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by James Clark

Demanding of one’s very best, and realizing it, can lead to great contentment. Vittoria, the protagonist of the film, L’Eclisse, The Eclipse (1962), does in fact embrace a kind of contentment which virtually no  one will touch.

Let’s try to understand how she might fare. The credits have a life of their own, and they’re far more acute than they seem to be. It’s the sixties, and the dance craze, “the twist,” is right up her alley. What’s so perplexing in that? Vittoria’s twist is not the twist of Chubby Checker.

We catch up to her in the apartment of Riccardo, her fiancé. As she has had, on many occasions to insist, that though he is kind and very rich (a patrician, in fact—one of Ingmar Bergman’s far from esteemed—having strung him along, only one of her failings), she bores him to, in not so many words, madness. This was to be the last time. They had spent all night arguing about inhabiting distant worlds.

An electric fan had been in action all night. Also pervasive was his art collection. Whereas the fan meant relief, the art meant stasis to her. The currents of taste had become a jungle. The walls and the pedestals were one thing. The numerous empty frames were a challenge, a surprise. She had probably spent the best moments there upon that mystery. It was one thing to cram more dead festoon, in a surprisingly small apartment. But there seemed, for her, to be something unique about the possibility of moving around small factors within those areas. You could, easily, bring up the matter of “still life.” But when you note the couple in the film preceding, in this trilogy, namely, La Notte (1961)—in that case both being patricians, doing a bit of slumming—the night becomes almost a case of pathos. Bohemians! In suits! Can being a soloist improve her game? Games galore are on the menu. For instants, a cut discloses Riccardo’s handsome collection of chairs and tables. The perspective, if that’s the word, only displays the lower area of the furniture. The legs. Soon Vittoria’s legs join the oddity, the twist? The breakaway? Or hiding under the table what she fears? Contentment known; contentment terrifying. The pristine legs, reflecting upon a shining floor. Her stylish shoes? How far will they carry her? A world of reflection! Can that by real? She tells him, “I’ve already decided.” We need to know what “decided” means here. Riccardo, though of some longevity, was a pushover. She knows it will be much harder now. Cliché, however, seems to haunt her bid to brilliantly overcome mediocrity. She visits the curtains several times. Curtains! (One opening discloses a huge structure resembling an atomic bomb.) In that range of disaster, the host pleads, “What do you want me to do? … Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it!” He clearly doesn’t understand that he’s cheek to jaw with a student of the ways of pariahs. Her studies have a long way to go. But you have to give her credit that she’s pounced upon a career of translation, translation with its currents whereby two disparate ranges of sensibility might embrace where only one seemed possible. That new take-off and embrace (a twist) could make a singularity to open eyes, to reach a very different contentment. But, for several reasons, which we’ll present now, Vittoria is headed toward a solitary life. She moots that it might be possible to continue to do his (rarely read) translations of foreign articles for him. (In La Notte, a dying man has been an ardent investigator of writings no one wants to read. Perhaps he’s the only one alive. Perhaps Vittoria is the new mortal.) People lose love. The elements never quit. Continue Reading »

Screen cap from “Halloween Kills” seen Friday night at Ridgefield Park multiplex

American actor Johnny Depp on the set of Sleepy Hollow, based on the story by Washington Irving and directed by Tim Burton.  (Jamie Uhler reviews the film this week in his ongoing 2021 “Horrorfest” at the site.

by Sam Juliano

Two weeks to Halloween, and the seasonal weather has been cooperating as of late.  My own coverage for the Caldecott Medal Contender series has temporarily stalled what with some vital matters needing to be attended to with the imminent publication (on Amazon) of my maiden novel Paradise Atop the Hudson.  My dear Canadian friend and muse Valerie Clark has long gently urged me to prioritize the venture and after the cover art was finally completed I now need to meet on Friday evening with the ace School of Visual Arts student at an art exhibition run by my artist Andrew Castrucci in Manhattan, who will be doing the book’s titles, author and back panel blurb as well as the book’s spine.  The big news this past week is that out of nowhere Amazon is now offering a hardcover option to go with the kindle and paperback ones.  This unexpected announcement, related to me by my California friend Jeffrey Wang means I will now offer the book in all three formats.  Obviously the HC version will have to be more expensive, but I do know of some people who informed me they much prefer to have it that way.  Still, my expectations are that the paperback and the kindle options will do better.  But I desire to have all three on the table.  Needless to say I was not able to spend any time this past week on the second novel Irish Jesus in Fairview, but I am well on the way with that one, and there will be no problem getting it done as soon as I am freed from the demand of the publication at hand.  Since I will be deliberately holding that one back until early 2022, I have no pressure.

