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Doom

by Stephen Mullen

There’s no romance like a doomed romance, and no one does doomed romance like Kenji Mizoguchi. Couples form, usually ill-considered pairings, and they suffer – and suffer and suffer and suffer some more. Though not always together – women suffer more than men, usually for the benefit of men, who go on to better things because of the suffering of a woman; think of The Tale of the Last Chrysanthemum, or Ugetsu, for that matter. But that is something that distinguishes Chikamatsu Monogatari from the rest. It is a tale of doomed romance, and the lovers suffer, they suffer indeed – but they suffer together, and, by Mizoguchi standards, the ending (this isn’t exactly a spoiler, since the film is also known as The Tale of Crucified Lovers) is a positively joyous one. They die, yes, but they die together.

It is a convoluted tale, set in 17th century Kyoto, derived from two classic Japanese authors, Chikamatsu and Saikaku. A woman, Osan, is married to a printer – the Great Printer of Kyoto. She has a useless brother who begs money from her, but her husband is a cheapskate; her husband also lusts for a maid, Otama – who pines for Mohei, the printers best employee; Otama tells Ishun (the printer) that she and Mohei plan to marry, hoping he will leave her alone – it backfires, and he just grows jealous. Mohei, meanwhile, is kind of Osan, who asks him for help for her brother – he is glad to get her money, but he has to embezzle it to get it. A co-worker catches him, and tries to blackmail him – sparking repentance and honesty in Mohei, to everyone’s sorrow. He tells the Great Printer – who is already jealous, and when Otama jumps in saying he did it for her, it all gets worse. Ishun, for all his wealth, is a penny pincher and a philanderer, and here Mohei is stealing his money and his girl! So he locks up Mohei, while the women talk – and when Otama admits to Ishun’s lust for her, Osan plans to trap him by hiding in Otama’s bed – but Mohei escapes and goes to Otama (he thinks) before Ishun gets there – and they are caught together (Mohei and Osan). Ishun, fearing the disgrace to him from this, tells Osan to kill herself – instead she runs away – with Mohei. And so their fates are sealed. Continue Reading »

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© 2014 by James Clark

Boyhood (2014), seemingly in its trailer to be nothing so much as a Disney cash cow, is a uniquely forward-looking movie. Joining a roster of contemporary films on the case of what the old Surrealists referred to as the “more,” it is decidedly and thrillingly distant from “art” films as we have come to know them. Strikingly estranged from those blue-chip sagas of horrifyingly rugged individualism with their burdens of physical carnage and emotional massacre, it dares, in the confines of the Lone Star State, to convey the subversive phenomenon (shocking in iconoclastic circles because apparently rather conventional) of slow, uncertain maturation toward something new. Adding to its pariah status within the orbit of very tough love is its gusto for discovery about how mainstream domesticity fosters, however willy-nilly, migration away from mainstream domesticity.

The boyhood of Mason, our protagonist, might be imagined to be a variation upon James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But that would be feeble imagining. Moored as he is to a channel of its own reckoning, Linklater has nothing to do with precious softies—being in fact much closer to Anton Corbijn’s sharp kick in the gut to those clever dandies, Jules and Jim, namely, his movie about the ill-starred band, Joy Division, titled, Control (2007). We’re firmly in Texas, here (Linklater’s home-state); but not the gun-crazy Texas of the Coens and David Lynch, nor the virus-paced, transcendental-mystic Texas of Terrence Malick, nor the mass-homicide-friendly Texas of Quentin Tarantino. We’re in a Texas where it’s a big deal that a sophomore co-ed (Mason’s sister, Samantha, whom we saw to be a precociously [sophomoric] smart-assed nine-year-old [her divorced mother’s pointing out the family’s needing to move to Houston, where her mother would help with the kids while she goes to college to enable supporting them financially, eliciting from her, “Fine, Mother. Do whatever you want. We’re not moving…No.No.No!” [and she makes snappy popping sounds with her lips to register as a robot]]) cannot, in contrast to other family members and friends giving droll toasts to Mason on his graduating from high school, do more than have a bit of stage fright and mumble, “Good luck…” Her succumbing to such disarray—when her brother, whom she had made the butt of so many of her self-confident barbs, was now able to face with considerable poise and eagerness the challenges of his own imminent stint in college—is arresting in its glimpse of that viscosity weighing upon the narrative’s myriad efforts to catch and control fire. Continue Reading »

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Streetwise drifter Hal and small-town beauty queen Madge (William Holden and Kim Novak) bask in the delicious glow of sudden, explosive love at a Labor Day picnic. Because this film is based, however, on William Inge’s award-winning play about strained human relationships, the couple’s bliss gets complicated in a hurry.

by Pierre de Plume

Falling in love with love is falling for make believe,
Falling in love with love is playing the fool.
Caring too much is such a juvenile fancy,
Learning to trust is just for children in school.
I fell in love with love one night when the moon was full,
I was unwise with eyes unable to see.
I fell in love with love, with love everlasting,
But love fell out with me.

