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by Sam Juliano

Our “virtual” summer school classes commence this week on Wednesday (July 1st) and will run until the final day of the month.  Meanwhile, New Jersey’s governor has announced that in person classes will return in September under the auspices of the individual districts, which will decide how to negotiate social distancing via class sizes and monitor testing.  This will be like nothing ever encountered and the year will be more than challenging.

This is one of the briefest MMDs ever, but today I was preparing for my classes and next week will return with a more comprehensive report.  Wishing all continued safety.

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by J.D. Lafrance

Scott McGehee and David Siegel are part of a generation of American independent filmmakers that capitalized on the surprise success of Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies & Videotape (1989) at the Sundance Film Festival. That film helped kickstart a very prolific period of indie cinema during the 1990s where the rise in prominence of Sundance and boutique movie studios like Miramax pushed through unusual material, like McGehee and Siegel’s Suture (1993), that wouldn’t normally have been made or distributed. These two filmmakers even managed to get Soderbergh to executive produce their film and he championed it in interviews. Sadly, the studio distributing Suture had no idea how to market this cerebral neo-noir and it quickly faded into obscurity where it still resides to this day. Even back then it was a hard sell with an unconventional premise and no movie stars but should now be regarded as a bold genre experiment.

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by Sam Juliano

Though case numbers are still rising in Florida, California, Texas and other states -and now we have irresponsible, though happily poorly attended political rallies as part of the problem- things are getting better daily in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area.  I even ventured out to get my hair cut early this morning  on the very first day barbers are again allowed to exercise their craft.  The Fairview school district will actually be conducting the annual summer school program from July 1st to July 31st and Yours truly will again be involved though unlike other years the negotiation will be virtual instead of in person.

This was a very difficult week for extended family passings, though none were COVID-19 related.  But zero consolation of course.  Thanks to social media friends for their generous words.  This past week the titanic actor Ian Holm passed away at age 88.  One of the all-time greats.

Jim Clark published another banner essay in his continuing Ingmar Bergman series this past Wednesday on From the Life of the Marionettes. Continue Reading »

 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    The films of Ingmar Bergman have elicited from his loyalists a bemusing history. At the point where a consensus about the remarkableness of his skills and heart was at full tide, there also began to occur some battle fatigue in face of waves of other demanding presences of his. A pantheon readily arose, by way of influential critics who jumped to the idea that the mother lode had been reached and that the latter flood was secondary and not worth the strain. That Bergman began to produce films by way of television, also seemed a sign of losing it. (Also a sign of the viewers’ easily losing it, was the myopia about films predating 1957, regarded, if at all, as quirkily overreaching.)

For what it might have meant, the television series of Scenes from a Marriage (1973) became a last hiccup before finding other entertainments to go with popcorn. The soap opera (with a difference), in question, displays a couple of patricians and their on-again, off-again liaison, ad nauseam. But Bergman-being-Bergman, he inserts another couple, very different from the silver spoons. The protagonists host a dinner party for their friends, Peter and Katarina, who proceed to humiliate each other. After the hosts are rid of them, they stage a rededication to their superiority. “Peter and Katarina don’t speak the same language. We speak the same language…” Peter and Katarina, played by different actors, in German rather than Swedish, resurface in the 1980 film, From the Life of the Marionettes, in order to elaborate what heterogeneity can look like and feel like. Peter, another silver spoon, manages to remain another Peter Pan. His malaise with a Katarina drawn from one of his staffers, drives him to butcher a prostitute, perform necrophilia upon her and end up in a mental hospital holding his teddy bear. His wife is left to be an adult. Few of the original loyalists would have seen this film. Too bad, because it’s easily as brilliant as Scenes from a Marriage and any of the other films thought to be great.

The immediate shock, so unlike Bergman’s usual sophisticated procedure, signals, I think, a new form of traction bidding to surmount the dilemmas of a perverse planet. Doing something that new, the project would suggest, might occasion a rich departure. Continue Reading »

Jeremy shown at local Black Lives Matter rally. He attended the event this past week with my other four children.

by Sam Juliano

Racial tensions continue to hold the stage around the nation with another killing in Atlanta on Friday bringing renewed focus on the sad situation that has attracted the eyes of the world at the time the pandemic is still a direct threat to our existence. As to the latter concern, our immediate area is better than it has ever been with hospitalizations down to a trickle and case numbers the lowest they have been though the residual death numbers, carry overs from infection over a month ago (84 yesterday for example) still remind us we can never let down our guard.  New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced this past week that summer school programs can move forward and even in person on July 6th to boot.  But the decision as to whether to go with the physical option instead of the virtual one will be left up to the respective school districts.  While no word has yet come down on September it is looking more likely now that school will open at that time, virus resurgences notwithstanding.  Meanwhile around the country there are hotspots reminding us we are far from out of the woods.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by space travel. The seeds were planted in science fiction movies like Star Wars (1977) but my interest intensified in the early 1980s with the United States Space Shuttle program. If kids in the 1960s and 1970s had the space race between the Americans and the Russians, my generation had the Shuttles – incredible spacecraft that would hurtle into outer space to launch telescopes or rendezvous with space stations. The tragic Space Shuttle Challenger mission in 1986 where it exploded 73 seconds into its flight was a sobering reminder of the danger of these endeavors.

