Archive for June, 2015


By J.D. Lafrance

There is a fascinating air of mystery surrounding Peter Weir’s adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) that captivated me when I first saw it many years ago and continues to haunt me. While the story is a simple yet intriguing one its lack of closure is not. Several schoolgirls and their teacher go missing on a rather imposing rock out in the countryside on St. Valentine’s Day in 1900. The film tantalizes us with just enough clues and evocative imagery to keep us wondering just what happened. There are no easy answers only several theories and this is what keeps me coming back to the film. It is brilliantly directed by Weir and features a maddeningly elusive screenplay by Cliff Green and memorable performances from a cast largely made up of young girls. But perhaps the best performance comes from the most enigmatic character in the film – the Hanging Rock, an impressive geological formation that manages to be unsettling even on a bright, sunny day. Picnic at Hanging Rock is a film that invites repeated viewings because it is the things that are left unsaid and the things that we don’t see that are obsessively analyzed by re-watching what is shown and what we learn from the enticing crumbs of information Weir and Green leave behind.

It is February 14th in 1900 and a group of schoolgirls from Appleyard College venture out to Hanging Rock near Mount Macedon in Victoria, Australia for a picnic. The establishing shot is that of the rock and this is significant because in many respects it is the most important thing in the film – the source of mystery. Weir employs some low level sound effects, a combination of wind and subtle rumbling that sets a disquieting mood. He puts us on edge right away as the opening credits play over a montage of the schoolgirls getting ready for their picnic. There are two shots early on that seem to play slightly in slow motion – that of Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) lying in bed, her eyes opening and looking over at her roommate Sara (Margaret Nelson) who smiles back at her in another shot. She does this in an ever so slightly forced way that seems subtly unnatural. It’s hard to put your finger on it but something is slightly off about these two girls. (more…)


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78. Walkabout (1971)


by Patricia Perry

At first glance, Walkabout would seem to belong to that most classic of story tropes: in which a young person leaves home – to escape danger or to seek his/her fortune – and, after an arduous journey with setbacks and side trips, emerges on the other side a transformed and wiser young adult.

But the journey made through the Australian Outback by the three youngsters in Nicholas Roeg’s 1971 film has different consequences. Roeg subverts this familiar trope to show children who cannot escape their cultural conditioning and cannot bridge the chasm between their own experience and that of another young person from a wildly different life.  For at least one, the journey the ends in tragedy; for another it is not a transforming experience, but one that sends her reeling back to a more familiar life of comfort and conformity. An enigmatic, impressionistic film that occasionally nods to conventional expectations, but more often demolishes them, Walkabout offers cold-eyed observations of the worlds its characters inhabit, but no easy judgments.

It opens with scenes of a an upper-middle-class life in Sydney: students in a girl’s school practicing their elocution lessons; ground kangaroo meat for sale in a sterile, white butcher shop; a woman slicing fruit in her high-rise condominium kitchen while watching her children (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) swimming below in a chlorinated pool that lies mere steps from the edge of the ocean. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Childhood Films Countdown enjoyed an extraordinary opening week with page views totals that have resurrected the site to banner status.  Ed Howard’s opening essay on The White Ribbon garnered an impressive number of page views and comments, as did the review of River’s Edge which amassed some truly fabulous numbers by both barometers of measurement.  The other three pieces did quite well in addition.  Five more terrific films will be examined starting today, and will continue well into October.  There are still a handful of unclaimed films for network writers to consider.

Lucille and I just finished the most torrid week of our nearly 20 year marriage, starting with Jillian’s 8th grade graduation on Tuesday night.  Then the following day Sammy graduated high school, and on Thursday we attended two retirement affairs, a luncheon and a dinner for a group of teachers and the school superintendent.  On Friday night we attended the wedding of a fellow teacher in our school, and then on Saturday I escorted Lucille, Sammy and Melanie to a Morrissey/Blondie concert at Madison Square Garden, while Jeremy, Broadway Bob and I watched the film Dope while the others were taking in the musical show.  Finally on Sunday I attended the Film Forum Jr. screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory  Though the school year has ended, Lucille continues working over the summer until the last two weeks of August as principal, and I begin teacher the summer program (8:15 to 12:15 Monday through Friday) today until August 7th. (more…)

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visit 3

by Allan Fish

(Italy 1964 108m) DVD2 (Italy only)

