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Archive for September, 2010

by Joel

#85 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series counting down the most acclaimed films of the previous decade.

Olivier is one of those men you can’t picture outside of the workplace. They’re very good at their job, often stern without being cruel, dignified yet something of a personal cipher. In Olivier’s case, when we see him off the job (he’s a carpenter whose task is to train apprentices) we discover that he lives alone, never takes off his uniform (blue overalls), and apparently does not watch television or read – leisure time is spent doing sit-ups. As played by Olivier Gourmet, and photographed by the Dardenne brothers (whose penchant for handheld close-ups here borders on self-parody so claustrophobic is their cinematography), Olivier is initially hard to read, and one wonders if there is indeed anything to read, or if he’s simply content to be uncomplicated. There is, and he isn’t – or maybe he would be, but he hasn’t the chance to be simple. Having experienced a tragedy, and now forced to rub his nose in reminders of his loss, Olivier begins behaving erratically – although only we, in the audience know this; he’s still firmly enough in control to hide from public view his odd behavior (running through the shop, peeking around corners, leafing through files). Until a conversation with his ex-wife (Isabella Soupart) some ways into the movie we are not sure what lies behind all the eccentricities. Given the title, we suspect secret filial relations between Olivier and Francis (Morgan Marinne), a heavily medicated carpenter-in-training, whom Olivier initially refuses before accepting as an apprentice and then proceeding to stalk. But Francis is not Olivier’s son. Read no further if you want the film to take you by surprise. There are certainly benefits to both approaches (knowing who Francis is enables you invest more in Olivier’s strange behavior) but you can always go back and re-watch the movie with this knowledge in mind, so I suggest taking a break if you haven’t seen The Son.

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(Brian DePalma, 1976)

(essay by Troy)

While capturing screenshots for Brian DePalma’s Carrie, it became apparent that much like Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse, Carrie White could only be played by one person, Sissy Spacek.  Her face and mannerisms allow her to be the perfect sympathetic monster — beautiful, innocent, fragile, and pitiful, yet still managing to be chillingly believable as she exacts an inferno of bloody terror on her tormentors.

With that in mind (and partially due to lack of time), I’m shelving the draft I’ve written for this film (just assume it’s a lot of talk about the symbolism of menstrual blood, Carrie’s transition from girl to woman, the great performances by the supporting cast, DePalma’s fantastic use of split screen, Psycho homages, the use of the high school milieu and classic ending scare, both of which surely influenced countless future slashers, and the frighteningly realistic prospect of the ending in light of the real-world high school shootings of the last 20 years) and instead am going to post the series of screenshots showcasing DePalma’s use of Spacek in the film, many have which have certainly achieved iconic status.

(WARNING: COPIOUS SCREENSHOTS FOLLOW!)
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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1969 84m) DVD1/2

Aka. Môjuu

In the Realm of the Senses

p  Masaichi Nagata, Kazumasa Nakano  d  Yasuzo Masumura  w  Yoshio Shirasaka  story  Rampo Edagawa  ph  Setsuo Kobayashi  ed  Tatsuji Nakashizu  m  Hikaru Hayashi  art  Shigeo Mano

Eiji Funakoshi (Michio), Mako Midori (Akki), Noriko Sengoku (mother),

And what a realm it is.  The English title for Oshima’s later psycho-sexual masterpiece would arguably be even more appropriate for Masumura’s equally disturbing dip into the black side.  For what we have here is a film that is entirely about the senses, particularly that of touch.  It’s a film truly like any other, one that was for a long time unheard of in the UK – largely perhaps due to the extreme content of the final act – and indeed Masumura himself has been criminally neglected by western critics.

            Akki is a young virgin model who works by stripping off for fetishist pictures for an unseen photographer.  One day at the gallery where these pictures are being exhibited, she sees a young man caressing a sculpture of her created by the photographer’s friend.  She feels a very disturbing sensation as if the man’s hands were roaming over her, not the sculpture, and returns home agitated.  She rings for a masseur to come out and relieve her tension, but it turns out to be the self same man, who after touching her in ways even too intimate for a masseur, proceeds to kidnap her with the help of some chloroform and his mother accomplice.  She is then taken to a disused iron warehouse, where she is kept prisoner in a truly surreal, nightmarish studio, dominated by two huge sculptures of the front and back of the naked female form, and all the walls decorated with sculptured ears, eyes, noses, mouths and breasts of all types and sizes.  (more…)

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(Roger Corman, 1964)

(essay by Robert)

I am always surprised about how many people I talk to who are not familiar with Corman’s Masque of the Red Death.  Perhaps it is because it was mashed between so many other Edgar Allen Poe adaptations staring Vincent Price.  Masque was actually the 7th of 8 Poe inspired films that Corman directed (all but one starred Price) working closely with writer Richard Matheson.  Notably, it is actually a mashing of 2 Poe stories: Masque and Hop Frog.  To me, Masque of the Red Death stands alone as the truly inspired piece from this series and a fantastic example of mise-en-scene prowess.

