Archive for March, 2012

By Bob Clark

In the annals of fabled failed film projects, few offer as tantalizing a glimpse into the imagined graces of what might’ve been than that of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, a movie whose hypothetical qualities have been gossiped and salivated over by fans of the director’s uniquely surreal and mystical qualities ever since his name was first attached to the project back in the 70’s, and long since after he was unceremoniously subtracted from it. Though a film would eventually come to fruition under the aegis of Dino de Laurientis and David Lynch, and another version besides produced for the Sci-Fi Channel whose proudest boasts would appear to be snagging William Hurt for the role of Duke Leto Atreides and hiring Vittorio Storaro as DP under a no-name director, for ages the Jodorowsky production has been vaunted by cinephiles and genre fans alike, all of them aching for a more striking and ambitious adaptation of the classic novel. In one sense, however, those same fans of film and Frank Herbert’s literature alike probably ought to be grateful that the idiosynchratic director’s vision of Dune never even came close to reaching the screen, for no other reason than if it did, it likely wouldn’t have borne much resemblance at all to the story of Dune as we know it, in the first place. For proof positive of what we might’ve gotten instead, one need only take a look at the graphic novel written by Jodorowsky himself and illustrated by the comics-maestro Moebius– The Incal.



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by Allan Fish

(Japan 1947 74m) DVD1/2

Aka. Nagaya Shinshiroku

Fanning the futon

d  Yasujiro Ozu  w  Tadao Ikeda, Yasujiro Ozu  ph  Yuharu Atsuta  ed  Yoshi Sugihara  m  Ichiro Saito  art  Tatsuo Hamada

Choko Iida (Tané), Hohi Aoki (Kohei), Eitaro Ozawa (Father), Mitsuko Yoshikawa (Kikuko), Reikichi Kawamura (Tamekichi), Hideko Mimura (Okiku), Chishu Ryu (Tashiro), Takeshi Sakamoto (Kawayashi), Eiko Takamatsu (Tome),

In the opening episode of Mark Cousins’ intoxicating The Story of Film: An Odyssey, he discusses the creation, in cinema’s infancy, of what would become film’s vocabulary, the syntax of how shots were put together to show what he referred to as the ‘then’ (what comes next) and the ‘meanwhile’ (what happens at the same time in another location).  Professional film scholars would go to great lengths and infinite detail about the gradual use of cross-cutting, of continuity editing, or parallel editing, all designed to illustrate how a story moves. Then there’s the paradox. 

            In the same episode Cousins talked about how Alfred Hitchcock once called cinema “life with the boring bits cut out.”  Yet how can film mirror life if it only acts as a sort of lifespan or time period highlights package?  To Yasujiro Ozu, film was all about the ‘boring bits’, the ephemera, the tiny detail.  Cousins highlighted a sequence from an Ozu film that isn’t generally chosen when it comes to Ozu.  Chances are a dozen other films would be chosen ahead of it, but Record of a Tenement Gentleman repays repeat viewings; it grows on you. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, leader of the doomed team who tried to be first to the South Pole in 1912.  In tribute, my piece on Herbert J.Ponting’s criminally little known documentary released to Blu Ray and DVD in the UK last year.

(UK 1924 108m) DVD2

Great God, this is an awful place

d/w/ph/ed  Herbert J.Ponting  m  Simon Fisher Turner

I believe it was Woodrow Wilson who, upon seeing The Birth of a Nation for the first time, described it as like “history written with flashes of lightning.”  Though one understood what he meant, not until now, upon seeing a film shot before Griffith’s film but not seen until nearly a decade after, did I feel something akin to the same genuinely ghostly sensation.  The name of Herbert J.Ponting FRGS FRPS FZS is not one generally known today, but he was one of a heroic hardy bunch who trekked to the Antarctic in 1911 on a mission to try and reach the South Pole.  Along with him were five fellows who were to make the final push to 90°S; Evans, Bowers, Wilson, Oates and their leader, Robert Falcon Scott.

