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Archive for August 11th, 2010

Note:  This discussion of The Dead was submitted to Adam Zanzie for the currently running blogothon on John Huston at Icebox Movies.

Dinner scene from John Huston’s ‘The Dead’ based on Joyce’s ‘The Dubliners’

by Sam Juliano

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

     The final paragraph of The Dead, James Joyce’s last story in his “Dubliners” collection stands today as one of the most celebrated passages in all of world literature.  In John Huston’s film version, the final work of his illustrious career, the dying 81 director wisely chose to let the words speak for themselves, utilizing a voiceover with some blue-tinted wintry visuals.   It’s a surrender to the power of literature, and the inability of film to bridge the gap in cinematic and texual respresentation.  But it remains the most arresting sequence in the film, and perhaps in Huston’s entire career, solely as a replication of language, in a form that heightens its soulful beauty.  Indeed, no filmmaker could be expected to convey the depth inherent in the literature of one of the most cerebral of all writers, and critic Jon Lanthier is right to decry the absence of the ‘longing spirit’  in this narrative. But Huston can’t be held accountable for wisely choosing to remain neutral in the film’s most critical stanza, and the “self-doubt” that Mr. Lanthier feels is violated, is actually woven into the language, oblivious to all the atmospheric tinsel dressing that still serves to provide the seasonal underpinning.  If this isn’t the most memorable snow sequence in film history, it’s certainly the most provocative, and the one that skillfully employs cinematic minimalism to provide the right mood for the spoken word. (delivered here with hypnotizing power by Donal McCann, who plays Gabriel) (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Argentina 2008 245m) not on DVD

Aka. Historias Extraordinarias

Knowing the rules

p  Laura Citarella  d/w  Mariano Llinás  ph  Agustin Mendilaharzu  ed  Alejo Moguillansky, Agustin Rolandelli  m  Gabriel Chwojnik

Mariano Llinás (X), Agustin Mendilaharzu (H), Walter Jakob (Z), Klaus Dietze (Cesar), Eduardo Iaccono (Factorovich), Horacio Marassi (Saponara), Hector Diaz (Salamone), Ana Livingston (Lola Gallo), Oscar Mauregui (Orlando Rey), Hector Bordoni (Carlos Armas), Lenadro Ibarra (Salvador Armas), Edmundo Lavalle (Palomeque), Pilo Nelli (Oyarzun), Victoria Hladilo (Vecina), Alberto Suarez (Lola’s older lover), Lola Arias (Alicia), Mariana Chaud (Maria Luisa), Fernando Llosa (Cuevas), Daniel Handler, Juan Minujin, Veronica Llinas (narrators),

It’s with some devilish pleasure that one imagines Robert McKee shaking his head through this film, one which breaks his cardinal rule about avoiding narrations more blatantly than any other.  There had been films before with virtually no dialogue and told entirely through narration, and some great ones, from Von Sternberg’s Anatahan back to Guitry’s Le Roman d’un Tricheur, and doubtless McKee would have poo-poohed both of those, too.  And yet what are rules if they are not to be broken.  Nothing is for ever.

            So we take three stories – well, actually more than three stories, but we’ll leave that for a moment – featuring three male protagonists who are known only by letters; initials perhaps, it’s never clear.  There’s X who witnesses a meeting between a man on a tractor and two men in a red truck, a meeting which begins cordially enough but ends with one of the men in the truck blowing away the tractor driver with a shotgun.  They make their exit, only for X to enter having seen the driver hide a briefcase in a hay bail just prior to the meeting.  Then the driver gets up, not as fatally injured as he at first seemed, and X impulsively uses the discarded shotgun to shoot the driver for a second time, this time fatally.  Then there’s Z, who goes to work for the local Federation in a mundane job which allows much time for deliberation on the life of his predecessor, Cuevas, who, as it later transpires, had anything but a mundane life.  Finally, there’s H, who’s recruited to take pictures of small monoliths along a river, only to find that there is also engaged another, Cesar, whose task is to blow the monoliths up with dynamite.  (more…)

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