Note: The thirteenth entry in the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series, the classic ‘Sunset Boulevard’ by Billy Wilder, was selected by artist and photographer extraordinaire Jeff Stroud, himself an avid film lover.

by Allan Fish

(USA 1950 110m) DVD1/2

It’s the pictures that got small

p  Charles Brackett  d  Billy Wilder  w  Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M.Marshman Jnr  story  “A Can of Beans” by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder  ph  John F.Seitz  ed  Arthur Schmidt, Doane Harrison  m  Franz Waxman  art  Hans Dreier, John Meehan

William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond), Erich Von Stroheim (Max Von Mayerling), Nancy Olson (Betty Schaefer), Fred Clark (J.D.Sheldrake), Jack Webb (Artie Green), Lloyd Gough (Morino), Cecil B.de Mille (himself), Buster Keaton (himself), Anna Q.Nilsson (herself), H.B.Warner (himself), Hedda Hopper (herself), Jay Livingston (himself),

So Kevin Brownlow titled his book of interviews with forgotten stars of the silent era in 1969 and the title could be seen to encapsulate Billy Wilder’s wonderfully acerbic look at Hollywood as well as any, with Joe Gillis even saying at one point that Norma Desmond was “still waving proudly at a parade which had long since passed her by.”  Sunset Boulevard is a film to make one mourn for the silent era in more ways than one, undiminished by several imitations and an inferior Lloyd-Webber musical treatment.  A veritable mausoleum to twenties Hollywood, as forgotten as that mansion Norma calls home which, to quote Gillis, “seemed to have been stricken by a kind of creeping paralysis.”

The plot follows a down and out movie writer from Ohio who is one step away from returning home and calling it quits when he gets a flat tyre on the eponymous Los Angeles road and turns into the first drive he can to escape the finance officers with a court order on his Plymouth Convertible.  It turns out to be the driveway of a forgotten legendary silent film star, Norma Desmond, who is expecting a man from a funeral parlour come to bury her beloved chimp with almost necrophiliac care (indeed, later on, when she talks of the scene in herSalome script where she kisses the decapitated head of John the Baptist, Gillis quips “they’ll love it in Pamona…“).  Continue Reading »


 © 2014 by James Clark

       It seems a bit strange, wanting at the outset to dig into a rather complex point of film design, for a film virtually no one has seen. But, as never before with this series of film finds, we are about a film disclosure that entails a much-deserved rebirth, in the wake of the extreme failure to thrive that was its fate back in 2012, when it attracted (ignored) kudos on the part of a handful of critics but received no serious distribution. Blancanieves came forward as, alas, the second (by mere months) silent film of the 21st century (after Michel Hazanavicius’ enormously popular and acclaimed comedy, The Artist. Both Hazanavicius and Pablo Berger, the writer/director of our film here, worked independently to mine crucial currents of sensibility that could be startlingly accentuated by bringing body language to very intense levels in silent black and white filming replete with special filtering of the grey scale and a cast of masters of dance and mime. But whereas The Artist banked upon the copious rich windfalls forthcoming to largely mainstream domesticity, Blancanieves had a far darker and deeper story to tell.

Which brings us to that “complex point” we have to tackle in order to dispel any inferences that this narrative, packing an infrastructure teeming with details of the children’s story, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, could be effectively engaged as suffused by the sentimental simplism of the Brothers Grimm and their ancient sources; or, for that matter, any “adult” variant of the conquest of evil by the forces of virtue. The Snow White factor, it won’t be so hard to demonstrate, hangs out there (as do the antiquated auras of the silent and black and white format and the eventuation of the bullfight and its rituals) as instancing historical architecture in the process of being razed by an intimate illumination of unprecedented cynicism, risk and disinterestedness. Though the original tale shows a poisoned heroine’s body lying in state in all its beauty in a shrine, under constant watch by the troupe of dwarfs, to be, before long, brought back to life by a loving hero’s kiss, our film (uncountable light-years away from Disney) has a bullfighter agent—who had taken advantage of the illiteracy of Snow White (Blancanieves), the novelty starlet in that field, to lock her into a lifetime contract for peanuts—putting her beautiful corpse on stage in a freak show, where men (and the occasional woman) would pay him to take a shot at delivering a magic kiss to bring her back to life. (Every night, by means of a mechanism hidden within the coffin, someone gets to imagine his kiss making her sit up and smile.) This being in fact a Surrealist shocker which goes on to take our breath away by its acuity regarding love, the freak show is preceded by the father of Carmencita (Snow White’s original name before getting into show biz along with 7 bullfighting dwarfs), a wheel chair-ridden former great matador, being pushed to his death down a long flight of stairs by his love-deficient second wife who proceeds to charge his fans to have their photo taken with him in his Suit of Lights. Continue Reading »


Note: The twelfth entry in the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series was selected by WitD site writer extraordinaire Maurizio Roca, who credits this review for his own coming around on the film in a big way.  Allan chose it for the No. 4 spot in his 70’s countdown.

