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Archive for June, 2022

by Sam Juliano

I have now surpassed 75,000 words in the writing of Irish Jesus in Fairview, and have quickened my pace as new ideas have been coming to me, daily.  But a few crucial chapters still need to be written in their entirety.

The Africa and Middle Eastern polling concludes this coming Friday after one extension.

“Elvis” at Ridgefield Park multiplex

He was the quintessential icon of our generation, and he continues to transcend generations with his trend-setting, larger-than-life impact on music and culture. He was called the “King” for good reason! I saw the film last night and have mixed feelings. The lead performance -by Austin Butler- was spectacular and the musical numbers were juke-box-electrifying, but typical Luhrmann montage-like segments and weak narrative cohesion that didn’t serve a film of that exceeding length. I expected a deeper exploration of the King’s life, even if it was a pointed examination of his relationship with his terrible agent. Tom Hanks was fine, though his accent was dodgy. Still worth seeing, and always great to pay tribute to our generation’s central icon, one I adore as much as everyone else. For me: 3.5 of 5.0. (I agree with others on Butler. He deserves an Oscar nod). I am positive the film will do huge box office, though at MC the grade now is a wholly unimpressive 63%, for whatever that’s worth. Bottom line: See it. If not anything else, it was entertaining and Butler was sensational.
“The Black Phone” at Secaucus multiplex
I did not attend this supernatural thriller starring Ethan Hawke as a maniacal child killer expecting much more than a few jolts and menacing set pieces, and wasn’t especially impressed with the solid reviews the film garnered from critics and audiences. Alas, I must say the advance notices for the most part were spot on, and this genre hybrid (“Room,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” etc.) was against all odds for me, a taut, terrifying and gripping watch, that features a bevy of effective performances, especially by the aforementioned Hawke, and young newcomer Mason Thames. Claustrophobic terror is wed to a series of calculated but surprisingly effective shocks and the phone portal is successfully woven in to the story’s realist underpinnings. Directed by Scott Derrickson, the film was based on a short story by Stephen King’s son, Joe. The last thing I expected was to recommend it, but that is exactly what I am doing here. 4.0 of 5.0 seen last night with Lucille, Sammy IV and Jeremy. The positive consensus was unanimous).

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by Sam Juliano

The final day for students in Thursday, while teachers end their school year on Friday.  Yours Truly will be working the summer program for the 27th consecutive year from June 29th to July 29th.  And yes, it is a fact that I will NOT be retiring, despite my 67 years-of-age and will return to my present assignment in September.  Meanwhile, I have surpassed 71,000 words now as I quicken my pace to get Irish Jesus in Fairview completed.  I am certain I can get this all done by the final day in July.  Hence we are looking at what appears to be an October publishing date when the two stages of the editing process and the cover art are enacted.

This past week our resident film scholar Jim Clark published another superlative essay in his continuing and marvelously comprehensive Ingmar Bergman series, this time on the Swedish icon’s debut directorial effort, the 1946 Crisis.

Though the 2022 installment of the Tribeca Film Festival ended yesterday, press pass holders can watch the full slate up through Sunday, June 26th.  I have a few reports of films seen as follows.

Disturbing doc “Leave No Trace” and wistful Italian drama “Blessed Boys” at Tribeca Film Festival!
Lucille and I watched two more films Tuesday night via Tribeca streaming. The first, “Leave No Trace” was a jarring documentary about Boy Scouts sex abuse, and how the century-old organization tried to sweep serious allegations that in some cases destroyed the emotional lives of the victims, under the carpet. The filmmakers boldly opted not to conceal the identities, but this brought the film a level of searing authenticity in scene-specific terms. 4 of 5. The Italian drama “Blessed Boys” examines how faith and familial responsibility yields to personal yearnings, which mature in the relationship between two young men living in Naples. The award-winning film is sometimes wistful and funny, and is said to have autobiographical underpinnings. 4 of 5.
“My Love Affair with Marriage” and “January”: Two Latvian features at Tribeca!
Lucille and I watched two more films via Tribeca Film Festival streaming a few nights ago. Both the semi-autobiographical animated work “My Love Affair with Marriage (by Signe Baumane) and the meditative “January” are fine works, which immediately take their place among the best films of the festival thus far. Seeing two Latvian films in one sitting alone is a rarity, but that both are exceptional is even more unusual. The complexity of the two-hour animated therapeutical film explores gender stereotypes, societal norms and toxicity and life’s insistence on conformity. (one character tells another, “nobody cares how you feel, they care how you look.”) In January, an aspiring filmmaker, obsessed with Bergman and Jarmusch, has to deal with Soviet interference in 1991, but the power of art and love transcend the political turbulence. Ratings: My Love Affair with Marriage 4.5 of 5.0; January, 3.5 of 5.0  (Thank you Marilyn Ferdinand and Marvin Sommer for the excellent recommendations!

