Archive for June, 2011

by Allan Fish

(Germany 1929 121m) not on DVD

Aka. Mutter Krausens Fahrt ins Glück

Having nothing left to lose

p  Willi Münzenberg  d  Phil Jutzi  w  Willy Döll, Jan Fethke  story  Otto Nagel, Heinrich Zille  ph  Phil Jutzi  ed  Elfriede Bottrich  m  Paul Dessau, Wolfgang Sternberg  art  Karl Haacker, Robert Scharfenberg

Alexandra Schmitt (Mother Krause), Holmes Zimmermann (Paul), Ilse Trautschold (Erna), Gerhard Bienert (lodger), Vera Sacharowa (prostitute), Friedrich Gnass (Max), Fee Wachsmuth (the kid),

It’s surely one of the best kept secrets in German cinema.  How many people recognise Phil Jutzi’s Mother Krause as one of the major works of Weimar Germany?  How many people recognise Phil Jutzi?  If you do, it’s more than likely to be as the director of the first 1931 adaptation of Berlin Alexanderplatz.  That film is now readily available as an extra on Criterion’s box-set of Fassbinder’s gargantuan TV remake, and it’s rather a mixed bag, as one might expect for such an abbreviated version of the original book.  That wouldn’t get Jutzi more than a footnote in film history, yet he deserves more than that.  Today, if asked to name a pivotal left wing communist influenced German film to come out of Weimar Germany, chances are you would name Dudow’s Kuhle Wampe.  I’ll be damned, however, if Mother Krause isn’t an even better film. (more…)


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Actor/Director John Turturo on the set of his new film about the music and culture of Naples, "Passione"

by Sam Juliano

Summer is now officially upon us, and many of us are hoping to avoid the kind of heat that baked many northern hemisphere people in 2010.  Other than weather, everyone is firming up summer plans, while concluding the big June events that include graduation parties, proms, and weddings.  I was proud to see my oldest son sammy graduate eighth grade this past week, as  the final step to high school in September.

Here at Wonders the Fish Obscuro series and “Getting Over the Beatles” project continue, while Jim Clark treated readers to a brilliant essay on Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, and Bob Clark made a proposal for continued discussion on Jean-Luc Godard.

Again Lucille and I were (relatively) busy on the movie front, while for the first time in quite a while we didn’t manage a single stage play.

We saw the following in theatres:

Sherlock Jr.   *****     (Monday evening)   Buster Keaton at Film Forum

The Boat   ****          (Monday evening)      Buster Keaton at Film Forum

Passione   **** 1/2    (Saturday evening)    Film Forum

Leap Year  ****    (Friday evening)        Cinema Village

Beginners   ***         (Thursday evening)    Montclair Claridge Cinemas

SHERLOCK JR. is one of the supreme Keaton masterpieces, in fact for many his greatest work.  Suffice to say it’s one of my favorite comedies of all-time (the pool table sequence and the coordinated run near the end are among the greatets gags ever filmed) and with the short THE BOAT screening before it, it made for an unforgettable evening.  Lucille and I were thrilled that our youngest son Jeremy (9) was called up to the stage by Film Forum program director Bruce Goldstein to pick the night’s five winners out of a hat that included all the correct answers of a Keaton-related question.   Jeremy received a Film Forum tea-shirt for his efforts. (more…)

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Ordinarily, I spend Saturdays devoted to works of anime and science-fiction, but this week I thought the time right to announce an idea that’s been slowly germinating among a handful of us Wonders writers in the wake of Sam’s summary dismissal of Film Socialisme, the latest film by French New Wave maestro Jean-Luc Godard, as well as the majority of his filmography in general. Though for the most part we couldn’t share less in common, James Uhler and I are united in our enthusiastic support of the director’s entire career, from his more mainstream works in the 60’s with Jean-Pierre Belmundo, Brigette Bardot and the ravishing Anna Karina; to his progressively more abstract and Marxist movies like Week-End and the efforts of the Dziga Vertov group; to his classical, yet experimental films of the 80’s and beyond, especially modern essentials like Histoire(s) du Cinema. We’re not the only ones, either– fellow anime-devotee and Lucas die-hard Stephen Russell-Gebbett is also a confirmed Godardaholic, enough to make various images from Film Socialisme banners for his website, while everyone’s favorite MovieMan, Joel Bocko, has often proclaimed his love of the director’s early period, and curiosity in all that came afterward.

Now, with so many members of the film-critic community and blogosphere turning on the notorious filmmaker like overgrown fanboys throwing zombie-like riots in a comic-book convention, the time couldn’t be better to launch a full-fledged effort to cover the whole of his cinematic output, from his most celebrated features to the obscurest of shorts. Though I’m certain that we’ll be able to cover the majority, if not the whole, of his oeuvre between myself, James and the rest of the Wonders members of Team Godard (we ought to be printing up t-shirts), I’m putting out an open call to anyone out there who would like to participate in this project. The more hands the merrier, even if we wind up with several takes on the same films (especially so, even). We won’t rest until we get every one of his films catalogued with a review, be it essay-length or capsule. For those interested, here’s a handy-dandy list of his works by decade, courtesy of the always reliable folks at wikipedia.

Anybody who wishes to participate, just let us know and we’ll mark you for contact info (which I think is a prerequisite to comment). We’ll coordinate a group mail for all interested, and get to work on this like a diabetic whistle– toot-sweet.

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1929 100m) not on DVD

Aka. The Wonderful Lie; Die Wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrowna

The fourth ten

p  Erich Pommer  d  Hanns Schwarz  w  Fritz Rotter, Hans Székely  ph  Carl Hoffmann  m  Maurice Jaubert  art  Robert Herlth, Walter Röhrig  cos  Renée Hubert

Brigitte Helm (Nina Petrowna), Francis Lederer (Lt.Michael Rostof), Warwick Ward (Col.Beranoff), Lya Jan, Ekkehard Arendt, Michael von Newlinsky, Harry Hardt,

How many people have heard of Hanns Schwarz?  Not too many, I’d wager, as he’s hardly the first name to roll off the tongue when mentioning the masters of German silent cinema.  Not when one can roll off Lang, Murnau, Lubitsch, Pabst, Ruttmann, Wiene and Dupont.  I’d venture to say the likes of May, Wegener, Galeen and perhaps even Reinert would get a mention before Schwarz.  It’s a travesty, as, if only for this one film, Schwarz deserves a mention in any list of German masters. 

            The Nina Petrowna of the title is the young mistress to a womanising colonel in pre-revolutionarySt Petersburg.  One evening at a nightclub she catches the eye of a young lieutenant, Michael, much to the chagrin of the colonel.  When the colonel insists that, if she leaves him for the lieutenant, she’ll go without the trappings – no jewellery, no furs, she does just that and sets up with her handsome lover in a cheap boarding house but, after a while, they cannot afford the rent.  He’s not yet got his full lieutenant’s pay through so, when they have their electricity cut off, the lieutenant sets out to find cash by means of a card game involving the colonel.  Through his weakness, he’s caught cheating and is on the verge of being shamed and dishonoured, but the colonel makes a proposition to Nina.  If she agrees to come back to him and leave Michael, he’ll destroy the evidence that could ruin Michael’s career.  She accepts, Michael goes away distraught, but when the colonel arrives to consummate his agreement, he finds Nina has taken poison and lies down in their boudoir.  (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark


    The Coens’ rejoinder, in No Country for Old Men, to Cormac McCarthy’s sense of being driven through history like a hapless beast is in fact a variant to be savored in light of Terrence Malick’s film, The Thin Red Line (1998), derived from a 1962 novel by James Jones. Malick, during a twenty-year absence from sharing with us a work-in-progress sense of nature (physis) that is apt to not only puzzle but infuriate those who don’t see nature and its physics coming up with anything devastatingly new, made his way into a battleground that a persistent residue of Heideggerian chit-chat would not have prepared him for.

    In taking exception to Jones’ inertial account of the hellishness of war, Malick, to be sure, bequeaths us with a Niagara of philosophical conceits, generally appearing in the form of voice over from various American troops facing imminent death during an assault mission at Guadalcanal Island during the World War II, South Pacific campaign against the Japanese in 1942. These ponderings function like readily overlooked, largely atmospheric, vines in a landscape of virtually impenetrable, spectacular jungle, not merely botanic but dramatic. The portrayal of conflict under extremely high pressure insinuates, in tandem with cinematic portraiture of ravishingly beautiful land, sea and sky, an order of historical sensibility having been hitherto overlooked. And it is this troubling and exhilarating anticipation that the quiet deluge of soft and drawling explicit self-questioning endows with headway from the gut (or heart) if only we can recognize and linger with its cinematic, sensual function. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1973 102m) not on DVD

Aka. Wildwechsel; Wild Game

Why not?

p  Gerhard Freund  d/w  Rainer Werner Fassbinder  play  Franz Kroetz  ph  Dietrich Lohmann  ed  Thea Eymesz  m  Peer Raben  art  Kurt Raab

Eva Mattes (Hanni Schneider), Harry Baer (Franz Bermeier), Jörg von Liebenfels (Erwin Schneider), Ruth Drexel (Hilda Schneider), Kurt Raab (factory boss), Hanna Schygulla (doctor), Klaus Löwitsch (policeman), El Hedi Ben Salem (Franz’s friend), Irm Herrmann (police official),

It’s the film that has become a holy grail for Fassbinderites, and even now seems as unlikely to receive a DVD release as any film currently languishing in limbo.  It was very controversial, of course, that goes without saying.  The English title played that up, but when one reads comments on certain film websites, one would be forgiven for thinking we were watching a piece of child pornography.  Let me get one thing clear, Jail Bait was never remotely that and those who call it such are living on planet Zog.  Calls for it to be banned are ludicrous.  Needless to say, as an advocate of free speech, I am against the banning of any film, but Jail Bait shouldn’t even come close.  It’s ironic then that now, if that were the only objection, Jail Bait would be restored along with other masterworks by the Fassbinder Foundation.  Sadly, this film is legally unavailable for other reasons.  It hadn’t even been transmitted when Kroetz put out a court injunction against the film, then Fassbinder effectively disowned it himself and the film went into imposed exile.  (more…)

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Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant in Howard Hawks screwball masterpiece "Bringing Up Baby" playing for one week at Film Forum

by Sam Juliano

Father’s Day, Graduation, Senior Proms, and the beginning of summer.  Late June is air-conditioning time, and the opportunity to finally get to long-delayed projects.  Sadly and almost inevitably, many of the plans remain dormant, and some of us do well just to ward off the heat and relax.  But not everyone in the WitD circle is enjoying the beginning of summer.  Tony d’Ambra and Jaime Grijalba are approaching their winter seasons in Sydney and Santiago respectively.

At Wonders in the Dark the past week included a remarkable maraton discussion under the post on ‘The Greatest Genius the Cinema Has Produced” and another by Jaime Grijalba taking a look at the first half of 2011 in movies.  Allan’s ‘Fish Obscuro’ series continues to update very Tuesday and Friday, while Jamie Uhrer’s “Getting Over the Beatles” series remains a model in musical scholarship.  Bob Clark’s weekend reviews on anime are, as always, brilliantly crafted.

Lucille and I had a relatively busy week on the cultural scene that included a fine staging at the Classic Theatre Company on 4th Street of Tony Speciale’s Unnatural Acts, a two-act work, inspired by events that occurred at Harvard University in the spring of 1920, when a student’s suicide sparked a campus-wide investigation by a secret court of administrators aimed at purging the university of a group of homosexual students.   Untold stories of some of these students are brought to light in an intimate presentation that explores themes of fear and societal intolerance that are as relevent today as they were 91 years ago.  The staging was quite imaginative, as much was made of simple props, and the backround bookcase was effectively multi-purpose.  A bizarre conclusion and an earlier sequence before intermission when the students begin to yell at the top of their lungs were misfires, but for the most part the play was both funny and affecting, and shed light on a taboo subject.  The three-quarter theatre-in-the-round mini-auditorium seemed perfect for this subject, and the young men in the cast delivered impressive performances. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2006 93m) DVD1

Call me Frank

p  Helen Flint d  Tom Hooper  w  Peter Morgan  ph  Danny Cohen  ed  Melanie Oliver  m  Robert Lane