            The public image of Scott a century on has gone through a rollercoaster, from initial praise for his heroism as an embodiment of what made Britain great, to some denouncing him as a bungler who put his men’s fate in unnecessary danger by allowing himself to take such a fatally long route to and from the pole and leaving his rival Roald Amundsen the opportunity to blindside him from an easier starting point.  Then there was the 1948 Ealing movie, with John Mills, James Robertson Justice et al allowing their upper lips to be frozen stiff.  (more…)

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Screen cap from "Jane Eyre" with Mia Wasikowska

                                                                                                                                                                          © 2012 by James Clark

You might want to argue that the only thing these movies have in common is being overlooked as candidates for film awards deserved by features released in 2011. The nub of controversy here would be attempting to pull the sense of Moneyball significantly away from its apparent occupancy of a long series of bios about baseball All-Stars. If we can dare to dream that the (not, after all, full-blown) triumph of Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, is more about discovering his vocation as to what makes a baseball team tick than about personal glory, there is a chance we can imagine him and Jane as distant teammates in getting the hang of a brand-new game.

In the spirit of Billy’s analytics as to the talent pool, let’s take a peek at the writing bona fides that went into Moneyball. What impresses even a cursory survey about their pro potential is a vigorously applied and protracted involvement with freeing wiggle room within seemingly locked-shut systems of socio-economic advantage. The film is based on a study, by Michael Lewis, of the 2002 Major League Baseball season, particularly focusing upon how the Oakland Athletics, at a disadvantage in not being able to afford retaining home-grown and acquiring other superstar players, were able to reel off an unprecedented twenty-game winning streak and send the rest of the league scurrying to catch up with a hitherto untried schema regarding the elemental factors of the game. Lewis, expressing an abiding interest in the confrontation of “insiders” and “outsiders,” has also produced explorations of how businesses, like insurance companies, can fortify themselves against risk by means of entities called “catastrophe bonds,” which entice investors to carry much of the firm’s liability as to phenomena like hurricanes, by hedging on disasters’ not happening in a given time-frame. Getting back to the A’s, the GM and his recently acquired young assistant, Peter (fresh from graduating in Economics, from Yale), embark upon signing players not for their marquee value, but for being able to: draw walks and so get on base abundantly; and hit for extra bases or reliably advance runners by means of long fly outs (total base hits, ribbies, stolen bases and fielding be damned). The screen writers—drafted with a view to that burrowing interest—namely, Steven Zaillia and Aaron Sorkin, who, severally, probed in previous works the right stuff of a young chess prodigy and the cards to play in avoiding a military court martial, brought to the project a vivid kinship with Lewis’ passion for hidden corners of workplace acceleration. Finally, though not by any stretch of the imagination an auteur this time out (the same can be said, as we shall see, of Jane Eyre’s helmsman, Cary Joji Fukunaga), director, Bennett Miller, has two other films to his credit that stand out as having him quite ready to rock with this vehicle. His first effort was a documentary, The Cruise, in which a New York tour bus guide evinces for his customers the mysterious, hidden (generally ignored) powers of the City and its denizens. His second film was the feature, Capote, showing the writer putting together his documentary-novel, In Cold Blood, in particularly close proximity to one of the murderers on Death Row, and agonizing about how he might find a way to beat the rap, to beat the system. (more…)

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Allan’s ‘Fish Obscuro’ post on The Peach Thief  was the 2,000th at Wonders in the Dark since the site’s inception in late September of 2008.  The total snuck up on us this week, with little attention being paid as we neared this monumental mark.

Congrats to Jamie Uhler, Allan, Dee Dee, Maurizio Roca, Bob Clark, Tony d’Ambra, Jim Clark, Joel Bocko, Jamie Grijalba, Dennis, and all the others who have helped make this place so vibrant and in achieving this milestone, including the guest writers who have contibuted towards a number of the projects: Stephen-Russell-Gebbett, Peter Lenihan, Troy Olson, Kevin Olson, Robert Taylor, John Greco, R.D. Finch, Judy Geater, Pat Perry, Marilyn Ferdinand, Jon Warner, Pierre de Plume, Brandie Ashe, Marc Bauer, Marco Tremble, Phillip Johnson, Kaleem Hasan, Rachel Buccione, Jennider Boulden and more.

