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Archive for October, 2016

stalker-dog-in-water

by Lee Price

In Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979), there’s the ordinary world where the Stalker lives with his wife and daughter, there’s a border area patrolled by the military, there’s a sealed-off forbidden area known as the Zone, and, legend says, there’s a room inside the Zone where one’s deepest wishes may be granted. Picture it as concentric circles—a mandala radiating outward from the mysterious room at its spiritual center. In both the movie Stalker and its source book Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, the term Stalker refers to the guides who illegally escort guests into the Zone.

Stalker’s Zone is perhaps the most stripped-down version ever of a very familiar place.

In The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dorothy Gale crossed the boundary between black-and-white and Technicolor, and then followed the Yellow Brick Road deep into the Zone, led by the Stalker team of Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion. Although some dismiss the account as nothing more than a dream, some say she reached and entered the Room, achieving the core desire that was in her heart all along.

In The Lord of the Rings, both book and films, Frodo Baggins is mentored by Gandalf, the Grey Stalker, who instructs Frodo on how to pass through the Zone in order to return a purloined heirloom to the Room.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), a film notoriously rejected as “phony” by Tarkovsky, Dr. Dave Bowman journeys through an expansive psychedelic Zone with a (what else?) Room at its center. (more…)

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Andre Techine’s quietly powerful gay-themed drama “Quand on a 17 ANS” is his best film since “Wild Reeds” in 1994 and a strong contender for the Best Film of 2016.

by Sam Juliano

Last week’s miss for the Monday Morning Diary was the first such rare instance since my two week trip to the United Kingdom in August of 2013 when my family spent two weeks with Allan and his mum.  The winding down of the long running Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown and some Caldecott Medal Contender review commitments convinced me for this one time to combine the activities into a single week.  Therefore my round-up constitutes what I managed to negotiate in the prior two week period.  Speaking of the countdown, it really has caught fire as it nears the finish line (this coming Wednesday in fact) and some of the most spectacular reviews that have ever published at the site have appeared in the person of some glorious scholarship.  It is hard to believe we are nearly done, but it will be a project always remembered for the tenacity of its participants and the unconscionable darkness that hovered over it with the passing of our beloved friend and film mentor about half way through.  Because of that incomparable grief and battle with depression it was an unprecedented challenge to move forward.  Thoughts of cancellation nearly came to pass, but after discussion with Jamie Uhler it was deemed a better idea to divert to the subject out dear friend lived his life for, thus this countdown is devoted to Allan Fish, whose reviews were seen more times in the Top 100 than any other writer aside from Roderick Heath.  Mr. Heath of course has moved mountains with numerous staggering essays that redefine the capabilities of the form.  But a number of other writers have penned brilliant pieces and I will discuss those in the countdown round-up next week.  The Sunday posting of J. D. Lafrance’s Blade Runner represents another case of stupendous scholarship, and earlier this week Duane Porter wrote up a storm for his La Jetee review as did Robert Hornak and John Greco respectively for Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Aaron West last week wrote an achingly beautiful review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it goes on and on.  And then there is Allan who needs no further commendation.  I also want to thank the childrens’ book fans for their amazing support by way of comments and page views for the fourth annual Caldecott series.  As soon as the Science-Fiction countdown ends I will be devoting quite a bit of time towards resuming the series, though I also would like to post some horror film reviews  from some of our staff as we move closer towards Halloween.

