Archive for the ‘Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2017’ Category

by Sam Juliano

Little Lamb who made thee 
Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o’er the mead; 
Gave thee clothing of delight, 
Softest clothing wooly bright;       -William Blake, 1776

The art of photography has yet to achieve recognition from the Caldecott committee, though qualification rules do embrace this most unique illustrative style.  For the fourth time acclaimed poet Helen Frost and celebrated photographer Rick Lieder have confirmed their inimitable picture book chemistry with Wake Up!, a work incorporating elements from the previous dalliances in what many know but few have seen caught in such sublime crystal clarity.  In a case of mutual inspiration this erstwhile cameraman extraordinaire brings full-bodied visualization to the probing language that in turn seems to receive a cue from the nature identity markers that serve to introduce species of tiny insects to large mammals.

With magnifying glass lucidity Lieber offers a close-up of the marble like translucent eggs that will in short order morph into gray garden slugs on the opening end papers, while simultaneously rendering a sense of wonder through a yellow-green spectrum.  The title page is a striking convergence of aquamarine and frosty white which allows a newly hatched Chinese praying mantis to needle through an English daisy.  Thematically Frost and Lieder are attuned to the natural affinity between living things and their habitats at the earliest spans of their tenure on the Earth.  Wake Up! is less scene-specific than the first three books in this series, but in the manner it urges on its readers one can conclude the message is cumulative.

Lieder’s mission is to invite readers to enter and as a result to know more about their interactions within their habitats, and the inherent possibilities in the realm of nature.  His renowned poet in residence, Frost is a master of language economy, one content to have all the human eyes focus on Lieder’s photographic miracles, yet to forge a lasting impact of language that lyrically sets the stage for some of the most glorious images the eye can behold.  This unusual wedding between rhythmical veracity and photographic authenticity allows those who engage with Wake Up! the chance to derive as much as Lieder did when he caught his treasures on film for posterity. (more…)


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by Sam Juliano

Dearest Allan:

It has been almost ten months since you departed this earthly realm.  Lucille and I won’t ever forget the last time we spoke, which was by phone two days before you left us on August 29, 2016.  You struggled to speak, but you moved us to the core of our beings with your achingly emotional regard for our eleven year relationship.  Though we saw each other on three occasions, adding up to sixty-seven days in each other’s company over that all-too-brief period, our friendship was fueled by daily correspondence and more marathon phone calls than I have had with any person during my lifetime.  I can’t remember any other person I fought with more regularly nor can I even fathom the vitriolic nature of some e mails we shared in a chain with fellow friends from Brooklyn and Chicago.  Those contentious rows almost always ended with phone conversations initiated by you, with peace branches being accepted on both ends.  I fondly recall the first time we ever spoke on the phone back in 2005, when I recklessly dialed your Kendal number and spoke with you nearly four hours, erroneously thinking I had unlimited time.  I took an eight-hundred and forty dollar hit that day, one that had you and your mum deeply mortified over the colossal gaffe.  As you recall you felt so bad over it that you sent me one-hundred and fifty dollars worth of DVDs to ease the pain, but that now laughable baptism under fire led to more Sunday afternoon conversations than I can remotely recall.  Hence, when you told Lucille that she, I and our family “made my life worth living” you immediately and for all time erased all the acrimony and malice, validating in those tearfully impassioned words “what I say about someone is one thing, what I feel about him is another.”  Just two months before you shattered us with your untimely adieu, you consoled me on the phone after the tragic passing of my brother Joe’s oldest son at age thirty-six.  I shared my eulogy of him with you and you did all you could, even monitoring my own state of grief with Lucille.  Though you yourself began to have seizures at that time -a short while after the dreaded cancer had returned- you did all you could from 3,000 miles away to ease my pain.  You had all that you could handle and them some, yet you had something there left for me.  Whatever time I have left, I won’t ever forget your deepest concern for a friend at a time when your own life was hanging in the balance.  Of course, I won’t likewise ever lose sight of the fact that when I was given the news of Brian’s sudden death (drug related) I was driving on a highway about an hour west of my home.  I jerked the steering wheel and pulled to the side of the road overcome by grief.  The very first thing I did before even allowing such catastrophic news to settle in was to reach you on FB message to appraise you of this horrific event.

