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Archive for May, 2017

by John Grant

vt Tragic Error
France / 25 minutes / bw silent / Gaumont Dir & Scr: Louis Feuillade Cine: uncredited Cast: Suzanne Grandais, René Navarre, Marie Dorly, Ernest Bourbon, Paul Manson.

According to the opening intertitle, René, Marquis de Romiguières (Navarre), and his wife Suzanne (Grandais) are “In their chateau, built atop the battlements of the Cévennes,” where they “enjoy a wonderful honeymoon.” The atmosphere doesn’t seem terribly honeymoonish, to be honest: the couple seem to be a staid and settled pair, content to be waited upon by their elderly housekeeper (Dorly).

One day a note arrives for René from his lawyer, Panonceaux. René’s properties in Paris require some personal attention, and as soon as possible.

Stuck for a couple of days in Paris, far from the arms of his wife, René takes himself to the cinema to see Onésime, Vagabond.

Although, as far as I can establish, Onésime, Vagabond never existed outside the bounds of Erreur Tragique, it’s clearly meant to be one of the (genuine) long-running Onésime series of perhaps nearly eighty silent comedy shorts (authorities differ on the exact number) released between 1910 (Le Rembrandt de la Rue Lepic) and 1918 (Onésime et le Billet de Mille). In the English-language incarnations of these movies the character of Onésime, who was played throughout by Ernest Bourbon (1886–1954), was renamed Simple Simon, which gives you about as much as you need to know of Onésime’s personality: he’s an Innocent Abroad figure whose presence sparks off humor, sometimes quite sharp, sometimes involving social commentary, sometimes of a fantasticated nature. You can watch one of these movies, Onésime Horloger (1912), which falls into the latter category and was written by Feuillade, here (with English intertitles). (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

As my contribution to the festival, I will be presenting a pair of animated films. I will be making this simple, as I want you to enjoy them with as little direct preamble as possible. The first is When the Wind Blows, a film about an imminent nuclear attack, while the second will be Plague Dogs, based on the novel by Richard “Watership Down” Adams. Both films are British, though When the Wind Blows has an American director. This, I think, is the sort of international flavor Allan may have appreciated, though-in his own words, as I would imagine them-the films are all the better for being British rather than strictly American. Such were his views. I do not believe they came from any sort of deep hatred or xenophobia, but rather from his own sense of boredom, tedium and impatience with what he regarded as Hollywood commercialism. When it came to animation, The Unwashed Public had Disney and little else, or so it appeared, and Allan was quite disappointed-though resigned-to this being how people view things on this side of The Pond.

Both films were aimed at adult audiences, and both dealt directly with socio-political issues, with one being about Nuclear war and the eroding conditions of international relations, while the other was about animal experimentation.

When the Wind Blows: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVq76YvTPMs

The Plague Dogs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKHQuaaZovs&t=201s

 

Before I continue with discussion of the films, I want to digress to tell my story about Allan, and what he has meant to me. I first met him on Facebook, on the FB Film Forum, where I am an administrator. I had noticed this highly opinionated fellow, with an avatar of what seemed to be a man with what I took as a very smug expression, in a Santa Claus cap, being more than merely bellicose with the other members of the site. So, after a few weeks of observation, and what I initially perceived as a bad attitude, I booted him for excessive rudeness. Sammy Juliano came to his defense and brokered a peace. Allan and I soon became FB friends and many long hours of discussion on politics, art, literature and history, but especially film and television, ensued. (more…)

