Archive for July, 2009


by Allan Fish

As you know, and I have made clear in recent months, the pieces for my countdowns are taken from a book written over the last 6 years encompassing every aspect of screen history.  Following the heated discussions yesterday for my number 1 choice, which I fully expected from all parties, as stated in my just submitted comment on said thread, I post my entire introduction from the book as a defence, as it were, to the accusations of not doing what certain people consider to be my duty. 

It’s long, but that’s to be expected.  But it’s better to clarify completely than do so in comments which, by their very nature, are limited…


Let me get one thing perfectly clear before we start; I am not a film critic.  I am, to all intents and purposes, an amateur, much like the average person reading these words, I’ll wager.  I have no axe to grind, no allegiance to nod to, no affiliation to satisfy.  I’m just a crazy cineaste who wanted to put his passions down in print.  However, it would be remiss of me to make myself out to be an eternal fan of the moving picture.  As a child, the cinema didn’t mean very much to me.  If it meant anything, it meant a rundown old fleapit at the other end of town where all the town drunks used to go in the afternoon to have a dry kip for just a few pence.  Maybe it was because it had a most inappropriate name, The Palladium; you couldn’t have anything less like a Palladium than our cinema.  Just one decent sized screen, fold up chairs like Venus Fly Traps that nearly swallowed you whole, carpets that hadn’t seen a Hoover since its namesake was President and enough cigarette smoke to rival the fogs of Hollywood movies set in Victorian England – let it suffice to say that Laird Cregar’s George Harvey Bone would have been in his element and you half expected to hear Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Concerto Macabre’ over the speakers.  It made the Cinema Paradiso (not the new swanky one built by the Neapolitan, but the old fire hazard) look like the Savoy Theatre in comparison. (more…)


Read Full Post »


                              “Lord of the Flies” (1962)
     T.S. of ‘Screen Savour’ who teaches in a University, is one of the net’s most gifted film writers, having penned comprehensive examinations of the work of Hitchcock, Chaplin, Griffith and Lang.  His series on Buster Keaton will soon debut at his site.  T.S. conversed with me earlier today about the kind of films that every high school student should see, and a tentative listing of maybe 15 or 20 ‘essential’ titles.  Said T.S.:  “I’ve been asked by a friend who is a high school teacher for some film-related advice. He is developing a media studies course for high school students, and it will be akin to an intro to film/film history course. He has presented me with this question, which I thought I would present to you:: What 15-to-20 films should the average American high school student see before graduation?
He’s made clear he’s not exactly looking for a list of 15-to-20 favorite films, and not necessarily the films I would select as the 15-to-20 best or most important of all time (although maybe, depending on your perspective, those would overlap in the suggestions.) He wants his course to give students a fairly comprehensive overview of cinema, offerings they might not catch unless otherwise asked to watch for a class — films from different decades, countries, genres, directors, etc. R-rated films are okay, and hopefully the choices will be available on either VHS, DVD, or streaming on the Internet (he can project all three in his classroom).
He and I both have some in mind, but to help us think outside the box, I’d love to hear your suggestions.”
 Both Allan Fish and I put together our own lists of films that for various reasons, would be recommended for the average high school students.  Some are superlative adaptations of literature, while the others for artistic, social, psychological or ethnic underpinnings, all have a place. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

     The hugely-successful 1970’s polling, which has run for nearly two months, will end on Wednesday, August 5th at 11:00 P.M. EST.  Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. has been monitoring the returns, and will no doubt, have a full tabulation ready for the following weekend after the cut-off date.  While Allan Fish’s countdown ended today with his annointment of Jacques Rivette’s Duelle as the #1 film of the decade, six more days are being provided for those who need time to fit in some viewings and finalize placements.

     The 70’s polling has attracted the highest number of completed ballots than any previous decade poll, and the results can be seen on two threads which are accessible on the ‘Best Films of the 70’s’ tab over the site header.  The 1980’s poll is scheduled to commence on Monday, August 10th, with th eprojected posting of Allan’s 51 to 100 “nearlies.”