Such was the nature of daily communication that as you will fondly recall was in the neighborhood of at least a dozen back and forth e mails, new release announcements, links to other sites and reviews and general banter that often concerned personal matters, finances and family related issues.  Our shared site contains many priceless exchanges, and there isn’t  anything I wouldn’t do to have you back as the yang to my ying.  Heck I just heard over the last few days that you told one of our mutual friends that there was a time you’d have to “rethink our friendship” as a result of my being generally unimpressed by the television show The Wire.  That quip made me think of when you thought I deserved life imprisonment for championing  Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun Sister Moon and Bruce Beresford’s Driving Miss Daisy.  Those were precious exchanges, and I tear up just reliving them.

But I know you were taken from us for a specific reason.  You had done your job here, and are now bringing the cinema to people who left their earthly origins much too soon, much as you did.  After all your job was to write a film encyclopedia for use by newbies and those expanding their horizons.  Now you have others to teach, to spread the word, to delineate what is exceptional and what is disposable.  As always your persuasiveness is irresistible, a kind of pitch like the one Ed Wynn gave to Mr. Death in The Twilight Zone’s season one gem “One For the Angels.”  When Wynn departed he brought along his box of goodies so he could make pitches to those in heaven, much as your transported file copies of your book are probably all the rage in the movie paradise not too far beyond the pearly gates.  The old phrase “I wish I were a fly on the wall” applies to me as I try to surmise what your lectures are entailing.  Though I quite understand and respect that this is a one way correspondence – you are allowed to read it but cannot respond before the point of departure for others, I have still come to speculate how’d you’d respond to new releases based on your prior assessment of works bearing thematic or stylistic similarities.  I have you down for 3.5 for La La Land, 4.5 for Moonlight, 3.5 for Fences, 4.5 for Indignation, 3.0 for Jackie and the top 5.0 for Manchester for the Sea.  If like you I am fortunate enough to get up there at some point, I would like to compare notes on these and many other releases both old and new.  I am sure you are celebrating over the Arrow blu ray release of the long-unavailable Rainer Warner Fassbinder television release, Eight Hours Don’t Make A Day.  I know that you and Jamie Uhler had many discussions about it, but were doubtful it would ever experience the light of day for cinephiles.  But late in July it will become a reality, following in the paths of your beloved Yoshida, Rivette and Fassbinder sets. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe
In searching for an appropriate topic for this celebration of Allan’s life and legacy, I found myself perusing his “alternate Oscars” posts from a few years ago, a series that was both impressive in its sheer scope and fascinating for what it revealed about Allan’s preferences as well as his judgments about what performers, films, and directors should be considered “award-worthy.” And one of the things I was delighted to discover upon going through these posts is that I share with Mr. Fish an affinity for the work of the great Tex Avery.
Indeed, in his personal selections of the best short film productions of each year, Allan chose five Tex Avery cartoons, every single one of them an absolute gem. So I can think of no better way to celebrate Allan’s memory than to highlight those five hilarious and brilliantly-constructed animated shorts, all of them released during what was arguably the heyday of Avery’s career as the wonderboy of MGM’s animation division.
Red Hot Riding Hood (1943)

Long before Edward Everett Horton narrated a series of “Fractured Fairy Tales” for The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Tex Avery presented his own unique, skewed take on the genre. Red Hot Riding Hood wasn’t the first time Avery had dipped into the fairy-tale well; in 1937, he directed Little Red Walking Hood for Warner Bros., a gag-heavy take on the familiar story. Still, that one ultimately hewed much more closely to the original story’s plot than Avery’s follow-up for MGM six years later.

