Archive for November, 2015

i walked 2

by Sam Juliano

Ah, woe/Woe is me/Shame and sorrow for the family.

It has been argued in scholarly cinematic circles that “there are two Lewton masterworks: I Walked With A Zombie (visually the more eloquent and elegant) and The Seventh Victim (the more poetic and profound).”  It has furthermore been alleged  that “Neither film employs a conventional narrative structure although the subjects, voodoo and devil worship, are the stuff of traditional horror movies.”  For both films Lewton formulated a mosaic-like structure that doesn’t so much as present a full story than suggest it’s “possibilities.”  Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar  would be an example of this practice, as it eschews conventional narrative for the exploration of a specific theme.

The same theme seems to prevail in Lewton’s films: the power of reason vs. the power of obscurity.  The concerns are given the same attention, but Lewton, a studied man with a literary slant, is in essence a measured artist whose greatest gift was always reveling in the humanity of his characters, a gift that once won effusive praise from the great critic James Agee.  Hence it is assumed that the powers of darkness will in the end be negated by rational thinking.  Perhaps the most startling element in I Walked With A Zombie, the second in his famous low-budget horror series, is that diabolical forces emerged victorious at the film’s conclusion.


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addy's house 1

by Sam Juliano

“The Moon is Going to Addy’s House’ is visual storytelling at its very best. The emotional journey of the children is beautifully expressed through Ida Pearle’s stunning use of collage, color, texture, and movement.”—Martin Scorsese

Certainly there isn’t another children’s picture book about our luminous nocturnally-visible satellite that is as resplendent nor as intimately immersive as Ida Pearle’s The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House, and not since Marcia Brown’s paper collage work in the Caldecott Medal winning Shadow has an inanimate object or presence been as pervasively all-enveloping.  Renowned filmmaker Martin Scorsese, a visual storyteller extraordinaire, knows what it is like to bring a visceral children’s picture book to the cinema, and asserts the aesthetic kinship between page and screen when it comes to elements like color, texture and movement.  Acclaimed award-winning illustrator Brian Selznick, who wrote the book upon which Scorsese’s Hugo was based, is attuned to Brown’s 1983 work by opining that Pearle’s “cut-paper collages dance and play and come to life” in an equally spectacular response to the book.  Yet Brown’s specter is one that unflinchingly shows the side in us we’re afraid to confront, whereas Pearle’s celestial spheroid is as reassuring as a guardian angel, one that engenders both glowing cognizance and a measure of celebratory veneration.  Whereas the poet Alfred Noyes once wrote “the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” its role in The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House is far more thematically benign, one that recalls the friendship between the young French boy in Albert Lamorisee’s The Red Balloon, who evinces a human connection to a supposed lifeless entity. (more…)

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 © 2015 by James Clark

      Jean-Pierre Melville was active in the French Resistance during World War II. That fact entails a long freight train of supposition running from laudatory to immaculate. In 1969 he brought to light a fastidious and elegant film, Army of Shadows, dealing with that subject he knew so well and, presumably, wanted to say a lot about.

One nagging disclaimer within that envisaged march of social progress at heavy cost concerns the extensive track record, up to that date, of Melville’s works ardently conveying that, far from an army, the kind of integrity absorbing him takes the form of catastrophically isolated and almost utterly ineffectual partisans of a current of power not only precluded but not even noticed. To spotlight Melville’s endeavors, as inhering in his films, being positioned within that troubled but triumphant rise of so-called social justice is, it seems to me, to allow rhetoric to strangle (a most shadowy) reckoning. The title of our film today wields the upbeat term, army, and the downbeat term, shadows. Let’s try to comprehend what our remarkable guide was up to in linking those strange bedfellows. (more…)

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dragon 1

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the fifth review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date.  The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be.  The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.

It happens all the time.  When book, film, theater and music awards are handed out there is head-scratching, disappointment and second-guessing among those who take these matters seriously.  Most award historians agree it is largely a matter of the right timing, the depth of the competition and factors connected with the potential recipient’s standing in their respective industry and their years of service.  For children’s books the gold standard are the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott Awards, which are given out early in the calendar year to the most distinguished works published during the previous twelve months.  A small committee of sixteen or so librarians, who were elected by the association’s membership spend a year painstakingly evaluating the full crop, and at the end of an arduous process settle up on the gold medal and honor book winners.  Though mainly reliable, like all other groups there is sometimes an inability to speculate whether their choices will hold up well into the future.  Though there are ample examples that raise eyebrows, none is as startling as the 1953 Newbery Medal awarded to Anne Nolan Clark for her book Secret of the Andes.  Some libraries don’t even possess a copy of it anymore, while the “second place” honor book Charlotte’s Web is now seen by many as the greatest children’s work ever written by an American.  Still, at least we can conclude that Charlotte’s Web did win an Honor that year.  A number of exceptional artists and illustrators over the years have not been so lucky.  Some are veterans who have enjoyed prolific careers, yet for one reason or another have failed to gain the attention of the award givers.  One of these is Brooklyn poet/illustrator Douglas Florian, whose resume includes at least a half dozen books that fall under the category of would have, should have, could have.  His work has repeatedly been lauded by critics and his peers, and has been given numerous citations from other year-end groups.  But so far the prestigious Caldecott Medal has eluded this distinguished craftsman and classroom favorite. (more…)

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Stunning capture from Otto Shenk’s Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner’s “Tannhauser seen in HD broadcast.


