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By Marilyn Ferdinand

When I affirmed I’d be part of this countdown, I sent a title to Sam to see if he thought it was appropriate for a film festival named for Allan. Sam, always the accommodating host at Wonders in the Dark, said, of course it was. I mulled that for some time until I realized I might be trying to school Allan from the other side of the pearly gates on films he generally overlooked in his expansive view of cinema (yes, we all have our blind spots). Following that realization, I looked for a different film, one on which Allan himself might have offered some pointed criticism that would make cinephilia a better place. I came up with Bedelia.

Allan showed some esteem for Bedelia’s director, Lance Comfort, whose Hatter’s Castle made his Movie Timeline for 1942. He also seems to have respected the talents of Margaret Lockwood, who plays the title character in Bedelia. He included her as a runner-up in two of his “Best of” lists, for supporting actress in The Stars Look Down (1939) and actress for The Man in Grey (1941). He had this to say about her in his review of 1939’s A Girl Must Live:

Lockwood had achieved stardom the previous year in The Lady Vanishes and (Carol) Reed’s Bank Holiday and this would be her second of four films for Reed – The Stars Look Down and Night Train to Munich would follow – and it’s fascinating to think of her playing the innocent ingénue only a few years before bitching up the screen in regency costume dramas.”I wonder if Allan would have seen her mesmerizing performance in Bedelia as a warm-up for her imperious later roles. It certainly seems that way to me.

Lockwood plays Bedelia Carrington, the brand-new bride of Charlie Carrington (Ian Hunter), a middle-class Yorkshire building engineer. While on their honeymoon in Monte Carlo, they make the acquaintance of an artist, Ben Cheney (Barry K. Barnes), who arranges to chat them up at their fancy hotel—an extravagance for both men. Bedelia has been married before, to an emerging artist who died young. Ben promises Charlie to see if he can find a painting by Bedelia’s first husband—unaccountably, she has none of his works—and promises to look the couple up after all are back in England to finish a portrait of Bedelia Charlie commissioned in Monte Carlo. This he does, also bringing a painting signed with her late husband’s signature to a Christmas party hosted by the Carringtons. That very evening, Charlie falls very ill and hovers near death for weeks. His slow, steady recovery under the watchful eye of a private-duty nurse (Jill Esmond), however, seems to make Bedelia more and more anxious. It’s only a matter of time until her dark secret leads to a strangely compassionate conclusion.

We learn in the opening frames that Bedelia is some kind of wicked enchantress, as a voiceover by Ben reveals her peculiar nature as we gaze at a pretty crummy painting of the ravishingly beautiful woman. To its credit, however, the film maintains an admirable suspense, allowing Lockwood to build a character who keeps us off-balance—a gorgeous woman who, like Rita Hayworth, is more than the sum of her hair tosses. We know she is hiding something when she lies to her husband, but she seems absolutely besotted with him. We know she doesn’t like to be photographed or drawn, but she agrees, albeit reluctantly, to allow Ben to paint her portrait. We feel the same revulsion toward Ben that she does; he appears to be watching Bedelia, questioning a jeweler about a pearl she brought in to be reset, and he rents a dog to get Bedelia to talk to him.

Ian Hunter is an excellent foil for Lockwood. Playing a doting husband with a welcoming sense of humor, he is completely natural in his relationship with Bedelia—including standing up to her when she makes what he considers to be unreasonable demands. He’s not a clueless dupe, and his love and equanimity with her has us believing Bedelia’s declaration that he is different from any other men she’s met. Equally, Barnes isn’t afraid to behave like an aggressive cad who works hard—maybe too hard—to throw Bedelia off her game. A great supporting cast fills out this film that is more than a mystery; it’s a finely wrought melodrama about the complicated nature of love, hate, and the drive for freedom.

