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Archive for July, 2014

the_lady_eve (1)

by Sachin Gandhi

Love and Romance are emotions that often escape logical explanations. When one is hard pressed to understand why one person loves another, the phrase “Love is Blind” or “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” comes to the rescue. Once these phrases are uttered, no further explanation is required. No one will ask to dissect the meaning of these phrases and instead nod their head in agreement. As a result, these phrases can also result in an airtight screenplay, where a writer/director can use these phrases to have a plot that cannot be questioned. Not surprisingly, such phrases can be gold in the hands of the right writer/director. Preston Sturges’ The Lady Eve, based on a story by Monckton Hoffe, utilizes these phrases in such a clever manner that one cannot fault anything but instead laugh and admire the effort. In the film, Charles Pike (Henry Fonda) falls for the same woman twice, blindly following his heart and shutting down his mind even though all evidence points to him staying away. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 107m) DVD6 (China only)

A little man the world will hear from

p  King Vidor  d  King Vidor  w  King Vidor, John A.Weaver, Harry Behn  ph  Henry Sharp  ed  Hugh Wynn  Carl Davis  art  Cedric Gibbons, Arnold Gillespie

Eleanor Boardman (Mary Simm), James Murray (John Simm), Bert Roach (Bert), Daniel G.Tomlinson (Jim), Dell Henderson (Dick), Lucy Beaumont (mother), Freddie Burke Frederick (Junior), Alice Mildred Puter (daughter),

One of the last classic silent films of the American cinema, King Vidor’s unquestioned masterpiece is probably the finest insight of its day into the daily rigour of modern urban living, a film whose visual and technical advances were revolutionary to the point of since becoming clichés, but which still stands fresh to this day.

We begin in 1900 on Independence Day, where John Simm is born to happy parents, but twelve years later his father is killed in an accident and his son is told to be brave, as his father would have wished.  We next see him in 1921, slaving with thousands of others behind an office desk and living only for the five o’clock bell to get home and study.  However, one night he is persuaded by his friend, Bert, to go out with two women friends.  Paired off with Mary, John falls in love with her and, following a night at Coney Island, he proposes and they marry.  At first things are idyllic, with a honeymoon at Niagara Falls and two children, but when their daughter is killed after being run over by a lorry, John cracks up and things begin to enter a downward spiral. (more…)

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by Ed Howard

Far From Heaven is Todd Haynes’ loving, flawlessly constructed tribute to the cinema of one of his favorite directors, Douglas Sirk, and especially to Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows. That film, about a society widow who invites gossip and disgrace by developing a friendship and eventually a romance with her younger gardener, provides the germ of the idea for Haynes’ own take on Sirkian melodrama. Sirk also provides Haynes with a window through which he can look back on the 1950s, not as it truly was, but as it might have been, refracted through the ornate stained glass of Sirk’s melodramas. Everything bathed in lurid pastel lights and colors, everything a facade as patently artificial as a Happy Daysset. This artificiality is part of the point. This vision of the 50s, a TV fantasia with relentlessly cheerful wives, clean-scrubbed kids, and hard-working husbands, is an artifice so obvious that it’s just begging to be peeled back. What Haynes finds when he digs through a few layers is barely concealed racism, sexual ignorance, and families held together by tradition and appearance rather than any real feeling or communication.

This turns out to be especially true for Cathy (Julianne Moore), the happy wife of successful advertising executive Frank Whitaker (Dennis Quaid). The couple are models for their friends and indeed their entire suburban Connecticut town, throwing well-loved parties, raising their two children, and generally projecting an aura of contentment and success to all who see them. This happy facade falls apart when Cathy discovers her husband in the arms of a man, a sign that he is diseased in some way: he’s “one of those.” But this is only the beginning of Cathy’s troubles, as she soon finds that her developing friendship with her black gardener — a friendship that, like the one in Sirk’s film, is tinged with unarticulated desire — causes even more problems, stirring up hateful gossip around the town. Haynes is here borrowing from both Sirk and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose Fear Eats the Soul already paid homage to All That Heaven Allows by widening the age gap between the protagonists and making their primary difference racial rather than class-based. And just as Fassbinder roots this relationship in the political and social climate of its period, 1970s Germany with its concerns about Arab immigration and integration, Haynes makes Far From Heaven squarely about the civil rights movement. There are numerous references to the NAACP and to the crisis in Little Rock regarding the resistance to school integration. It is in this context, far removed from the nation’s most overt expressions of racism but nevertheless far from integrated as well, that Haynes’ melodrama plays out. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

