Archive for May, 2009


by Sam Juliano

The major contention of the superb new documentary on the Brothers Sherman is that their discordant relationship fueled the creative process.  Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman wrote more musical song scores than any other songwriting team in history, in a collaboration that began at the 1950’s at the urging of their father, “Tin Pan Alley” songwriter Al, who was brought to America in the early 1900’s by a Russian-Jewish family that had settled in Prague.

     The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story was directed by Gregory V. and Jeffrey C. Sherman, two cousins and sons of the songwriting duo, who did not socialize for 40 years, despite growing up within blocks in Beverly Hills.  The film is far more than a loving tribute crafted by offspring, who admit they hoped the venture would help spark a relationship that had cooled in recent years.  The elder of the two brothers, Robert, has moved to London in 2000, while Richard, the more effervescent of the two, remained in California. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Czechoslovakia 1967 162m) DVD2 

Do not be an animal

p  Josek Ouky  d  Frantisek Vlácil  w  Frantisek Vlácil, Frantisek Pavlicek  novel  Vladislav Vancura  ph  Bedrich Batka  ed  Miroslav Hajek  m  Zdenek Liska  art  Oldrich Okác  cos  Theodor Pistek  sound  Frantisek Fabian

Josek Kemr (Kozlik), Magda Vásáryová (Marketa Lazarova), Nada Hejna (Katerina), Jaroslav Moucka (Jan), Frantisek Velecký (Mikolas), Karel Vasikek (Jiri), Pavla Polaskova (Alexandra), Ivan Palúch, Václáv Sloup, Martin Mrasek,

In the 1964 epic The Fall of the Roman Empire there is a wonderful funeral scene in the snow on the German frontier where you really could “hear the Gods laughing.”  If the Gods of Rome were still around in the 13th century, they would doubtless weep at the goings on here.  Yet as one old crone, as she is called, says, “weeping is the gift of relief.  Men do not know it.”  Here men are animals, no different to any other creature that hunts in packs, but his prey are stray travellers, to satisfy his lust for money and women.  This is a medieval world like no other.  If you thought The Lion in Winter or The War Lord were stark, you’re about to get a rude awakening.  The film may have been influenced by Bergman, Dreyer and Jancsó, but it’s bleaker than any of them.  As the opening narration tells us, “our tale takes place during a savage winter with frosts as passionate as Christianity at the time.”  So frozen are the wastelands depicted that one half expects the screen to freeze over completely.  The huge snow-covered trees may look Christmassy, but these are not mere tannenbaums, but living wooden statues marking time, crying like weeping willows.  Even the wolves stand back here and let the humans get on with it, knowing there will be enough corpse meat to last them through the winter.  Death really is a steady diet here. (more…)

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persona 1

by Allan Fish

Persona (Sweden 1966 81m) DVD1/2 

Two-Faced Woman

p  Lars-Owe Carberg  d/w  Ingmar Bergman  ph  Sven Nykvist  ed  Ulla Rhyge  m  Lars John Werle  art  Bibi Lindström 

Bibi Andersson (Nurse Alma), Liv Ullmann (Elisabeth Vogler), Margaretha Krook (Dr Lakaren), Gunnar Björnstrand (Mr Vogler), Jorgen Lindström (the boy),

This has nothing to do with Ernst Lubitsch’s supremely disastrous comedy of 1941, except that its star is Swedish.  And as for the genre, well this is about as close to being a comedy as any set of Antipodean locations on the globe.  But Persona is in my opinion one of the best films of its decade, the greatest film of its director and the supreme cinematic expression of the human soul…and then some.