“Falling in Love With Love,” lyrics by Lorenz Hart,
from the Broadway musical “The Boys From Syracuse” (1938)

Despite the cynicism expressed in the above lyrics about romantic love, I believe most of us are nevertheless a little bit in love with love. What keeps us going, I also believe, is the hope that our lives somehow will transcend the pragmatic aspects and conjoin at some level with our idealized notions of eros and, therefore, personal fulfillment.

Picnic, the film adaptation of William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play, seems designed to encourage viewers to indulge this fantasy while at the same time showing us the dangerous pitfalls and turmoil that adventurous, even unbridled love may bring. These themes are made evident not only through the film’s central romance but also through most of its characters. Continue Reading »

36. Manhattan

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Manhattan came possibly as a conclusion to the most remarkable purple patch in Woody Allen’s prolific and brilliant career as a filmmaker. The phenomenal streak began with Love and Death, his first masterpiece in my reckoning and the film that, despite its farcical nature, marked his transition to serio-comic cinema. He followed that up with Annie Hall, one of the great works of American cinema and the beginning of his love affair with urban neurotic relationships and New York. Next came Interiors, a stark chamber drama that stunned the audience with its deathly serious tone and made his fascination with Bergman clear. Manhattan, which ranks amongst many as Woody’s greatest work, marked the culmination of all his great hallmarks and signatures. Though he continued to make stellar works in the years to come (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Husbands and Wives are the ones that place highest in my opinion), the above streak ensured that cinephiles and film students start considering Woody as a serious and accomplished auteur, and hence, in turn, his elevation to the pantheon of great filmmakers, artistes and social commentators.

Continue Reading »

Brenton Thwaites in screen capture from haunting THE GIVER, based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newbery Award winning masterpiece.

Capture from Lenny Abramson’s audacious and melancholy FRANK.

by Sam Juliano

Relatively mild August temperatures continue to stay the course as we move closer to the final days of the month that usually scorches.  Vacations are reaching the last leg, as September and the new school year is just about two weeks away.  A very difficult week, with the loss of a 64 year-old first cousin (mother’s brother’s daughter), Antoinette Rotundo, who suffered through a decades-long illness, and a bike accident in Toms River down the Jersey shore that required a hospital stay for my brother Thomas Juliano (Fairview Police Chief).  Concussion, broken nose and face scrapes were the result of the mishap.  After visiting my brother in the Toms River Medical Center -he will be fine but a little recuperation time at home- we all stopped down at Seaside again for their famed large slice pizzas and another brief excursion on the boardwalk.

The Romantic Countdown continues, moving closer to the two-thirds completion point.  It all ends on October 6th.

Lucille, young Sammy and I (and the others for one) managed to see three films this week around the hospital visits, several wakes and my cousin’s funeral: Continue Reading »

When_Harry_Met_Sally_01

by J. D. Lafrance

Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? This is the question that When Harry Met Sally… (1989) asks and then wisely leaves up to the viewer to decide. Released in 1989, this romantic comedy is a classic example of the right people in the right place at the right time with Rob Reiner directing, Nora Ephron writing and Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the romantic leads with old standards re-interpreted by a then-up-and-coming singer Harry Connick, Jr. The results were amazing to say the least, launching the careers of the aforementioned into the stratosphere and creating a benchmark that every romantic comedy has since been judged by.

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) meets Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) after they both graduate from university and share a car ride from Chicago to New York City. Along the way, they argue about the differences between men and women and Harry says that they can never be friends because sex always gets in the way, to which Sally disagrees. She finds him obnoxious and he thinks that she’s too uptight. Once Harry and Sally arrive in New York and go their separate ways, they figure that they will never see each other again. Over the years, Harry and Sally run into each other again during various stages in their lives and become friends. The film chronicles the development of their relationship. Continue Reading »

38. Senso

by Sam Juliano

Italian director Luchino Visconti began his career in the theater, directing works of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller in his home country, before moving on to film and opera.  As to the latter form he achieved a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest opera directors of his time, and worked closely with “La Divina” Maria Callas in La Vestale, just after completing his fourth film Senso (1954), a work of exceeding operatic scope, and melodramatic essence.  Like a number of the greatest operas, Senso was a disaster upon its release.  It was critically savaged in Italy as a betrayal of neorealism, and stateside it was mutilated, dubbed into English, and re-titled as the lurid The Wanton Countess.  It took Italian film aficionado Martin Scorsese and the Criterion collection to gloriously return to film to visual splendor with a terrific 2011 restoration for DVD and blu-ray.

It can be persuasively argued that Senso has an operatic structure, offering up doomed lovers, posturing soldiers, clandestine nocturnal meetings, brazen adultery and extravagant demise.  Appropriately enough, the very first scene of Senso takes place in an opera house – the historic Teatro La Fenice in Venice, which stands today still as a major operatic venue, as it was back when the film was made and even when the story was set, nearly hundred years before that in 1866.  The opera being staged is one of the great classics, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and the rousing aria “Di quella pira” is being negotiated by the work’s main male protagonist, Manrico, who in effect is urging a call to arms to his compatriots who are fighting against Austrian occupiers in a bid for Italian Risorgimento (reunification).  At the close of the aria, gallery revolutionaries drop leaflets that are colored like the Italian flag to the orchestra section, inhabited mostly by Austrian officers. Continue Reading »

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