Archive for September, 2012

by Samuel Wilson

The Man Nobody Knows, one of the best-selling non-fiction books of the 1920s, described Jesus Christ as the ultimate salesman. That idea may have been floating in the mind of Hal Roach’s title writer H. M. Walker when he introduced Big Business as “the story of a man who turned the other cheek, and got punched in the nose.” But who is the man? Is it Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy or their antagonist James Finlayson? Which of them turns the other cheek? This is Big Business, after all – arguably Laurel and Hardy’s best-remembered silent comedy and a definitive example of the team’s “tit for tat” trope. “Tit for tat” is the opposite of turning the other cheek, it would seem, so what’s Walker trying to say?

Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy are trying to sell Christmas trees in California, a proposition that seemed more ludicrous in 1929 than it may today. Finlayson is their third stop of the day, after an embarrassing but uneventful encounter with a single woman and a confrontation with a hammer-wielding but otherwise unseen homeowner. Finlayson gives them another flat no, and that’d be the end of that, except that the boys’ sample tree gets stuck in his door. This happens twice but things might still have ended peacefully had Stan not gotten a “big business idea,” rung Finlayson’s doorbell yet again and asked whether he’d reserve a tree for next year. The title of the picture has been invoked, so maybe Stan’s the man the title writer means. Maybe turning the other cheek means not taking no for an answer. That’s the way of a salesman, and that might be a kind of martyrdom, depending on your point of view. Attention will be paid to such men. (more…)

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The Tin Drum

‘The Tin Drum’ a German masterpiece by Volker Schlondorf


 by Sam Juliano

     There is no more noble venture online than the sustained and impassioned efforts of Dee Dee, Lori Moore and Barbara LaMotta, who are continuing to gather signatures in a worthy project titled “The John Garfield Challenge” which urges the powers that be to release a DVD/blu ray box set of the acting icon’s most celebrated films.  Starting off with modest fanfare the project has now become something of a crusade, and is attracting attention and support on a daily basis.  The regular reports have been inspiring both for film lovers and those who have dreamed of the ultimate cinematic testimonial for an artist who made his mark through generations.  On a personal note, I was blown away when I saw signatures on the petition of people I hadn’t seen in many years from my high school class, and thought oh what a small world.

     Fall is now official, and it’s only a matter of time before pumpkins, colored leaves, cool night air and scare movies enter the equation.  Baseball pennant races are intensifying and football fans are shouting for their favorites.  Our own Bob Clark will soon be reporting on the New York Film Festival.  Jaimie Grijalba’s horror countdown at Exodus 8:2 continues with acute focus while here at Wonders in the Dark the comedy countdown moves closer to the half way point.      It’s been a real honor hosting some of the finest film reviews online by some of the best authors. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Off we go…

Best Picture  Wild Strawberries, Sweden (7 votes)

Best Director  Ingmar Bergman, Wild Strawberries (8 votes)

Best Short What’s Opera Doc?, US, Chuck Jones (13 votes)

Best Actor  Victor Sjöstrom, Wild Strawberries (12 votes)

Best Actress  Giulietta Masina, Nights of Cabiria (10 votes)

Best Supp Actor  Sessue Hayakawa, The Bridge on the River Kwai (4 votes)

Best Supp Actress  Ineko Arima, Tokyo Twilight (3 votes)

Best Cinematography  Gunnar Fischer, The Seventh Seal (7 votes)

Best Score  Elmer Bernstein, Sweet Smell of Success (8 votes)

and my own choices…


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By Bob Clark

The old saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I wonder if that really covers the full breadth of data it can store. When we stare at a painting or glance at a photograph in the newspaper, how much information do we absorb and process at any given moment, ranging from the aesthetics of the piece, the social circumstances surrounding it, and our own personal emotional response? Could you fit the human reaction to any given piece of art onto a solid-state hard drive? How many bytes would you need to unravel the myriad of feelings any work of expression can produce, even in a broken, snapshot state? And what about the intellectual reactions– can artificial computations match the speed of human thought, unconsciously criss-crossing all sorts of impressions and considerations in order to decode the various possibilities inherent in a single image? Could that computer then synthesize inspiration? If you fed a single screen-cap into a powerful enough computer, what are the chances that it could backwards engineer something like motion-picture it sprang from? If that computer’s name was Osamu Tezuka, at least it would be on the right track.


