hos 4

by Allan Fish

(UK 2008-2009 590m) DVD2

The spirit of Calgacus

p  Richard Downes, Tim Niel, Sarah Barclay, Clara Glynn  d  Tim Niel, Andrew Downes, Sarah Barclay, Clara Glynn, Bill MacLeod  w  Neil Oliver  ph  Neville Kidd  ed  Jonathan Seal  m  Paul Leonard-Morgan  art  Ewen Duncan  presented by  Neil Oliver

Considering the reputation of British television documentaries dealing with history, art and/or politics worldwide, it may seem unthinkable that a time may come when those series would be a thing of the past.  John Romer has been retired from the screen for over a decade, while David Starkey, Simon Schama and Michael Wood now qualify as pensioners.  We’re reliant on a new generation of presenters to take their place.  Only a year or so ago, I remember Neil Oliver tweeting that whoever took the presenting of a remake of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, as had been mooted, would be receiving a poisoned chalice.  Only someone sensible enough to refuse the offer to be considered.  Continue Reading »


© 2015 by James Clark

      True to form, Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay and production of The Master (2012) powers away in a foreground that seems all about personal gain and prestige while investing heavily in shadings which put to shame all semblances of Yankee sweat and know-how. But still we must touch upon this almost Wellesian melodrama from a unique perspective. This peculiarity derives from the narrative’s being suffused with the actions of a purveyor of what is purported to be unprecedented enlightenment. A filmmaker of such fare (and those further conveying the fare in the spirit of radical discovery) cannot but find that very daunting communicative singularities swirl up when such a cast of characters comes on board. It’s one thing to run circles around oil tycoons, cops and robbers, folk singers, show girls and the like. But a figure like this film’s Lancaster Dodd, a go-getter about reconfigurating sensibility and the cosmos for one and all, treads painfully close to dilemmas, if not imperilling, making monstrously complicated the very substance of a film like that and a commentary like this.

It’s never, to reiterate, such a problem when protagonists flounder in roles having no direct relation to the very fabric of the film project. Painter, William Turner’s foibles, in Mr. Turner, could never apply real heat to Mike Leigh’s procedures as a contemporary filmmaker. Robber Neil and cop Vince in Heat would, despite being closet metaphysicians, say nothing about Michael Mann’s métier (a subject for the near future). But when Dodd, with his prep-school good bones and patrician patina holding forth in an Upper East Side salon in the form of inducing a once-upon-a-time deb to pursue a reverie (“I think I was a man…”/ “Laughing is good…”), comes to be interrupted (in his homily about “spirit”) by another prep-school grad who declares, “Some of this sounds like hypnotism… I still find it difficult to see the proof with regard to past lives… You claim to be able to cure leukemia… This seems to be about the will of one man… a cult,” the skepticism also beams out to the argument-averse disclosures of the heart of Anderson’s project. The Ivy League voice of venerable rationality goes on, in his debating-team-rhetorical-points-leader form, “I’m sorry you’re not able to defend your ideas.” That’s trouble for Dodd (Dud?); but it’s also trouble for Anderson (and me; and anyone else who comprehends that, as all of alert reflection in art, science and design over the past hundred or so years has discovered, there are areas of disclosure that go far beyond classical intellection). And The Master is first and foremost about the exposure of far more sophisticated rebellion never being a hot ticket where big ticket classical training and capitalization (advantage) comprise a rock-solid cult. (For all his inchoate sense of a time ripe for change, the tenets of Lancaster’s vision [heard in one of his indoctrination labs] are as obsolete as the airplane the name of which he’s tagged with: “Every man back to his inherent state of perfect. Man is not an animal. We are far above that crowd. We are spirits. It is not only possible, it is easily achieved…”) Continue Reading »

trapped 4

by Sam Juliano

The team that dazzled picture book aficionados with last year’s Edward Hopper Paints His World, and a series of other non-fiction titles over the years have again collaborated on a splendid work based on an actual event.  Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s engaging documentation results in a breathtaking rescue story that yields the same kind of crowd-pleasing denouement that made Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winner The Lion and the Mouse so unforgettable.  Burleigh’s narrative follows the food-seeking journey of the largest mammal on the earth from the icy waters of the arctic to coastal California, where the hump back whale is after a massive volume of krill.  Burleigh’s exclamatory descriptive language (i.e. “She spanks the cold blue with her powerful tail, Bang!; Down in the depths, her call echoes.”) is perfectly wed with Minor’s magnificent aquamarine gouache paintings.