Red Hot Riding Hood is one of the most notable productions of Avery’s long career, arguably the most influential and best-remembered of his many animated shorts. On the Jerry Beck-curated list of the “50 Greatest Cartoons,” Red Hot ranks seventh, and is the highest-placed MGM cartoon on the list (its 1949 semi-sequel, Little Rural Riding Hood, also appears on the list at #23). Red Hot is a prime example of a master gag craftsman at work, one who is more than willing to push the envelope in order to garner the most laughs.

Northwest Hounded Police (1946)

In the 1943 animated short Dumb-Hounded, Tex Avery debuted a new character, a laconic, quick-witted, slow-talking hound dog. Originally dubbed “Happy Hound” (though this is never explicitly mentioned onscreen), the dog spends the entire cartoon tracking down a wolf who has escaped from jail, remarkably appearing in every locale to which the wolf attempts to escape. From the city to the remotest areas of the planet, there is nowhere the wolf can go where the damn dog isn’t waiting for him, and every encounter with his would-be captor sends the wolf into frenetic takes marked by incredibly imaginative imagery. Eventually christened “Droopy,” the seemingly mild-mannered, deceptively meek pup became the perfect vehicle through which Avery could explore the wildest gags he could possibly conceive.

Dumb-Hounded was remade in 1945 as the fourth entry in the Droopy cartoon series, this time called Northwest Hounded Police. Working with a skilled animation team that included frequent colleagues Preston Blair and Ed Love, here Avery put together one of the strongest entries in the entire Droopy filmography. This time around, the recycled gags are sharper and crisper, the reaction shots of the wolf even more exaggerated than before. Avery reuses a fantastic gag from Dumb-Hounded in which the wolf skids off the screen, momentarily exposing the side of the film strip before jetting back into the action, and then takes the meta references up another notch by having the wolf attempt to hide in a movie theater–before Droopy appears onscreen and singles him out in the audience. It’s all-out insanity crammed into a mere seven minutes, and far exceeds its predecessor in both production and laughs-per-second.

The Shooting of Dan McGoo (1945)

The second entry in the Droopy filmography, McGoo is a parody of the 1907 poem The Shooting of Dan McGrew, by British-Canadian poet Robert W. Service. In (loosely) recreating the story from the poem, Avery borrows characters from 1943’s Red Hot Riding Hood: that cartoon’s Red becomes the sexy singer Lou, and the Wolf takes on the role of Droopy’s adversary. The interaction between these two characters is pretty much the same as in the earlier cartoon; the Wolf lusts after Lou in a series of increasingly outrageous, exaggerated takes as she sings a seductive tune, and when he tries to abduct her, the horndog wolf gets his comeuppance.

McGoo is populated by typical Tex Avery-style gags, jam-packed in from the opening shots: the Alaska town’s “welcome” sign boasts its punny name, Coldernell (a gag Avery would reuse in later cartoons); as gunshots ring out, the population of the town–as advertised on the sign–shrinks. There are other sign gags and wild takes galore: a row of boozehounds turn into howling wolves at one word from Lou; beers sliding down an extended bar are subject to traffic lights; a burly bartender stands in front of a portrait of a (supposedly) naked lady, blocking the naughty bits and speaking directly to camera, “You might as well move along, doc. I don’t move from here all through the picture” (don’t worry–he’ll eventually get out of the way, making room for yet another spot-on sign gag). And that’s just in the first two-and-a-half minutes, before the plot even gets underway.

The Cat That Hated People (1948)

In his work, Avery deliberately turned the “lifelike animation” touted by Walt Disney completely on its head. “I couldn’t compete with Disney,” he once admitted in an interview, “and I didn’t attempt to. I attempted to do things that Disney wouldn’t dare to do … exaggeration in films, wild takes, distorted fairy tales–and I laid off of the fuzzy-wuzzy little bunnies because it wasn’t my bag.”

