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Archive for December, 2011

By Bob Clark

The overlap between the manga and anime industries in Japan is an interesting thing to consider for how relatively rare it is in the way that comics and animation are produced worldwide. Japan obviously isn’t the only country in the world where both mediums thrive, but in a sense it’s the only one where they do so side by side, and where talent can cross between the two rather freely. In the United States you’ve got plenty of world-famous animation studios, comic-book presses and daily cartoonist syndicates, but these things are all pretty much separated by the distance of an entire continent– Disney in California, and Marvel, DC, hell even Mad Magazine based over in New York. In Europe, while there’s still room for art-conscious cartoons and animated films here and there, you don’t have quite the same kind of deeply rooted industry for it in the same way that lets illustrators like Herge or Moebius become household names. Hell, even Canada’s got the occasional big-name in terms of comics with guys like Dave Sim or Bryan Lee O’Malley, but I doubt you’re about to see them or others follow the path of Norman McClaren anytime soon.

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Well, that wasn’t long, was it? Just as this review, that may feel a bit short to some, but it has a reason to be that way. Anyway, I feel like I have to repay you after all this time of inactivity, after all I made a promise and I have to honour it, as I said last time. While I know that this is time for celebration and recounts, lists and retrospectives, oportunities for festivals, awards and many other things, specially for those art or just entertainment look-forwarders (I just invented that word, I’m sorry), but here is summer, and for me summer has always had one meaning for me: lots and lots of reading. Lots of dead time to read volumes and pages of infinite books from different authors from all over the world. I mean, I just started myself in the past month, I finished three novels, including this and the earlier reviewed Vargas Llosa novel, and then there was ‘The Tunnel’ by Ernesto Sábato, an argentinian writer who died this year, shy of turning a 100 years old. And then there’s my favorite part of summer: Stephen King. I think he’s a marvelous storyteller and every summer I turn out one or two of his novels, and this year it seems it’ll be 3, because I’m already finishing ‘Bag of Bones’, that just recently had a TV incarnation that I wanted to see, so I needed to finish the novel first. But what am I talking about S. King when we shall be talking about a Nobel Prize Winner… well let me roll my eyes, oh you snarky little lumpy princess, I am saying this and saying it now: I prefer King to Llosa.

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Steven Spielberg's deeply emotional 'War Horse' based on novel and Broadway play is one of the best films of 2011.

by Sam Juliano

I was awakened at around 2:30 P.M. on Sunday morning by a loud crashing sound on the roof of my home.  I immediately realized that our expected visitors had arrived with several sacks of gifts and goodies for the sleeping children.  I opened the front door and offered the bearded fellow with the red and white suit some steaming hot cocoa and freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies.  The spritely fellow was the coolest St. Nick I’ve ever met, as he offered up a new blu-ray of Bad Santa and The Christmas That Almost Wasn’t.  Still he admitted he was a lifelong fan of all the holiday staples, including Miracle on 34th Street, It’s A Wonderful Life and the 1951 A Christmas Carol, and had tens of thousands of copies to deliver before daybreak.  So after a few words he was off again, leaving me to the horizontal position until the noise of opening gifts awakened me again after 9:00 A.M.

As Wonders in the Dark moves toward 2012, the present down period will almost definitely be replaced soon enough by upcoming John Ford and Stanley Kubrick retrospectives from The Long Voyage Home’s Peter Lenihan and WitD’s Dennis Polifroni, respectively.  I am planning to post my Best Films of 2011 list a week from today, and am still undecided if I will be going with ten or twenty.