“….Idgy used to do all kinds of crazy harebrained things just to get a laugh.  She put poker chips in the collection basket at the Baptist Church once.  She was a character all right, but how anybody could have ever thought that she killed that man is beyond me…”          -Fanny Flagg

The rap against the film version of Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by a sizable minority has always been that it significantly toned down the lesbian romance of its two central characters.  In view of the fact that Flagg’s novel is only marginally more implicit, the argument seems to lose most of its credibility.  Still, the 1991 movie, sporting the streamlined title of Fried Green Tomatoes, has often been brought up as evidence for those who rightly accused Hollywood of cowering away from provocative sexual themes.  For a bastion always seen as ultra-liberal this has always been more than a curious example of bias, if not outright homophobia.   Jon Avnet’s film version to be sure, does straddle the line between benign platonic affection and a more lustier and controlling kind of regard.  It probably had the most suggestive lesbian context of any mainstream film released in the early 90’s or until the sway of sexual acceptance took stronger root in the cultural consciousness.  The story of Idgie and Ruth yields numerous instances make it abundantly clear that these women love each other far more than is normal for most friends.  There a few scenes and instances in the plot that persuasively connect the two romantically without the need to inject the presentation with  blatant erotic encounters.  If Flagg’s critically-lauded Pulitzer prize-nominated novel gave a more compelling picture of a gay romance, it ultimately had more to do with the ability of a literary work to flesh out the details of some narrative strands and relationships that could never make the final cut in a relatively shorter screen adaptation.  The bottom line is this: I read Flagg’s novel back in the day, and have seen the film a number of times over the years, and have come away with the perception that neither presents an overtly lesbian context nor a physical portrait of two lovers overcome by lust.  Both book and film are benign in this sense, but there is still never a doubt that a gay romance is the center of this wistful, charming and nostalgic work which is drenched in feeling and period flavor, and guided by the inexorable bond of friendship.  Still, I can at least partially buy the argument that Avnet played it safe to ensure the wider audience this work so richly deserves by stressing the aspect of platonic devotion, even if the undercurrents are way too potent to dismiss. (more…)

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Mark Ruffalo and Keira Knighley in a capture from John Carney’s charming “Begin Again.”

Screen capture from 1949 Film Noir classic GUN CRAZY by Joseph H. Lewis

by Sam Juliano

With today’s posting of the Number 51 film in the Romantic Countdown, Fried Green Tomatoes, we have officially approached the half way mark of the project.  The schedule calls for October 6 as the day to unveil the poll position choice.  Until then it will continue to be every Monday through Friday.  I would like to thank those who have been generous with their appearance and comments during the countdown, and am most pleased that it is doing so well in every sense.

Again I want to thank our guardian angel Dee Dee for keeping things spirited on the side bar, especially with all the latest developments in Film Noir, including the presently-running Femme Noir Festival at Manhattan’s Film Forum, where Lucille, Sammy and I have attended eight (8) of the offerings so far with several more planned for this coming week.

A terrific, comprehensive John Waters Retrospective is slated for Lincoln Center in September, while the Film Forum will be running both a festival on films made from Tennessee Williams’ plays, and one on the American icon Frank Capra.  One week runs for Rome Open City, That Man From Rio, The Conformist and Fedora are also slated also with a five film roundup of the films directed by Leos Carax. (more…)

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The_African_Queen_1

by Judy Geater

There’s no mistaking the fact that ‘The African Queen’ was made on location – with all its breathtaking scenery, shot by Jack Cardiff in the most vivid Technicolor. I was lucky enough to see John Huston’s great film on the big screen when it was rereleased a few years ago, which was a memorable experience. And yet, how merciless the baking sun and bright colours are to the faces of the ageing Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart.

According to the featurette included on the UK Blu-ray, Bogart asked Cardiff not to do anything to make him look good, saying he had “worked to get this face”. Hepburn never looks remotely glamorous either, and is so painfully thin that you flinch when at one point Bogart sneers: “You skinny old maid”.

They’re not at all the sort of couple who would normally take centre stage in a major Hollywood romance, and you can see why studios were nervous. Or can you? Looking at it now, the sheer pace of the adventure seems as if it would always have guaranteed the film’s success. One threat and action sequence segues into another, as they shoot down the rapids or battle a plague of insects or leeches, showing the way forward to the non-stop blockbuster films of subsequent decades.