Read Full Post »

duelle 1

by Allan Fish

(France 1976 121m) not on DVD

Aka. Duelle – une quarantaine

The Fairy Godmother

p  Stéphane Tchalgadjieff  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini  ph  William Lubtchansky  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  m  none  art  Eric Simon

Bulle Ogier (Viva), Juliet Berto (Leni), Jean Babilée (Pierrot), Hermine Karagheuz (Lucie), Nicole Garcia (Jeanne/Elsa), Claire Nadeau (Sylvia Stern),

Imagine if you will that you are in a dream state akin to cine-heaven.  Imagine you are being directed around by a guide not dissimilar to the cloaked figure in Sokurov’s Russian Ark and deep within this cinematic Hermitage there is a rather neglected annex marked ‘JR’.  Here we enter the world of Jacques Rivette, and it’s not a world we enter in the normal fashion.  Next door is the world of Jean Cocteau, accessed by incanting “L’oiseau Chanté avec ses doigts” until you are able to glide through the mirror that forms the seemingly impassable doorway.  Your guide hands you some funny looking coloured sweets and, upon sucking on one for a few seconds, the walls part and you enter.  It’s a magical world, like an infinite variation of a playhouse, populated by adults.  One half expects to see Siouxsie Sioux singing ‘Happy House’ in her inimitable fashion and harlequin costume.  Within said annex we come to a door.  It’s locked.  No-one can go inside.  We see Jean-Pierre Léaud outside searching for the Thirteen, Michel Piccoli paints Emmanuelle Béart au naturel in the corner and Sandrine Bonnaire is being prepared behind a screen for her martyrdom.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

stalker 1

by Allan Fish

(USSR 1979 161m) DVD1/2

Welcome to The Zone

d  Andrei Tarkovsky  w  Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky  novel  “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky   ph  Aleksandr Kynazhinsky  ed  Ludmila Feganova  m  Eduard Artemyev  art  Andrei Tarkovsky, R.Safiullin

Aleksandr Kaidanovsky (stalker), Anatoli Solonitsin (writer), Nikolai Grinko (professor), Alissa Freindlikh (stalker’s wife), Natasha Abramova (stalker’s daughter),

My first encounter with Tarkovsky’s existential sci-fi epic came when I was but nineteen.  Having been fascinated by his Solaris I was eager to view this later work, but in the end, as one might expect, I was unprepared for it emotionally.  To my immature teenage eyes there seemed something faintly laughable about it, its protagonists going on a journey in which, for long stretches, the danger is taken for granted and not actually demonstrated.  It was almost like that ridiculous Monty Python sketch about climbing the North Face of the Uxbridge Road.  I just wanted to cry out “get on with it!

            In the midst of an industrial wasteland called The Zone, turned to desolation following an apocalyptic event (possibly a meteorite landing), there exists a mysterious hidden room with the power to grant one’s deepest desires, but only for those with the physical and mental fortitude to make it there.  Only specialist stalkers are up to the journey, and one of them agrees to take a scientist and a writer to the room.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

young win 1

by Sam Juliano

     Despite its distinguished cast and reverent subject, Richard Attenborough’s Young Winston fared poorly at the box-office, while dividing the critics, and it quickly disappeared after a brief run in USA theatres.   The film did win a most prestigious honor though, and that was the Best Picture prize from the London Film Critics Association.  Decades later, the film’s reputation has risen, and is now seen for what it is: a superbly-acted, splendidly-mounted and poignant examination of the early years of Sir Winston Churchill, that is as enriching as it is inspiring.