Bedelia derives from a novel by Vera Caspary, whose novel Laura formed the basis for one of cinema’s most famous and acclaimed noir films. Caspary, a successful author of murder mysteries, collaborated on the screenplay for Bedelia, an apprenticeship in the art of writing for film that would eventually win her accolades from the Writers Guild of America for A Letter to Three Wives (1950). The film might have reached the heights of Laura (1944), whose opening it mimics, if it had been made on a Hollywood budget, not the shoestring that usually attended productions by British National Films (BNF), a company that went belly-up only two years after Bedelia was released. But no expense was spared in dressing Lockwood, whose allure is essential to the effectiveness of the film; I don’t think I saw her wear anything more than once in any scene, not even her robe.

Bedelia is not perfect or terribly stylish, but its psychological complexity and some of its plot points are echoed in some of the world’s greatest films, including Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). I’d like to think that Bedelia is a film Allan would have appreciated.

You can view Bedelia on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7WPeJRXaF0

 

 

When I think back to the many conversations I had with Allan about film, I think most fondly about our discussions about the French 1930s. We both shared an affinity for the period, and we had remarkably similar tastes and shared some favorite filmmakers. Of course Renoir was a typical topic, especially when it was announced the La Chienne would be joining the Criterion Collection, but our conversations seemed to gravitate more to the obscure. Julien Duvivier was the director that came up the most.

It is no secret among friends that Allan was often critical of The Criterion Collection. He was a champion of obscure filmmakers that might not be popular with the mainstream (unlike Renoir), and felt that Criterion sat on the rights of quality films because there would not be an audience. He had a good argument, one in which I could not altogether defend, but he also gave praise when needed. When Criterion announced that they were releasing the Eclipse Set, Duvivier in the 1930s, he was elated. He knew these four films and credited Criterion for bringing attention to a nearly forgotten director, with selections that were near his career peak.

My first experience with Duvivier was years ago when I saw La Belle Equipe on a YouTube stream (since removed). I later saw Un Carnet du Bal, again online through a stream (also removed), and finally saw his most celebrated noir and realist classic, Pépé le Moko on Criterion disc. With all three, I was enraptured by the richly drawn characters, the fantastic performances from stars like Jean Gabin and Harry Baur, and the use of surreal film language to punctuate such brilliantly romantic and often tragic tales. Why this filmmaker was not considered to be near the top of the decade was mind boggling, and why his work was largely unavailable was frustrating. Continue Reading »

 © 2017 by James Clark

     Ten (2002) begins with a mother and her pre-adolescent son moving along the streets of Tehran in her car. Although a vicious, lacerating dispute takes place, which has an effect similar to stunning seasickness, we should, for the sake of the lucidity to be found in that stifling cabin cruiser (always seen from the inside) and the subsequent episodes of patrolling those roads, stand back, for a bit, from the opening emotional blood-letting and let ourselves be delighted by Corky, the LA cabby, and her fare, Victoria, the Hollywood talent scout, in the first episode of Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth (1991). The foul-mouth boy is a sort of talent scout, scouting the prospect of inducing his open-road mother to play the part of a stay-at-home-mom in a story made to garner acclaim from those demanding dutiful piety. The philosophical driver, like Corky, runs over the crock that rigid matrimony (like rigid fame) constitutes; and she lives to drive another day, and many other days.

Whereas Victoria sees Corky’s point and wishes her well on her rocky road, Amin, the Tehran passenger—like the Idi Amin—discloses a vein of resentment toward interpersonal complication which, though aberrant, is also intrinsic. As such, Ten comprises a multi-faceted dialogue on the subject which could be termed, “How far do you want to investigate the phenomenon of love?” The first episode, labelled “10,” as affixed to the driver’s other drives which the film provides over a quite short period counting down to “1,” could be seen as a vividly dramatic study of the fallout of a divorce. (We learn, from the two major battles along that kinetic way, that the divorce occurred seven years ago, she has remarried, but her first husband—whom we see on several occasions, but always in a white jeep [evoking a UN bureaucratic Peace-Keeper, devoutly rule-driven, obsessed with an antiquated utopian end of strife]—an avid porn connoisseur, is less than able to contribute to putting together a serious support for his son; but that he has, in occasional contacts, become a factor nevertheless in inculcating Amin to a dogmatic primitiveness [linked to unpaid “activist” causes] which the driver had overcome. During the verbal brawl, she insists. “You’re like your father. He shut me away, destroyed me. He wanted me only for himself.” [At which point the clever primitive gives her a dagger-like sideways glance and commands, “Not so loud! Not so loud or I won’t listen to you…”] The skirmish turns to her demand, “I’ll say what I have to say” and his “I don’t want to listen” and cupping his ears.) However, as we look closely at the negotiations in the sanctuary of her smoothly-running vehicle, we realize that though Amin, true to his name, is a vicious, implacable thug, his mother (never named and thereby approximating an anonymity at the heart of her actions) is caught up in making an effort, an effort which has been repeated many times, to enlighten her son about the paradox of caring for a flesh-and-blood loved-one while belonging to something more. Episode 10, therefore, shows her (penultimate) folly in supposing a creature of Amin’s age and pathology would ever attain to anything resembling effective reflection. Continue Reading »

