Archive for January, 2011

by Allan Fish

(France 1929 80m) not on DVD

The end of the world

p  Serge Sandberg  d/w  Jean Epstein  ph  Joseph Barth, Gustavo Kottula, Louis Née, R.Tulle  m  Robert Israel

Gibois, Jean-Marie Laot, Malgorn, François Morin,

It’s a commonly accepted belief that the pioneer of the docudrama was Robert Flaherty, that erstwhile traveller and citizen of the world who went from the Inuits of Nanook to the remote outposts of Moana in the twenties.  Man of Aran was the one that really saw the term ‘docudrama’ coined, a tale of remote fisher-folk off the west coast of Ireland; real people, real problems, just ever so slightly staged.  Someone beat him to it, however. 

            Go back a few years to the year of the Crash, to the year when sound finally won out over silent film in Hollywood after an 18 month battle and we find Jean Epstein, fresh from the avant garde delights of La Glace à Trois Faces and The Fall of the House of Usher, setting off for the remote settlement of Bannec, off the farthest western coast of Brittany.  It’s a tiny rock of a place, “an island where winter storms wipe out all kind of life”, where four men, in pairs, farm seaweed over the course of a long summer, only for one of them to get injured during a becalmed period making it impossible to cross the waters without the requisite wind in the sails.  Cue a rescue mission launched from the mother island, Ouessant, to get them back to at least a semblance of civilisation. (more…)


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Divine Sister Back

by Sam Juliano

     Since early September there’s been an off-Broadway comedy named The Divine Sister packing them in at the SoHo Playhouse, a cozy little theatre south of Houston Street, a few blocks north of the Holland Tunnel.  On an especially frigid Friday evening in the Big Apple, the show’s venerated creator, dragmaster Charles Busch acknowledged the spirited audience at the closing curtain with an air of delight and a clear sense of appreciation.  Throughout the campy homage to Hollywood’s archetypal reverent ladies, Busch offers up his own special kind of irreverance in lampooning the melodramatic movies that feature these symbols of purity and rigid discipline.  In addition to the films named in the film’s press kits and posters, one can also feel the spectre of Doubt, Agnes of God, His Girl Friday  and The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, while one nun bears a remarkable physical (and emotional) resemblence to Sister Margaretta in The Sound of Music.  There’s even a heady sub-plot that recalls Powell and Pressberger’s Black Narcissus.  There’s a further reference to the beloved musical film with Sister Acacius’ mishearing of Mother Superior’s question, “What is it you can’t face?”  Busch theatrically portrays the plucky Mother Superior of St. Veronica’s, a down-at-the-heels Roman Catholic school (and convent) in need of a new home in 1966 Pittsburgh.   The Mother’s ethics are questionable, and she harbors some secrets, but she’s shown here as one who’s heart in the right place. (more…)

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Tommy Jones and Ben Affleck in surprisingly-decent “The Company Men”

by Sam Juliano

Jets fans have been brought down to a somber state of reality, after Gang Green fell behind 24-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, relegating an inspired late rally fail that narrowed the score to 24-19, to also-ran status.  It’s the Steel Men against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.

Extreme cold has moved in to the northeast, with temperatures expected in the single digits during mid-week.  And another storm is being watched for Tuesday night.  In any case, it’s business as usual at Wonders in the Dark, with the past week producing a mega-thread under Jim Clark’s extraordinary two-prongued review of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish.  Jamie Uhler’s exceptional “Getting over the Beatles” continued on this week, while Bob Clark penned another marathon science-fiction essay on a DVD series.

I managed myself to see three new film releases in theatres, one Film Forum classic and a popular off-Broadway play.  The films are:

Johnny Mad Dog  *** 1/2    (Friday night)  Anthology Film Archives

The Company Men  *** 1/2   (Sunday afternoon)  Edgewater multiplex

The Way Home  ** 1/2            (Sunday afternoon)   Edgewater multiplex

The Leopard   *****                (Wednesday night)    Film Forum (more…)

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By Bob Clark

There’s something about the loneliness of space that begs for a family. Like mariners out to sea or pioneers trailblazing in padded wagons, the sheer emptiness of all those wide open spaces can’t help but stir a hungry longing for human connection, prompting us to look for whatever den we can fall into and call it home, no matter if it’s thick with thieves. There’s little wonder why so many space-operas all center their orbits around some kind of family unit– Captains Kirk or Picard on their Enterprises, where the needs of the many only outweigh the needs of the few until one of their own falls into bad luck; the rises and falls of the Skywalker clan and all the assorted knights errant, rebel scum and fussy droids that followed along in their wake; even the motley crew of the Serenity, souls on the losing sides of war, faith and the law who band together just to keep flying in their sky a little longer. In all of those cases, our desire as an audience for the warming confines of a comforting social unit is mirrored by the vagabond travelers on-screen, each of them bonding together like so many strands of yarn in a knitting circle, each with their own stories to add to the tapestry of patch-work narratives as they journey amidst the stars. But knitting is always at its strongest in the marrow of a bone that’s broken into pieces, and more often than not the families we watch tracing their paths among the constellations happen to be dysfunctional ones, by some measure. Even the Robinson crew of Lost in Space had to reconcile their differences with the traitorous Dr. Smith, and adopt him into the very band he’d tried to sabotage. Whether forged by genetics or bad circumstances (blood’s a part of the picture either way), a family’s a family because you can’t choose them. Sooner or later, like the gravitational pull of a heavenly body, they’ll always draw you back in.

