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Archive for December 10th, 2012

by R. D. Finch

When making out my ballot for the Comedy Countdown here at Wonders in the Dark, the biggest dilemma I faced was deciding just what was a comedy and what wasn’t. As I worked on the list, several films whose overall tone I was uncertain of fell off the list. A few of these eventually found their way back on. One of the films I went back and forth on was Sullivan’s Travels, which I eventually placed at #5, right after my two favorite silent comedies—one by Chaplin and one by Keaton—and my two favorite screwball comedies. The dilemma I faced in classifying Sullivan’s Travels is that it doesn’t fit comfortably into either the “comedy/ha-ha” or the “comedy/not tragedy” modes of humor. Tonally, the film is a real paradox, a movie where gravity and humor exist side-by-side, a tragicomic picture whose subject is comedy and whose premise is a serious one—that a movie which aims to do no more than make people laugh is as important as one that makes them think.

Joel McCrea plays film director John L. Sullivan, Hollywood’s Caliph of Comedy, who decides that he’s tired of making frivolous movies, no matter how popular they are, and wants to direct a film that makes a serious statement about contemporary socioeconomic conditions. Because Sullivan has no first-hand experience of the grinding poverty he wants to depict onscreen, he decides to research the subject by disguising himself as a tramp and going out on the road. No matter where he heads, though, circumstances invariably take him right back to Hollywood. During one of these false starts he acquires a traveling companion, an aspiring actress who has given up on Hollywood and is on her way back to Kansas when she meets Sullivan at a Hollywood diner. (Called simply The Girl, she is played by Veronica Lake in her first starring role. She was never again this natural or this good.) It’s fully two-thirds of the way through the film before the pair finally manage to get on the road and gather the knowledge Sullivan needs to give his new picture authenticity. When he decides to go back on the road one last time alone, the film’s comic tone, already sobered by what he and The Girl have experienced of life on the skids, turns tragic. (more…)

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Stephen Frye’s passionate documentary on the great German opera composer: “Wagner and Me”

Ken Burns in front of poster of “The Central Park Five”

by Sam Juliano

We are about two weeks away from ho ho ho but there are some among us who still haven’t switched to that shopping mode.  It’s always the same year in and year out.  Halloween blends into Turkey Day, and then the outdoor lights and tree are set up for their month long window.  While there are a number of holiday-related events and responsibilities to negotiate, it always seems that time goes by much too quickly to allow for completion of those tasks.  Movie fans of course can indulge in their favorite hobby at a time when the quality is at a peak, before abating midway through January.  The various award sites are hopping, and to this point both the New York Film Critics Circle and The National Board of Review have given their ‘best picture’ prize to the same film: Katherine Bigelow’s purportedly harrowing Zero Dark Thirty, a film about the manhunt to kill Osama bin Laden.  The docudrama opens on December 19th.  Other imminent openings include Amour, Tabu, Any Day Now (seen at Tribeca), Les Miserables and The Hobbit. On Sunday the LA Film Critics gave their own best picture award to the Palme d’Or winning Amour, while both Boston and New York Critics Online went for Zero Dark Thirty.

The long-running comedy countdown is down to the Top 10, beginning with today’s post.  The remarkable project has been moving along since it’s August launching, and will conclude on Friday, December 21.  Some of the site’s finest essays have been written for this venture, and many regular commentators have made some marvelous additions in the lively comment threads.

Congratulations to David Schleicher!!!  Filmmaker/writer Frank LaLoggia placed a lengthy comment under David’s review of his 1988 horror  film The Lady in White at The Schleicher Spin.  David posed some questions to LaLoggia, and sure enough the famed director responded:  http://theschleicherspin.com/2012/12/08/did-you-ever-see-a-dream-walking/

Our very good friend Judy Geater has a fantastic ‘Dickens December’ series running this month at Movie Classics that deserves the attention of those who have a special interest in cinematic adaptation for the work of this beloved author. (more…)

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