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by Sam Juliano

Lucille and I received our virtual pass to this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.  We managed to watch seven features in the first few days, with many more lined up for the coming week.  It is safe to say next year with be in person attendance again, as this current year came very close.  My ratings for the seven films are as follows:

Kubrick by Kubrick (documentary) 4.0
The First Step (documentary) 4.0
See For Me (narrative) 3.0
7 Days (narrative) 3.0
Mark, Mary & Some Other People (narrative) 3.0
The Kids (documentary)  3.0
All the Streets Are Silent (documentary)  4.0

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by Sam Juliano

The Fifth Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival was a huge success, in fact the biggest triumph of any we’ve hosted.  One of the reasons was the re-emergence of veteran Australian film writer Tony D’Ambra who did all that was humanly possible to inspire discussion, embolden analysis and resurrect the spirit of the old days, when Wonders in the Dark was the place to be for cinephiles.  We still have plenty going for us here – even if nothing like the glory days – because enthusiasm does surface several times during the year.  Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance have been brilliant constants and Jamie Uhler has always come up big for the horror festival and for the just-completed AFOFF.  Thank you Tony!  Your generosity and inimitable scholarship was just what we needed!  Somehow I feel Allan is up there saying “Well done, Tony!”  The sublime Ozu post is of course one of the greatest ever published at the site, and I had the great privilege of seeing it during incubation.  What many probably don’t even know or remember is that Tony was crucially instrumental in getting the site launched.  And his philosophy on not changing what has worked for over a decade has been heeded.  Tony is the most modest of men and will demure from taking any serious credit, but I know what happened back in the day, and his scene-specific involvement allowed us to survive.  Both Tony and I have Italian blood, meaning we both can sometimes exhibit tempers.  But I had no right to show this side of me, ever, considering this man has given so much of his time, efforts and expertise in behalf of this site.  There is nobody online I have ever known as good-hearted as this man, and few as resilient.  His return is truly a Godsend and I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for what he has done for the lion’s share of our nearly fourteen years as a blog-site.  I was thrilled to see that superlative action in the comment section under his post too!  So well deserved!

Thank you Jamie Uhler.  Thank you Jim Clark.  Thank you Roderick Heath.  Thank you Sachin Gandhi.  Thank you Jon Warner.  Thank you J.D. Lafrance.  Thank you Joel Bocko.  All of you contributed astounding posts.  To all those placing comments like Duane Porter, Rick Chinigo, James H., Celeste Fenster, Todd Sherman, as well as the writers, thank you.  What a great project this was!  One to next year God willing! Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This was originally scheduled as the final post in this year’s festival.  However, We may yet be getting one more from Adam Ferenz.  Stay tuned!  Scheduling rules do not apply this year!

Dearest Allan:

     This business of wearing masks and social distancing would have had you regaling us with your satirical prowess, though watching from up there I’m sure you have had your fellow angels in stratospheric stitches.  But let’s face it.  You watched all your world cinema masterpieces and wrote your incomparable capsule reviews indoors anyway so there would be little opportunity for you to ever obscure your face or worry about standing in a line.  Feeding your beloved ducks at the pond around the corner from your house wasn’t subject to any protective compromise either.  In any case, our own close friendship would have gotten even closer as during this covid infringement on our liberties you would have had me at your beck and call.  My e mail would be inundated with orders to watch this and that, and my life would basically have been spoken for.  All the frustration you suffered for the better part of a decade in trying to reform the most renowned of philistines would have finally paid dividends. 

      I saw several outstanding films this past year via streaming.  It is purely a guess, but I am thinking the film I wrote here to pay homage to you is one you would have showered with a fair degree of praise.  As always I want to express how much we love and miss you.  Time has not been kind in dimming the grief on your untimely departure.  Still, all of us who benefited from your ornery passion and irresistible persona remain guided by you in spiritial and metaphysical terms as we will for the remainder of our own lives.

