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Archive for October, 2010

Copyright © 2010 by James Clark

      Regarding the reception of her Anatomy of Hell (2004), soon after the shooting of which she underwent a major stroke, from which she has recovered, Catherine Breillat remarked, “I hope they won’t kill me.” She might have found solace in the fact (undoubtedly known to her) that Ingmar Bergman presented the same incendiary zone in his Cries and Whispers (1972), and went on for decades thereafter. Of course the latter had chosen a discreet embodiment of the concern, embossed by a drop dead cinematic elegance more than ample to quell any mutinous inclinations from the customers. Breillat, bless her, came to the party with porn lightning rod, Rocco Siffredi, and a scenario bristling with pugnacious outrage—and so much more!

    Bergman embarks on his discovery, with steady, crystalline ticking of a clock, tapping upon the exceedingly well-groomed grounds of an estate in early morning diffuse light. He then proceeds to the interior of the villa and a sleeping woman restlessly deposited in bed, awakening (with red-rimmed eyes and nostrils) in startlement, and then invaded by a death-tinged realization, her eyes and mouth fighting panic but unable to dismiss the throbbing of a perpetual grief. Breillat, too, opens with insistent sounds, specifically techno-pop issuing from a dance club in the night. Outside, whereas Bergman showed a sedate stone statue of an angel with a lyre, the latter work shows a man sucking another’s cock. Inside, there is an all-male festivity going full-tilt, all but for a dark and attractive woman, who, after watching impassively for a while, makes her way sombrely toward a washroom, in the course of which bumping against another patron, who is acute enough to detect and care about the danger she exudes. He finds her slashing her wrist and rushes her to a clinic. (more…)

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by Joel

#93 in Best of the 21st Century?, a series in which I view, for the first time, some of the most critically acclaimed films of the previous decade.

While he is an infant, Atanarjuat’s family goes hungry. The boy’s father, an outcast and laughing-stock, can’t hunt to save his life – literally; the other men tease him, asking if his wife will hunt while he stays behind, sewing and cooking. That’s humiliation in this community of hardy hunters; still, the hunger must be worse than humiliation. Atanarjuat is too young to comprehend the situation, but his elder brother Amaqjuaq soaks it all in grimly – particularly the mother’s advice: “You must never forget to take care of Atanarjuat.” Somberly, the little boy reaches up to his baby brother, holding out a scrap of walrus heart (which a friend of the family, pitying their destitution, smuggled in to the starving brood). Tellingly, the half-asleep infant does not respond – it’s as if even at this early age he is confident in his own ability to survive, and perhaps complacent in the sense that his family will take care of him.

When we meet Atanarjuat and Amaqjuaq as adults (played by Natar Ungalaaq and Pakak Innuksuk), the big brother is still looking out for the little one. Atanarjuat is a skilled runner and hunter, weak and dreamy in other respects, but holding onto his lifelong faith in survival and confidence in family security. In the course of this striking and stirring epic, that second feeling will diminish drastically, as Atanarjuat is forced to look out for himself. But that first feeling – the confidence in survival – will only grow, and be based on a firmer foundation, because indeed Atanarjuat (the “fast runner” of the English title) will endure what kills other men, and the experience will only make him stronger.

(more…)

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by Sam Juliano

    Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny developed both the subject matter and the musical style of the opera comique in the middle years of the eighteenth century.  The composer is known to have been greatly influenced by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, an ‘opera seria’ that exerted enormous influence on the direction of music during this period of rapid expansion, in which the genre was transformed from a marked reliance on popular melodies to a time of exceeding musical creativity.  The Italians introduced the French to the idea that libretti be designed to serve and enhance the music, reforming the role of the composer, who had a subservient role in the earlier comedie en vaudevilles.  Monsigny’s earlier works, composed circa 1759 to 1761, were basically comic intrigues revolving around disguises, deceptions, misunderstandings and reconciliations.

     In 1762, Monsigny departed significantly from this overtly comedic style to a one that incorporated elements of humanism and moral enlightenment.  Indeed, the virtues of the common folk, and more importantly personal freedom and equality were themes then embraced by the philosophers of this period.  The musical content of Monsigny’s works – unsurprisingly – became more complex as a result, and a number of vocal ensembles were added.  It can’t be denied that the composer’s style is repetitive, but his skills as a melodist, the comic spirit evident in his earlier work and the immediacy of dramatic expression his his later works made his a formidable figure in French opera from any period. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1953 115m) DVD3 (Hong Kong only)

Aka. Nihon no Higeki/Tragedy of Japan

This black crucible

p  Takashi Koide, Tyotaru Kowata  d/w  Keisuke Kinoshita  ph  Hiroyuki Kosada  m  Chuji Konishita  art  Kimihiko Nakamura 

