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Archive for August 10th, 2015

my childhood

by Sam Juliano

 Note:  The review for ‘My Childhood’ was expected from another source, but alas this could not be managed.  The capsule review on display here was written quickly by myself this afternoon to fill the void.

  Scotland’s Bill Douglas, who died of cancer in 1991 at the age of 57, left behind a stark and intense three part autobiographical study of his his early years in Newcraighall, an impoverished mining town outside of Edinburgh.  It wasn’t a difficult proposition for Douglas to re-create the suffocating squalor of the town, as it had changed very little in over forty years.  The first part of the three films, My Childhood, is arguably the most powerfully effective.  Echoing the social deprivation of Dickens and the muddied streets and murky soot-covered houses seen in Bela Tarr, the film’s nihilist underpinnings mirror the latter’s philosophy.  Two neglected and abused young boys, Jamie and his older brother Tommie grow up with their emasculated grandmother in an ancient ruin during the second world war.  The boys’ mother, like Douglas’ own was remanded to an asylum due to a childbirth-related complication.  The boys have different fathers, both of whom appear during this acute character study, one that disavows narrative in favor of a observational detail.  The grandmother despises both.  The film’s austerity is right out of the Bresson playbook, what with the many still captures and the spare and precise use of sound.  There is a pervasive gloom hanging over this woeful hamlet, and the static camera only accentuates the pall.

One could be inclined to describe this kind of minimalist cinema as social realism, but Douglas adherents have revised the term to include the manner in which the director informs his material: “poetic realism.”  There are some striking and indelible images and framing in this trenchant use of monochrome, it is more of a visual “language” than it a tapestry that is more associated with the matters of time and place.  Yet, even with the dearth of a storytelling arc, Jamie’s transformation over the three films is abundantly explicit. Douglas stretches the boundaries of the cinema, by the application of a literary property, in the same way that one can reasonably assert that a literary property has been expanded to embrace the communicative power of the cinema.  Too often the phrase “tone poem” has been misused or over applied, but in Douglas’ trilogy it is aptly framed.  The editing of the films is non-complicated, fully in tune with the way Douglas himself imagined images and events, without stylistic ostentation.  Two scenes that are not at all connected are still run together, with the audience left to fill in the gaps, though the narrative disunity is not difficult to negotiate.  It is not at all a stretch to make claim that the Bill Douglas Trilogy is one of the most personalized works of cinema ever made.  Douglas makes his own rules as he moved forward, conforming only to his own memories, his own perceptions, his own grasp of what in his sorry earlier life was most acutely embedded in his consciousness.   (more…)

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A scene from Stevan Riley’s LISTEN TO ME MARLON, opening at Film Forum on July 29. Courtesy of Showtime Films.

A scene from Stephen Riley’s masterful LISTEN TO ME MARLON,

phoenix

Screen cap from extraordinary German film “Phoenix”

by Sam Juliano

We are moving closer to the mid way point of August and for many this spells long awaited vacation weeks.  Weather has typically been unrelentingly hot, but still bearable in the metropolitan area.  The baseball season is nearing crunch time, the football season is just weeks away from commencing, and opera fans are preparing for an exciting new season at the Met.  Those in the profession of educating are now looking at three weeks before the start of the new school year.

The Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown is also nearing the half way point, and all things considered that’s pretty remarkable.  It seems like it just started a few days ago.  The venture will continue into October.  Once again this past week was a very fine one for superbly written essays, page views and comments.

Lucille and I took in two masterful films over the weekend, but not before meeting up with our very good friend Sachin Gandhi on Monday night in Manhattan.  We briefly toured the city in my Odyssey, stopping at one of the Barnes & Noble stores where the final day of the Criterion 50% off sale was being conducted.  As always Sachin is a lot of fun to spend time with.  Lucille and I attended our third wedding of the summer on Friday night as well.  The two films we saw are as follows: (more…)

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