 Love,  Sam

     The acute realization of hearing loss is wrought with shocking consternation as one sits in a booth where perfunctory queries are made to a patient reduced to guesswork.  Hearing loss is largely an inevitable consequence of age and genetics but it could also be brought on by bad living choices or a profession that increases the odds of long-term or as in the case of Sound of Metal an all-too-speedy sensory breakdown negotiated by aural bombast.  In the surprisingly unsentimental film, directed by Darius Marder and written by Marder (and his brother Abraham) a punk-metal drummer recovering from drug addiction lives in a time and age where there are some promising options.  Initially “Ruben” defies the advice of an ear doctor who sensibly warns against further exposure to loud noises by staying the course on the performing circuit.  His girlfriend and band-mate “Lou” who travels with him in a recreational trailer is fearful his newfound disability may reverse his sobriety so she helps to arrange a move to a remote rural shelter for recovering addicts who have also lost their hearing.  The commune is run by recovering alcoholic “Joe” whose own ability to negotiate sound-waves was destroyed during the Vietnam War.  At first Ruben refuses to come to terms with their edict that Lou cannot live there with him and that ultimately all he is seeking are cochlear implants which are not covered by insurance but are reachable after he later sells his possessions including the trailer.  Lou persists in convincing Ruben to return to the shelter while she puts their relationship on hold by moving to her father’s residence in Europe.
     Ruben readily becomes acclimated to his new group home and learns sign language.  Joe encourages him to write and to be comfortable with silence, and Ruben administers drumming lessons to the young members.  After Joe reveals that Ruben’s tenure at the home was sponsored by a local church, he offers the brooding tenant a degree of permanence by taking on a job, but restless to his core Ruben is more interested in what Lou is doing and learns online she is experimenting with her own music.  While awaiting the activation of his implants, made possible by the aforementioned pawning of his holdings, Ruben asks Joe for a loan so he can re-but his vehicle, but is denied by Joe who then asks that Ruben leave the home on the philosophy that deafness is not and should not be considered a handicap.  The activation of the implants brings mixed results, though in view of the drummer’s professional pedigree even less, since severe distortion connected with the end result of the procedure can never be satisfying.  He flies to Belgium to move in with Lou and it greeted by the father who tells him he has had an about face in his feelings about his daughter’s boyfriend since the bottom line is that he made Lou happy.  Further realizations that hearing distortion will never allow him a real measure of sensory appreciation coax Ruben into leaving Lou, and some visualized meditative uncertainty.

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Yasujirô Ozu's resting place

The gravestone at Yasujirô Ozu's resting place
is of large black granite with the only inscription
the Japanese character for void

by Tony D’Ambra

“A little girl is returning from the beach, at dusk, with her mother. She is crying for no reason at all, because she would have liked to continue playing. She moves off into the distance. She has already turned the corner of the street, and do not our lives dissolve into the evening as quickly as this grief of childhood?”
– Patrick Modiano, Missing Person (2004 Prix Goncourt)

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by James Clark

 

      

For her sagas of crime, the films of Kelly Reichardt dedicate a remarkable wealth of ardor. Such tutelage becomes not only a gift but a confusion, a fertile confusion.

Seemingly of no significance to the zealots, she was the daughter of both parents working as police officers. Could there be a lacuna in that market which makes all the difference? There seems to be in play that the rigors of contemporary life are so beyond coherent management that appalling outrage can coincide with gentle ways and seem a fine validity. Seem. But not, in fact, for a moment. And Reichardt, so West Coast and so donnish, knows very well that that turkey won’t fly, as such. (In another of her films, Certain Women [2016], a construction business owner allows one of her workers to be injured for life, due to careless management. She suckers the victim to throw away, in a pittance, his worker’s compensation rights and, after long and reckless pleading his case, ends up in jail. The owner has a case of insomnia.) As we enter, once again, that precinct of presumptuousness, now namely, First Cow (2020), our work cut out for us becomes the whereabouts of courage. Like the frequent bathos and very rare pathos in Certain Women, we are on the hook to measure what Ingmar Bergman would think of the coterie of the new film. And where our guide today could find her footing.

