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Archive for July 28th, 2009

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…)

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hitler

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…)

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