The week prior to Christmas typically included a slew of movie theatre visits and a DVD at home viewing of an essential film that will be opening in theatres on December 30.  It also included a charity concert of Christmas songs from some distinguished Broadway alumni at the Symphony Space on Broadway and 91st Street. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1951 86m) DVD1/2

Aka. A Christmas Carol

Are there no prisons, are there no workhouses?

p  Brian Desmond Hurst  d  Brian Desmond Hurst  w  Noel Langley  story  “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens  ph  C.Pennington Richards  ed  Clive Donner  m  Richard Addinsell  art  Ralph Brinton, Stanley Couzins  cos  Doris Lee, Constance da Pinna

Alastair Sim (Ebenezer Scrooge), Mervyn Johns (Bob Cratchitt), Hermione Baddeley (Mrs Cratchitt), Kathleen Harrison (Mrs Dilber), Michael Hordern (Jacob Marley), Carol Marsh (Fan), George Cole (Young Ebenezer), Roddy Hughes (Mr Fezziwig), Hattie Jacques (Mrs Fezziwig), Michael Dolan (Spirit of Christmas Past), Francis de Wolff (Spirit of Christmas Present), Eliot Makeham (Snedrig), Louise Hampton (Laundress), Jack Warner (Mr Jorkins), Miles Malleson (Old Joe), Brian Worth (Fred), Ernest Thesiger (Undertaker), Patrick MacNee (young Marley), Peter Bull (First businessman and Narrator), Rona Anderson, John Charlesworth, Glyn Dearman, Olga Edwardes,

In his distinguished career, the great Alastair Sim made several superb films – Green for Danger and The Happiest Days of Your Life for Launder and Gilliat to name two selected here – as well as achieving immortality in the inferior St Trinian’s films and in such parts as the eponymous inspector in An Inspector Calls.  If asked to name the role for which he was most cherished, however, there would be only one winner.  He’s hardly the only Ebenezer Scrooge in screen history; a delicious Seymour Hicks and a less happier Reginald Owen played him in the thirties, then there was the awful musical with Albert Finney and the muppet variation with Michael Caine.  Small screen viewers might recall a celebrated TV version with Michael Hordern (who played Marley to Alastair Sim), a memorable performance from George C.Scott and a less satisfactory one from a too funereal Patrick Stewart – Dickens’ character was not funereal, simply miserable and miserly.  Yet still, over half a century on, Sim towers over all and sundry. (more…)

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We began avant-garde month by defying language – with silent films whose currency was visual, whose ideograms were images. Today we openly confront, pull apart, and reassemble language, on a kind of a cracked-looking-glass Sesame Street, numbers and words thrown in the air, land where they may, brought to you by the letter X – as in crossed-out, mysterious value, or X marks the spot. Today each avant-garde selection touches on a different base: documentary, animation, and narrative, all while remaining resolutely experimental. Two short entries are followed by a longer one (covering A Walk Through H, a fantastic film that seems to aptly round out all our themes). Bring your map, but don’t expect it to help any.

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

Henri-Georges Clouzot as a Christmas fabulist? Well, his Quai des Orfèvres (1947) does race over a Christmas time-frame. But where is the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men”? At the end, the principals do stagger up to their living-room Christmas tree and a day of celebration. But, despite fulsome protestations of their love for each other, one of them is just a few hours past attempting suicide and the other has frequently and convincingly given her partner (her “flame”) to understand that she hates him. Surely that punishing scenario, as guided by a notoriously hard-boiled auteur, could never yield a cogent dispensation of love, to make the season bright?

If we reflect a bit more, however, and take a close look at this very hard to define vehicle—action thriller? murder-mystery comedy? historical slice ofFranceadrift after the War? sentimental suspense? assault upon the French film and music industries? or ridicule of the quality of policing inParisat that time? (A police inspector is taken to task: “You don’t look like a policeman to me. You don’t even have a raincoat…”/ “It was stolen…”)—we might not only discover a fresh holiday treat, but a more comprehensive way of appreciating Clouzot’s quite bewildering (though directly impressive) art. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(India 1960 195m) DVD2

A pretty petrel

p  Karim Asif  d  Karim Asif  w  Karim Asif, Aman, Kamal Amrohi, Ehsan Rizvi, Wajahat Mirza  ph  R.D.Mathur  ed  Dharamvir  m  Naushad  art  M.K.Syed  cos  Jaggi

Prithviraj Kapoor (Emperor Akbar), Madhubala (Anarkali), Dilip Kumar (Prince Salim), Durga Khote (Maharani Jodha Bai), Nigar Sultana (Bahai), Ajit (Durjan Singh), M.Kumar (sculptor), Murad (Man Singh), Jilloo Maa (Anarkali’s mother), Sheela Dalaya (Suraiya), Jalal Agha (young Salim),

History and legend link the story of our past.  When both are fused in the crucible of art and imagination, the spirit of this great Lord is revealed in all its splendour and beauty.”  So begins the film that has been, at one time or another, claimed as India’s biggest epic, the supreme Bollywood production and indeed India’s most beloved film.  Seek it out on DVD now, however, and a quandary is presented.  Virtually all prints are now of a 2004 colourised version of the film. 

