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Archive for October, 2010

PART I: OVERTURE

In his public life, my Grandfather, Carmine (father to my father) was a jack of all trades.  He was proficient in carpentry (a skill taught to him in his early teens by his future father-in-law), plumbing, and running a small farm in the yard of the house he grew up in (mainly chickens, ducks, a few hogs and a milking cow).  He married my Grandmother at a very early age (she was thirteen to his nineteen) and they immigrated to America , from Italy , in 1901… Al Smith was the very popular Governor of New York from the years 1918 to 1928.  On that final year he ran, unsuccessfully, for the Presidency and was bested by Herbert Hoover.  In lieu of his loss and knowing of his want to go back to some kind of work, the heads of a new company, Empire State Inc., saw fit, as a publicity stunt, to make the most popular man in New York the President of their company and to overlook the building of what would become THE definitive landmark of Manhattan Island.

Carmine had worked for Governor Smith for several years, keeping the repairs and up-keep of Tammany Hall (where Governor Smith kept his offices in Manhattan) and the reliance’s that Smith had placed upon my Grandfather during his employment were growing greater and greater with each passing day (sometimes he even chauffeured, as he did the day the Governor, his wife and two grandkids were to meet motored over to the Budweiser wagons the day after prohibition was declared over and the public celebration of its repeal could commence on 34th street). Smith trusted my Grandfather and Carmine trusted Smith. According to my Grandmother’s stories of her husband; they knew they were going to “take a ride on easy street” the day the former Governor, a man my Grandfather deemed his friend, named Carmine his head superintendent of the Empire State Building.  Almost immediately, money started to flow bigger on the way to my Grandfather’s pocket.  Savings were made and, by 1954, my Grandparents had not only weathered the wrath of the Great Depression and the onslaught and conclusion of WWII without much muss to the head, but put away enough to never truly worry about bills and the want for anything.  They weren’t necessarily rich, but well-off to say the very least and, in that year, they bought the family house, a Brownstone.  My Grandfather retired from his work with The Empire State company in the spring of 1968 (Smith had died of heartbreak and heart failure years earlier in 1944 at age 70), a little more than a year after my birth. (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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(Ingmar Bergman, 1968)

(essay by Kevin)

“The Hour of the Wolf” is the hour between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their deepest fear, when ghosts and demons are most powerful.

Imagine if I told you that the tagline above is for a movie called The Cannibals – sounds like an ordinary horror film, doesn’t it? Now, imagine I tell you that the above tagline is for a movie directed by Ingmar Bergman – you would probably think it was an art-house film about the dark night of the soul. Okay, so now I will tell you that Ingmar Bergman – after having a nervous breakdown – decided to make two of his darkest and most personal films in the form of Persona (a wildly popular and revered film art-house film) and Hour of the Wolf (originally entitled The Cannibals).  As odd as it may seem to see an Ingmar Bergman on a list for the best horror films I’ve always felt that it was around this time of the 60’s and 70’s that Bergman was not only making the best movies of his career, but he was also doing it in the form of deeply introspective and contemplative films that came from the darkest depths of the man’s artistry and philosophies. (more…)

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(Ridley Scott, 1979)

(essay by Kevin)

There were a handful of films in this countdown that I dreaded getting assigned, and Ridley Scott’s Alien was one of them. Oh, not because it’s a bad movie (of course it isn’t!), but because what can someone like me say about the classic horror/sci-fi hybrid that hasn’t already been said by people much more adept than I?

I guess one place to start is how upon each subsequent viewing of Alien I’ve found something new to admire. I’ve seen the film at least 20 times, and I never tire of it (I even had the privilege of seeing it in the theater during its revival tour a few years back); mostly because it epitomizes classic filmmaking, and that’s something that never gets old. Like all of the great Hitchcock thrillers, Alien knows how to play the audience like a piano (to borrow Hitch’s line); it utilizes a slow burn mentality that uses the plot device of an alien life form evolving throughout the film to keep things fresh every time we “see” the alien (one of the brilliant things about the film is in the way Scott leaves much of the film in the dark, never tipping his hand as to how the alien may look, employing a kind of Val Lewton approach to the horror).

The pacing of the film is one of the primary factors in getting me to return to the film year after year. The pacing allows for the camera to really sweep through the ship and give us a sense of place. Yes, this is a science-fiction film, and Scott knows that (and its sets and exterior shots of the ship are great sci-fi moments), but at its heart Alien is a horror film; a thing-that-go-bump-in-dark slasher film – Halloween in space, essentially, and it’s one of the most brilliantly executed slasher films I’ve ever seen. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1934 76m) not on DVD

Aka. Tanari no Yae-chan

When I’m breaking windows 

d/w  Yasujiro Shimazu  ph  Takashi Kuwabara, Kiyoshi Terao  m  Hikaru Saotome  art  Yonekazu Wakito, Toshiro Kumurai

Yukuchi Iwata (Shosaku Hattori), Choko Iida (Hamako), Yumeko Aizome (Yaeko), Den Obinata (Keitaro Arai), Sanae Takasugi (Etsuko Manabe), Ryotaro Mizushima (Ikuzo Arai), Fumiko Katsuragi (Matsuko), Akio Isono (Seiji), Yoshiko Okada (Kyoko),  Ayako Katsuragi (Sugiko), Shozaburo Abe (glazier),

The director’s name conjures up a hybrid of two other directors, and in truth though I have only seen two films by Yasujiro Shimazu, the hybrid wouldn’t actually be all that inaccurate for there are essences of Ozu and Shimizu to be glimpsed in his work.  He’s not a name that you’ll find in many textbooks outside of his native Japan, but one only has to look at the supporting credits to see his influence, with three future directors of note working as assistant director or photographer, Keisuke Kinoshita, Shiro Toyoda and Kozaburo Yoshimura.  His influence on them has been well noted.

