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Archive for November, 2011

Zoe Heran in Celine Schiamma's superlative French drama "Tomboy"

by Sam Juliano

Turkey Day is nearly upon us, with the bells on Santa’s sleigh just a stone’s throw away.  As the movie season winds down, weekly releases have multiplied and studios are poised to take full advantage of the holiday prestige season that culminates with the year-end awards.  Football fans (except for followers of the Penn State Nittany Lions) are immersed in their team’s fortunes, as the season reaches the most crucial juncture.  Both the opera and the theatre season are heating up too, while the music venue in Manhattan has reached the most attractive stretch of the coming lineups.

While the fleeting chords and notes of the musical countdown are now but a glorious memory, they will be forever enconsed in the vast Wonders in the Dark archives for an eternity of fruitful reference.  Thoughts of how to proceed with the comedy countdown have taken hold with a number of the likely participants, even while the site will offer up some surprises during the five month interim before the planned April laughter launch.

With Lucille and a few of the kids on board for some of this past week’s ventures I can positively and unequivocably that I experienced what must be considered the greatest artistic week of 2011.  Though the exceedingly high ratings speak for themselves, the week yielded a remarkable blend of top-flight opera, some of cinema’s greatest all-time masterworks, a documentary landmark and a few of the best contemporary films this year.  It is no surprise that such a week unfolded in November, however, and it’s a great way to usher in the prestige season. (more…)

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November 20, 2011

Toontown City Council, c/o Cloverfield Development Co.
Acme Avenue & Avery Alley
Toontown, CA 90@#!

Dear Toons,

Well, gang, I just watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit again, this time for an online series called “Fixing a Hole.” (You know, holes, those convenient black discs you carry around in your pockets, portable escape hatches when you’re in a pickle – incidentally, how much those go for nowadays?) Anyway, the movie was a delight as always; though the climax is a bit drawn-out, the appearance of a one-dimensional Judge Doom, crushed and cackling like some maniacal cross between Johnny Paper and Johnny Rotten, is well worth the wait.

I dug that, and I laughed along with Roger, cringed for Baby Herman (somebody tell that middle-aged infant about Viagra, or better yet, don’t), and marveled at Bob Hoskins’ ability to play it straight even as he was acting against thin ai-  er, I mean, against real, live Toons who must have been rather intimidating “in the flesh.” And Jessica Rabbit. Oh Jessica Rabbit. With her in their extended family, it’s no wonder the fluffy-tailed little mammals are so eager to breed.

(more…)

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By Bob Clark

Being one of the few mediums where it’s possible to create a wholly comprehensive narrative and aesthetic work as a solo effort, comics have become a place for innovative and sometimes groundbreaking autobiographical impulses, cartoonists mining their personal lives or those tied to them for all manner of sequential representation. It’s also been a way for artists and authors (the two being the same thing in affairs written and drawn by a single person) to express any number of the historic and political issues of the day in ways that contemporary storytelling is sometimes hindered by (there’s only so much that even Garry Trudeau can do in Doonesbury before having to resort to pictorial “icons” like the Newt Gingrich floating bomb or the Bill Clinton waffle– savvy pieces of political cartooning, but ones that strain credibility and realism in ways that even Uncle Duke’s hallucinations don’t quite). Kenji Nakazawa loosely mined his own personal experiences as a survivor of Hiroshima for the Barefoot Gen manga. Joe Sacco’s work as an enterprising illustrator-journalist in the various warzone crises of the 90’s led to some rather stunning works like Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, showing that comics could tackle and report current affairs with just as much validity as a prose piece or cinematic documentary. Art Spiegelman has spent more or less the whole of his career mining his personal life and connections to tragedies both historic and contemporary in avant-garde affairs like Prisoner on the Hell Planet, In the Shadow of No Towers and most especially his renowned Maus, in which he traces his parents’ joint paths through the nightmare of the Holocaust while simultaneously covering his own efforts to interview and connect with his father in the present.

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by Allan Fish

(France 1932 26m) DVD2 (France only)

Aka.  The Idea

A vision of purity

d  Berthold Bartosch  novel  Frans Masereel  m  Arthur Honegger

Eighty years on some writers have accused Berthold Bartosch’s celebrated animated short of naivety.  It certainly belongs to another age when merely a naked woman could draw such wrath from the various moral and legal authorities that it is seen to result in a war.  The notion of nudity as purity was not a new one to cinema.  Back in 1915 Lois Weber’s Hypocrites had shown a naked woman as quite simply ‘the naked truth’ and there were other examples through the silent era.  It finally crossed the channel and then the pond in 1934 just in time for the Hays Code crackdown so that it must to some amused onlookers have seemed like a prophecy come to life.  Animation in those cottage industry days was never so simple. 