It does seem pretty clear that the Republican nominee for President will be going down to resounding defeat, not that anyone is at all surprised.   But the past weeks on that front have been as bizarre as have maligned any election.  Ha, only in the US!  Yes right now it does look like a Chicago – Cleveland World Series (Geez, if Jamie were a baseball fan who might he be rooting for?  He grew up in Cleveland, where his family still lives, but he’s been a Chicago resident for a number of years now)  I do not count out the Toronto Blue Jays just yet, but they have to turn it around fast.  Jim and Valerie Clark are two of the team’s biggest fans, and I’ll be thinking of you both as the series winds down.  This is the second year in a row the Jays have been knocking at the door. (more…)

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blade-runner-spinner-1

By J.D. Lafrance

“It’s just like everything that is awful about the city, but at the same time, everything that is fascinating about it…and this, in many ways, is a futurist projection—it’s not so much escapist, it’s a projection of what life will be like in every major metropolis 40 years from now.” – Philip K. Dick, 1982

Big Brother is watching you. The Eye in the Sky. There Are Eyes Everywhere. 2016…or 2019? In this day and age, does three years matter? In 1982, however, the difference was cavernous and 2019 a lifetime away. The past has finally caught up with the present…or has the present finally caught up with the past? One of the first images shown in Blade Runner (1982): an extreme close-up of an eye – encapsulates all of this, for we are living in paranoid times. We are living in Philip K. Dick’s world. This film was based on his 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? He has become one of the most widely-adapted science fiction authors and with good reason. He crafted paranoid tales populated by damaged characters trying to figure out what it means to be human. What were once considered paranoid delusions have become tactile realities.
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by John Greco

An allegory on the infiltration of communism in America? A metaphor for people turning a blind eye to the McCarthyism hysteria that was sweeping the country in the early 1950’s? An attack on the potential dangers of conformity and the stamping out of individuality? Don Siegel’s 1956 gem of a film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, has been said to really be about any and all of these themes since its debut now more than fifty years ago. Siegel, who should know, never mentions any of this kind of subtext in his autobiography, A Siegel Film, so one can assume, all the “readinginto this classic science fiction film that has been done is just that, critics and filmgoers reading their own thoughts and ideas into a work of pop art…and there is nothing wrong with that! After all, isn’t personal interpretation one of the elements and joys of good art? Admirer, analyze, come up with theories, themes beyond what even the artist conceived.

The film is based on a serialized novel, written by Jack Finny, published in 1954 in Collier’s Magazine called, The Body Snatchers. It was produced by Walter Wanger (notoriously known for shooting  talent agent, later a producer, Jennings Lang. Wanger believed Lang was having an affair with his then wife, actress Joan Bennett) and directed by low budget action director Don Siegel. Siegel already had ten feature films under his belt including The Big Steal, Duel at Silver Creek, Private Hell 36 and Riot in Cell Block 11. Allied Artist agreed to back the film and screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring was on board to adapt Finney’s superb novel. (more…)