            Colourisation is a topic likely to cause the mildest mannered of film buffs to spurt steam out of their ears like dragons.  To even think of calling it a no-no is to understate the feeling of intense hatred caused by the cronies of Ted Turner and the use of this process from the 1980s.  One recalls poor Orson Welles dying and begging those round him to ensure Turner didn’t get his crayons on Kane.  Or those poor souls unfortunate enough to have sat through colourisations of everything from Laurel and Hardy to Alastair Sim’s Scrooge and It’s a Wonderful Life who still require therapy.  There was always a difference with regard to Karim Asif’s film, however, in that those doing the colourisation felt they were abiding with his wishes.  Asif had wanted Mughal-e-Azam to be in colour throughout its three hour plus running time.  As it is, with the budget swallowed up by the vast sets and colour stock at an absolute premium, he only got enough Technicolor film to shoot two sequences. (more…)

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George Ballantine's 'The Nutcracker' (Tchaikovsky) performed by New York City Ballet in encore HD simulcast

by Sam Juliano

Santa Claus has really been making his rounds the past week in small towns and in the biggest stores, but he is conserving much of his energy for Sunday, when his reindeer will be descending on cities and communities all around the globe.  Here at Wonders in the Dark jolly old St. Nick sent a personal letter to the entire staff:

To All my buddies at Wonders, my favorite place to hang out:

    You guys are really the best.  Jamie Uhler has made me forget all about the Beatles over the past months, so much so that I have told my elves to discard all the Fab Four’s CDs scheduled for delivery on the Big Day.  Although my friend Bob Clark seems to think the ‘Bearded One’ is a more imposing figured than Yours Truly, I still have a Star Wars blu-ray set heading over to his Westchester, New York home.  My buddy up in Kendal always says ‘Bah humbug’ but my friends at Masters in Cinema have something cooked up for him.  Jim and Valerie Clark are two of the loveliest of people, and my crew in Canada will be taking good care of them.  My friends in Brooklyn will be paying Maurizio Roca a visit too!  A fine young man! I will personally be flying over Santiago, Chile and Sydney, Australia (do you think I’m stupid, it’s summer Down Under!) to take good care of my friends Jaime Grijalba and Tony d’Ambra.  My head elf in the states said he has a going away present for Joel Bocko for his new adventure out West.  Sam and Lucille, I have a season’s movie pass to one of your favorite theatres, effective on December 25th.  I trust you’ll be using it for ‘War Horse’ later that night.  Dennis Polifroni is another up and coming star at this place who will be receiving some wonderful DVDs.  Our dear friend Dee Dee, gets our most sacred blessings for her stupendous humanitarian efforts in behalf of the human race.  There is an eternal star in the sky shining for her.  Loved the musical poll by the way.  My favorite song is (what else?) “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.”

     Have a Merry Christmas and the Best Year ever in 2012!

-S.C.

Cool dude, that Santa Claus fellow!  Well, the past week was an active one for Lucille and I, but at this time of the year this is no surprise.  We attended four movies in theatres, while I took my youngest daughter Jillian to see the encore HD simulcast of the NYC ballet’s ‘George Ballantine’s Nutcracker’ on Tuesday night at our local multiplex. (more…)

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by Joel

Fixing a Hole is a series whose purpose is to cover films not yet discussed on Wonders in the Dark. This month’s theme is the avant garde. Check out this list for the hundreds of films included in “Film as a Subversive Art.”

