Archive for November, 2011


by Marilyn Ferdinand

Note:  This review of ‘The Devils’ first appeared at Ferdy-on-Films in June of 2009, and is offered up here by the author as a contribution in Ken Russell’s remembrance at the sad time of his passing.

Necessarily graphic or exploitative trash? Blasphemous or truthful? All the fuss that has accompanied Antichrist, the pas du tout-est of the pas du touts at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, put me in mind of another film that raised hackles so high that it was released only after heavy censoring and nonetheless still was banned in many places. I’m talking, of course, about The Devils, Ken Russell’s account of events that took place in Loudon, France, in the 17th century that marked the end of independent city-states and the beginning of a united France under royal rule.

Ken Russell is the most operatic of film directors, and with the The Devils, he made his most impassioned statement about power, corruption, human degradation, and the possibility of redemption to date—indeed, it’s hard to think of another film that matches the sheer ferocity of its vision. I’ve seen the film maybe four times, and it never gets easier. This latest viewing was the hardest by far because it included a number of banned scenes I’d never seen before, including the infamous “Rape of Christ” sequence. Russell and all supporters of the film who saw it—including a Catholic priest who sat on the Legion of Decency board in the United States and saw it prerelease—consider this scene to be the very heart of the film, and so it is a welcome inclusion indeed.

After many fruitless searches, a canister of film showed up in England that contained this and several other deleted scenes. Eurocult issued a cheaply produced, muddy DVD of the film in 2007 that includes this footage but does nothing to restore the sharpness and vibrant colors created by DP David Watkin and the textures of the famous Derek Jarman set. Until this deficit can be corrected, this DVD stands as must-see viewing for cinephiles, in general, and Russell fans, in particular. (more…)


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by Allan Fish

When I heard of Ken Russell’s death first thing this morning after going onto the IMDb and BBC websites, one felt a sense of shock.  And shock at a death can come in so many different guises.  Only 24 hours earlier the football world, in the UK in particular, was beyond saddened to hear of the death of Gary Speed, aged 42, who was found dead after committing suicide.  He was loved by many, and as with all suicides, the question arose as to why.  My mind also thought back to the fact that, less than 24 hours earlier, he’d been on TV’s Football Focus as bright as a button.  It was a painful day for many on Sunday.

The news of Ken’s death brought forth a different sense of shock.  He was twice Gary Speed’s age.  84.  Not a bad innings, all things considered.  But there was a similarity.  Only days earlier he’d still be tweeting and facebooking under his moniker ‘Unkle Ken Russell’.  It was less than a week ago one saw that he had ticked ‘Like’ to various comments about the impending BFI DVD release of The Devils.  I felt like I’d lost a friend, a feeling I’d not felt since Kubrick died.  When Kubrick had died Steven Spielberg talked of how numb he was and that he always thought that Stan would direct his Ran at 80.  Russell’s death didn’t deprive us of more films; he lived longer but was an effective outcast from the early 1980s.  He made films and TV dramas after, but only in the way that Karl Freund kept working as DP on I Love Lucy when Hollywood had neglectfully let him rot.

Ask anyone in the US about Ken Russell and it’ll be D.H.Lawrence and Women in Love that comes up first, for that remains his most famous film, if for reasons that may have little to do with Russell, more for Glenda’s Oscar and Ollie and Alan’s nude wrestling scene performed after Ollie got a bottle of vodka for each to drink before filming.  There was so much more to him than that, however, and it’s often easy to forget just what a major figure he’d been in the 1960s.  In those days, the BBC nurtured such talents as not only Russell but Ken Loach, Dennis Potter, Galton and Simpson, Peter Watkins, Mike Leigh and Stephen Frears.  And just as Loach’s best work remains his TV masterpieces Cathy Come Home and the recently reissued and still firebrand Days of Hope, so Russell’s most important work came at the BBC. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Sweden 1936 88m) DVD1

Seeing the flag…

d  Gustav Molander  w  Gustav Molander, Gösta Stevens  ph  Äke Dahlquist  ed  Oscar Rosander  m  Heinz Provost, Robert Henning

Gösta Ekman (Holger Brandt), Inga Tidblad (Margit Brandt), Ingrid Bergman (Anita Hoffman), Erik ‘Bullen’ Burglund (Charles Möller), Britt Hagman (Ann-Marie Brandt), Hugo Björne (Thomas Stenborg), Hasse Ekman (Ake Brandt), Millan Bolander (Emma), Margarete Orth (Marie),

Imagine, sirs, if you had the choice to have one of the cinematic pantheon of goddesses descend from Mount Olympus and be your companion on a desert island.  You could pick any you wanted in any role; Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, say, Dietrich in Morocco, Bardot in just about anything up to and including Le Mépris, Arnoul in French Can Can, whoever.  All seem from another world, and not a real one.  Loren saunters by, but there was always a feeling of dear Sophia being mother earth in human form.  Then you think and remember a picture in your mind, of Ingrid Bergman, aged 20, coming into a room, standing in the doorway and the camera worshipping her while falling to the floor. 