            Take one look at the DVD cover (a French DVD but with part English artwork) in which fellow animation pioneers Alexandre Alexeieff and Claire Parker discussed the work of Bartosch.  “L’Idée was animated on sheets of glass with wash-tinted blacks and with soap.  Some 100 watt light bulbs obliquely lighted Bartosch’s work bench from below and the light became irredescent in the soap, giving some marvellous effectsOne can hardly imagine how small his studio was – about 10 x 12 feet.  Half the space was filled with panes of glass which were layered into a sort of work bench.  Bartosch showed that animation could be poetic…It was Bartosch who first dared to give animation the dimensions of a great art, trusting it to voice his pain, to lay bare his heart, to tell of his hope for a better future – which he never saw.” (more…)

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A House

Andres's house

by Jaime Grijalba.
‘Fata Morgana’ is the name of the short film I’ll be directing in this weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) with my buddy, friend and now brother Julio Amaro Rodríguez, based on a story by him, written by me… and I’m a bit scared.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Spain 2006 35m) DVD2 (Spain only)

The balm to the wound

p  Cesar Romero  d/w  Victor Erice  ph  Valentin Alvarez, Victor Erice  ed  Juan Pedro Diaz  m  Arvo Pärt  narrated by  Victor Erice

In a film which is so centred upon memory and what it can conjure, it’s perhaps only fair to stop and think what the title La Morte Rouge conjures up to the reader’s subconscious.   Corman’s Poe adaptation perhaps, with Vincent Price faced quite literally with the visage of his own death, or of Chaney, in skeletal red, descending the stairs of the Masque Ball in Paris.  Both would be understandable, but to Victor Erice it meant just one thing; an almost mythical village near French Quebec where the classic Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes chiller The Scarlet Claw was set.  You won’t find it in any atlas, Erice tried looking for it there, and he’s been looking for a long time…

            Erice is shown in a still photograph at the age of five or six, about the time he went to see his first remembered movie, The Scarlet Claw.  To set the scene he opines of the town of San Sebastian where he grew up and the long since gone Gran Kursaal cinema, built in the age of the Belle Époque, by a grand equally derelict casino that fell by the wayside during the Civil War and Franco’s regime.  The film was in Spanish, for they dubbed all of the foreign films, and there’s something altogether strange about hearing the film spoken in Spanish.  But not Holmes himself, for he, the effective hero of the story, is left to silent illustration.  The real interest is in the main who floats between the shadows like a spirit, the unnoticeable postman Potts, played so wonderfully by Gerald Hamer in the film, who is in actual fact the villain of the piece, the murderer going round La Morte Rouge with a huge metal claw and ripping throats asunder.  (more…)

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Screen cap from mind-blowing, sublime and haunting 'Melancholia' by Lars Von Trier

by Sam Juliano

The musical countdown ended this week, leaving in its wake a reference archive that stands as practically definitive in the genre.  Many writers did some of their finest work in massive and fecund essays, and for three months swarms of commentators enriched the threads with astonishing analysis and personal experience in astounding prolific runs.  Dee Dee’s work on the sidebar was spectacular and a large group of regular readers were there either every day or close to every day to impart their special breath of insight and taste – people like Judy Geater, Jon Warner, Pat Perry, R. D. Finch, Dennis Polifroni, Frank Gallo, Joel Bocko, Maurizio Roca,  Marilyn Ferdinand, Pierre de Plume, Tony d’Ambra, Jim Clark, Frederick O., Peter M., David Noack, Samuel Wilson, Jamie Uhler, Jaime Grijalba, Laurie Buchanan, Terrill Welch, Murderous Ink, Patricia, Bob Clark, Sachin Gandhi, Stepen Morton, Mark Smith, Stephen Russell-Gebbet, Shubhajit Laheri, David Schleicher, Craig Kennedy, Broadway Bob, Ricky Chinigo, John R., Greg Ferrara and numerous others.  The venture was time-consuming and exhaustive, yet in overwhelming measure it brought out the best in everyone.  The next-to-last essay on The Wizard of Oz brought the largest number of comments (nearly 250 in fact) of the entire countdown, and by far the most contentiousness.  But as always it is admirable how well just about everyone weathered the storm, and in true WitD fashion we have survived to fight the next battle.  A special thanks again to Mr. Finch for bringing the blogger’s association and wonderful young writers like Brandie Ashe, Brian the Classic Film Boy and Kevin Deaney among others into the fold.

Ideas have begun for the planned “comedy countdown,” which will begin sometime in the Spring, with more voters and writers yet aboard.  In the interim some other projects courtesy of Joel Bocko and Maurizio Roca are nearing fruition.  Dennis Polifroni has indicated a Stanley Kubrick series is soon forthcoming as well. (more…)

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by Stephen Russell-Gebbett

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

While Joel has selected all the titles, certain films have been assigned to guest writers. This week Checking on My Sausages‘ Stephen, who conducted the Animation Countdown on Wonders in the Dark, takes a look at the pros and cons of Disney’s 1941 cartoon.

