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Archive for July, 2011

The first in a month long series of pieces on pre-code Hollywood running on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday…

by Allan Fish

(USA 1932 88m) not on DVD

The sins of the fathers

p  Sam E.Rork  d  John Francis Dillon  w  Edwin J.Burke  novel  Tiffany Theyer  ph  Lee Garmes  m  Peter Brunelli, Arthur Lange  art  Max Parker

Clara Bow (Nasa ‘Dynamite’ Springer), Gilbert Roland (Moonglow), Thelma Todd (Sunny DeLan), Monroe Owsley (Larry Crosby), Estelle Taylor (Ruth Springer), Fred Kohler (Silas Jennings), Margaret Livingston (Molly), Oscar Apfel, Russell Simpson,

Ask any serious film connoisseur to name the sexual icon of twenties cinema and it’s a reasonably safe bet that Louise Brooks would get more votes than any other.  Yet she was off-Hollywood, as it were, her potential – Beggars of Life aside – only realised in the German seediness of G.W.Pabst.  Hollywood’s own sex symbol was Clara Bow, and her ultimate fate is as depressing as her personality was anything but.  Here’s the girl who so personified Elinor Glyn’s definition of ‘It’ that they made Clara the star of a film of the same title, a star not afraid to tantalise her audience, as in the skinny dip sequence in Hula, and very aware of the effect she had on men.  As David Thomson observed, “her fevered agitation – the fluttering eyes, the restless fingering of men, and teasing angled glances – does seem to speak for the liberated lascivious energies of the new American girl of the twenties.”  Sadly, Clara went a little too far, her excesses and exhibitionism legendary, with rumours of wild parties that became gang bangs – an entire football team, so they say – so that eventually middle class moral America shunned her and she was washed up and washed out by 30. 

Yet don’t let anyone tell you that she didn’t cope with talkies, the truth is very different, as her last two films made at Fox illustrate, with Clara shown in an altogether more intriguing light.  The last, Hoop-La, is memorable for her skinny dip, insouciant yet casual stripping into her night clothes, her snake-eyed costume and her general ‘go ahead and look’ attitude to her body which would have made Jean Harlow blush.  Unbelievably, it was also the influence for Ozu’s A Story of Floating Weeds.  The penultimate, though crazier and more uncontrolled, now seems even more fascinating… (more…)

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By Bob Clark

When I reviewed the Pixar hit (a pair of words I’ve grown to begrudgingly accept as almost completely redundant) Up a few years back, I was taken aback by all the near-unanimous praise it was getting from the critical establishment, particularly for its opening scenes, depicting the passage of time from childhood to elderly years through the eyes of young lovers grown old in a wordless montage aiming to sum up the whole of all a lifetime’s worth of happiness and sacrifices. It wasn’t that I disagreed with their adulation of the sequence– indeed, it was one of the few things I genuinely liked about the film, especially after it fell into a rut of hand-me-down adventure escapades off in South America with an annoying boy-scout brat, the last of the do-do birds and an ancient explorer with an army of talking dogs and a zeppelin that looked as thought it were repurposed from the CGI demo-reel that is Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Instead, it was because of how little most commentators were celebrating the rest of that opening act, particularly in the imaginative way it depicted an old man’s frustrations and fatigue with the crass modern world in ways that were equally entrancing and entertaining in the best ways that animation can afford. All too often we find ourselves settling for stories and characters that seek to affect us emotionally in animation, especially American animation, and especially animation from the American studio of Pixar, while doing little to affect us cinematically. It is possible to be moved to tears and bored to death at the same time.

But that’s why the whole of Up‘s first act really impressed me in the theaters, in the way it spun a simple, endearing fable of a crotchety old man who’s grown tired of the impersonal life of the big city grown up all around his tiny little house, and decides to take flight with an improbable bevy of helium balloons, setting sail on the air in his rustic old two-bedroom home and escaping the modern world of steel and glass towers and the destructive construction workers seeking to demolish everything in their path. For those first thirty-or-so minutes, Up became a great modern-day fairy-tale of a movie, the kind of magical realism that wouldn’t be out of place in a book by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez (if he wrote in America) or the films of Frank Capra (if he had the budget to pull it off). As the house soared into the wild-blue yonder on the wings of so many multi-colored balloons, there was a hint of the same epic-scoped lucid dreaming that Bill Waterson routinely presented every Sunday in Calvin & Hobbes, with just the same kind of innocent, wide-eyed panorama of spectacular fantasy. Most of all, however, it reminded me of one of the other great works of high-concept animation depicting the trials and tribulations of the elderly in an increasingly hostile modern world, the 1991 anime cult-hit Roujin Z, a less marketable and less expensive successor to Katsuhiro Otomo’s groundbreaking Akira, but far in a way the superior work for any number of reasons.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

p  David Barron, David Heyman, J.K.Rowling  d  David Yates  w  Steve Kloves  novel  J.K.Rowling  ph  Eduardo Serra  ed  Mark Day  m  Alexandre Desplat  art  Stuart Craig

Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), Emma Watson (Hermione Granger), Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Alan Rickman (Severus Snape), Michael Gambon (Albus Dumbledore), Ciaran Hinds (Aberforth Dumbledore), Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid), Maggie Smith (Minerva McGonnegall), Julie Walters (Mrs Weasley), David Thewlis (Remus Lupin), Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange), David Bradley (Argus Filch), Timothy Spall (Peter Pettigrew), Emma Thompson (Sybil Trelawney), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy), Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy), Gary Oldman (Sirius Black), Bonnie Wright (Ginny Weasley), Clemence Poésy (Fleur Delacroux), John Hurt (Mr Ollivander), Helen McCrory (Narcissa Malfoy), Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood), Matthew Lewis (Neville Longbottom), Jim Broadbent (Horace Slughorn), Kelly MacDonald (Helena Ravenclaw), Warwick Davis (Filius Flitwick/Griphook), Mark Williams (Arthur Weasley), Leslie Phillips (the sorting hat), Geraldine Somerville (Lily Potter), Miriam Margolyes (Pomona Sprout), Gemma Jones (Madame Pomfrey),

and…

Richard Harris (Albus Dumbledore), Ian Hart (Professor Quirrel), John Cleese (Nearly Headless Nick), Fiona Shaw (Aunt Petunia Dursley), Richard Griffiths (Uncle Vernon Dursley), Toby Jones (voice of Dobby), Harry Melling (Dudley Dursley), Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart), Zoe Wanamaker (Madame Hooch), Shirley Henderson (Moaning Myrtyl), Christian Coulson (Tom Riddle), Robert Hardy (Cornelius Fudge), Roger Lloyd Pack (Barty Crouch Snr), David Tennant (Barty Crouch Jnr), Pam Ferris (Aunt Marge), Julie Christie (Madame Rosmerta), Robert Pattinson (Cedric Diggory), Eric Sykes (Frank Bryce), Brendan Gleeson (Mad Eye Moody), Frances de la Tour (Madame Olympe Maxime), Miranda Richardson (Rita Skeeter), Jessica Hynes (Mafalda Hopkirk), Imelda Staunton (Dolores Umbridge), Bill Nighy (Rufus Scrimgeour), Rhys Ifans (Xenophilius Lovegood),

Prior to seeing the final instalment in the critic proof fantasy franchise, I tokenistically listed them in the Final Apologies section of this tome.  The entry read as follows: (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Spain 1944 83m) not on DVD

Aka. La Torre de los Siete Jorobados

Furniture doesn’t talk

p  Luis Judez, Germán López Prieto  d  Edgar Neville  w  Edgar Neville, José Santugini  novel  Emilio Carrere  ph  Henri Barreyre, Andrés Pérez Cubero  ed  Sara Ontañón  m  José Ruiz de Azagra  art  Francisco Escriñá, Pierre Schild, Antonio Simont, Francisco Canet

Antonio Casal (Basilio Beltrán), Isabel de Pomés (Inés), Guillermo Marin (Doctor Sabatino), Félix de Pomés (Professor Robinson de Mantua), Julia Lajos (Madre de la ‘Bella Medusa’), Julia Pachelo (Braulia), Manolita Morán (La Bella Medusa), Antonio Riquelme (Dr Zacharias), José Franco (Napoleon’s ghost),

I don’t remember where I first heard of Edgar Neville’s cult horror item.  All I know is that I’d wanted to see it for well over a decade before I finally did.  It’s a film that has been described as unclassifiable, and has been seen as an influence on a whole school of Spanish language (covering Spain and Latin America) cheap horror flicks from the Coffin Joe series of José Marica Marins to the sexed-up opuses of Emilio Vieyra to the works of the infamous Jess Franco.  That in itself may not seem the greatest heritage, as that lot never made what I could consider a major work between them, but they had individual visions, and so is certainly true of Neville’s film.  It’s the earliest Spanish film to make the list (not counting Buñuel’s) and one of the weirdest films you are ever likely to see.