Many years ago, while living in New York, I found myself reading Rousseau on a park bench, studying for a course on Political Theory. In this case homework would have more long-lasting benefits (however short the actual meeting) than an A on a test. An elderly man, about eighty, was sitting nearby with a female companion and, noticing my book, began talking to me. He had been educated by his parents according to the precepts of Rousseau’s Emile, and this early education had given him a lifelong openness to all sorts of experiences, a fondness for the offbeat and unconventional, and a unique way of seeing the world. We talked for a while, and I discovered his life story was fascinating. He had fled Hitler’s Austria, and in New York, just after the war, he had founded one of the first major film societies in the U.S., Cinema 16 – which would grow to become the most successful membership-based film society in American history.

Cinema 16 screened everything from political documentaries to foreign films to scientific movies to the occasional Hollywood picture (Hitchcock appeared at the theater to introduce The Man Who Knew Too Much). But its bread-and-butter was avant-garde cinema, a form (in all its different forms) that its administrator adored with the passion many reserve for their favorite genre or movie star. Frustrated by the inability of many friends and proteges to get onboard with experimental cinema, and eventually drawn into a rivalry with Jonas Mekas, whose Anthology Film Archives was founded in the early sixties in part as an alternative to Cinema 16’s operation, this man eventually decided to write a book, exploring and celebrating not just the avant-garde, but all forms of subversive cinema from the political to the aesthetic to the topical to the completely personal. When Cinema 16 folded in the early seventies (never having received funds from government or corporation, it was reliant on the support of its members, which eventually dwindled), this book would remain as his enduring legacy.

The man was Amos Vogel, and the book was Film as a Subversive Art. At the end of our pleasant conversation, Vogel gave me his business card and I still have it – a playful sketch of an absent-minded bearded man trotting off with a reel of film unspooling from under his arm. He did not mention his book at the time and only years later would I purchase it, but it’s become one of my cinematic treasures. While focusing on the offbeat and provocative, it is in fact a manifesto for a wide-ranging cinematic love with a keen eye for how subversion is ingrained in the very substance of the material itself – its ability to freeze, preserve, repeat and upend the physical world around us. Today I cover three films introduced to me by this book, and my entries include Vogel’s capsule on the film in question and an embedded video of each movie.

But that’s not all – such a brief sample could hardly convey the vast riches contained in this great book. I’ve tracked several of the selected shorts on You Tube and so a dozen videos follow the post. Some of these selections are narrative, some purely abstract, some are animated, some live-action, some documentary while others are fiction, and still others defy any description. They demonstrate Vogel’s broad taste, and his talent for spotting cinematic treasures in every corner. The avant-garde is, in many ways, not the far wing or the margin of cinema, but its very heart and soul, the – if you will – main stream of the medium. I would suggest watching all of these films when you get the chance, perhaps one each day after finishing the main entry. You won’t be sorry; if some of these are new to you, as they were to me, then you’ll be as thankful as I am for that warm spring day in New York.

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by Joel

Two weeks ago, I turned the “Fixing a Hole” series over to Maurizio Roca. However, he indicated that he did not want to pick it up until January, so as December was left unclaimed, and I like to finish what I started, I will be posting the last three entries in avant-garde month. Since I missed last Sunday, two will go up today – the second at 4pm EST, and the final entry will go up on Christmas. Happy holidays and hope you enjoy the pieces.

In the middle of the twentieth century, particularly in the United States, there was a very clear divide between the mainstream and the avant-garde in cinema. While the modernist obsession with abstraction and experimentation swept the other arts, making celebrities out of artists who defied or reinvented conventions, when it came to movies, you either told a story – with a budget and release schedule provided by the Hollywood system – or you disappeared into the margins. Yet talent thrived on those margins and the postwar era saw the growth of a vital underground cinema, fostered and facilitated by institutions like Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16, an inexpensive film society in New York (Vogel and his views of cinema will be the subject of the next installment in this series, going up Sunday evening).

Three figures – Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Stan Brakhage – probably had a bigger impact and wider reach than any others, and so here I will focus on three of their early works: Deren’s At Land (1944), Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), and Brakhage’s Cat’s Cradle (1959).

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