This is quite evident in The Cat That Hated People, whose Jimmy Durante-esque protagonist is far from the type of cutesy feline creatures that tend to populate Disney shorts. Instead, Avery’s cat is a mangy, disgruntled misanthrope, so worn down from his mistreatment at the hands of the human race to the point that he feels compelled to hop a rocket into outer space. And once he’s there, Avery lets loose one insane, loopy gag after another to torment the poor cat in ways Disney animators likely never could have dreamed.

Magical Maestro (1952)

Each of the five cartoons listed here demonstrate Tex Avery’s distinctive and innovative style–a style which was eventually adopted, at least in part, by other cartoonists who recognized the effectiveness of the Avery model: unending and inventive gags (often at the expense of a defined plot); exaggerated reactions; multiple asides to the audience–whether by sign or by having characters break the fourth wall; intensely sped-up action; and impeccable comedic pacing.

But more than anything, Avery had an unerring, innate sense of comic timing. That timing was ultimately the key to Avery’s success, as he was able to make a gag “pop” like no one else in the business. And in the case of Magical Maestro, Avery takes “comic timing” to a whole new level by incorporating an increasingly manic musical motif to accompany the visual jokes, in the process crafting a series of gags that work in hilarious harmony with the classical music soundtrack and building to a crescendo of guffaws. Not to say the cartoon is entirely perfect (there is the unfortunate bit of blackface and a cringe-worthy Chinese parody), but the multiplying-rabbits gag alone is worth the price of admission.



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By Marilyn Ferdinand

When I affirmed I’d be part of this countdown, I sent a title to Sam to see if he thought it was appropriate for a film festival named for Allan. Sam, always the accommodating host at Wonders in the Dark, said, of course it was. I mulled that for some time until I realized I might be trying to school Allan from the other side of the pearly gates on films he generally overlooked in his expansive view of cinema (yes, we all have our blind spots). Following that realization, I looked for a different film, one on which Allan himself might have offered some pointed criticism that would make cinephilia a better place. I came up with Bedelia.

Allan showed some esteem for Bedelia’s director, Lance Comfort, whose Hatter’s Castle made his Movie Timeline for 1942. He also seems to have respected the talents of Margaret Lockwood, who plays the title character in Bedelia. He included her as a runner-up in two of his “Best of” lists, for supporting actress in The Stars Look Down (1939) and actress for The Man in Grey (1941). He had this to say about her in his review of 1939’s A Girl Must Live:

Lockwood had achieved stardom the previous year in The Lady Vanishes and (Carol) Reed’s Bank Holiday and this would be her second of four films for Reed – The Stars Look Down and Night Train to Munich would follow – and it’s fascinating to think of her playing the innocent ingénue only a few years before bitching up the screen in regency costume dramas.”

I wonder if Allan would have seen her mesmerizing performance in Bedelia as a warm-up for her imperious later roles. It certainly seems that way to me.

Lockwood plays Bedelia Carrington, the brand-new bride of Charlie Carrington (Ian Hunter), a middle-class Yorkshire building engineer. While on their honeymoon in Monte Carlo, they make the acquaintance of an artist, Ben Cheney (Barry K. Barnes), who arranges to chat them up at their fancy hotel—an extravagance for both men. Bedelia has been married before, to an emerging artist who died young. Ben promises Charlie to see if he can find a painting by Bedelia’s first husband—unaccountably, she has none of his works—and to look the couple up after all are back in England to finish a portrait of Bedelia Charlie commissioned in Monte Carlo. This he does, also bringing a painting bearing her late husband’s signature to a Christmas party hosted by the Carringtons. That very evening, Charlie falls very ill and hovers near death for weeks. His slow, steady recovery under the watchful eye of a private-duty nurse (Jill Esmond), however, seems to make Bedelia more and more anxious. It’s only a matter of time until her dark secret leads to a strangely compassionate conclusion.

