Archive for September, 2009

I draw the reader’s attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of the main piece…

heaven's 2

(USA 1980 219m) DVD1

In principle, everything can be done

p  Johann Carelli  d  Michael Cimino  Michael Cimino  ph  Vilmos Zsigmond  ed  Tom Rolf, William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald Greenberg  m  David Mansfield  art  Tambi Larsen, Spencer Deverill, Maurice Fowler  cos  Allen Highfill

Kris Kristofferson (James Averill), Isabelle Huppert (Ella Watson), Christopher Walken (Nathan D.Champion), John Hurt (Billy Irvine), Sam Waterston (Frank Canton), Brad Dourif (Mr Eggleston), Joseph Cotten (Rev.Doctor), Jeff Bridges (John L.Bridges), Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth McGovern,

Among a host of monumental films that bombed at the box office, stretching back to Intolerance through La Fin du Monde and Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate surely still holds pride of place.  Even now the very term ‘a Heaven’s Gate’ is synonymous for financial debacles in the movie industry.  For here was a director, Michael Cimino, fresh from the almost universal praise allotted to his The Deer Hunter, given carte blanche to make whatever film he liked by a studio – United Artists – that would come to regret it.  For all the endless vitriol and critical mutilation (one recalls Pauline Kael sharpening her poison quill with “it was easy to see what to cut, but when I tried afterward to think of what to keep, my mind went blank”), Cimino’s film deserves placing altogether higher in the eyes of posterity.  To these eyes, it’s a far better film than The Deer Hunter, for all that film’s merits. 

            Twenty years after graduating from Harvard, James Averill returns to Caspar, Wyoming, after a visit to the east, and finds the town crowded with poverty and an incontrollable influx of immigrants.  Soon after, he meets old friend Billy Irvine, who informs him over a game of pool that there is a death list of 125 settlers the wealthy cattle barons want to eliminate.  Returning to Sweet Water, Johnson County, James delivers a present to his beloved Ella, the young immigrant madam of a brothel.  To complicate matters, the cattle baron’s hired gun, Nathan Champion, also loves Ella. (more…)


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              Jean de Florette (1986) one of decade’s greatest films

     The deadline for submitting completed Top 25 ballots for the 1980’s poll is Saturday October 10 at 11:00 P.M. EST.  As per our standard, voters are allowed 10 days after Allan Fish’s #1 choice is unveiled, which in this case is scheduled for tomorrow morning (Wednesday, September 30).  Ballots are presently being examined and verified by Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr., and again the participation has been impressive.  After the poll results are announced sometime around October 12-13, the 90’s poll will commence with Allan’s list of 51-100 “nearlies” to kick itoff, to be followed by the 50 top choices, one a day as typical.  For all those who have participated and/or plan to do so WitD issues heartfelt thanks.

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once upon 1

(USA 1984 228m) DVD1/2

An appointment at Fat Moe’s

p  Arnon Milchan  d  Sergio Leone  w  Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero de Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Stuart Kaminsky, Sergio Leone  novel  “The Hoods” by David Aaronson, Harry Grey  ph  Tonino delli Colli  ed  Nino Baragli  m  Ennio Morricone (with Giaocchino Rossini, Cole Porter, Joseph M.Lacalle, Lennon & McCartney)  art  Carlo Simi, James Singelis  cos  Gabriella Pescucci, Nino Baragli

Robert DeNiro (David “Noodles” Aaronson), James Woods (Max), Elizabeth McGovern (Deborah), Treat Williams (Jimmy O’Donnell), William Forsythe (Cockeye), Tuesday Weld (Carol), Burt Young (Joe), Danny Aiello (Police Chief Aiello), Joe Pesci (Frankie), Jennifer Connelly (Young Deborah), Larry Rapp (Fat Moe Markowitz), James Russo,

Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone’s defining statement as a filmmaker, one that it effectively took him twelve years to conceive and make.  It wasn’t helped by the fact that Leone’s masterpiece was butchered in the US to 149m with the sort of careless glee not seen since Jack the Ripper roamed Whitechapel and, like so many other masterpieces of the eighties (see Kurosawa’s Ran and Bergman’s full Fanny and Alexander), it was made by a man a generation after his peak, but it’s also one of the greatest films of its decade. 

