Archive for December, 2009

by Allan Fish

(France 1929 125m) not on DVD

Aka. The Marvellous Life of Joan of Arc

A state of grace

p  Marco de Gastyne  d  Marco de Gastyne  w  Jean-José Frappa  ph  Gaston Brun  historical consultant  Camille Vergniol

Simone Gènevois (Jeanne d’Arc), Choura Milena (Isabeau de Paule), Philippe Heriat (Gilles de Rais), Jean Toulout (Le Tremoille), Jean Debucourt (Charles VII), Daniel Mendaille (Lord Talbot), Georges Paulait (Loyseleur), Gaston Modot (Glasdall), Fernand Mailly (Capitaine la Hire), Pierre Douvan (Bishop Cauchon), François Viguier (Brother Pasquerel), Jean Manoir (Jean de Metz), Louis Allibert (Rémy Loiseau),

The first glimpse I had of Marco de Gastyne’s magnum opus was, as for so many, courtesy of Brownlow and Gill’s Cinema Europe, where the onus was on neglecting it in favour of Dreyer’s more famous simultaneously shot Jeanne.  Everyone knows Dreyer’s Jeanne is untouchable, a thing as revered by cineastes as the real Jeanne is to the memory of every Frenchman.  Yet de Gastyne’s film, its star, and even Gastyne himself have been airbrushed from the canvas of late French silent film. 

            It follows the story to the letter, of the teenager from Domrémy called upon by God – or Saints Catherine and Marguerite, depending on your take on it – to lead the French in setting the rightful heir back on the French throne and driving the English devils back across la Manche.  It’s solemn from the very first caption, directly quoting that bastion of French historians, Jules Michelet; “let us always remember that our country was born from the heart of a woman, from her tenderness and tears, and from the blood she spilt for us.” (more…)


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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1927 105m) DVD1

Aka. Die Liebe der Jeanne Ney

23 karat in the parrot

p  Erich Pommer  d  Georg W.Pabst  w  Ladislas Vajda, Rudolf Leonhardt, Ilya Ehrenberg  ph  Fritz Arno Wagner, Robert Walter Lach  ed  Georg W.Pabst, Marc Sorkin  m  Timothy Brock  art  Victor Trivas, Otto Hunte

Edith Jehanne (Jeanne Ney), Uno Henning (Andreas Labov), Fritz Rasp (Khalibiev), Brigitte Helm (Gabrielle), Adolf E.Licho (Raymond Ney), Sig Arno (Gaston), Vladimir Sokoloff (Zacharkiewicz), Eugen Jensen (Andre Ney), Hans Jaray (Poitras), Hertha von Walther (Margot),

Somehow The Love of Jeanne Ney seems to have slipped by the serious Pabst scholars, as if hovering low in the sky to evade radar detection.  He’d had his big success with Joyless Street, with Asta Nielsen and Greta Garbo, who was then shipped off to Hollywood.  A year or so away and one icon coming the other way, Louise Brooks, would make her and Pabst art-house immortals in two films just before the close of the silent era.  The Love of Jeanne Ney, made between the Garbo film and the later Brooks, just gets brushed aside, and the more I come to look at it, the more I wonder why.

            It’s set in the familiar world of Russia on the verge of the Bolshevik Revolution, and the eponymous Jeanne Ney is distraught when the man she loves winds up killing her father, Andre.  She escapes to Paris to evade the Bolsheviks, but her lover, Labov, with the help of a comrade, sets off after her to make her his own.  Also following them is the rascally, nay seriously evil, blackmailer/murderer Khalibiev.  On arrival in Paris, Jeanne is shocked to see that her uncle Raymond cares only for his monetary conquests and not a jot for his blind daughter Gabrielle.  Khalibiev meanwhile hatches a plan to marry himself to Gabrielle, then kill her and gain her father’s inheritance for himself.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1925 143m) not on DVD

A little ‘skirt duty’

King Vidor, Irving G.Thalberg  d  King Vidor  w  Laurence Stallings, Harry Behn, Joseph W.Farnham  ph  John Arnold, Henrik Sartov  ed  Hugh Wynn  m  Carl Davis (orig.William Axt, David Mendoza)  art  Cedric Gibbons, James Basevi