Yuko Mochizuki (Haruko Inoue), Keiko Awaji (Wakamaru, a geisha), Yoko Katsuragi (Haruko’s daughter), Masami Taura (Haruko’s son), Sanae Takasugi (Mrs Akazawa), Keiji Sada (Tatsuya), Ken Uehara (Masayuki Akazawa),

Don’t you neglect your mother” one character is told by Kinoshita’s protagonist, and the line is well chosen, representing its very being, its soul, its warning.  As a warning there are very few films of such potency, and yet it would be easy to say that the eponymous tragedy is that of its protagonist, Haruko Inoue.  In actual fact, that’s merely the cover story.  The real tragedy here is the plight of Japanese war widows in general.  It is quite deliberate that the film begins with a quickly edited montage of the newspapers and actual footage of the Japanese war trials, accompanied by the urgent drumbeat of the Kodo drummers.  Haruko is merely one of these widows, just one among thousands, fighting for their very existence for whatever they still hold dear.

            It is eight years after the war’s end, we are told.  Numerous crimes are repeated, day after day.  In this environment a widow is left to care for her two children by herself.  Both son and daughter do well at school, with the former having pretensions to joining the medical profession and the daughter doing well in English classes.  The mother saves continually to send them to college, working every hour God sends to pay for it.  Her children, however, not only take this for granted, but despise her for having just a bit of fun at a local sake drinking house with her few friends.  They only want to get away and forget she ever existed, but expect her to pay for this and accept it.  (more…)

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(Bob Clark, 1974)

(essay by Kevin)

Ever since I was a kid I can remember the coverbox to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas. It wasn’t just the simplicity of the title and its juxtaposition of those two words or the fact that it was directed by the man who gave us A Christmas Story and Porky’s, but it was the image on the front: a woman screaming with a plastic bag over her head, and the image of this woman was inside of a wreath. I remember that I needed to see this movie. However it wasn’t until I was much older that I finally got a chance to visit Black Christmas, and I was shocked to not just find a really terrifying and intense stalker film, but to also find one of the earliest examples of what would later be known as the “slasher film”.

With hindsight we can clearly say that the plot – a bunch of girls in a sorority house are being harassed by obscene phone calls that are…COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE! – is as banal as any slasher film’s plot. However, Clark’s film predates Halloween by four years, and Friday the 13th – the film responsible for making the slasher profitable – by six years; however, none of that seems relevant if we’re discussing who came up with the template first because despite the Canadian’s having a four year edge on the American’s they were all behind the Italian’s, where Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood predates Black Christmas by three years. (more…)

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Screen capture from Clint Eastwood’s ‘Hereafter’ playing wide

by Sam Juliano

The World Series match-up has been decided, and the Yankees and Phils are inexplicably MIA.  The last thing any baseball fan expected (aside from those living in the Bay City and Arlington) was a Texas Rangers-San Francisco Giants final.  Yet, with two Cinderella teams locking horns, it’s sure to be a Fall Classic for the ages.  As a die-hard lifelong Yankee fan I almost always root for the AL respresentative, but I’m not so sure this time around who I’ll be rooting for.  Seems like the Giants know how to win one-run games, and that’s a major factor.  Meanwhile Big Apple football fans are having a grand old time with the area football teams playing to top capacity, though the Jets had lady luck on their side at the end of their narrow victory.

Marilyn Ferdinand has completed her outstanding coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival, a project that has brought out a plethora of praise from all quarters, as well as exciting many awaiting theatrical release dates.  Her final round-up has resulted in one of the most spectacular threads ever at Ferdy-on-Films. Jason Marshall continues his amazing project at Movies Over Matter the whole scope of cinematic achievement from the 30’s forward, while two gifted writers, Jake Cole and Adam Zanzie have penned extraordinary reviews of Empire of the Sun and To Kill A Mockingbird at their respective homes. (linked below)  Brest wishes always to our dear friends Dee Dee and Longman Oz, who are temporaily tending to other matters of importance. Their sites will return for sure.

The Wonders in the Dark horror countdown has reached the final stretch run with the monumental one-month project scheduled to end (appropriately) enough on Halloween – Sunday the 31st.  Jamie Uhler, Kevin and Troy Olson and Robert Taylor have given the site their blood, sweat and tears, and have collaborated to attract distinguished visitors and the usual site loyalists, all of whom have penned impressive responses day after day.

This week, I wasn’t as busy on the movie front as usual, as off-Broadway plays and a concert (with a film screening included) dominated the completed itinerary.  I did see Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter and this week’s Ozu gem, and it was a special thrill to participate in a “sing-a-long” of the musical landmark West Side Story as part of the Leonard Bernstein tribute concert at Symphony Space on the upper West Side.  I did watch the three-hour This is England ’86 on Region 2 DVD, and I must say it took the story and characters of the original theatrical film much further.