            Noodles Aaronson has been summoned back to New York 35 years after all his friends were supposedly killed after a robbery went wrong.  He knows not why he’s been summoned or, apart from a name, who by, but he starts to piece together the pieces while looking back at his childhood before World War I in New York’s Jewish quarter. (more…)

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                                        Scene from Jane Campion’s Bright Star


                                          Poster from documentary In Search of Beethoven

by Sam Juliano

New York sports fans are on cloud nine this weekend and in baseball the Yankees completed a sweep of the Boston Red Sox to clinch the eastern division crown, while both the football Jets and the football Giants have begun their seasons with 3-0 records, the first time such a feat has occured in many years.  However as part of our staff here is a Beantown rooter and Boston-based, particularly the Patriots, we will hold our tongue.

Roman Polanski in captivity?!?  Well, everyone is welcome to discuss that here or wait for Joel Bocko’s lead-in essay next week.  Whew, that’s a stunner!

Wonders in the Dark regular Bob Clark of The Aspect Ratio  made his writing debut here with a thesis-level 12,000 word review of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, which frankly to these eyes is one of the greatest of all on-line reviews.  We are thrilled to have Bob on board.  As always, Joel Bocko of The Dancing Image and The Boston Examiner continues to raise the bar with his incomparable and lengthy comments, which take analytical discussion to the highest level.  Bocko’s newest essay, posted today on film criticism titled “For the Love of Movies” seems like a perfect conversation starter.  As a stand-alone it’s typically for its author a brilliant essay.  Site regular Kaleem Hasan had a torrid week at the site with astounding submissions under many threads, but as always there are so many others to thank including the indominable Dee Dee, John Greco, Jamie Uhler, Daniel Getahun, Dave Hicks, Jon Lanthier, Ed Howard, Dennis, Judy, Margaret, Anu, Bobby J., Troy Olson, Kevin Olson, David Schleicher, Pat, Frank Gallo, Alexander, Peter, Joe, David Noack and many others.

Of course it goes without saying that Alan Fish’s continuing countdown remains the centerpiece of the site, and the main reason why so many come here in the first place.  Anyone who can pump out review after review for every placement on a personal list deserves the highest praise, and typically his pieces get many comments including mega-action under both his The Asthenic Syndrome and The Shining essays.

I had one of the best movie weeks quality-wise of the year, with both a rare five-star film and a four-and-a-half star documentary in the mix.  I saw:

Bright Star  *****  (Sunday afternoon; Tenafly Multiplex)

Coco Avant Chanel  *** 1/2  (Saturday night; Chelsea Cinemas)

In Search of Beethoven  **** 1/2  (Friday night; Cinema Village)

On Wednesday I escorted the entire family to see the beloved classic The Wizard of Oz (1939) at a local multiplex, and while we were all thrilled to see the film on a big screen we were less than satisfied with the pedestrian HD presentation.  I wrote a short post on the experience on Thursday morning.

Jane Campion’s Bright Star was a sumptuous, intelligently written and acted period piece about a brief love affair between John Keats and Fanny Brawne, before his untimely death at the extremely young age of 25 of tuberculosis.  The film is passionate, sensory and poetic, the latter quality befitting the life of the English language’s second-greatest poet ever behind Shakespeare.

The team that made the very fine In Search of Mozart in 2007, have made an even better film on Beethoven, with th esimilarly titled In Search of Beethoven.  Piecing together talking heads, paintings, re-enactments, letters, diaries, and most of all a generous sampling of some of Western music’s most sublime musical compositions, this is a Beethoven lover’s dream, but even for the novice an educational and engrossing doc that neither insults it’s viewers nor bogs them down in off-putting musical technicalities.

