Archive for November, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving


     From dinner tables in northern Illinois (two in fact), Massachusetts, Long Island, Brooklyn, Toronto and Fairview, New Jersey, the crew from WitD wish all our friends and readers a very Happy Thanksgiving Day 2010, and continued good health to one and all!

     In addition to our revered leader in Kendal, United Kingdom, we extend our greeting to all our USA bloggers and dear friends, as well as those in Sydney Australia, Ipswich, UK, Santiago Chile, India, Tokyo, New Zealand, and other spots in Canada and the United Kingdom.  Thanksgiving is exclusively a US holiday -but the spirit and peace it imparts can be spread worldwide.

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(USSR 1977 10 min)

Director Anatoly Petrov Writer Sever Gansovsky

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

A man, a soldier, lost his young son in the war. He blames the army, he blames war, he blames the world entire.

He brings a new weapon to be tested, a weapon that will change conflict forever. It is a tank that thinks, a tank that knows what the enemy is thinking. It can sense aggression and evade it. Best (or worst) of all, it can sense fear and annihilate it.

As soon as the idea of fear is introduced into the minds of the men, it detonates with apocalyptic force. The tank lays waste to them all, flattening….. One man escapes the onslaught and sprints after the tank striving desperately to remain within its ‘firing range’, frenziedly hurtling through the clouds of dust thrown up in its wake. With all his might he chases fear until at last he falls to his knees, exhausted.

Fear of war, fear of oppression dies when the spirit dies, as in Jiri Trnka’s The Hand. The effort of struggling here outweighs the reason for struggling. He gasps “I’m not afraid. I don’t care”. Only, tragically, that survival mechanism re-emerges and he realises that he could still be crushed under the caterpillar tracks. War wants you to give up, but once you do it cannot lay a finger on you.


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Copyright © 2010 by James Clark

      At the end of Fellini’s , the protagonist/filmmaker, Guido, who has led us through a brilliant and harrowing crossfire of conflicting motives, declares a ceasefire. He redirects his energies to filmic presentation stemming from the new-found nonaggressive priority of finding in the whole spectrum of those around him points of affinity from which to derive exciting forward movement. The question left unconsidered by that launch party-become-wrap party for an abandoned film is: What kind of product can be built from a point of departure of such giddy inclusiveness?

    With his comedy/biopic, Ed Wood (1994), Tim Burton (along with writers, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski) examines that loaded question. The retrospective brings into view its own wrap party, for a film completed by Ed, titled, Bride of the Atom. Whereas Guido’s event took for its venue an elaborate, high-budget set, featuring a rocket launch-pad, Ed’s little sci-fi shindig was held in a butcher’s locker with sides of beef and pork hanging all around (echoing the busload of dead meat at the outset of Fellini’s classic). And whereas for Guido the party becomes a commencement of fulsome respect and affection toward and from associates, for Ed, who had entertained his guests with an exotic dance number deploying his long-standing fondness for wearing women’s clothes, particularly angora sweaters (Guido’s only such weakness being idly twirling his girlfriend’s little purse in settling her into a hotel), it marks the end of his romantic and business attachment to “Dolores,” who interrupts her trying sweetheart’s revelry with, “You’re wasting your life making shit! This isn’t the real world! You’ve surrounded yourself with weirdoes! I need a normal life!” Guido’s wife, Louisa, who went on pretty much like this (though his philandering was the sticking point between them) is finally onside at their wrap party. Ed’s problems, however—with Dolores and everything else—won’t go away. (more…)

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(USA 1994-2004 12 Min Episodes)

Creator Michael Lazzo; Writers (10 episodes or more) Michael Lazzo, Matt Maiellaro, Dave Willis, Matt Harrigan, Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, Andy Merrill, Pete Smith, Adam Reed, Matt Thompson, Jim Fortier; Voice Acting George Lowe (Space Ghost), C Martin Croker (Moltar), Andy Merrill (Zorak)

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Conan O’Brien: Well, Space Ghost, at the end of an interview, it’s traditional for the talk show host to say, “Thanks for being here, Conan. This was Conan O’Brien. Check out his show on NBC at 12:35.” You didn’t do that. You completely blew me off. For all these people know, my show is a cop show on, uh, Fox or something, thanks to you.

Space Ghost: Isn’t it?

Conan O’Brien: Where you goin’?

