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© 2020 by James Clark

The genesis of Ingmar Bergman’s thrilling final film, namely, Saraband (2003), consists of a film few have seen and few will ever see, namely, To Joy (1950). Fifty-three years is a long span; but the matters in that long-ago gem include sensibility in such a way as to expose an obligation untouched by Saraband, and any of the other films in that chain of pearls.

Before getting down to the reason why this hidden treasure is particularly important, let’s enumerate what Saraband did so wonderfully on the recommendation of that lost classic. There we find that the effete couple in the film, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), are even far more tedious in Saraband, in their craving for advantage, than when they were younger. The protagonist, Karin, therein, soldiers on to introduce an overtaking of advantage in the music industry while aiming for a career of a classical orchestra player finding gold in the form of sharing with other players attentive to the infrastructures of intention, not the pedantry of being perfect, supreme in that discipline, and mowing down one’s inferiors. Moreover, To Joy, not explicitly but readily understood, moves apace—53 years before, in one Henrik, becoming a practicing incest opportunist until Karin brings equilibrium to her métier—presents a 30-year-old siren sporting a wedding ring pretending to be the wife of a 60-year-old when in fact his daughter, and doing tricks at the homestead. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

As case numbers are surging out of control like no time before since the pandemic began its siege stateside back in March, a vaccine is on the horizon with the initial doses set to distribute to health care workers -and maybe to those at highest risk as well- in a matter of weeks.  The past Thanksgiving Day offered Americans a sobering choice which was either to risk infection with large holiday gatherings or stay solo with the immediate family.  We of course chose the latter and are doing all we can to remains vigilant during this terrifying second wave.

Meanwhile the resident White House psychopath continues to spread his scurrilous lies and baseless conspiracy theories, even as the President-elect has rightly moved on with the transition.  Sadly his equally deranged minions are all too willing to embrace and sponsor all the lies and impossibly preposterous narratives.  Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Thanksgiving Day 2020.  None of us are in a place we want to be at this time of great stress and uncertainty.  Along with our friends north of border, including our dear friends Valerie and Jim Clark who are in lockdown in the Toronto area we are seeing surging case numbers and spiking mortality rates as COVID-19 spirals out of control for a second time this year.  Most of us will stay hunkered in our homes on Thursday enjoying our Thanksgiving dinners with our immediate family.  For Lucille, my family and I this means breaking a 26 year tradition of spending the day in Butler, New Jersey at the home of Lucille’s sister, where over 70 people normally convene.  There is so much to risk and we will stay put hoping next year will bring the freedom we so badly carve.  Wishing all our friends a Happy Thanksgiving and continued safety! Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

The current President refuses to accept defeat but his pathetic attempts at subterfuge are failing by the day and are doomed to embarrassing if sadly debilitating failure. A new and most promising vaccine announcement brings some sunlight to the tensions as the virus continues to surge, leaving many of us with certain Thanksgiving disconnect and beyond the same fat appears likely for the Christmas holidays.  My own film and television projects on FB remain in full force, though watching movies in the theaters has been elusive for an unconscionable nine months.  Best wishes to all in navigating all this madness.  This past week film scholar James Clark published a fabulous essay on Saraband in his continuing and comprehensive Ingmar Bergman series and J.D. Lafrance posted a brilliant review of Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mobland classic Goodfellas.

Thanks again to Jamie Uhler for his spectacular 2020 HorrorFest reviews.  This was quite an extraordinary project and perhaps the best one of all in the annual series.

 © 2020 by James Clark

     Saraband (2003), carries much of the charges of a long filmic disputation; and it carries much of the charges of the very unique.

To enter this gigantic, swift and subtle construct, I’ve chosen the film’s moment which avoids direct presentation, while being at the core of its revelatory bloodletting, figurative and literal. That being the discipline of art.