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by James Horsefall
Allan introduced me to a wide range of classic Japanese directors over the years beyond Ozu, Mizoguchi and Kurosawa, with films such as The Ball at the Anjo House scoring highly in his top 3000 list on this site, and recommendations such as Earth (Uchida), Mr. Thank You (Shimizu), Floating Clouds (Naruse) and the titles by Heinosuke Gosho and Shiro Toyoda mentioned below.  Many remain hard to find, with Criterion’s Eclipse series sadly slowing down it seems, and the BFI’s Naruse titles out of print, although Arrow encouragingly have released The Human Condition trilogy, and more and more titles regularly appear online with fan subtitles.   I have chosen Muddy Water by Tadashi Imai because Allan’s review back in 2014 intrigued me, a film which beat Tokyo Story in the Kinema Junpo poll for 1953, by a director who also came top in 1950 ahead of Rashomon top again in 1956 ahead of The Burmese Harp, and 1st and 2nd no less in 1957.    Donald Richie attributed the director’s popularity with Japanese critics of the time to being less of an individualist and less personal than Ozu, Yoshimura and others, Noel Burch damned him with faint praise as a ‘competent technician and dramatist’, his star has certainly waned with modern film-lovers.  But while his output may have been uneven, films like this show the same humanism and sincerity of the best of Japanese cinema of the period, told with an unsentimental compassion, a strong ensemble cast and impressive cinematography.   Available on You Tube currently under the title of the third of its stories, Troubled Waters 1953, I recommend this to any fan of Mizoguchi.

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And on the 8th day, God created rudimentary film language.

THIEF forehead number

by Robert Hornak

To my regret I never spoke, online or live, to Mr. Fish, so I never had the pleasure or benefit of the conversation or guidance or iron-sharpening-iron experience that so many here have spoken of. But I can guess what he might’ve thought of me. I’m woefully uneducated in world cinema, past or present – though I’m trying – but I think I may still be well above average for the general population. See how I just threw the general population under the bus? Point is, I don’t have much of a gauge for what he may or may not like or dislike among the several options I laid out for myself as a contribution to the festival christened in his honor. I’ve been afraid I’d stir some brand of offence, vis-à-vis his sensibilities, with almost anything I’ve looked to put up, so why not, I thought, just go ahead and stray far afield and help ensure a minor blasphemy by putting up a piece of overwrought and possibly irredeemable docu-fiction masquerading as mid-century Christian propaganda? My great hope is that despite its failings on several easily discernable levels, my choice is taken in the spirit of sharing niche-y artifacts, whether its passion and value aren’t quite so quickly discernable.

Thing is, I’ve been fascinated by this relic of apocalyptic fear-mongering since the day I first laid eyes on it at the age of 12 at a church camp in Louisiana, and I’ve needed to write about it ever since. Full disclosure: I was and am a church-goer, born and bred in the drawling (if not drooling) buckle of the Bible belt, at once a product of my evangelical upbringing and an expert post-indoctrination chronicler of it. I need not be the one to point out, there was and is a strain of religion in our country that rivals the worst of any enemy with whom we’ve courted Armageddon, and it plagues us to this day in ways insidious, fracturing, hilarious, and sad, depending on which way you’re letting the light of reason and decorum hit it.

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by Maurizio Roca

Like many other fellow readers of Wonders In The Dark, I had the pleasure of gaining considerable film knowledge from Allan Fish through his Obscuro Series and Decades Countdown. In fact, it was his Early Years (1895-1929) Top 100 list that made this blog an essential component of my day starting back in late 2009, early 2010. It rekindled my then dormant love of early avant-garde and surreal shorts from the silent era—my first serious gateway into more advanced film viewing beyond Hollywood mainstream fare. Part of what sparked my renewed interest was that many of those silents that I had treasured as a young adult were relegated to Allan’s Nearlies section. How is it that only the bottom two made the essay portion of his list I wondered!?!?

  1. Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger)
  2. Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel)

Yes, these exclusions annoyed me at the time, but they also made me examine those movies that Allan had held in higher esteem. And in many cases, I discovered works of art that I may never have seen otherwise. One particular film of which I had made a mental note actually was placed in the Nearlies portion of Mr Fish’s countdown. It is called Fievre, made in 1921 by Louis Delluc, and a film Allan placed at #186. I had heard of this early French director before through his association with Germaine Dulac (who ironically made the list at #187 with one of my favorite experimental shorts, The Seashell And The Clergyman), but I had never seen any of Delluc’s films prior to that. I knew he wasn’t really a surrealist filmmaker, and more of an impressionist, which had fascinated me to a lesser degree at the time. Regardless, I made sure to seek this early French film out whenever the chance arose (which eventually happened through the internet).

