Archive for December, 2013

Peter O’Toole dies at 81

by Sam Juliano

One of the most celebrated of screen legends the actor Peter O’Toole passed away early Sunday at age 81.  Rightly and primarily best known for his lead role in David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, O’Toole was one of the most gifted and versatile of thespians, but through a quirk of fate and timing his eight Oscar nominations never resulted in a single win.  Of course such a statistical aberration says more than what we need to know about AMPAS, who similarly failed to award Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Edward G. Robinson and Claude Rains, despite multiple nominations.  O’Toole nearly turned down a lifetime achievement Oscar after he turned 79, as he felt he was “still in the game, and might still win that bugger.”

While O’Toole’s loss to Gregory Peck in 1962 is at least understandable (both men gave towering performances, O’Toole in Lawrence and Peck in To Kill A Mockingbird, it is rather absurd that his extraordinary turn as Henry II in The Lion in Winter lost out to Cliff Robertson in Charley.  It is also ridiculous that both he and Burton lost their bids for 1964’s Becket to Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady, even if Harrison was quite good in the musical, as he was.  O’Toole really never had a chance in 1972 for The Ruling Class, what with Marlon Brando in The Godfather and Sir Laurence Olivier in Sleuth in the mix, but I could have well given O’Toole my vote anyway for his unforgettable turn as the deranged 14th Earl of Gurney.  His last chance came in 2006, and frankly he was again ripped off, losing out for his partially comedic role in Venus to Forest Whitaker for his role of Idi Amin in the overrated The Last King of Scotland. (more…)

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Screen cap from 1996’s ‘Beautiful Thing,’ a British gay love story

Capture from 1934 Jean Vigo masterpiece ‘L’Atalante’

by Sam Juliano

I have been getting many e mails about the latest venture at WitD, and I must say I am exceedingly delighted with the passionate response from site regulars and readers.  I put together my own list of ‘suggestions’ and Allan Fish followed suit with a fabulous proposal of titles that voters may want to consider.  Though I intend to sent the titles to the e mail chain, I wanted to post them at WitD early so that those itching to begin the process with have some formidable titles to consider.  Naturally, as is the case with past pollings, everyone will be free to vote for titles that are not on the list proposals.  Remember that this scroll of titles is only to held assist everyone’s memory.  I am sure many votes will be cast for films not mentioned, and that is indeed the way it should be.  In any event here are some proposals:

Way Down East 1920, D.W.Griffith
The Wedding March 1928, Erich Von Stroheim
City Girl 1929, F.W.Murnau
Flesh and the Devil 1926, Clarence Brown
Lonesome 1928, Pal Fejos
Waterloo Bridge 1931, James Whale
Liebelei 1932, Max Ophuls
L’Atalante 1934, Jean Vigo
Zoo in Budapest 1933, Rowland V.Lee
Peter Ibbetson 1935, Henry Hathaway
Mayerling 1936, Anatole Litvak
Gone With the Wind 1939, Victor Fleming
Love Affair 1939, Leo McCarey
The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums 1939, Kenji Mizoguchi
The Shop Around the Corner 1940, Ernst Lubitsch
Brief Encounter 1945, David Lean
Les Enfants du Paradis 1945, Marcel Carné

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© 2013 by James Clark

For all the fertility of his endeavors, it must, I think, be acknowledged that the career of Jacques Demy traces a quite relentless decline from initial efforts of breathtaking cogency. Of course, such a claim needs specific fortification. Here we have no interest in seriously comparing early and late films; but, in showing an early work of consummate subtlety, we can suggest the likelihood that subsequent instances won’t match what we’re about to see. As recently touched upon, his debut film, Lola (1961), strikes me as having evoked wonders of delicacy and wit in pursuit of an elusive, harsh true love. The two musicals of the 1960’s reach divine heights, while at the same time distancing specific sensibilities in becoming increasingly absorbed by conveying thematic concerns regarding Pandora’s Box and Surrealism. After that, such machinery becomes even more destructive of the carnal deftness seemingly so effortless in Lola.