Street3

”Everywhere….in every town….in every street….we pass, unknowing, human souls made great through love and adversity.”

 

One of Allan’s greatest gifts was sharing his passion for films long forgotten or never fully appreciated. In keeping with that theme, my review highlights a film never before posted to this site. Certainly not made for cynical audiences, Borzage represents a style of filmmaking that has mostly fallen out of favor. Here we have a director who pulls together themes of love and hardship, complete with expressive use of atmosphere: streets, apartments, rooftops filmed with scintillating panache. Then, throw all this together with heavy doses of melodramatic plot twists that are simply too crazy to believe. Melodrama, in the hands of Sirk or Fassbinder, tends to be something that modern audiences have welcomed. Their use of color and symbolism adds a layer of subversive commentary that Borzage lacks. But, Borzage excels at a certain kind of irony-free, old-fashioned story-telling that to my mind is worth championing for its propellant emotional energy.

 

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Although 7th Heaven gets most of the attention, and Lucky Star is a hidden gem, Street Angel is my favorite Borzage film and is a romantic masterpiece of the highest order, provided you’re willing to suspend disbelief. It is the story of Angela (Janet Gaynor), who in need of some money to purchase medicine for her mother, attempts to prostitute herself on the street. She winds up getting arrested for robbery and sentenced to a year in a work house. She runs off before being imprisoned, escaping to find her mother dead at home. She avoids the cops and runs off to join the circus, where she meets a painter named Gino. They strike up an awkward friendship but soon bond and fall in love. Their blossoming love and impending marriage is threatened when the police find her again. She is taken to prison while Gino is unaware. He thinks she is lost forever, and things get really interesting when she is released from prison a year later. Continue Reading »

The newly refurbished Quad on 13th Street may well have taken over poll position of the most discerning Big Apple cineastes.

by Sam Juliano

The Allan Fish Online Film Festival has proven a great success, and special kudos are in order for the impassioned writers who have brought creativity and film scholarship to the highest levels of appreciation.  Allan is no doubt watching down with pride.  The noble venture -conceived, scheduled and designed by Jamie Uhler- will continue until next weekend, when Yours Truly will compose the wind up post.  I have since received a request from a treasured U.K. blogger to add on, so it appears we will be running over a day or so.  I will discuss this later today with Jamie.  To all those who have read and placed comments the site’s inner circle offers up its deepest appreciation.  God willing we will move forward next year with the second installment of this enriching enterprise.

Meanwhile, the Top 60 Greatest Television series countdown project is now officially underway with the opening group e mail sent out earlier in the week.  At least eight ballots have been sent back in with a good many more before the deadline of June 15th, at which point Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will tabulate.  The countdown will then launch on July 1st and will run everyday until the planned end of August unveiling of the #1 selection.