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By Roderick Heath
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An implicit faith in most science fiction is encoded in that name. It is the art of science, the act of understanding, comprehending, grappling with the real. But also an act of creation, of imagination applied to zones of the mysterious and the obscure, tethering the known, the possible, and the imaginable in brief harmony. It is still usually a bastion of a Victorian kind of faith that anything can be penetrated, broken down, conquered. Solaris, as written by Polish author Stanislaw Lem, is remarkable as a rebellious work in the genre, a rejection of this basic precept as a way of seeing and thinking. Lem, like so many Europeans of his generation, had lived through the worst of World War 2 and the grimmest of lessons in the limitations of the human spirit. After the war he studied medicine whilst forging a name as a writer, concentrating on science fiction in part because it drew less censorship at the time. Lem’s fiction became reputed for its stringent and stimulating conceptual and intellectual gravity, and he became one of the most widely-read sci-fi writers of the day. Solaris, his most famous work, was an attempt to sketch that most vital of sci-fi themes, contact between humans and aliens, with the title referring to a possibly sentient planet at the heart of the mystery. But Lem set out to avoid the usual presumption of the theme, that such a meeting, for good or ill, would nonetheless be between mutually coherent entities, in a universe that, however vast and unexpected, is so often envisioned by we poor Earthlings as a realm that will contain beings like ourselves, or at least variations on things familiar, obeying similar rules in the spree that leads from protozoa to sentience. Lem often tackled this idea, from his early novel The Man From Mars on, and with Solaris Lem took on not just the problem of imagining a form of alien life entirely incomprehensible to us, but also wrestled with this human tendency to look for our own image in the aeons, the simultaneous yearning for enigma but also the urge to subordinate it.
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Legend has it Andrei Tarkovsky vowed to make a film to counter what he perceived as the chilly, detached, unfeeling streak in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and chose Lem’s book as the right project to examine what Kubrick had left out of his vision. This was an odd move considering Lem’s preference for the heady, theoretical side of his writing, and Lem didn’t much appreciate Tarkovsky’s adaptation, which has since overshadowed the book by focusing squarely and unapologetically on precisely the human aspect of the tale. Tarkovsky wasn’t the first to tackle Lem’s book. Boris Nirenburg’s 1968 version made for TV is sometimes described as the most faithful to the author’s conception, insofar as it focused more on the attempt to understand the planet itself rather than on the human quandaries provoked by the planet’s habit of actualising their psychological preoccupations. Amongst Tarkovsky’s specific inventions was a lengthy first act establishing central character Kris Kelvin and the mystery of Solaris as viewed from the earthbound perspective, in which Kelvin is described as a man outwardly maintaining a forced attitude of rationalism but who Tarkovsky’s visuals suggest is actually a meditative, introspective, mournful nostalgic, a fitting non-hero for Tarkovsky’s annexation of sci-fi as another realm for the poet. The opening shot, of weeds waving slowly under the glassy surface of the lake neighbouring Kelvin’s family home, instantly immerses the viewer in Tarkovsky’s lexicon of obsessive imagistic refrains and establishes the mood of languorous submergence that defines Solaris as a film. (more…)

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clockwork

by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 137m) DVD1/2

A bit of the old ultraviolence

p  Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams  d/w  Stanley Kubrick  novel  Anthony Burgess  ph  John Alcott  ed  Bill Butler  m  Walter Carlos (including Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Giacchino Rossini, L.Van Beethoven, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)  art  John Barry, Russell Hagg, Peter Shields  cos  Milena Canonero

Malcolm McDowell (Alex de Large), Patrick Magee (Mr Alexander), Michael Bates (Chief Guard), Warren Clarke (Dim), James Marcus (Georgie), Michael Tarn (Pete), Anthony Sharp (Minister of the Interior), John Clive (stage actor), Adrienne Corri (Mrs Alexander), Miriam Karlin (Miss Weathers), Carl Duering (Dr Brodsky), Clive Francis (Joe), Dave Prowse (Julian), Philip Stone (Dad), Sheila Raynor (Mum), Aubrey Morris (P.R.Deltoid), Godfrey Quigley (prison chaplain), Paul Farrell (tramp), Steven Berkoff (cop), John Savident (conspirator), Margaret Tyzack (lady conspirator),

Viddy well at this horror show cine, o my brothers.  Kubrick’s most controversial film, this was the definitive cult film in the U.K after its withdrawal from our eyes for 26 years.  (Indeed, I still remember the sweaty-palmed glee with which I devoured the film for the first time when a friend imported a video copy from the US.)  A horror comic masterpiece of sorts, without a shadow of a doubt, it follows the story of a young murderer cum rapist in a futuristic nihilistic Britain who is released from prison after undergoing the Ludovico experimental treatment, this time as a victim of society. (more…)

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By Duane Porter

Nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments. It is only later that they claim remembrance. By their scars. — Chris Marker, La Jetée