Those of us with the Tribeca Festival virtual pass are allowed to use it up until this coming Sunday (June 26), which is a full week beyond yesterday’s final day of the festival proper. Under those liberal circumstances, Lucille and I allowed ourselves to be coerced by young Sammy and Jeremy to attend the Buzz Lightyear prequel at the Ridgefield Park Theater for a 9:15 P.M. show last night. The results? The film was “tolerable.” Rating 3.0 of 5.0. (As to Tribeca I plan to pay heed to my California friend Marvin Sommer, who sent on a batch of suggestions for us to explore over the coming week. Thank you Marvin!)  (more…)

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© 2022 James Clark

Filmmaker/dramatist, Ingmar Bergman began to show what he could do during the era of the Nazis. In all his presentations you would think that such a matter would be on his mind and his heart. As a tyro, he was not only working within neutral Sweden, but also happy to develop his skills within the Axis. His powers of reflection cannot be dismissed. He was, indeed, a brilliant exponent of that matter of palsy and rampant overrated, within the actions of religion and science. Many philosophically thinkers, over the past two hundred years, have tangled with this arduousness. They have been handicapped by murderous religion and murderous science.

This early (reckless) involvement by Bergman could not sustain very long. Our film today provides a dramatic form of his education. There is, at the outset, a vicious attack. In the tranquil, neat-as-a-pin village, a lady, namely, Mutti, had seen fit to take in a baby whose mother refused to touch. The violence, however, did not end with that. Mutti’s love and joy for the child, namely, Nelly, was to be arrested by the now eighteen-year-old girl rounded-up to become a decorative prostitute, in Stockholm. The girl had been given the idea that she would be a clerk in a chic clothing boutique. But in no-time Nelly adjusted.

Its follow-up is far more sophisticated. Most of the heavy lifting becomes the holder of one, Jack, a vague relative of the owner, and a seldom active actor. That he was a somewhat ambiguous sage, there   was, on the train back to Stockholm, his pandemonium of glee in noticing on the seats there was stylized crosses of the Nazi type. (Of course, the business-lady had joined in.) Nelly’s confusion here would by only customary.

Nevertheless, Jack had ventured into dangerous and astounding territory. He and the so-called mother (who had sent ahead a flashy gown for the recruit) attend the yearly dance phenomenon of the village, focused upon the music of the waltz. Jack, already drunk, asks Jenny, “Would you mind if I asked your daughter to dance?”/ “Not at all. You can dance as you like…” During that first dance with Jack (which created anger in her partner), Jack blurts out, “You’re very beautiful, the Belle of the Ball.”/ “That’s very kind of you.”/ “Feminine beauty makes me sad… I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of each other… You look so sad.”/ “Me? I’m not sad at all.”/ “Not sad in in the usual way. It’s a sadness deep in your eyes. Perhaps your heart is sad…”/ “You sound like a novel.”/ “I was going to enter the church…. To live in peace, far from the noise and the worry…” (Nelly argues, “It can be a bit too peaceful.”) He requests two drinks. He then adds something. “I call it, ‘Jack the Ripper’s Evensong.’ It’ll go down easily. I’m sure you’ll like it.” (Easy revolutionaries! The world is cluttered with them. Bergman’s career being dedicated to better than that.) (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Many thanks to all the sensational writers and Wonders in the Dark readers for the impassioned involvement in the just-completed Sixth Annual Allan Fish Film Festival.  I dare say this year was the best ever by way of diversity, creativity and quality writing.  God willing, I’m looking forward to next year’s festival!

