structure, choosing to tell his story through interlocking themes, intimate ruminations on life and humanity, and a kind of stream-of-consciousness that reveals the characters’ innermost thoughts often uttered underneath a perplexing metaphysical tapestry.  Needless to say the enigmatic presentation will doubtlessly alienate some film fans, hungry for a more cogent connection between the awe-inspiring scenes depicting the beginnings of life on earth, and the perplexing and painful travails of a Texas family circa 1950. (more…)

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Unproduced Tennessee Williams play staged on Theatre Row in Manhattan

by Sam Juliano

With the Memorial Day weekend behind us. the summer season is now a matter of weeks away.  Excessive heat is no doubt in the cards, much as the mindless blockbuster entertainment that maligns our movie screens during this down time for ardent cineastes.  In any case, there are some notable exceptions to this general rule, and thus far 2011 has been a remarkable year at the cinema.

A recent e mail exchange with our very good friend Pat Perry of Chicago has resulted in a concrete plan to launch the musical poll on Monday, August 15th.  It is looking like a Top 50 will be examined in ascending numerical order (like previous polls) on a Monday through Friday basis for ten weeks, with the conclusion expected near the end of October.  Pat will be forwarding a list of her top 50 musicals to me by e mail, which I will combine with my own listing and one that will be submitted by Allan Fish.  When the final tabulation of the three lists is arrived at, full essays will be offered up on a daily basis, in similar fashion as the previously concluded film noir polling by Maurizio Roca.  While it is anticipated that Yours Truly will be writing the majority of the essays, there will be a substantial contribution made by Pat, and a few of Allan’s already-penned essays will be including for variety.  Whatever film finishes at #1 will receive a three-prongued treatment, meaning reviews from Pat, Allan and myself will be posted on suceeding days.  Each review will be expected to include some personal anecdotes about the writer’s lifelong remembrances with the film. (more…)

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This week’s Monday Morning Diary will be offered up on Tuesday, June 1st, in deference to the three-day Memorial Day weekend stateside.   This is the normal way to proceed at WitD in the instance of extended weekends.  As a result the time period covered by this week’s Tuesday Morning Diary will take in eight days, from Monday, May 23rd through Monday, May 30th.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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It isn’t uncommon for a previously existing work, like a novel, to find itself adapted many times for any given medium, and for one of its eventual incarnations to stand tall above all the others, supplanting at times even the original source-material itself. There’s been countless screen versions of the works of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen and other such antique hand-me-downs of classic literature, and we’re likely to keep seeing fresh versions of their work presented for film and television for as long as such media exists– no matter how much people claim to hate things like reboots, remakes and the like, an exception always seems to be made for anything sourced from a book that’s printed with gold tinting on its pages. Probably the most famous example of a book that took several adaptations for it to hold firm on the public consciousness would be John Huston’s seminal take on Dashiel Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon, the third time the book had been brought to the screen, and all within the space of a single decade. Science-fiction novels tend not to be repeated quite as often thanks to the high-cost it takes to present a lot of the high-concept stuff for motion-pictures, and when a work finds itself adapted a second time, it tends to be after a sufficient amount of time has passed, and technology has advanced enough to offer a fresh take (John Carpenter and David Cronenberg’s takes on The Thing From Another World and The Fly, respectively) or in a country other than the original adaptation (Steven Soderbergh offering another take on Stanislav Lem’s Solaris, for whatever reason). But for my money, there’s no stranger case of a novel adapted multiple times and in wildly differing takes than the case of Robert A. Heinlen’s classic Starship Troopers, which most audiences know from Paul Verhoven’s infamously satirical 1997 film, which treated the author’s endorsement for a kinder, gentler form of interstellar fascism with the tongue-in-cheek spirit it deserved.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(China 1931 152m) not on DVD

Aka. Lian’ai Yu Yiwu

Gossip is a fearful thing

p  Lay Min Wei  d  Bu Wancang  w  Chu Shek Lin, Jeffrey Huang  novel “Symphony of Shadows” by S.Rosen Hoa  ph  Huang Shaofen  art  William Kolland, Chao Fuh

