Archive for April, 2009

Guess the film…

All I’ll say is this, it’s from the 1960s and it’s due up in my countdown within the next few days.  If you’ve seen it, it’s easy.  If not…


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by Allan Fish

(USA 1960 125m) DVD1/2

Living like Robinson Crusoe

p  Billy Wilder  d  Billy Wilder  w  Billy Wilder, I.A.L.Diamond  ph  Joseph La Shelle  ed  Daniel Mandell  m  Adolph Deutsch  art  Alexandre Trauner

Jack Lemmon (C.C. (Calvin Clifford) Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D.Sheldrake), Edie Adams (Miss Olsen), Jack Kruschen (Dr Dreyfuss), Ray Walston (Dobisch), Joan Shawlee (Sylvia), David Lewis (Kirkeby), Hope Holiday (Margie MacDougall), Johnny Seven (Karl Matuschka),

In 2000, just a year before his death, Jack Lemmon was interviewed by Mark Cousins for the BBC’s Scene by Scene series and during their discussion about The Apartment Cousins made an interesting point.  He asked Lemmon whether, in his opinion, he thought it was possible that if C.C.Baxter (the hero from Billy Wilder’s classic) had not found happiness with Fran Kubelik, and if things hadn’t gone too well for him, he might have turned into Shelley Levene, the bag of nerves, ageing real estate salesman from Glengarry Glen Ross, who tries to cheat his way to success to pay for his daughter’s operation.  Lemmon thought about it and responded that it was perfectly possible.  However, for all its cynicism, The Apartment ends on a high on New Year’s Eve so, for the sake of auld lang syne, let’s look on the bright side. (more…)

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The costume designer of the popular Broadway show Irena’s Vow, Astrid Brucker, starring the extraordinary Tovah Feldshuh, commented today under Wonders in the Dark’s review of the production, posted yesterday.  The staff deeply appreciates her much-valued input:

” I agree with you, Tovah Feldshuh is truly amazing!

After having worked with her on the Off-Broadway play and now on the Broadway run I would never miss a play with her in it. She is magical and brings Irena to life with her earnestness and her great sense of humor. It’s been a wonderful experience designing the costumes on this very moving play.

I’m not sure what you find so “manipulative”!

Irena Gut also had a great sense of humor (according to her daughter that’s what got her through those times) and her faith in her religion gave her strength to save people. When I go to see the play I can hear people commenting on how wonderful the play is as they leave the theater. I hope it gets all the audience and acknowledgement it deserves.

Every one of us can make a difference and that is an incredible message in today’s world.”

Ms. Brucker’s comment is actually No. 17 on the comment thread of the post.


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by Allan Fish

(Spain/Mexico 1961 91m) DVD1/2

The beggars’ banquet

p  Ricardo Munoz Suay  d  Luis Buñuel  w  Luis Buñuel, Julio Alajandro  ph  José F.Agayo  ed  Pedro del Rey  m  W.A.Mozart, George F.Handel  art  Francisco Canet

Silvia Pinal (Viridiana), Fernando Rey (Don Jaime), Francisco Rabal (Jorge), Margarito Lozano (Ramona), Victoria Zinny (Lucia), Teresa Rabal (Rita), José Calvo, Joaquin Roa, Luis Heredia, José Manuel Martin,

Viridiana occupies a special place in the hearts of all Buñuel adherents for numerous reasons; it was his first film to be made in Spain for over twenty years after his return from Mexico, it was then banned by the Spanish government after – deservedly – winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and because it represents his views on religion and faith in a nutshell.  On the other hand, maybe the reasons they love it are their own, for Buñuel’s films, more than perhaps any other director’s, are open to infinite interpretation and misinterpretation.  And it’s that characteristic that Luis would have loved the most, for he would have hated to have directed anything that his audience would truly understand; it would have been like letting both them and him down. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1967 111m) DVD1/2 

We rob banks

p  Warren Beatty  d  Arthur Penn  w  David Newman, Robert Benton  ph  Burnett Guffey  ed  Dede Allen  md  Charles Strouse  m  “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” by Flatt & Scruggs  art  Dean Tavoularis  cos  Theadora Van Runkle

Warren Beatty (Clyde Barrow), Faye Dunaway (Bonnie Parker), Gene Hackman (Buck Barrow), Estelle Parsons (Blanche Barrow), Michael J.Pollard (C.W.Moss), Dub Taylor (Ivan Moss), Gene Wilder (Eugene Grizzard), Denver Pyle (Capt.Frank Hamer), Evans Evans (Velma Davis),

Bonnie and Clyde is a phenomenon of a film, a movie that completely transformed the landscape of the American cinema, as well as the American landscape through the eyes of the cinema.  No film before (and arguably since) has shown violence and murder with such realism, with such literally in-yer-face brutality.  In short, it’s one of the true milestones of modern American film, a film that, along with The Graduate, The Wild Bunch and Midnight Cowboy, lead to the collapse of censorship. 