John Gilbert (Jim Apperson), Renée Adorée (Mélisande), Hobart Bosworth (Mr Apperson), Claire McDowell (Mrs Apperson), Karl Dan (Slim), Tom O’Brien (Bull), Claire Adams (Justyn Reed), Rosita Marstini (French mother), Robert Ober (Harry),

King Vidor’s epic silent drama holds a place in cinema history for any one of a number of reasons.  It was the film that propelled John Gilbert from the regular roster of stars into the supernova category where he could justifiably rub shoulders with Garbo and Gish.  It was the film that propelled Vidor to the ‘A’ list of silent directors, alongside Griffith, de Mille, Ingram and Von Stroheim.  Perhaps most importantly it was the most financially profitable silent film of them all, sending the fledging merged studio MGM so far into the black that they could not only take the spiralling costs and financial disaster of Ben Hur in their stride, but give Vidor carte blanche to make The Crowd as a thank you. 

            Jim Apperson is the beloved, spoiled son of a rich industrialist who has long been betrothed to childhood friend Justyn.  Then America is called into the war and Jim signs up on the grand adventure with several friends.  Despite his family’s pleadings, he goes off to war with two friends and, once in France, they befriend a French farm girl.  He falls in love with her, but keeps faithful to his fiancée back home.  However, back home, Justyn has fallen in love herself. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

It’s everybody’s favorite time of the year, but it’s taxing in so many ways, and for many it’s time to relax and uncoil.  With Christmas now behind us, preparations are being made by many for a big New Year’s Eve celebration.  In the New York area, a rainstorm just about washed away the remnants of last week’s snow, and temperatures went up a bit.  It’s cold, but not frigidly.

At Wonders in the Dark, Allan’s silent poll countdown went into full gear, and although the holiday has reduced the kind of hands on involvement we’ve had for poll after poll, it’s expected that after January 1, there will be some serious action.  As it is the review for James Cameron’s Avatar has attracted a bushel load of comments, most quite perceptive.  Joel Bocko’s Boston Examiner reviews continue to post here and all always receive impressive responses.  The newest one is appropriately, the French import A Christmas Tale by Arnold Despletchan.

I’ll let Dave Hicks, Joe and perhaps Joel fill us in on the NFL, though I did see that the Jets pulled a shocking upset over previously-undefeated Indianapolis, which actually kept their playoff hopes alive.

As expected, with the year-end releases opening on Christmas Day and before, I was busy in movie theatres, and even got to see Avatar a second time (this time in 3D) with Dennis Polifroni on Tuesday in Edgewater, and again it was enrapturing.  The 3 D enhanced the visual perspective, but the overall experience was the same as the first viewing, methinks.

In  addition to the repeat of Avatar, here is what I saw in theatres:

Police, Adjective   **** 1/2   IFC Film Center – Wednesday night
Sherlock Holmes   **          Edgewater multiplex – Friday afternoon
Crazy Heart       ****           Angelika Film Center – Friday night
The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas  *** 1/2    Sony – Sunday afternoon
     The Romanian Police, Adjective was a minimalist police procedural, that was so meticulously observed, and so fascinating in detail, that it hardly mattered that nothing was really going on.  The last 15 minutes, which features a police director’s lecture on the difference between “conscience” and “justice” ranks as one of the greatets single sequences in any film this year, certainly the equal of the restaurant scene in 35 Shots of Rum, the lyrical “prologue” of Antichrist and the scrapbook segment near the beginning of Pixar’s Up.
      The new Sherlock Holmes film by Guy Ritchie was loud, tedious, and ludicrously-plotted, and there were pyrotechnics galore, but there’s no denying that Robert Downey Jr. gives a flamboyant and charismatic reading, which holds the stage, regardless of the weak script he has to negotiate.  Our good friend Judy at Movie Classics, seems to have had a generally positive reaction though.
     Jeff Bridges may well have won the Oscar for his extraordinary performance in Crazy Heart, and despite a few very minor quibbles, this is quite the vehicle for his big artistic comeback, following in the footsteps of 1983’s Tender Mercies, where Robert Duvall, who plays a supporting role in this new film, portrays a character with a number of similarities to the one Bridges plays.  The country music by T. Bone Burnett and Stephen Bruton is infectious, too.
      As far as Terry Gilliam’s The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassas, sure it’ds uneven and it often makes no sense, and sure there’s a lot of indulgence on display, but I’ll still take much of this any day as it’s a dazzling fun-ride, Ledger, Depp, Law and Christopher Plummer aboard to populate some wonderous, mysterious and exquisite tapestries, which do have Gilliam’s stamp all over them.
     I am close to completing both my ‘Best Films of 2009’ list, and am also working on my decade ‘Best of’ too.’  I will have elaborate picture and essay spreads on this soon.
     Around the blogosphere, many have taken a short sabatical, both some others have posted religiously:
Tony d’Ambra has a fantastic roundup of his best posts of 2009 up at FilmsNoir.net, and I can vouch for the choices myself.  For anyone who hasn’t yet seen them they are in the links after you link here to the lead piece:

