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Note: This is the sixteenth entry in the fabulous Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series.  The choice Howard Hawkes’ classic “Only Angels Have Wings” was chosen by the renowned film writer Judy Geater, the erstwhile proprietor of ‘Movie Classics’

by Allan Fish

(USA 1939 121m) DVD1/2

Calling Barranca

p/d  Howard Hawks  w  Jules Furthman (and William Rankin, Eleanor Griffith) story  Howard Hawks  ph  Joseph Walker, Elmer Dyer  ed  Viola Lawrence  md  Morris Stoloff  m  Dimitri Tiomkin, Manuel Maciste  art  Lionel Banks  cos  Robert Kalloch

Cary Grant (Geoff Carter), Jean Arthur (Bonnie Lee), Rita Hayworth (Judith McPherson), Richard Barthelmess (Bat McPherson), Thomas Mitchell (Kid Dabb), Sig Ruman (John ‘Dutchy’ Van Reiter), Victor Kilian (Sparks), John Carroll (Gent Shelton), Allyn Joslyn (Les Peters), Noah Beery Jnr (Joe Souther), Donald Barry (Tex Gordon),

Howard Hawks directed many masterpieces, but I’ll be darned if this isn’t my favourite of them.  It may not be the best of his films, but it’s the most typical, a truly uplifting (in more ways than one) tale of camaraderie in the toughest of environments, a tale of men loving, losing and drinking their way through life taking each minute as it comes.  Quite simply it’s the sort of film that Alexandre Dumas might have made, had he been a film director in the 1930s.

Geoff Carter runs a business for a Dutch bar owner in Ecuador running mail over the Andes in planes that can, at best, be described as rust-buckets.  Under him is his best friend, a flyer of more than twenty years, Kid, who is coming to the end of his flying days because of failing eyesight.  Into their mix comes a showgirl just off the banana boat who gets caught up in their mentality and lifestyle and falls in love with Carter.  However, things start to go awry when Carter’s old flame turns up as wife to the new flyer, who also happens to be the guy responsible for Kid’s brother’s death. Continue Reading »

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Note:  This longer piece from Allan on Halliwell’s famous Film Guide is the fifteenth in the ongoing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series.  It was selected by site regular and impassioned film buff Peter M.

by Allan Fish

I can well remember my first Film Guide.  It was the Halliwell’s, 6th edition, from around 1987.  Harold Lloyd was on the cover, his hands sticking out in front of him to stop that flying girder in his classic short Never Weaken.  My acquaintance with that guide, at the age of fifteen in late 1988, came less than 12 months before Leslie Halliwell’s premature death in his 60th year in early 1989.  He’d spent over two decades updating the ‘Filmgoer’s Companion’ and, latterly from the mid 70s, the ‘Halliwell’s Film Guide’.  The third reference book he wrote, the ‘Television Companion’ died with him, the last edition going out in 1986, and a fair proportion of that work had, in the immediately preceding years, been done by Philip Purser.  Besides, Britain in 1989 was the cusp of satellite television, of Sky and BSB before they merged, and the time when cable TV really started coming into its own in the US. 

In short, that book was no longer practicable.   The Guide and the Companion continued, however, and under the auspices of John Walker the Guide maintained its former glories, and whindled away the prejudice – not without just cause – that modern films were given short shrift in the Guide (at Halliwell’s death in 1989, no films since Bonnie and Clyde in 1967 had the maximum **** rating).  Both books entered the new millennium more valuable and exhaustively researched than they’d ever been, but then but a year or two ago the decision was made – who by, who knows? – to replace Walker with David Gritten.  I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but when you consider the book was published by Harper Collins, well known as part of the Rupert Murdoch empire, then one has to have grave suspicions about the motives for the change. Continue Reading »

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Note: This fourteenth entry in the stupendous Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series was chosen by Allan’s very good friend ‘James,’ an impassioned film buff, who has benefited greatly by Alan’s generosity and film scholarship.  This is first of several choices made by James that will appear.

by Allan Fish

(Philippines 2007 540m) not on DVD

Aka. Kagadanan sa banwaan ning mga Engkanto

The Tomb of Mother Nature

p  Lav Diaz  d/w  Lav Diaz  ph  Lav Diaz  ed  Lav Diaz  m  Lav Diaz  art  Dante Perez

Roeder Camanag (Benjamin Agusan), Angeli Bayani (Catalina), Perry Dizon (Teodoro),

When the super typhoon Durian ripped through the rural Filipino area known as the Bicol in November 2006, one cannot help but have responded with a sense of déjà vu.  Images of the wreckage and desolation wrought firstly by the Sri Lankan tsunami of 2004 and then hurricane Katrina in 2005, one could forgiven for thinking that the Book of Revelation was being writ in letters large enough to even impress C.B.de Mille.  A fortnight after the first distressing scenes relayed around the world on CNN, director Lav Diaz journeyed to the Bicol region surrounding the village of Padang, the area where, but a few years earlier, he’d shot his docu-drama Evolution of a Filipino Family and where he’d also made Heremias.  His original intention was to make a documentary, to film the devastation for himself.  Interviews were conducted with various dispossessed, but still thankful to be alive, locals.  Yet somehow the documentary wasn’t enough, he needed to express his feelings in a more narrative-focused way, so that though the interview footage was used intermittently through the piece, they would be merely footnotes to the piece.

The main story focuses on a poet, Benjamin Agusan, who has been living for several years in the Russian town of Kaluga and who, upon hearing about the tragedy, returns to his Bicol village to find out what happened to his parents and family.  He finds that they are all dead, some buried alive, but he also meets up with two old friends; firstly his former lover, artist and sculptor Catalina, who he left over a decade earlier, and a fellow poet, Teodoro.  All three have their spectres, corporeal or otherwise, and their recollections, ruminations and emotional traumas form the core of the film. Continue Reading »

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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 »

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 © 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 »

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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)

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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 »

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