This past week the fantastic results to the Italian Film Polling were posted here at the site, and the very next day the new Best German Films Polling has gone up.  The the many who have cast ballots on these unexpectedly popular projects, we thank you!

 Halloween Kills, seen Friday night at the Ridgefield Park multiplex was as I expected an unmitigated disaster, but as I was “lured in against my better judgement” I can’t take the blame!  Ha!  The new James Bond film, No Time to Die, watched in the same theater on Saturday night was passable entertainment, though not really anything to write home about.   * 1/2 and *** are my ratings for both. Continue Reading »

Deutschland is up next. Though the years after the Weimar Republic and before the 1960s were slim pickings for film fans, the Cinema of German boasts one of the richest silent periods, and it is most competitive in the modern era with the work of Fassbinder, Herzog, Syberberg, Reitz, Schlondorff, Von Donnarsmarck, Holland, Hershbiegel, Von Trotta, and others most competitive on the international stage. For some Germany means Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau, with some Wiene and Pabst sprinkled in. I found it deeply regrettable I was unable to include any Herzog nor a few other Pabsts I adore. And though I included two Fassbinders, it is shameful I couldn’t include “In the Year of 13 Moons,” nor “Merchant of Four Seasons” especially, and though I have one Schlondorff here, I had to leave off “The Tin Drum” unfortunately.
Anyway, every one is asked to name 20 films in either chronolofical, alphabetical or ranked numerical order. BTW YES “Heimat” and “Berlin Alexanderplatz” ARE eligible as they had theater runs. I know many too will choose Murnau’s “Faust” and/or “The Last Command, “The Adventures of Prince Achmed”, “Variety” or “Vampyr” and I regret not choosing any of those. Thep oll will run until MONDAY, November 1st at 5:00 P.M. HERE are my own Top 20 in alphabetical, equal order:
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Fassbinder, 1974)
Berlin Alexanderplatx (Fassbinder, 1980)
The Blue Angel (Von Sternberg, 1930)
The Bridge (Wicki, 1959)
The Cabinet of Dr. Calagari (Weine, 1920)
Downfall (Hirschbiegel, 2004)
Europa Europa (Holland, 1990)
Heimat (Reitz, 1984)
Hitler: A Film from Germany (Syberberg, 1977)
The Last Laugh (Murnau, 1922)
The Lives of Others (Von Donnarsmarck, 2006)
M (Lang, 1930)
Metropolis (Lang, 1927)
Never Look Away (Von Donnarsmarck, 2018)
Die Niebelungen (Lang, 1924)
Nosferatu (Murnau, 1922)
Pandora’s Box (Pabst, 1929)
Parsifal (Syberberg, 1982)
People on Sunday (Siodmak, Ulmer, 1930)
Young Torless (Schlondorff, 1966)
1. Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) – 544.5
2. 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963) – 426
3. Umberto D (Vittorio De Sica, 1952) – 401
4. The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966) – 395.5
5. The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) – 368.5
6. La Dolce Vita (Federico Fellini, 1960) – 341.5
7. L’Avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) – 285.5
8. The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) – 277
9. Once Upon a Time in the West (Sergio Leone, 1968) – 277
10. Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988) – 268
11. The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1964) – 263
12. Rome, Open City (Roberto Rossellini, 1945) – 243
13. I Vitelloni (Federico Fellini, 1953) – 215
14. Il Posto (Ermanno Olmi, 1961) – 211.5
15. La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954) – 202.5
16. L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962) – 191.5
17. Journey to Italy (Roberto Rossellini, 1954) – 181
18. Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1971) – 174
19. Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968) – 172.5
20. Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960) – 165
21. Seven Beauties (Lina Wertmüller, 1975) – 156.5
22. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, 1966) – 150
23. The Nights of Cabiria (Federico Fellini, 1957) – 147.5
24. Il Sorpasso (Dino Risi, 1962) – 146.5
25. Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) – 145
26. Germany Year Zero (Roberto Rossellini, 1948) – 133
27. The Night of the Shooting Stars (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, 1982) – 131.5
28. La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961) – 129
29. Shoeshine (Vittorio De Sica, 1946) – 128
30. Senso (Luchino Visconti, 1954) – 124.5
31. Once Upon a Time in America (Sergio Leone, 1984) – 123
32. Fists in the Pocket (Marco Bellocchio, 1965) – 120.5
33. Amarcord (Federico Fellini, 1973) – 114
34. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013) – 102
35. Brother Sun, Sister Moon (Franco Zeffirelli, 1972) – 101.5
36. Black Sabbath (Mario Bava, 1963) – 100
37. Ossessione (Luchino Visconti, 1943) – 91.5
38. The Stolen Children (Gianni Amelio, 1992) – 90.5
39. Fellini Satyricon (Federico Fellini, 1969) – 88
40. The Tree of Wooden Clogs (Ermanno Olmi, 1978) – 87.5
41. Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino, 2017) – 86
42. Europa ’51 (Roberto Rossellini, 1952) – 84.5
43. The Organizer (Mario Monicelli, 1963) – 84.5
44. Divorce, Italian Style (Pietro Germi, 1961) – 82.5
45. The Flowers of St. Francis (Roberto Rossellini, 1950) – 79.5
46. Big Deal on Madonna Street (Mario Monicelli, 1958) – 78
47. La Grande Bouffe (Marco Ferreri, 1973) – 75
48. Blood and Black Lace (Mario Bava, 1964) – 73.5
49. A Special Day (Ettore Scola, 1977) – 72.5
50. The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci, 1968) – 69
51. The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Vittorio De Sica, 1970) – 64.5
52. The Passenger (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1975) – 64
53. Accattone (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1961) – 62.5
54. Happy as Lazzaro (Alice Rohrwacher, 2018) – 61.5
55. Oedipus Rex (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1967) – 61.5
56. Ugly, Dirty, and Bad (Ettore Scola, 1976) – 61.5
57. Black Sunday (Mario Bava, 1960) – 61
58. Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964) – 60.5
59. Cabiria (Giovanni Pastrone, 1914) – 59.5
60. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone, 2008) – 59.5
61. The Damned (Luchino Visconti, 1969) – 58
62. Deep Red (Dario Argento, 1975) – 58
63. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Elio Petri, 1970) – 58
64. Miracle in Milan (Vittorio De Sica, 1951) – 57.5
65. La Traviata (Franco Zeffirelli, 1982) – 56.5
66. The Best of Youth (Marco Tullio Giordana, 2003) – 53.5
67. The Fiances (Ermanno Olmi, 1963) – 53.5
68. Il Postino (Michael Radford, 1994) – 53.5
69. The Hawks and the Sparrows (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1966) – 52.5
70. The White Sheik (Federico Fellini, 1952) – 51.5
71. Seduced and Abandoned (Pietro Germi, 1964) – 51
72. The Son’s Room (Nanni Moretti, 2001) – 50.5
73. The Spider’s Stratagem (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) – 50.5
74. For a Few Dollars More (Sergio Leone, 1965) – 50