The event, as described in a “Behind the Story” afterward occurred on December 11, 2005, when fisherman detected a hump back whale struggling to free itself from rope entanglement near the coast of San Francisco.  Quick notification was sent on to whale specialists and rescue divers, who then performed aquatic miracles in averting a tragedy, but for the endangered mammal and the would-be human saviors it was a tenuous and harrowing episode that from the start posed an enormous risk.  The crisis is laid out in compelling terms by Burleigh:

The whale feels the tickle of thin threads/She plunges on./She tosses.  She spirals sideways as spidery lines tighten around her./The struggle begins./The web of ropes cuts into her skin.  She flails, starts to sink, fights for sir. Continue Reading »

max-45664 (1)

Neil Oliver of “The History of Scotland”

by Sam Juliano

The 2015 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival will be staged at three Manhattan locations from Thursday, April 15 to Sunday, the 26.  For the fourth consecutive year, Wonders in the Dark will be covering the event, armed with the usual pair of press badges, that will get us into to any and all of the screenings.  Lucille and I will be in overdrive, though I really don’t envision anything like last year, when I somehow managed 52 films in eleven (11) days.  I see a more relaxed pace this time around.  In addition to the normal Bow-Tie Cinemas and SVA Theatres on 23rd Street, the venue will for the first time include the Regal Cinemas complex near the World Trade Center.  In fact, that location will be hosting the majority of the showings.  I am just now trying to put all the pieces together, but no doubt I won’t know for sureuntil Wednesday afternoon.  I plan on covering the event on the next two weekly MMD’s.

Due to e mail requests from a few of the regulars, the Greatest Childhood Films countdown will be starting a few weeks later than originally planned.  Ballots should now be sent in from May 15th till May 25th, with a June 1st launching of the countdown, after the results are tabulated by Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr.

Lucille  and I saw one film in the theater this week, though at-home viewings occupied us for many hours as I will note below: Continue Reading »

fanfare 1

by Allan Fish

(Netherlands 1958 86m) not on DVD

13 against 12

p  Rudolf Meyer  d  Bert Haanstra  story  Jan Blokker, Bert Haanstra  ph  Eduard van  der Enden  ed  Ralph Sheldon, Bert Haanstraa  m  Jan Mul  art  Nico van Baarle  cos  Hanka Roeloffsen

Hans Kaart (Geursen), Bernard Droog (Krijns), Ineke Brinkman (Marije), Wim van den Heuwel (Douwe), Andrea Domberg (Lies), Albert Mol (Schalm), Ton Lutz (Altena), Herbert Joeks (Koendering), Henk van Buuren (Valentijn), Johan Valk (Van Ogten), Jan Mol (Hulpje van Geursen),

When The Ladykillers finally issued in the end of the Ealing comedy cycle in the mid-fifties and British film comedy turned to the Boultiing brothers’ satires and the Carry On farces, it was always likely that their flag would be taken up elsewhere.  Most obviously their influence can be seen in the whimsical comedies of the Czech new wave – imagine the various comic masterpieces of Vojtech Jasny, Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel had Michael Balcon’s celebrated cottage film studios not been there before.  Owing more to Ealing than any of those Bohemian classics, however, was a film from the Netherlands by a director of documentaries, Bert Haanstra, making his first fictional feature. Continue Reading »


by Allan Fish

(UK 1973 300m) not on DVD

For all the Mrs Fiddymonts in the world

p  Paul Bonner, Leonard Lewis  d  David Wickes, Gilchrist Calder, Leonard Lewis  w  Elwyn Johns, John Lloyd

Stratford Johns (Det.Chief.Supt.Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det.Chief.Supt.Watt), Gordon Christie (Abberline), Hilary Sesta (Catherine Eddowes), Basil Henson (Charles Warren),

Just type ‘Jack the Ripper’ into Youtube’s search engine and stare into the abyss; dozens of videos of all kinds, from Screaming Lord Sutch to video phone recordings of Ripper walks to video game menus, plus a host of documentaries on various suspects.  None run longer than an hour and a half, and all look into the matter in such cursory detail as to make one wonder why no-one has had the idea to look into the events properly.  The main reason, naturally, is that the myth is always preferable to the facts, and any documentaries shown on TV on the subject these days assume the attention span of the viewer to equate to that of a gnat, and are often about new suspects where the evidence has been selected to fit the suspect rather than the traditional reverse of this process.  Continue Reading »

mr turner 2

by Allan Fish

(UK 2014 150m) DVD1/2

Mr Mallord Goes to Margate

p  Georgina Lowe  d/w  Mike Leigh  ph  Dick Pope  ed  Jon Gregory  m  Gary Yershon  art  Suzie Davies  cos  Jacqueline Durran

Timothy Spall (J.M.W.Turner), Paul Jesson (William Turner) Dorothy Atkinson (Hannah Danby), Marion Bailey (Sophia Booth), Karl Johnson (Mr Booth), Ruth Sheen (Sarah Danby), Lesley Manville (Mary Somerville), Martin Savage (Benjamin Haydon), James Fleet (Constable),

During the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony I was engaged in a discussion on Twitter and remember asking what would the ceremony have been like if, instead of Danny Boyle, it had been directed by Mike Leigh.  One of the replies stated that it would have just been a few hundred people milling around (you can see it, can’t you?).  At that time Leigh hadn’t made a film for a couple of years but he was already considering his next project, an unconventional biopic of the greatest of British artists, J.M.W.Turner.  Timothy Spall seemed a natural choice, but Leigh insisted that his old partner-in-crime spend two years learning how to sketch and paint.  When one sees the film one may wonder why when considering that we don’t see much of Spall in the act of creating his art.  What Leigh wanted, however, was for Spall to act like a painter, to act like someone with a painter’s eye; in short, to look, feel and live the part. Continue Reading »


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