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Archive for February 10th, 2009

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by Sam Juliano

William Wyler’s Ben-Hur is one of those artistic properties that resists and defies criticism, even those among its detractors will argue till the end of time that is encompasses all that is wrong with epic movie making.  The second film based on a potboiler novel released at the turn of the twentieth century by a Civil War commander named General Lew Wallace that sold a then-record 400,000 copies and inspired a stage play that ran for twenty years, Ben-Hur never tried to hide its philosophy that ‘big is better’ and it has more dramatic climaxes than any film in history.  Yet what often gets lost in the translation is that it is the most intimate big-budget epic spectacular in movie history, and one that impressed critics as much as audiences upon it’s 1959 release.  Naming the film the year’s best the prestigious New York Film Critics Circle, also awarded their Best Actor prize to Charlton Heston, two artistic acknowledgements that were of course repeated at the Oscars, when the film amassed a record-breaking total of eleven Academy Awards.     

Such prohibitive success will of course doom any film with the movie intelligentsia, who often equate wide popularity with pedestrian artistry.  The great Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini was savaged by the critics of his day for wearing his emotions on his sleeves and for pandering to his audience’s insatiable appetite for unadulterated melody and uncomplicated story lines.  There are a number of critics today who have steadfastly stood by that unflattering estimation.  Yet audiences then and now have shouted down the criticism and have unfailingly filled opera houses year in and year out with the composer’s beloved works, much in the same way that Ben-Hur has ravished audiences for almost six decades.  The one element or factor that can be found in both the operas of Puccini and William Wyler’s epic is naked emotion.  When audiences are moved to this kind of depth, attempts at summary criticism is seen as “beside-the-point” in view of the work’s astonishing power to move and enthrall.      (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Poland 1958 104m) DVD1/2

Aka. Poprol y Diament

These violets smell marvellous

d/w  Andrzej Wajda  novel  Jerzy Andrzejewski  ph  Jerry Wojcik  ed  Helena Nowrocka  m  Jan Krenz  art  Roman Mann 

Zbigniew Cybulski (Maciek), Ewa Krzyzanowska (Krystyna), Adam Pawlikowski (Andrzej), Waclaw Zastrzeynski (Szczuka), Jan Clecierski (porter), Artur Mlodnicki (Kotowicz), Bogumil Kobiela (Drewnowski),

Among politically minded film-makers and critics, Andrzej Wajda stands high among the Gods.  He made his name in the fifties and sixties with a series of gritty realistic films which distinguished him as a unique talent.  Indeed, among the many Polish directors who made names for themselves in the decades prior to the arrival of Kieslowski, he is justly called the greatest, and considering the likes of Andrzej Munk, Krzysztof Zanussi, Aleksandr Ford, Wojciech Has and Jerzy Kawalerowicz, that’s no mean achievement.  Despite this, though, his reputation has somewhat lessened of late, so much so that when Jane Fonda presented him with a lifetime achievement Oscar in the nineties, too many young luminaries in the audience had the look of someone thinking “who is this guy?(more…)

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