Magnificent capture from HD broadcast of Wagner’s “Tannhauser”

by Sam Juliano

As we inch closer to the mid-way point in November, we are still enveloped by warmer temperatures than usual in the tri-state area around the Big Apple, with much of the same predicted for this current week.  Before we blink we will have Turkey Day upon us, to be followed by the holiday season, all the long-anticipated late year movie openings and the heart of the football season.

After nearly five years of the same design (courtesy of my excellent friend from Down Under, Tony d’Ambra, who continues to offer up sage advice and specifications) I did something this past week out of the clear blue, impulsively and without warning changing the site’s theme in seeming contradiction with some of the more austere aspects of our home’s communal scholarship.  The verdict is in, and it is markedly split down the middle.  Some have opined it is garish and in your face, while others think it is the best thing since ice cream.  To be sure I am still investigating all the possibilities, and haven’t definitely settled on the dark wood design, but it offers vividly toned typography, a great font style for the comments, a superb background for photos, terrific color coordinated post headings and two sidebars.  The downside is I can’t seem to include the “WitD Team’ on said sidebar and there is no longer the option of a movie banner.  However I know at a little cost I can probably get those revisions made.  I am still exploring all the various possibilities.  I will say that I am personally fond of this new theme, favoring two others that were briefly employed over the past days.  I know ‘taste’ is the great equalizer in affairs of the heart, which I guess in my case sometimes wins poll position over the mind.  I’d love to hear some opinions from those who comment on this thread. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the fourth review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date.  The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be.  The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.

Floyd Cooper, the resident neo-realist of children’s literature brings to bear his inimitable artistry to a defining event in African-American history.  Juneteenth for Mazie, was released a few months before the 150th anniversary of Freedom Day on June 19th, when soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare the end of the Civil War and an official acknowledgement of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  Currently, 43 states observe the day as one worthy of special attention, and just last year another book about this celebratory date – All Different Now was published by Angela Johnson in collaboration with E. B. Lewis.  Johnson’s book chronicles the cathartic effect the declaration has on a community of slaves, and how suddenly their lives were to be forever altered.  Cooper’s book is more intimate and soulful, focusing as it does on a single young girl who grew up learning that a proper upbringing often involved parental refusals, and how she is told the story of how her great-great-great Grandpa Mose witnessed a life-changing announcement from the balcony of a hotel.  Grandpa Mose she is informed worked hard in the cotton fields from dawn till dusk,  forced by their masters to toil until near exhaustion, with only a dream of freedom to push them forward.  They prayed for a time of equality for whites and blacks, while some escaped to the north where the laws allowed them a good measure of their yearnings.  After the monumental law was enacted by the President, there was as Cooper describes a celebration like no other in his statement from father to daughter in recollecting that awe-inspiring event: (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the third review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date.  The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be.  The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.

Sergio Ruzzier is one of those author-illustrators you just know will eventually land squarely in the Caldecott winners circle.  Both Have You Seen My New Blue Socks?, a delightful story that will connect with people who look for their glasses only to realize they are hanging on their ears, and last year’s A Letter for Leo, a crowd pleaser in the classrooms about an irresistible friendship between a nondescript weasel and a hibernating bird are picture book masterpieces that showcase this extraordinary classicist’s indelible tapestries in full bloom.   The Italian-born artist employs a European sensibility to his work, that exhibits a retro look that is equally striking to the primary audience of this kinds of books, and their art loving guardians.  Sharp-eyed viewers might see some persuasive comparisons with the art of renowned artists Leo Politi and Tomie DePaola, but on the other hand Ruzzier is an original whose work is singly identifiable. (more…)

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                                 Jillian in Halloween garb


                                 Jeremy in Halloween garb

by Sam Juliano

Pumpkins will be around for at least a month longer, but in large measure to make pies and for Thanksgiving ornamentation.  The jack-o-lantern variety has mystically departed until next year, though it made its mark on many porches across America.  Gone too is the trick or treating, though horror film lovers aren’t about to give up the ghost yet.  Just when you get back into something with a marked passion, the calendar comes barging in.  But much like past years adherents of this genre will stay the course at least a few weeks longer.  This writer watched a bunch of horror classic on blu ray and DVD over the past week on a HD large screen for one, and it was great time for the family to share the fun.

As a lifelong baseball aficionado I have watched every minute of the World Series, and have marveled in the ups and downs for both teams.  The Kansas City Royals won in an unlikely comeback thanks to a crucial error and some 8th inning heroics in Game 4 to take a commanding 3 to 1 lead.  I will revise this post either late tonight or tomorrow morning to reflect the results of Game 5.  A Royals win will end the series, while a Mets triumph will force a Game 6 in Kansas City on Tuesday night.  Meanwhile the Giants incurred a bizarre 52 to 49 football loss in New Orleans to the Saints after a costly face mask penalty setting up the winning field goal.

I’m not so sure whether we will be celebrating the last two months of the movie year, or whether conversely we’ll be lamenting the dearth of quality works.  The proof, alas, will be in the pudding.  So far I’d characterize 2015 as an average year in movies, even if I will have no trouble compiling a ten-best list, what with a fair number of very good films part of this annual equation.  Things on this front won’t begin to heat up for another four to five weeks.  The opera season is well underway, and I’ll be seeing a number of the HD broadcasts in local theaters.   (more…)

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