Archive for August, 2021

by Sam Juliano

    In a melancholic pictorial prologue initiated by a worn, stationary baseball and continued with a dreamy depiction of a short-haired girl playing catch with the family canine, Bear Island’s soulful flashback introduction concludes with a tearful goodbye to the pet known as Charlie in brown tinted sketch drawings that are imbued with the aura of memory.  Wall pictures of the departed family member and the gathering up of its food bowl and toys bring wrenching closure to a period of time Dad, Mom and Louise would do anything to relive.  Then a double page title spread of a butterfly perched on a rock protruding from the sea, done in watercolor, pen and ink achieves widescreen aquatic resplendence, and the story moves to the present.

Picture books about death and the ensuing grief have slowly appeared more frequently in recent years as children, with parental support have come to terms with the difficulty in losing a loved one, and how to make good on the positive energy offered by other family members and especially devoted friends.  Most famously, E.B. White’s 1953 Charlotte’s Web opened more tear ducts than any children’s book up till the time of its publication, and decades later for many it remained the quintessential example of overcoming intense grief, depicting death as a necessary part of life.  Mo Willems’ and Jon Muth’s City Dog, Country Frog examined the cycle of life in similar terms, one where rebirth displaces sadness with the forging of a new friendship.  The same formula was powerfully employed in two recent Caldecott Honor winners, The Rough Patch by Brian Lies and Big Cat Little Cat by Elisha Cooper. (more…)


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Happiness (USSR; 1934)

by Allan Fish

Happiness (USSR 1934 90m)

Aka. Schastye; Le Bonheur

Living like a Tsar

p none d/w Aleksandr Medvedkin ph Gleb Troyanski m Modest Moussorgsky (reissue) art Aleksei Utkin
Pyotr Zinovyev (Khmyr), Mikhail Gipsi (Taras Platonovich), Yelena Yegorova (Anna), Nikolai Cherkassov, Viktor Kulakov, Lidiya Nenasheva,

After seeing this comedy Sergei Eisenstein reputedly said “today I saw how a Bolshevik laughs.” Not only a Bolshevik, of course, for there’s still much to amuse, perhaps surprisingly so for western audiences, in Medvedkin’s film. The director had been a forgotten figure in Soviet film history prior to both his and the film’s rediscovery by Chris Marker in the early seventies. His films were made with the purpose of touring them round the villages of the Soviet Union to show to the local populaces. Its anti-authority stance may make one wonder how it ever escaped the damnation of the hard-line Stalinist authorities of the period, but one can only be happy that it did.

Happiness begins with an old man peeping through a fence at his neighbour eating Vareniki while his wife watches on. He swears to eat Vareniki before he dies, only to die in the attempt of doing so. His grandson is then sent off by his wife to find happiness and not to return until he has found it. After claiming the lost purse of a merchant, he returns to set up a farm, only to lose it all in back taxes and sundry other blood-sucking authorities. Returning from the wars he finds happiness in a collective farm, though not before his old enemy neighbour tries to set fire to the place. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The summer has been rushing by at seemingly breakneck speed, and September begins on Wednesday.  We are in the same place now where we have been for the past several weeks.  Uncertainty, caution and booster shots are all part of the discussion and those returning to their school positions are on pins and needles, hoping closures won’t be enacted shortly after the openings.

I am still waiting on my artist to complete the cover and spine for my first novel Paradise Atop the Hudson, which hopefully will officially publish on Amazon before the end of September.  I recently resumed writing my second novel  Irish Jesus in Fairview, which is three-quarters complete, though I will wait until around Christmas or early January to publish it.  Thanks again to Valerie Clark, who has read the entire first novel and all my completed chapters for the second, and has offered up glowing commentary and unabated enthusiasm.  My planned book on Allan Fish will follow.

Many thanks to the many people who cast ballots on our Top 100 British polling.  Each was a treasure to receive. The results have been posted on FB and are duplicated on this thread.  Voting Tabulator Bill Kamberger reported a multi-film tie for the final positions, making for a Too 113.  This is great news for film lovers who were loathe to see some favorites unrepresented. Bill disclosed that the celebrated team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger placed nine (9) films in the Top 113 (the final number of films in our ultimate British list included a a bevy of movies tied for the final spot). An incredible 311 films were “nominated” and the 60s and 40s as expected were the big decades for British cinema. 67 ballots were cast!!!!  (The next poll will be on Russian/Soviet Cinema), and voters are free to cast their Top 20 when they are READY on this thread!