I have now written 68,000 words of Irish Jesus in Fairview, and as of late have mustered up resolve that has been diverted to other matters over the past two months.  I am aiming to reach roughly 85,000 words as the final number, so heck I am almost there!  Two Jim Clark essays is what I am looking at length-wise!!!  And speaking of my talented Canadian friend, his tenacious wife Valerie, seems to be a constant inspiration, even when I am not sharing e mails with her.  Not only is she a muse, but she has me conjuring up deadlines in my subconscious mind, base don her own gentle prodding.  I need such a person as I move forward and would like again to thank her for her positive energy throughout!  Soon I will again be meeting up with the artist Andrew Castrucci and will be contacting first-stage editor Rob Bignell.

Lucille and I have watched five (5) films so far from this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. After nine years of attending the festival in person (Manhattan) we have gone virtual the last two years. Here are the titles and ratings (1 to 5):
Rounding ** 1/2
An Act of Worship (documentary) **** 1/2
Liquor Store Dreams (documentary) ****
Next Exit *** 1/2

Lynch/Oz at Tribeca!

Lucille and I watched the fascinating documentary “Lynch/Oz” via Tribeca Film Festival streaming last night! Though it is only the fifth Tribeca film we have seen to this point in this 2022 Fest (it is very early to be sure!) in our annual investigation made possible by the WONDERS IN THE DARK press passes, it is probably my favorite of those so far. The film examines Lynch’s obsession with “The Wizard of Oz” and how it metaphorically defines so much of his own works. Props like curtains, bubbles, clothes, shoes, and the assertion that Wicked Witch of the West is far more captivating that the boring Good Witch Glinda bring all sorts of revelations, many outlined by John Waters. We both adore “The Wizard of Oz” but who would have thought to think David Lynch valued it to the level documented in this irresistible documentary. 4.5 of 5.0

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by Sam Juliano

Dearest Allan:

Greetings!  I know we haven’t spoken in a few weeks, but I did promise I will give you a full report on the on-line film festival in your honor.  It is beyond my comprehension to grasp that you departed this earthly realm almost six years ago, and that this project is entering that many years as well.  In the past you have always marveled at how committed each writer was in exploring eclectic works or others that were not easily available.  Much like what you are doing now – and I continue to be amazed that your classes up there are attracting huge numbers, particularly the one titled Kurosawa, Ozu and Mizoguchi – your chosen vocation during your tenure on this planet was to educate, to introduce, even in some cases, but in the best sense, to indoctrinate.  I remember how annoyed the Kendal post office countermen would get when you regaled them almost daily with those international parcels.   You always seemed to make sure that when you received your rarities from London film specialists, that other would reap the benefits of your singular efforts.  I can only imagine how far you have taken this propensity at Paradise Gardens University.  I know if you had it your way, you’d coax every student to choose film as their major.

Anyway, I wanted to let you know that Sachin Gandhi, that wonderful chap from Calgary, Canada, has again taken the lead in attending to every last submission to this festival.  Yes, I know what you are thinking.  He always does indeed.  I had the great honor of meeting him in New York City on two occasions, and he’s every bit as personable, as warm, and as brimming with positive energy as he demonstrates in all his online commentaries.  He has never forgotten your style of cinematic sponsorship,, nor your tenacious belief that there are always masterpieces to be discovered, shared and written about.  Sachin’s entry to this year’s festival was most unique and the kind of thing you would have glowingly broached on one of your Fish Obscuros.  I would send you the link, but as you know, there can be no crossover of media, only words are allowed.  Not sure why they so stringent about that up there, but I think it something to do with a rejection of anything tangible.  If you just focus on the title and flick your fingers I know you will be able to watch it straightaway.  I will send you Sachin’s comments under all the other submissions too.  Each is in own way is extraordinary and each takes a completely different approach.  That Australian essayist extraordinaire Roderick Heath, ya know the one you told me many times was as good a writer of thorough pieces as you had ever seen, really took off the gauze on the American chase film Bullitt.  You haven’t read anything about that thriller until you read his comprehensive examination.

