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Archive for August, 2012

by Roderick Heath

Note: This review of “8 1/2″ originally appeared at ‘Ferdy-on-Films’ on September 13, 2009.

Federico Fellini’s signature opus is a film that, nearly a half-century ago, was the height of demanding modernism in the cinema. shook the landscape by challenging filmmakers to match its new, innately personal cinema spun purely out of its creator’s perspective and psyche and thereby establishing a new argot for exploring creative endeavour in movies. More loudly, too, if not necessarily more artfully, than any other director of the ground-breaking generation to create and work within Italian Neorealism, Fellini abandoned mere reportage and circumstantial study, and pushed deeply into metaphor, associative epiphany, psychology, and personal mystery, rather than analysis, explication, and the traditional demarcations of the social conscience film. He did not abandon such a conscience or method, but radically altered the way that he organised his responses to it, hunting for a way to dovetail the inner crisis with a common sense of anxiety and malaise.

An irony of this was that established its own personality cult, allowing student and commercial filmmakers, and other artists, to pinch its effects, images, and methods of realising intellectual autobiography. 8½’s inherent individuality was alchemised into public code, its pictorial quirks converted into pop art, for Fellini had a way of generating imagery that lodged in the minds of his contemporaries, as rockers like Bob Dylan and The Doors referenced his films in their songs and record covers, and Woody Allen quoted it endlessly in films like Annie Hall (1977). It’s hard to imagine other, key works by such diverse brethren as Scorsese and Coppola, Nanni Morretti, Charlie Kaufman, Bob Fosse, or Emir Kusturica without its example. was also a dividing point in Fellini’s career, after which he took up a kind of free-form fresco filmmaking, which bugged the hell out of many. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1979 82m) not on DVD

You’re going to come out!

p  Kevin Sim, Peter Morley  d  Peter Morley

As I write this piece, I turn to the IMDb and am left ashamed.  It’s there, of course, but no-one has voted on it, seen it or commented on it.  Turn to Nuit et Brouillard, to Shoah or to Laurence Rees’ Auschwitz, and you’ll find votes and comments aplenty, but nothing for Peter Morley’s piece.  When one considers the plethora of Holocaust films out there, that this priceless document should be forgotten seems almost unforgiveable.

One can understand that it took me 20 years from discovering of its existence to tracking down a print, via dear old Youtube of all places.  Naturally the style of shooting has dated a little bit, but as testimony, this is one of the most priceless pieces of television you will ever see.  Producer Peter Morley approached Yorkshire TV with the idea of having Kitty Hart return to the place of infamy where she’d been for over two years. Her doctor son Peter would be there to offer emotional support.  Kitty had been working as a radiologist in Birmingham for many years, and had written a small memoir in 1961, but her visit would act as a sort of exorcism of demons she had submerged and suppressed within her for nearly 35 years.  The piece opens with the story of how her family, the Felixs, left the small town to Bielsko near the Polish border just before the invasion of Poland, and were eventually caught and shipped off to Auschwitz (ironically only a few miles from Bielsko) in 1943.  (more…)

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“Wheezer” Hutchins, the scene-stealing star of Our Gang’s “Dogs is Dogs”

by Sam Juliano

If a film professor in a college class entitled “Introduction to the Cinema” posed a question to his or her charges along the lines of “Give a comprehensive definition of screen comedy” one of a number of those in the know might play the game of sub-genre, coming up with a multitude of such illustrious phrases as “satire,” “screwball,” “slapstick,” “spoof or parody,” “comedy of manners,” “romantic comedy,” “black comedy.” or “gross out comedy.”  More than any other single genre, the comedy is most often prone to overlap, and few films throughout the hundred-year run of the cinema are completely devoid of comic relief.  The Our Gang comedy shorts that ran from 1922 to the mid 40’s fall into none of the aforementioned categories, yet by practically all baromters of measurement they have been enjoyed and appreciated as films that brought extensive laughter and a respite from Depression and war era hardships.  The term ‘humanist comedy’ may not be automatically recognizable to either the student or the layman, in fact it’s esentially the domain of the character-driven series that ingeniously, but with seemingly little effort, combined laughter and tears to enhance each element with a life-affirming focus on the laudable concept of humor curing all ills.  The Our Gang comedies were noted for their pathos, broken families, economic deprivation and gloomy prospects for advancement.  The humor, often of a precocious, mischievious variety was invariably imbued with an aching quality that managed to envision the  conviction that “I laughed so hard that I cried.”  To be sure there is a fair dose of sentiment in this equation which is more prevalent in some of the shorts than others, but it’s applied in a manner that generates endearment instead of saccharine overload.  The Our Gang kids are naturals who through their resilience and street-wise ingenuity are often able to eclipse their elders in overcoming some of the social ills and impovishment that maligned the population in the years the shorts were made.  (more…)

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by Marilyn Ferdinand

In the 1960s, the flower of Italian cinema finally came into full bloom on the international scene. Of course, Italian movie makers had been producing stellar work since at least the 1940s. But it was in 1960 that Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita created a worldwide sensation. Suddenly, Italian cinema was all the rage, with Fellini leading the charge and Marcello Mastrioanni, the star of La Dolce Vita, the very symbol of disaffection that would come to characterize that tumultuous decade.

There were fainter lights in the Italian sky whose work also received recognition at the time but who have faded with the years. One of them was Pietro Germi. A skilled screenwriter and veteran director, Germi originally conceived of Divorce, Italian Style (1961) as a tragedy, but the story’s possibilities pushed him and screenwriter Ennio De Concini to the extreme edges of comedy. So admired was the screenplay when it made the rounds that Mastrioanni, then a big star, agreed to do a screen test to win the part of murder-minded Baron Ferdinando “Fefe” Cefalú from Germi’s original choice, Anthony Quinn. The film that resulted is one of the funniest and biting I have ever seen, with a visual humor Billy Wilder would have envied.