63 complete ballots, 4 partial
311 films nominated
113 films will make the list (thanks to a large tie at the end)
1920s – 1
1930s – 5
1940s – 23
1950s – 12
1960s – 27
1970s – 11
1980s – 12
1990s – 11
2000s – 4
2010s – 7
Michael Powell – 9 (7 with Emeric Pressburger)
David Lean – 6
Mike Leigh – 6
Carol Reed – 6
James Ivory – 4
Tony Richardson – 4
Alfred Hitchcock – 3
Stanley Kubrick – 3
Alexander Mackendrick – 3
Laurence Olivier – 3
Top 113 British Films!

1.      The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) – 490

2.      Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) – 323.5

3.      2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) – 321.5

4.      Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949) – 286

5.      Brief Encounter (David Lean, 1945) – 275

6.      Kes (Ken Loach, 1969) – 264.5

7.      Black Narcissus (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1947) – 239

8.      The Red Shoes (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1948) – 233.5

9.      A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964) – 223.5 (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wykoff, New Jersey born and bred artist Melissa Sweet twice finished in the Caldecott winners circle, scoring silver honor medals for a pair of books she illustrated for Jen Bryant, A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams and The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.  On two other occasions, widespread buzz throughout the children’s book community was in sponsorship of two other Caldecott bids, one for Firefly July, a collaboration with the poet Paul B. Janeczko, and the other a solo biography, Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White, a labor of love fully endorsed by the deceased, iconic author’s estate In 2011, Sweet won boundless critical acclaim and a Sibert Medal for her Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade, a book she wrote and illustrated, one employing toys, puppets and fabrics to create her unique immersive technique where any object found is fair game in crafting all-encompassing art.  Like the Czech master Peter Sis, Sweet is a master of minutiae, and her tapestries are painstakingly rendered in pastel colors in the service of intricate designs that demand the the reader’s full attention, but reward with an emotionally resonant experience.

Perhaps her most deeply moving collaboration to date is with Joyce Scott and Brie Spangler on a biography of the former’s twin sister titled Unbound: The Life + Art of Judith Scott, a picture book about a seriously impaired person who defeats her limitations in a real-life story of astounding perseverance and poignancy.  Scott’s sibling was born with Down’s syndrome and deafness, yet before her disability was confirmed she grew up alongside her sister, sharing all aspects of their lives.  The authors define this propensity as “Entwined” in the opening chapter of the four that comprise the book in thematic terms.  Scott and Spangler define the depth of the relationship as such that they were united upon birth and knew each other even before they negotiated the feel of air on their skin.  Sweet responds with a soulful bedroom canvas of sisterly connection evoking Siamese twins, as the writers offer the metaphor of “spoons nestled in a drawer.”  Dolls, teacups and pails are all matching and the artist’s flower blouse design accentuates the mom’s perception of the sisters as “two peas in a pod.”  Their unique bond spills over into nocturnal bliss when the girls gaze up at the stars lying down on an outdoors couch, locked by Judy’s two-armed squeeze. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

This past week our great friend and stupendous film writer Jim Clark published another brilliant essay in his Tarkovsky series on the director’s late career Nostalgia.

I just resumed with my second novel An Irish Jesus in Fairview, though I am anticipating it won’t wrap until mid-to late September, because of the time-consuming demand of the film polling and the Caldecott Medal Contender series.  But no matter, as it is over two-thirds complete and I am not seeing any problems with doing what needs to be done.   The delay with the publication of the first novel, Paradise Atop the Hudson lies with the artist, who assures me he is a few weeks from completing his assignment.  We will see, but in any case as always there is nobody as motivational for me as my dear friend Valerie Clark, whom I can never thank enough!

