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by Sam Juliano

The dog days of August are upon us, meaning September and the start of school under uncertain health guidelines is right around the corner.  The situation is looking more and more likely mask mandates and social distancing will agin be in force as the Delta varient gains momentum.  Anyone who may have thought we were out of the woods a few months ago -and I was one of those people- must now confront a sad reality.  Summer school ends on Friday.  I have been teaching a creative writing-literature class since July 1st.

My family and I have been immersed watching the summer Olympics from Tokyo and have been rooting on the American team, which preasantly is locked in a fevered battle with China for gold medal supremecy.  We’d love to see Canada, Great Britain and Australia do very well too, and all have already made their mark. (as of Monday morning, China has pulled away with a seven gold medal lead over the U.S.)

This past week Jim Clark added mightily to his Andrei Tarkovsky series with a banner essay on the poetic Mirror.  Jim will soon be conducting an investigation of Italian master Antonioni.  Once again I must extend my deepest thanks to Valerie Clark for her amazing enthusiasm and humilty on the novels.  I am truly humbled.

Early Saturday morning I lost one of my dearest lifelong friends. John Beilin was born in 1955.  With approval of his lovely wife Edi, another treasured friend, I report his untimely passing here and on FB at age 65 from kidney issues dating back several years. John and I were elected on the same ticket to the Fairview Board of Education in 1980 and grew up on Grant Street., socializing constantly and eating out at all the local restaurants. John’s snarky humor was priceless as was his informed company. We saw many movies together, and he appreciated all the masters. He loved Ozu. We just had a long exchange on FB message on Thursday, making his passing two days later unconscionable. Losing anyone is horrific enough, but a lifelong friend is among the worst one can endure. His wife Edi is a gem, and to her I extended my condolences on the loss of her Prince. To his loving sister Linda (another cherished friend) and dear Pat I extend the same wrenching sadness. They have lost a sibling of high stature. He has joined his dear parents in Heaven and we all down here have lost more than we can reckon with. R.I.P John. The ride with you was a glorious one. Until we meet again. You left us with Edi, who is simply one of the best.  John was alwaysasking me about the two novels and almost by a strange intervention on Thursday I sent him the long passage in book #2, Irish Jesus in Fairview, that features him and his family.  He is mentioned many times in the first book Paradise Across the Hudson as well. He told me he was honored and was determined to make an appearance at our library for the presentation.  fate had other plans sadly. Continue Reading »

 © 2021 James Clark

      In the films we find necessary, there’s seldom, if ever, a chance to set in relief a smiling baby boy. Mirror (1975), by Andrei Tarkovsky, does not include such an event as a supercilious whimsy. In fact, that presence is extremely well proffered. Our film concerns, as always for Tarkovsky, and for Bergman before and after, the way to smile with conviction. The baby has an instinct to thrive in that moment. How does it fare, going forward? Forces rule; and we all play versions of the same game.