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by Sam Juliano

…. Because, in fact, I was too much of a coward to go and see my sister in June, 1940. I never made that journey to Balham. So the scene in which I confess to them is imagined…invented. Any of that could never have happened, because Robbie Turner died of septicemia at Bray Dunes on June 1st 1940, the last day of the evacuation and I was never able to put things right with my sister, Cecilia, because she was killed on the 15th of October, 1940, by the bomb that destroyed the gas and water mains of Balham tube station. So, my sister and Robbie were never able to have the time together they both so longed for and deserved. And which ever since, I’ve always felt I prevented. But, what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from an ending like that? So in the book I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they lost out on in life. I’d like to think this isn’t weakness or evasion. But a final act of kindness I gave them: their happiness.

–  Briony Tallis (Vanessa Redgrave)

Ian McEwan’s 2001 novel Atonement has been justly proclaimed as one of the literary treasures of the new millennium.  Because the 2007 film version, directed by Joe Wright has largely been recipient to the same kind of critical praise, we can safely conclude that this trenchant examination of childhood, love and war in class-laden wartime England is a rarity – a great film made from a great novel.  Prior to this accomplishment one would have go back to Kazuo Ishiguro’s 1989 Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day and the 1993 film made by Ismael Merchant and James Ivory to find a comparable achievement.  To be sure there have been other instances when the written word and the cinematic image have danced together in harmony, though as with just about everything else success is measured in the eye of the beholder.  For this author John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Graham Greene’s The Third Man and The Fallen Idol, Henry James’ The Heiress, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, Charles Dickens’  A Christmas Carol and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were all made into excellent films.  I might even be of a mind to include the likes of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, and even Stephen King’s The Shining in a more populist vein on a successful literature-to-film shortlist.  Fans of modern literature could certainly make a case for Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men or Thomas Keneally’s Schindler’s List, and there is a subgenre of “truncated” successful films made from much longer great books.  i.e. Frank Norris’ McTeague (made into Greed),  Charlotte Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, (made into the the three-part French film of 1934).  When one considers, however, that film is only a little over a hundred years old, the instances where the disparate forms line up are few and far in-between. (more…)

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Marty

by Joel Bocko

“I think of this as a great rainy afternoon movie. You’re flipping through the channels on one of those great lazy Saturdays…it’s summer but it’s raining outdoors and you’re stuck inside. You come across a classic movie channel (AMC, TCM–take your pick) and pause. What’s this? Ernest Borgnine? You always like him, why not stop for a moment and watch. It looks like it’s just beginning. ‘Marty’? Yeah, you’ve heard of it, vaguely. Won the Oscar or something, but it’s been kind of forgotten. So you start watching and before long you’re totally enchanted, completely charmed, by the simple story and realistic characters. Who can’t sympathize with Borgnine’s sensitive butcher, hanging out with his Italian friends and their goofy conversations about Mickey Spillane, all the while pining away with his heart of gold for a girl that his buddies call a ‘dog’? The conversations have the kind of natural humor and warmth that remind you of the old days hanging out with your pals. As you watch the movie, you find yourself enthralled and you never change the channel, watching it till the end, realizing that you’ve seen this plot riffed on and spoofed on various TV shows, films, and cartoons over the years. When the movie’s done, you’re really excited–this is one of those films you discovered on your own and nothing can beat that thrill.

“Now, this isn’t the way I saw ‘Marty’–I rented it and now own it on DVD–but it’s the spirit I get from it. I love the conversation between Marty and his best friend, its street poetry that’s entertaining without being false, in the diner as their Friday night lays out ahead of them. I love Marty and Clara’s walk, their honesty and his enthusiasm; you worry is he going too far, being too gregarious for the shy Clara? Will it work? I love the preparations for Sunday Mass, the fight between the married couple, and Marty agonizing over standing up his girl while his friends have an amusingly banal and silly conversation in which they keep repeating themselves. It’s really just a charming and wonderful film, joyful even in its sad moments. If you don’t enjoy it, what can I say, but my recommendation comes completely honest and from the heart. This is one of those personal favorites that also happens to be an underrated classic–but just underrated enough so that the joy of discovering it on a rainy Saturday afternoon remains undiluted.” – Me, April 24, 2003, my first online review (IMDb)

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pregnant-man-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

 