            Easy then to think of what would follow, of the Hollywood remake, of Ilse Lund and Anna Anderson, of Salvador Dali’s dreams – and Hitchcock and Rossellini’s come to that.  When she finally went to Hollywood after a whistle-stop visit back to Sweden to make June Night in 1939, it would be nearly thirty years before she’d make a film there again.  That film was only two reels in an otherwise maudlin package called Stimulantia, an adaptation of de Maupassant’s ‘The Necklace’ with Ingrid opposite Gunnar Björnstrand, and which she did as a favour to Gustaf Molander, who in turn only made it to work with Ingrid again.  (more…)

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Keira Knighley and Michael Fassbender in David Cronenberg's superb "A Dangerous Method"

by Sam Juliano

America’s turkey population was greatly diminished in the past week, but alas, life goes on, and next it’s the evergreens that will take a hit as the holiday season is officially underway.  Dee Dee’s Thanksgiving greetings represented the site’s spirit for November 24, and hopefully all had a wonderful and relaxing day, most of all our peerless friend.

It appears that the site is seriously considering a John Ford retrospective for early in the new year, and the director’s most distinguished on line adherent, Peter Lenihan, a long time friend of WitD, who is presently on assignment in the Far East, may be aboard for some definitive analysis of the directing titan.  Perhaps in late February, Stanley Kubrick will be getting the spotlight, courtesy of Dennis Polifroni, who has volunteered to chair the project.  Stay tuned on both the Ford and Kubrick projects!

In the meantime it has been business as usual at the site, with Jamie Uhler’s 51st installment of his “Getting Over the Beatles” series yielding what may well be the masterpiece essay, Jim Clark’s fantastic analysis of Bunuel’s Viridiana, Bob Clark’s superb essay on A History of Violence on page and screen, and two more buffo entries in the Fish Obscuro series, include one of the highly-regarded pre-coder The Bowery.  The great “Fixing a Hole” series, posting on Sunday, also offered up some fantastic writing.

The prestige movie season offered up what may well be the most distinguished week of the season, and by and large the results were most impressive.  Two of the films seen (HUGO and A DANGEROUS METHOD) are likely Top 10 finishers, while at least two others are well regarded and can still place with a change of heart) and the silent Monday series at the Film Forum featured the classic BEN-HUR from 1925 with piano accompaniment by Steve Sterner. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for November is “Animated Animals.”

The Story: One spring, a little fawn is born into a world of sunshine and flowers – but as the seasons pass, and the young deer comes of age, neither he nor the world around him will remain so innocent.


“You’d be forgiven for picturing cute, wide-eyed little critters wandering through daisy fields and singing happy songs,” I wrote when introducing this month’s theme, adding pointedly, “Not so.” And I meant it – yet here we are! Well, let this prove that clichés obscure more than they illuminate. The cute, wide-eyed little critters of Bambi inhabit a violence- and sex-filled world of tragedy, stoicism, and carnage. Despite frequent light and happy moments, this is ultimately a very dark forest indeed. Why? To unearth Bambi‘s roots, I dug up the book that gave it birth.

Felix Salten’s Bambi was published in 1923, and it shares the qualities of much classic children’s literature: quiet, thoughtful, with a delicate playfulness, yet fundamentally somber, elementally instructional and subtly allegorical – simple yet deep. Walt Disney more scrupulously balances the dark and light, yet much of the book’s mood and atmosphere is effectively conveyed. Those majestic moments when Bambi and his mother cautiously approach a meadow, or tiptoe through the snow to hunt for food, admirably capture Salten’s spirit. Even those prototypical Disney elements – anthropomorphized chattering forest critters, resembling gossipy housewives or restless schoolkids – have their source in Salten, who devotes many pages to the silly conversations of little birds.