This astounding film poses many possibilities of entry. I’ve settled upon the treasure of foliage here, for its foundational (and nostalgic) powers, in the form of Oregon Territory in 1820. Our protagonist, namely, Cookie, first appearing in deep forest, unearthing mushrooms in the capacity of providing food for a crew of fur hunters, has been provided by a world of beautiful uplift and a world of deadly violence. At this point, positivity is in ascendence. So concentrated is the growth, that Cookie becomes far from a mundane toiler, and instead part of nature itself. In the murky atmosphere, close-up snippets of his body meld with the forest itself. Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

People have been fascinated with the enigma that is the Bermuda Triangle for decades. It is a region marked by the Florida coast and the islands of Bermuda and the Bahamas, a “danger zone that seems to swallow ships and planes,” as a vintage episode of the In Search Of… television show from the 1970s aptly described it. It is an area of 60,000 square miles where many planes and ships have mysteriously vanished over the years. Science has tried to explain the phenomenon but compelling anecdotal information endures and continues interest in it.

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by Joel Bocko

     The story is simple, straightforward, and the style carries the conviction of a raw immediacy difficult to fake. This is not to say that elaborate machinations and cagey deceptions were not involved in the events of April 11-14, 2002, in which the popular left-wing Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez was deposed (an occurrence all too familiar in the history of Latin America) and then restored (an occurrence not nearly familiar enough). Nor is this to ignore the sophistication of this documentary’s analysis, its exacting deconstruction of the privately-owned media’s duplicity as well as its own – consequently somewhat ambivalent – skill in shaping a narrative from a vast array of choices. The Irish filmmakers shot at a 200:1 ratio, meaning for every one minute of footage they used, three hours and nineteen minutes were discarded; struggling to tighten their focus, they hired a particularly crucial collaborator, editor Ángel Hernández Zoido, who has argued, “There are always hundreds of stories sleeping inside the material and you have to find them and wake them up.” No, what I mean by observing – and praising – the story and style of The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is that the filmmakers never lose sight of the essential truths at the film’s core.

What are these essential truths? First, that the political tension in Venezuela hinges on class war, with Chávez’s support rooted in the more impoverished sectors while the opposition’s support is rooted in the more wealthy. Second, that the private media reflects its often oligarchical ownership by pushing narratives that relentlessly attack Chávez, through manipulation if necessary. Indeed, one of the film’s most significant and highly cinematic observations is that an image used to justify the coup relies on a dishonest camera angle that denies wider context: Chávez supporters supposedly firing at a crowd of opponents when in fact their defensive fire was directed at hidden snipers in an area mostly devoid of protesters. Third, that the leaders of the opposition – despite their self-righteous claims to be resisting an authoritarian outlaw – gladly operate outside of the law when the opportunity arises; as soon as they have even a flimsy grasp on power they do not turn to democratic means to claim their legitimacy. Notably, although the details of the documentary can be, and frequently have been, vehemently if unconvincingly argued with lawyerly devotion, the film’s critics tend to concede or avoid these broader, fundamental truths. They are essential not only because they make the most important facts clear but because they orient us toward the wider context and pattern.
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The Fifth Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2021

Directors: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton

Screenwriters: Al Boasberg, Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton, Charles Henry Smith, Paul Gerard Smith

By Roderick Heath

Long after most of the continent of silent cinema split away and became the rarefied preserve for a sector of movie lovers, silent comedy has retained its impudent life, its heroes still recognisable. The works of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Harry Langdon, Max Linder, Mabel Normand, the Keystone Kops, and even the ill-fated Fatty Arbuckle still have the ability to charm and wow any given audience. Think of how many pastiches of it you’ve seen over the years, automatically making the connection between farce and the stylistics of silent cinema, a language unto itself. Silent comedy survives because the emerging art form and style were uniquely well-suited. Slapstick, loud and crude and personal on the stage, became a weightless ballet of pure movement without sound and the ancient traditions of mime and farceur suddenly found a new and perfect venue, cutting across all conceivable boundaries of cultural and linguistic tradition. Despite an intervening century of argument about the two actor-directors, Chaplin and Keaton merely offered distinct takes on the basic comic concept, of a man fighting both other humans and the random impositions of life in a rapidly modernising world for their share of dignity.