Aka. La Visita

Donald Duck the parrot

p  Moris Ergas  d  Antonio Pietrangeli  w  Antonio Pietrangeli, Ruggero Maccari  story  Ettore Scola, Ruggero Maccari, Gino de Santis  ph  Armando Nannuzzi  ed  Eraldo da Roma  m  Armando Trovajoli  art  Luigi Scaccianoce

Sandra Milo (Pina), François Périer (Adolfo di Palma), Mario Adorf (Cucaracha), Angela Minervini (Chiaretta), Gastone Mochine (Renato Gusso),

Coming as it did at the height of the Italian art-house flowering, it’s not surprising that films such as this slipped through the cracks.  With Fellini and Antonioni reinventing themselves and Italian cinema from their neo-realist roots, the Gothic horrors of Bava and co. at their peak and enfants terribles like Pasolini and Bertolucci making a name for themselves, there were always going to be directors who fells through the cracks.  One such director is surely Antonio Pietrangeli, a director sadly taken from us far too soon and perhaps best known for his 1960 Golden Lion nominee Adua e le Compagne, a decent film in its own right, but a precursor for things to come that few outside Italy would get chance to see.  In a landscape of Italian film we think we know so well, it’s a film to make us adjust our preconceptions. (more…)

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by Mark Lester (a. k. a. Sam Juliano)

My name is Mark Lester and I am now nine-years old.  I just got back from America, after appearing at the Academy Awards, where the movie I starred in, Oliver!  won the Best Picture Oscar.  I flew in with my friend Jack Wild who received an acting nomination for the same movie.  Oliver! is about an orphan boy who lived in London a long time ago during a period they tell me was known as the “Victorian Age.”  Mind you, that boy wasn’t real at all.  He was imagined by a very famous writer named Mr. Charles Dickens.  He’s the same bloke who invented the story about that old miser Scrooge and the invalid boy Tiny Tim.  My dad has always told me how much he enjoyed reading other books that Mr. Dickens wrote.  One is called David Copperfield and another starts off with the words “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Mom loves watching some old black and white movie about a prisoner in a church yard, a young man named Pip, and an old hag known as Miss Haversham.  She said she read a book in school about some bleak house that had many secrets.  The book store is two blocks away from my house in the city of Oxford in the county of Oxsfordshire has all of Mr. Dickens’ books on sale for only five quid.  Mom said this was really the dog’s bollocks and she would be going there straight away to pick up the lot.

Anyway it all started almost a year ago when a a proper looking limey in his early 60’s came to my school to conduct interviews for a new movie he was planning to direct.  He first addressed the whole student body in the assembly hall, where I am told Winston Churchill once spoke during the war years.  He sounded dead serious when he said that the honor of Britain was at stake.  He identified himself as Mr. Carol Reed and he mentioned some of the older movies he had directed.  I can’t remember all the names but he seemed to be most proud of two: The Third Man and Odd Man Out.  Anyway those weren’t the kind of movies that a boy like me was interested in watching.  Give me “Doctor Who” and that American space show that features the officer with the pointed ears, any day.  Black and white movies are uncool.  (more…)

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pialat 1

by Ed Howard

Maurice Pialat’s debut feature was L’enfance nue, a quiet, unassuming film about childhood confusion and isolation, following the lead of his predecessors in the French film tradition, Zero For Conduct and The 400 Blows. Like those Jean Vigo and François Truffaut films, Pialat’s first film concerns itself with a troubled youth, a delinquent drifting aimlessly through an unstable childhood where everything seems transitory and he has nothing to hold onto. François (Michel Terrazon) has been abandoned by his birth parents, who have thrust him into the foster care system without fully relinquishing their parental rights. The result is that everything is always “temporary” for François, he can never settle down into a permanent home with a permanent family or living situation. He’s perpetually wary, always aware that things could change at any moment, that he could easily be shuffled around to another home, another family, or else to an institution of some kind. In the film’s first half hour, he’s living with a family who are taking care of him, but who are reaching the end of their patience with his bad behavior. They profess to love him and treat him as well as their adopted daughter Josette (Pierette Deplangue), but this is a hollow assurance coming soon after the revelation of the disparities in the two children’s bedrooms. Josette has a lovely, beautifully decorated room of her own — “everything she dreams, she can see when she’s awake,” her mother poetically coos — while François’ bed is shoved awkwardly into a corner of a landing in the hallway, the only spare space for him in the cramped little home.