Ace film composer Alexander Desplat had a field day once again with his ravishing score for Coco Avant Chanel, a film that could have been deeper, but is still a reasonably solid piece of entertainment thanks to Desplat, Audrey Tautou and some lovely costumes and cinematography.  Some of the material here seems rather simplified.  Get that Desplat score CD!

Some of the excellent work around the blogosphere includes:

John Greco once again digs deep into the cinematic landscape with a superlative review of Frank Perry’s little-seen Last Summer, at Twenty-Four Frames, a 1969 film that won Cathy Burns an Oscar nod.  The film is unavailable on DVD:


Jenny Bee Boulden has written one of the greatest reviews ever posted on-line (I kid you not!) of That Evening Sun at “Awards Daily.”  This review is priceless:


Dee Dee is headlining a very fine noir review from her affiliate Australian Andrew Katsis, on Frank Tuttle’s This Gun For Hire at Darkness to Light:


The great Jon Lanthier, who is busy with a project at the current time, has an essential review up at The Powerstrip of Von Trier’s Anti-Christ:


Before his wedding sabatical (and WitD wishes him a great week and married life!) Ed Howard posted another brilliant piece on Patrice Chereau’s Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train:


Ever on top of breaking news, Kaleem Hasan has the scoop here on Roman Polanski’s Swiss arrest at Satyamshot:


After a brief sabbatical, T.S. of Screen Savour has returned with a vengeanace, continuing his Keaton series with a stellar piece on The General:



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singing det

(UK 1986 415m) DVD1/2

Ten cents a dance, fella

p  John Harris, Kenith Trodd  d  Jon Amiel  w  Dennis Potter  ph  Ken Westbury  ed  Bill Wright, Sue Wyatt  m  Stanley Myers  art  Jim Clay

Michael Gambon (Philip Marlow), Patrick Malahide (Mark Binney), Alison Steadman (Lili), Joanne Whalley (Nurse Mills), David Ryall (Mr Hall), Ron Cook (1st mysterious man), George Rossi (2nd mysterious man), Janet Suzman (Nicola), Leslie French (“Noddy” Tomkey), Bill Paterson (Dr Gibbon), Ken Stott (Uncle John), Jim Carter (Mr Marlow), Gerald Horan (Reginald Gibbs), Sharon Clarke (night nurse), Imelda Staunton (Nurse White), Badi Uzzaman (Ali), Janet Henfrey (schoolteacher), Lyndon Davies (Philip, aged 10), David Thewlis (soldier),

Following the transmission of the first episodes of Dennis Potter’s magnum opus on BBC1, their viewer response show Points of View was bombarded with complaints from the Mary Whitehouse brigade, including a mirthfully Pythonesque response from Colonel R.S.Vine, BSc, MRCS, LRCP, FRC Path, who called it “this extraordinarily obscene production.”  It still amazes me how truly shatteringly narrow-minded the average person is – and was – in the so-called modern age, and I’m sure it left Potter equally aghast.  It was as if sex was the only thing that The Singing Detective was about, when in actual fact it was but one layer of many.  Rather than showcase Potter as having a filthy mind, they were actually uncovering their own shortcomings. (more…)

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Andreas Winkelman … is repairing the roof of the cottage in which he lives as a literate hermit. At one point, he stares off at the sun that hangs low and dim—with its edges made ragged by a telephoto lens—in the Scandinavian sky. Suddenly the sun disappears into the gray-blue haze, but it’s as if Andreas had willed it invisible, much as he has tried to will himself invisible without taking the ultimate step. With this lovely image, Ingmar Bergman begins The Passion of Anna…”

Vincent Canby, The New York Times, May 29, 1970

A little more than halfway through For the Love of Movies, Gerald Peary’s enthusiastic and authoritative documentary about the history of film criticism, the above passage is quoted. While the narrator reads Canby’s words aloud (and they are as “lovely” as the film he’s describing), we are treated to Bergman’s images and even more importantly, the evocative, delicate soundtrack – Andreas’ hammer on the rooftop, the sheep-bells tinkling – which the critic does not describe. Prose – at once intelligent and impressionistic – is fused with solid yet elusive image and simple yet vaguely abstract sound; criticism meets art and the two shake hands in the light of Bergman’s, and Canby’s, disappeared disc. All in all, it’s a stirring tribute to the movies and to those who love them, both being the subjects of this film. (more…)