     Winston Churchill has been the subject of many television biographies, and has appeared as a minor character in numerous feature films, but Young Winston was the only theatrically released film where the iconic figure was the protagonist.  Of course there have been several successful television series that have focused in on the twentieth century’s most famous single person, including Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years starring Robert Hardy and Sian Phillips and the 2002 British television drama The Gathering Storm starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave.  But a comprehensive portrait of the most-quoted of figures always seemed so prohibitive in scope that filmmakers always balked on pulling the trigger on such a project.  However, noted producer Carl Foreman managed to secure right’s to Churchill’s own My Early Life and The World in Crisis,  from which he crafted his own screenplay.  Rumor has it that Churchill himself suggested that Foreman adapt his early books, as he was a big admirer of the producer’s 1961 film, The Guns of Navarone.  As displaced in the onscreen credits, (I just re-viewed the Region 2 DVD I own in preparation for this review) interiors for this British-American co-production were shot at Shepperton Studios, London, with exteriors shot in London, at various locations throughout England, in Swansea, Wales and in the Atlas Mountains and other areas of Morocco, where the Indian, Sudanese and south American scenes were filmed.  Cinematographer Gerry Turpin asserted that the film’s period hues and transient landscapes were shot with the Colorflex camera process that he developed to create layers of color and light.  Voice-over narration recurs throughout the film, with central actor Simon Ward (who plays Churchill from ages 17 to 27) and other actors portraying Churchill’s voice at different ages, from early childhood through the time period when the books were written.  At various intervals actual letters, news reports, portions of speeches or passages from My Early Life are recited, sometimes by Churchill at different ages, other times by his mother, the American Jennie Jerome Churchill (Anne Bancroft), his father, Lord Randolph Churchill (Robert Shaw), or other minor characters.  A number of speeches, newspaper reports and letters are recreated, sometimes verbatim, from actual speeches, such as the “tattered flag” speech that was delivered before the House of Commons and other noted historical documents.  (more…)

Read Full Post »


by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1977 429m) DVD1/2 (Germany only)

Aka. Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland

You are the executioner of the western world

p  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  d/w  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  ph  Dietrich Lohmann  ed  Jutta Brandstaedter  m  Gustav Mahler, W.A.Mozart, L.Van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Joseph Haydn  art  Hans Gailling

Heinz Schübert, Andre Heller, Helmut Lange, Amelie Syberberg, Harry Baer, Peter Kern,

When debating the masters of modern German cinema, most critics would concentrate on the canonical trio, Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog (with a passing nod to Reitz and Schlöndorff).  And yet arguably the most individual, ingenious and undoubtedly the most demanding, was Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.  His films are hard to see, largely unavailable on DVD anywhere in the English speaking world, but in a film that parallels Arthurian legend, the Grail analogy is a worthy one.  To see your first Syberberg is a life-changing experience, and if his entire oeuvre cannot mean as much as it would to one of his nation, his films remain idiosyncratic treatises of incredible complexity, individual “J’accuse” testimonies to provoke outrage, anger and, occasionally, a nod of acknowledgement. 

            Syberberg’s masterpiece consists of four parts, and was shown as such on West German television in the seventies; “The Grail”, “A German Dream”, “The End of a Winter’s Tale” and “We Children of Hell.”  Each part probes, examines, and generally performs a post-mortem on the reasons behind the rise and fall of Hitler, his doctrine and iconography, the psyche of the German people and even turns the accusation on the individual viewer.  As the narrator observes, it wasn’t Hitler’s ideals that were beaten but his army.  The ideals stood fast to the very end. (more…)

Read Full Post »


by Sam Juliano

     As the summer races by, with the dog days of August nearly upon us, the movie theatres are undergoing their typical meltdown until September rolls around.  Here at Wonders in the Dark the comments keep coming, as Allan’s fantastic countdown moved toward its Thursday conclusion.  This past week, the “hottest” discussion took place under Allan’s Godfather II review, where a whopping 61 comments were posted.  Several other threads did extremely well.  Joel Bocko’s film review series for the Boston Examiner continued with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

    Here’s what I managed to see in the movie theatres this week:

    Humpday  *½ (Wednesday night; Angelika Film Center)

    Orphans     *½  (Saturday afternoon; Edgewater multiplex)

    In the Loop   ****½   (Saturday night; IFC Film Center)

    Loren Cass  ****  (Sunday night; Cinema Village)

    HUMPDAY, which was a big hit at Sundance is much to do about nothing.  It’s a geek movie about guys talking nonsense, and it’s premise is a tedious conceit.  Torture.

    ORPHANS   Another in the Omen line, it’s a formulaic and nasty story which is as sickening as it is predictable.  I will never be able to live down taking the kids to this.