It’s obvious that François feels destabilized by his situation, by the impermanence of his life, by how apparent it is that no one intends to keep him forever. Indeed, once this family grows tired of dealing with his rambunctious behavior, his tendency to steal and be difficult, they simply decide to send him away. This is a child’s nightmare, the fear of being discarded like this, but for François it is a prosaic reality, a fact of his transitory, migratory existence. He has a surprisingly tender goodbye with this temporary family — kissing his sort-of sister on the cheek, giving his sort-of mother a present — and then he seems to forget about them entirely when he’s sent to live with another family. This elderly couple (Marie-Louise Thierry and René Thierry) treats the boy with more kindness and patience than he is used to, and he seems to feel real affection for them, and for the old woman’s even older mother (Marie Marc), who François calls Granny. This family still can’t stabilize François, not really, and he continues his troubled ways, hanging out with rough kids who smoke, steal, fight, and in one scene, watch in awe as an older boy carves his initials into his own arm. But François is moved at least a little by their care: in a pivotal scene, he pulls out Granny’s wallet while the old woman is sleeping, leafing through the life savings contained within, but surprisingly does not steal the money, instead simply placing it back. It’s perhaps the most genuine act of goodness that François can do. (more…)

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river's edge 5

by Sam Juliano

A persuasive case could be made for 1986’s subversive River’s Edge as the most nihilist film about teenagers ever made.  The fact that this perverse drama was directed by one who just four years earlier gave the coming-of-age angle a conventional if perceptive spin in Tex, (based on the S.E. Hinton novel) makes it all the more startling, but to be sure Tim Hunter was filtering an unconscionable event that took place in California in 1981.  Without the factual underpinning the story would read as over-the-top fraudulence, fueled by its sensational implausibility.  But when a 16 year old male named Anthony Jacques Broussard raped and murdered his 14 year-old girlfriend, and then bragged about the act to all his friends, the stage was set for a work that would invariably document the moral decline of today’s adolescents.  The disturbing revelation that these kids could wait two days to contact police, bound by in large measure the gang mentality of a mercurial, stoned teenager who incredibly deems loyalty to the apathetic and unappreciative killer should come before informing, makes for a dire commentary on the disintegration of the moral compass, and the utter heartlessness of disaffected and dysfunctional youth without direction or priorities.  In an age when senseless violence – by young gunmen – is often aimed at  schoolchildren, churchgoers and those who are simply in the wrong place at the most inopportune time, we can look back at Broussard’s act and the screenplay Neil Jimenez wrote for Mr. Hunter and conclude that the breakdown chronicled is deep-seeded, with both the killer and his bizarre first protector as soulless perpetrators of a doomed deceit that never even had a remote chance to succeed.  The fact that it was even attempted is unspeakably chilling.


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 © 2015 by James Clark

      David Thomson cherishes Melville’s Le Samourai (1967) for its “… configurations… so mysterious, so averse to everyday explanation;” and he goes on to wrap it up as an everyday bonbon. “Seen now, Le Samourai looks like a film from an earlier age, one made at a time when great films were necessary (and regular) because they demonstrated and fulfilled the nature of the medium.” That’s quite a niggardly pratfall! Not many sentences begin with avant-gardist premises only to flash logical-positivist conclusions. Such conclusions (living in the vicinity of Jean-Luc Godard’s academicism) are copiously pinpointed by Thomson’s last words on the subject, prefaced with passport-to-adulation effete pessimism. “Now that the medium is in ruin or chaos, Le Samourai looks as abstract, yet as beautiful and as endlessly worthy of study, as the Giotto frescoes in the basilica in Assisi. That which seemed fanciful has become an eternal and luminous lesson in how men behaved when they believed behavior mattered.” Such eloquent superficiality should not interfere with our engaging the film Melville in fact offers us, a film-phenomenon (rather than a concept) that has more serious work to do than prettily signing a death certificate for all innovative activity in our time.