Lucille and I saw three films in theaters this past week.  Included was our first appearance at the newly renovated and refurbished Quad Cinemas on 13th Street, which is truly the dream establishment for discerning cineastes, and a mandatory stop from here on in for Big Apple tourists.  I dare say it may have surpassed the Film Forum now in programming, special events and diversity, and the entire experience is state-of-the-art. Continue Reading »

by Joel Bocko

The best depiction of Jesus Christ onscreen is also, alas, one of the least-known (type its title into IMDb, and you’ll wade through five higher-ranked results). Dennis Potter’s feverish 1969 teleplay Son of Man depicts the most famous and celebrated figure in the history of the world as a dirty, half-mad prophet trembling in the wilderness and bellowing at his followers, with nary a miracle in sight (when Jesus performs an exorcism, the woman in his arms appears to die). Yet as depicted by a fully-committed Colin Blakely, this ferocious wild man is among the most charismatic and compelling Christs I’ve ever seen: fascinating in his forceful delivery and admirable in his consistency, responding to slaps, goads, and outright torture with a determination to practice what he preaches by “loving his neighbor.” Given that these neighbors include the cunning high priest Caiaphas (Bernard Hepton) and the flagrantly cruel and condescending Pontius Pilate (Robert Hardy), this is no small order. This Jesus gets no relief, no reward – there is no happy ending, no Easter Sunday resurrection following the Good Friday execution. He moans those famous words, “Why have you forsaken me?”, expires, and the lights dim while the camera pulls back.


Although this is without reservation a filmed play (it even aired on a BBC series entitled “The Wednesday Play”), and Potter himself later complained that Son of Man was “shot on video in three days in an electronic studio on a set that looks as though it’s trembling and about to fall down,” in fact there is a visceral cinematic punch to the images. Director Gareth Davies inserts us into the midst of crowds with his jostling handheld aesthetic, while he complements dramatic dialogue with subtly sweeping dollies and slow-burning pans: the camera is always moving. (One over-eager tilt, playing with the shadow of the cross behind Jesus’ head, even captures an unprepared boom mic in the frame.) The compulsively choppy cutting also keeps us on the edge of our seat: often we’ll leap from the very tail-end of one character’s sentence to a desert sermon reaching its climax, crowd caught in mid-cheer. In Potter’s and Davies’ hands, the ancient world becomes immediate and we are plunged headfirst into a tumultuous hothouse of rabblerousers, spiritual seekers, and cruel overlords. In this sense, the “trembling” set “about to fall down” is a virtue, this soundstage barely able to contain the sparks flying to and fro.

The film intercuts three characters’ storylines, playing various worldviews off one another: a bored, callous Pilate (no noble handwasher of legend) debating Jesus’ importance with soldiers and fellow administrators; a cagey yet not completely corrupt Caiaphas caught between appeasement of his Roman ruler and satisfaction of Messiah-hungry Jerusalem; and finally, a Jesus quite distant from the coiled intellectualism and burdensome political power of the other two central characters, but no less tormented by his sense of duty. Initially described as a “loon,” he wanders through the desert picking up followers and preaching the word of God, winning coverts as much through passionate, two-fisted delivery as through the stark, intoxicating words spilling from his lips. Screened at a time when youthful radicals were spurning conventional power structures and living by instinct and camaraderie rather than cold, careful strategy, Son of Man presents a Jesus whose earthy presence is a manifestation of the spiritual truths he represents. Colin Blakely invests this Christ with a hearty appreciation for the tangible, caressing a cross while ironically admiring the quality of its timber (in the film’s most celebrated line, Jesus sighs, “You should have stayed a tree, and I should have stayed a carpenter”).

The grubby, sweaty physicality of this Biblical landscape is underscored by frequent eruptions of brutality. Numerous bodies are beaten to a gory pulp in clashes between Romans and Jews, Pilate casually discusses pacifism while a gladiator is mutilated before his eyes, and Jesus himself is raised atop the cross with stinging lacerations criss-crossing his torso. In one of Son of Man‘s most chilling moments, the culmination of violence is suggested rather than shown: Pilate slaps around a beautiful maidservant while she proclaims her faith in Christ’s message of love, and then a few scenes later we discover (via an off-hand remark) that she was subsequently flogged to death. The film even opens by cross-cutting (no pun intended) Jesus’ solitary seizure in the wilderness with a Roman massacre in the Jewish Temple. Immediately we are taught to link spiritual and physical torment, social upheaval with inner turmoil. Hard-won clarity and lingering pain go hand in bloody hand.