            An actress has suddenly stopped talking, right in the middle of a performance of Sophocles’ Electra, and, after being observed by medical experts, they conclude that there is basically nothing wrong with her, though the woman displays some psychosomatic tendencies.  A young nurse is assigned to her care, who immediately questions her own ability to do the job, but is nonetheless soon on her way to actress’ remote coastal home to help her recuperate.  While there, the two women grow closer, with alarming results. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Spain/USA 1966 119m) DVD2 (Spain only)

Banish plump Orson and banish all the world

p  Emiliano Piedra, Angel Escolano  d/w  Orson Welles  plays  William Shakespeare  ph  Edmond Richard  ed  Fritz Mueller  m  Angelo Francesco Lavagnino  art  Gustavo Quintano, José Antonio de la Guerra, Mario Erdorza

Orson Welles (Sir John Falstaff), Keith Baxter (Prince Hal), John Gielgud (Henry IV), Jeanne Moreau (Doll Tearsheet), Margaret Rutherford (Mistress Quickly), Norman Rodway (Henry Percy), Alan Webb (Justice Shallow), Marina Vlady (Kate Percy), Fernando Rey (Worcester), Tony Beckley (Poins), Ralph Richardson (narrator),

Chimes at Midnight is a film whose very title and spirit evokes its own response.  Though on the surface it is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry IV plays (and also included lines from three others) it is so much more than that.  Chimes at Midnight is an elegy to times past, to the Bard, and to Welles himself.  If Welles were a composer, it would be entitled Requiem for Myself.  In Kurosawa parlance, it’s his Ran, and every bit its equal. (more…)

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red angel 1

by Allan Fish

(Japan 1966 96m) DVD1/2

Aka. Akai Tenshi

We may die tomorrow

p  Ikuo Kobudera  d  Yasuzo Masumura  w  Ryozo Kasahara  novel  Yoriyoshi Arima  ph  Setsuo Kobayashi  ed  Tatsuji Nakashizu  m  Sei Ikeno  art  Shigeo Mano

Ayako Wakao (Nurse Sanura Nishi), Shinsuke Ashida (Doctor Okabe), Yusuke Kawazu (Private Orihara), Ranko Akagi (Nurse Iwashima), Ayako Ikegami (Nurse Tsurusaki), Kei’ichi Noda (General), Jotaro Senba, Daihachi Kita,

On the Region 2 UK DVD cover for this Japanese classic they refer to it as one of the most underexposed films of the period to western eyes.  They are quite right.  Try and find a listing for it in either the Halliwell, Maltin, Radio Times or even the Bloomsbury Foreign Film Guide if you can.  There was a time when such neglect could have been down to slight regard, but here it’s simply down to really not knowing enough about it.  Indeed, it’s a complaint one could make about many Masumura films, for you’ll struggle to find any film by the director in any of the above tomes.  It’s as if the poor fellow never existed, when in actual fact, along with Oshima, Teshigahara, Shindo and Hani, he was at the vanguard of the new Japanese wave of directors in the sixties.  To overlook him is a mistake that, thankfully, in the age of DVD when rarity upon rarity can now be resurrected and restored, that oversight can be corrected. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Which is the Christian and which is the Jew?” intones the Duke of Venice at both the beginning and ending of the new production of The Merchant of Venice, recently staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre. An all-male cast navigates one of the Bard’s most problematic plays in a three-storied jailhouse that incarcerates those in conflict.  The play is updated to a contemporary period, and the language is again manipulated to accommodate audiences who wouldn’t negotiate a traditional staging without the text in their hands.  Merchant is an uneasy hybrid of comedy and tragedy that has always perplexed audiences, even in traditional transcription, so the bold adaptation here by Edward Hall and Roger Warren is doubly difficult even for Shakespeare aficionados, let alone the laymen.  Scholars have classified the work as a comedy, but audiences are far more intrigued with Shylock’s dilemma than they are with Bassanio’s mission to win Portia.  The Bard apparently did not figure that Shylock’s acute intelligence and humanity would overcome his apparently intended role as a droll reprobate, but his love for his daughter is feral, and certainly more deeply conveyed than his devotion to ducats. (more…)

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leopard 1

by Allan Fish

(USA/Italy 1963 185m) DVD1/2

Aka. Il Gattopardo

Not changing one’s spots

p  Goffredo Lombardo  d  Luchino Visconti  w  Luchino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Enrico Medioli, Massimo Franciosa  novel  Giuseppe de Lampedusa  ph  Giuseppe Rotunno  ed  Mario Serandrei  m  Nino Rota (and Giuseppe Verdi)  art  Mario Garbuglia  cos  Piero Tosi, Reanda, Sartoria Safas