Then there’s Robert Hornak, a longtime fan of your writing.  He took to directly paying tribute to your taste and passion when he took the bull by the horns in analyzing in distinctly cinematic terms, a film by your beloved Yasujiro Ozu.  No it wasn’t Late Spring, Tokyo Story or even your cherished There Was a Father.  No, Bobby creatively opted to examine the use of color in the director’s first non-monochrome work, the 1958 Equinox Flower.  His fascinating observations would not only impress you, but I dare say might alter the way you perceived it, or at least just a bit.  I never forgot how you made me think so differently about the 1948 A Hen in the Wind, which I once thought, uninfluenced by you was an unabashed soap opera.  But how wrong I was.  I absolutely adore the film now.  Anyway, Bobby wins more points from you, I am sure, for his tackling one of your favorite of all film artists.

And speaking of homages and scene-specific reference to you as a purveyor of film studies, how about that tenacious Joel Bocko?  Not only does he keep his own site running full-throttle but he occasionally reaches out to share findings.  This past week, he mentioned you by name as the one who tuned him on to the shattering Iranian masterpiece The House is Black by that country’s celebrated female poet-filmmaker.  You would greatly appreciate his own capsule review, one -dare I say it? – that not only is written in your style, but also with an eye to word economy.  I have always considered your aggressive promotion for that particular short as not only justified, but to this day it stands as one of the finest films associated with you in any sense.

Your beloved Kendal buddy, Marco Tremble, horror and war film maven, motorcyclist and expert cook, gave us a second look at the Korean horror film I Saw the Devil.  As always Marco gets right to it, steering clear of fancy embellishments.  I well remember you counted yourself as a fan.  It was great to see J. D. Lafrance writing again, as he’s been quiet for a while – heck many of us have so much on our plates these days – but much as he always does when he takes pen to paper, he made quite the case for a little-known and little-seen B war 1972 movie titled Welcome Home Soldier Boys.  Typical for J.D. essays, you are slowly pulled in, and before you finish the review you are convinced you had watched it and talked about in in a college film class.  Nihlism and The Wild Bunch figure formidably into his discussion.  Our good friend Bobby J. from the UK (remember that unforgettable meeting we had with him in London in 2014?) Bobby always shared my love of The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Thriller (three shows you liked quite a bit as well) He offered up two links on shorts, one directed by French director Julian Duvivier (a favorite of yours) which is based on Oscar, and the other, a supernatural ditty directed by Wendy Toye.    I think you will appreciate Bobby’s sense of humor as well.

You’ll greatly appreciate our mutual buddy and television specialist extraordinaire, Adam Ferenz’s splendid re-boot of his The Dance of the Seven Veils review.  Your love for Ken Russell once had you sending out copies of this once rare item.  Of course, you have always considered The Devils one of the greatest of films. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

Allan turned me on to the existence of this gem, telling me how the Strauss family threatened the BBC, which got cold feet and banned the film, a ban that is still in effect. He sent me a link to a “public” copy. I viewed it, and found genius. This was what Allan always did, lighting the way to unusual and almost always memorable viewings.

The following article was origially posted July 3, 2018, here at WITD. i hope you enjoy it.

Ken Russell did many crazy movies during his career, with The Devils often cited as his most insane work, and that is hard to argue. Unless one has seen this film, which is impossible to find in an un-bowdlerized edition-as the only available copies are not properly color timed and still have time stamps on them-which makes properly assessing this somewhat difficult. Telling the story of Richard Strauss, the film was part of a BBC series of programs, directed by Russell, in which he tackled major figures from classical music. His final film for the BBC, and for television, this film can be seen as a bold “fuck you and goodbye forever” from its director.

