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Archive for October, 2013

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by Peter Lenihan

Fort Apache is a turning point. Since the thirties John Ford had made only two westerns—Stagecoach (1939) and My Darling Clementine (1946). Between 1948 and 1950, however, he would direct five—Fort Apache (1948), 3 Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Wagon Master (1950) and Rio Grande (1950). This, in itself, is not necessarily important. Great directors excel in many genres, and following Rio Grande, Ford wouldn’t make another oater for six years. However, the differences between these five films and the two that came before it are striking, and worth emphasizing.

Film historians have gone to great lengths to underline the importance of Stagecoach, and particularly its place in the canon as the first “mature” “western”—a distinction I approach with great trepidation, and which you probably should too. If we are to understand maturity as consisting of busy, overlapping subplots and more characters than writer, producer or director know what do with, then I agree. The film as a whole, however, is too overstuffed to accommodate Ford’s poeticism, and both the film’s merits and failings seem to have more to do with its script than direction or (admittedly often startling) cinematography. My Darling Clementine, alternatively, is essentially a sequence-for-sequence remake of the superb Frontier Marshal (1939), and that it is not recognized as such probably has more to do with the obscurity of Dwan’s film than anything else. While Ford’s sense of community in Clementine is undeniably deeper than in Stagecoach, there’s an often transparent directorial discomfort with the pulpy gunfighter plot he’s supposed to be telling, and the film only comes alive in the scenes that have nothing to do with the Clantons or the OK Corral.

Fort Apache is a bit different, and marks, as Dave Kehr put it, the film in which “Ford finally withdrew from the Oscar race and entered his own individual aesthetic, isolating himself in the glories and eccentricities of a great artist.” Those are lofty pronouncements, but strike me as being justified by the film (as well as Wagon Master, The Sun Shines Bright, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and countless others). It’s a film of strange, unexplained suggestions—the dispute between Collingsworth and Thursday, for example, is never fully explained, although it almost certainly has to do with sides taken during the American Civil War—and although some of this is overridden by a stunning and bombastic climax, these uncanny whispers remain. (more…)

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7men3

By Jon Warner

“The reason that people understand the westerns I made with Randy Scott is that they were simple…..nothing in those Scott pictures would make the audience say, “What did he mean? What was he trying to say?……..I said it very simply, and that’s the way I make my pictures. One doesn’t have to sit there and say, “Well, I don’t know….ethically….and maybe he meant…” That’s a lot of crap: to be so artistic that you don’t make sense.”

Budd Boetticher – 1972 – Excerpt from The Director’s Event

“For it is indeed the most intelligent western I know while being at the same time the least intellectual, the most subtle and the least aestheticizing, the simplest and finest example of the form.”

Andre Bazin – Seven Men From Now – 1957 – Cahiers du Cinema

Through a series of 7 films that Budd Boetticher made in conjunction with his star Randolph Scott, the western saw some of its finest films get made. The best of the bunch, The Tall T, Ride Lonesome, Comanche Station, and especially Seven Men From Now were all written by Burt Kennedy. It was a tremendous stretch run for a director, writer, star combination, and it’s really only in recent years that Boetticher’s films have become more available and more lauded, finally landing Boetticher in the same discussion with Ford, Mann, and Leone (and I think Daves could be included as well). It turns out that Seven Men From Now, in particular, has been little seen for decades and only available in archive prints until about 2005. Because the film was produced under John Wayne’s Batjac film company (as opposed to Ranown Productions), it had different distribution rights than the other films in the series, and after Wayne’s death the film remained in hiding for the most part. It’s almost hard to believe that a film THIS good was so hard to see for so long. It is high time that this film gets seen because it’s one of the most perfect westerns ever made, and is worthy of consideration for top 10 status. Perhaps in years to come, this film will continue to receive more recognition. (more…)

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roman-holiday-1

 © 2013 by James Clark

    Sometimes luck has a lot to do with it. Feeling it was time to translate the many confusing intimations, in current films, about tempering the sense of other people as hell (an axiom of Robert Bresson’s brand of Surrealist discovery), along comes a show (at our Design Exchange) involving artisans from the Hermes corporation of breathtaking design. Their actions concerning the crafts per se and their interactions with us were so redolent of regal brilliance and passionate love for creation that I was encouraged to put aside misgivings and undertake a context of filmic magnanimity, namely, the Audrey Hepburn movie, Roman Holiday (1953), which had appeared in my eyes to have as many minuses as pluses. That the minuses of the Hermes enterprise—clustered about a marked indifference, in its horsey set market focus, to the twenty-first century and its cues toward prodigious leaps—could be brushed aside by their pluses become (somewhat incongruously) alight, gave me the shove to allow Audrey to strut her stuff. (more…)

