Archive for March 12th, 2012

by Sam Juliano

One of the key figures of the pre-code era in American cinema, William A. Wellman’s critical reputation remains in a state of flux, ranging from glowing comparisons to D.W. Griffith to repudition of his “impersonal” style as the product of studio domination.  His most ardent supporters make claim for auteur status and a favorable comparison with other masculine filmmakers of lofty regard like Howard Hawks, John Ford and Raoul Walsh.  The advocates could further make a persuasive case for Wellman’s versatility and prolific output, both of which rival Hawks, and for a career that spans nearly five decades.  But the two are further linked by their love and experience in aviation, a subject that was treated in several Wellman features dating back to the celebrated Oscar winner Wings in 1928 and concluding appropriately enough with the director’s final film, Lafayette Escadrille, which chronicles the period he spent in in France during World War I serving as a volunteer fighter pilot.  One of Hawks’ two lost films, The Air Circus, about the friendship of two pilots, was also released in 1928.  Hence it seems like no fluke that both men, (born the same year, with Wellman four months older) with similar macho backgrounds would direct what are arguably the two greatest old-school gangster films ever made, The Public Enemy and Scarface, released within five months of each other in the early 1930’s.  Some of the most prominent actors and actresses got their start under Wellman and Hawks, and both made smooth transitions from the silent era to the advent of the talkies.  Some would claim the comparisons would end there, and see Hawks as the greater talent with some compelling evidence, but a recently-concluded 40 film Wellman retrospective at Manhattan’s Film Forum has shown if nothing else, that both of these distinguished figures can and should be spoken of with a comparable degree of veneration.  Yes, Ernst Lubitsch, James Whale and Joseph Von Sternberg are also major players during this period, and a case could be made for the achievements of the first two at least eclipsing Wellman during the five year period (1929-1934) of this era, but only Hawks and Anthony Mann can match Wellman by way of the diversity of his output.  Wellman made great contributions in the gangster, western, adventure, social drama, noir, silent, screwball comedy and melodrama genres, and any list of his greatest films would invariably tap into a number of these types. (more…)

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Iranian director Jafar Panahi with kimono dragon pet "Iggi" in miraculous documentary "This is Not A Film"

by Sam Juliano

As the March weather in the NYC area fluctuates from winter cold to spring humidity, few have been able to retire their coats, even while bringing short sleeve tops and casual apparel out from the moth balls.  On the movie front, it’s been a time for bottom-of-the-barrel multiplex fare, some most interesting documentaries in the art house bastions, and several exquisite restorations of classic films.  Overall it’s not the best time of the year for cineastes, but things are starting to look better.  The Tribeca Film Festival is nearing and the schedule is now up online.

At Wonders in the Dark continuing stellar work from Allan, Jamie, Peter Lenihan, and Bob Clark has showcased over the past week, and sites stats have been most impressed, especially on the past record-setting Monday, when an interview with talented blogger Stephen Russell-Gebbett was part of the mix.

With the Wellman Festival concluded (and a summary post appearing today) Lucille and I have resumed our theatrical viewings of recent releases and three cinema classics at the Film Forum in DCP (Digital Cinema Package) in what turned out to be a very busy week after all.  We watched:

Attenberg   **         (Friday night)      IFC Film Center

This is Not A Film  **** 1/2    (Friday night)   Film Forum

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye **    (Saturday night)   Chelsea Cinemas

Rear Window (1954) *****       (Wednesday night)   Film Forum

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)  *****  (Monday night)  Film Forum

The Shining  (1980)  *****     (Monday night)   Film Forum (more…)

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