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1925 59m) DVD1

He still wanted to tell her he loved her

p  Joseph M.Schenck, Buster Keaton  d  Buster Keaton  w  Clyde Bruckman, Jean Haver, Joseph A.Mitchell  play  Roi Cooper Megrue  ph  Elgin Lessley, Byron Houck  ed  Buster Keaton  m  Robert Israel  art  Fred Gaboune

Buster Keaton (Jimmie Shannon), Ruth Dwyer (Mary Jones), T.Roy Barnes (Billy Meekin), Snitz Edwards (lawyer), Frances Raymond (Mrs Jones), Erwin Connelly (clergyman), Rosalind Byrne, Jean Arthur, Constance Talmadge,   

It’s somewhat surprising to learn just how much Buster Keaton hated this film.  He had the project forced on him by Joe Schenck, and did it only under protest.  At initial screenings it didn’t perform that well either, and he went back and shot an extra reel with a new finale.  That finale – and thus the film itself – entered silent comedy legend.  We all have our favourite images of Buster, on the side of the train which starts up, rowing a wheel-less car like a boat, standing against a cyclone, or having a side of a house fall on him.  This beats all.

            He plays Jimmie Shannon, a broker who has loved Mary Jones for some time.  We see him declare his love for her as the seasons pass, starting in spring, through autumn and winter and back to spring, the passage of time illustrated not merely by the foliage on the trees but by the growing size of Mary’s pet pooch.  Come the spring, however, he has problems in business, as his broker’s business, in which he is the junior partner, is in trouble after a misbegotten deal has gone awry leaving them on the verge of bankruptcy and shame.  Out of the blue, he hears that he will inherit seven million dollars belonging to his grandparents if he marries by seven o’clock on the evening of his 27th birthday.  The problem is that that’s today, and he has only a few hours to get married.  He goes back to Mary, but cocks things up in making it seem to her he’d marry anyone to get the money.  After trying to propose on the spot to numerous female acquaintances, with literally laughable results, his partner puts an advert in the evening newspaper, and then things really start to hot up. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Norway 1926 105m) DVD2 (Norway only)

Aka. Brudeferden I Hardanger; The Bridal Party at Hardanger

Pining for the fjords

p  Rasmus Breistein  d/w  Rasmus Breistein  novel  “Marit Skjolte” by Kristofer Janson  ph  Gunnar Nilsen-Vig   m  Halldor Krogh

Aase Bye (Marit Skjolte), Henry Gleditsch (Anders Bjaland), Gunhild Schytte-Jacobsen (older Marit Skjolte), Alfred Maurstad (Vigleik Skjolte), Annik Saxegaard (Eli Skjolte), Vilhelm Lund (Tore Skjolte), Oscar Larsen (older Anders Bjaland), Martin Fiksen (Bard), Dagmar Myhrvold (Kari Bjorve), Henny Skjönberg (Tore’s mother), Gustav Berg-Jaeger (Presten),

When one thinks of Scandinavian cinema in the silent era, Norway isn’t the first country to come to mind.  Indeed, of the four principal Scandinavian national cinemas, there’s a case for saying that the Norwegian has been the least prestigious.  Sweden may dominate and need no introduction, while Denmark had Dreyer and Christensen and others would follow.  Finland, though generally lagging behind, still gave us Tulio, Donner and more recently Kaurismaki.  What has Norway given us?  Only one other film in this list – Per Blom’s The Ice Palace, hardly itself a recognised film – and only a few others worthy of mention.  Here, however, we have the great exception to the rule, Rasmus Breistein’s The Wedding at Hardanger, and yet who has heard of it outside the most specialist and eclectic silent cinema enthusiasts?  It was released on DVD in 2008 after a painstaking restoration which not only restored the quality of the footage but the length, and from the carcass of the 75 minute version that had previously been the only extant copy, arose the greatest film of not only Norwegian silent cinema but arguably their cinema full stop.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USSR 1929 90m) DVD1