Son of Man‘s recognition of the physical and psychological costs of being divinely possessed – and its consequent depiction of a doubtful, very human Jesus – link it to another revisionist Biblical film, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). I’m currently reading the Nikos Kazantzakis book on which that film was based, and the similarities are striking – both stories depict Jesus asking God repeatedly, “Is it me?” (and almost seeming to plead that it not be) and both authors focus on tensions between revolutionary, anti-Roman currents in Messianic Judaism and the universalist, peaceful, inner-centered message of Jesus. Yet there are notable differences too: while both Potter and Kazantzakis envision the traitorous Judas Iscariot as a crucial character and kind of audience surrogate, Son of Man reveals him as a lamb of a man, arguing for mercy from his worldly leader as he’s forced to betray his spiritual leader, while Last Temptation features an angry redheaded brute of a Judas, a man of ironclad convictions, determined to challenge Christ because he isn’t forceful enough. Likewise, the two stories have opposite interpretations of Jesus himself: the Christ of Last Temptation is fragile, wavering, an innocent overwhelmed by God’s grace, while the Son of Man is rough-hewn, thick-bodied, vibrating with a manly sense of righteous fury.

Finally the two tales of Christ suggest different authorial visions of the grace of God and the coming of his Kingdom. On page at least, Kazantzakis struggles less with having faith than following it – his Jesus knows what God wants and resists because it terrifies him, not because he doubts its truth; in the world of the novel we too are guided to feel God’s mysterious but undeniable presence. Whereas Potter paints a picture that, suiting its medium, is externalized: we hear Jesus’ preaching, we see the impact it has (including on Pilate and Caiaphas, struck by doubts at the moment of condemnation), but when the potential Messiah is asked for proofs of his divinity, he denies them not only to his onscreen interlocutors but to us. The ambiguous presentation of Jesus’ otherworldliness and the film’s apparently pessimistic ending challenge us to draw our own conclusions. Potter cannot tell us if Jesus’ words are correct, if his path is the one to follow: only by listening and thinking for ourselves can we decide. It’s a credit to the power of Potter’s speeches, Davies’ presentation, and especially Blakely’s performance that at film’s end our greatest temptation is to believe.

Be sure to check out Allan Fish’s review of “Son of Man” which introduced me to this film. And finally, you can watch “Son of Man” itself on YouTube, which seems to be the only place it is available right now:

Continue Reading »

by John Grant

vt Tragic Error
France / 25 minutes / bw silent / Gaumont Dir & Scr: Louis Feuillade Cine: uncredited Cast: Suzanne Grandais, René Navarre, Marie Dorly, Ernest Bourbon, Paul Manson.

According to the opening intertitle, René, Marquis de Romiguières (Navarre), and his wife Suzanne (Grandais) are “In their chateau, built atop the battlements of the Cévennes,” where they “enjoy a wonderful honeymoon.” The atmosphere doesn’t seem terribly honeymoonish, to be honest: the couple seem to be a staid and settled pair, content to be waited upon by their elderly housekeeper (Dorly).

One day a note arrives for René from his lawyer, Panonceaux. René’s properties in Paris require some personal attention, and as soon as possible.

Stuck for a couple of days in Paris, far from the arms of his wife, René takes himself to the cinema to see Onésime, Vagabond.

Although, as far as I can establish, Onésime, Vagabond never existed outside the bounds of Erreur Tragique, it’s clearly meant to be one of the (genuine) long-running Onésime series of perhaps nearly eighty silent comedy shorts (authorities differ on the exact number) released between 1910 (Le Rembrandt de la Rue Lepic) and 1918 (Onésime et le Billet de Mille). In the English-language incarnations of these movies the character of Onésime, who was played throughout by Ernest Bourbon (1886–1954), was renamed Simple Simon, which gives you about as much as you need to know of Onésime’s personality: he’s an Innocent Abroad figure whose presence sparks off humor, sometimes quite sharp, sometimes involving social commentary, sometimes of a fantasticated nature. You can watch one of these movies, Onésime Horloger (1912), which falls into the latter category and was written by Feuillade, here (with English intertitles). Continue Reading »