This all has something to do with the crew of the Bebop, somehow, but I’m not quite sure. Oh, they’re certainly a family of some crazy sort, but you’d never know it to watch most moments of it. After all, like many a classic anime, the major cast of Cowboy Bebop never assembles in full until nine episodes in, out of twenty-six– that’s how long it takes for hipster bounty-hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black to team up with con-artist Faye Valentine, master-hacktress Radical Edward and smarter-than-the-average-dog Ein. And even when everybody’s on board for their rollicking adventures throughout a colonized solar-system only several decades hence (Isn’t it lovely how quickly the best sci-fi outlives its own dating?), hardly anybody ever gets along with each other long enough for you to think there’s anything keeping these people together other than bad luck and worse habits. For a ship-full of would-be heroes-for-hire, they manage to do an almost uniformly terrible job about the actual business of catching criminals for top-dollar rewards– if Chuck Jones’ classic cartoons with Wile E. Coyote were best understood as all the best ways not to catch a Road Runner, then Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop might easily be described as twenty-seven lessons (including the movie) in how not to be a bounty hunter. And yet somehow it endures as something more, just as the the travelers on the Bebop find ways against all odds to put up with each other and live together, even when they weren’t earning a living. The fact that they spend most of their time arguing, betraying or weirding one another out only helps to strengthen those bonds all the more– it’s what also makes that slow descent into seeing them break apart feel so much more sad and inevitable. In space, there may be no one to hear you scream, but that only makes you want someone’s shoulder to cry on that much harder.


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by Allan Fish

(France 1923 87m) DVD2 (France only, no Eng subs)

Aka. Coeur Fidèle

Love can make you forget anything

p  Jean Epstein  d  Jean Epstein  w  Jean Epstein, Marie Epstein  ph  Léon Donnot, Paul Guichard, Henri Stuckert  ed  Jean Epstein 

Gina Manès (Marie), Léon Mathot (Jean), Edmond van Daële (Little Paul), Claude Benedict (Monsieur Hachon), Madame Maufroy (Madame Hachon), Marie Epstein (the crippled girl), Madeleine Erickson (port prostitute),

He’s most remembered now for his The Fall of the House of Usher in 1928, and even then it’s more famous for its assistant director being Luis Buñuel.  By then, however, Epstein was becoming disillusioned with his art, for only a few years earlier he’d been one of the giants of the French silent cinema, a titan admired by all his peers, helped by his devoted wife Marie, who in turn has become better known for her restoration of Gance’s La Roue.  Abel Gance was one of Epstein’s closest friends, his feelings on his drift into obscurity summed up perfectly in a quote from Georges Sadoul; “he preferred to die a victim rather than live by prostituting his art.  I still see his so expressive rhomboidal face whose hair seemed to burn like a black flame from his forehead. I hear his slow singular voice, chary of words, picking his listeners.  Must not this voice still be heard from the depths of the abyss?(more…)

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Screen capture from Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands"

 Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

      Film audiences tend to be remarkably observant of the ways of soldiers of fortune. Even as they might come to eschew such aggrandizement, protagonists (and their acolytes) maintain a bull market for striking self-assertiveness, namely, that of sacrifices on the way to becoming legends. Those movies moving outside of such a box become generally regarded as “weird.” There are filmmakers of that latter persuasion who manage to thrive professionally by virtue of the kind of seductiveness, in being “mysterious” and “exceptional,” exercised upon his new neighbors by Edward Scissorhands in Tim Burton’s widely-enjoyed film of the same name, from 1990. That they come to fear and hate Edward and form a mob to have him put away for good, in order to resume lives of unforgettable pleasure and virtue, speaks to a communicative void the desperation of which endows such vehicles with their drowning-entity grip. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 2001 154m) DVD1/2

Aka. Who Knows?

Tempus fugit, manet amor

p  Martine Marignac  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Christine Laurent, Jacques Rivette, Pascal Bonitzer  ph  William Lubtchansky  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  art  Manu de Chauvigny

Jeanne Balibar (Camille), Sergio Castellito (Ugo), Jacques Bonnaffe (Pierre), Marianne Basler (Sonia), Hélène de Fougerolles (Dominique Desprez), Bruno Todeschini (Arthur Desprez), Catherine Rouvel (mother), Claude Berri (book antiquarian),

Take six people, three men, three women.  Take a Pirandello play, ‘As You Desire Me’, and take that play as the starting point for a plot in which the six characters act as if in said Pirandello play.  Take a director, past seventy now, returning if not quite to his roots than at least to the tree that flowered from them, to memories of Paris nous appartient and L’Amour Fou.  To be fair, he’d returned several times in the interim, but Va Savoir shares a theatrical sense that those earlier two milestones had.

            Here we take Camille, a French actress who is returning to Paris for the first time in three years to appear in an original Italian language production of Pirandello’s play put on by her director lover, Ugo.  On her return to Paris she has a yen to see if her one-time lover Pierre still visited his daily park bench to read his newspaper, which he does.  They meet, she says her goodbyes.  Ugo meanwhile is a man on a mission, to find a missing unpublished play by Goldoni, ‘Il Destino Veneziano’, which leads him to the house of a family who have a private library full of rare treasures, and to the daughter of the family, Dominique, who he had previously met in a library.  Dominique is researching fastening devices on Roman garments in Italian and American films of the sword and sandal era, and has a half-brother, Arthur, who is a gambler now reduced to thieving his way to funds, either in the form of petty larceny from the family library or valuable rings, the latest of which belongs to Sonia, the wife of Pierre, Camille’s ex-.  (more…)

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