Space Ghost: The sand

Is Space Ghost for everyone? No, no, no. Space Ghost is not for everyone. Space Ghost is only for those who choose to watch and enjoy Space Ghost.

Tad Ghostal, former Hanna Barbera (Super)hero of 42 episodes in the late sixties, returns to our screens as an arrogant, irritable, disillusioned and quasi-moronic late-night talk show host. He brings with him grouchy sidekicks, ex-villain Zorak and lava-in-a-suit Moltar, and bewildered celebrity earthling guests (live-action) who commune with the intergalactic compère via a TV creakily winched from the ceiling.

Space Ghost’s questions, and the animated-world banter, are written after the actual interview so as to both maintain order or cooperation from the guest and to make the final product as funny, awkward and full of non sequiturs as possible.


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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1964 95m) DVD1/2

Aka. Nikutai no Mon

Direct from producer to consumer

p  Kaneo Iwai  d  Seijun Suzuki  w  Taijiro Tamura, Goro Tanada  ph  Shigeyoshi Mine  ed  Akira Suzuki  m  Naozumi Yamamoto  art  Takeo Kimura

Yumiko Nogawa (Maya), Tamiko Ishii (Oroku), Satoko Kasai (Sen), Kayo Matsuo (Omino), Jo Shishido (Shintaru Obuki), Misako Tominaga (Machiko), Isao Tamagawa (Horidome), Koji Wada (Abe), Keisuke Noro (Ishii), Chico Roland (priest),

Suzuki’s Gate of Flesh is one of those crucial films of the 1960s that can now be rescued from genre limbo.  Dismissed at the time as a combination of gangster and pinku ethics, it now stands tall as one of Suzuki’s defining statements as a filmmaker. 

            Welcome to Tokyo in the months after VJ Day, with the city, especially the areas around the dock, reduced to quite literally a watering hole for all sorts of unsavoury and despicable goings on.  In the areas between the Yurakucho and Kachidoki bridges, a group of young girls sell their wares – ie. their bodies –  and look after themselves by adhering to a strict set of rules.  Dressed in bright single colour outfits (sea green, lemon yellow, red and purple) they use no pimp, cutting out the middle man, and make a solemn vow never to give themselves over to love in the form of a freebie.  Any girls found breaking this rule to be flogged mercilessly within an inch of their lives and cast out of the group, as one finds to her cost; hair cut, stripped and tied naked to a boat in the harbour covered in only a fishnet.  (more…)

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(CZECHOSLOVAKIA 1990 10 min)

Director / Writer Jan Svankmajer

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia could be seen purely as a polemic, a vengeful explosion of rage pent-up through decades of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia. It is a polemic, an angry and spite-filled attack, and yet, in some respects, it does not feel any different to a Documentary. Not Documentary in terms of the archive footage of enraptured crowds; instead, the film is akin to putting on those sunglasses from They Live to see the true skeletal horror beneath. Svankmajer said animation was like magic and it is through that medium that those awful years live on, criminals and victims zombified through potent symbols in sad reenaction and commemoration.

The artistry, creativity and venom behind a work may make one suspicious of its verisimilitude. It may damage its credibility. However, although snook is cocked at these figures (a penchant for comedy eyeballs is indulged) it is hard to say that it contains exaggeration or falsification of political realities. Whatever the metaphorical, allegorical illustration of the political course and its impact on the people, The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia is an accurate enough short history of Czechoslovakia from World War II to the end of the Cold War. It is as all dictatorships can be.