Last night Lucille and watched the Dutch war film De Oost starring an excellent Martijn Lakemeier (Winter in Wartime).  The film wasn’t “great” but still solid enough.  The Japanese Top 100 based on over 50 voters’ ballots was released by our tabulator Bill Kamberger this week, and our British poll has commenced with the vast majority of ballots being cast on FB.  A few have been cast here on the previous MMD.  The Japanese poll allow for 15 choices; the British 20. The results are as follows:

1.      Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu, 1953) – 337.5

2.      Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954) – 293

3.      Sansho the Bailiff (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1954) – 285.5

4.      Ikiru (Akira Kurosawa, 1952) – 197.5

5.      Ugetsu (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1953) – 179.5

6.      Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949) – 165

7.      Woman in the Dunes (Hiroshi Teshigahara, 1964) – 153

8.      Ran (Akira Kurosawa, 1985) – 143

9.      Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa, 1950) – 122

10.  The Burmese Harp (Kon Ichikawa, 1956) – 118

11.  My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) – 117.5

12.  Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) – 114

13.  Throne of Blood (Akira Kurosawa, 1957) – 104.5

14.  Hara-Kiri (Masaki Kobayashi, 1962) – 101

15.  High and Low (Akira Kurosawa, 1963) – 97

16.  Godzilla (Ishiro Honda, 1954) – 94.5

17.  Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988) – 90.5

18.  The Naked Island (Kaneto Shindo, 1960) – 81

19.  The Human Condition Trilogy (Masaki Kobayashi, 1959-1961) – 79.5

20.  Twenty-Four Eyes (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1954) – 71.5

21.  Yojimbo (Akira Kurosawa, 1961) – 69.5

22.  Floating Clouds (Mikio Naruse, 1955) – 69

23.  Fires on the Plain (Kon Ichikawa, 1959) – 67.5

24.  Princess Mononoke (Hayao Miyazaki, 1997) – 63

25.  An Autumn Afternoon (Yasujiro Ozu, 1962) – 62.5

26.  Onibaba (Kaneto Shindo, 1964) – 59.5

27.  After Life (Hirokazu Koreeda, 1998) – 56

28.  Eros + Massacre (Yoshishige Yoshida, 1969) – 55.5

29.  Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985) – 55.5

30.  Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu, 1951) – 53.5

31.  Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989) – 52

32.  Boy (Nagisa Oshima, 1969) – 48

33.  I Was Born, But… (Yasujiro Ozu, 1932) – 46

34.  Shoplifters (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2018) – 43.5

35.  Nobody Knows (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2004) – 39.5

36.  The Outcast (Kon Ichikawa, 1962) – 39

37.  The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1939) – 38.5

38.  Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004) – 36

39.  Good Morning (Yasujiro Ozu, 1959) – 34

40.  A Page of Madness (Teinosuke Kinugasa, 1926) – 33.5

41.  Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964) – 33

42.  Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki, 1966) – 32

43.  Late Autumn (Yasujiro Ozu, 1960) – 31.5

44.  Tokyo Twilight (Yasujiro Ozu, 1957) – 31.5

45.  She Was Like a Wild Chrysanthemum (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1955) – 30

46.  Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986) – 29.5

47.  Porco Rosso  (Hayao Miyazaki, 1992) – 28

48.  Akitsu Springs (Yoshishige Yoshida, 1962) – 26

49.  Departures (Yojiro Takita, 2008) – 26

50.  The Ceremony (Nagisa Oshima, 1971) – 25


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 © 2021 James Clark


     In the film, Nostalgia (1983), filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky is never more in debt to Ingmar Bergman while, at the same time, being never more himself. The vitriolic concerns by which Bergman introduces his hopefuls are masterpieces of destruction. With Tarkovsky, though, it is not the famous few films, like, Wild Strawberries and Persona, but rather, films very unlikely having ever  been heard of, let alone seen. For a study of pestilence, though, our helmsman today knew what was cooking. Therefore, we’re set upon by, particularly, All These Women(1964) and Waiting Women (1952).

As for the personal input, we have Tarkovsky being aware that he would be dead very soon by way of incurable cancer. The waves of reverie and drama in this film muster forces of rare incisiveness.

We encounter a Russian writer, Andrei Gorchakov, supposedly at work upon a study of a seventeen century Russian composer, who worked in Italy. He is as bored with the task as we are. Fortunately, that protagonist with serious misgivings, ignores the pedantry and learns a bit about life. (He is in the second year of being away from his wife and two children. He is shackled to an Italian interpreter who is fluent in Russian, beautiful and, in his view, crushingly boring. What happens?)