We learn in the opening frames that Bedelia is some kind of wicked enchantress, as a voiceover by Ben reveals her peculiar nature as we gaze at a pretty crummy painting of the ravishingly beautiful woman. To its credit, however, the film maintains an admirable suspense, allowing Lockwood to build a character who keeps us off-balance—a gorgeous woman who, like Rita Hayworth, is more than the sum of her hair tosses. We know she is hiding something when she lies to her husband, but she seems absolutely besotted with him. We know she doesn’t like to be photographed or drawn, but she agrees, albeit reluctantly, to allow Ben to paint her portrait. We feel the same revulsion toward Ben that she does; he appears to be watching Bedelia, questioning a jeweler about a pearl she brought in to be reset, and he rents a dog to get Bedelia to talk to him.

Bedelia 1

Ian Hunter is an excellent foil for Lockwood. Playing a doting husband with a welcoming sense of humor, he is completely natural in his relationship with Bedelia—including standing up to her when she makes what he considers to be unreasonable demands. He’s not a clueless dupe, and his love and equanimity with her has us believing Bedelia’s declaration that he is different from any other man she’s met. Equally, Barnes isn’t afraid to behave like an aggressive cad who works hard—maybe too hard—to throw Bedelia off her game. A great supporting cast fills out this film that is more than a mystery; it’s a finely wrought melodrama about the complicated nature of love, hate, and the drive for freedom.

Bedelia derives from a novel by Vera Caspary, whose novel Laura formed the basis for one of cinema’s most famous and acclaimed noir films. Caspary, a successful author of murder mysteries, collaborated on the screenplay for Bedelia, an apprenticeship in the art of writing for film that would eventually win her accolades from the Writers Guild of America for A Letter to Three Wives (1950). The film might have reached the heights of Laura (1944), whose opening it mimics, if it had been made on a Hollywood budget, not the shoestring that usually attended productions by British National Films (BNF), a company that went belly-up only two years after Bedelia was released. But no expense was spared in dressing Lockwood, whose allure is essential to the effectiveness of the film; I don’t think I saw her wear anything more than once in any scene, not even her robe.

Bedelia is not perfect or terribly stylish, but its psychological complexity and some of its plot points are echoed in some of the world’s greatest films, including Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). I’d like to think that Bedelia is a film Allan would have appreciated.

You can view Bedelia on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7WPeJRXaF0

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When I think back to the many conversations I had with Allan about film, I think most fondly about our discussions about the French 1930s. We both shared an affinity for the period, and we had remarkably similar tastes and shared some favorite filmmakers. Of course Renoir was a typical topic, especially when it was announced the La Chienne would be joining the Criterion Collection, but our conversations seemed to gravitate more to the obscure. Julien Duvivier was the director that came up the most.

It is no secret among friends that Allan was often critical of The Criterion Collection. He was a champion of obscure filmmakers that might not be popular with the mainstream (unlike Renoir), and felt that Criterion sat on the rights of quality films because there would not be an audience. He had a good argument, one in which I could not altogether defend, but he also gave praise when needed. When Criterion announced that they were releasing the Eclipse Set, Duvivier in the 1930s, he was elated. He knew these four films and credited Criterion for bringing attention to a nearly forgotten director, with selections that were near his career peak.

My first experience with Duvivier was years ago when I saw La Belle Equipe on a YouTube stream (since removed). I later saw Un Carnet du Bal, again online through a stream (also removed), and finally saw his most celebrated noir and realist classic, Pépé le Moko on Criterion disc. With all three, I was enraptured by the richly drawn characters, the fantastic performances from stars like Jean Gabin and Harry Baur, and the use of surreal film language to punctuate such brilliantly romantic and often tragic tales. Why this filmmaker was not considered to be near the top of the decade was mind boggling, and why his work was largely unavailable was frustrating. (more…)

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”Everywhere….in every town….in every street….we pass, unknowing, human souls made great through love and adversity.”