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            Isabelle Huppert in Claire Denis’ masterpiece ‘White Material’
by Sam Juliano
     Another busy week at Wonders in the Dark culminated with nearly 1,000 page hits on a usually quiet Sunday for Bob Clark’s brilliant, albeit controversial marathon essay on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi television series Firefly.  The erudite and authoritative piece has received some mega-attention on Whedon websites, and has brought over comments from many genre adherents.  This is the second time in the past month that Clark has attracted some serious attention in the blogosphere outside of our own galaxy.  He earns our most vigorous applause for his stellar efforts.  Stephen Russell-Gebbett keeps on keepin on too with his popular animation countdown, which has maintained remarkable consistency in writing, selection, thread comments and page views.  The presentation is creative and esoteric, and will provide many animation fans with a permanent refernce guide.  Joel Bocko’s extraordinary final essay on the British New wave has raised the bar in comparative writing, while Jamie Uhler’s “Beyond the Beatles” series is a model of it’s kind.  Co-founder Allan Fish, meanwhile, has penned two of his greatest essays since the site was launched over two years ago with his features on critic David Thomson and the ‘Saga of the three Sanshos.”  Both were enthusiastically received with a plethora of comments and site hits.  Last but by no means least, our good Chilean friend Jamie Grijalba earned a fantastic debut at the site with the first of a series he plans to tackle in upcoming weeks on the Nobel Prize winning South American writer Mario Vargas Llosa.  Grijalba’s singular native perceptions were a special treat, and the comment sections was informed and scholarly.  Wecome aboard Jaimie!  Our great friend Dee Dee will be posting a long-awaited interview at the site later today!
    Elsewhere, some great things are happening.  At Ferdy-on-Films noted film preservation advocate and talented writer Marilyn Ferdinand again champions a classic worthy of re-discovery.  At Movies Over Matter, Jason Marshall’s incomparable survey of cinema history commences with his final entries in consideration of 1937.  And at Icebox Movies Adam Zanzie is still in prep for his upcoming Spierberg blogothon.  Andrew Wyatt continues his St. Louis International Film Festival coverage. (more…)

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(USA 1993 76 min)

Directors Eric Radomski, Bruce W Timm; Writer Alan Burnett

by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

Batman : Mask of the Phantasm is, plain and simple, a riveting story. A story of lost love, of grief and of revenge. It clips along, the music swelling with tragic and impotent, rather than heroic, anger. For all the talk of the architectural styles used in Batman films, what matters most in Gotham is the architecture of the tale and of the characters.

Mask of the Phantasm is Gothic emotionally, Art Deco visually and viscerally Ultra-Modern. Tim Burton’s Batman was a nightmare born in black, a tale of freaks in a freakish world. Batman Returns is the best of them all. Then Christopher Nolan’s Batman films castrated Gotham, stripping the stage bare, leaving the freaks exposed and ridiculous. Mask of the Phantasm‘s Gotham is alien, glamorous and shady but never outlandish. It succeeds where Nolan’s adaptations failed in creating a city both murky and slick, grown organic from old rot with a fresh facade. The opening credits, flying over the deep black night skyline, straight lines, square windows lit yellow and white, sets the tone. So very simple and so economical with atmosphere. This Batman lurks somewhere between Burton and Nolan, taking the best of the former and succeeding with the ideas of the latter.


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(by Joel)

The Sunday Matinee is a series exploring various national cinemas of the 60s – Italian, British, Czech, and French. Usually, the approach is film by film but this week is an exception. This admittedly rather long essay takes a wide view, not just of the two films in question, but of the British New Wave as a whole, and how these particular movies relate to it. Both reviews contain spoilers.

This Sporting Life, UK, 1963, dir. Lindsay Anderson

Starring Richard Harris, Rachel Roberts

Story: Frank Machin, a working-class bloke made local hero in a rugby league, tries to establish a relationship with his widowed landlady, but neither of them can escape their past – she because of her suicidal first husband, he because the patriarchs owning his team never let him forget to whom he owes his success.

• • •

Billy Liar, UK, 1963, dir. John Schlesinger

Starring Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie

Story: Billy Fisher uses imagination to get him through a life filled with boring dead-end jobs, multiple fiancées, and crushed hopes, but his active fantasy life is challenged by Liz, a free spirit who pushes him to live out his dreams in the real world, rather than in his mind.


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(USA 1918 12 min)

Director / Writer Winsor McCay

By Stephen Russell-Gebbett

At first glance the idea of depicting a human tragedy as awful as the sinking of the ocean liner RMS Lusitania in a cartoon may appear vulgar : this is the same medium that brought us Micky Mouse happily whistling to himself at the helm of a steamboat. Do the puffy bursts of fire and cloud, and the unavoidable stylisation of violence and death inevitably cheapen what they talk of? Watching Sinking of the Lusitania, the answer must be a resounding no.

War, and real tragedy, has passed into fiction there to become a trope and a genre like any other. This uncomfortable fact came to the public eye most graphically in recent times in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. By dramatising one instantly begins to fictionalise, accurately conveying emotions, perhaps, but placing them within a cursory package tour of history. We uproot the way we see things from the way they were or are.


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