It reminds us of the “noted [patrician] expert” of music (who isn’t, at all), in the film, All These Women, where pretty and empty creatures (a harem, in fact) become crushingly boring. Andrei, though, with that sketchy history in tow, will show us another being not strong enough, though strong enough to feel crushed; and  with a gift of nostalgia to become a player of note. Therefore, near the outset of this demanding saga, we have Andrei and the translator, namely, Eugenia, en route to an ancient church renowned for its pageantry, its all-women forces. They’ve stopped to allow her to savor the rough and foggy church area, austere but mysterious, if you look hard enough, and even remarkable. (That description might be her modest calling-card.) He, though, has no heart for what she seems to appreciate. “It’s a marvelous painting,” she overreacts. “I cried the first time I saw it. This light reminds one of autumn in Moscow, in Neskuchyny Garden.” (She can’t help being erudite and pleased. (And why is that such a crime, if one’s heart is warm?) “Come on,” she urges./ “I’ll  stay in the car… I don’t want to. I’ll go ahead and wait for you inside… I already told you. I am fed up with your beauties. I don’t want to take it anymore. All this beauty of yours. I can’t take it anymore. That’s it…” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

An International “Desert Island” Film project has been initiated on FB and so far, incredibly almost 50 people have handed in ballots.  The voting period ends on Monday night at 11:00 EST (the date of this MMD).  Should anyone care to participate please list your Top 15 Japanese favorites either in numerical order or alphabetically.
Here’s the scoop. This project will NOT appeal to everyone as it involves research, list-making and having to make painful decisions. Over the coming weeks/months I will ask film fans to list FIFTEEN (15) films from the country we are covering. To give you complete immunity from critiscism in the comment section I ask you to identify your FAVORITE fifteen films – the 15 you would bring to a desert island if you were stranded. Of course for ME “favorite” and “great” coincide.
Why 15? Because TEN (10) will leave us grieving over ommisions. 15 gives a bit of generous leeway. But even 15 is extremely difficult. You can make your list either alphabetically (as I will do) or if you prefer in order of preference. It works either way. What I will do is list my own 15 alphabetically and then identify my absolute favorite or as will be the case in the FIRST polling TODAY a tire for first. The first POLL will go up within a half hour, so I’ll keep you in suspense briefly as to what country is being posted as the maiden query. I am not expecting a big response for a number of reasons but for the comparatively few cineastes who are game it could be fun. The countries/regions we will cover are USA, France, Great Britain, Japan, Italy, Germany, Russia; Spain, Australia, Sweden, India, Cental and South America; Africa; Iran; Poland/Czechoslovakia and the rest of Eastern Europe; Canada, China/Hong Kong. I will save the USA for last.
Stay tuned for the first country or region within a half hour!
Again, I know the response will be limited, but I’m sure some will be intrigued. Thank you, and have a great day!
What are your favorite fifteen (15) films ever from Japan, the land of the Rising Sun?
Why Japan as your first country to consider? Two reasons. The Olympics are running in Tokyo and Japanese cinema was film master Allan Fish’s favorite nationalist cinema in the last years of his life. My own Top 15 is fraught with guilt, painful ommisions (Woman in the Dunes, The Twenty-Four Eyes; Seven Samaurai; and several films from Allan’s beloved Yoshida and Oshima, especially “Akitsu Springs” and “Boy”) not to mention Kore-Eda, “Grave of the Fireflies” and other Mizoguchis and Ozus and the realization Japan has many more masterpieces than I can shake a stick at, but here we go. The list is alphabetical, but my all-time Number 1 is a tie between Mizoguchi’s “Sansho Dayu, a.k.a. “Sansho the Bailiff” and Ozu’s “Tokyo Story.”:
The Burmese Harp (Ichikawa; 1956)
Floating Clouds (Naruse; 1955)
Harakiri (Kobayashi; 1962)
The Human Condition (Kobayashi; 1959-61)
Ikiru (Kurosawa; 1952)
Late Spring (Ozu; 1949)
Onibaba (Shindo; 1964)
The Outcast (Ichikawa; 1962)
Ran (Kurosawa; 1985)
Rashomon (Kurosawa; 1950)
Sansho the Bailiff a.ka. Sansho Dayu (Mizoguchi; 1954)
There Was a Father (Ozu; 1942)
Tokyo Story (Ozu; 1953)
Ugetsu (Mizoguchi; 1953)
You Were Like A Wild Chrysanthemum (Kinoshita; 1955)
THIS will help mightily in jogging memories!!!!