Near the beginning of this saga there is a woman, in the Russian style, having many names (here, Maria, Masha, Marussia, and [particularly] Natalia), lounging, as is her wont, on a rustic fence at her appealing rural home. She’s having a smoke and gazing upon the panoramic meadow many miles distant. She notices a man approaching a long way away. The man’s voice-over remarks, “The road from the station lies through Ignatyovo… turning off near a farmstead where we spent our summers before the War, and then to Tomshino through a dark oak wood.” (Someone who knows where he’s going?) The woman is not happy seeing a stranger. Birds sing, but smoking is more her style. He’s carrying a black satchel. As he arrives she tells him, “You should have turned at the bush.” He asks, rather forwardly, “Why are you sitting here?”/ “I live here.”/ “Where? On the fence?” This annoys her. He counters with, “Strange, I took everything but the key.” His tone implies that it was she who missed seizing the key.  He asks, “Why are you nervous? Give me your hand. I’m a doctor. Don’t count! I’m counting.” (A ripple of the Surreal, and the Theatre of the Absurd. Standbys of Bergman and Tarkovsky.) “Must I call my husband?”/ “You’ve no husband. You’ve no wedding ring.” (Swift panning shots.) The smoke from her cigarette carries an almost volcanic thrust. Her tightly wound hair sends a message of pedantry. He’s given the cigarette he wants. “Why are you so sad?” he inquires. He sits on the fence along with her, and it promptly collapses. He laughs. She doesn’t. He sees a flash of the uncanny. She sees nothing out of the ordinary. (But does this clash introduce two sides of the same mirror?) Marching off, a bit, she asks, “Why are you so happy?” His mystique plunges, when saying, “It’s nice to fall with a pretty woman.” He rallies with, “Look at those roots, these bushes… Did you ever wonder about plants?” She is cleaning off her clothes. He perseveres, “The trees, this beechnut.” (The Major, in the film, Ivan’s Childhood [1962], where a woman is stalked and insulted in the woods, has been put in place in contrast to the interplay here. A singularity? An upshot of structure which could be seen as a mirror, a very specific and complex process of force.) “They’re in no hurry,” he maintains. “While we rush around and speak platitudes… It’s because we don’t trust our inner natures. There’s all this doubt, haste, lack of time to stop and think.” It seems there’s something very wrong with that commotion. She begins to say, “Do you have…” But he rudely interrupts. “Have no fear. I’m a doctor, you know…” When she’s able to say something, she fires off, rather surprisingly, “What about ‘Ward No. 6?’” (That being the writer, Chekhov’s, whose concern here  was strictly about injustice, not obscure, enigmatic possibilities. Natalia’s job, as a proofreader would be rooted in pedantry, almost as far as one gets from the stranger’s passion.) “It’s all Chekov’s invention,” is the careless way he dismisses the humanitarian. “Come to Tomshino. We have jolly times there.” (This being an invitation to the pagans in force, in Tarkovsky’s film, Andrei Rublev [1966].) Her refusing the invitation, he gives her short shrift to deal with the cut ear (the deaf finesse) he scratched on falling from the fence.  What maintains is the ripple of the grasses in the wind. He stops and looks back. A fierce gale comes and goes. Nothing seems to adhere. But the voice-over of the pagan, bound for idyll, one way or the other, tells himself a pretty story. “You were lighter and bolder than the wing of a bird… flying down the stairs two at a time… pure giddiness, leading me throw moist lilac…” Cut to a small boy. “To your domain beyond the looking glass. The Alice in Wonderland making everything  bright.” (How a problematic becomes a farce.) Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

We are in a strange place right now.  The virus numbers have spiked again yet most of us who have been doubly vaccinated are circulating without masks unless we have having blood drawn, getting our hair cut or visiting doctors or dentists.  Such was the case on Saturday night when Lucille, four of our kids and I saw a movie in a multiplex.  A few of us wore the mask, and a few of us did not.  Please say a prayer for my longtime friend and FB polling tabulator Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. who apparently suffered a severe heart attack this morning, after just spening three hours with me Saturday afternoon for lunch and chatting.  He is presently in Engelwood Hospital.

This past week J.D. Lafrance published a terrifuc review of The Woman Chaser, and the first entry in the 2021 Caldecott Medal Contender series was also posted.  Also, Allan Fish’s stupendous review of London published.  I am continuing to write my second novel Irish Jesus in Fairview, which is nearly two-thirds done, but still months from publication as I want to give enough space to Paradise Atop the Hudson.  As always I can’t thank Valerie Clark enough for her passionate interest, support and comments on the book’s ongoing creation.

Lucille and I saw two films this week, though the second one will be seen Sunday night, meaning I will update this MMD on Monday morning.  We did see one film in the movie theater on Saturday night. Continue Reading »

by Allan Fish

London (UK 1994 81m) DVD2

A testimony to Rimbaud

p Keith Griffiths d/w Patrick Keiller ph Patrick Keiller ed Larry Sider narrated by Paul Scofield

The style is a familiar one. Patrick Keiller’s equal part billet doux and j’accuse to the capital introduced us to the fictional alter ego of Robinson, or at least did so by proxy. Keiller would make more films about Robinson, but the first remains easily the most poignant.

A narrator, a weary traveller, working as a seaman on a cruise ship, docks back in London on the request of his old friend, cohabitee and lover Robinson, whose urgent summons has our traveller guessing at what is troubling him. He hasn’t seen Robinson for seven years when he arrives in January 1992, and finds him in despondent mood, hoping for a change of government in the forthcoming General Election, but fearing the worst. We are told that Robinson lives meagrely, not because he has to, but because he prefers it that way, eking out an existence on the money he earns lecturing in art and architecture at the University of Barking.