There is, in the film directly following Lola and preceding the musicals, namely, Baie des Anges (Bay of Angels [1963], a second golden moment, like its predecessor gently moving toward a form of Pandora’s Box, but never relinquishing its visceral situation. And here we bring it forward, not only for the sake of cueing up the mother lode of Demy’s invention (and where that could take us), but for a particularly timely celebration of Christmas. (more…)

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Banka 2

by Allan Fish

(Japan 1957 117m) not on DVD

Pictures from Angkor

Jiro Kaga, Yoshishige Uchiyama  d  Heinosuke Gosho  w  Toshio Yasumi  novel  Yasuko Harada  ph  Junichi Segawa  m  Yasushi Akatagawa

Yoshiko Kuga (Reiko), Masayuki Mori (Katsuragi), Mieko Takamine (Mrs Katsuragi), Tatsuo Saito (Reiko’s father),

You won’t even find much evidence for Banka online; even on the IMDb it credits only four cast members and no cinematographer, composer or editor (thankfully the DVDR I viewed did include two of those) and no character names for the cast they did list.  It was as if they had been erased.  That in itself opens up an interesting concept; what if the director’s name wasn’t credited either.  For those who could read Japanese, of course, it’s there on the credits, but could one guess who had directed from just watching the film?

There are familiar elements, not least in the casting.  The presence of Masayuki Mori playing another of his dallying married men, and the presence of a Takamine in the cast, one could be forgiven for thinking it a Naruse film.  Naruse students would probably notice stylistic differences that make it stand out from that master’s work, and yet some of his themes and his recognisable motifs (not least the presence of rivers) are very much in keeping with Naruse’s oeuvre.  Yet there is another motif that stands out in Banka which recalls the work, or at least one famous work, of Heinosuke Gosho; smoke. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The enthusiastically greeted Greatest Romantic Films of All-Time countdown is now set to commence in April of 2014, sometime around mid-month.  The four months until that launching will be the time to view and re-view films in that genre, and to ponder the selections.  Each voter (e mails will be send to the same group who participated in the just-completed western countdown as well as a few new members who will surely want to be involved with this one) will again be asked to submit a numerical list (1 to 60) of what they favor as the greatest (translated: favorite) romantic films in cinema history.  The definition of what a romantic film is will be left up to the individual voter, but there will understandably be some overlaps from the previous comedy and especially musical countdowns.  But I figure that overlap to be very modest.  Ballots will not be accepted until January 15th, but then will be accumulated all the way up until April 1st.  Once again Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will be negotiating the results.  Because the scope of this genre is a wide one, we will be going with a Top 70, as we did with 2011’s spectacularly successful musical countdown.  I will be sending out extensive lists to the voters, but everyone is free to choose whatever films they feel qualify.  The list is just to help gather your memories.  I will soon be in touch with the e mail chain.  To be sure there are many non-American films in this equation–France, Italy, Great Britain, Japan, Hong Kong and numerous other countries have promising entries…..

One firm rule: No writer who previously took on one of the films that will place in the Romantic countdown in one of the previous countdowns can again do the same film.  For example: I did The Sound of Music for the musical countdown.  Should that film make it in again, someone else must handle the essay.

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Screen cap from Paulo Sorrentino’s masterful Italian film “La Grande Bellazza” (The Great Beauty)