The Aretha Franklin biopic Respect is not in a league with the documentary Amazing Grace, released three years ago, mainly because it is replete with genre cliches and an oddly episodic structure, but there can be no denying that the cast, led by an electrifying Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul gave impassioned performances, and the musical numbers, including the iconic titular song taken from Otis Redding were superbly choreographed. The film is also lesser than this year’s Summer of Soul doc, but overall it is a solid tribute and in tune with the Queen herself, who requested Hudson play her if the film materialized. Though expected, it was still a nice tough to see the clips of Franklin herself during the extended closing credit sequence. Forest Whitaker as the minister father was memorable. All in all a bit better than I expected it would be. Seen Saturday night in Teaneck.


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By J.D. Lafrance

Che (2008) began as a personal project for actor Benicio del Toro around the time he was making Traffic (2000) with Steven Soderbergh. Originally, he planned on making the film about iconic revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara with Terrence Malick and its focus was to be on the disastrous Bolivian campaign in 1967. Malick eventually dropped out to go off and make The New World (2005). Soderbergh helped out Del Toro by agreeing to direct and in the process expanded the film’s scope by depicting Che’s role in the Cuban Revolution as a way of explaining his motivations for going to Bolivia.

Amazingly, Soderbergh raised the $58 million budget entirely outside of North America which allowed him much more creative freedom. The result was a four and half hour epic that refused to champion or demonize Che and instead opted to objectively depict his rise in Cuba and his fall in Bolivia. This approach ultimately doomed Che’s chances in North America where, despite breaking the film up into two more digestible parts, it received limited distribution. Predictably, it divided critics and was criminally ignored by all of the major award ceremonies – rather fitting for a film about someone who refused to rest on his laurels, always hungry to get back to the jungle and get back to work.


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by Allan Fish

Broken Lullaby (USA 1932 77m) DVD1/2 (France only)

Aka. The Man I Killed
La guerre est finie

p Ernst Lubitsch d Ernst Lubitsch w Samson Raphaelson, Reginald Berkeley, Ernest Vajda play “L’Homme que J’ai Tué” by Maurice Rostand ph Victor Milner ed Merrill White m W.Franke Harling art Hans Dreier cos Travis Banton
Phillips Holmes (Paul Renaud), Nancy Carroll (Elsa), Lionel Barrymore (Dr Holderlin), Zasu Pitts (Anna), Tom Douglas (Walter Holderlin), Lucien Littlefield (Walter Schultz), Louise Carter (Frau Holderlin), Emma Dunn (Frau Miller), Reginald Pasch (Fritz’s father), Frank Sheridan (priest), George Bickel (Herr Bresslauer),

There’s something about funny men wanting to be taken seriously. Think of Chaplin, who may have made comedies about serious subjects but who also made a straight film that, though the critics loved it, the public hated. That film, A Woman of Paris, was made the year that Ernst Lubitsch arrived in Hollywood after a glittering rise in Germany. He made his star rise still further in Hollywood with a string of comedies and operettas that still preserve his legend today. Yet even he got the serious itch and, making as much money for Paramount as he was at the time, they let him have his head with this. It was a commercial flop, but several critics were euphoric; one recalls Robert Sherwood, who called it “the best talking picture that has yet been seen and heard.”
Paul Renaud is a French soldier who kills a German in the trenches and is racked with guilt. The church absolves him from blame on account of his patriotic duty, but he feels compelled to visit the town where the German lived. He seeks out the deceased’s family – mother, father and fiancée – to try and make sense of it and, after an initial hatred of his being French, they adopt him as a surrogate son, though they don’t know that he was the man responsible for their beloved son/fiancé’s death. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Changing of the Guard events around the world have often showcased fervent nationlism and ethnic pride.  The United Kingdom’s version, staged with extravagent pomp and circumstance outside Buckingham Palace, symbolically reminds natives and tourists that the monarchy is an institution of permanence.  Fanfare abounds and ornate uniforms provide eye candy for onlookers in colorful militarist rituals, accompanied in some countries by aural bombast.  In the United States, the empahsis is on solemity and pitch-perfect execution, and the purpose is marked intimacy in holding the proverbial torch for an unknown soldier who perished during the Great War.  The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, set at the top of a steep hill in Arlington Cemetery in the nation’s capitol pays tribute to all unidentified soldiers who have lost their lives defending the nation in the specious bastion where war dead and celebrated Americans have been laid to rest.  Washington D.C. is memorial-laden and the center of the country’s most vital governmental buildings, yet a serene hamlet in a fastidiously manicured 639 acre memorial park is the most tear-inducing and goosebump-prompting location any visitor can encounter at any time during the year when the funereal ceremony is conducted. (more…)

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