            The Miss Yae of the title is Yaeko, the youngest daughter of one of two families who live side by side as neighbours and really like one extended family, the Hattoris and the Arais.  The two fathers both work in the city and spend their evenings drinking sake at one of their homes, the two mothers share their troubles over a pot of tea in the afternoon and act as surrogate aunts to their respective children.  Yaeko spends time with her neighbour’s brothers, Seiji and, especially, Keitaro.  Things become complicated only when Yaeko’s elder sister Kyoko returns home after leaving her husband and sets her sights on Keitaro, and then again by the news that the Hattoris will be moving away after the father is relocated to Korea by his company.  Yaeko, however, stays behind to live with her neighbours to finish her schooling, while Kyoko runs away again.  (more…)

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(Roman Polanski, 1965)

(essay by Robert)
Polanski used a minimalist approach to give us this shocking depiction the deteriorating mind.  In doing so he delivered one of the finest examples of psychological horror of all time.  Still today an intriguing and gripping film, Repulsion unapologetically explores the thin and fragile balance of sanity without accusing or presuming.  The first of his “apartment trilogy”, Repulsion unfolds with the director’s distinctive subtlety and humanism.

Catherine Deneuve portrays the sexually fearful Carole.  She is perfectly cast as the voluptuous but apprehensive manicurist.  All around her in swinging London are the trappings of a sexually parochial society that is threatening and revolting to her.  From the daily cat calls she endures and the lingering presence of her sister’s (married) boyfriend to the aggressive advances of her landlord and seeming shallowness of her own profession, she is cornered relentlessly. When she is pursued by Colin (John Fraser) she groups him with all of her pent up feelings and stereotypes.  He essentially has no chance. Deneuve’s casual portrayal of such an agonized character is absolutely mesmerizing.  Her violent and murderous charges overtake her calmly as her natural defense mechanism.   These spurts seem to be her truest moments.  What at first seems a quite and impenetrable shield turns out to actually be a front for completely terrifying anguish and instability.

Of course you cannot explore Repulsion without deep musing of the sexuality of Carole (and all the film’s characters).  Polanski depicts Carole’s torment aggressively by showing us her dreams/hallucinations of sexual assault and allowing (forcing) us to hear her sister’s real life sexual encounters.  He also takes full advantage of her physicality by not-so-subtly parading her in her divulging nightgown.   These powerfully build Carole’s tension and defenselessness. The film though is about much more than sexual resistance and repression. Polanski uses this very sensual theme to explore his deeper subject of the inhibiting and anguishing command of human fear.

It cannot go unmentioned that, in addition to this compelling concept and fantastic delivery by Deneuve, the young director shows an inspiring level of depth by utilizing strikingly simple (but powerful) visual and audio.  He maximizes the effectiveness of his black and white film buy shedding countless shadows and shooting close-up angles.  He also somehow manages to transform everyday noises like dripping water, train tracks, ticking clocks and house flies into horror devices.  Also, notice the awesome rapid-fire drumbeat that accompanies her slashing of her landlord.- this is an exceptional representation of her pounding mental torture.

The absence of plot though is Polanski’s most effective tool.  It is also his most telling clue that he does not intend to place guilt or provide us with rational explanation to Carole’s plight.  He casts us straight into the scenario without history and back-story. Although he refuses to let us off the hook by telling us too much, he does tease us with glimpses of a family photograph showing detached Carole as young child.  This perhaps suggests some lifelong Freudian explanation to Carole’s ultimate undoing. He does not elaborate further.  Instead he wonderfully challenges us with questions (not answers) about his characters and ourselves and leaves us to devise our own solutions. This photo often times (unfortunately) becomes the focal point for discussion of the film.  It is often commented that the photo tells us all we need to know about Carole. I maintain the director was making a much deeper point about the fragility of the human mind- one that cannot be explained away so simply.

Repulsion, most simply put, is an exploration of madness.  In his truest form, the director includes us in his study.  Polanski most certainly wants us to taste the madness; to sympathize with Carole’s torment, but he is more interested in us recognizing our own.  What makes the film so engaging and human is the undeniable sense that madness is not only a completely reasonable response but one that we all teeter-totter with.

(this film appeared on Roberts list at #4, Jamie’s at #19, and Troy’s at #22)

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(Peter Weir, 1975)

(essay by Troy)

Peter Weir’s Picnic At Hanging Rock opens with a shot of the 500-foot tall volcanic Hanging Rock, fog slowly lifting from its base, appearing like an alien monolith rising out of the earth.  Taking place on Valentine’s Day circa 1900, we are soon introduced to the students of Mrs. Appleyard’s School for Girls in soft-focus golden hues, idealized visions of Victorian age femininity and beauty, shown amidst Zamfir’s ethereal pan flute and whispered poems.  One of these girls is the beautiful Miranda, full of gloomy portent and as she ominously tells her roommate Sara that she’ll “not be around long” and that “”everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.”  These opening shots contrast the harsh exteriors of the Rock with the glowing innocence of the girls, providing us with the image of Miranda as the perfection of femininity (a teacher of hers likens her to a “Botticelli Angel”), almost otherworldly in the way she carries herself and seems to have an understanding of what lies ahead.

(more…)

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