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3103

By Jon Warner

Delmer Daves has usually been last in the line of discussion of the great western directors, if he gets mentioned at all. If one were to create a Mt. Rushmore of western film directors, it would look something like this: Ford, Mann, Leone,…..and in most circles Boetticher as well, would probably get all the attention. Maybe the recent Criterion releases of two of Daves’s best films (including this one) will begin to highlight his career more. Those that forget to mention Daves in the discussion are certainly creating an oversight. His films stand among the best of the genre in the 1950’s, as he made a series of fascinating moral masterworks, unlike anything else. Daves’s works often incorporate what I call parables (and even one could label them as Biblical parables of sorts), providing a context and filter through which he examines our instincts, our responsibilities, temptations and our challenges as a human race, thereby taking a moral inventory of human nature. In these ways, Daves carves his own niche within the genre, adding this unique perspective not found in other films. 3:10 to Yuma is his most famous work, if also perhaps his best, weaving moral complexity with significant amounts of tension. It’s an essential western masterpiece that is also a gateway into the rest of Daves’s work. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

Movies are motifs and moments as well as stories – individual, isolated campfires flickering in the desert dusk and not just landscapes strung together by a stretch of lonesome road. Perhaps Westerns more than most other narrative films rely on this identification with details rather than plot development. Indeed, often the plots exist as clotheslines over which to string the details: the kids playing in the dirt staring up in awe at the outlaws riding nonchalantly through town, the bedroom sequence in which a lonely drifter becomes loquacious with a local whole, the banter over whisky at the bar (nobody drinks beer in saloons, it seems). Audiences go to Westerns – or went to Westerns when they were more popular – less to experience surprise twists and turns in a novelistic story than to gaze with affection and curiosity at a portrait of a time and place both familiar and foreign.

“Revisionist” directors like Sam Peckinpah may have upset and upturned conventions, but they also honored and expanded upon those conventions in the first place. Watching films like The Wild Bunch today, their once-groundbreaking violence no longer shocks; one is struck instead by the ways in which they feel nostalgic or old-fashioned. They exude a sense of affectionate camaraderie which one seldom finds outside of buddy comedies (albeit sans stoicism) in 2013. Perhaps no Western more acutely captures the passage from warm if rough camaraderie into brooding, suspicious isolation than Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973). Even stylistically, the film – particularly when comparing its various incarnations (three have been released over the years) – is torn between a sense of long, lingering (perhaps excessive) attention to detail and a relentless march toward an inevitable outcome.

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The immortal Divine in new documentary about his/her life.

by Sam Juliano

Halloween is around the corner, and those festive for the day have been getting a head start by displaying their unique garb on local and city streets, and at night club parties.  There seems to be more costume stores open than ever before, though one wonders what they do for business for most of the year.  In the metropolitan area leaves have finally began to turn, what with frosty evenings and a slow evacuation of the elements that have conspired to keep some summer residue hanging around.   The family paid a visit on Sunday to Clinton Place in Hackensack, New Jersey, an enclave where residents have faithfully maintained a Halloween tradition, decking out their homes with awesome decorations for many years. The WitD sidebar is properly adored, courtesy as always to the incomparable Dee Dee.  The World Series is shaping out to be a real humdinger, with the Cards holding a 2 to 1 edge as of this writing.  Game 4 is set for 8:00 Sunday night.  The football fans who root for the Giants have a glimmer of hope, as the team has now won two games after losing the first half dozen.

My very good friend, filmmaker and musician Jason Giampietro sent me an IM this afternoon with the sad news of the passing of Velvet Underground icon Lou Reed, who died in Manhattan at the age of 70.  Reed (I know, a racist label has maligned him) was a singular talent, one of the true geniuses of the rock era.  Giampietro, who went as far as to tell me that he thought Velvet Underground were his second favorites behind the Beatles, was in a melancholic mood, and clearly like so many, was deeply moved by this lamentable news. (more…)

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by Allan Fish, Joel Bocko, Dean Treadway and Sam Juliano