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berlin alex 1

(West Germany 1980 921m) DVD1/2

There is a reaper, he is called Death

p  Peter Marthesheimer  d/w  Rainer Werner Fassbinder  novel  Alfred Döblin  ph  Xavier Schwarzenberger  ed  Jiliane Lorenz  m  Peer Raben  art  Harry Baer

Günter Lamprecht (Franz Biberkopf), Hanna Schygulla (Eva), Barbara Sukowa (Mieze), Gottfried John (Reinhold), Franz Buchrieser (Meck), Karin Baal (Minna), Peter Kolleck (Nachum), Elisabeth Trissenaar (Lina), Brigitte Mira (Frau Bast), Hans Zander (Eliser), Margit Carstensen (1st angel), Helmut Griem (2nd angel), Ivan Desny (Pums), Claus Holm (Max), Helen Vita (Franze), Hark Bohm (Lüders), Annemarie Düringer (Cilly), Roger Fritz (Herbert), Barbara Valentin (Ida), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (narrator),

There have been many truly great television drama serials made and many of them have been wonderful adaptations of classic novels (such as Granada’s Brideshead Revisited), yet Berlin Alexanderplatz is so much more than just a magisterial monumental adaptation of a piece of literature, it is the best pictorial and dramatic representation of any city at any given time as has yet been offered.  Not that Döblin’s masterpiece is the only book to so capture a time and a place (one thinks of Petronius’ Satyricon for 1st century A.D. Rome and Joyce’s Ulysses for Dublin), but those works have proved rather elusive on screen.  Fassbinder not only captured the essence of Döblin’s work, but in some ways improved on it, adding his own perspective, most notably in the phantasmagoric epilogue, which dispenses with plot for the most part, instead presenting a hallucinatory descent into a man’s near fatal madness, mixed with Wagner, Strauss, Glenn Miller, Kraftwerk, Dean Martin, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and sacrilegious imagery.  The result is overpowering, egotistical but also essential Fassbinder, and one of the greatest in the German cinema. (more…)

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Dekalog (no 5)


(Poland 1988 559m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Decalogue/The Ten Commandments

More monumental than Sinai

p  Ryszard Chutkowski  d  Krzysztof Kieslowski  w  Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krsysztof Piesewicz  ph  Wieslaw Zdort, Edward Klosinski, Piotr Sobocinski, Krzysztof Pakulski, Slawomir Idziak, Witold Amadek, Dariusz Kus, Andrzej Jaroszewicz, Jacek Blawut  ed  Ewa Smal  m  Zbigniew Preisner  art  Halina Dobrowolska

Henryk Baranowski (Krzysztof), Wojciech Klata (Pawel), Maja Komorowska (Irena), Krystyna Janda (Dorota), Aleksander Bardini (Consultant), Olgierd Lukaszwicz (Andrzej), Daniel Olbrychski (Janusz), Maria Pakulnis (Ewa), Joanna Szczepkowska (Janusz’ wife), Adrianna Biedrzynska (Anka), Janusz Gajos (Michel), Miroslaw Baka (Lazar Jacek), Krzysztof Globisz (Piotr), Jan Tesarz (Taxi driver), Grazyna Szapolowska (Magda), Olaf Lubaszenko (Tomek), Stegania Iwinska (Godmother), Anna Polony (Ewa), Maja Barelkowska (Majka), Wladyslaw Kowalski (Stefan), Boguslaw Linda (Wojtek), Maria Koscialkowska (Sofia), Teresa Marczewska (Elzbieta), Tadeusz Lomnicki (Tailor), Ewa Blaszczyk (Hanka), Piotr Machalica (Roman), Jerzy Stuhr (Jerzy), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Artur), Henryk Bista (Shopkeeper), Artur Barcis (recurring cyclist/man),