There was a mother who had three sons

p  Alexander P.Dovzhenko  d/w/ed  Alexander P.Dovzhenko  ph  Danylo Demutsky  m  Igor Belza  art  Vadim Myuller, Iosif Shpinel

Semyon Svashenko (Timos, the Ukrainian), Amvrosi Buchma (laughing-gassed soldier), Georgi Khorkov (Red Army soldier), Dimitri Erdman (German officer), Sergei Petrov (German soldier), Nikolai Kuchinsky (Petliura), A.Yevdakov (Tsar Nicholas II), Luciano Albertini (Raffaele),

Dovzhenko said about Arsenal in his autobiography; “I wanted to make a film about the revolution.  Not the palace revolution, but the revolution of peasants, workers and intellectuals, who made the revolution and then did not get anything for it.”  The first thing that comes to mind is that Dovzhenko did well to keep these feelings to himself when he made it, or he may have followed many artists from Ukraine into the black hole of the prison camp purges.  It’s a commonly perceived notion that Dovzhenko was a Ukrainian nationalist, and yet at the time of the film’s release he was a committed Bolshevik in favour of Ukraine’s unity with Mother Russia.  Even in Earth, his commonly accepted magnum opus, the film comes down in favour of communism, but there are hints of nationalistic ideology not far beneath the surface. (more…)

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Merry Christmas to All


In the Bleak Midwinter
Christina Rossetti (1872)
clr gif

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1929 83m) DVD1/2

Barbershop trio

p  H.Bruce Woolfe  d  Anthony Asquith  w  Anthony Asquith  novel  Herbert Price  ph  Alex Lindblom  m  (2006 Stephen Horne)  art  Ian Campbell-Gray, Arthur Woods

Norah Baring (Sally), Uno Henning (Joe), Hans Adalbert-Schlettow (Harry), Judd Green,

Poor old Anthony ‘Puffin’ (son of Prime Minister Herbert) Asquith has had a raw deal up until recent times.  Many of his detractors accused him of being a theatrical director, reliant solely on performances and erudite dialogue.  One could look at his talkie output and find it hard to disagree with them, with the likes of The Importance of Being Earnest, Pygmalion, Quiet Wedding, The Way to the Stars and The Winslow Boy, utilising perhaps better than any other director the words of those most English of wordsmiths, Rattigan, Wilde and Shaw.  But it was in his first three silent films that he gained his reputation, and though I have been unable to see his debut film, Shooting Stars, both its reputation and that of his second film Underground, which I have seen and liked well indeed, back up my opinion of this, his third and last major silent, A Cottage on Dartmoor

            Another reason for his and the film’s long neglect is the fact tha (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(US 1920 29m) DVD1/2

How to commit suicide

p  Hal Roach  d  Fred C.Newmeyer  w  Sam Taylor, H.M.Walker  story  Hal Roach, Sam Taylor  ph  Walter Lundin  ed  Thomas J.Crizer  m  Robert Israel

Harold Lloyd (the boy), Mildred Davis (the girl), Mark Jones (acrobat), Roy Brooks (the other fellow), Charles Stevenson (cop),

There’s an immortal shot of Harold Lloyd that sticks in my mind more than any other.  In actual fact, it’s not a shot at all, but a production still.  I first remember seeing it on the cover of the 6th edition of the Halliwell Film Guide in about 1988, and it shows Lloyd, legs wide apart, hands out in front of him as if he’s trying to stop an oncoming car, bespectacled eyes betraying a look of sheer terror.  But because just the figure of Lloyd was shown, one would be forgiven for thinking that he was trying to stop a car.  In reality, it’s an oncoming girder on a crane from the top of an incomplete skyscraper.  Adding this vital component finally not only makes sense of the still, but shows how it could only have been Lloyd. (more…)

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