And thanks to so many of our regular readers and commenters: Jeffrey Goodman, Laurie Buchanan, Terrill Welch, Samuel Wilson, Bobby J., Sachin, Shubhajit, Ed Howard, Frank Gallo, Mark Smith, Peter, Frederick, David Noack, Patricia Hamilton, Just Another Film Buff, Craig Kennedy, Longman Oz, Murderous Ink, Roderick Heath, J.D., Dave Van Poppel, Adam Zanzie, Michael Harford, David Schleicher, Jason Marshall, Drew McIntosh, Dan Getahun, Dave Hicks, Jon Lanthier, sartre, Greg Ferrara, Anu, Stephen Morton,  Jason Giampietro, Bobby McCartney, Russell Martin, Jack Marsh, Ricky, Broadway Bob,  Brian Paige, Alan Hardy, Joe, Maria, Weeping Sam, Jeff Stroud, Camolas, P. Marasa, Hokahey, Jason Bellamy, Phil B., Jeopardy Girl, Alexander Coleman, Film Dr. Classic Film Boy, Andrei Scala, T.S., Bill H., Artesmia, Ari, Dorothy Porker, Margaret, Peter Danish, Tony Dayoub, James, Alison Flynn, Andrew Wyatt, Rick Olson, Ibetolis and again many others.  Thank you.

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by Allan Fish

(Bulgaria 1964 84m) not on DVD

Aka. Kradetzat na praskovi

What about Bulgaria?

p  Atanas Papadopolus  d/w  Vulo Radev  story  Emilian Stanev  ph  Todor Stoyanov  ed  Ana Manolova-Pipeva  m  Simeon Pironkov  art  Nedelco Nanev

Neneva Kokanova (Lisa), Rade Markovic (Ivo Obrenovitch), Milhail Mikhailjov (the colonel), Vasil Vachev (orderly), Naum Shopov (Dyo Grevil), Ivan Bratanov (Grandev), Georgi Georgiev (Varonov), Ivan Menov (Lefterov), Theodor Youroukov (Porouchik), Lyudmila Cheshmedzhieva (Vdovitzata), Radi Vulov (Radi),

What of Bulgaria?” I had been asked by a film buff friend by email.  One look through the full list of entries here will showcase plenty of works from Poland, from the old Czechoslovakia, from Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, even a few from darkest Romania; but Bulgaria, just this.  “Well, what of Albania?” I had replied.  “Be serious”, I was told.  So I had to have a defence; what of Bulgaria?  When I was a seven year old I found it odd that there was a country named after a Womble.  I could hardly say that. 

            I had first seen a Bulgarian film back in the early 1990s, back in those misty days when British network TV (well, BBC2 and Channel 4) cared about international cinema.  It was a bleak tale called Ivan and Alexandra made I think in the late eighties and concerned two siblings.  I remember only portions of it now, and it was over a decade before I saw more Bulgarian films.  If I had to choose from the mere handful – and I mean literally, the fingers of one hand – of Bulgarian films I had seen, I’d say that I agree with conventional histories and that the choice comes down to two films.  The first, Metodi Andonov’s The Goat Horn, from 1972, was a tale of rape and vengeance in times past, with essences of Bergman, Jancsó and Vlacil, but lacking the narrative power of their best work and relying on the starkness of the visuals.  An excellent film overall, but Valu Radev’s The Peach Thief is surely its superior.  (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

(China, 92 min)

