seven years

Another milestone has been achieved at Wonders in the Dark this past week as the site has published its 3,000th blog post.  A remarkable accomplishment to be sure, but even sweeter when one considers the general apathy online for blogs in general, what with the continuing prominence of Facebook and Twitter.  Blogs are far from dead to be sure, but let’s just say they are less dominant than they once were.  Ironically, the mid-week post- Aaron West’s review of “My Life as a Dog”, which gave cause for celebration – came to pass during the now running Greatest Childhood/Adolescent polling, which at least by way of comments is the least exceptional of the six genre polls we have staged so far.  Still the page view for the project have remained solid and the quality of writing exhibited in the reviews themselves has been of the first rank.

Simultaneously, the site marks its seventh anniversary in two weeks.  Launched in September of 2008, the speculative venture was planned by Allan and Fish and myself, and supported mightily by Tony d’Ambra and Dee Dee, before gaining steam by a fraternity of blogger friends.  The site’s trademarks have been the weekly Monday Morning Diary, (instituted in 2010) a community forum where readers share their weekly viewings and activities, and the primary announcement board; the many decade and genre countdowns (populated not only by the site’s staff writers, but by fellow blogger friends from other sites, and an extensive archives of opera, book, and music reviews.  Though the present time has been difficult for blog sites in general, the site is alive and well, and will no doubt thrive for some time to come.

Many thanks to all our friends for making this place so accommodating for so long.  By any barometer of measurement this has been a remarkable run.


by Allan Fish

(UK 1948 116m) DVD1/2

What right have you to butcher me?

p  Ronald Neame, Anthony Havelock-Allen  d  David Lean  w  David Lean, Stanley Haynes  novel  Charles Dickens  ph  Guy Green  ed  Jack Harris  m  Arnold Bax  art  John Bryan  cos  Margaret Furse

Alec Guinness (Fagin), Robert Newton (Bill Sikes), Kay Walsh (Nancy), Anthony Newley (The Artful Dodger), John Howard Davies (Oliver), Henry Stephenson (Robert Brownlow), Francis L.Sullivan (Mr Bumble), Mary Clare (Mrs Corney), Gibb McLaughlin (Mr Sowerberry), Kathleen Harrison (Mrs Sowerberry), Michael Dear (Noah Claypole), Amy Veness (Mrs Bedwin), Ralph Truman (Monks), Diana Dors (Charlotte), Josephine Stuart (Agnes Fleming), Ivor Barnard (Chairman), Frederick Lloyd (Mr Grimwig), Edie Martin (Annie), Graveley Edwards (Mr Fang), Michael Ripper, Deidre Doyle, Fay Middleton, Peter Bull, W.G.Fay, Maurice Denham, Henry Edwards, Hattie Jacques,

So speaks Fagin prior to capture in David Lean’s once seminal Dickensian film.  I say once seminal because somehow it isn’t rated as highly as Great Expectations, made two years earlier.  Yet the fact remains that, in this reviewer’s eyes, it’s an even greater achievement than its illustrious predecessor.

So why is it so overlooked?  And when I say overlooked I don’t really mean in film guides, which generally give it maximum points, but rather in terms of approbation in the broader scheme of things.  The musical remake, Oliver!, can’t have helped and, though technically excellent, Oliver! has nothing to do with Dickens at all, or at least the spirit of Dickens.  Another reason may simply be that Great Expectations came first and therefore seemed more innovative and created a bigger splash.  To this add the fact that American audiences only saw a butchered version which removed any potentially offensive material to American Jews.  This leads to the fourth reason, the slur of Guinness’ Fagin being anti-Semitic.  Whether it was or it wasn’t is open to question, but when Fagin cries out “what right have you to butcher me?” no more prophetic word was spoken, for his performance and thus, the film, was butchered.  Leslie Halliwell had championed it for years, David Thomson also praises it highly, but having grown up in the UK they had been privy to the uncut version that shows in the UK.  Maybe the US Criterion DVD release will help it gain equal recognition (at least) with the earlier film. Continue Reading »

little fugitive 1

by John Greco

“Our New Wave would never have come into being if it hadn’t been for the young American Morris Engel, who showed us the way to independent production with his fine movie The Little Fugitive,” – Francois Truffaut  (The New Yorker.)

One of the earliest works in the American Independent film movement was, The Little Fugitive,a film made by Morris Engel, Ruth Orkin and Ray Abrashkin (aka Ray Asbury). Actually, at the time this film was made there was no movement, this was the beginning. This deceivingly simple and lyrical film about a young Brooklyn boy who runs away to Coney Island after being tricked into believing he killed his older brother has influenced future filmmakers such as John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese. The movie was filmed in Brooklyn and much of it at a Coney Island that does not exist anymore (Steeplechase Park, Parachute Jump), nor does the Brooklyn of the 1950’s. The film works on various levels, as a romanticized and nostalgic look back, but more importantly on a human level, especially the relationship between the two young siblings. It’s a look at a simpler and innocent time that unfortunately has disappeared.