Burt Lancaster (Prince Don Fabrizio Salina), Alain Delon (Tancredi), Claudia Cardinale (Angelica Sedara/Bertiana), Paolo Stoppa (Don Calogero Sedara), Serge Reggiani (Don Ciccio Tumeo), Romolo Valli (Father Pirrone), Rina Morelli (Maria Stella), Leslie French (Aymone Chevalley),

The Leopard is Luchino Visconti’s most personal and acclaimed journey into his beloved lost Italian aristocracy, into a world vanished but, in his eyes, not forgotten.  It’s a splendorous, yet almost funereal elegy to his heritage.  As Luchino Visconti, Marxist idealist, he would welcome such revolutions as Garibaldi’s.  But as Don Visconti di Madrone of Milan, a remnant of that same ruling class, it’s with a tinge of melancholy. 

            Don Fabrizio Salina is a Prince of Sicily, known as ‘The Leopard’ to those who respect and fear him.  But in the 1860s Sicily is on the brink of revolution, as Garibaldi is leading them to join Italy as one nation and wave goodbye to the old Sicilian aristocracy.  At the same time, his nephew, Tancredi, is fighting for this revolution and to win the hand of the daughter of a local nouveaux riche, Angelica.  Fabrizio realises his world is coming to a close, but cannot bring himself to either admit it to others, or do anything himself to either stop or encourage it. (more…)

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 from PC


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by Allan Fish

(France 1967 124m) DVD1/2

Aka. Les Demoiselles de Rochefort

Twins born in the sign of Gemini

p  Mag Bodard, Gilbert de Goldschmidt  d/w/ly  Jacques Demy  ph  Ghislain Cloquet  ed  Jean Hamon  m  Michel Legrand  art  Bernard Evein

Catherine Deneuve (Delphine Garnier), Françoise Dorléac (Solange Garnier), George Chakiris (Etienne), Jacques Perrin (Maxence), Michel Piccoli (Simon Dame), Gene Kelly (Andy Miller), Danielle Darrieux (Yvonne Garnier), Grover Dale (Bill),

It was a film I avoided for a long time.  It got slashed to pieces on its release forty years ago, and in North America at least it hasn’t recovered.  It was only on when I got the DVD that I settled down to see why the reaction had been sorutal; some influential critics defended it, Jonathan Rosenbaum most notably.  Besides, I’d warmed to Demy more as I grew older, his flimsiness and style over content not being the crimes I once prematurely accused them of being.  So let’s take that plot, for it forms both the defence and the prosecution when the film is on trial.  Its detractors point to its convenience, the predictability with which it resolves its various strands and episodes.  The characters weave in and out of scenes like couples on the dance floor, the plot thus flows rather like the camera of Demy’s beloved Max Ophuls (and Darrieux’s appearance, with memories of La Ronde, Madame de… and Le Plaisir, only adds to that feeling).  (more…)

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balth 1

by Allan Fish

(France 1966 95m) DVD1/2

Aka. Balthazar

Donkey Serenade

p  Philippe Dussart, Anatole Dauman  d/w  Robert  Bresson  ph  Ghislain Cloquet  ed  Raymond Lamy  m  Jean Wiener (including “Piano Sonata No.20” by Franz Schubert)  art  Pierre Charbonnier

Anne Wiazemsky (Marie), François la Farge (Gérard), Walter Green (Jacques), Philippe Asselin (Marie’s father), Nathalie Joyaut (Marie’s mother), Jean-Claude Guilbert (Arnold), Pierre Klosowski (Merchant),

Never in world cinema has there been a film so depressing yet so uplifting.  Never in world cinema has there been such a hero.  The hero of Robert Bresson’s minimalist masterpiece is a donkey, who we see from his birth to his death.  Bresson had always been a master in the study of loneliness on screen; one recalls Claude Laydu’s priest in The Diary of a Country Priest, the doomed girl in Mouchette, the solitary confinement of the prisoners in A Man Escaped, the solitude of the life of the Pickpocket.  Yet none of them remotely approach the loneliness here.  This is not the loneliness of actually being alone, but the loneliness of cruelty and harshness.  For this truly is a study in cruelty, not just towards the poor eponymous donkey, but indeed from men towards each other.  (more…)

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