What follows is a document of the expeditions, as they are termed, and events of 1992 in London, as seen through the eyes of a melancholy narrator, who feels he’s there to chronicle the upcoming months in Robinson’s life, acting as Plato to his Socrates, Boswell to his Johnson, Watson to his Holmes, Virgil to his Dante. Yet he’s not only delivering Robinson’s death sentence for London but his own, referring to “dirty old Blighty; under-educated, economically backward, bizarre, a catalogue of modern miseries.” It would be easy to dismiss these as the rants of a grouchy old man, but there’s a real sense of the elegy to Keiller’s film, a sense of something passing. History is always there on hand in London, and ‘Robinson and I’, as it might have been called, takes time to visit the site of the execution of Charles I outside Banqueting House, as well as visiting landmarks only notable for being places where writers, artists and philosophers once stayed when in London, stopping off occasionally to engage in something altogether English, like a session’s play in a county championship game at The Oval, with the now gone gas tower casting its shadow over the ground. Then there are remembrances of the Blitz, either via recollections of Humphrey Jennings documentaries with the then Queen listening to a Myra Hess concert with Kenneth Clark, or via the erecting of a statue to Bomber Harris, and our commentator remarks on the Queen Mother being heckled at the ceremony. No monarchist, then, but that was taken for granted, for we’re told early on that Robinson is a passionate believer in constitutional reform, and mourns the failure of the 1649 revolution and how it still casts a shadow on the imperialism that led to the troubles in Northern Ireland. And while on the subject let us not forget that this was documenting the height of the IRA mainland bombing campaign.

Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

Based on the classic pulp novel of the same name by Charles Willeford, The Woman Chaser (1999) debuted at the New York Film Festival where it went on to play on the festival circuit before doing rounds at art houses around the United States. The film was anchored by the unlikely casting of sitcom stalwart Patrick Warburton playing a 1950s used car salesman that tries his hand at filmmaking. Unfortunately, the low-budget independent film ran afoul or ownership issues, which resulted in a lack of a home video presence and it disappeared, surfacing occasionally on the Sundance Channel. A few years ago, it resurfaced on digital platforms like Netflix and iTunes but with a lot of its source music (featuring the likes of Les Baxter) replaced but at least this fascinating neo-noir can finally be seen.

Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Esteemed author Robert Burleigh and legendary artist Wendell Minor have previously gone aquatic in their non-fiction collaboration Trapped! A Whale’s Rescue.  The arresting work includes oceanic tapestries by Minor combining the visceral aspects of whale movement in the open sea with sublime compositions that convey the breathtaking aquamarine beauty of the sea.  The pair’s most famous partnership to date is the magnificent Edward Hopper Paints His World, based on the iconic artist, but leading up to that critically-lauded work they joined forces in taking on everybody’s favorite American, Abe Lincoln,  the transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, and ornithologist John James Audubon.

The naturalist Winslow Homer (1836-1910), like Hopper, is an American treasure, and in a sensory exploration of Homer’s relationship with the sea, author and illustrator stress how nature’s changes enable this painter to re-create the environmental phenomenon of oceanic waves by negotiating a work-in-progress,  one replicating reality by dabs of a paint brush, and progressive incorporation of color.

Slowly, the painting shifts as layers of gray, white, and yellow magically transform the waves.   The painting is still – yet full of motion.

Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Just when we thought everything was headed in the right direction we are now are facing a new reality.  The Delta Varient has made its mark statewide and the numbers are again rising in most states and many countries around the globe.  We should have known there is a downside to every seeming celebration.  Of course those who have been fully vaccinated can be fairly confident they won’t be taken down by this unwelcomed encore, but some have still had to fight it off.  A few close friends reported they tested positive this past week, even though they were vaccinated months ago.  Wishing everyone to stay safe and be careful.

My own summer school classes are moving along nicely, and will continue until August 6th.  We have a short three day vacation planned in mid August in Wildwood, New Jersey.  It would have been longer, but we are being cautious and have too many pets at home to attend to.

This past week James Clark published a magnificent essay on Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood, which is surely one of his best ever.  And that’s saying something!  His entire series on the great Russian director has been first-rate.

My three boys liked the Marvel movie Black Widow quite a bit but I will quote my dear friend and high school English teacher Patrick Shelley, who felt the same way I did:  To quote Sam Juliano, “worthless, utter  drivel. Explosions galore.” The only good thing for me was the buttered popcorn. Did you ever see a movie where you wanted the main characters to die, any possible way: quicksand, electrocutions, beheading? Fortunately, I had no popcorn and walked out with 45 minutes reaming.

Continue Reading »

© 2021 James Clark

     The film genre of war appears to be pretty much straightforward. Alpha cultures cannot resist stealing the land and wealth of others. Their appetite for advantage knows no end. Moreover, those being non-alphas seldom fail to embrace their own versions of reckless advantage. Considerations toward others actions rarely ever reach serious levels. In the course of such uprising much complication comes to pass. There is room for fascinating argument and fascinating machinery of death.

