Night of the Hunter 1

by D. H. Schleicher

The singer in the opening of Charles Laughton’s 1955 classic The Night of the Hunter invites viewers to dream along with its young protagonist, John Harper (Billy Chapin), but what transpires in the film is a pure nightmare where religious fanaticism begs us to treat everyone like children and envision a world where everyone is fair game for evil.  He’s just a poor kid whose dad was just hung for murder (but not before entrusting his son to hide his stash of money), whose mother (Shelly Winters) is helpless, and whose little sister, Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), needs minding.  Into his life steps the world’s most vile step-father, Harry Powell (the magnificently monstrous Robert Mitchum) – a widow-killer and money-hungry would-be preacher who wows the simpletons of the small towns he invades with his fire-and-brimstone rhetoric.  But John is on to him from the get-go (he knows this jack-ass just wants the cash), and John rails against the man and his worldview.

Woman are grotesquely marginalized by the faith-based worldview of the characters in The Night of the Hunter as well as by the time period in which the story takes place (1930’s West Virginia).  Ordered to suppress their desires and obey their men, they are treated like children and called stupid and foolish, slapped around, and murdered…the slitting of Willa Harper’s throat depicted in horrifically stylized expressionistic shots, some of the most menacing mise-en-scene in the history of cinema – culminating with the famous “hair in the tangled deep water reeds” scene of her desecrated body “at rest” in the bottom of the river.  Teenage girls are even stupider, and worth only their wombs that shoot out bastard children whom the righteous (be it in the form of evil Harry Powell or goody-goody Rachel Cooper) then must watch over.  Meanwhile, the littlest of girls, Pearl, is just (in the words of Powell) “a miserable little wretch,” depicted without the brains to discern bad men from good (if this is innocence, then innocence must be lost!)

After his mother’s murder, John absconds with Pearl down the river in a skiff in a Grimm’s fairy-tail journey – not a single authentic shot to be found – all hyper-realized imaginings of children on the run for their lives.  It’s creepy and atmospheric, and the water of the river seems to be flowing both ways in just another example of the film’s overt symbolism and weirdness that creates the greatest of unease.  But John is vigilant – and always keeps a step ahead of Harry Powell. Continue Reading »


by Sachin Gandhi

A balloon floating up in the sky still manages to catch everyone’s attention! Some will express sadness at seeing the balloon floating away, at the thought that there is a child nearby who is crying at seeing their precious balloon fly away. Despite all the technological advancements and flashing gadgets we have in society, a balloon is still an essential part of a child’s life. No birthday party would be complete without the presence of balloons. In fact, balloons complete a birthday party. This love of balloons would have made Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon an easy film to be included in a childhood countdown. However, the film is present on merit in the Wonders in the Dark Childhood Countdown because it is more than just about a balloon. In its short running time of 35 minutes, The Red Balloon encapsulates all of life, including all emotions associated with a child’s growth from an early age to that of a teenager. More importantly, the film’s style, without dialogue, and story make this a timeless work that is also the purest form of cinema. The film is a beautiful blend of documentary, art and commercial cinema. In addition, the template for many contemporary films, including Hollywood animation movies, can be traced all the way back to Lamorisse’s beautifully conceived short film.

The Red Balloon starts off with young Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse, the director’s son) finding a balloon tied up to a street lamp. Once he climbs up and gets the balloon, Pascal doesn’t let go and holds the string tightly, just like any child would. He goes everywhere with the balloon even opting to walk all the way to school as his balloon is not allowed on the streetcar. When he returns home, the caretaker is not happy with the balloon’s presence and goes to the balcony and releases it into the air. The balloon being sent into the air would be a child’s worst nightmare; the crushing feeling of seeing their cherished balloon disappearing. As it turns out, the balloon hovers outside the balcony, waiting for Pascal. It doesn’t take long for Pascal to figure out that the balloon can move up and down, follow him around and even obey, much like a trained pet would. This increases Pascal’s attachment with the balloon beyond the initial discovery of a toy. The balloon now becomes Pascal’s trusted companion, his only true friend, one with whom he passes his time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for other boys to be jealous of Pascal’s possession and they try their best to take the balloon away. When their initial efforts fail, they mount an ambush, overpower Pascal and crush the balloon. The death of the balloon sets off a magical element around Paris, as balloons of all colours and sizes free themselves from their owners clutches and gather to mourn the death of the red balloon. Pascal is excited to see all these balloons and grabs as many strings as he can. The balloons then fly off with Pascal, far away into the horizon, likely to a magical place, free of bullies and evil kids. Continue Reading »

bicycle thieves

by Judy Geater

It seems like such a small story. Yet, through the theft of a bike, this powerful Italian neo-realist film, directed by Vittorio De Sica, shows up the struggle which was the reality of daily life for so many children and parents. It also brilliantly explores the relationship between a father and a young son put under pressure by the world around them, two figures in a crowd.

Cinematographer Carlo Montuori’s stark black-and-white photography, showing the streets of post-war Rome and endless small details of everyday life, always has something going on in the background. There’s a feeling throughout of all the other stories surrounding this one, all the other poor people who are facing their own struggles. Nobody else has time to worry about this one family’s suffering.