Time after time, Corman delivers brilliance on-screen.  His interpretation of the “seven rooms” is spot-on and the multiple extravagant ballroom scenes glimmer with endless color and movement. The wow-moment of the film is when Prospero comes face to face with the true Red Death after his guests are wiped by one sweeping pan through the room. Far and away however, the unmistakable star(s) of the show are the all-powerful death figures.  The Red Death, of course, gets the most screen time but Corman hits you with everything when he gathers all the reapers in the forest to discuss their most recent escapades.  In a stunning final shot, All the “deaths” including Black, Red, White and Yellow compare their most recent conquests.  Fascinatingly, instead of bragging about the number of lives they have claimed, they are proud of the select few that they let live.

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"My Dog Tulip" a poetic and witty account of a dog's 14 year life, playing at the Film Forum

by Sam Juliano

Autumn 2010 will become a reality this week as magnificent weather has descended on the Northeast, while the death throws of summer have been evidenced by plummeting night time temperatures.    Meanwhile, both NFL and Major League baseball fans are in their glory, and movie lovers are expecting the year’s most profound features to release in the upcoming months.  Halloween superstores everywhere are bracing for a frenzy of business over the coming weeks, and pumpkin picking and hay rides will soon be all the rage in suburbia.

At Wonders in the Dark a quartet of passionate writers have been posting the one-film-a-day horror countdown to some inspired discussion on the respective threads, and as is the case with this kind of expertise the choices have been diverse, esoteric and controversial.  Jamie Uhler, Troy and Kevin Olson and Robert Taylor have collaborated on a project that will offer many some invaluable reference data for years to come, while simultaneously investing some of their most eloquent writing to date.  Allan Fish’s relentless coverage of essential Japanese cinema, Jim Clark’s brilliant essay on Budd Boetticher, Joel Bocko’s scholarly review in his seminal ‘Best of the 21st Century’ series on Sembene’s Moolaade, and Bob Clark’s superlative submission to the David Cronenberg blogothon have all appeared at the site over the past week

I watched the following this week, all with Lucille and some with young Sammy.  The Sunday evening feature was seen as well by WitD colleague and friend Phillip Johnston, who was in the Big Apple this week for business:

The Town  ** 1/2  (Friday evening)  Edgewater National Amusements

My Dog Tulip  **** 1/2 (Saturday evening)  Film Forum

The Kings of Pastry  **  (Saturday evening)  Film Forum

Mon Oncle *****   (Thursday evening)   Film Forum

On the Bowery  **    (Sunday evening)  Film Forum

Early Spring  *** 1/2  (Sunday afternoon)  IFC Film Center (more…)

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(Francesco Barilli, 1974)

(essay by Kevin)

When I was approached by Jamie to participate in this countdown I knew I wanted to make sure Italian horror got its due. And when Jamie told me his intentions for the countdown – a numerical listing of films with the intent to raise awareness rather than rank one better than another – I knew I wanted to shed some light onto some Italian horror movies that weren’t as well known as the staples of the subgenre. These are films like The Short Night of the Glass Dolls (Aldo Lado) or The House with Laughing Windows (Pupi Avati); films that have a cult following within a cult subgenre. One of the real joys about this particular sungenre is the hope that the more you watch the same old gialli over and over that just maybe this time you’ll un-mine some hidden gem. Case in point: Francesco Barilli’s The Perfume of the Lady in Black, a fantastic addition into the most hallowed halls of Italian horror.

The story – an odd mix of giallo/Hitchcock and some of the baroque qualities of a Bava – concerns Silvia (Mimsy Farmer), an industrial scientist, who becomes increasingly disturbed by a series of eerie visions from her past. These visions, crucial pieces to solving the film’s puzzle, include a seductive woman who appears when she is about to make love with her boyfriend and a little girl who piques Silvia’s interest. What’s fascinating about the picture is the way Barilli approaches the mystery of these visions: are they specters acting as representations of something from Silvia’s past, or are they merely figments of Silvia’s imagination? 