Agrigento, Sicily is the setting for this burlesque—an important point because divorce was illegal there at this time. Fefe has been married for more than a decade to Rosalia (Daniela Rocco), a foolish middlebrow who has gotten on his very last nerve. Fefe and Rosalia live with Fefe’s parents in a wing of the Cefalú manor house—all that is left of the noble family’s fortune. In the opposite wing lives Fefe’s uncle, whose lovely 16-year-old daughter Angela (Stefania Sandrelli) has captured Fefe’s heart. (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

If film noirs are known for their cynicism, nihilism, and stylized photography and chiaroscuro, Italian Neorealism for disarming simplicity, stark realism and lyrical storytelling, and French Nouvelle Vague for avant-garde style, cheeky reversal of genre conventions and formalist approach to cinema, Czech New Wave shall always be remembered for the array of searing political satires (oftentimes in the garb of absurdism) it engendered. Despite probably not being as influential and seminal as the other three movements, it was every bit as audacious and fascinating. And Milos Forman, along with his legendary peers like Jiri Menzel, Jan Nemec, Jaromil Jires, Vera Chytilova et al, was one of the most towering figures in the political and artistic time capsule that this essential period of film history represents.

The Firemen’s Ball, released in 1967, was quite an event in the career of Forman, who had become a darling of the Czech New Wave with the delectable comedies Black Peter and Loves of a Blonde, and who would later become a darling of Hollywood what with his One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. It was his first film made in colour; but more importantly, it was his last movie in his native Czechoslovakia before he headed for America just in time before the Prague Spring invasion. The movie, like so many other works belonging to that movement, got banned in the country for its “seditious” and “anti-nationalistic” content, and nearly represented a catastrophe for the director when its initial producer Carlo Ponti withdrew his patronage. (more…)

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 whistle-2

The next in a series of masterpieces of the small screen

by Allan Fish

(UK 1968 40m) DVD2

Who is this who is coming?

p  Jonathan Miller  d/w  Jonathan Miller  story  M.R.James  ph  Dick Bush  ed  Adam Bosworth  art  Judy Steele

Michael Hordern (Professor Parkins), Ambrose Coghill (Colonel), George Woodbridge (hotelier), Freda Dowie (maid), Nora Gordon (proprietress),

In the early 1970s, Lawrence Gordon Clark undertook a series of adaptations of ghost stories for Christmas for the BBC.  There was one each year, running throughout the decade, and fans will justifiably have fond memories of the Dickens’ adaptation The Signalman with Denholm Elliot and M.R.James’ adaptations A Warning to the Curious and The Stalls of Barchester.  Yet it was several years earlier, in the days of black and white, that the best TV ghost story of them all, another James adaptation, was made for the BBC’s Omnibus programme.  Whistle and I’ll Come to You was forty minutes that would stay for life with anyone who saw it.

The tale centres around a fifty-something Cambridge Professor who comes to a somewhat isolated seaside town at the turn of the century to get away from it all.  He just wants to spend his time walking the coast, reading his books, and generally being left alone.  He even eats at a small table alone, and spends much time muttering to himself.  One day out on a walk along the beaches near the hotel, he finds an old whistle and, returning it to his hotel room, deciphers the engraving on it as “who is this who is coming?”  He decides to blow on it and, from that moment, is terrified with visions of being chased by a ghostly spectre along the beach front and even in his own room. (more…)

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Shane, Marilyn Ferdinand and Sam in Skokie, Illinois

Laurie Buchanan and Sam in Crystal Lake, Illinois

by Sam Juliano

This week’s Monday Morning Diary is sitting atop this morning’s comedy countdown post for the first and last time during the project due to the strong desire to headline a family road trip to the mid-west that won’t be forgotten.  The fact that the countdown review today is my own made this decision an easy one.  Anyone looking for Number 85 need only to scroll below the Diary post.

The road trip began on Sunday evening August 20 at 10:00 P.M. when we left our Bergen County, New Jersey home in our Honda Odyssey, heading west on Route 80 for nearly fourteen hours until we stopped off the highway in Gary, Indiana to visit Michael Jackson’s childhood home in an economically blighted area that was once a bustling steel industry city.  The kids, Jacko fans all, signed their names to the board in front of the tiny house, and took pictures in front of the plaque that was placed there after the King of pop’s death. (Lucille has subsequently reminded me that the stop in Gary, Indiana was on the way back from Chicago on Wednesday morning not as I state here on the way in!  Ah well, I am losing it!)  Next stop was the great city of Chicago, arriving at approximately 1:00 P.M.  We stayed at a Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites, sleeping two nights until Wednesday morning.  Like any trip that is ultimately unforgettable it’s the people you meet who make all the difference, and the precious time we spent with the likes of three blogging friends and associates provided Lucille and I and all the kids with some splendid conversation, and stories that gave everyone some pointed laughter and some sage advice on shared points on shared intersts.  First off was my Wonders in the Dark friend and colleague Jamie Uhler, a person I have wanted to meet for a very long time, and one who has been part of a regular daily e mail chain since the time when he joined the writing staff of the site.  My friend, who is not a ‘picture taking kind of guy’ took the full day off from his workplace to make clearance for spending time with all of us.  It certainly for me was an emotional moment when I first laid eyes on Jamie after he met me in the Holiday Inn lobby after subwaying from his home on the other side of the city.  Jamie accompanied me on the elevator up to our rooms where he met Lucille and all the kids, who were preparing for an early supper.  With Jamie as our guide we rode around the city checking out downtown buildings, prominent movie houses and Wrigley Field, before settling on the Lincoln Restaurant for decent food and great conversation.  (more…)

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