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by Sam Juliano

The weather in the metropolitan area is finally turning fall-like, and with it a reminder that our favorite time of the year also signals Halloween, the World Series, the best of the movie crop and pumpkin pie are imminent.  Well, lets nix the last (at least for me) as I am Type 2 and have said goodbye to sugar deserts now, and as far as the baseball “Fall Classics” the absence of our Yankees makes things a bit less passionate.  Ha!  Anyway, thank you as always to the Clarks, Valerie and Jim, and to Marilyn Ferdinand and a few others for expressing some concern about Sammy IV, who is doing quite fine right now, and is seemingly getting the proper meds for his migraine/vitamin deficiency condition.  We are all relieved beyond words.

I managed to complete another full chapter this past week of Irish Jesus in Fairview (“Jimbo Finds God”) and finally got the full color (cover) sketch design for Paradise Atop the Hudson from the artist after an extremely long delay.  This bodes well with publication, hopefully in a few weeks at most.  But I have said that kind of thing before, so I really can’t say for sure. I have featured this preliminary design here on this MMD for the first time.

Incredibly, over fifty (50) full ballots have been cast in the Italian film balloting, which continues until this coming Friday, October 15th at 5:00 EST.  For those interested in what country or region will be explored AFTER the Italian poll, the answer is…….Germany.  And again we will be asked voters to name twenty (20) films either chronologically, alphabetically or ranked numerically.

