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Archive for July 3rd, 2017

© 2017 by James Clark

      An Abbas Kiarostami film may be characterized as an alert against getting rushed away from one’s best interests. The dramas of his films gather with wit and industry a powerful, world-wide coercive force prohibiting the cultivation of maximum lucidity and sufficiency. These introductions in the form of movies do not confine themselves to self-standing aesthetic objects to be promoted to a Pantheon and treasured as a cinematic/ cultural dividend. But rather, they presuppose viewers with the same eccentric and compelling range of struggle as those depicted on the screen.

Taste of Cherry (1997), therefore, brings to light a suicidal figure having been underwhelmed by all he was supposed to subscribe to, and lacking the resolve to effectively obviate the tainted input of a vast and vastly overrated majority. Accordingly, we are in the presence of the stirring of a new range of interaction, a range which may take centuries to become well-known as such.

It may seem ill-advised to move along that long path under the auspices of someone having lost all interest in being alive while still in perfect health. The protagonist emits a pall of contempt toward any instinct except his own obliteration. Therefore, beyond rejection of such energies and whatever sparks of defiance toward that perversity may arise, where are we to look for the rallies at the core of Kiarostami’s problematic? As it happens, in characteristic style, there are surprising, entirely intuitive and (perhaps this film’s special gift) quite extensive figures impinging upon the central juggernaut in ways which provide much food for thought. (The special snare, I think you will find, within this prize-winning supposed suspense-drama, takes the form of seeming to be on familiar film-entertainment grounds while being as far away from such diversion as the outer edge of the universe.)

Driving his white (-washed) Range Rover along a nondescript fringe of Tehran, the protagonist introduces himself within his rather antiseptic moving cell from which he discreetly scowls upon a horde of men at a depot where work for that day only may turn up. As part of an ongoing study of a revelatory vigor to be found within and without a moving car, we have ragged, imperilled hopefuls intent upon the spark of possibility perhaps alive in the stranger and his costly property, and at the same time the deadened gaze of the supposed beneficiary of life. We are about to encounter myriad such ironies, quite readily obtained. The thematic challenge, we will soon find, I think, is what upshot do these cross-purposes press forward? “You want laborers?” someone calls through a side-window. “No,” is the answer to those hungry for food and hungry for life’s free purchases. The faces reflected on the windshield during his cruise become dynamic apparitions from out of a motive transcending those grave and urgent preoccupations. In the episode just completed, his eyes would often be directed skyward, the better to maintain his abstract ways. On departing the job mart seen to be far too raucous for his spate of calculative instruction to seal the deal, he comes upon two boys playing in the remains of what was once a crude economy auto. “Hello, Mister!” one shouts. “Hello,” he replies, in hollow tone. He pulls away quickly, unprepared for such gusto. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time. Each is a collector’s item in its own way—not because of any special artistic quality, but because each captures on a canvas, suspended in time and space, a frozen moment of a nightmare.

Rod Serling is one of the defining figures in television history.  His career began inauspiciously enough when he took on a position as a radio writer in the late 1940’s after a stint in the service during the Second World War. After the small screen medium began to take hold in living rooms across America the upstate New Yorker found it would be the best way for him to get on his soap box and convey his acute criticisms of war, prejudice and corporate business.  His raw sense of realism was lauded in award winning scripts like Patterns, The Rack, and perhaps most famously in the television classic Emmy and Peabody-winning  Requiem for a Heavyweight, which for many is still unparalleled in live action drama. The heart-breaking story of a broken-down club fighter’s decline was Serling’s favorite among all he had written and the big-screen film starring Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney is a rightly acknowledged masterpiece.  In 1959, he presented a pilot to CBS for a new series called The Twilight Zone, which incorporated science fiction and fantasy in dramas that negotiated social messages and morals.  The show ran for five seasons, 156 episodes, all in the anthology format (four seasons at a half hour, one at a full hour) and began a new life in syndication that to this day has earned the show new generations of fans and a sustained reputation as one of the finest programs in television history.  Serling did write movie scripts for films such as Planet of the Apes and Seven Days in May after The Twilight Zone completed its run in 1964, and served as distinguished creative writing Professor at Ithaca College until his untimely death after undergoing heart bypass surgery brought on in some measure by many years of sleepless nights and chain smoking.  However, he did manage to create one more anthology television series at the end of the 60’s when the form was considered a dying breed.  Over three seasons that final television opus, a tumultuous experience replete with ill-advised decisions and some of the most Godawful scripts any director has ever been handed, the show reached the zenith of television excellence, and sank to the pits of incompetence.  Yet as many admirers, this writer included will enthusiastically opine, there were enough great episodes over the span to make it an essential choice for anyone looking to explore the most creative shows the medium has ever offered.