by Allan Fish

(UK 1975 187m) DVD1/2

Saraband for Embalmed Lovers

p  Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams  d/w  Stanley Kubrick  novel  “The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon” by William M.Thackeray  ph  John Alcott  ed  Tony Lawson  md  Leonard Rosenman  m  Franz Schubert, W.A.Mozart, George F.Handel, J.S.Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Paisiello, Frederick the Great, Irish folk music  art  Ken Adam, Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon  cos  Milena Canonero, Ulla-Britt Soderlund

Ryan O’Neal (Redmond Barry/Barry Lyndon), Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon), Patrick Magee (The Chevalier de Baribari), Hardy Kruger (Captain Potzdorf), Leon Vitali (Lord Bullingdon), Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady), Leonard Rossiter (Captain John Quin), Murray Melvin (Rev.Samuel Runt), Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan), Arthur O’Sullivan (Highwayman), Diana Koerner (German girl), Marie Kean (Barry’s mother), Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Lyndon), André Morell (Lord Wendover), Philip Stone (Graham), Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd), Pat Roach (Cpl.Tool), Ferdy Mayne, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Sharp, Michael Hordern (Narrator),

As the Radio Times put it, a.k.a “1789: A Georgian Odyssey”.  How can I put into words my feelings for this incredibly savage film?  Taken on face value, it is probably the most pictorially beautiful film ever made; a series of breathtaking painterly images put together with the barest threads of plot, with several exquisite uses of candlelight and sunlight that remain unsurpassed for their beauty, shot by Orange lenser Alcott with equally spectacular clarity and through natural light (and with the help of the groundbreaking lenses of Carl Zeiss).  Some have said that as a narrative it’s too drawn out and far too slow.  On that score alone they are absolutely right.  However, though neither was quite as long, the same could also be said of Kubrick’s two previous visions of the future,2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange.  He was forgiven there because they were prophecies of the future that must, by their very definitions, be symbolic to a point.  Those who praise A Clockwork Orange praise it not for its plot but for its savage (in more ways than one) damnation of society.  That is where people have made an understandable but fatal mistake with regards to this Thackeray adaptation.  Continue Reading »

The Dupes (1972)


Note:  The eleventh entry in the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series, ‘The Dupes’ was chosen by longtime WitD adherent and gifted film commentator Kaleem Hasan, the erstwhile proprietor of ‘Satyamshot’

by Allan Fish

(Syria 1972 106m) not on DVD

Aka. Al Makh-du’un

The heartbeat of the earth

d/w  Tewfik Saleh  novel  Ghassan Kanafani  ph  Bahgat Heidar  ed  Farin Dib, Saheb Haddad  m  Solhi El-Wadi

Mohamed Kheir-Halouani (Abou Keïss), Abderrahman Alrahy (Abou Kheizarane), Bazzan Lofti Abou-Gazzala (Assad), Saleh Kholoki (Marouane), Thanaa Debsi (Om Keïss),

One of the biggest stumbling blocks to composing a work like this is to put aside but not entirely dismiss personal taste and familiarity.  Where this becomes most difficult is with regard to foreign classics tailored for home audiences.  The most obvious example is Bollywood, which western audiences can either embrace or shun, but there are others.  Take the often broad comedy employed in Hong Kong action films or the gypsy subculture that forms the heart of several important Yugoslav films from Petrovic to Kusturica.  Then there’s the biggest blind spot of all, African film, a true appreciation of which requires an immersing into the culture, flavour and aroma of what is, to western eyes, the most unknown of continents. 

All these cultures do at least have an identity and a home in those countries.  What, however, of Palestinians, the ultimate modern nomads, thrown out of their own country on a political expedient to cleanse the west of the guilt of its inaction over the Nazi Holocaust.  They’ve barely been touched by the cinema, so watching Tewfik Saleh’s criminally unseen film now seems a matter of historical and cultural necessity, almost irrespective of its cinematic worth, which is not to be underestimated. Continue Reading »


divine and kids

melanie and poe

by Sam Juliano

The Allan Fish Bonanza Encore Series is moving ahead magnificently, and will continue until October 28th.  I have decided to add a third full week in view of the series’ success, and simply because when Allan is around even if only in spirit, Wonders in the Dark is just such an incomparably exciting place.  Furthermore, even when we do reach the 28th, the series will not end, but will continue every weekend with postings on both Saturday and Sunday!  And this schedule will be rigidly maintained until May of 2015, at which time it is anticipated that Allan will be back in print with new stuff.  In any case we would like to thank all the readers and regulars who answered the call of duty by making some fantastic selections in the comment section of the announcement post, with a few others reaching me by e mail.  Deepest thanks too are extended to those who have contributed some wonderfully inspiring comments under the encore postings of some of the best film reviews ever written by anyone.  It has been a great ride and frankly the fun has only just begun.