J.D. Lafrance published a terrific review of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter this past week at the site.

Jamie Uhler has been on a roll with his stupendous capsule reviews of current, classic and trashy horror films, and I am thrilled to post several more this week in his continuing, always-pined for annual project. Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

Along with The Devil Rides Out (1968), Captain Kronos – Vampire Hunter (1972) remains one of the great missed opportunities for Hammer Studios. Intended to be the first of a series of films featuring the titular hero, it was a commercial failure thus nixing any future installments, which is a shame as it is such an entertaining and engaging take on the vampire genre, creating its own unique rules for how to dispatch these creatures. More than simply a horror film, Captain Kronos is also a rousing action/adventure tale complete with a brooding swashbuckling hero portrayed by Horst Janson.

Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

My 24 year-old son Sammy IV has been in the hospital this past week (finally due to be discharged tomorrow) because of seizures he has been subject too since early 2020.  They wanted to do the full battery of tests with the helmet and wires.  There are no tumors, no cancer (thank God!) nothing potentially dangerous.  Now they are saying it may not even be a small degree of epilepsy (runs in my family) but rather, (get this!) a kind of migraine related matter that could be caused by lights or even some vitamin deficiency.  Of course medication will control this.  We were terrified because he would space out for over a half hour, but the doctors said this rare type of migraine could last hours or even days.  We are relieved and grateful nothing serious has been diagnosed and want to stay abreast of the situation regardless.

With the unconscionable, tragic passing of young 29 year-old Michael Russo, this past week has been a horror in every sense.  Lucille and I have not watched any films, though I have kept abreast of social media and our pollings.

James Clark has written a superlative essay this past week at the site on Antonioni’s seminal La Notte.

I finished my first novel Paradise Atop the Hudson the first days of May, and the editor completed his work a short while later.  I am still waiting for the artist to complete the book’s cover, though online one can read that normally a cover should not take more than 10 (ten) working days to finish.  This past week saw no progress on the follow-up novel, Irish Jesus in Fairview, but with three-quarters of it done, I am not expected any problem in bringing closure to it very soon.  In any case it seems abundantly clear I need to employ a different artist for it as I don’t want to wait another six months after working my tail off to finishing it.  The book should have been published no later than early August.

Jamie Uhler’s ongoing Horrorfest 2021 project continues this week with some fantastic capsules on older films, but one is on the recent Promising Young Woman:

The Manitou (W. Girdler… 1978) supernatural/possession

During a reading of a Malignant (2021) review, I had inferred that I’d seen a film the piece referenced the Wan flick had borrowed from. Upon further inspection I’d only done a similar reading of a Manitou review elsewhere, and never actually viewed it. It was a mental osmosis that seemed strangely fitting for both movies, what with their penetrating psychological inferences that come and go from past and very much current growths on the mind featuring so prevalent. That and, yeah, Wan most have really liked The Manitou, a film that he borrows from, though missing its charms of touching realism* and storytelling craft. Malignant appearing in parts like a Manitou remake made by a heavily ADHD addled carnival barker who’s never met a jump scare or droning, oppressive piece of music he couldn’t weld at every moment. But then don’t misinterpret my point—yesterday I also hoped to point out that Malignant wasn’t all bad—as on the topic of referential material, it’s silly to praise The Manitou, a film I liked even as it worked as little more than an Exorcist rip-off with a Native American spiritual bent instead of a Catholic one (it was Girdler’s second Exorcist rip-off as Abby had come out a few years prior and been sued by Exorcist‘s creators† you’ll recall).
You see, homages are important to genre cinema and all the arts. For example, where Manitou breaks from The Exorcist is who actually gets implanted with an evil spirit. Here, Susan Strasberg’s Karen is a mature, affluent woman, her being eventually possessed and then ‘birthing’ the fetus that grows from her spinal column into a powerful Native American shaman needs the help of cutting edge (pun intended) medical facilities and former friends (The Exorcist isn’t worse off, its choice of using a child just produces different scares of helplessness and parental loss of power). The friend is Hollywood heavy Tony Curtis, here aged past his prime (you can talk a lot about the Hag Horror movement and what it did to classic Hollywood’s leading ladies but the same thing happened to the fellas) but grows into a caring, brave friend after the initial characterization of his charlatan work as a tarot card reader for rich old ladies. Eventually the tumor grows and a second Native American shaman is sought, a way to ‘fight fire with fire’ once science has offered no resistance.
My appreciation for this truly insane, ridiculous film is perhaps a way in outlining how I view the beauties of yesteryear’s cinema. Where Malignant hesitates to offer any feeling, visual or emotion in anything resembling a whisper of subtly, The Manitou takes its time to construct all the outlandish hooey into something that happened. This isn’t to say The Manitou is sedated and limp (I mean Malignant isn’t and it’s what works most about it), when it needs to ramp up, like the final 30 minutes or so, it does some with pretty effective special effects and entertaining action (and, therefor, our feelings of ‘this could have happened’ go kablooey), producing big laughs. But who needs CGI pyrotechnics when you have Burgess Meredith playing an anthropologist earlier who is also something of a hoarder (here Rocky’s Mick moves about his home full of relics and interrupts himself and shifts dust as he tries to recall lost books and foretell his volumes of sacred knowledge, perhaps my favorite acting in the film)? Those are the things that also marvel real film fans, great pros chewing scenery. High trash recommend.
*I mean realism here in how the actions and events are portrayed—the emotional bond between Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg for example which drives his desire to try and help her at all costs as somewhat believable—it’s all pitched with authentic sincerity. It’s the effect of cinema I mean, the illusion of the otherwise ridiculous, which isn’t to paint the movie as one of realism as the events of the movie are totally camp, fantastical and, frankly, (gloriously) absurd. 
†An absurd lawsuit, the films aren’t that similar, they’re both merely possession movies, a common enough trope through Horror’s many decades. I mean, could the makers of The Possession of Joel Delaney sue The Exorcist? There are more similarities apparent in those two films. 

Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano
Next Stop: Roma. Italian Cinema is surely one of the most diverse and richest in the annals of movie history. It gave birth to neo-realism, Euro horror, the spaghetti western, the opera film, and subversive political allegories, and some of the greatest directors of all-time were born and worked within its borders. Fellini, DeSica, Visconti, Pasolini, Antonioni, Rosellini, Blasetti, Monicelli, Bava, Bertolucci, Olmi, Wertmuller, Tornatore, Zeffirelli, Rosi, Argento, et al. Voters are asked to select twenty (20) films either in ORDER NUMERICALLY (ranked) or in NO ORDER, in which case alphabetical method is easiest for the tabulator. For me to leave off Antonioni, Monicelli, Olmi, Tavanani, and Blassetti is insanity just as my leaving off “Christ Stopped at Eboli,” “Bitter Rice,” “Death in Venice”, “Nights of Cabiria,” “Black Sunday,” “Shoeshine,” “Obsessione,” and others is the height of lunacy, but 20 choices forces you to seriously economize. Anyway here are my own Top 20 in NO ORDER, presented alphabetically:  (deadline is Friday, October 15th at 5:00 P.M.)
Battle of Algiers (Pontecorvo, 1969)
Bicycle Thieves (DeSica, 1949)
Bizet’s Carmen (Rosi, 1984)
Black Sabbath (Bava, 1963)
Brother Sun Sister Moon (Zeffirelli, 1973)
Cinema Paradiso (Tornatore, 1989)
The Conformist (Bertolucci, 1963)
The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini, 1964)
The Leopard (Visconti, 1963)
Fellini Satyricon (Fellini, 1969)
Once Upon a Time in America (Leone, 1984)
Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone, 1968)
Otto e Mezzo – 8 1/2 (Fellini, 1963)
Rocco and His Brothers (Visconti, 1960)
Rome, Open City (Rossellini, 1945)
Romeo and Juliet (Zeffirelli, 1968)
Senso (Visconti, 1954)
La Traviata (Zeffirelli, 1983)
Umberto D (DeSica, 1953)
I Vitelloni (Fellini, 1953)
May be an image of text that says 'CINEMA ITALY'

 © 2021 James Clark

      Having finally, in the preceding essay, L’Avventura, ventured upon the cues of poet-film writer, Tonino Guerra, one might proceed with gusto upon the second campaign, namely, La Notte (The Night), 1961.