Silvia’s psychosis becomes a point of emphasis, and it sucks the viewer in much in the same way Silvia is taken hold by these visions (it reminded me of the obsessed quest of Scotty from Vertigo). It isn’t long before Silvia’s neighbors, friends and Roberto, her lover, begin to take on sinister significance. Whether or not the significance of these visions is a clue to Silvia’s past, or something more sinister, is what makes the film’s mystery so brilliant. I was blindsided by the ending of this film, perhaps because of its deliberate pace and lush visuals I wasn’t expecting the visceral jolt I received with those final images.

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(Yasuzo Masumura, 1969)

(essay by Troy)

A person who thoroughly reveals his or her desire can only be considered mad….[And] what I would like to create is not a stable person who cleverly calculates reality, and safely expresses his or her desire within the calculation. I don’t want to create a humane human being. I want to create a mad person who expresses his or her desire without shame, regardless of what people think.

— Yasuzo Masumura (found via Jonathan Rosenbaum)

I was first made aware of Blind Beast while flipping through Phil Hardy’s Overlook Encyclopedia of Horror, wherein a half-page picture of a blind man feeling a woman’s face immediately caught my attention.  Hardy’s description of the art design and the madness of the ending sparked an interest to seek the film out, but the words still left me with no idea of what actually lay ahead.  The film is based on an Edogawa Rampo (think Edgar Allan Poe meets Arthur Conan Doyle) story, a chilling look into the darker recesses of the psyche and the primal sexual obsessions and extremes that lie within it.

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(James Whale, 1935)

(essay by Troy)

A landmark horror film, Bride of Frankenstein is universally praised as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, the elite class of the Universal monster films.  Emotionally resonate, comically satirical, and replete with expressionistic artistry and Gothic atmosphere, it’s a film that I had always appreciated for its historical importance, but until recently, had not given it the full credit for the masterpiece it truly is. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1964 96m) DVD1/2

Aka. Passion

Would you die with me?

p  Yonejiro Saito  d  Yasuzo Masumura  w  Kaneto Shindo  novel  Jin’ichiro Tanizaki  ph  Setsuo Kobayashi  ed  Tatsuji Kokashizu  m  Tadashi Yamauchi  art  Tomoo Shimogawara

Ayako Wakao (Mitsuko Tokumitsu), Kyoko Kishida (Sonoko Kakiuchi), Yusuko Kawazu (Eijiro Watanuki), Eiji Funakoshi (Kotaro Kakiuchi), Kyu Sazanka (principal), Ken Mitsuda (novelist),

One of the pinnacles of the Japanese exploitation genre, Yasuzo Masumura’s Manji surely qualifies as one of the great hothouse melodramas of all time.  It’s simple in its narrative, labyrinthine in its psychology, deeply disturbing in its sexuality and downright perverse in its character motivation.  There’s something about Manji that sucks you in every time you see it, every time you hear the first strings of Yamauchi’s haunting score, akin to sticking pins into your bloodstream.

            Sonoko Kakiuchi is married to a man, Kotaro, who may love her, but for whom she has nothing but contempt.  She spends her days going to adult classes at school, in particular art classes, where she spends time drawing nude female models.  While there she develops an attraction, nay obsession, with another woman there, the young and beautiful Mitsuko Tokumitsu, who she instantly seems to think of as some kind of a Buddhist goddess.  When Mitsuko agrees to pose for Sonoko, they are drawn into a powerful love affair that seems all-consuming, with Sonoko acting frankly odiously to her husband and devoting everything to Mitsuko.  Then that proverbial spanner is put into the works; Mitsuko has a fiancé, who she won’t desert but whom she won’t leave Sonoko for.  She wants her cake as well as eating it. (more…)

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(Federico Fellini, 1968)

(essay by Troy)
Perhaps a bit of a cheat for the list*, Federico Fellini’s Toby Dammit is the final segment of Spirits of The Dead, an anthology film comprised of two underwhelming pieces and this one superior segment. It’s a mere 40-minutes long, but in that short time Fellini has crafted a perfect mix of dark comedy that turns into horrifying madness.

Before I get too far, I implore you to spend the short amount of time to watch the film. There isn’t an ideal version of the film on DVD as of right now**, as the only way to see Terence Stamp’s incredible English language performance was in a terrible looking print with permanent subtitles.  All other released versions included a French-voiceover for Stamp’s dialogue. That just shouldn’t be, for Stamp’s portrayal is pivotal to the appeal of the film (this is one of those rare times where the dubbed version is superior to the original language version). So I put together my own “version” of the film, mixing the English language soundtrack and the best DVD quality rip I could find, coming up with the following (I’ve embedded Part 1 of 5, links to all five parts follow the video): (more…)

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