Most of the main cast were not professional actors, which helps to give the atmosphere of bleak realism. The little boy, Bruno, whose haunting expression is one of the images from the film which lingers in the mind, was played by Enzo Staiola, aged seven, who turned up to watch the start of shooting. His father, Antonio, was portrayed by factory worker Lamberto Maggiorani, a non-professional actor whose real-life circumstances were not so far removed from those of the character he played. The imdb tells how he was laid off from the factory after making the film, and found it hard to get further roles as an actor.

At the start of the film, Antonio, a jobless father in impoverished post-war Rome, is struggling to support his wife, young son and baby. One day, he is finally the one picked out of a crowd of hungry hopefuls to win a job putting up film posters. However, he doesn’t think he will be able to take the job, because he doesn’t have a bicycle. Or rather, he does have one, but it has been pawned and there’s no money to get it out of hock until he gets a job. So it’s a vicious circle which there seems to be no prospect of squaring. Continue Reading »



by Sam Juliano

Autumn has been knocking at the door and the person inside has finally responded.  Mind you there is still some resistance, what with a few more days in the 70s promised for this coming week.  But chilly temperatures, rain and rawness were all evident over the past weekend.  Most of us are thoroughly delighted with the change, and know now some wonderfully culturally related events and releases are upcoming.  Baseball and football fans are in their glory, and though my beloved New York Yankees practically backed into the playoffs with a terrible final run, I know well anything can happen now.  Area fans are no doubt thrilled the Giants evened their record at 2-2 with a win over the Buffalo Bills, and the Jets are now 3-1 with a win over the Miami Dolphins in England.  The New York Film Festival is underway and this coming week my kids will be attended Comic Con at the Javits Center, in what has now become an annual endeavor.  Nice seeing Halloween decorations and the horror film madness that frames this time of the year too.

Alas, our long running Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown is winding down to the finish line, as we have begun the Top 10 with this past week’s reviews of Au Revoir Les Enfants and The Last Picture Show.  The countdown will run this entire week and then three days next week, with the Number 1 post set to publish on Wednesday.   After a lag in the middle stages the countdown has come back with a vengeance by way of comments and page views.  I want to thank everyone for the barrage of comments under my own review of The Last Picture Show, which may well be my personal favorite film of all-time.  Soon I want to offer up a desert island post to include all the films ever made.

Jim Clark continues with his tremendous work every other week on Wednesdays -this past week it was Roman Polanski’s Repulsion – and two very hot posts by Allan Fish, one on Steven Spielberg and the other on his upcoming book has attracted amazing response, especially the former with a whopping 111 comments to date.  The site has certainly been making quite a comeback.  My Caldecott Contender series will be starting soon, but it will run normally, not like last year’s torrid pace.

On a raw and drizzly Saturday afternoon the annual Chappaqua Book Festival was held inside the Bell School in Downtown Chappaqua, New York, the hometown of Hillary and Bill Clinton in scenic Westchester County. I was thrilled beyond words to meet my dear friend Barbara McClintock for the first time, and also great friends Sergio Ruzzier, Carin Berger and Jerry Pinkey. So many great authors, illustrators and books in a a premium setting. The entire family was aboard, and we were met by our WitD site friend Bob Clark.  Thrilled as always to meet the lovely friend Lizzy Rockwell, a trouper of all festivals. Continue Reading »

hard 2

by Allan Fish

(Russia 2013 177m) DVD1/2

Aka. Trudno byt bogom

Earth minus 800

p Viktor Izvekov, Leonid Yarmolnik d Aleksei German w Aleksei German, Svetlana Karmalita novel Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy ph Yuriy Klimenko, Vladimir Ulin ed Irina Gorokhovskaya art Elena Zhukova, Georgi Kropachyov, Sergei Kokovkin

Leonid Yarmolnik (Don Rumata), Yevgeni Gerchakov (Budakh), Aleksandr Chutko (Don Reba), Valentin Golubenko (Arata), Yuri Tsurilo (Don Pampa), Oleg Botin (Bucher), Natalya Motova (Ari), Zura Kipzhidze (Zurab),

Remember that priceless moment in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, directly after the ‘Bring Out your Dead’ scene where Graham Chapman’s Arthur, King of the Britons, rides past accompanied by Terry Gilliam’s servant Patsy clumping coconut halves and John Cleese turns to cart driver Eric Idle and asked who that was, and Idle replies “must be a king. He hasn’t got shit all over him.” It’s hard not to think of Holy Grail when watching Aleksei German’s farewell statement. There’s no king here, everyone seems to have shit all over them, and proud they are, too. Continue Reading »

Sambizanga - 1972, Sarah Maldoror

Sambizanga – 1972, Sarah Maldoror

by Allan Fish

At the end of the interminably gestating book I hope to release on Kindle by the end of the year there’s a section I call the Final Apologies. To some, it may seem superfluous to requirements, especially given there are over 2,000 entries in the main text, but there are times when I have come to believe it the most important part of the book. It’s relatively easy to wax lyrical about why you love certain films, why they should be preserved above all others. It’s not as straightforward to say why certain other films shouldn’t.