            In 1931 Clyde Barrow has been released from prison for armed robbery and is on the verge of stealing a car.  Suddenly he is hailed by a woman from an upstairs window, who he can see is both very young and very naked.  She calls for him to hold on and she hangs out with him, finding out about his criminal past.  But when she doubts he’s telling the truth, he commits a hold-up to impress her and they begin one of the most infamous crime sprees in American history, assisted along the way by their driver, a short former gas station attendant, and Clyde’s brother Buck and his wife Blanche.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The true story that informs Irena’s Vow, a new one-act play running at the Walter Kerr Theatre clearly recalls the heroic actions of Miep Gies, an Austrian-born Dutch citizen who hid the family of Otto Frank on the top floor of a factory warehouse for over two years.  Gies’s loyalty and cover were betrayed and the Frank family was arrested on August 4, 1944, with the two daughters Anne and Margot Frank perishing months later in concentration camps.  Still Gies is rightly considered a heroine, much as Oskar Shindler is for his acts of bravery, and the little-known Polish woman, Irena Gut Opdyke has accomplished the same kind of selfless subterfuge in the shadow of the worst kind of human atrocities known to man.     

There’s little denying that Irena’s Vow is pat and manipulative in the way it exploits material with incomparable emotional weight, and there’ nothing new here that we haven’t seen in the Holocaust literature, yet, this stage work has it’s heart in the right place, and Tovah Feldshuh as Irena is simply extraordinary.  The actress creates high drama with superlative use of her eyes, clenched fists and telling pauses, and she’s never maudlin.       (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USSR 1964 147m) DVD0 (Russia only)

Aka. Gamlet

The film’s the thing

p  uncredited  d  Grigori Kozintsev  w  Grigori Kozintsev, Boris Pasternak  play  William Shakespeare  ph  Jonas Gritsius  ed  Yekaterina Makhankova  m  Dimitri Shostakovich  art  Yevgeni Yenej  cos  Solomon Virsaladze

Innokenti Smoktunovsky (Hamlet), Mikhail Nazvanov (Claudius), Elze Radzinya (Gertrude), Yuri Tolubeyev (Polonius), Anastasiya Bertinskaya (Ophelia), Vadim Medvedev (Guildenstern), Igor Dmitriyev (Rosencrantz), Vladimir Eerenberg (Horatio), Stepan Oleksenko (Laertes), A.Krevalid (Fortinbras),

Aside from the Bible, can there be a more quoted literary source than Hamlet?  It’s provided the titles to at least four films that come readily to mind (the sixth Star Trek film, North by Northwest, Leave Her to Heaven and Murder Most Foul).  It’s probably been filmed on more occasions than any other play, too, and has resulted in various memorable interpretations.  The superb qualities of both Olivier’s and Branagh’s vastly differing versions of the Melancholy Dane can be taken for granted and have been discussed by keener minds than mine, as well as in the essays that sandwich this.  Though not in the same league, the Zeffirelli version with Mel Gibson isn’t that bad and the Michael Almereyda 2000 updating could have been a lot worse.  Not to mention two superb versions for the small screen; with Derek Jacobi for the BBC Shakespeare in 1980 and, a generation earlier, Hamlet at Elsinore, with Christopher Plummer and Robert Shaw. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Czechoslovakia 1969 103m) DVD1/2 (Czech only)

Aka. Kladivo no carodejnice

A woman’s womb is the gate to hell

d  Okatar Vávra  w  Okatar Vávra, Ester Krumbachová  play  Vacláv Kaplicky  ph  Josef Illik  ed  Antonin Zelenka  m  Jiri Srnka (including Antonio Vivaldi)  art  Karel Skva