The watchword of two of the major players here, reaching back thirty years, to the film, Scenes from a Marriage (1973), was, “We speak the same language,” that is to say, the language of advantage, which  is to say, the language of pedantry. Marianne and Johan elect to follow two similar skills, she being a lawyer, while he being a medical researcher. They and their ilk live and die for information. They are typical in having a long family history of being committed to each of those disciplines. Their work requires heavy doses of pedantry, from which to earn large amounts of prestige and money. Soldiers of Fortune. The volatility of that action, that maximum of being masterly, had, in our players today, especially in the case of Johan, a pronounced leaning to promiscuity. Their divorce, in the face of that upheaval, brought about two changes: Marianne becoming far more cynical in subsequent couplings; and Johan, after several marriages, being involved with a woman (never given so much as a name in this story), having given birth to a son opting for music, instead of conclusions—someone not speaking his language! (“I never did like him. He looked so ridiculous. Overweight and meek. He surrounded me with a sickly kind of love. I admit I ignored that love. He was as devoted as a dog. I wanted to kick him. Figurately, of course.”) Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

“For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.” – Henry Hill

From his early days making Mean Streets (1973), Martin Scorsese was always fascinated by gangsters. As a child, he had grown up around them and was intrigued by their lifestyle. Goodfellas (1990) was his triumphant return to the subject and to his old neighborhood in New York City. The film would also reunite Scorsese with actors Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro – a combination that proved to be successful both commercially and critically. By all accounts, the film was a labor of love for the filmmaker and his cast and crew. This is abundantly evident in the incredible attention to detail and passion that is contained in every frame of this film. Goodfellas has all the trademarks of a master filmmaker at the top of his game, displaying an unwavering confidence while also telling an extremely entertaining and engaging story as well.

Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

The four year political horror is over.  Though (as expected) the President and his conspiracy-minded minions are refusing to concede and are shamelessly pointing figures without evidence, the nation and the media have declared the winners, who have thus far -as counting winds down- received five million more popular votes and currently lead  by a proportionately just-as-whopping 306 to 232 in the Electoral College.  At least those are the numbers the race is heading to.  The President continues to do all he can to sow doubt, division and mistrust and as a result the nation will be scarred well into the future.  But most of us can breathe easy and abide by President-Elect Biden’s stirring acceptance speech where he promised to embrace people of all creeds and and tear down the barriers installed during the previous toxic administration.  Across the globe countries are cerebrating en masse.  We are looking looking ahead to a new beginning.  Many thanks to our great friend Mark Smith for all his witty and spot-on political commentary tidbits over the past week.