Night Gallery was intended to achieve the same kind of the success as that enjoyed by The Twilight Zone, but NBC studio bosses were exceedingly skeptical and wouldn’t even entertain the possibility of a series until viewers put their seal of approval on the pilot.  Purportedly few thought the trial balloon would amount to much and fewer still that a television series could be built on the concept even with Serling’s brand as the integral creative talent involved.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the morgue.  The three part two-hour presentation proved a smashing success, and disbelieving executives had little choice but to sign Serling and assemble a crew to commence with production.  The pilot impressively brought together old fashioned horror and suspense, and two of the trio of stories must surely count among the three season show’s very best installments if they are considered.  For the sake of my review of the series I have not, feeling as it is a kind of self entity, an artistic enterprise that attracted some of the cinema’s biggest names -Joan Crawford, Steven Spielberg, Richard Kiley, Roddy McDowall, Ossie Davis among others- in a longer ninety minute window.  “The Cemetery,” written by Serling and featuring McDowell in a deliciously sardonic role as a greedy relative who will stop at nothing to gain a fortune, is set in a gothic mansion and borrows a bit from the plot of The Monkey’s Paw.  Perfectly attuned to the coming show’s concept, the plot involves the use of a series of macabre paintings, that not only bring about the death of the murderous nephew Jeremy, but the equally if reserved butler, who falls victim to the terrifying tale’s supernatural final twist. Crawford, fully in her element, plays a heartless narcissist, a blind New York City socialite living in a penthouse, who blackmails her longtime physician into performing a radical new surgical procedure that will give her sight for eleven hours, but at the expense of depriving the donor of his own eyesight for the remainder of his own life.  Crawford (Claudia Menlo) callously refuses to give the hapless donor, bookie Sidney Resnick a penny more than the nine-thousand dollars he needed to allow to escape certain assassination.  Resnick (Tom Bosley) sadly prioritizes his hopeless predicament to Dr. Heatherton (Barry Sullivan) by telling him:  “You want the eyes, they want my body.”  Menlo plans to spend the precious time window storing up every image of paintings, outdoors lights, colorful signs and sunsets in her mind for re-visitation until her final days.  But fate steps in, seemingly all-too-cognizant of this diabolical act, and just after she begins to see a blackout puts out her own ‘lights’ until the time when her eleven hours are up.  The episode is directly moodily and with great skill by a very young Spielberg, whose first assignment this is, and one that he initially dreaded when he was told he’d have to work with Crawford.  But the results were exemplary and the aptly titled “Eyes” is at least as formidably written and executed a piece as “The Cemetery,” and one readily remembered by fans when asked to identify Night Gallery stories they most fondly regarded.  Once again though I have resisted including it in the run of the show when compiling my own favorite Night Gallery installments for the previously stated disclaimers.  The final pilot episode “The Escape” is set in 1965 Buenos Aires features Kiley, Sam Jaffe and Norma Crane, and it is a chilling tale of guilt and retribution.  As he delineated in the classic Twilight Zone show “Death’s Head Revisited”, there can never be an escape for a Holocaust war criminal according to Serling, and the punishment though horrifying is much deserved. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Top 80 Television countdown is moving forward magnificently, and the writers and those placing comments  deserved the highest praise.  Thanks to those who have places likes and /or others who have read the reviews.  The project will be running until mid September, with a one-week break early in August.  The project has been effective in prodding some to explore shows that had long put on hold, or to re-visit longtime favorites.

Early in the week Lucille and I watched two more of Bertrand Tavernier’s most celebrated films. 1989’s gorgeously shot “Life and Nothing But” is a cynical multi-storied anti war film that features Phillipe Noiret’s greatest performance under Tavernier. It is textured work, though the screenplay going off in many directions never quite holds together in a narrative sense. The director’s 1973 first film “The Clockmaker” (“L’horloger de Saint-Paul) remains one of his greatest works, one showcasing another intricate Noiret lead turn in a quietly enveloping story of political alienation and tenuous relationship of parents and their children. Based on a novel by Georges Simenon, and featuring a second superb performance by Jean Rochefort. The print for the former film was glorious, the one for “The Clockmaker” solid enough.

Then, a Barbara Streisand Retrospective at Quad!

No I do not consider Barbara Streisand a great actress remotely for a bevy of reasons, but I will neither follow notorious critic John Simon’s lead nor deny she did have her moments and as a singer she is often electrifying – one of the all time greats for sure. One of those priceless turns was in her Oscar winning role in FUNNY GIRL (1968), shown last night in a gorgeous 4K restoration, and another to a lesser degree was the still mostly irresistible THE OWL AND THE PUSSYCAT (1970) with George Segal which I know is rather polarizing. But loads of fun regardless. Twelve (12) films starring “Babs” are being featured at this week long festival celebrating the entertainment icon’s recent 75th birthday, and Lucille and I were in attendance for these two last night. We have plans to attend a few more, but are passing on at least half. Of course, like most movie fans we have seen all twelve over the years either in theaters, on DVD/blu ray, or both.

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