The Final Apologies is the multi-task section of the book. On one level it’s what it says on the tin, apologies for the films left at reception when the hotel reaches capacity. On another, it’s my Get-Out-of-Jail-Free card, a way of saying that “no, I didn’t forget these, I just didn’t think them up to scratch because…” Yet on another it’s an admission of guilt, an Exhibit A for the prosecution, as it were. The fact remains that no man’s opinion is gospel, there is no arbiter of taste. But it goes beyond that, for to any discerning film buff there are films that are just not for you. It may be a taste thing, a sense of humour or outlook alien to oneself, but it may go deeper, to the point where you know that the deficit is not the film’s, but yours. A recognition that certain films are masterpieces but just not in your eyes; they don’t travel.

So what exactly do I mean? It’s a favourite line of mine, that used by Mark Cousins in The Story of Film, that film history is “racist by omission.” Often, however, it’s been ignorant by choice. Film histories are very happy with their so-called comprehensiveness, thank you very much, and don’t need masterpieces discovering left, right and centre that demand a rewriting of their pages, even whole new chapters. Film History 101 has always been blinkered, blind, focusing us on what it thinks are the accepted essentials, but in doing so people have taken these histories – and the canons they create – as inviolable. They’re not. Canons should only be stepping stones to undertake our own journeys where we go way beyond them.

Yet even with regards to zealots like me who take accepted film history as inadequate, we have to admit our shortcomings. Only recently someone asked me what I felt was my biggest cinematic blind spot, and after careful deliberation I selected African cinema. But acknowledging that is again only the first step of the journey, for one must then ask the obvious question; why? Continue Reading »



by Sam Juliano

Well, why don’t you love me like you used to do?
How come you treat me like a worn-out shoe?
My hair’s still curly and my eyes are still blue
Why don’t you love me like you used to do?

Well, why don’t you be just like you used to be?
How come you find so many faults with me?
Somebody’s changed so let me give you a clue
Why don’t you love me like you used to do?

– Hank Williams Sr.

the most important work by a young American director since Citizen Kane.”

The above quote by Paul D. Zinnemann of Newsweek is one of the most famous examples of critical hyperbole ever recorded, yet, 44 years later it still underscores the reputation of a movie classic and the director who bettered a literary classic in making a  film that is arguably the finest by an American in the 1970’s.  I first discovered it as a budding movie fan in the magazine section of my hometown library a short time after I turned seventeen in a section of wildly favorable capsules that not only included The Last Picture Show, by also Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.  All three films were released in the final third of the year.  Peter Bogdonovich would go on to direct some other fine films like Paper Moon and What’s Up Doc? but he never again equaled the grand slam he achieved with his aching elegy of Anarene, Texas, a town doomed by technological advances. The 50’s were arguably the final decade where the movie theater held prominent sway in one’s social life, and in The Last Picture Show its importance is literal and thematic.  Seventeen years later, the Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore would traverse the same territory with Cinema Paradiso, though the approach was unadulterated wallowing in nostalgia.  Bogdonovich manages to derive the same level of emotion in one of the most deeply-felt of all American films, but he does it without the aid of sentimentality and the unbridled lyricism of Ennio Morricone.  Mind you, this writer is a huge fan of Cinema Paradiso, but is still willing to note the vast difference between directorial approaches.

Bogdonovich underscores his intentions by filming in high school yearbook styled monochrome at the urging of his friend Orson Welles, enlisting the renowned Robert Surtees, whose work here is as accomplished as in any American film.  The proper mood and deep focus possibilities could only reach fruition with the use of black and white.  The Last Picture Show opens brilliantly as the camera pans across shabby Main Street and a decaying cluster of buildings, with a ferocious wind swept howl providing audio embellishment.  The camera eventually settles on a beat up pick up truck that belongs to high school buddies, one that blares out the Williams standard posted here above while sputtering before it starts up.    The theater -the Royal- stands next to a minimalist pool hall and a cafe that remains open all hours.  These are the only places that provide a modicum of activity in a town rife with ennui and adolescent alienation from parents they are always escaping from.  Quiet despondency seems to run over two generations in this one-horse town.  Bogdonovich brings an extraordinary visual sense to the themes examined by his screenwriter Larry McMurtry, whose acclaimed novel is the source for this searing evocation of a place that offers no opportunity or sense of identity – only an unchanging mode of existence that centers around sex.  The main characters include two young men, Sonny and Duane, who during the course of the film fall in love with the same girl – the school’s ravishing beauty Jacy, but there are other relationships they indulge in that complicate what is on one level a stylized soap opera.  McMurtry makes it clear enough that there s very little to do in this stagnant whistle-stop, and the various pursuits are exclusively hedonistic.  The fact that we learn virtually nothing about our central characters’ home lives makes them symbols of a marked transformation of a culture, though with magnifying glass intensity McMurtry and Bogdonovich draw full bodied characters with powerfully observed intimacy.  Sonny’s father is seen once at a dance hall – it is clear enough he’s got a drinking problem, and Duane’s mother is seen briefly at the front door of their home near the end. Continue Reading »


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