There have been myriad endeavors over the fairly recent past stemming from conviction that behavior matters—in fields seemingly so disparate as quantum physics, ontology, architecture, sports and, to name but one more field which at the same time neglects many other efforts, film. None of them, however, has much to recommend in Giotto. Unlike researchers and builders in awe of the innovative lengths to be essayed, the unique human phenomena appearing in grounds-breaking films do not luxuriate in collegial centres. Thomson’s essay includes the alert about our film in the spotlight today (short-circuited, as it happens, to coincide with antiquated stasis), “Everything is in the playing or the enactment.” That is a window on the world which many (Thomson included) harbor a strong impulse to smash. Allowing oneself to babble on about such dynamics without including an iota of what they imply disqualifies one from effectively fathoming what a work like Le Samourai is about. (more…)

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By Dean Treadway 

After years of merely seeing the title Sundays and Cybele bandied about, I only recently got the chance to see it courtesy of our heroes at Criterion. I had long had it on my radar, knowing that it won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1963. And, then, in 1964, due to arcane Academy rules, it achieved that ancient and odd achievement of being nominated the following for Best Adapted Screenplay (it comes from a novel by Bernard Eschassériaux, who threw in on the screenplay, though he’s uncredited) and also for the legendary Maurice Jarre’s evocative score. When I finally got the chance to see it in 2014, I was seriously blown away by its visual acuity, intense performances and complicated emotions. I could barely comprehend its immense breadth, and immediately wanted to know more about its maker. But here I quickly found myself thwarted. Even in the age of the Internet, there are still artists about whom you can find little. And its director/co-writer Serge Bourguignon is one of them.

So here is what I have learned about him: From 1948-50, he studied at France’s L’Institut Des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques (the IDHEC, translated as the “Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies,” and now known as La Fémis). This is the famed film school that spawned the likes of Alain Resnais, Claire Denis, Volker Schlondorff, Theo Angelopolis, Louie Malle, Costa Gavras, Claude Sautet, Patrice Leconte, Arnaud Desplechin, and Jean-Jacques Annaud, as well as countless other cinematic craftspeople (and I’m forced to say: that’s quite an alumni there). After traveling the world in search of material, he began helming documentary shorts in the late 50s, culminating with his Palme D’or win at Cannes for his short film La Sourire in 1960 (this short is available on the recent Criterion Collection release of Sundays and Cybele, though I must confess, I haven’t yet seen it). (more…)

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by Ed Howard

Note: This review by Ed Howard marks the official launching of the ‘Top 83’ Childhood Films Countdown which will will run Monday through Friday until completion well into October.

Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon, his first German-language film since his original Funny Games from 1997, is a searing, enigmatic allegory, a depiction of horror and cruelty overtaking a small German town on the eve of World War I. The film is powerful and quietly moving, slowly building a sense of pervasive dread as the town’s routine business is disrupted by explosions of horrifying violence and brutality, by incidents that expose the everyday nastiness lurking beneath the rural calm that the town presents on its surface. What makes the film so effective as an allegory is that, as in Caché, Haneke withholds all easy answers and all resolutions; the film is a mystery with no solution, leaving its ultimate meaning to the viewer. It is also perhaps Haneke’s most emotionally rich film, built around a large cast of complex, ambiguous characters, people beaten down and made cruel by the harsh surroundings and morally fallow ground of the countryside.

The film is an angry indictment of the hypocrisy and violence that resides within these seemingly decent folks, many of whom are obvious symbolic stand-ins for various social institutions, all of them equally corrupt: the aristocracy, the proletariat, the church. The Pastor (Burghart Klauβner) might preach decency and goodness in mass every week, but with his own children he is a brutal disciplinarian who reacts to the slightest infraction with hands-on correction. When his oldest children Klara (Maria-Victoria Dragus) and Martin (Leonard Proxauf) are late for dinner one night, he responds by sending all the children to bed without dinner and delivering ritualistic whippings the next morning. He also marks the kids with the white ribbons of the title, which are symbols of purity and innocence to continually remind them of the qualities they should aspire to. This man of God is obsessed with his abstract values, but in putting them into practice he’s cruel and intractable, refusing to understand whatever’s going on behind his children’s blank, mysterious faces. The town doctor (Rainer Bock) is even worse, a nasty man with all kinds of secrets lurking within his home. He’s sexually abusing his young daughter, who he creepily insists looks just like his dead wife, even as he’s also having sex with his matronly midwife (Susanne Lothar), who he treats with contempt and outright cruelty, scorning her love. (more…)

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