            The setting is Madrid around the late 1800s.  Basilio Beltrán is a young man who one day, at a casino, sees a spectre of a one-eyed man who points him towards success on the roulette table.  Basilio follows the one-eyed man, who no-one else can see, and he finds out that he is Robinson de Mantua and that he is recently deceased.  Officially he was recorded as a suicide, but the late gentleman is quick to tell Basilio that he was done in (“it’s an old wound, it caused my death!” he says, pointing to his neck) and enrols Basilio to help him prove it.  Basilio quickly finds himself out of his depth, falling love with the deceased’s niece, meeting a strange hunchbacked doctor by the name of Sabatino and trying to enlist the helped of police when said niece, Inés, is hypnotised and kidnapped by Sabatino and taken somewhere.  They follow the doctor to what proves to be a derelict ruin of a house, inside which they find, inside a chest, a ladder down into a subterranean series of tunnels, one of which leads down to an underground city, populated by hunchbacks and an old archaeologist, Mantua’s old friend Zacharias and the seemingly contended Inés, who is hypnotised again into trying to kill Basilio.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1979 95m) DVD1/2

Gimme that ol’ time religion

p/d/ph/ed  Russ Meyer  w  R.Hyde, B.Callum (Russ Meyer)  m  William Tasker  art  Michele Levesque

Francesca “Kitten” Natividad (Lavonia Shedd/Lola Langousta), Anne Marie (Eufaula Roop), Ken Kerr (Lamar Shedd), June Mack (Junk Yard Sal), Henry Rowland (Martin Bormann), Patrick Wright (Mr Peterbuilt), Sharon Ceccatti (Flovilla Thatch), Robert Pearson (Asa Lavender), Uschi Digard (Supersoul), Michael Finn (Semper Fidelis), Stuart Lancaster (The Man from Smalltown, USA), Russ Meyer (himself),

Can there be room for absolute trash in tomes covering the best works of the screen?  Well, I wouldn’t be the first; various critics have had actual hardcore pornos appear in their selections (I have a couple myself), from Behind the Green Door to The Devil in Miss Jones, while fans of that murkiest of cinematic pools would point to Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven (the best or the bunch) but Meyer would have been depressed by either.  Meyer loathed hardcore porn; for all his reputation as the American cinema’s premier titman, he had his limits.  He retired after making Ultravixens, but hadn’t even turned 60.  Some accused him of being partly responsible for the rise of pornography into acceptable intellectual circles, an accusation he would deny strenuously.  Yet what else is Ultravixens if it is not softcore porn?

            Needless to say it isn’t just that, or it wouldn’t come within hailing distance of selection.  This is not titillation to turn people on, it’s a comedy, a gross-out comedy before the term was even invented, a lambasting, free-for-all, taboo-shattering comedy which even could be, and has been, considered a satire.  It’s insane, but it’s one of the funniest films of the 1970s. (more…)

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Max Ophuls's 'Lola Montes' is a longtime Samuel Wilson favorite

by Sam Juliano

Among the Albany Public Library’s more inconspicuous contributions to the film community is it’s formidable archives of obscure and eclectic titles that offer the most enterprising card-holders a treasure trove of off-the-beacon-track rarities and prompt current updates. For an unbeatable price it’s a way to gleefully indulge oneself in many works that can’t be obtained in many on line retail stores.

Fecund and remarkably prolific writer Kevin Gilbert (who goes by the pen name of ‘Samuel Wilson’) has parlayed this unique availability into the main source material for a now three-year-old blogsite named Mondo 70, which represents a labor of love for one of the internet’s most gifted writers. Born in Troy, a neighboring suburb of New York State’s capital, “Wilson,” who holds a PhD in history from the University of Massachusetts, humbly insists he’s not especially knowledgeable in any particular subject, but the scholarly heft of his prose and the level of depth in his comments suggest otherwise. Launched in November of 2008, Mondo 70, whose title pays homage to the Italian cult cinema that Wilson has a hankering for -and has developed a remarkable aptitude for- is a place for the online cineaste with enterprising interests to indulge in engaging, often extraordinary essays of world classics and genre movies that may have slipped by the collective radar. Indeed in an extensive e mail interview completed two weeks ago Wilson asserted: “My actual model are the cult movie magazines, whose readers expect to discover things eccentric and exotic, and in my case sometimes artistic as well.” Wilson is making reference here to Tim Lucas’ Video Watchdog (a popular long-running bi-monthly on specialized horror and fantasy) and Shock Cinema among others. Wilson confides: “While I still like American horrors best, their Italian counterparts have impressed me the most cinematic-ally. There is so much to the cinematography, and the often contra punctually pleasant music -and sometimes even the gore- do much to inspire disquiet that theirs may be the ultimate horror cinema.” (more…)