I saw these films in a theatre:

Hereafter **       (Sunday evening) Edgewater Multiplex

Late Autumn  **** 1/2  (Sunday morning)  IFC Film Center

Wednesday evening’s off-Broadway show Kimberly Akimbo, which was staged at the Spoon Theatre on West 38th Street, was a well-intentioned work that is billed as  “a hilarious and heartrending play about a teenager with a rare condition causing her body to age faster than it should. When she and her family flee Secaucus under dubious circumstances, Kimberly is forced to reevaluate her life while contending with a hypochondriac mother, a rarely sober father, a scam artist aunt, her own mortality and, most terrifying of all, the possibility of first love.”  Sadly, the work’s threadbare minimalism, staged in a tiny (and seedy) theatre with scarcely 24 seats was dramatically unconvincing due to pedestrian staging and tedious narrative progression, accentuated by mediocre performances.  The play failed to engage from the opening minutes, yet one could easily surmise the material has promise in more capable hands.

On Friday night, Melanie and Broadway Bob accompanied me to Symphony Space on Broadway and 95th Street to take in a unique tribute to a great American composer titled Leonard Bernstein: A Celebration, which featured a choir and musicians performing “A Simple Song” from his 1971 Mass, his beloved “Chichester Psalms” (1965), a piano rendition of West Side Story’s “Somewhere” and “Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide. An eleven-year old singer, Richard Pittsinger was marvelous in his solo segment, and the appearance on stage of 80 year-old soprano Marni Nixon (who provided the dubbed voice for Natalie Wood in West Side Story) brought thunderous applause from the packed audience in the packed auditorium as she ascended the steps to the stage.  Nixon engaged in some nostalgic anecdotes with other celebrities and tribute coordinators, before yielding to a mega-screen presentation of the complete West Side Story which including English subtitles for the song segments.  Although I have never been ashamed to sing these operatic treasures in my own home, I was reluctant to do so in public.  I must say though it was quite a treat to hear Broadway Bob singing “I Feel Pretty” in particular!  Melanie had a great time too!

And then there was Play Dead, an interactive off-Broadway staging at the Player’s Theatre on MacDougal Street, (experienced on Saturday night)which featured Todd Robbins as a macabre illusionist who pulled crusty naked women out of coffin replicas, poured “hydrochloric acid” over living specimens (turning them into skeletons) and helped to orchestrate a completely darkened theatre with some jolting noises and a some imaginitive stage props (including white blankets).  Lucille, Bob and I sat in the front row and were splashed with water (filling in for visual stage blood in a scene where the multi-talented Robbins feigned eating the head of a live rat) and were part of a pre-play questionnaire by an usher who asked us to identify someone we know that recently died.  It was the one aspect of the production I disliked intensely.  All in all a respectable Halloween show, though at times the extended “darkness” grew rather tedious.

Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter was ponderous, ludicrous and poorly paced.  With the exception of a stunning tidal wave sequence that appeared at the beginning, the film was a torture to sit through.  Damon was wasted. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

This series will continue exploring European classics from the 60s, with three in turn from a given country – Italy, Britain, Czechoslovakia, perhaps France. After Fists in the Pocket last week, the Italian theme continues with…

Il Posto, Italy, 1961, dir. Ermanno Olmi
Starring Sandro Panseri, Loredana Detto

Story: A quietly observant young man gets an office job in the city, where he takes his first tentative steps into the adult world, and falls in love with a pretty co-applicant.

I once read a cartoon featuring an old man lying in bed, covers pulled up to his nostrils. Next to him, an obnoxiously cheerful wife hovered, chirping, “Wake up, honey! Today’s the first day of the rest of your life!” The next panel switched to a courtroom, with the sleeping man standing in the docket and a judge slamming down his gavel. A speech balloon conveyed the verdict – “Justifiable homicide, case dismissed.” A curious anecdote with which to introduce Il Posto, because the cartoon’s arch cynicism could hardly be more out of tune with Ermanno Olmi’s warm, open humanism. Yet it serves to set the film in stark relief, because Il Posto also opens with a character in bed, his eyes wide open, a mother rather than a wife calling out to him. There are times in one’s life when clichés shake off the accoutrements of familiarity and take on a fresh, glowing meaning – “oh, that’s what they meant,” we think to ourselves. If someone told Domenico Cantoni “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” he would know exactly what they meant, and it would not be cause for a bitter, murderous outburst but rather excitement, anticipation, worry, and a bit of fear.

(more…)

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