Between January 2012 and October 2013, Allan Fish led one of the most enjoyable–and ultimately informative–exercises Wonders in the Dark has ever hosted: a weekly poll in which all readers were invited to elect “alternate Oscars” in (ultimately) nine categories: picture (feature), director, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, cinematography, score, and short film. Allan graciously allowed me to compile nominees for that final category from 1960 on, which was educational to say the least. To revisit the enthusiastic, often contentious, and frequently loquacious discussions and individual ballots, you need only to check out the “Wonders in the Dark Yearly Poll” archives. These threads were often more than half the fun of the whole enterprise–and perhaps another will arise below. Just for fun, we’ve also included the most important final stats at the end of the post–biggest winners, most votes received, and the top films (at least by our estimation). (Joel Bocko)

Seemingly an eon ago, I ran across Allan Fish’s ongoing project on WONDERS IN THE DARK and immediately had to throw in.  This was when we were doing the round-ups for 1935 or so (I missed the previous years, I’m sorry to say). Inspired by Fish’s incredibly inclusive nominations, I quickly decided to participate, and deeply.  Like many of our weekly participants, I made it a priority to take a look at what I knew about each year’s film output, and to exact and even broaden my knowledge of each year’s products, so as to more definitely determine my favorites out of the bunch (in the process, I ended up seeing many movies I would not have seen without this project).  As the years progressed, into the 50s and so, I started to notice some titles that Allan was leaving out of the mix.  By the 1960s (the start of my major wheelhouse), I began noticing more and more forsaken titles.  So, by the 1970s, I began to add films, performances, score, cinematography, and short nominations into the mix, ultimately with Sam Juliano’s approval (and without credit).  My intention was simply to augment Allan’s already exhaustive nominees list, so as provide all the voters with absolutely ALL the possibilities before them.  In the end, this turned out to be an emotionally churning, educationally enriching experience–one that I’ll treasure forever; I hope we all see each year’s nominations as being a COMPLETE overview of each year’s output (right down to even the most outside possibilities as to the best of each year).  As for the project as a whole, it’s kinda like a mini-SIGHT AND SOUND poll, amongst bloggers and hardcore film lovers, and not amongst big critical and filmmaking names. I’ve often pulled my hair over the winners (how did Peter O’Toole not win for Lawrence of Arabia, and how did Paul Newman not win for The Verdict?–those are just two that killed me–and how did Newman win for Absence of Malice instead??).  Still, I accepted each of these outcomes, as well as all others (we all did).

As for this post: I did a major amount of copy editing, and all of the bolding and italicizing of each year’s winners, and I added to Joel Bocko’s final stats, detailing the top short filmmakers, and–most importantly–tallying the “winningest” films in our poll (which really seems like a justifiably selected gallery of great films–they’re the titles ALL cineastes must see–and this is a list we should all be proud of, considering how we came about it).  Anyway…I did it all out of love–pure love–like, totally INFINITE love–for this absolutely singular art form to which we all have pledged sections of our lives.  Each week, even though I’ve been busy with my own blog and podcast, I happily devoted many hours of my time, not only to my posts, but to WONDERS IN THE DARK in general (and, geez, I can’t even hazard to guess how many hours of his time Allan Fish gave to this project).  Nearly finally–without “MovieMan” and shorts expert Joel Bocko, this complete overview would not have been possible; he a cinema authority like no other.  Much more extra gratitude needs to be accorded to Jaimie Grijalba, Sachin Gandhi, Jon Warner, Shubhajit Lahiri, Frank Gallo, Samuel Wilson, Stephen Mullen (Weeping Sam), Mark Smith, Camolas, Duane Porter, Peter M., Bobby McCartney, Dennis Polifroni, sirrefas, Martin Bradley, Maurizio Roca, Movie Fan, R.D. Finch, Drew McIntosh, Stephen, Peter Lenihan, Anu, Frederick, Angelo D’Arminio, Kevin Deaney, David Noack, Jacob Z–and so many more—because…well, without all of you, this would have amounted to nothing.  Thank you all for being part of this 92-week-long project.  Speaking for myself, I can’t possibly express what this collective effort has meant to me.  I’m so much smarter now than I once was.  And I’ll be returning to each year’s posts on WONDERS IN THE DARK for direction as to what I should see next (I really wanna see every film that needs seeing before passing from this realm–and, really, I have plenty of time to do this).  And now–truly finally–thank you, Allan Fish, for your complete and astonishing knowledge of film, and to Sam Juliano for your endless generosity. (Dean Treadway)

My own glowing assessment of the passion that went into this project was expressed last week.  Again, thanks to Allan, Joel and Dean, this was unquestionably one of the greatest highlights in the history of the site. (Sam Juliano)

As for the results themselves (including the results of last week’s 2012 vote), without further ado:

(more…)

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