by Sam Juliano

The western countdown has concluded after a ten-week roll out here at Wonders in the Dark.  Interestingly enough it began during the oppressive temperatures of Indian Summer and has ended as snow falls on the east coast and in the mid-west.  While the countdown did not match the kind of wide enthusiasm, comments and page views of the musical and comedy countdowns of previous years, it did attract some extraordinary prose by a host of contributors and some diligent attendance by a small group of troupers.  Among those were the brilliant Jon Warner who missed not a single post, and whose mission over the past months has been quite the inspiration for movie lovers, the ever ebullient Sachin Gandhi, who kept the flame burning, and whom I am grateful to for so much support on a personal level, and to Samuel Wilson, Frank Gallo, Mike Norton, Steve Mullen, Pierre de Plume, Tony d’Ambra, Duane Porter,  Jim Clark, Dean Treadway,  Movie Fan, Dennis Polifroni, Tim McCoy and Peter M., all of whom contributed many authoritative and insightful comments over the course of the project.  Mr. Wilson’s work in particular showed again  his impressive knowledge of the genre.  And then there is Dee Dee, whose daily updates on the sidebar and link ups to her ning account have given the countdown added perspective and reference points.  Again she has shown why she has been the heart and soul of this site since it first appeared back in 2009.

Some may ask now “what’s next?”  After moving from one possibility to another, there seems to be some support for a “Greatest War Film and Program” polling sometime in 2014.  Such a venture would include television programs like Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” (God I can only dream of Stephen Mullen doing that!), The Great World War and the World War II series narrated by Laurence Olivier.  But I am getting too far ahead of myself.  After a break we can resume “negotiations.”  The Greatest American television shows and The Greatest Romantic Films are also strong possibilities.

Critics Groups have been voicing their opinions over the past week with four of the majors picking the following for Best Picture:

New York Film Critics Circle: American Hustle

National Board of Review:  Her

Boston Film Critics Circle:  12 Years A Slave

Los Angeles Film Critics Association: (TIE) Gravity and Her

Methinks Boston called it exactly right, though to be fair I still have to see five or six films that will open over the coming two weeks, two of which are ‘Her’ and ‘American Hustle.’

I have recently reviewed one of our great friend and Canadian/Mayne Island artist Terrill Welch’s oil painting “August Still-Life with Cezanne and Matisse”: (more…)

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by Mike Norton

It’s 1992, and New York City is bleeding. The streets are exhausted from having fought a war on drugs a decade earlier, and homicide rates, which peaked at the beginning of the decade, are still lingering around all-time high numbers. In Los Angeles, the notorious Rodney King riots were the culmination of pent up rage towards law enforcement that could be felt around the country. Cocaine, heroin, weed, whatever drugs you want, were spewed throughout the streets, no doubt fueling the murder rate and general unease of the community. Abel Ferrara’s film Bad Lieutenant captures this milieu, painting NYC as an oasis of sin and lost souls looking for redemption in all the wrong places. The type of place where throats are cut for the cocaine in the backseat, or nuns are raped, or teenage girls are killed in their cars, or teenage girls are sexually abused in their cars by bad cops. Unlike the New York of Ferrara’s earlier crime film, King of New York, which was presented more or less as a really big playground for one man to manipulate, the New York of Bad Lieutenant is a hell-on-earth wasteland.


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By Peter Lenihan

Of all the very recognizable titles (think Rules of the Game, Tokyo Story, Seven Samurai, Vertigo, Citizen Kane) that appear on S&S lists decade in and decade out, Ford’s film is arguably the most controversial, and the fact that many people consider it to be one of the medium’s greatest masterpieces frustrates some in a way that may be unique even within the prissiest cinephilic circles. It is, of course, ultimately pretty irrelevant—polls can only track the critical fashions of a given moment and often inadvertently end up embalming the films that are most kinetic and alive. The Searchers isn’t always thought of as one of these, and I’m not sure any Hollywood director of Ford’s time moved the camera less frequently (it’s worth remembering here what Renoir said of The Informer), but it’s also true that few directors consistently filled the frame with as much movement as Ford was able to. Still, at some point the opening shot of The Searchers, complemented by Max Steiner’s lovely score, becomes indistinguishable from the fact that we are watching the shot, slavishly recreated in only the Lord knows how many fifth hand pastiches—the inky blacks of the opening title card slowly dissipating as Martha Edwards opens the door of her cabin and grasps one of the columns of the porch as she spots her brother-in-law (and, more likely than not, the love of her life) on the horizon. (more…)