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Writer, editor, photographer, filmmaker, world traveler, archivist and multimedia/installation artist, unclassifiable and without boundaries. Born Christian-François Bouche-Villeneuve on 29 July 1921 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, an exclusive suburb of Paris, Chris Marker has sought to circumvent the expectations and limitations associated with background and class by choosing a name that might belong to anyone and that is easily pronounced anywhere. Working under various pseudonyms, avoiding interviews and photographs, and being somewhat evasive regarding his biography, Marker maintained a certain level of anonymity that has proved useful in his work. Beginning in January 1947, he published poems, short stories, and essays in the eclectic intellectual journal, Esprit. Also among his early works are one novel, Le Coeur net (1949), about airmail pilots in Indo-China after the war, and a critical monograph of playwright Jean Giraudoux (1952). He became increasingly interested in film, writing essays on Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, Cocteau’s Orphée, and Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, among others. Having mastered the personal essay, inspired by a love for word and image, he ventured into filmmaking with Olympia 52 (1952), an account of the Helsinki Olympic Games. His second film was actually his first, begun two years before Olympia 52 but not finished until one year after, Statues Also Die (1953), co-directed with his friend, Alain Resnais. Being about African art and the effects of colonialism on traditional cultures, it was banned by the French government for its criticisms of colonialism and wasn’t seen in it’s entirety until 1968. Several distinctive essayistic travel documentaries followed, A Sunday in Peking (1956), Letter from Siberia (1958), Description of a Struggle (1960), and Cuba sí! (1961), firmly establishing his association with the essay film. Marker considers his work up to this time to be merely a rough draft, maintaining that his filmmaking career began in 1962 when he began work on Le jolie mai (1963), an intimate interrogatory account of Paris during May 1962 in the days following the close of the Algerian War. It was during breaks in the shooting for Le jolie mai that he made most of the photographs that make up La Jetée, a 27 minute post-apocalyptic love story made up almost entirely of black and white still photographs. A meditation on time and memory that is also a reflection on the nature of the photographic image. A photograph being a perception of immediate reality, an image of the present that instantly becomes the past, a photograph is always a memory.

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frank-1

by Robert Hornak

Mary Shelley’s original novel was born in the long wake of the western world’s great unshackling from regal tyranny. The American and French Revolutions were still visible in the rear view mirror, being free was the lingua franca of the day, and by the early 1800s, a de facto requirement for progress and individual happiness. Meanwhile, Shelley’s own mother had been a force for gender equality, working to break women away from the tyranny of male power structures. It’s no wonder that Mary, whose blood must have pumped with the assumptions of freedom, would push her imagination into the ultimate realm of tyranny, death itself. Her impromptu story that fateful stormy night in Switzerland, having first captured the imagination of the small group of literary souls that surrounded her that weekend, has grown tall, unconquerable, and endlessly re-built into a myriad combinations from horrifying to hilarious. It’s immediate popularity spread even further in play form, needfully limiting the scope of the novel, and adding elements – like, eventually, the right-hand lab assistant – that might help keep the stage-bound version as captivating as was her globe-trotting tale of a man and his philosophically-minded creation. By the age of film, the story was already ubiquitous, and generally known as much from its ancillary versions as its original incarnation. Thus, by 1931, the ground was ready for the tilling, and Universal, seeking to recapture Dracula‘s lightning in a bottle, leapt upon Shelley’s story, setting it before a new audience, one for whom the bright optimism of the Enlightenment had long since been dimmed by the most bloody, spirit-rending war the world had ever seen, the dark memories of which moved alongside the despair pulsing up out of a brand new, worldwide economic catastrophe. It was tyranny of another kind, a spiritual and psychological one, as well as economic, and all steeped in the relative newness of Freudian self-awareness. Man, whose 19th century take-away was that science, not God, would rescue them, had crawled through the mud of war and poverty to conclude that not only would God not rescue them, but that God wasn’t even there, and that it was time for the great human DIY project. In this spirit, director James Whale framed his version in pitch-black bolts of shadow and delivered the ultimate story of man-as-God to a world that could now embrace the creature rescued from death in the mold of these new, early 20th century tyrannical shackles, and would watch him burst forth into the new world – a place where the chance to live forever could be crushed by the ever-adapting forces of hate and fear. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