My interest in the Space Shuttles dovetailed with the release of The Right Stuff (1983), a historical biopic about the Mercury Seven astronauts that playfully exposed their flaws and celebrated these brave men. Over the years, my interest in the subject continued with films like Apollo 13 (1995) and so when it was announced that a biopic chronicling Neil Armstrong’s historic landing on the Moon was being made I was all in.

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by Sam Juliano

The Monday Morning Diary thread is back after a rare one-week absence due to the concluding post of the Fourth Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival publishing the previous Monday.  I speculated that if anyone had anything to say aside from the festival entry they would post it on the submission thread, which our friend Mark Smith did.  I want to thank all those who commented and place likes and also to those who again contributed mighty essays – Roderick Heath, Sachin Gandhi, J. D. Lafrance and project founder Jamie Uhler.  While five submissions was admittedly the lowest total we’ve ended up with since the festival began in May, 2017, we can basically attribute that to the stressful circumstances we are presently living in. In any event quality was not compromised as we may have had the most extraordinary presentation yet.  God willing we will proceed next year with the 5th Annual, and may yet attract more writers at a time when we are hoping the pandemic will no longer be part of the equation. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Those who were fortunate and privileged to know Allan or just even to cross his path immediately understood he was someone quite out of the ordinary.  His incomparable obsessiveness guaranteed that any venture he embarked upon would be afforded a maximum level of accountability.  Most know him for his cinematic prowess, the go to guy for reference, film availability and quality control specs.  Some also knew that movies, astonishingly enough, were not his sole focus.  He was a remarkably astute historian and could hold his own with anyone hankering to discuss music, theater and soccer and his grasp of literature from around the world past and present was beyond exceptional.  His still-unpublished massive tome, though primarily about the cinema, also includes a masterly investigation of television, a field Allan was as passionate about as any other, even to the extent of insisting there be no differentiation with its most towering achievements with those comparable film works.  Any list Allan composed invariably included television mixed together in a somehow comfortable melting pot with motion pictures.  He was a fervent aficionado of British small screen landmarks -often by his own admission serving as his country’s mercenary with the exclusive intent of turning heads of those he derided as American xenophobes.  Mind you Allan was attuned to the best in American television as well and often championed the shows we all do, but he was educated on the international scene and was always proud of Britain, which he once boldly told me eclipsed American television, despite the long list of great shows produced stateside.

This takes me to our family’s trip to England in 2013 when we spent two weeks in London and at Allan’s home in Kendal.  A running joke at that time was a carry-over from online ribbing with Allan as an exasperated host who was beside himself with my lifelong infatuation with American anthology television, particularly the horror and science fiction shows that originally aired in the late 50s through the early and mid 60s.  In a secret conversation with my five kids Allan instructed them to get hold of my DVD collections and books on Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and hide them so I couldn’t access them anymore.   To be sure Allan himself loved (and included in his book with perceptive and generous entries) them well enough, but were not programs he considered at the forefront of his life.  Due to my sometimes excruciating nostalgic slant and my fondness for anthology television I directed conversations with my friend to these shows much too often and the result was sometimes hysterical chiding.  Allan wasn’t always willing to embrace my incessant defense that this era was my “specialty”, as he knew only too well -as he did when I attended Manhattan movie theaters to see classic films for the umpteenth time – that watching stuff over and over came at the expense of delaying the negotiation of new discoveries was patently absurd.  My kids to this day are in stitches when relating what was said in those talks, though based on our phone and e mail chats I think I have a very good idea.

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by Sachin Gandhi

West of the Tracks (Tie Qi Xu, 2003, Wang Bing): Parts I, II and III

Wang Bing is one of the best filmmakers working today yet his films are not as well known compared to other international film directors. One big reason has to do with accessibility of his films via legal channels. His films have been a fixture at many international film festivals but have found little distribution beyond the film festival circuit. Physical media of his films (DVD/Blu-Rays) are a rarity and until recently, many of his films weren’t available for streaming. Tracking down his debut film West of the Tracks was almost a seven year hunt for me.

I was first alerted to Wang Bing’s potential via a magnificent article by Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope where Koehler asks of Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks: “is there a more sublime debut in recent history?Thus began a hunt for that film but a DVD/Blu-Ray was out of sight. That changed in 2010 when a Rotterdam Film Festival issued DVD came out. I wasn’t the only one who came across that DVD in 2010. Allan Fish posted an entry on this site in 2010 as well.

West of the Tracks, divided in three parts, highlights the decline of the Tie Xi industrial sector in Northeast China. The film requires an investment of nine hours from its viewers but it rewards those patient viewers with plenty of riches. The three parts are a great example of “Direct Cinema” where the camera patiently records everything in sight and allows viewers to listen in to all the daily noises while leaving plenty of room for us to draw our own conclusions.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Somewhere, there’s an alternate universe where James Le Gros is playing recurring Elmore Leonard character Deputy United States Marshal Raylan Givens in a series of television movies instead of Timothy Olyphant in a T.V. series. Watching Le Gros in Pronto (1997) is a study in contrast of styles to what Olyphant would do later in Justified. Airing two years after Get Shorty (1995) was released in theaters, and based on the 1993 novel of the same name, Pronto clearly tries to ape it in style and tone only with less money and star power in front of the camera.

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