    IN THE LOOP  One of the great satires of recent years, this BBC production pokes fun at political leaders during the Iraq crisis, that utilizes brilliant one-liners, and a number of superb actors including James Gandolfini.  I haven’t laughed this hard in a movie theatre in a very long time.

    LOREN CASS  A stylish inde about three teenagers trying to sort out the real-life, brutal slaying of Tyrone Lewis, a black motorist gunned down by a white policeman.  Not all the filmmaking decisions work, but all in all a striking and riveting debut from Chris Fuller.  Wholly original.


    So what did YOU see?  Hear?  Read?  Eat?

Read Full Post »

barry 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1975 187m) DVD1/2

Saraband for Embalmed Lovers

p  Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams  d/w  Stanley Kubrick  novel  “The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon” by William M.Thackeray  ph  John Alcott  ed  Tony Lawson  md  Leonard Rosenman  m  Franz Schubert, W.A.Mozart, George F.Handel, J.S.Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Paisiello, Frederick the Great, Irish folk music  art  Ken Adam, Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon  cos  Milena Canonero, Ulla-Britt Soderlund

Ryan O’Neal (Redmond Barry/Barry Lyndon), Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon), Patrick Magee (The Chevalier de Baribari), Hardy Kruger (Captain Potzdorf), Leon Vitali (Lord Bullingdon), Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady), Leonard Rossiter (Captain John Quin), Murray Melvin (Rev.Samuel Runt), Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan), Arthur O’Sullivan (Highwayman), Diana Koerner (German girl), Marie Kean (Barry’s mother), Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Lyndon), André Morell (Lord Wendover), Philip Stone (Graham), Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd), Pat Roach (Cpl.Tool), Ferdy Mayne, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Sharp, Michael Hordern (Narrator),

As the Radio Times put it, a.k.a “1789: A Georgian Odyssey”.  How can I put into words my feelings for this incredibly savage film?  Taken on face value, it is probably the most pictorially beautiful film ever made; a series of breathtaking painterly images put together with the barest threads of plot, with several exquisite uses of candlelight and sunlight that remain unsurpassed for their beauty, shot by Orange lenser Alcott with equally spectacular clarity and through natural light (and with the help of the groundbreaking lenses of Carl Zeiss).  Some have said that as a narrative it’s too drawn out and far too slow.  On that score alone they are absolutely right.  However, though neither was quite as long, the same could also be said of Kubrick’s two previous visions of the future, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange.  He was forgiven there because they were prophecies of the future that must, by their very definitions, be symbolic to a point.  Those who praise A Clockwork Orange praise it not for its plot but for its savage (in more ways than one) damnation of society.  That is where people have made an understandable but fatal mistake with regards to this Thackeray adaptation.  (more…)

Read Full Post »

The Wild Bunch, 1969, directed by Sam Peckinpah

Story: After being set up in a bank heist, the dwindling and aging Wild Bunch (a band of outlaws operating in the American frontier of the early 20th century) crosses into Mexico. Pursued by bounty hunters led by one of their former members, the Bunch agree to steal a cache of weapons for a corrupt Mexican warlord – but eventually, they must decide what’s worth more: his gold or their vaguely maintained code of honor.

The Wild Bunch is notorious as a subversive take on the Western genre, with the opening lines of Pike (William Holden) – “If they move, kill ’em!” – supposedly a declaration of independence from the old-fashioned sanctities of the form. And the ensuing massacre would seem to confirm that we’re a long way from the moralistic shades of High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953), what with old ladies of the Temperance Union being killed in the crossfire by careless deputies, cowering bank tellers being taken hostage and used as live bait by the titular antiheroes, and the innocent babes of the town wandering through a town square littered with the corpses of their elders as they imitate the outlaws’ gunfire. Meanwhile, other children light a bonfire over battling scorpions and red ants, piling violence upon violence in a microcosm of the film’s pathology: lethal but somehow poignant old cretins – the bunch – pitted against the ruthless, small-minded hordes – the bounty hunters and Mexican soldiers and railroad men who are just as violent as the outlaws, but somehow more petty. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »