Archive for July, 2011

by Allan Fish

(France 1970 82m) DVD2

Aka. Pollux et le Chat Bleu

Blue is beautiful, blue is best…

p  L.Danot, L.Auclin  d/w  Serge Danot  English version  Eric Thompson  ph  C.Giresse  m  Joss Basselli  ly  Eric Thompson 

VOICES BY:- Eric Thompson, Fenella Fielding (the Blue Voice),

Memory lane is calling again, in a distinctly blue voice.  Back to an age when children’s programmes were worth remembering, the age of Brian Cant voicing Trumpton, of Michael Hordern voicing Paddington, or Ray Brooks doing Mr Benn and Arthur Lowe the Mr Men.  Towering above all, however, may I salute one Eric Thompson, Emma’s dad.  He gave a French animated film, just as he did the TV series that preceded it, The Magic Roundabout, as much magic as one man ever gave to a kids show.  It was taken from a film by Serge Danot, and though I have never seen the French original, let us simply say that, if it bettered Eric Thompson’s, it must have been something else.  Without him, the adventures in the Magic Garden of Florence, Dougal, Zebedee, Brian, Ermintrude, Dylan and co, would probably have been lifeless.

            It begins with Dougal recounting a dream he had about a blue voice leading to the old deserted treacle factory on the hill, and how he sets out to tell Zebedee about it.  On Zebedee’s arrival to tell the others they find a commotion as they are more interested in the blue cat, Buxton, which has just arrived in the Magic Garden.  Dougal smells a rat, but none of the others believe him.  When Buxton is granted the title of the king, he imprisons Florence and co, but Dougal evades capture and sets out on a rescue mission.  (more…)

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Daniel Radcliffe in final Harry Potter film, "Deathly Hallows, part 2"

by Sam Juliano

With temperatures slated to hit the triple figures later this week in the northeast, people will be spending more time indoors, with many indulging in the latest blu-ray releases or catching up with domestic chores. Still others are on vacation or are planning to leave soon. In Fairview, New Jersey, I have completed one-half of the summer program, which is due to conclude on Friday August 5th.

Here at Wonders in the Dark, a very mild disagreement as to the site’s future “Fish Obscuro” entries was resolved amicably with a promised continuation with some additions. Jamie Uhler has become of the best music writers on-line with his brilliant and scholarly treatises on the groups from rock’s most memorable era that some may have neglected or underestimated over the years. Uhler actually negotiated a stunning one-two punch this past week with the aforementioned latest entry in the “Getting Over the Beatles” and a philosophically complex, magisterial essay (the site’s third in fact) on Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life.” While Uhler has obviously been one of the site’s most talented components right along, (and it’s heart and soul in the comment sections) his work this past week represents the most amazing showcase of his virtuosity. The sidebar continues to be the exclusive domain of Dee Dee, whose updates and additions keep us up to snuff each and every week. Bob Clark took a rare week off, but has been typically brilliant in both his continuing anime series and in the comment sections. Same of course for Jim Clark, who writes spectacular pieces every other week. And then there’s Allan, whose contributions need no preface here.

Lucille and I (and the kids for two of the ventures) had a torrid week in movie theatres, fueled mainly be the continuation of the Keaton series and the launching of the “Pre-Code” Festival at the Film Forum. Then there’s a dude named Harry Potter:

Tabloid ** (Saturday night) IFC Film Center

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 **** 1/2 (Saturday) Edgewater

The Three Ages **** 1/2 (Monday night) Buster Keaton at Film Forum

The Scarecrow **** (Monday night) Buster Keaton at Film Forum

Baby Face: The Uncensored Version **** 1/2 (Friday) Pre-Code at Film

Two Seconds **** (Friday) Pre-Code at Film Forum

I’m No Angel **** 1/2 (Sunday afternoon) Pre-Code at Film Forum

Hot Saturday *** (Sunday afternoon) Pre-Code at Film Forum (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1995-1996 579m) DVD1/2

Definitely not something to do to kill time

Yutaka Sugiyama  d  Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki, Masayuki, Hiroyuki Ishido, Tsuyoshi Kaga, Tensai Okamura, Keiichi Sugiyama, Masahiko Otsuka  w  Hideaki Anno, Akio Katsukawa, Shinji Haguchi, Yoji Enokido, Hiroshi Yamaguchi  m  Shiro Sagisu

Let’s follow in Hideaki Anno’s footsteps and, just as in episode 25 and 26 he took a detour to an ending at best described as Nietzschean, because he didn’t have room (in this case, the money) to film the ending he had in mind, so I will leave the cast out of this entry.  We’ll save them for overleaf.  Anno’s almost legendary anime series seems the definition of all that makes anime so foreign to the western world.  All those mechas, offspring of so many Saturday morning shows on children’s telly, adolescent protagonists barely old enough to recognise their own sexual awakening let alone save the world.

            So a few weeks later I come back to it.  In the interim I have seen the two rebuild films from 2007 and 2009, but they were little more than polished prunings; gorgeous to look at it, but not necessarily offering us anything new.  It’s appropriate watching it now, 15 years after the original run ended, for here was a show that lived 15 years in the past.  It’s set in 2015, but it’s 2000 that is in everyone’s mind.  Then there had been what the cover up told us was a Second Impact from a meteor, wiping out much of civilisation and leaving an apocalyptic wasteland.  From this hell on earth emerge the terrifying Angels, creatures out to take over the world, and their only serious challengers, the saviours of mankind, are three fourteen year old kids operating Evas, giant robots programmed to be piloted with maximum synchronisation.  The whole defence strategy is operated by NERV, but they are part of a darker purpose to bring about a new end of the world and a new beginning.      


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by Allan Fish

The time has come over the last couple of days to step back and question the purposes of the Fish Obscuro series.  As you all know the series is meant to highlight rarities that few people will have seen with the intent of people going out seeking these films for themselves.

Today Sam and I have had a heated but friendly enough discussion where I have once again mentioned how little progress he makes on watching the DVDRs I send him and I explained again it’s not his not watching them that irritates, it’s the waste of time and money making copies that will never be used.  I made a suggestion along the lines of why not make a giveaway on WitD on all the discs in his backlog of viewing.  That way someone will get them who wants to see them, I’ll be happy, and Sam’ll be happy as he won’t have me badgering him to watch stuff he doesn’t want to watch.

Sam then advised me that no-one would want them.  As this is indeed probably the case, I will keep the series going till the end of this month but afterwards may change my tack and just post pieces on films everyone has seen but haven’t been in the countdowns and accepted directors.  That way, everyone’s happy.

So look forward to some more traditional pieces from August onwards.



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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1932 79m) DVD1

Aka. Das Blaue Licht

Up the Monte Christallo

p  Herry R.Sokal, Leni Riefenstahl  d  Leni Riefenstahl  w  Leni Riefenstahl, Carl Mayer, Béla Balázs  novel  Gustav Renker  ph  Hans Schneeberger, Heinz von Jaworsky  ed  Leni Riefenstahl  m  Giuseppe Becce  art  Leopold Blonder 

Leni Riefenstahl (Junta), Mathias Wieman (Vigo), Beni Führer (Tonio), Max Holzboer (innkeeper), Martha Mair (Lucia), Franz Maldacea (Guzzi),

If one thinks of that legendary, incendiary opening sequence of Triumph of the Will, with Hitler’s plane descending through the clouds to Nuremberg like a returning Messiah, it’s tempting to see Leni Rienfenstahl’s career doing the same thing.  Yet Triumph didn’t come out of nowhere.  Not even out of the middling documentary about the 1933 Nazi Party rally, Victory of the Faith, long thought lost but recovered from a private collection in the UK, could be seen as its genesis.  Riefenstahl herself was already a famed star of German silent films, notably the mountain films of Arnold Fanck, Holy Mountain and The White Hell of Pitz Palu (the latter recently referenced in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds) and it’s to these films that her directorial debut owes its debt. 

            The Blue Light is a simple tale set in 1866, a peasant legend of the Austrian/Italian Alps of a small village in the valley below the Monte Christallo (Crystal Mountain).  Their elders, devout Christians, frown on all things unsanctified, and this includes the free spirit mountain girl, Junta, who lives on the mountain and is rushed away from the village every time she descends like the Frankenstein monster.  One young man takes an interest in her, and vows to follow her to her hiding place, a grotto high up in the mountain inside which there is a natural supply of blue crystals.  He follows here there and tells her that the villagers need to know of this discovery as it will make the prosperity of the village secure, but they take the whole hoard of crystals, Junta is left devastated and alone, and promptly falls to her death from the mountain. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1932 73m) DVD2 (Germany only, no Eng subs)

Aka. To Whom Does the World Belong; Whither Germany?

The Solidarity Song

p  Georg M.Hoellering, Robert Scharfenberg  d  Slatan Dudow  w  Bertolt Brecht, Ernst Ottwald  ph  Günther Krampf  ed  Peter Meyrowitz  m  Hanns Eisler  art  Carl P.Haacker, Robert Scharfenberg 

Hertha Thiele (Anni Bönike), Ernst Busch (Fritz), Martha Wolter (Gerda), Adolf Fischer (Kurt), Lila Schönborn (Frau Bönike), Max Sablotzki (Herr Bönike), Alfred Schaefer, 

In 1966 cine-historian Kevin Brownlow finally saw his long delayed debut film It Happened Here released three years after it was completed.  It detailed an alternate view of history, showing how Britain coped following the Nazi invasion.  It never happened, of course, but the premise of showing what might have been – a favourite parlour game of historical scholars – in a way only the cinema could, was fascinating.  Slatan Dodow’s 1932 propaganda film could not be more diametrically opposite in terms of its plotline or its messages.  It was made in 1932, the last full year of the Weimar Republic before the forbidding cloud of National Socialism reared its ugly head.  It gives an insight and a methodology whereby Germany – the alternative title asks where the country is headed – could proceed into the future but, as hindsight tells us, didn’t.

            The Bönike family live in a squalid tenement in Berlin in a period when German unemployment has doubled from 2½ million to over 5 million.  Their son has not worked in over seven months, and is accused by his father of being a wastrel who has not tried hard enough to find employment.  In a moment of utter despair, the son jumps from their fourth floor window to his death, and the resultant misery leads to the family being evicted from their home and sent to the eponymous camp, Kuhle Wampe, where thousands of dispossessed Berliners already congregate. (more…)

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Chimpanzee Nim in brilliant documentary by James Marsh

by Sam Juliano

As home energy bills take their annual spike, some of us continue to take advantage of vacation time by treking to our summer hideaways or seeking refuge in movie theatres or other cultural venues.  It’s a time we’re certainly grateful for, but one that requires some acute planning.

Here at Wonders in the Dark the itinerary has pretty much been staying the course, with Jim Clark’s exceptional essay on Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life a major highlight for this past week.  Jamie Uhler’s astounding thirty-first installment in his seminal ‘Getting Over the Beatles’, Allan Fish’s ongoing ‘Fish Obscuro’ series of cinema treasures, and Bob Clark’s weekend excusrsion into science fiction and anime all made impressive appearances at the site during the six days since the last diary published on Tuesday.

Congratulations are in order for our friend Greg Ferrara at Cinema Styles, who recently was appointed as a writer for TCM.  Ferrara’s a gifted movie veteran who is sure to bring a new dimension over there!  Greg is one of the seven voters who will be determining the results of WitD’s musical countdown scheduled to commence next month.  And speaking of the countdown it’s been great seeing some of the enthusiasm from Pat, Judy, Marilyn and Dennis, all of whom are busy re-viewing favorites, looking at a few new ones, and spreading around excitement!  I spent some of my own week re-watching a number of the older classics, including the Lubitsch quartet.  With as wide open a scope as we could possibly have settled on, I’m also taking further looks at some vital opera films and operettas, as well as the more contemporary rock films. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

When we think of religious epics, we tend to only think of the ones based on tales of the Bible, either from the Old Testament, from the various Gospels, or other texts based upon them. We’ve seen countless directors take on stories of the Judeo-Christian narrative– everybody from shameless epic-maestros like Cecile B. DeMille and William Wyler to artists of varying degrees of reverence and rebelliousness like Franco Zefferelli and Martin Scorsese. We’ve seen the life of Moses mined for grand spectacle and special-effects majesty and the life of Christ turned into existential tales of adventure and excitement. In tellings of the collections of stories handed down for countless generations, we’ve seen Sodom and Gomorrah rise and fall, we’ve seen Noah’s arc sail on the waters of flood and the winds of disaster. We’ve also, for good measure, seen the Ark of the Covenant caught in a race against time between goose-stepping Nazis and two-fisted archeologists. We’ve seen the Holy Grail evolve from being the cup that caught Christ’s blood at the crucifixion to a chalice that can grant eternal life (as long as you choose wisely), to an object of laughter and comedy for so many cocoanut-galloping crusaders. We’ve seen Jesus in the form of a peaceful guru, a passionate revolutionary and a guilt-ridden lover. We’ve even seen him as Darth Vader and Neo, for good measure, and countless other sci-fi messiahs who sacrifice themselves (and sometimes others) for the greater good.

But what of the other figures from world religions? Do we see them on the screen less frequently because there is less demand from the audience, or fewer believers willing to devote themselves to the cause behind the cameras? In thinking of cinematic depictions of the life of the Buddha, in particular, the pickings are rather slim. A stretch of portrayals from the silent era through the 60’s  in Asia, but none that ever broke the culture barrier, nor have lasted long in memory. It’s sad to say that, internationally, the best-known film of this type is probably Bernardo Bertolucci’s  Little Buddha, which offered Chris Isaak as the father of a California boy who may or may not be the reincarnation of a Tibettan monk, and is told the story of Siddhartha with Keanu Reeves in the starring role. Though there hasn’t been much out there in terms of cinema, there have been plenty of adaptations in various other mediums, with Osamu Tezuka’s manga being chief among them as a radically different, yet faithful telling of the foundation myth for all of Buddhism. In Tezuka’s 8 volume series, the life story of Prince Siddhartha is mixed with a blend of adventure and spectacle that helps both place his moral journey into a neat historical context and illustrate all the joys and miseries of the world that he comes to seek understanding for in his meditative quest.


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Judy Garland in Vincente Minelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis" (1946)

by Sam Juliano

What is a movie musical by definition?  It seems everybody has their own idea and there’s little conformity in the thinking.  After a brace of amiable e mails between the seven voting members who will decide what the “Top 50 Musicals of All-Time” are, the decision was made to allow the widest scope imaginable in the negotiation of the vital voting stage of the venture.

The seven voters are movie veterans, with a strong background in musical cinema, whether it be a long veneration for the genre, active participation in stage work, or a pronounced cognizance -through exposure- of the significant connection between film and theatre.  All seven voters are musical fans, and have a wide scope of appreciation and lifelong exposure to the form.  The voters include:

Greg Ferrara  (Cinema Styles and TCM)

Pat Perry (Doodad Kind of Kind)

Marilyn Ferdinand (Ferdy-on-Films)

Judy Geater  (Movie Classics)

Dennis Polifroni (Wonders in the Dark)

Allan Fish  (Wonders in the Dark)

Sam Juliano (Wonders in the Dark) (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1919 60m) DVD1/2

Aka. Die Austernprinzessin

That doesn’t impress me at all

p  Ernst Lubitsch  d  Ernst Lubitsch  w  Ernst Lubitsch, Hanns Kraly  ph  Theodor Sparkuhl  art  Kurt Richter, Rochus Gliese

Ossi Oswalda (Ossi Quaker), Victor Janson (Mr Quaker, the Oyster King), Harry Liedtke (Prince Nucki), Max Kronert (Seligson, the matchmaker), Julius Falkenstein (Josef), Curt Bois (conductor),

Of all the great directors to come out of Germany in the 1920s and go to Hollywood, Ernst Lubitsch is the odd-one out.  All the others, though they made great films after they left Germany, never had careers that matched their German work, while Lubitsch more than surpassed it, to the extent that his formative German films are often ignored.  To ignore them, however, is as grave an error as dismissing Chaplin’s shorts as merely rehearsals for the features to come.  Lubitsch’s German career is, while still formative, joyous enough to bear closer analysis.  He made some historical dramas to rival anything done in Hollywood – Anna Boleyn with Henny Porten, which gave Emil Jannings a chance to play Henry VIII, and Madame Dubarry with Pola Negri – and yet it’s for his four to seven reel comedies that he made his name.  There were several particularly interesting efforts, not least The Wildcat and The Doll, but better still was The Oyster Princess(more…)

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