In this one, Russell upends the music of Strauss-here made caricature by a director who despised him- and explores themes that today might be considered offensive to sensitive types on the bullying right, particularly their Swastika wearing idols, but such was the bravery and openness with which Russell approached this material. There have been surrealists and absurdists in film. They have sometimes gone together but rarely have the two approaches combined so well as here. Scenes of nuns flogging themselves give way, eventually, to dancing Brownshirts, and Nazi Officers, including Goebbels giving a piggyback ride to a violinist who looks suspiciously like Hitler, during a playful sequence that appears to be set at Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden. This is not a deep portrait in terms of making its character someone you know intimately, unless you consider knowing what Russel thought of him, and how history has judged his, as being deep or intimate.

Instead, what we receive as viewers is an impression of Strauss, as hollow yet potent metaphor, for a failed view of the world and philosophy of control. In this film, Strauss kills his critics with his music, plays his music ever more loudly to drown out his ignorance and culpability in the rise of Nazism, and, most importantly, is credited as co-writer on the film. This is testament to how Russell used the journals, letters and interviews with Strauss in order to indict him. Every word, then, is essentially true, and straight from the source. That the film is presented as a fevered nightmare is part of its charm. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Many thanks to all the great writers who have given the Sixth Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival distinct scholarly heft and astounding diversity.  I say it every year, but I’ll say it again here.  This is the best year yet for this Jamie Uhler-founded project, and as a result God willing the endeavor will continue years into the future.  Thank you so much Canadian film programmer and writer Sachin Gandhi for his inspired attendance throughout, and for his deeply-moving post.  But thanks to everyone, since the site view numbers are far better than they have been for months. The AFOFF will end tomorrow, with a final modest posting by Yours Truly.

Writing continues on Irish Jesus in Fairview, and buoyed by the positive energy and support from my Canadian muse, Valerie Clark, I am approaching 66,000 words, and am nearing the point where I will have to again meet up with my artist, Andrew Castrucci to discuss the book’s cover.  Then the editing.  But all that will need to wait about one more month or so as I attend to some crucial chapters.  My current plans are to send the aforementioned Valerie my manuscript (uncompleted but substantial) in about two weeks.

Voting continues on the African and Middle East polling and by and large it has been inspiring.  Thanks to Marilyn Ferdinand, James Horsefall, Marco Tremble and the FB gang for their fabulous ballots.

 Haunting and shattering “Benediction” the Best Film of the Year as we approach the mid-way point of 2022!

One of the world’s greatest living directors, the Brit Terence Davies, has crafted a film that must surely rank with the very best of his career. As always this purveyor of moods, poetic devises and somber underpinnings places narrative behind brooding sensibilities, meditative angst and oft-soaring lyricism, though in the aptly-titled “Benediction” the story of the poet, Siegfried Sassoon – a WWI objector who is institutionalized for his “unpatriotic” stance, Davies offers up a powerful and profound story of hidden desires. These are eventually set aside for a conventional lifestyle that never brings any measure of happiness to its tortured protagonist, a sensitive man who endures aching sadness, partially through behavior, markedly masochistic. Sassoon is betrayed by most of his male lovers, and though a highly effective past and present structure, emboldened by searing flashbacks, the leaves one deeply and profoundly moved. The cast, led by Jack Lowden is utterly magnificent, and Nicola Daley’s memory-laden cinematography intersperses the monochrome war scenes with the incandescent interior passages to give the film a scrap-book aura that is never sidelined, even by the powerful drama on display. Davies’ religiosity is again integrated when Lowden’s character converts to Catholicism late in life, and that aspect too is powerfully integrated into the narrative. ***** of ***** (highest rating; Lucille shares my great enthusiasm every step of the way. We saw the film Saturday night at Manhattan’s Angelika).