Jamie Uhler has provided a comprehensive list of horror films that he plans on investigation in the coming weeks and for fans of the genre, what a bonanza this is!  Jamie’s 2020 HorrorFest was his best ever and during these pandemic-ravaged days a fabulous method of immersion. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano
     The time of reckoning has finally arrived.  With eight months of the most stressful existence so many of us have been forced to endure we have reached the time when our opinion can be heard.  Tomorrow (Tuesday, November 3rd) is perhaps the most monumental presidential election in our lives and it comes up after the most acrimonious and divisive lead-up imaginable.  My sentiments have been expressed repeatedly and I can only hope and pray that polls and general vibes based on months of study and investigation will result in a victory for the Biden-Harris ticket.  For some of us the matter has kept us obsessed 24-7 and no matter what the outcome the closure will be a relief, though another surprise will be sure to have us exceedingly depressed for quite some time in the future (an understatement).  Most of us had uneventful Halloweens, with the surging COVID numbers keeping children and parents away.  Last year we had over 150 trick or treaters, but this year only one single child came to our door!  Jamie Uhler’s winding down HorrorFest 2020 is his greatest ever in terms of stupendous writing quality, eclectic selections and volume.  This week we have quite a diverse lineup and we are expecting some others for next week as well from him.  What a ride from our Chicago horror scholar!  Stay safe!
Frankenstein Conquers the World (I. Honda… 1965) monster/sci-fi horror
When a Nazi experiment is rushed out of the country just before it falls to Allied forces in 1945 to Japan, who is still very much in the fight, we know we’re in for quite a wild tale. Japan is looking for a last ditch effort, which a beating heart in a locked box, promises. It’s been given everlasting life from a protein solution discovered by a German mad scientist, that Japan hopes, if harnessed, the solution can create soldiers who don’t die in battle, eventually turning the tide of war. But, in a few months the city is A-bombed and the war ends before it can be brought to fruition. The heart experiment goes missing, and eventually turns up (I think, it’s not totally clear) in a young homeless teen 15 years later who moves and acts very much like a rabid dog. Eventually it’s clear that the teen, growing exponentially under lab observing, is a Frankenstein. He escapes, and hides in the countryside, eventually running into a dinosaur like monster that has been unearthed from the deep recesses of the earth when an earthquake opens up a large rift in the planets crust.
The end where Frankenstein, now several stories tall, wrestles the burrowing lizard beast amidst a raging forest fire that the lizard’s throat vapors has created is positively apocalyptic visually, the beauty of a closely controlled studio shoot. Purple and orange lighting accentuate the aura to beautiful, delirious heights. It’s only slightly hampered when another fight is tacked on when an octopus monster appears that Frankenstein also has to deal with. But, no biggie, it makes me think that the sequel, War of the Gargantuas (which I’ve seen, but largely forget) from a year later will be screened imminently. I can’t wait.
The Black Tower (J. Smith… 1987) art horror/short, 23 mins
A short, arty piece of Modernist Horror where simple video set ups of an English working class city are overlaid with matter-of-fact narration on the ever increasing presence of a moving, black building in the distance. It has no dimensions outside its towering black totality, eventually unnerving the narrator who had otherwise never noticed it before. Is he doing mad? It’s a very dry, but also very effective work, the idea that anyone, with enough creativity can make a great piece of Horror on a nothing budget.
Poltergeist (T. Hooper… 1982) supernatural thriller
The prime time Halloween watch was a revisit of Hooper’s much ballyhooed work of extreme hysterics and special effects. I’m not sure why I chose it, perhaps because I hadn’t seen it since I was a pre-teen probably, and barely could judge its quality now (which I always more or less slagged off). I might have been a tad harsh, but I don’t think totally off base, I liked some of what’s here, but I can’t deny that, like most projects Spielberg was involved in—certainly during this era—the effects take over the story, and characterizations and subtext are rendered moot, or largely in the background. It’s a shame as you can imagine a film where the predatory nature of suburban housing companies that gobble up land for development without much care for its past (in this case that it was hallowed ground) being quite interesting. Plus, it was made for everyone, kiddies included, so the scary bits only go as far as a MPAA would allow. Needs some brutality, as one sequence where a large ghost like skeleton shrieks in the face of father Craig T. Nelson is genuinely scary. Still, it’s pretty entertaining, and was just what the doctored ordered on Halloween night.
Velvet Vampire (S. Rothman… 1971) vampire
This is something of a lost gem, Stephanie Rothman’s feminist reading of vampire lore which I’d imagine would make a great companion with The Blood-Splattered Bride from the following year both in terms of quality and thematic concerns. Here, the vampire is the usual lothario like creature, but he’s instead a she, using her womanly wiles to prey on a couple she’s invited to her secluded desert abode. It brings vampires into the swinging, hippy 70’s counter-culture, and while sure, Hammer did that too (most readily in something like Dracula AD, 1972) this, given its independent spirit, seems more appropriately trippy and progressively original. A slight gem, essential for Horror fans, especially ones in love with the genre’s output from the 1970’s.
Deadly Sweet (T. Brass… 1967) giallo
Apparently before he made both soft- and hard-core highly stylish erotic works on huge budgets, Tinto Brass was an aspiring art director in the New Wave mold; wanting to make crime romps like the French had at the start of the decade. Deadly Sweet then, given these concerns and mix of titillating sex, is a giallo technically, making it worthy of inclusion here. Otherwise the Horror is pretty slight, but this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it—rather, I did quite a bit. It was supposedly storyboarded by a comic book artist and you can tell, this is Pop Art pomp full of split screens and mayhem, Brass taking nothing serious but Bernard’s (Jean-Louis Trintignant doing his best Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless impression) ever increasing romantic overtures to the beautiful Jane (60’s icon Ewa Aulin) who is connected to a murder that she must hide out from with Bernard’s help. This one isn’t often uttered amongst the more interesting giallos (probably a statement more on its scant availability) but, I’d argue, if you’re a fan of the genre and hoping to explore all its facets, this would be essential.
Lone Wolf (J. Callas… 1988) monster/slasher
This was a totally random watch late, mostly due to insomnia. A small interconnected group of college students (that operate in clinks more aligned with high-schoolers which I spent most of the film thinking that’s what they were, only to realize they look more like they’re approaching 30) are slowly picked off one by one when the full moon is out by a werewolf like beast. Several of the students are also members of an aspiring rock band who has, based on their brimming brilliance, secured a nightly residency at the campus’ most popular bar. It’s all quite cheesy and poorly staged as you can imagine—the band, for example, you keep seeing people say how great they are, but the performances show a cock rock band with terrible songs, so you just sorta laugh. The subplot of the police investigation over the murders partially led by Det. Commitski (lol) also prompts ironic chuckles. With the right group this is a good ‘bad’ beer-and-pizza work of stupid 80’s trash. Should I really be spending my days at 39 doing this stuff? Meh, I don’t know.

Continue Reading »

 

by Sam Juliano

We are looking at Election Day square in the face and a final end to months of voting madness, political banter and fake scandals, the last of which manifested itself in Vladimir Putin’s declaration today that there was absolutely no wrong doing in the matter of Hunter Biden and the Ukraine.  Looks like Rudy Giuliani is himself headed for criminal scrutiny now, as well he should be.  Polls continue to show Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sitting pretty but complacency is simply not allowed in this still precarious election equation.  Trump pollsters like Rassmussen though continue to try and muddy the picture with false data, just today suggesting Trump is up by one point nationally which the majority of pollster shave Biden up by 8 or 9 at least.  In the midst of all the election hoopla is Halloween, which falls on this coming Saturday.  Trick or treating will have some restrictions in place for the first time in everyone’s lives.

Jamie Uhler’s monumental HorrorFest 2020 continues in full force with stupendous capsule reviews of five horror films that many have still not yet negotiated.  This past week Jim Clark penned another sensational essay in his ongoing Ingmar Bergman series on the early-career Brink of Life, and J.D. Lafrance wrote up a splendid piece on Clive Barker’s 1995 Lord of Illusions. 

Stay safe! Continue Reading »

 © 2020 by James Clark

      Our film today, Brink of Life (1958), opens by way of a presence you might not notice. A muffled ambulance siren can be briefly heard. The credits chug along. And a murky way provides an endless underground cave. Periodically we can hear reports, as if from a mining concern. Panning through this terrain there are gentle, fleeting clouds, shadows from a source unknown. Why was such a configuration brought to bear upon a saga of a maternity ward? Somehow, the action becomes about something bigger than babies.

Coming one year after producing two of the giants of the Bergman goldmine, namely, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, this chamber drama here, though making a splash for a year, seemed to have become in total eclipse. Not only does Brink of Life deserve better; it is arguably even better than the panoramic two, inasmuch as its brink opens deeper dimensions.

Getting to the nub of this excitement involves, first of all, its surface of the everyday percolating into a magic of high caliber which tends to become stillborn. The woman in the ambulance, Cecile or Cissi, materializes in an Emergency Ward where, as early as three months’ time, her pregnancy were to segue to other fields. Indeed the pain and flow of blood at that crisis had its impact—a rather familiar impact. Cissi, and her entourage of a husband in a precious trench coat, elicit, from the other group waiting to see a doctor, a working-class family with a sick little girl, bemusement and vague hostility. The Hollywood dresser, calls out, “Be a brave girl and all will be fine… Remember, Cissi, Ellius [his family] expects his wife to do her duty.” (The preceding films of 1957 having been studies of pedantry and advantage.) Continue Reading »