Vladimir Smeral (Boblig), Josef Bláha (Count Stermberk), Eduard Cupak (Fárar Schmidt), Blazena Holisová (Sattlerová), Josef Kemr (Ignác), Miriam Kantorková (Tobiásová), Jiri Holy (Farár), Rudolk Kratky (Hutter), Blanka Waleská (Countess de Galle), Jaroslava Obermaierová (Liza), Jirina Stepnicková (Dorota Groerová),

What is it about witchcraft and possession that so intoxicates film-makers?  It’s a subject that has been at the centre of so many memorable films, including at least three others in this list (Haxan, Day of Wrath and Witchfinder General), as well as many more (including those vastly different studies of the infamous events at Loudon, Mother Joan of the Angels and The Devils, and various versions of Arthur Miller’s play that needn’t be named).  It’s perhaps to the Kawalerowicz and Russell films that this eclectic masterpiece is most closely related, though in truth it bears traces of all the above. 

            Vavrá’s film sets its scene in its opening caption; “texts of court hearings are taken from authentic court records of Inquisition trials which took place at Velké Losiny and Sumberk from 1678-1695.”    When an old woman steals a holy host to take to a medicine woman to cure a cow, accusations of witchcraft are made by the local priest to the local nobility.  It is decided that a specialist inquisitor (a sort of legitimised Czech version of Matthew Hopkins) be sent for to root out all traces of witchcraft in the area.  On arrival, he spreads terror round the town, accusing scores of men and women of witchcraft, often targeting the noble and wealthy, with the intention of confiscating their goods. (more…)

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by Philip E. Johnston

The opening night selection of this year’s 40th annual Nashville Film Festival was director Marc Webb’s Sundance hit 500 Days of Summer.  Distributed by Fox Searchlight and set for a limited release on July 17, the film is Webb’s feature film directorial debut and proves itself a concise and entertaining treatise on young love in a postmodern world.

The first five minutes are immediately transporting.  There is a narrator, there are attractive leading characters, the music is zippy, and Webb introduces his leading players as if they were walking in a narrative music video.  It’s a beautiful amalgamation that can’t help but prompt an ear-to-ear smile. The story gets even more interesting directly following this masterful introduction when the narrator makes the audience a promise: “This is not a love story.”

So, in the spirit of the film, I’ll put an embargo on the word “love” from here on out. It’s just one of the ways this story is atypical – its a boy-meets-girl story the likes of which we haven’t seen before and one that is completely necessary to publicly state the romantic inclinations of millions of postmodern 20-somethings.


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by Allan Fish

(Brazil 1963 103m) DVD1

Aka. Barren Lives

Hell…horrible place…

p  Luiz Carlos Barreto, Danilo Trelles, Herbert Riches  d/w  Nelson Pereira dos Santos  novel  Graciliano Ramos  ph  Luiz Carlos Barreto, José Rosa  ed  Rafael Justo Valverde, Nello Melli  m  Leonardo Alencar  art  Raimundo Higino

Atila Iório (Fabiano), Maria Ribeiro (Sinhá Vitória), Orlando Macedo (Soldado Amorelo), Jofre Soares (Fazendeiro), Gilvan Lima, Genivaldo Lima,

Ask your average film buff about Brazilian cinema and most discussions begin with Pixote and end with City of God, as if the whole nation’s culture and screen prestige is inseparable from the infamous ‘Ciudad de Dios’.  But then discuss the national cinema with a Brazilian film writer and you would find that the modern classics of Babenco and Mereilles are regarded as merely an epilogue.  Their real national cinema, the real culture of Brazil was demonstrated in the sixties and early seventies in the movement regarded as Cinema Novo.  Like other movements of the era, from France’s nouvelle vague to the British kitchen sink dramas, it wanted to deglamorise cinema, make it more truthful; in the case of Cinema Novo in a devotion to ethnic culture and the honest depiction of the poverty of the rural poor.  Never was this more amply demonstrated than in Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ harrowing tale of poverty in the Brazilian sertao of the North-East.

            The film comes across as a sort of Latin American The Grapes of Wrath, detailing the lives of a small family of wandering peasants in the harsh, desolate plains of their country in the early 1940s, looking not so much for work as to survive from day to day.  The father gets money, then loses it gambling, their pet dog searches for vermin for them to eat, while the two children only have their dog to lighten their gloom.  (more…)

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