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By Tony D’Ambra – expanded and updated from an article originally posted at filmsnoir.net on 24 July 2011

“There is no idea, no theory, no way of life that cannot be reshaped, illuminated and made more human by being subject to the imagination and criticism of the artist.”
– Abraham Polonsky

“In any society, the artist has a responsibility. His effectiveness is certainly limited and a painter or writer cannot change the world. But they can keep an essential margin of non-conformity alive. Thanks to them the powerful can never affirm that everyone agrees with their acts. That small difference is important.”
– Luis Buñuel

Odds Against Tomorrow (UA 1959) – 96 min.

Director – Robert Wise

Writing credits:
William P. McGivern – novel
Abraham Polonsky (front John O. Killens) and Nelson Gidding – screenplay

Cast:
Harry Belafonte – Johnny Ingram
Robert Ryan – Earle Slater
Shelley Winters – Lorry
Ed Begley – Dave Burke
Gloria Grahame – Helen
Will Kuluva – Bacco
Kim Hamilton – Ruth Ingram
Mae Barnes – Annie
Richard Bright – Coco
Carmen De Lavallade – Kittie
Lew Gallo – Moriarty
Lois Thorne – Edie Ingram

Produced by:
Phil Stein – associate producer
Robert Wise – producer
Harry Belafonte – co-producer (uncredited)

Original Music -John Lewis

Cinematography – Joseph C. Brun

Editor – Dede Allan

Filmed on location in the town of Hudson in the Hudson River Valley, New York City, and at the Gold Medal Studios in the Bronx.

UK film writer Philip French in the Observer in 2009 related that Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) “was the favourite film of Jean-Pierre Melville, who saw it 120 times before directing his noir masterwork Le deuxième soufflé (1966)”.

Odds Against Tomorrow in my estimation is a work of art. The culmination of the classic film noir cycle and deserving of much greater recognition, not only as a consummate film, but also as the harbinger of the re-invention of film noir in the 1960s by Sam Fuller in Hollywood and Melville in France.

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by Sachin Gandhi
My selection for the 6th AFOFF is inspired by Allan’s incredible ‘The Fish Obscuro’ section. I always used to look forward to see what film Allan would post about in this section. Often, the titles were discoveries for me as I hadn’t seen the film or had only heard about them. Allan also included how he saw the film (DVD2, DVD1, not on DVD) and that highlighted the lack of proper distribution for many films he was seeing. Over the last few years, we have had many more streaming options to see films yet distribution of many foreign films still remains a problem. Case in point, John Abraham’s 1986 film Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother).

Abraham’s name is vital when discussing India’s Parallel Cinema even though he only directed four features and tragically died at a young age of 49 in 1987. However, I hadn’t seen any of his four features and never came across a DVD/Blu-Ray of his films. That changed over the last 2 years when I finally saw his last film via the link posted below. Incidentally, Amma Ariyan also received a proper screening in 2021 via Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato festival in a special section on Parallel cinema curated by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, Cecilia Cenciarelli and Omar Ahmed.

 
On paper, the story of Amma Ariyan is simple but the brilliant execution is what makes this film stand apart. In the film, Purushan (Joy Mathew) is a young man on his way to Delhi to pursue a better future when he comes across a dead body that the police say is unidentified. Purushan can’t get over the sight of the dead body and feels the face is familiar. So he postpones his journey to Delhi and goes about trying to identify who the person is. His quest leads him to meet people from all walks of life, including musicians, theatre artists, who end up helping identify the deceased as Hari, a tabla player. Purushan wants to travel to Kochi (formerly Cochin) to inform Hari’s mother of his death.  He is accompanied by all the different people who helped confirm Hari’s identity. Thus, begins a road journey unlike any other where people who have nothing in common work together towards a common end goal.

The film’s structure consists of multiple flashbacks where each person sheds a little more light on Hari’s past and that helps piece together events that preluded Hari’s death. The story is set against the backdrop of the Naxalite movement in Kerala when police tortured and beat up youth. The details of the political ideologies and struggles aren’t spelled out but the omission of details works in the film’s favour as that lends the material a universal flavour. Multiple countries, including those in our contemporary times, have cases of police abusing their power and beating up innocent people based on differing political ideologies. In that sense, Amma Ariyan is powerfully relevant to our current world.

