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L'Atalante (France 1934)

By Tony d’Ambra

Jean Vigo when he made one of cinema’s poetic masterpieces was consumptive and likely had a keen awareness of the slender hold he had on life. L’Atalante was to be his last film and his enduring cinematic legacy. A simple romantic story told with a shimmering love for those that history ignores, for unaffected lives which have a glory beyond greatness, bound up in the simple verities. The early tentative days of a just-married couple have a romance and visual poetry tinged with the melancholy of the river’s flow, itself a metaphor for the ineluctable passing of time, and the ebbs and flows of life. A tale told without artifice and with a boundless optimism. A timeless story of young love, the tribulations of matrimony, the joys of friendship, the rewards of loyalty, and the delight from the comic mishaps that life thankfully can bring; along with the conflict, the suffering, and the heartache.

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Jeremy poses with the great illustrator/painter Wendell Minor, with two of his supreme masterpieces, GALAPAGOS GEORGE and EDWARD HOPPER PAINTS HIS WORLD, both remarkable released during 2014. (At Bankstreet Bookstore in Manhattan).

by Sam Juliano

Time marches on.  Mid-September and moving closer to autumn.  Nothing too extreme weather-wise over the last week in the vicinity of the Big Apple, though it does appear that even so much as a wind breaker is still some time away.  But like everything else that scenario can change in a heart beat.  Here at Wonders in the Dark it is business as usual.  The long-running Greatest Romantic Films Countdown has entered the final leg, with the Top 15 set to post starting tomorrow.  Certainly the quality of the reviews over the past week has basically matched some of the great stuff we’ve seen here in previous weeks.  What with everyone on their best behavior the site is honored to have received some of the finest writings the esteemed authors have yet composed.  True, the comment and page view totals have dropped – this has been obvious throughout – but this has more to do with the general downtrend of blogsites, all of which have taken a major hit from the likes of Facebook and Twitter.  As many here will recall the most successful countdown (or any project for that matter) at this site was the Greatest Musical Films Countdown of 2011.  That 70 Film survey not only attracted some of the greatest film writing I have ever laid eyes on, but also the most spectacular comment totals ever recorded here.  Numerous posts amassed well over 200 comments, which a bunch of others pulled in over 100.  But numbers by themselves don’t add up to much – it was the quality and the passion of the responses that made them so memorable.  A dash of contentiousness also added some color to the proceedings.  In any case, Wonders in the Dark also scored big with the Greatest Comedy Films Countdown and the Greatest Westerns Film Countdown, even if both showed a progressive downward trend.  The community aspect of the site is still thriving -certainly well ahead of the life support that taken some less fortunate blogs over the past year.  In behalf of the site’s writing staff I want to thank all those who continue to read, leave likes and comments under all the latest posts.  This is alas, our life’s blood.

Specifically I want to take this opportunity to salute Jon Warner, John Grant, Frank Gallo, John Greco, Pierre de Plume, Jim Clark, Peter M., Judy Geater, Sachin Gandhi, Pat Perry,  Jeffrey Goodman, Duane Porter, Tony d’Ambra, Laurie Buchanan, Dee Dee, Jeff Stroud, Celeste Fenster, Maurizio Roca,  Robert Tower, Jaimie Grijalba,  Dean Treadway, Tim McCoy, Marilyn Ferdinand, David Noack, Karen, Joel Bocko, Ricky, Mark Sadler, Margaret B., JacquiWine, Ed Howard, Brandie Ashe, J.D. Lafrance, Stephen Mullen,  Shubhajit Lahiri, Mark Smith, Terrill Welch, David Schleicher, Anubavkist, Pedro Silva, Broadway Bob Eagleson, Mike Norton, Lucille Juliano, Melanie Juliano, John R. Thom Hickey, smallwoodryan, girlsdofilm, Giovanni Battista, Diana and Allan Fish for their essays, their comments and their “likes,” or any combinations of those.  51 reasons to celebrate!!!  If I have missed someone who may have left a comment or a like or several in fact, please accept my apology.  I have done my best to look back at every single review and corresponding comment section, but I am no longer as sharp as I once might have been.  Ha! (more…)

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18. Harold and Maude (1971)

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By Dean Treadway 

MAUDE: A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they’re not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.

Rewatching Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude again for the first time for what must be at least a decade, I’m struck most–in my middle age–by its naivete and glorious youthfulness. With its gorehound death fascination and breathy strivings for an actively-voiced life, it feels like a movie written by a smart, frustrated teenager (screenwriter Colin Higgins penned the piece in his mid-20s while attending Stanford University, studying alongside Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader). It is a work that assuredly cleaves to simple wisdoms, further seasoned by Ashby’s then-still nascent filmic style (Roger Ebert, who hated the film upon release, slammed it for not having a visual sense, but I strongly disagree; it’s the first of Ashby’s works sporting a creative, even meticulously designed look). To go even further–way further–I don’t think it’s out of order to declare Harold and Maude one of the most loved movies ever made. Ask anyone who’s seen it and they’ll tell you it’s among their favorites. Lots of guys adore it but women, especially, seem to respond remarkably to its charm (when I worked at video stores, 9 times out of 10 when the film was being rented, it was by a woman, and most likely one going back for seconds or thirds). I’m not usually one to react favorably to unassailably popular movies, but this is one I firmly stand behind. Even today, I see a lot of what is admired in, say, Wes Anderson’s work as totally dependent on this film both in style and emotion.