Chaplin’s Little Tramp, trapped eternally on the wrong side of the glass from acceptance into the world, had a least a certain degree of roguish freedom, a capacity to pick himself up and move on after calamity, to compensate for his eternal exile. Keaton’s characters were trapped within the world, surrounded by bullies and blowhards as well as ornery if not downright malignant machinery, more able to play the romantic lead but always obliged to prove himself, never given the option of failure or surrender. Keaton, blessed with the real first name of Joseph as five previous generations of Keaton men had been before him, emerged from his mother in the town of Piqua, Kansas in 1895, a pure happenstance as his parents were vaudevillians and that was where they happened to be at the time. Keaton’s father was in business with Harry Houdini with a travelling stage show that sold patent medicine on the side. Keaton supposedly gained his stage name when he weathered a tumble down a flight of stairs at 18 months of age, and Keaton himself said it was Houdini who so anointed him. Contrary to his later persona as impassive and unflappable, Keaton’s initial persona in his performances with his parents was a temperamental brat who would fight with them and hurl furniture about. Continue Reading »

Written by Jon Warner in honor of the 5th Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival

“Your future is metal”.

“We can mutate the whole world into metal”.

“We can rust the world into the dust of the universe”.

From the ominous industrial drum machine thuds and metallic clangs that open the film, Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) is a thunderous and bludgeoning all-out assault on the senses. Maybe it’s because of all the Covid waves, death tolls, quarantines, mask wearing, and vaccines, but for some reason I’ve done some binge watching of the body-horror genre this past year. There’s something about our own mortality, our aging, our sicknesses and diseases that finds a logical conclusion in the curiosity and repulsion of the imagery in the genre that provides for some dangerous, yet somehow cathartic film viewing. Tetsuo: The Iron Man struck me a few months ago when I watched it for the first time after stumbling across a countdown of the greatest body horror films. I thought to myself, “how have I never heard of this film?” It is one of the most intense entries in the genre and is one of the great obscure classics in cinema history. It has flown under the radar for decades and is long overdue for discovery.

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by Sachin Gandhi

That car’s dirty.
It’s dirty..black as pitch

Yasuzô Masumura’s Black Test Car is a brilliant industrial espionage film about two rival car manufacturers who are racing to get their sports car first to the market. The film shows that the car manufacturers will spy, lie, cheat and go to any extreme lengths to get ahead regardless of ethics or their car’s quality. This hot intense race to be first puts immense pressure on all the individuals involved forcing some of them to cross moral and ethical boundaries. The film is packed with many memorial dialogues especially around the ethical dilemma facing the characters, with this one being one of my favourite:

“You can’t get hung up on morals, you’ll just feel remorse.
Remorse?
I want to live like a decent human being”

This 1962 film is even more relevant today because industrial espionage has increased substantially over the last few decades and launching one’s product in the market first is even more intense now.

I don’t want to give away any other details about the film because I want all of you to experience this film with as limited knowledge as possible in the hope that you can experience some of the giddy delight I had in watching this recently. I was familiar with a few of Yasuzô Masumura’s films such as his 1966 movie Irezumi. However, I hadn’t heard about Black Test Car until I came across the new Arrow edition along with that of Black Report. Watching both these movies was an exhilarating experience from a cinematic perspective and helped me to forget the state of things in the world outside. Continue Reading »