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By Bob Clark

One of the great strengths of the comics medium that I’ve belabored upon is how any given panel on a page can stand on its own as a frozen moment in time, building sequences of linear action and non-sequitor stream of consciousness through static snapshots rather than the fluid, flowing continuities of motion pictures. As such, in a well conceived and executed graphic novel, every single image carries a heavy significance to it, remaining on its page and in the reader’s attention for as long as they wish to rest upon it. This gives the timespan of comics a subjective dimension– moments that take mere seconds in a story can be stretched out to minutes or hours if a viewer wishes to dwell there– and it makes the way that works of graphic fiction that deal explicitly with our experiences in time both present and past somewhat more unnerving. There’s perhaps no medium where flashbacks are more natural, where one’s experience of reading is already akin to leafing through the pages of a photo-album, all those pictures laid out just like comics panels (in a sense one could insist that they are a form of comics, themselves). As such, it makes telling a work dedicated to the secrets and lies of a person’s past that much more interesting an endeavor, and there’s few places to compare and contrast the way in which the medium holds advantage over others than in the case of the graphic novel A History of Violence and its film adaptation.


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by Allan Fish

(USA 1933 92m) not on DVD

When it’s on the strict QT

p  Darryl F.Zanuck, Raymond Griffith, William Goetz  d  Raoul Walsh  w  Howard Estabrook, James Gleason  novel  Michael L.Simmons, Bessie Roth Solomon  ph  Barney McGill  ed  Allen McNeil  m  Alfred Newman  art  Richard Day 

Wallace Beery (Chuck Connors), George Raft (Steve Brodie), Fay Wray (Lucy Calhoun), Jackie Cooper (Swipes), Pert Kelton (Trixie Odbray), George Walsh (John L.Sullivan), Lillian Harmer (Carrie A.Nation), Herman Bing (Max Herman), Harold Huber (Slick), Oscar Apfel (Ivan Rummel), Ferdinand Munier (Honest Mike), Irving Bacon (Hick), John Kelly (Lumpy Hogan), Charles Lane (doctor), Charles Middleton (detective), Lucille Ball, Paulette Goddard,

In his film guide Leonard Maltin says of The Bowery that it has something to offend just about anyone.  When it showed in New York recently, a friend asked me why this film was not available on DVD and I could only say to him whether he stayed awake during the film or not.  In a US where Song of the South still cannot be given a legitimate release, how would the politically correct brigade feel about a film which, in a matter of minutes, features a young boy on the run from Chinamen after throwing a rock through their window?  His guardian takes him to one side and talks to him.  “Now listen here, Swipesy, you’ve got to stop throwing them rocks through Chinamen’s windows or I’m gonna have to throw you out…” to which the kid responds “but Chuck, it was only a Chink’s window.”  Only a few minutes later and said guardian is lecturing him once again in his bar, firstly about his swapping his cigarette cards of hard men for those of Lillian Russell and co., to which the kid replies “they aint good lookin’ like the skoits!”  He is then told to go home, only to protest “I promised to stop by Nigger Joe’s”; so the guardian takes him to task again; “what have I told you about that coon?”  Indeed, the first image you see in the film is the window to some dive with the words Nigger Joe’s on it.  Even now, you’re left uncomfortable.  (more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

      For quite a while, I’ve been jockeying into position one of my favorite films, Woman in the Dunes (1964), whose guiding light (along with novelist and scriptwriter, Kobo Abe), namely, Hiroshi Teshigahara, has occupied some of my daydreams due to his abandoning film in favor of  flower arrangement, ikebana. That vocation seems very near to actress, Setsuko Hara’s abandoning film just after Yasujiro Ozu’s death, for life in a meditative retreat. These trajectories have a way of haunting us, in view of the unforgiving weight of social misalliance. Teshigahara’s film, however, could be seen as entailing a strange rejoinder to such quietism.

    But Woman in the Dunes has many strikes against it as a communicative vehicle. It’s (that word) “slow.” It’s claustrophobic. Few have seen it. And still fewer have cared for its eerie illuminations in a super-strange Beast’s lair. Therefore, I’m broaching this tight squeeze by way of a pair of raucous and flashy soulmates to that quiet little gem (namely, Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and the Coens’ A Serious Man), in hopes that their raging entropy will pave a way toward countering their suspicious helplessness. Just prior to that, however, we need to do a bit more grading of the Surrealist Inter-State to ensure that subsequent apparent strays more clearly take their bearings from the imperative—memorably keyed by Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast—of cogent interpersonal motion. Louis Bunuel’s Viridiana (1961) and Tristana (1970) transmit with gratifying transparency the “Pitfalls” (an alternate title for Woman in the Dunes) of maintaining that dynamic route in a state of perpetual waylaying of its uncanny prospects. But, in one of those cases at least, there is intriguing traction, necessitating one further twist to this preamble that may seem to be inspired by Laurence Sterne’s eighteenth-century novel Tristram Shandy. (more…)