Oh, how to convey so briefly the essence of Kieslowski’s masterpiece.  Books could be written on it alone, a vast, yet intimate tapestry of daily lives colliding in one small Warsaw apartment block, Dekalog is, in its basic essence, a series of ten tales based loosely on the morals of the Ten Commandents.  Each is quite wonderful taken individually, but collectively, they are a shattering, unforgettable experience.  So shattering that even the extended versions of parts five and six, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, could not be considered, being as they are cogs in a much greater machine.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     Few directors in the cinema have split art house audiences and film critics as severely as Chilean-born Alejandro Jodorowky.  While his admirers have issued rapturous praise, even going as far as to declare him as the heir apparent of Luis Bunuel and the master of surrealist cinema, his detractors have condemned him as a drug-abusing pretentious hack whose work emanated from his own psychedelic drug experiences.  Jodorowsky’s career began in the 50’s with stints as a puppeteer, circus performer, a mime, a playright, novelist, comic book author and finally as a film director.  His famous early films, El Topo and The Holy Mountain were frustrating works, but they still displayed complex and inspired visuals and were impossible to dismiss. The heavily surrealist Fando and Lis again was a challenging work, but was partially ponderous.

     In the early 80’s the director studied a new kind of therapy known as “psycho-magic,” which combines Jungian psychoanalysis with varying degrees of mysticism and superstition that talk to the subjects’s unconscious.  This in turn is contingent upon the belief in a “family unconscious”  with prior familial relationships -going back a number of generations – controlling crrent relationships.  Jodorowsky stated: “If I want to understand myself I have to understand my family tree, because I am permanently possessed, as in voodoo.  Even when we cut ties with our family, we carry it.  In our unconscious, the persons are always alive.  The dead live with us.  Exploring the family tree means engaging in a fierce battle with the ‘monster’ like a nightmare.”  These new revelations would form the basis of what must now be considered as his masterpiece, Santa Sangre (1989), a work he is reputed to have directed almost for nothing in return for full creative control. (more…)

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Heimat (no 6)

heimat1 copy

(West Germany 1984 923m) DVD1/2

Aka. Heimat: Eine Deutsche Chronik/Homeland

A 1938 film, starring Zarah Leander

p/d  Edgar Reitz  w  Edgar Reitz, Peter Steinbach  ph  Gernot Roll  ed  Heidi Handorf  m  Nikos Mamangakis  art  Franz Bauer

Marita Breuer (Maria Wiegand-Simon), Michael Lesch (young Paul Simon), Dieter Schaad (older Paul Simon), Karin Kienzler (Pauline Simon), Eva Maria Bayerswaltes (older Pauline Simon), Rüdiger Weigang (Eduard Simon), Karin Rasenack (Lucie), Peter Harting (Hermann Simon), Jörg Richter (young Hermann Simon), Gertrude Bredel (Katharina Simon), Willi Berger (Mathias Simon), Johannes Lobewein (Alois Wiegand), Kurt Wagner (Glasisch-Karl), Eva Marie Schneider (Marie-Goot), Manfred Kühn (Wirt), Hans-Jürgen Schaltz (Wilfried Wiegand), Jörg Hube (Otto Wohlleben), Sabine Wagner (Martha), Helga Bender (Martina), Arno Lang (Kröber),

Just think for a minute of that magical photo library in Shooting the Past and let’s assume a fiction within the fiction and make this proposition; if there was a small cardboard box on a shelf in that establishment marked Schabbach, Hunsrück, Germany (c.1919-1982), could the photographs therein, many of them taken by local resident Eduard Simon, have told the story that Edgar Reitz and his collaborators here unfold?  The answer is of course negative, and yet having seen the lives taking place, each of the photographs we see in the narrated recaps at the beginning of individual episodes strikes a memory, which of course sums up the dual magic of photographs; instant remembrance for those who witnessed, and a source of much fantasy for those who do not. (more…)

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