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Archive for September, 2008

by Sam Juliano

     One of the great masterpieces of world cinema has been showcased for several weeks at the IFC in Manhattan in a sparkling restored print.  Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1943 sound film Day of Wrath, which appeared more than ten years after his Vampyr, is a restrained chamber drama that examines guilt, sin and retribution in Denmark in the seventeenth century, when witch hunts were all the rage.

The ominous opening scenes unfold with startling power when an old woman named Herlofs Marthe (Anne Svierkier) is first seen handing some herbs to another person in a darkened kitchen room, and then is observed fleeing after the tolling of bells, signifying that the Puritan hierarchy have now identified their latest “conquest” and are hot in pursuit.  The nefarious nature of summary judgement in regards to the vivacious Herlofs Marthe is evident by establishing that nothing she has done (or not done) is in any way harmful or contrary to religious doctrine.  Her “dabbling” in remedies, which is enough to incur condemnation and eventual execution on a burning pyre illustrate a cloistered society ruled by fear, suspicion and an inflexible and fanatical religious doctrine.  Before the austere and mesmerizing drama plays out, it is clear that in this society the closest of relationships would be betrayed if there is even a slight hint of aberrant behavior.  At the time of its release many believed Dreyer was being implicitly clear in his own condemnation of Nazi Germany, which overran his home country of Denmark, and forged a society that rounded up those who resisted, enacting swift justice based on unfounded evidence, and encouraged family members to spy on each other.  Dreyer, in an interview conducted in 1964 after the debut of his final film Gertrud, and three years before his death at age 79, stated that any parallel between the narrative content of his film and the Nazis was strictly coincidental.  Still, it’s somewhat of a miracle the film was even made at all in that oppressive time.

(more…)

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The Last Bolshevik ****½

by Allan Fish

(France 1992 120m) DVD1/2 (France only)

Aka. Le Tombeau d’Alexandre

I am a peasant by blood

p  Michael Kustow  d/w  Chris Marker  ph/ed  Chris Marker  m  Alfred Shnitke 

Certainly amongst the ten single most overlooked entries in this tome, Chris Marker’s truly transcendental film remains in relative obscurity today.  Pauline Kael called it “a great film that almost no-one has seen“, and I think that the irony would not be lost on Marker or, indeed, on his subject.  The Last Bolshevik is the analysis – story seems such a mundane, inappropriate word – of the life and career of Alexander Medvedkin by those who knew, loved and respected him.  Even now, it’s possible you may never have heard of him, and it’s perhaps only by the alphabetical structure of this book that a few of you who have heard of him have.  L comes after H, after all, and early amongst the Hs you will find an entry for Medvedkin’s accepted masterpiece, Happiness.  It’s also perhaps ironic that I first came to view the film, thanks to the US DVD release in 2008, when Marker himself was approaching the age when Medvedkin himself had died. (more…)

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Up the Yangtze ****½

by Allan Fish 

(Canada/China 2007 93m) DVD2

The bitterest road to wisdom

p  Mila Aung-Thwin, John Christou, Germaine Wong  d/w  Yung Chang  ph  Shi Qing Wang  ed  Hannele Halm

Upon first glimpsing the title of this lyrical documentary in the average film guide, British readers might groan at the thought of a fourth entry in that low Frankie Howerd (see below) comedy series of the seventies.  The opening caption will soon dispel those fears, as a quote comes up on screen about the three roads to wisdom that even those unfamiliar with his writings in any detail will guess to be Confucian in origin even before the great one’s name decorates the screen. 

Don't worry, he's not here...

Don't worry, you won't find him here...

            Chang’s film, several years in the making, focuses on the plight of the poverty-ridden Chinese around the Yangtze river who are forced to move from their makeshift hovels to higher ground when the Three Borges dam project causes the waters to rise by well over a hundred metres.  We are shown the people, specifically one family of illiterate parents and children wanting to make something of themselves, as they face up to the inevitable, with the eldest daughter finally forced to work on a cruise ship up river to make money to help her parents to survive and save for her high school education. (more…)

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Today, September 7, 2008, a new blog is born.  The main thrust of this cultural endeavor will be the publication of reviews, which will examine films, theatre, concerts and opera.  Several writers will be on board to bring the steaming excitement of Manhattan culture to the internet world.  In the area of film, there will also be ongoing attention to classic and contemporary cinema by some terrific writers and a tracking of new DVD releases of art house product.  As the site matures, it is also anticipated that pictures and photos will be utilized.  This is a most exciting project and I am thrilled with the prospect of rewarding discourse by way of posts and comments.     -Sam Juliano

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