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Pre-code masterpiece "The Story of Temple Drake" based on William Faulkner's 'Sanctuary' is shown at Film Forum in stunning print on Sunday

by Sam Juliano

The central deceit of the second-season episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, “That Evening Sun” is that a young woman imagines that the Earth has been knocked off it’s course and is hurtling towards the sun in a sure path of eventual cosmic incineration.  In an unamed big city a radio broadcaster announces that the temperature has risen to the point where eggs can be easily friend on sidewalks.  Here in the sweltering proximity of the Big Apple, similar culinary options are being envisioned and even performed, with one report contending that cookie dough left in a woman’s car was baked to perfection.  With temperatures reaching 104 F on Friday in Central Park, it’s been a time when outdoor activity is more than a health risk, and the refuge of movie theatres and the like is a much clamored for option.

Here at Wonders in the Dark things are sizzling on another front too, with the musical countdown just weeks away.  The projects’ seven voters (Greg Ferrara, Pat Perry, Marilyn Ferdinand, Judy Geater, Dennis Polifroni, Allan Fish and Yours Truly) are still deliberately on the final ballots, which will be submitted on or before August 7th, and then promptly tabulated by Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr, ahead of the planned day to day essay features starting on Monday August 15th.  I’m certain that for many this will be forever known as the ‘musical summer.’

Dee Dee’s latest project brings us to the ‘Virtual Poet Cafe’ with verse by poets Brian Miller and Claudia Schoenfeld.  It’s an amazing place that can be accessed with a new sidebar link, and Dee Dee has also announced plans to proceed with an interview sometime next week.  Congratulations to Jason Marshall for the recent completion of his 1941 survey, with Orson Welles Citizen Kane, as expected, leading the way at Movies Over Matter.  Our pal and colleague Jaime Grijalba (Exodus 8:2)has been frantically involved in some filmmaking, and is sure to elaborate this week on his own comment on this thread.  Jaime’s tireless activities set the bar!

Taking full advantage of movie theatre air conditioning, and proceeding with a mission with the “Pre-Code” Festival at the Film Forum, I broke my all-time record by seeing eighteen (18) films in theatres, eclipsing the previous high of 16.  Is this something to boast about?  Not remotely, as it again shows just how severe “obsessive-compulsive” behavior can become, but the purpose of the diary is to “report” and report I will do.  Lucille accompanied me on the vast majority of trips to the Film Forum, where all the pre-coders, the Keatons, and even two of the three new releases were screen, while the kids were aboard for the Keatons and Captain America.  Friend and site colleague Dennis Polifroni attended the Wednesday double feature of Love Me Tonight and Downstairs. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1997 90m) DVD1/2

Found on the shores of the silver devastation

Mituhisha Ishikawa, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa  d  Hideaki Anno, Kazuya Tsurumaki  w  Hideaki Anno, Shinji Haguchi, Kazuya Tsurumaki  m  Shiro Sagisu

VOICES BY (Japanese version) :- Megumi Ogata (Shinji Ikari), Yuko Miyamura (Asuka Langley Sohryu), Kotono Mitsuishi (Misato Katsuragi), Megumi Hayashibara (Rei Ayanami/Pen-Pen), Fumihiko Tachiki (Gendo Ikari)

Suffice it to say that when Hideaki Anno’s original ending to his magnum opus Neon Genesis Evangelion was released, it received a mixed reception.  The final two episodes were the key to the business, for by the time it came to animating them the budget had run out, there were other problems behind the scenes, and what we really had was not so much an ending but a diptych of dream states.  Two episodes with essences of Nietzsche and which could be said to have swallowed themselves with the same ravenous appetite with which Eva 01 ate one of the 17 angels let loose on the earth. 