Lucille, the kids, Broadway Bob and I took a day-trip down to Baltimore on Saturday, and managed an incredible number of stops until we departed home at around 8:30 P.M.  Arriving at around 11:00 A.M., we visited Divine’s (Glenn Harris Milstead)  grave at Prospect Hill Cemetery in bordering Towson about five miles out of downtown Baltimore.  We then toured the small cemetery alongside Westminster Church, where Edgar Allan Poe is laid to rest along with his beloved young bride and family members.  We visited the Poe House, a short distance away in a run-down area of town, where the literary icon lived in his late 20’s.  We then caught the pulse of the city, encircling Camden Yards, where thousands of Orioles fans descended on the popular ballpark for the 4:00 P.M. playoff game with the Kansas City Royals.  (The Orioles lost that game to go down 0-2 in the best-of-seven-series for the American League pennant).  One ticketless fan told me he’d pay a scalper’s price of $500 for a ticket, but of course we had none to offer.  It was quite an exciting place to be with the pennant fever in the air.  We then visited St. Jude’s Shrine, the mid-week home of our own Our Lady of Grave Pastor, the Rev. Peter Sticco.  We made a stop at The Senator movie palace, where John Waters movie all had their premieres and much enjoyed all the fantastic sidewalk engravings for many films that opened there dating back decades.  We also eyed the storefront that was once the “Hefty Hideaway” in Hairspray, and finally Fells Point along the harbor, where numerous quaint shops were toured, including the storefront once owned and operated by beloved Waters regular Edith Massey.  The kids absolutely loved the city and are hot to trot for a return visit.  We dined at an Old Country Buffet in a Baltimore suburb, and then headed back home.  We covered a remarkable amount of ground for the relatively short period we were there. Continue Reading »


Note: This tenth entry in the stellar Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series was chosen by a former commentator and good friend, ‘Frederick’ who is tasteful cineaste.  His choice was sent on to me by e mail.  He hopes to comment again in the future.

by Allan Fish

(Czechoslovakia 1970 74m) DVD1/2

Aka. Valerie A Tyden Divu

Valerie the Vampire Slayer

p  Jaromil Jires  d  Jaromil Jires  w  Jaromil Jires, Ester Krumachova  story  Viteslav Nezval  ph  Jan Curik  ed  Josef Vausiak  m  Lubos Fiser  art  Jan Oliva

Jaroslava Schallerova (Valerie), Jan Klusak (Gracian), Helena Anyzova, Petr Kopriva, Juiri Prymek,

Well, it’s certainly more of a mouthful than Buffy.  And slayer probably isn’t quite the word either, but the idea of a young girl coming face to face with vampires was not just created by Joss Whedon; Jaromil Jires beat him to it by over twenty years.  However, though vampires appear it isn’t a vampire movie at all, but rather a study in adolescence and female sexual discovery.  It’s also the sort of film that could never, and indeed will never, be made in the US or even the UK, where it would outrage the moral majority.

Valerie is a thirteen year old redhead who has fantastic dreams and a rich imagination.  She lives with her grandmother, a pale but youthful looking woman who has never been near a man since her seduction and impregnation with Valerie’s mother at seventeen.  Valerie is warned by her grandmother not to wear her mother’s earrings, which seem to possess some sort of magical significance and, not doing so, finds herself in increasingly fantastic scenarios, involving witchcraft, vampirism and ghosts (even involving her dead parents) and at the same time, is beginning to explore her sexuality.  Continue Reading »


Note: This review of Abbas Kiarostami’s ‘Through the Olive Trees,’ is the ninth posted in the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series.  It was chosen by Film Noir writer extraordinaire Tony d’Ambra, who confided that Allan himself always favored this piece as one of his own best.

by Allan Fish

(Iran 1994 104m) not on DVD

Aka. Zire darakhatan zeyton

25 or 65?

p  Abbas Kiarostami  d/w/ed  Abbas Kiarostami  ph  Hossein Jafarian, Farhad Saba

Mohamad Ali Keshavarz (the director), Farhad Kheradmand (Farhad), Zarifeh Shiva (Miss Shiva), Hossein Rezai (Hossein), Tahereh Ladanian (Tahereh),

It’s difficult to say where the story begins, or indeed when.  1987 seems a good place to start, with the release of Where is the Friend’s House?  Kiarostami’s film was simplicity itself, following one little boy’s search for another boy in his class because he’s accidentally picked up the other boy’s notebook and, if he doesn’t return it, said other boy could be expelled from school.  The location of the tale is Koker, northern Iran, is not especially important at this time.  There was an old lady who swallowed a fly…

Koker would become known for other reasons soon enough, as the whole area was effectively flattened by a terrible earthquake in 1990.  Around 50,000 people lost their lives, still more lost their homes. Kiarostami, concerned about the people who had welcomed him to make the film a few years previously, decided to make a film about it.  And Life Goes On… would be about a fictional film director, essentially himself by proxy, travelling with his little boy, back to the region to try and find trace of survivors from the earlier film and see how they are coping with their lives after such a calamity.  He has with him a poster of the earlier film, with the little boy from the film, Ahmed, on it.  He asks various people along the way if anyone knows the boy.  One man says he does, but also says he doesn’t know if the boy or his family have survived.  The director goes on and his journey becomes less about the boy and more about seeing people going about their daily shattered lives, including a newly married man and woman.  We don’t find out what happened to the boy.  There was an old lady who swallowed a spider… Continue Reading »


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