Dumbo (1941/United States/directed by Samuel Armstrong, Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Ben Sharpsteen)

stars the voices of Edward Brophy, Sterling Holloway, Cliff Edwards, Herman Bing

written by Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, Otto Englander, Bill Peet, Aurelius Battaglia, Joe Rinaldi, Vernon Stallings, Webb Smith from the book by Helen Aberson, Harold Pearl • music by Frank Churchill, Oliver Wallace • animation department: Art Babbitt, James Bodrero, Ward Kimbell, John Lounesbury, John P. Miller, Maurice Noble, Elmer Plummer, Martin Provenson, Woolie Reitherman, Vladimir Tytla, John Walbridge, Frank Thomas, and others • produced by Walt Disney

The Story: Dumbo, an elephant with big ears, is born to a circus animal. Shunned by the rest of the herd (“his disgrace is our own shame”), he is mocked and ridiculed by man and beast alike. Mrs. Jumbo, his mother, is whipped and caged for trying to protect her child. Separated from her, a sad Dumbo tries, with the help of a mouse and a band of crows, to get by in the circus business and find a way to be reunited with his mother.

Maybe those ears, those very things that held him down, will carry him up and up…

_____________

The character of Dumbo, the elephant who can (spoilers ahead) fly, is said to have been inspired by a comic strip on the back of a cereal box. Dumbo the story is itself a brief and simple sketch, but one hour long. The style is simple too, recalling the animations of pioneer Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur) in both line and movement. After the flamboyant excesses, and financial losses, of Fantasia, Dumbo is Disney pared down and relatively unassuming.

The opening scene in which the animals board a (anthropomorphised) train, is as colourful as a nursery and has a curiosity and energy that is quite different from the sickly nannying charm offensive that afflicts many Disney films. It is during this journey a stork delivers a child to Mrs.Jumbo. The train choo choos through the landscape and as it grinds to a halt at its destination, the music too slows down to a stop. It’s fun.

Once the characters are properly introduced and the story gets going, this energy becomes trying when applied to every situation and almost every animal and person. It’s all big. There are quite a lot of children’s films that think that, to be enjoyed by children, everybody in them has to act like a child or a fool. It is like the adult who leans into the pram and goes “coochy-coo!”.

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By Bob Clark

In the seventy two years since the character was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman has featured in countless comic-books, television shows and films of all manner of style, ranging from the lighthearted tone of the camp-classic Adam West & Burt Ward series to the dark, art-deco inspired musings of Bruce Timm & Paul Dini’s acclaimed animated programs from the early 90’s onward. Besides the creators of Bruce Wayne, Gotham City and the rogue’s gallery of villains and heroes vying for control over it, there have been a handful of creators in their respective mediums who have put their distinctive creative stamp on the character of the Caped Crusader, but by and large few (arguably none) have done more to influence the tide of the public’s conception of this figure more than Frank Miller. As creator of the acclaimed graphic novels The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, he almost singlehandedly rescued the character from the lighter approach that had dominated since the West & Ward series, bringing readers back to the dark roots of a lonely vigilante still traumatized by the deaths of his parents, a hero who at times becomes almost as obsessive and psychotic as his enemies in his one-man war on crime. Since the publication of these two works in the late 80’s, hardly a depiction of the character in any medium has gone without at least some variation of their dark and gritty tone, especially in cinematic outings. Tim Burton’s two Batman films arrived with every bit the same kind of brooding, noir-inspired atmosphere as Miller’s comics, and even Joel Shumacher’s reviled installments were at least a fair deal darker than the West & Ward series, though no less gaudily campy.

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by Allan Fish

(UK/USA 2011 115m)

People like me

p  Jennifer Fox, Luc Roeg, Robert Salerno  d  Lynne Ramsay  w  Lynne Ramsay, Rory Kinnear  novel  Lionel Shriver  ph  Seamus McGarvey  ed  Joe Bini  m  Jonny Greenwood  art  Judy Becker 

Tilda Swinton (Eva), John C.Reilly (Franklin), Ezra Miller (Kevin), Jasper Newell (Kevin, childhood), Ursula Parker (Lucy), Siobhan Fallon (Wanda), Ashley Gerasimovich (Celia), Erin Maya Darke (Rose), Rock Duer (Kevin, toddler), James Chen (Dr Foulkes), Lauren Fox (Dr Goldblatt),

When I first saw Morvern Callar nearly a decade ago, one was left with mixed feelings.  Many who read the book were ecstatic about the film, while those who hadn’t found it a little quirky for their own good.  Some of the plot motivations were shaky, to say the least, ambiguous to the point of downright perversity, and on the whole I found myself siding with the latter group.  All the same, I was continually reminded of a typically fearless performance from Samantha Morton and some truly astonishing visuals which, when coupled with her equally strange but powerful debut Ratcatcher, showcased Lynne Ramsay as a talent that, while her films may estrange as much as enrapture, would still be more than worthy of following in the years to come. (more…)

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