After viewing the film, you realize that nothing much really happens except for a day in the life of young Joey who has run away, yet he finds joy and delight in the engaging world of the Coney Island amusement park. He eats cotton candy, rides the merry-go-round, plays in the ocean, and watches a young couple neck under the boardwalk. The film is done so beautifully and unobtrusively with a feeling of authenticity that it draws you into this young boy’s world. The directors never let you forget you are looking at this all from the perspective of a seven year old’s point of view. The candid scenes at the beach were filmed with a camera designed by Engel, made mobile enough to be inconspicuously carried unseen among the thousands of people on the beach, the boardwalk and in the amusement park as it follows Joey on his journey. Continue Reading »


by Allan Fish

(Iran 1995 85m) DVD1

Aka. Badkonake sefid

Dancing with their fins

p Kurosh Mazkouri d Jafar Panahi w Abbas Kiarostami ph Farzad Jahat ed Jafar Panahi

Aida Mohammadkhani (Razieh), Mohsen Kafili (Ali), Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy (mother), Anna Borkowska (old lady), Mohammad Shahani (soldier), Mohammad Bakhtiar (tailor), Hamidreza Tahery (Reza), Aliasghar Smardi (balloon seller)

It’s time for an academic game, a theoretical test, and one that seems apt when discussing an Iranian film. Your subject is The White Balloon, but you have to pick one word to describe it and then write a small essay on why that word is appropriate. One might pick ‘balloon’, but then you wouldn’t have seen the movie. ‘White’ would be less controversial as it features prominently, but still one suspects it would be limited to discussion of the mise-en-scène. One might pick goldfish, but again one might find it limiting. So I go for neither. For me, only one word presents itself – continuity. Continue Reading »

my life as a dog - the group

By Aaron West

(This article discusses plot points from the film that some might consider spoilers.)

Coming of age stories do not necessarily need to fit into the carefully crafted formula that has been repeated ad nauseum over the last few decades. More often than not, when they deviate from that formula, they can catch honest moments and inject personality into their work. Many of the titles thus far on this list have been the films that break these constraints. I consider My Life as a Dog to be one of these films, but the power is not in it being bold and experimental, but in being subtle and identifiable.

Many children experience hardship, although few suffer nearly the lengths that Ingemar does. The way children deal with hardship is perplexing. Their minds have often not developed or mature enough to handle it well, and as a result they experience denial, cling to a myth, or minimize their misery by comparing their own lives to those much worse. This is the route that Ingemar takes, and he does so in the form of a dog. This materializes in his ruminations about Laika, the space dog that suffered to sacrifice for mankind. It also materializes with Sickan, his lovable canine companion that he is forced to abandon. Finally, it materializes with his own behavior. Rather than face the reality of his emotions, he behaves as if he is a dog. It is not apparent whether he is embodying Laika, Sickan or both, but he is clearly trying to leave Ingemar and his misfortune behind. Continue Reading »

tree of life 2

by David Schleicher

Malick’s sublime 2011 masterpiece, The Tree of Life, invites you to watch it as a child…and loudly, the producers remind us on the Blu-Ray – not just to hear all the philosophical whispering and pining that highlights the voice-overs, but to sit in aural awe of the classical music and natural sounds that paint with Lubezki’s fluid imagery a cacophony adjacent to dreaming.

Remember the first time you heard a piece from Beethoven as a child but didn’t know exactly what it was, only that it made you feel something you hadn’t before?

We never know exactly what happens in The Tree of Life.  A middle child of three dies at some point, while an older one lives his adulthood in a sterile corporatized environment that couldn’t be further from the Texas Eden he experienced as a child – all of the family lives, loves, pines, mourns, remembers, but in transient states inter-spliced with meditations on the nature of nature, the meaning of life, religion, social mores, grief, motherhood, fatherhood, brotherhood and a cosmic tapestry that denotes the beginning and ending of time.  All meaning what?  We long for that meaning (just as a child – born in the natural state of a scientist – longs for answers to the questions they observe).  But instead, we are summoned to a cinematic cathedral to experience some grand impressionism…where all was formed in childhood.

To claim The Tree of Life is not a film about childhood is akin to claiming one’s childhood experiences have no bearing on how they turn out as an adult.  Childhood is paramount both in life and this film. Continue Reading »




by Sam Juliano

One more week and September will be upon us.  Some mourn the imminent end of the summer, while others among us are counting the days till the heat subsides and all the various scenic and cultural advantages of the autumn season kick in.  All things considered it does seem like the eighth month has raced by, but whom among us doesn’t feel like time in general is a speedy proposition.

Here at Wonders in the Dark the Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown is moving along with a seeming sense of purpose.  As can be seen by the page view totals, people are looking in, though there isn’t any point in denying the comments have been rather too few and far in between.  For all the readers of the countdown, we thank you for your support and interest.  To the writers, your work has been exemplary.  We are now in the 30’s, and will continue until October.

Our family worked in two long mileage day trips this past week, and they couldn’t have been any more different.  On Thursday we traveled down to Cape May to walk through the outdoor mall and tour some historical town houses, but most of the day was spent at the ocean in Wildwood -just a few minutes away- and on the world-famous three pier boardwalk.  We are all Wildwood veterans, having spent a week there every summer for eight consecutive year in the nineties, and then going down for a few days in succeeding years.  The second trip on Sunday was far up the Hudson to Hyde Park, the estate of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was born in the lovingly maintained mansion that is part of a fascinating tour that included the FDR museum, rose garden (where he and Eleanor are interred) and specious estate grounds.  The guide imparted a splendid grasp of the history of the place and of Roosevelt’s life.  This is a trip that is well worth the modest investment.  Tickets for adults are $18, with kids 15 and under free. Continue Reading »


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