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by Anubhav Bist

The little moments.
If you were to ask me what makes Howard Hawk’s 1959 western so special, thats what I would say. The little moments. For me, this could be something as quick as James T. Chance’s quirky reaction after Feathers says, “You forgot your pants,” (how he actual stops and thinks about it before realizing the joke); or the way Chance hands Dude his rolled up cigarette after Dude screw ups trying to roll his own, all while they talk about that fact that Feathers didn’t get on the stagecoach (a poignant gesture that’s subtle enough to just exist in that moment, without ever breaking the flow of their conversation). It seems so simple, until you realize that it’s anything but. In a way, that sums up Rio Bravo pretty well. A profound cinematic experience that masquerades as simple Hollywood entertainment.
Sheriff James T. Chance (John Wayne giving easily his greatest “John Wayne” performance) must find a way to keep a murder, who also happens to be the brother of a wealthy rancher with criminal connections, imprisoned until the US Marshal arrives. His only allies: his drunk partner Dude (Dean Martin giving arguably the film’s most memorable performance), his elderly cripple deputy Stumpy (Hawks regular and Western veteran Walter Brennan), a young hotshot gunslinger Colorado (pop star Ricky Nelson) and the mysterious female gambler Feathers (Angie Dickinson in one of her first big roles). (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The following is the full content of a term paper handed in to a Professor Renaldo Ovest Spaghetti for a graduate course in Italian Cinema offered during the fall semester of 2007 at Montclair State University.  Spaghetti asked all the students in his class to adhere to a rigid scholarship and demanded a formal presentation.  He specifically asked that there be a minimum of five major references, all of which of course must be documented at the conclusion of the paper.  He strongly encouraged quotes and passages.  The veteran educator also made it clear that he was less interested in the gossipy aspects of Leone and his work with his actors and craftsmen, than he was with a probing analysis of the work, its themes and focus and the specifics as to why it has been held in such high regard since the time it was released 45 years ago.  Spaghetti also made it clear that anyone hell bent on denigrating the film, or even slighting it in direct comparison to its celebrated American contemporaries, would risk a lower grade.  The esteemed Professor asked that the word count for all papers fall between 4000 and 4300 words.  He also made it clear that the paper would be weighted to represent 50% of the final grade.  Class participation and a final exam would constitute the remainder of the criteria.

There are a good many of us who cannot get enough of Sergio Leone’s epic Western ‘Once Upon A Time in the West.  We play the highly choreographed showpiece sequences in the film over and over again as though they were favorite musical recordings.  We memorize the film’s concise, aphoristic dialogue.  And we find that the film stands up quite well to repeated viewings because, with its solemn, majestic gestures and allusive script, it never quite yields its full meaning.                              -John Fawell

There is indeed a sense of mystery ingrained in the visuals of one of cinema’s crowning glories, a film that has both grown in stature, and has repeatedly attracted the full range of hyperbolic overload from the critical establishment and the audiences who embrace the genres of the western and the epic.  Once Upon A Time in the West has furthermore maintained cross-over appeal to those who normally resist the western and its constricted trappings, and has long perceived the category as one with substantial limitations.  Yet the film, says Robert Cumbow in his seminal study The Films of Sergio Leone is more about the “country” than it is about the “west.”  As such we can confidently conclude that as a result of its employment of cinematic poetry and expressiveness it represents Leone’s most personal vision, and the film above all others in his canon that bears his personal stamp: it is rooted in the conventions of western melodrama and includes the implacable black-clad villain, the struggling landowner being menaced by the businessman out to gain for a lark, but yet defended to the death by the strong and silent type.  In addition, the oldest revenge motive in the genre – “You killed my brother” is amplified in an epic that within the genre parameters can safely be posed as all-encompassing. (more…)

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