Jim Broadbent (Lord Longford), Samantha Morton (Myra Hindley), Lindsay Duncan (Lady Elizabeth Longford), Robert Pugh (Harold Wilson), Andy Serkis (Ian Brady), Kika Markham (Governor Wing), Anton Rodgers (Willie Whitelaw),

The names won’t be familiar to people in the US; Keith Bennett, Leslie-Anne Downey, Pauline Reade, John Kilbride and Edward Evans.  Yet ask the British public to name the most reviled person or persons in British criminal history, not just in the 20th century but of all time, then the winner, if that’s the correct term, would be Myra Hindley.  The Wests killed more, Dr Shipman many more by pharmaceutical proxy, Crippen, Christie and Sutcliffe were infamous, the original Jack legendary, yet none would come close. 

            From 1963 to 1965, the A635 became an all too real Highway to Hell where Ian Brady and Myra Hindley beat and murdered five children before being sent to prison for life.  They were ushered away after sentencing by the presiding judge not with the words “take them down” but “put them down”; their chances of release somewhat less than nil.  The one man who thought differently was the former leader of the House of Lords, famous philanthropist Lord Longford, who saw Hindley as merely another one of his prisoners seeking redemption.  He spent much of his later life campaigning for her parole and Peter Morgan’s screenplay tells that story.  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Who is the greatest genius the cinema has ever produced?  This is not a question one can answer without considerable second-guessing, and one must first define the meaning of the word genius as it applies to the cinema.  Does it mean the most influential artist, the must diverse, or the most intellectually challenging?  Might it apply to the one who visited the most genres with equal success, like a Hawks or an Anthony Mann?  Or perhaps the artist who combined best combined writing or directing like a Bergman or Bunuel?  Avante garde and expressionist fans might well annoint Godard in this category.  Or yet others might opt for an iconic composer, cinematographer or thespian.  Perhaps the greatest genius is one that combined many talents.  Or perhaps a producer like Disney, Selznick or Lewton might be under consideration.  Maybe a dancer like Fred Astaire or Gene Kelly, or a multi-talented performer like Judy Garland?  For engineering the single most astounding performance in cinema history, perhaps Rene Falconetti can be posed.  Determinations will as always take in the unaccountable factor of personal taste.

In any case I am asking the readers here at WitD to name their candidate in the designated category of ‘The Greatest Genius the Cinema Has Produced.”  Only one to a customer, though everyone is entitled to list a Top Ten, if they so choose.  But in explaining your decision, only talk about your #1 choice.

To crown my own winner, I will borrow here from my own report last year at a Film Forum Festival:

“He is in my carefully considered opinion the greatest versatile genius the cinema has ever produced, and on a list of my favorites may well rank as my top choice, (depending on what day of the week I am asked the question. Ingmar Bergman is the one who seems to alternate with him, but both Yasujiro Ozu and Robert Bresson and even Carl Dreyer are with them at the pinnacle) No film artist has engaged me as thoroughly, no comic has made me laugh as much, no humanist has brought more tears, no technical genius -not even Keaton- has caused me to marvel just how much acrobatic brilliance can come from a single person. He was the consumate genius, writing and directing his films, serving as the main star, and to boot, writing his own music, some of which includes some of the finest compositions of the century. Michael Jackson’s favorite ‘song’ of all time is “Smile” from Modern Times, and the overwhelming poignancy of the music he wrote for the final flower girl scene in City Lights (his greatest film across the board) is the perfect embodiment of theme expressed in music. His physical agility, his astute understanding of the human condition, and his uncanny sense of timing all are part of this Shakespeare of film, the single man who set the standard that has not subsequently been equalled.  If by now the name of Charles Spencer Chaplin has not been figured, well then the reader is from another planet.”

   –from “The Multi-Faceted Genius of Charles Chaplin, Wonders in the Dark, 8/16/10


My Top Ten:

1.) Charles Chaplin

2.) Ingmar Bergman

3.) Yashijiro Ozu

4.) Orson Welles

5.)  Bernard Herrmann

6.)  Robert Bresson

7.)  Sir Lawrence Olivier

8.)  Buster Keaton

9.)  Carl Theodor Dreyer

10.)  Walt Disney (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Best Art Direction so far: Owen Power – ‘Mildred Pierce’

Look at the beauty... of the detail in the bed and the walls!


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