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Archive for September 22nd, 2019

by Sam Juliano

The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the houses of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week,
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses, the brown-faced sailors…         – Mannahatta, Walt Whitman (1860)

The overall mood and flow of Whitman’s free-verse Mannahatta like its subject, the main platform of the “city that never sleeps” only comes to a complete stop at the poem’s final coda.  Though the skyscraper phenomenon didn’t fully mature until the 1890’s, the poet hailed the work in progress of upward expansion and laudatory congestion in glowing terms:  Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies.  In what may appear to be an overload of ebullience for a location rife with urban problems and challenges Whitman extols the city’s seasonal trimmings, mechanics and million-strong population, the latter possessing “manners free and strong”, with “open voices” and “hospitality.”  He adds “the most courageous and friendly young men” reside in a “city of hurried and sparkling waters!” ending his unconditional approbation with dogged possessiveness: “my city.”

Whitman’s celebratory verse, steaming with the same level of exultation as the Sceptered Isle speech from Richard II, where England was referred to “that other Eden, “this blessed plot” and “this Demi Paradise” is given an ultimate contemporary transcription in a  meticulously layered picture book by Jennifer Thermes titled Manhattan.  Employing vibrant and full color art to define and complement the historical, geographical and architectural advent of the most famous island in human history, and the hotbed of culture, finances and condensed population Thermes challenges early readers to absorb the evolution of an astonishingly comprehensive panorama of a paddle-shaped sliver of land, appropriately nicknamed “the Big Apple”, the centerpiece of the five Borough metropolitan area known as New York City, which includes Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island.  Thermes, the author-illustrator of the most distinguished Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure has advanced her game, defying the odds against effectively encapsulating such an epic subject with an enthralling canvas that surely would have impressed the avid arts maven and ultimate New York City aficionado Ed Koch, whose spiritual ancestor is shown standing at the tip of the island near Wall Street proclaiming “It’s the greatest city in the world.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

We are approaching the Halloween season and with it here at Wonders in the Dark, our annual Horror Fest capsule reviews on some classic and contemporary works in the genre, courtesy of poll position horror expert Jamie Uhler, which I am thrilled to post here on the MMD.  This past week we featured two extraordinary reviews by our distinguished writing staff, one by James Clark on Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (as the latest entry in his continuing series on the director) and the other by J.D. Lafrance on the classic Jules Verne adaptation from 1954, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I myself am preparing to post the first review in my annual Caldecott Medal Contender series, perhaps as early as later this evening.  In any event Jamie reviewed three films, two of which he liked/loved to varying degrees and one a “howler” (1980’s Alligator) which he describes as “an enjoyable piece of trash”:

Hereditary (A. Aster… 2018)
Midsommar (A. Aster… 2019)
Aster’s first two films reveal a burgeoning master of modern horror, a sensibility finally tuned to the modern psychosis of crippling terror married with a visual sense straight from titans of European Horror cinema. His first and best film, Hereditary, is an intricately layered piece of family dynamics told via miniature diorama symbolism, that once stripped away, revealed a meditation on the immense power of grief. Similarly, Midsommar cloaks itself in the minutia exploration of the day to day workings of a Swedish cult, where we know that terror will befall all those that aren’t members if we correctly identify the tropes. It only misses being Hereditary’s masterpiece equal by echoing a few films it clearly loves a little too closely; the Wicker Man especially, with a dash of the Devil Rides Out for good measure. At the heart of both films is a terrific lead female performance; Hereditary sees the grieving Annie (Toni Collette), invite terror into her world and onto her family, just as we’re left partially wondering how much is it inside her troubled mind that she replicates in her masterful miniature sculptures. Midsommer has the ailing Dani (Florence Pugh in a breakout performance), who slowly realizes in her grief that boyfriend Jack has never been the soulmate she sought. 
Midsommar was initially rumored to be something of a sequel to Hereditary, and outside both films attention to cults, we’d need a third film to better connect the two films divergent stories. Aster hasn’t revealed where he’s going next, but given he’s a confessed Horror obsessive, we assume it’ll be another buzz Horror film, I can’t wait. 

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