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by Pat Perry

By sheer, happy coincidence, I come today to sing the praises of a legendary Looney Tunes short on the 100th birthday of its creator – Charles M. “Chuck” Jones.

I can clearly recall a time in my childhood when most of what I knew about classical music I’d learned from Bugs Bunny.

Like so many kids who grew up watching Chicago television in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Looney Tunes were once an integral part of my early morning routine. From Channel Nine’s Ray Rayner and Friends show, we got a daily, before-school dose of Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Yosemite Sam, Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote… and, of course, the “wascally wabbit” who forever outran hunter Elmer Fudd.

During those formative years, I was introduced to Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Bugs’ enthusiastic performance of it in Rhapsody Rabbit, and to conductor Leopold Stokowski by Bugs’ impersonation of him in Long-Haired Hare. In Rabbit of Seville, Bugs escaped the gun of Elmer Fudd by leading him into an opera house and subjecting him to a variety of tonsorial torments set to the rhythms of Rossini’s Barber of Seville overture. And from today’s countdown honoree – What’s Opera Doc? – I learned unforgettable lyrics to Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” – to this day, I cannot get them out of my head when I hear that music. C’mon, sing ‘em with me now: “Kill da wabbit! Kill da wabbit! Kill da Wa-a-a-a-bit!!!!!” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1990 175m) DVD1/2

Heathens in hot places

p  Philippa Giles  d  Beeban Kidron  w/novel  Jeanette Winterson  ph  Ian Punter  ed  John Strickland  m  Rachel Portman  art  Cecilia Brereton  cos  Les Lansdown

Charlotte Coleman (Jess), Emily Aston (small Jess), Geraldine McEwan (mother), Celia Imrie (Miss Jewsbury), Cathryn Bradshaw (Melanie), Kenneth Cranham (Pastor Finch), Margery Withers (Elsie), Freda Dowie (Mrs Green), Elizabeth Spriggs (May), Pam Ferris (Mrs Arkwright), David Thewlis (doctor), Katy Murphy (Mrs Virtue), Tania Rodrigues (Katy),

News of the death of Charlotte Coleman in late 2001 – I dimly recall hearing about it in the news following the latest details of the aftermath of 9-11, which so dominated the news that fateful autumn – was received with a shock.  Shocking enough that she had died, and so tragically young (of an asthma attack) at just 33.  Yet somehow she seemed part of growing up, part of my growing up, or at least my generation.  I can still see her as the horrid child Marmalade Atkins in Children’s ITV’s Educating Marmalade when I was a kid as the sort of girl who would have been head girl at St Trinian’s if luck had been with her.  She exemplified something rebellious, and it’s that rebellion, that fierce, stubborn determination that exemplified what remains her finest hour. (more…)

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by Ed Howard

Luis Buñuel’s final film of his Mexican period is the short, punchy Simon of the Desert, possibly the great surrealist’s wittiest and funniest film, and certainly his most focused meditation on a subject that interested him throughout his career: the combined folly and nobility of profound religious faith. Certainly, there is no protagonist in Buñuel’s oeuvre who better represents this dialectical representation of religion than the holy fool Simon (Claudio Brook), an ascetic who lives alone in the desert on the top of a pillar, fasting, praying, willfully turning his back on the entirety of the world. When the film opens, he has in essence been rewarded for his solitary suffering: the local priests come to offer Simon a better, taller pillar, donated by a rich man, and Simon accepts. The man who professes to want no worldly things, to have no need for his fellow beings, thinks nothing of taking this gift, a worldly and ornate pillar on which he can make his ascetic offerings to God. Buñuel makes even more of a sly joke of it by having the priests tell him that he’s been standing on this pillar for six years, six months and six days: the Biblical number of the Beast from the Book of Revelations, a sign of the Apocalypse. (more…)