            Immediately, there was talk of the real ending, and in fact I could easily have lumped this alternate ending in with the series as one entry, for they were in some ways meant to be.  What we get instead of the mind business of the original ending is a real fight to the death against the effectively Biblical apocalypse.  An ending to stop a new beginning or, as may be more accurate and appropriate, another new beginning to stop a worse one in which mankind was wiped out. 

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1965 92m) DVD2

A tale of sex in the de-pression

p  George Costello, Russ Meyer  d  Russ Meyer  w  Raymond Friday Locke, W.A.Sprague  ph  Walter Schenk  ed  Russ Meyer, Charles G.Schelling  m  Henri Price

Hal Hopper (Sidney Brenshaw), Antoinette Christiani (Hannah Brenshaw), Lorna Maitland (Clara Belle), Rena Horton (Eula), John Furlong (Calif McKinney), Princess Livingston (Maggie Marie), Sam Hanna (Injoys), Stuart Lancaster (Lute Wade),

Russ Meyer?  In the list of the best films of all time?  Call for the strait-jacket, people, the author’s gone crazy.  Well, actually not quite so crazy.  Admittedly I can see readers scurrying to the Final Apologies section and wondering how I could include Mudhoney yet leave out such a film.  So let’s look at this objectively.  If I had included Faster, Pussycat, Kill! Kill! there would not have been quite such outrage, as this is a film with a solid cult following, a masterpiece of sleaze in the eyes of many critics.  Then there’s the other underground directors of the time, from Andy Warhol to John Waters, who some would honour but who I have no time for.  Now it is true to say that, for much of his career, Russ Meyer was cinema’s self-confessed premier tit man.  Such was his obsession throughout the late sixties and through the seventies, in which time what talent he had went to the dogs and his satire was drowned in purest smut with little purpose for existence.  But the Meyer of 1965 was one of some skill, for it was in this year that he made his two best films; the aforementioned cult classic about a trio of homicidal go-go dancers, and this Midwest saga, a film which to these eyes stands up as his unsung masterwork, and one of the best underground flicks of the American cinema. (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

    In Days of Heaven (1978), we have a very young narrator with a gift, for putting a spin upon horrific incidents, which is both lively and worldly. She covers her older brother’s flight from Chicago, circa 1910 (on having murdered the overbearing foreman at the steel mill where he worked), along with her and his girlfriend, in this way—“Me and my brutha [“Bill”]… we used to do tings togedda… We used to have fun, roam the streets…Der was people sufferin’ pain and hungur. Some people, daer tongues were hangin’ outta daer mout… He used to juggle apples… He usta amuse us. He was amusin’… Lookin’ for tdings. Searchin’ for tdings… Goin’ on adventures… In fact all tree of us were goin’ places… Dey told everybody dey was bruddah and sistah. You know how people are. You tell them somethin’, dey start talkin’.”

    As it happens, the bite of the powers that be extends far beyond umbrage about contravening such ruling pieties. That trio’s “adventure” plunges them into the prairie hinterland of Chicago (where, among other things, they regularly picked through garbage along the river), as far as the Texas Panhandle. The natural surround of verdant and gently rolling hills, deliciously colored and textured skies, receives further focus as a farming factory, the beautiful might showing its far less beautiful side, to the point, in fact, of consigning the family we know, and a bunch of strangers they shared the roofs of boxcars with in making their trek, to a crushing grind not unlike that of the steel mill. With the golden hues of the grasses and the blues of the soaring skies maintaining a link to purities of dynamics, the trio show us a helter-skelter consciousness (doggedly piling mown swaths in the fields, desperately feeding ripe bunches into the combines) dispiritingly bereft of gold and sweep. “Workin’ all the time, never stop… Just keep goin’… You don’t work they’d ship you right outta der…Tdey don’t need you…. Tdey can always get someone else…” At a low-point in being rattled like a toy, the compromised lovers awaken in the fields where they are meant to be, with deposits of snow in their hair and on their tattered, earth-toned clothes. The foreman discovers that the young landowner has fallen in love with the brutha’s big sistah and takes a switch to what he regards as a suspicious stray. He accuses her of sloppy work, docks her three dollars and fires Bill when he protests. She intervenes before Bill kills his second foreman, and soon they are aware of the difficult-to-play windfall of the boss’ needing them (as augmented by natural trespasser and eavesdropper Bill’s having caught wind of the guy sittin’ pretty also sittin’ on a cancer that leaves him a year at best). “Whyn’t y’tell him you’ll stay?”/ “What for?”/ “I don’t know, somethin’ might happen.” (more…)

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