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Philidor: Sancho Panca (CD) ~ Perry Cover Art

by Sam Juliano

The appearance of eighteenth-century opera on CD is a blessing for both fans of opera comique and those looking to broaden the horizons of  a form that takes risks far too infrequently.   The French composer Francois-Andre Danican Philador is thought to be the first to achieve real distinction in a style that eventually merged with Italian opera in the early nineteenth century, in the form of comedy buffa.  Rossini’s The Barber of Seville and Mozart’s Don Giovanni are seminal works in the later category.  Philador’s major contribution to the emergence of the opera comique as a respectable musical genre, is the application of realistic characters and situations.  It can be concluded that he handled his limited orchestral resources cleverly, and the vocal lines are rich, melodious and descriptive.

History does relate that there were charges of plaguerism against Philador, published years after his death from the likes of Berlioz and other music critics that he had plundered the work of Gluck, Galuppi, Pergolesi and Jommelli.  The fact that Philador had actually seen Gluck’s Orfeo opened him up for accusations for music that he wrote for Ernelinde and Le Sorcier, two operas that bear more than remarkable similarities.  But both the dubious degree of intent and the non-consumation of such charges should stop the skeptics in their tracks, and allow Philador’s standing to hold sway for this style and time period.  The composer’s most famous (and best) opera is Tom Jones, composed in 1765, and presented in three acts.  Sancho Panza, which was recently recorded and released by Opera Lafayette with Ryan Brown conducting, is considered a more obscure Philador work, but it has gained in reputation over the past decades.  Antoine-Alexandre Poinsinet (1735-1769) created the libretto of Sancho Panca from a particularly mean-spirited passage in Cervantes’ Don Quixote.  The knight of the mournful countenance has promised his simple-minded squire, Sancho Panza, the governership of an island for his faithful service – a dream that the duke and dutchess features in Part 2 fullfill as part of an elaborate series of tricks played on Don Quixote and Sancho.  When faced with the real demands of governing the imaginary land -the island of Barataria – Sancho quickly renounces all interest in being a governor. (more…)

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(UK 1940 68m) DVD2

A carrion crow sat on a tree…

p  George King, Odette King  d  George King  w  Edward Dryhurst, Frederick Hayward, H.F.Maltby  novel  “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins  ph  Hone Glendenning  ed  Jack Harris  m  Jack Beaver  art  Bernard Robinson

Tod Slaughter (Sir Percival Glyde, impostor), Sylvia Marriott (Anne Catherick/Laura Fairlie), Hilary Eaves (Marion Hairlie), Hay Petrie (Dr Isidor Fosco), Geoffrey Wardwell (Paul Hartwright), Margaret Yarde (Mrs Bullen), Rita Grant (Jessica, the maid), David Horne (Frederick Fairlie), David Keir (Merriman), Elsie Wagstaff (Mrs Catherick),

           To say that Tod Slaughter is an acquired taste is one of the biggest understatements one could ever make.  He’s like cinematic marmite and for many just as difficult to swallow.  His films, if seen in the cold light of day, are archaic fossils, transcriptions of old blood-curdling melodramas that were popular on the boards of amateur theatrical houses in the Victorian and Edwardian era.  While the upper classes went to see Henry Irving, Edward Gordon Craig and Ellen Terry, the masses came to see the predecessors of Tod Slaughter chew the scenery in productions with all the refinement of a tavern wench’s cleavage. 

            Slaughter’s peak period was from the mid 1930s to 1940, and included such lip-smacking nonsense as Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Maria Marten, The Crimes of Stephen Hawke, Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror and the hamtastic The Face at the Window.  If one had to nominate a favourite, however, it has to be Crimes at the Dark House, which dared even to literary pretensions as a rough adaptation of Wilkie Collins’ famous chiller The Woman in White.  In it Slaughter plays a scoundrel whose name we don’t know, but who adopts the name of Sir Percival Glyde after he murders him out in Australia and takes his family ring and a letter advising him to come home and take up the role of baronet because his father had died.  On his arrival, he finds out that the old baronet died leaving debts of 15,782 pounds, 18 shillings and five pence.  His only way out is to marry the daughter of one of the old baronet’s late friends, Laura Fairlie.  She will bring a fortune, which he can then take control of.  (more…)

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