Ruan Lingyu (Yang Nei Fan/her daughter), Jin Yan (Li Tsu Yi), Chen Yanyan (Pin Ger), Li Ying (Daren Huang), C.E.Cze (Chang Shun, servant), Lily Chow (Chan Ying),

It was only a few days ago when I was prowling through the BBC website and found an article of great interest to anyone with a fascination about ancient Egypt.  A prominent scientist had used infra-red satellite technology to scan a massive area of Egypt and revealed massive unknown, lost treasures, from the entire street plan of the lost city of Tanis to seventeen lost pyramids.  An archaeologist’s wet dream, it savoured for a miracle, and was perhaps enough to make all cineastes dream of a technology that would so locate missing cans of film reel that may contain some of the lost or butchered masterpieces of film.  Let it suffice to say that, if such a technology did exist, I would suggest the team begin their search inSouth America.

            Only a few years ago the full Metropolis was found there amid great fanfare, and it’s also the only place where there could possibly be a print of the uncut Ambersons, as that’s where Orson Welles was when it was being butchered by Robert Wise back at RKO.  In the mid 1990s, there was also found a film equally thought lost in the sand dunes of cinematic memory, Bu Wancang’s Love and Duty.  From Uruguay emerged a diamond, and the feeling film historians must have felt opening those cans to find it inside must have been like finding an unrecognisable old coin, leaving it in HP sauce overnight and waking up to find it’s stamped with the words Arturus Rex(more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

       The Coen brothers have produced an extensive series of extremely provocative films. That the works emit a jaundiced sense of predominant rationality would seem to be a given. Far less manageable is the specific point of contention, as presumably providing nuance to the mayhem and devastation that ensue. The jammed acceleration that plunges into various horrors of simplistic insistence broaches a dynamic with far more flexibility, if we can only locate the steering impulse. Their hastily assembled classic of malaise, namely, Barton Fink (1991) (having, therefore, an inception in the same vein as Wong Kar Wai’s breakaway from out of  a former, unforthcoming project, namely, Chungking Express [1994]), offers a particularly transparent sightline into that overdrive.

    The titular protagonist leads off with a strain of self-confident perversity which, in itself, could be equivocal. His journey through the narrative confirms the bleakest of dead ends. Moreover, and most importantly for our special task of fathoming this starkly upsetting saga, he encounters someone decidedly transcending the peculiar lostness, and in such a way as to endow the film with a topspin of reflective struggle as against sensational outrage. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1975 95m) DVD1/2

Common treasury of livelihood

p  Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo  d  Kevin Brownlow  w  Kevin Brownlow, Andrew Mollo  novel  “Comrade Jacob” by David Caute  ph  Ernest Vincze  ed  Sarah Ellis  m  Sergei Prokofiev  art  Andrew Mollo  cos  Carmen Mollo

Miles Halliwell (Gerrard Winstanley), Jerome Willis (Gen.Fairfax), Terry Higgins (Tom Haydon), Phil Oliver (Will), David Bramley (Parson Platt), Alison Halliwell (Mrs Platt),

What it is that attracted me to Winstanley and its subject, the real-life leader of the Diggers in post Civil-War England, is not immediately obvious.  Perhaps it has something to do with my heritage, for there was a namesake, one Simon Fish, who became somewhat infamous for publishing a Supplication of Beggars of 1529, aimed at no less daunting a target as Henry VIII.  Simon died of plague before he could be burned for heresy, but he was singing if not from the same hymnsheet then certainly from the same book of hymns as Winstanley a century or so later.  And if that’s not enough of a link, there’s Winstanley himself; we know he was baptised in Wigan in 1609, and it was there one cold February day 365 years later, where yours truly’s forehead was so anointed.   There’s my own six degrees of separation.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The defining event at Wonders in the Dark was initiated this past week when Jamie Uhler offered up graphic models for Allan Fish’s film book.  Further additions and enhancements will follow, and a publication date is tentatively planned for some time in 2012.  Kudos to Mr. Uhler for his ardent and impassioned work, and for his sustained belief in the exceeding worthiness of the project.