Devotees of such intensity tend not to realize that a whole universe of involvement has been ignored there. On the other hand, though, filmmaker, Andrei Tarkovsky, won’t consider war films unless a haunting presence has been brought to bear. As such, his first film, namely, Ivan’s Childhood (1969), becomes a bit of a shock whereby our (nominal) protagonist—a young boy about twelve, intent upon attacking Nazis during World War II when his Russian family was massacred—becomes a victim himself to a German guillotine. As if not enough, the event demands making sense of it all.

There is a more relatively easy way to understand what is going on, which we’ll dig into now. And then we’ll tackle the real problematic. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Moving toward the middle of July we continue to see more and more unmasked people in all places, though the Delta Varient remains an existing danger in various regions around the country and world.  Wishing all our friends and readers a nice summer, and some pleasurable down-time.

I will continue to post reviews from Allan’s unpublished book at the rate of two to three per week.

This past week J.D. Lafrance published a splendid review of Stripes.  

I have now written 30,000 words of my second novel, Irish Jesus in Fairview.  I am projecting a September completion (65,000 words expected for the total) and then the matter of publishing a second book after the first, which is still being attended to by an artist and editor.  The latter sent me the completed first half this week, and he performed superlatively.   The novel continues the narrative of Paradise Atop the Hudson, which ended in 1971 (now covering 1972 to 1978) and of course carries on with the same characters, but several new ones appear and are significantly incorporated.  Likewise, new places are added.

Summer of Soul is a visceral, kinetic and oft-electrifying blast from the past.  This extraordinary work incorporates Motown, Gospel, soul and funk into a music festival documentary featuring Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Staple Singers, the Fifth Dimension, Sly and the Family Stone, Steve Wonder, the Edwin Hawkins Singers and much more, culled from forty hours of footage that was stored away for decades.  The film heightens the importance fo these performers in defining a time and a culture.  5 of 5.  Highest rating. Continue Reading »

by Allan Fish

Red Psalm (Hungary 1971 86m) DVD2

Aka. Még Kér a Nép

Johnny is my darling…

p Miklós Jancsó d Miklós Jancsó w Gyula Hernadi ph Janos Kende ed Miklós Jancsó m Ferenc Sebo art Tomás Banovich
Lajos Balázsovits, András Bálint, Gyongyi Bürös, Andrea Drahota, Jószef Madaras,

When he was asked about his preponderance of blood in his Pierrot le Fou, Jean-Luc Godard, in typically abstract fashion, disagreed, saying that it was not blood but red. One director who would have understood exactly what he meant was Miklós Jancsó, and this 1971 film – the title is not there for nothing – would prove that very notion. It’s a challenging film, a dizzying enterprise which ravishes the senses while irritating them at the same time. There are times one longs for a rest from its symbolic repetition, and yet the final cumulative effect is unlike any other film of its era.

Red Psalm is set in the late 19th century on a small Hungarian estate owned by a count, and on which peasants are gathered to celebrate harvest while awaiting a response to their demands following their decision to strike. The government sends troops to quell the uprising, but at first the violence takes a cessation so the troops can join the peasants to celebrate the harvest. Soon after, however, and following the failed intervention of the increasingly ignored church, the troops round up the peasants, surround them, and shoot them en masse.

It begins in a tone which both exemplifies rural tradition and revolutionary fervour, with peasants singing along to the tune of ‘La Marseillaise’ (indeed other French, Irish and Eastern European revolutionary anthems would be heard throughout the rest of the film). The camera style is familiar from Jancsó’s earlier work, roving around, back on itself, and in between groups, stopping to listen to individuals reading Engels, in and out of haystacks, water
vats, farm buildings, cavalry and grazing cattle. It’s a restless camera, as restless as any since Ophuls, and yet it’s groundbreaking in that editing is kept to an absolute minimum. There are only 28 shots in the entire film, which emphasises not only the genius behind his camera control, but his fastidious attention to detail and the choreography, for that is the term, of his cast of deliberately anonymous ciphers. From comparison to the litanies of Vlacil in Czechoslovakia and the majesty of Tarkovsky in Russia, Jancsó was taking cinema in a different direction in a way to rival Rossellini and Godard before him, and the style would finally reach its zenith with Sokurov’s magnificent Russian Ark three decades later. One can also see, quite clearly, the genesis of the erotic nihilism of his later, misunderstood Private Vices, Public Virtues. Continue Reading »