As a kid, after years of hearing about it, I pretty much fell into an immediate crush on Harold and Maude. I can easily flash back to my first time seeing it, 14 years old circa 1981, at Atlanta GA’s now-defunct Rhodes Theater. I remember the look of the deep red velvet chairs in the theater auditorium being mirrored by the warm browns and reds of Hal Ashby’s sly opening sequence, set to the first of Cat Stevens’ many contributions to the soundtrack, the gentle and ultimately vociferous “Don’t Be Shy.” I remember the vaguely cola-tinged smell of the theater, and feeling disturbed that Ashby and cinematographer John Alonzo chose not to reveal Harold’s face until way deep into its its oddly-paced, strangely-framed single-shot opening (Harold isn’t seen until he suitably blows out a match). Meanwhile, Cat Stevens’ work had long been a staple on our turntable at home, thanks to his Greatest Hits record, so hearing his voice so brilliantly used throughout must have made full impact on my rather instant love for this film (Stevens’ creaky vocal style is unmistakable). Years later, after I had tried to hunt down a soundtrack to no avail, I finally realized watching Harold and Maude was the only way I would ever hear some of these tunes (“Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” were written specifically for the film, and a soundtrack has now been properly compiled here; I’m dismayed that Stevens wasn’t nearly well enough considered for the Best Song Oscar in 1971).  (more…)

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21. Notorious (1946)

Annex - Grant, Cary (Notorious)_09

by John Greco

Who ever said Alfred Hitchcock was not a romantic? After all, what could be more romantic than the final scenes in “Notorious” where we see Cary Grant coming to Ingrid Bergman’s rescue just in time to take her away from the murdering Nazi Claude Rains. True for the past two hours Grant forced Ingrid to whore herself  by playing a 20th Century Mata Hari, seducing and sleeping with Rains in order to obtain secret information. He then resents her for agreeing to do this and hates himself for forcing her do it. Yep, no one knew how to treat a woman like Mr. Hitchcock, just ask Janet Leigh in “Psycho” or Grace Kelly in “Dial M for Murder.” (more…)

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john waters

Lucille and Melanie at John Waters Festival at Lincoln center on Sunday (photos by Broadway Bob and Sam)

edith massey

Cult icon Edith Massey as the evil Queen Carlotta in John Waters’ 1977 “Desperate Living”

by Sam Juliano

Summer made a late appearance, but apparently is not so willing to yield anytime soon for the onset of the cool autumn air and beautiful colors associated with this time of the year.  Football lovers are in their glory and schools are in full swing.  This is a lovely time of the year, but it always moves forward in speed mode it seems.  We must enjoy it while we can.

The site’s long running Romantic Countdown has reached the final leg of the journey with the Top 20 set to roll starting on Tuesday.  At his own site our great friend and renowned writer John Grant has called on the powers that be to consider a publishing venture that would include all the reviews written for this remarkable venture.  Certainly the quality of writing for this countdown, as well as the three others that preceded it (musicals, comedies and westerns) were of a similarly high level of excellence.  The countdown will conclude on Monday October 6th, with the unveiling of the Number 1 film.

Lucille and I (and Sammy, Melanie and Broadway Bob for some) saw four films in theaters over the past week, all in fact over the weekend.  Two were part of the complete John Waters retrospective “Fifty Years of John Waters: How Much Can You Take?” at Lincoln Center, one was an oft-seen classic in a recently opened “theater” and one a new release, that has actually been around in theaters for over two months. (more…)

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matter-of-life-death-bfi-00o-6ct

By Dean Treadway

Out of the seventeen movies Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger made together, A Matter of Life and Death was their sixth, sandwiched in between two other humanistic yet fantastical tales, “1945’s “I Know Where I’m Going!” and 1947’s Black Narcissus. This team was, at the time, used to dazzling audiences with their idea-dense, often passionate and visually rich (thanks to their collaboration with legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff) flights of imagination. Yet A Matter of Life and Death feels somehow different, maybe because it’s such a glorious mashup of so many genres. It first feels almost like science-fiction, with that quick, witty tour of the galaxy at the film’s outset (this is the first glimpse of the subtle but often brilliant special effects featured throughout the movie). Then it most certainly feels like a war picture in the spectacular opening scene between David Niven’s presumably doomed RAF pilot Peter Greene and Kim Hunter’s June, the “Yank girl” he radios as his plane is going down (few movies, if any have had the temerity to begin with such florid and unbound emotions—I mean, what gorgeous close-ups we have here–and yet with the two main characters at the edge of being separated not only by space but by life itself).

For a while, the film becomes a fantasy, as we are taken into another world…a world that may be Heaven (though Powell and Pressberger purportedly wanted to avoid inferring anything such; they balked at the American retitling Stairway to Heaven) or it may be simply another dimension that exists only in a dusty corner of Peter Greene’s brain. It does feel like if the directors truly wished to erase the concept of Heaven from the film, they wouldn’t have had new arrivals in the black-and-white world picking up their made-to-measure wings at the sign-in desk, nor would they have given the young Richard Attenborough—as a breathless newbie–his only line in“It is Heaven, isn’t it?” Either way, the film works in the possibility that all Peter Greene is experiencing—including a ghostly visitation by an erring French “conductor” (Marius Goring)–is a hallucination suffered as a result of something nasty pressing down on his brain. In this way, with the introduction of Roger Lievsay’s Dr. Frank Reeves (he’s magnificent here), the film also becomes a tense medical drama. (more…)

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2046

 

2046
A hotel room
I write dreams

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