However, before thrilling to a rare lucidity from Guerra, I must describe how wrong my first impressions of this film were. (Not that it matters what I did; but there is a lapse which everyone involved has missed, a crucial mistake.) In those days, Antonioni could do no wrong in my eyes. But an anonymous note which I stumbled upon back in 2013 for a blog , in Wonders in the Dark, concerning La Notte, and promptly forgot, might have wakened me up a bit. The preamble of the “behind the scenes,” involved another fan, shoring up the Antonioni line. “I’ve become fascinated in gradually realizing that almost the full complement of this indie—yes—but also guerrilla art, had been met with censure. It was something of a jolt to learn that the film on tap here, La Notte, hinged upon two great performers (and specialists to boots) concerning problematic incitement, namely, Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, who hated this assignment and did not take seriously the roles they were to sustain. Mastroianni, in particular, spent quite a bit of time on the set quarrelling with one of the writers, Tonino Guerra. And that rancor, with its behind the scenes clutter, cues our special concern here, regarding the precise nature of Antonioni’s pristine closures within complex and even Byzantine involvement by associates, though contrarian with regard to conventional filmmaking, unlikely to have absorbed the unique physicality of his inspiration.”

One more time: “… unlikely to have absorbed the unique physicality? ” The unique physicality was entirely the initiative of that trouble-maker!

Let’s see if I can make amends.

Guerra, the necessary “nuisance,” would have constructed for the Antonioni appellation, a seeming hot intellectual subject, namely, “alienation,” wherein to place a far more comprehensive and far more profound demand. Right from the opening credits, with a steep, steady drop of an empty glass elevator, there is an oblique indication that human authority has stepped back a move. We’re in Milano, with its heady schemes, but that steady fall steals the show. Very soon a moving car with a man and a woman on board, nearly becomes crushed by a wreckless heavy- construction worker. The escapees use an elevator to reach a friend in a hospital. As they approach their destination, we notice that each of them conveys a remarkably vivid shadow. We imagine that the anxiety here (terminal cancer) has been given a graphic form. That form, with its mundane, shadow aspect, can stand as a promise that another  force has to be reckoned with, despite being lost to the “realists.” During this event, we notice varying intensity (including that of the victim and the victim’s  mother); and, sometimes, also no shadow at all. This forum of potential mystery and potential power consists by way of an agency unseen per se. But when one has an inkling to be fully alive, that constituent will see what one’s made of. The elevator was an entrée. The rest of the saga is out of this world. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

The titular creature from E.B. White’s iconic Charlotte’s Web was noble, erudite and compassionate.  In the modern picture book classic, the Caldecott Honor-winning  The Spider and the Fly by the nineteenth century poet Mary Howitt and artist Tony Di Terlizzi an iniquitous conman, plots a carnivorous conquest.  In Eric and Terry Fan’s It Fell from the Sky the crafty anthropoid wearing a stovepipe hat lies squarely in the middle of those two literary incarnations on the moral compass.  From the start this schemer was driven by avarice, and his the story of his rise and fall is a cautionary tale with pointed political parallel, though the Fans bring a lesson-learned coda to their delightful tale.  The brothers,  presently working out of Toronto, hold dual citizenship, so they are eligible for Caldecott awards, much as they have been previously in a distinguished and prolific career of picture book masterpieces such as The Night Gardener, The Antlered Ship, The Darkest Dark, The Scarecrow and The Barnabus Project.  Each new work by the tireless duo invariably brings on proclamations from their admirers that they have outdone themselves this time, and the same can be said for It Fell from the Sky, a bonanza of graphic resplendence that stunningly combines beautiful monochrome with incandescent color.

The Fans open their latest fantasy with an announcement that an object fell from the sky on a Thursday, a mid-week day bearing no special significance. The green and yellow marble nestles between flower plants, from where a Ladybug claims she observed the unexpected intrusion on their normally tranquil space.  Her contention that the marble bounced three times before rolling to a stop is contested by the Inchworm who counters it only bounced twice.  All the others, including the first pipe-smoking insect to appear in a picture book since Carson Ellis’s Du Iz Tak?, a Caldecott Honor recipient, concur the event was unprecedented in their collective consciousness.  The walking-stick, another one smitten with pipe-smoking gleefully observed he was being upstaged in the “strangeness” department, and the frog concluded it must be a gumdrop until the taste turned him off.  The dung beetle resolved to move it, but found that task impossible, and the Stinkbug brings on yet another theory, whereupon this alien object didn’t come from the sky at all, but was home grown, like a flower.  At long last the Grasshopper, the insect denomination of the Rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz is consulted for what is expected to be a sage interpretation.  He asserts it did actually fall from the sky, but specifies it is probably a star, a comet or even a planet. Continue Reading »