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Copyright © 2012 by James Clark

Whereas Bresson’s fourteen-year-old Mouchette lurches through well-meaning indiscretions virtually unnoticed and dies much as a sparrow would, the same artist’s nineteen-year-old Joan (the Joan) lurches through well-meaning indiscretions noticed by throngs and dies one of the most celebrated deaths ever recorded. Well aware of the anonymity directly devouring nearly everyone, in The Trial of Joan of Arc (1962) he takes advantage of the presence of the same kind of conflict (apropos of mysterious scintillation) befalling so many of his other protagonists—only now uniquely drawing attention to its monumental (cosmic), world-historical consequentiality. This is a Joan pointedly indifferent toward panoramic spectacle and personal glamor. It is a film about an incendiary affair of the heart entangling each and every one of us, and as such it couldn’t be farther from an antiquated “historical drama.” (There is, therefore, an arresting affinity to this work in Arthur Miller’s stage play, The Crucible, concerning a protagonist (headed, as it happens, to being forgotten) chewed up by the Salem Witch Trials.) (more…)

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celine 1

by Allan Fish

(France 1974 192m) DVD2

Aka. Céline and Julie go Boating

One, two, three, eagle-eye and blockhead

p Barbet Schroeder d Jacques Rivette w Eduardo de Gregorio, Jacques Rivette, Juliet Berto, Dominique Labourier, Bulle Ogier, Marie-France Pisier stories Henry James ph Jacques Renard, Michel Senet ed Nicole Lubtchanksy, Chris Tulio-Altan m Jean-Marie Senia art/cos none

Juliet Berto (Céline), Dominique Labourier (Julie), Bulle Ogier (Camille), Marie-France Pisier (Sophie), Barbet Schroeder (Olivier), Philippe Clevenot (Guliou), Nathalie Asnar (Madlyn), Marie-Thérése Saussure (Poupie), Anne Zamire,

If there is one director of the nouvelle vague who has drawn as much exasperation as admiration, it has to be Jacques Rivette. Many of his films stretch beyond the absolute limit of human endurance. Not just in their length, but in the way he tries to justify that length by the movie itself; even his greatest film La Belle Noiseuse, clocks in at four hours and this – his most famous – at over three. Yet Céline is referred to by many as one of the masterpieces of the cinema, with David Thomson exclaiming it as simply “the most innovative film since Citizen Kane.” So what is it that makes Céline so magical to so many? (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

The Acme Building and Wrecking Co., Inc. is in the process of demolishing the J.C. Wilber Building when a crowbar-wielding employee (who inexplicably wears a fedora and casual clothes) pries open the cornerstone and finds a small metal box. Inside the dusty box are the dedication papers for the building, dated 1892, and a small green frog. As the confounded construction worker watches, the frog leaps onto the lid of the box, flashes a sudden smile, reaches back into the box for a tiny top hat and cane … and bursts into a perfectly-pitched, thoroughly choreographed, high-stepping rendition of “Hello Ma Baby.”

So begins One Froggy Evening, the 1955 Technicolor masterpiece directed by prolific Warner Bros. animator/director Charles “Chuck” M. Jones. The cartoon is a fable of Aesop-ian proportions, juxtaposing the human’s greedy desire for fame and fortune at the frog’s expense with the amphibian’s inability/unwillingness to perform for anything other than his master’s sole pleasure. But forget all of that heavy stuff for a moment—what’s really important is that One Froggy Evening is seven minutes of inspired, efficient humor. (more…)

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