There’s a whole industry, sub-genre. fascination and overall love for epic-period-war-dramas from the land of Asia, specially when we talk about Mainland China, where this is more like the norm than the exception regarding big budget films (regarding exportation, that is, it is rare to see a Chinese romantic comedy or heavy tearjerker or anything that is not blown out of proportion in every way it can show, production wise), at least I think there is, because every other film is a period piece with long costumes and accurate (ha) description of events of a certain era or dinasty of China. I mean, there must be some kind of love or need, a market specialized in these kind of films that at this rate are becoming common place and not as surprising as before. I mean, take the chinese classics from the 90’s that started the craze, continuing down the path with the beautiful wuxia entries and the degeneration that started with what I like to call ‘costume porn’, a film that only is made (apparently, at least) to feature its accurate period setting as well as its lavish costumes and colours. Now, I’m not dissing any specific film, but when it gets into a trend, the bad films start to appear, and that is when a revolution is needed: we either need something to break the mold, something raw and dirty… or we just need to rework other themes and more interesting experiences inside these big budgeted costume epic dramas of war times… and the second is what this film does.


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Screen capture from "The Hunger Games" directed by Gary Ross and based on best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins

by Sam Juliano

June weather in March.  Pink and white blossoms in bloom.  Air conditioners running in full force.  Everything’s gone haywire, but many are all smiles with all the outdoor options and the likelihood of a good time ahead during spring break.  The Major League Baseball season is just days away, and Easter Sunday is just two weeks ahead.  The Tribeca Film Festival launches on April 17 and runs until the 29, and as usual Dennis Polifroni’s friends there will enable WitD staff to again take in a number of the event’s most desirable features.  Negotiations are underway to sort things out, but as was the case the previous years, screenings will be conducted at the Chelsea Clearview Cinemas and other nearby facilities.

At Wonders in the Dark, it’s business as usual with regular contributions by the site’s staff offering up some stellar prose, including Peter Lenihan’s defining essay on John Ford’s silent western classic The Iron Horse, Jamie Uhler’s buffo treatment of the British rock group “T. Rex” and Bob Clark’s moving remembrence of Moebius.  As always Allan led the way on Tuesday and Friday with two new ‘Fish Obscuro’ entries, and his popular Sunday survey of cinema history from the earliest years to the present.  This week he’s asking voters to consider 1932, a banner year for the movies, and particularly for American cinema.  Everyone is encouraged to cast their votes on the post thread, which appeared yesterday.

An unusually busy week with film openings instigated a spirited run at the cinemas that resulted in the negotiation of seven (7) films, including a special TCM one-night nationwide anniversary run of the beloved classic Casablanca, complete with interviews and introduction by film historian Robert Osbourne.  Lucille accompanied me to all the screenings except the aforementioned Casablanca, which I saw with Dennis and my son Sammy at our Edgewater multiplex: (more…)

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by Allan Fish

A tough year this one…

Best Picture M, Germany (7 votes)

Best Director Fritz Lang, M (9 votes)

Best Short Bimbo’s Initiation, US, Dave Fleischer (4 votes)

Best Actor Fredric March, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (6 votes)

Best Actress Barbara Stanwyck, The Miracle Woman (6 votes)

Best Supp Actor Dwight Frye, Dracula (14 votes)

Best Supp Actress Miriam Hopkins, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (8 votes)

And my choices


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By Bob Clark

This week, the title is meant to be read in the future tense, an appropriate consideration, seeing as the person in question is a figure whose work always dealt with imagining the future in the most extravagant terms possible. A couple weeks back when Ralph McQuarrie passed away, I closed my short piece on him by wondering out loud how the Star Wars series might’ve turned out if another artist had been contacted by George Lucas to put pen and brush to paper and render production art for his big pitch at 20th Century Fox. I had only thought so far as to speculate the results if Frank Frazetta or Jim Steranko had teamed up with the young filmmaker, but almost as soon as I’d published the piece, I realized that I had overlooked another seminal sci-fi and fantasy artist of the time, and one whose work had already been shaping the look of genre films and would go on shaping them for years to come. Both directly through collaboration and indirectly through inspiration, Jean “Moebius” Giraud has very likely been more responsible for the look and feel of science fiction film, comics and animation than any other artist in the past thirty or forty years. And now, like Ralph McQuarrie, he is gone.


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