The community nature of the film also has relevance in our current world. In the film, all the people who help identify Hari form a community and drop everything to inform Hari’s mother. They want to do their part in helping out in whatever manner they can and share the grief of Hari’s death. The film’s ending features an emotional walk of the group including the mother. Over the last few years, we have seen many movements where people from different backgrounds have come together to share in a common sense of loss. Even in social media retweets or reposts of a tragedy are one form of people sharing in someone’s loss.

Amma Ariyan (Report to Mother) floored me, emotionally and technically. Technically, the film stands apart from other Indian films I have seen. Renowned film scholar Dr. Omar Ahmed notes the non-Indian influences on the film:

With the extreme wide-angle shots, a liberated camera continually on the move and a quasi-documentary aesthetic, John’s style recalls the Latin American Third Cinema of the 1960s (especially Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba) manifesting a creative hybridity in which indigenous film practices and modernist cultural sensibilities intersect with broader international influences. https://bfmaf.org/essay/an-intro-to-amma-ariyan-report-to-mother.

I can’t imagine how such a precious film did not get proper distribution earlier. For now, I hope more people can view this film and appreciate what it has to offer.

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The Sixth Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2022

Director: Peter Yates
Screenwriters: Harry Kleiner, Alan R. Trustman

By Roderick Heath

Words like classic, iconic, and seminal are very often overused, but feel entirely right in describing Peter Yates’ Bullitt. It’s a film that wielded vast and immediate influence – it’s doubtful William Friedkin’s The French Connection or Don Siegel’s Dirty Harry (both 1971), or a host of hard-driving action-thrillers in the 1970s and ‘80s, would have been made. It’s difficult to imagine Michael Mann’s oeuvre without its example. Both Robert Altman (in Brewster McCloud, 1971) and Peter Bogdanovich (in What’s Up, Doc?, 1972) would lampoon the title character and his famous car chase. But Bullitt was the hit no-one saw coming. Like Point Blank from the previous year, which plays like Bullitt’s fractured, psychedelic sibling, Bullitt saw an established Hollywood star court a rising British directing talent. In this case Steve McQueen followed the advice of co-screenwriter Alan R. Trustman, who went to see Yates’ Robbery (1967) whilst writing the screenplay, and enthusiastically suggested Yates as director for the project. Yates himself suspected he had been hired just to keep the demanding McQueen busy and out of Warner Bros’ hair, at a time when nobody thought of British directors as action filmmakers. The Aldershot-born Yates, son of an army officer, was a RADA graduate who cut his teeth in British theatre, and also gained some surprisingly consequential experience when it came to fast cars by working as a manager for some racing drivers.

After drifting into film work and becoming a reliable assistant director working under heavyweights like Mark Robson, J. Lee Thompson, and Tony Richardson, Yates made his film directing debut with the Cliff Richard film vehicle Summer Holiday (1963). After Bullitt made him an A-list filmmaker, Yates famously resisted becoming pigeonholed in any particular genre, a resistance that has ironically perhaps diminished his reputation in posterity for the lack of a clear auteurist project. Yates instead oscillated between the kind of hard, realistic, atmospheric crime and action dramas he made his name with and more interpersonal and modest movies. Yates however could find the flexibility within genres too – technically works like Bullitt, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1974), The Deep (1977), Suspect (1987), and The House on Carroll Street (1988) exist within the boundaries of the thriller but are all very different, and those all seemingly a world away from the like of Breaking Away (1979) or The Dresser or Krull (both 1983), and genre-straddling exercises like Murphy’s War (1971) and Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976). Except perhaps in Yates’ gift for carefully-paced, slow-burn tension, and his attitude to their central characters, with Yates’ admitted fondness for rule-bucking, underdog characters who take chances to ensure their personal vision will win through, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. That facet to Yates’ sensibility was certainly key to the success of Bullitt, which enshrined the heroic figure who is at once an authority figure and also detached from the establishment as an essential one in pop culture.

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