Apart from this proud undertaking, the site has understandably been slow as of late, aside from the Monday Morning Diary, which saw a barrage of activity this past week, mainly as a result of the controversy surrounding A Serbian Film.  With the musical poll tentatively scheduled for a late summer launching (WitD’s good friend Pat Perry will formidably involved in the project) the present time is a kind of “between polling” period, and as such the site will be showcasing a diet of Fish Obscuro entries, science-fiction and anime pieces from Bob Clark, Jamie Uhler’s continuation of his landmark ‘Getting Over the Beatles’ series, and an anticipated resumption of Jim Clark’s stellar bi-monthly contributions.  In addition “Yours Truly” is planning the next installment in the blogger appreciation series, and some film and theatre reviews on recent releases.

Dee Dee is again negotiating a prize contest on her interview thread that will include questions to be posted there on June 2.  Authors Kohl and Beetner have been periodically visiting the thread with comments expressing their appreciation for the interview and the glowing acknowledgement of their new book expressed by several commentators.  Again, the intricate and impassioned sidebar work has been Dee Dee’s domain for quite some time now.  Many thanks our very dear friend!

For the most part the past week has been a kind of ‘recharge the batteries’ period, a time when one drifts away from the blogosphere to attend to other matters in their lives.  Just about all bloggers go through this period of malaise, and it’s often a time of reflection and a re-estimation of priorities.  Hence, I’ve been less active at others blogsites as of late, but fully expect to return to the swing of things very soon, especially at the blogsites of those WitD loyalists who spend part of their precious time commenting under our posts.  To those stalwarts I thank you a hundred times over. (more…)

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The story of Hideaki Anno’s tumultuous times with Gainax, the fan-created animation studio he helped found in the 80’s, is one that is usually dominated by continuing disappointments, the first of which being the box-office failure of their first feature, 1987’s Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise. Anno had plans to create a sequel to that film, and though those ideas and themes would later lay the foundations for his magnum opus in Neon Genesis Evangelion (as would his musings to create a spin-off from Miyazaki’s Nausicaa), at the time he was forced to accept a much more humble and profit-motivated project to stand as his directorial debut. At a first glance, there really shouldn’t be anything overly special about Gunbuster (also known in Japanese as Aim for the Top, a pun on the classic tennis manga/anime series Aim for the Ace), and indeed resembles nothing more than just another giant-mech OVA set in outer space with pretty girls piloting big robots in some kind of do-or-die conflict against an alien race bent on conquering and/or destroying mankind. The savvy viewer might spot echoes from anime of the 70’s and 60’s all throughout its early run, with special emphasis on the influence gleaned from the likes of Leiji Matsumoto’s Space Battleship Yamato (better known internationally as Star Blazers), as well as the tongue-in-cheek spoofing of various well-worn cliches prevalent throughout the mecha and shojo genres. Probably the closest thing most Western otaku will have to this in their experience would be Katsuhiko Nishijima’s Project A-ko, and if that kind of action-packed, fanservice-drenched schoolgirl adventure/satire were all that was amounted to here, there would already be plenty of reason to recommend it as an overlooked little gem from the yesteryear of 80’s anime. Something fun and funny, if not terribly important.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1980 187m) DVD1/2

Violent Unknown Events

p  Peter Greenaway  d/w  Peter Greenaway  ph  Mike Coles, John Rosenberg  ed  Peter Greenaway  m  Michael Nyman, Brian Eno, John Hyde, Keith Pendlebury

Colin Cantile, Peter Westley, Aad Wirtz, Michael Murray, Lorna Poulter, Patricia Carr, Adam Leys,

Self-indulgent?  Overlong?  Very much so, yet also full of genius, Peter Greenaway’s mindbender is one of the forgotten great films of the 1980s.  But how on earth can one sum it up?  Essentially we are told there has been on earth what has been described as a VUE (Violent Unknown Event).  There are numerous theories, many of which centre around birds and flight obsession in general.  19,000,000 people have been affected by this event (which is never explained or referred to as anything other than as a VUE), and The Falls is a sort of mockumentary (shot in 92 languages, this is the English version) in which 92 people whose surname begins with the letters F, A, L and L (hence Falls), are discussed in detail.  Some of these discussions last only a few seconds, some over ten minutes, yet all are interrelated in theme and in some cases, by fate.  From Orchard Falla to Anthior Fallwaste, we are taken through them in rather punctilious detail.  (more…)

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