      I notice that, in an interview with Slant Magazine, filmmaker, Jonathan Glazer, claims not to have seen Her. Also, he says, “I’m very bad at detecting themes in my work… I suppose it’s [the affinity between Her and Under the Skin] in the air or something…” This, hardly unique to him, penchant for misrepresentation brings us to some necessary infill, perhaps, though, especially pressing in the task of charting where Glazer’s films go and where that leaves us. Disclaimers aside, the three feature films he has brought forward over the past fourteen years are discernibly steeped in strivings central to a filmic avant-garde, as rooted in a wider showdown with conventional rationalist securements. Equivocation is “in the air” and we have to care enough to get a handle on its roots and the kind of fruition being allowed to see the light of day.

We’re starting in this seemingly odd way, to address A Slightly Pregnant Man (1973), because we have also in our sightline Glazer’s Birth (2004), which might well be called A Slightly Reincarnated Man. Glazer hopes to keep the general public happy with the notion that he’s simply a not particularly unusual craftsman of arcane cinematic images which he himself cannot comprehend and which trigger musings that the viewer plays for days to come. That kind of transaction is right up the alley of consumers of rock concerts and TV ads (rock and product filming being a big part of his professional career). It benefits, over and above its monetary rewards, from being an outburst unimpeachable in its variable intimations. As a spokesman for his feature films, he looks to that vein so useful in popular entertainment to disarm those possibly alarmed by brash unconventionality. He’s offering, he’d like us to believe, no more than a sensuous tingle from which we can and should bail out at any time it proves discomfiting. For all its corporate savvy, that gambit is seriously questionable. Interviewers and enthusiasts positively struck, as they should be, by the multiple assets of the three features to date, are dismayingly ready to imagine that the highly complex discursive narratives are tantamount to short-loop, gallery-bound video art—optical   and aural tone poems. But the films as such, though aptly felt to amount to problematic suspense, are built like a Swiss watch, delivering an undertow expertly laced with avant-garde consequentiality. That is to say, a degree of friction obtains here, intrinsic to the phenomena being traversed. (I doubt that in his early days as a director of stage plays he’d have been so loath to admit he knew something about the history of his art, as distinct from the technical craft. Glazer’s rather incongruous approval of the work of the great stylist, Stanley Kubrick, has faked many of those viewers who want to believe that it always comes down to the gratifying variety of humankind as established several thousand years ago.) (more…)

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i-know-where-im-going-1

© 2014 by James Clark

 

    Emeric Pressburger, of the British filmmaking team, along with Michael Powell, known as the Archers, has been quoted as emphasizing that a film should have “a little bit of magic…” Though their team name implies precision, straight to the point, shooting, there was from out of their shooting range (so long ago) one memorable treatment of the seemingly crystal clear subject of romance, namely, I Know Where I’m Going (1945), that can, I’m sure, validly lay claim to conjuring real magic.

Let’s dip into its handsomely filmed black and white nuances of a Hebrides location and of London-studio-based interiors, to begin with one of the protagonists, Joan, and her War-era-styled ocelot-skin-patterned hat. There’s a war going on—most of the patrons of the first scene’s upscale restaurant are in uniform—but you’d never know it from Joan’s cracking the whip in the direction of her bank manager/father, to fork over her liquid assets on behalf of a sojourn to Scotland, where she’s scheduled to be married to the owner of Consolidated Chemical Industries (“Did you bring my money?”). As played by Wendy Hiller, an expert in transmitting peppy chain reactions, Joan goes on from letting her dad in on the happy event—rather late; and he’s not invited—to ordering drinks and demanding that he, the picture of Cromwellian asceticism, dance with her. “Come on, Daddy!” (He had, according to her [in a timid rebelliousness on being somehow touched by a rapidly and confusedly rebranding world], taught her to dance.) Her embodying an ebullient and stunning big cat (with a rich twinkle in her eyes and plush dimples) barely manages to say good-bye to her parent, who had accompanied her to a First Class compartment on the Scottish Night Train (“The Night Scotsman”), so absorbed does she become with “Hunter,” her fiancé’s rep in charge of travel plans. “I managed to prevent them from putting you over the wheel,” he reports (a useful lieutenant to her warrior Maid). We learn by a series of brief flashbacks that she had very early on acquired a taste for exceptional sensuous stimulation—as a 5-year-old she told Santa, by mail, “I want a pair of silk stockings, and I don’t mean artificial.” (more…)

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