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MSDDEMO FK002

by Pat Perry

I am humbled to be part of this festival honoring Allan Fish.  Although I have been a frequent commenter and an occasional contributor to this site, I never got to know Allan very well.  Truth be told, I was mostly intimidated by him, by both his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema and his ability to capture the essence of any film in  just a few incisive, brilliantly written paragraphs.  And – since I’m telling the truth here – I was also intimidated by his mercurial temper and gruffness, although I always understood those were tied up with his exacting standards for both the films he watched and what was written about them. He wanted cinema to be exceptional, and he wanted us to be exceptionally smart in discerning what was art and what was junk. Only after his passing did I learn from the reminisces of fellow bloggers of his extreme generosity in sharing his films and his knowledge with those who reached out to him.  All too late, I wished I had made more of an effort to connect with him myself.

I’m not sure what Allan would have thought of my choice here, but I hope he would recognize my own similar, if considerably less educated, passion to tell people “This film is good! This film is important! You should watch this!”

With the Trump presidency has come a resurgence of interest in classic dystopian fiction such as 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale. But there is yet another, lesser-known work that begs to be revisited as well: Wallace Shawn’s 1996 play The Designated Mourner.  Set in an unnamed country at an unspecified time , the play unfolds as a series of reminisces by three characters – a cynical, vulgarian journalist, his estranged wife and his left-wing intellectual father-in-law – their individual stories coalescing into a chilling oral history of a society gone mad, its most erudite and learned members pitilessly slaughtered by government decree. (more…)

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By Bob Clark

The careers of most celebrated anime directors, generally speaking, begin on television, and one might say that if they’re lucky, they remain there. Sure, filmmakers like Miyazaki and Takahata are renowned and beloved the world over for their feature works, but there’s a liveliness and spontaneity to the workmanlike stuff they did for Japanese television in the early parts of their careers that often matches, sometimes even exceeds their most critically acclaimed (or to put it more honestly, critically approved) works. Like many, they did time producing adaptations of long running manga series where they first got a chance to sharpen their skills as directors. Miyazaki’s first feature film “Castle of Cagliostro” was an extension of his highly entertaining years on the action-packed thief comedy series “Lupin the 3rd”, and plenty of other directors have followed suit beginning their career translating comics to the small and big screen. Occasionally, you’ll even get somebody who began on original work retreating into existing material, like Hideaki Anno did after the emotionally exhausting double-header of “Nadia” and “Evangelion”, turning on a dime away from existential sci-fi to adrenaline-injected high school rom-com in “His and Her Circumstances”. There, having already sharpened his skillset and developed his authorial voice, he inevitably wound up butting heads with the original mangaka and eventually had to quit and cede control to his collaborator Kazuya Tsurumaki, a turn of events that Mamoru Oshii would face after his second directorial feature, “Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer”.

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Cynthia Nixon as Emily Dickinson in staggering Terence Davies masterpiece “A Quiet Passion”

by Sam Juliano

The Allan Fish Online Film Festival is cruising along to its fifth day with a scheduled, though as usual secret piece due up on Monday.  So far Jamie Uhler, Sachin Gandhi, Dean Treadway and Roderick Heath have presented spectacular pieces, fully attuned to Allan’s method of discovery and bringing some fabulous works to the site’s readers.  The project will continue on until May 26th.  One again writing quality reigns supreme at Wonders in the Dark.

Once again I served as a chaperone for the Lincoln School 8th grade Washington D.C. class trip, and this year we fell victim to an all day driving rain on the second day (Thursday) that necessitated rain gear in awkward mode.  Our kids laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, and visited the usual spots: the memorials for Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, Martin Luther King, World War II Veterans, Koean and Viet Nam, Air Force and Iwo Jima.  We partook in the Capital Tour, the outside of the White House, two Smithsonians, a full guided tour of the Pentagon and on the way down a stop in Philadelphia to tout the First Continental Congress Building and the Liberty Bell.  The lodging at the Marriott in Bethesda, Maryland was impressive.