There can be nothing more disconcerting to a young child than finding out that their latest book find is well beyond their sphere of negotiation.  The exasperated yellow duckling with the pink beak in veteran artist Sergio Ruzzier’s latest innovative creation, This is Not a Picture Book is initially ecstatic when he comes upon a book with a bright red cover.  Soon enough the anticipated eye candy is exposed as a tome, one indecipherable to an ankle-biter, whose sphere of enlightenment has up until now been in the most stringent visual terms.  Gloriously framing this pained encounter between this impressionable tyke and the latest step in learning are the first set of end papers that reveal that words by themselves are indecipherable at the earliest stage, in fact they project to said prospective reader the futility of a foreign language.  After the exclamatory titular pronouncement on the double page spread that sets off the deceit with Duck Amuck bravado our offended protagonist rejects his latest acquisition, rethinks his action, and finally atones in a series of delightful vignettes that make striking use of white space.  The duckling picks up the book again and is approached by a cricket who asks “What is that?”  The duckling repeats the central dilemma, and the cricket deems it “Wacky” and asks if his new friend is able to read it.  Surprisingly the duckling doesn’t rule out the possibility just before the book enters a new dimension.

Ruzzier, the Italian born classicist who is unwaveringly in the Caldecott hunt for the fourth consecutive year has produced what is probably his picture book masterpiece, and by any artistic and conceptual barometer of measurement one of the finest works of 2016.  Like all the best creations, This is Not A Picture Book is thought-provoking, elegant, and invested with the most vital, if rudimentary measure of advocacy for our youngest readers.  The book celebrates the power of reading and the unlimited boundaries of the imagination. Once again Ruzzier’s colorful and sumptuous otherworldly tapestries evoke a European sensibility and some of his eccentric carnival scenes envision the surrealist cinema master Alejandro Jodorowsky, though framing the art as Felliniesque seems just as appropriate.   (more…)

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Kino Welt am Draht

by Bob Clark

There’s an interior-decorating philosophy that espouses the idea of using mirrors to make a small room look bigger. I don’t know if it’s related to fung shui, or perhaps just a very basic recognition of the power of duplicated imagery, but there’s something about it that can work rather well, and at times even do wonders. With one mirror, the horizon of a single room can extend just a little farther, and open things up just enough to stave off unconscious feelings of claustrophobia in the mind’s eye, if not in the actual ones for very long. Place another one in the room with it at an angle, and things open up even more, allowing you to curve space subtly with reflected reflections, building a new and artificial kind of architecture through the location’s subliminal atmosphere. Finally, put a pair of mirrors directly across from one another and you have that classic barber-shop parlour trick of infinitely extending reflections receding into both directions, that little feat of magic that Orson Welles put to such good use near the end of Citizen Kane and Carl Sagan used to similarly impressive import in one of the later episodes ofCosmos, expressing the inherently evasive concept of eternity itself.

Plenty of filmmakers and artists have exploited this potential for mirrors as instruments of mind-bending challenges of time, space and pure mathematics– some ten years ago I can remember a recreation of a Yayoi Kusama installation, full of polka-dotted rock formations extended in all directions by an entirely mirrored room, while strolling through a retrospective of her work at the Museum of Modern Art. Recently I had another encounter with the mirrored-lens visions of uber-reflective expression at MoMA while catching a rare screening of a newly remasteredWorld on a Wire by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, a work which has long gone unseen since its original broadcast as a two-part miniseries for German television in 1973, and expands the famously bold director’s body of work to include science-fiction alongside all the old familiar places of Douglas Sirk melodrama and World War II era expressionist musicals. But not only does this film show Fassbinder’s take on sci-fi– it also manages to tell one of the first cinematic depictions of virtual-reality, long before the likes of Tron, The Matrix or Inception, and with a surprisingly dexterous hand, especially when it comes to presenting various layers of simulations. (more…)

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