A fabulous children’s book author/illustrator panel event was staged at Books of Wonder in Manhattan on Saturday afternoon, where an impressive gathering braved a driving rain to take in a presentation that included our very good friends Wendell Minor, Florence Friedmann Minor and Jerry Pinkney, who talked about their new magnificent 2017 releases. Lucille and Jeremy joined me for this fascinating show: (more…)

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Director/Screenwriter: James Bidgood

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The Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2017

By Roderick Heath

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Pink Narcissus is a relic of cinema that has journeyed from virtual oblivion to belated appreciation in a corner of the cinematic world that long hungered for elders to respect. The story of how it came to be unearthed and its worth today is bound up in who made it and why. Born in Madison, Wisconsin, James Bidgood arrived in New York in the early 1950s aged 17. Like many young gay men then and now, self-described farm boy Bidgood was surely on the search for a tenable existence and a community, and he carved out his place in the city’s queer underground as a drag queen and night club dancer. He found commercial success as a dress designer prized for his opulent debutante apparel, as a window dresser, and as a photographer. This last passion became increasingly compelling to Bidgood, and through the 1960s his homoerotic studies were popular in the “physique” magazines that allowed a little soft-core gazing to gay readers; at a time when most of their pictures were flat and trite, Bidgood gained attention by bringing his decorative and compositional gifts to bear. Bidgood sarcastically referred to his Hell’s Kitchen apartment as Les Folies Des Hommes, in tribute to the Folies Bergeres, as that tiny abode doubled as his studio and theatre of creation, and he soon started using that name as a pseudonym when publishing his photos. Soon Bidgood began trying to make a movie, shooting entirely within his apartment confines. Bidgood’s partner of the time, Bobby Kendall, a former hustler, became the epicentre of his attempts to inscribe in pure cinematic terms an obsessive fascination with his lover’s body and, beyond that, to create a total work dedicated to celebrating his aesthetic fetishes, in a film encapsulating a series of fantasy sequences built around what Bidgood himself described happily as “gay whack-off fantasies.”

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By Dean Treadway

very nice 3

In this. the first Allan Fish Online Film Festival, devised by the site’s co-founder Sam Juliano after the untimely death of our British co-hort Allan Fish, Sam has asked many of the site’s contributors to throw in on a film festival designed to highlight Fish’s obviously consuming love of cinema. Many of the contributors here have many superlative things to say about Allan, each of them having a long online (and sometimes face-to-face) correspondence with the man. But I feel it’s correct to, at this point, detail my own run-ins with this completely genius-level film lover.

It’s really simple: Allan hated me. He thought I was a complete amateur as a film commentator, and frankly, I think he may have been correct, at least in comparison to himself. There is no way I could compete with Allan as a film expert; he had me beat (though I never realized this was a competition). His curiosity in viewing movies was incomparable. He could casually watch movies from Turkey, Columbia, France, Nambia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, South Korea, Peru, and Vietnam with as much zeal as I could watching films from the United States and Britain. He understood that I have an Ugly American’s view of film: they’re better if they’re in English. He was right there, and it made me slightly angry that he had my number. I could never match his curiosity toward world cinema and, further, I also couldn’t come close to his succinct mastery of the English language detailing that passion. We never shared a conversation, personally or online, leading to detante with one another. He insulted me directly many times in the comments section of this website. These comments did sting, but I never held them against him. I knew he knew more about the subject than I did, so I let it all slide (though I could give an insult back to him that matched the one he lobbed to me–“pretentious gasbag” comes to mind here; and I should say, he was wrong many times).

allan

Still, I admired him greatly. I tried to tell him this, but I don’t think he ever accepted my appreciation of his work. I guess he thought it was disingenuous (he was never one to respond favorably to sentiment, anyway). In the Wonders in the Dark yearly overviews–a project that took nearly two years to complete–I eventually got so fed up with his attempts to shape every year’s cinematic output according to what he thought was notable, I asked Sam if I could throw in some possibilities for each year, in order to make the project more complete and fair. I would add films and performances and artistic contributions to each year’s round up, and many of them were from films Allan had wholly disowned (and yet some of the elements that I added ended up winning the best of their respective year, so many of the people contributing to the site disagreed with him). Allan vehemently disliked my horning in on his well-determined territory, yet I thought this collective project of ours deserved to be completed with all possibilities considered. This did not result in a joyous collaboration. To him, I was a totally dismissible outlier with pedestrian tastes.

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