One of Allan’s greatest gifts was sharing his passion for films long forgotten or never fully appreciated. In keeping with that theme, my review highlights a film never before posted to this site. Certainly not made for cynical audiences, Borzage represents a style of filmmaking that has mostly fallen out of favor. Here we have a director who pulls together themes of love and hardship, complete with expressive use of atmosphere: streets, apartments, rooftops filmed with scintillating panache. Then, throw all this together with heavy doses of melodramatic plot twists that are simply too crazy to believe. Melodrama, in the hands of Sirk or Fassbinder, tends to be something that modern audiences have welcomed. Their use of color and symbolism adds a layer of subversive commentary that Borzage lacks. But, Borzage excels at a certain kind of irony-free, old-fashioned story-telling that to my mind is worth championing for its propellant emotional energy.



Although 7th Heaven gets most of the attention, and Lucky Star is a hidden gem, Street Angel is my favorite Borzage film and is a romantic masterpiece of the highest order, provided you’re willing to suspend disbelief. It is the story of Angela (Janet Gaynor), who in need of some money to purchase medicine for her mother, attempts to prostitute herself on the street. She winds up getting arrested for robbery and sentenced to a year in a work house. She runs off before being imprisoned, escaping to find her mother dead at home. She avoids the cops and runs off to join the circus, where she meets a painter named Gino. They strike up an awkward friendship but soon bond and fall in love. Their blossoming love and impending marriage is threatened when the police find her again. She is taken to prison while Gino is unaware. He thinks she is lost forever, and things get really interesting when she is released from prison a year later. (more…)

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by Joel Bocko

The best depiction of Jesus Christ onscreen is also, alas, one of the least-known (type its title into IMDb, and you’ll wade through five higher-ranked results). Dennis Potter’s feverish 1969 teleplay Son of Man depicts the most famous and celebrated figure in the history of the world as a dirty, half-mad prophet trembling in the wilderness and bellowing at his followers, with nary a miracle in sight (when Jesus performs an exorcism, the woman in his arms appears to die). Yet as depicted by a fully-committed Colin Blakely, this ferocious wild man is among the most charismatic and compelling Christs I’ve ever seen: fascinating in his forceful delivery and admirable in his consistency, responding to slaps, goads, and outright torture with a determination to practice what he preaches by “loving his neighbor.” Given that these neighbors include the cunning high priest Caiaphas (Bernard Hepton) and the flagrantly cruel and condescending Pontius Pilate (Robert Hardy), this is no small order. This Jesus gets no relief, no reward – there is no happy ending, no Easter Sunday resurrection following the Good Friday execution. He moans those famous words, “Why have you forsaken me?”, expires, and the lights dim while the camera pulls back.

Although this is without reservation a filmed play (it even aired on a BBC series entitled “The Wednesday Play”), and Potter himself later complained that Son of Man was “shot on video in three days in an electronic studio on a set that looks as though it’s trembling and about to fall down,” in fact there is a visceral cinematic punch to the images. Director Gareth Davies inserts us into the midst of crowds with his jostling handheld aesthetic, while he complements dramatic dialogue with subtly sweeping dollies and slow-burning pans: the camera is always moving. (One over-eager tilt, playing with the shadow of the cross behind Jesus’ head, even captures an unprepared boom mic in the frame.) The compulsively choppy cutting also keeps us on the edge of our seat: often we’ll leap from the very tail-end of one character’s sentence to a desert sermon reaching its climax, crowd caught in mid-cheer. In Potter’s and Davies’ hands, the ancient world becomes immediate and we are plunged headfirst into a tumultuous hothouse of rabblerousers, spiritual seekers, and cruel overlords. In this sense, the “trembling” set “about to fall down” is a virtue, this soundstage barely able to contain the sparks flying to and fro.

The film intercuts three characters’ storylines, playing various worldviews off one another: a bored, callous Pilate (no noble handwasher of legend) debating Jesus’ importance with soldiers and fellow administrators; a cagey yet not completely corrupt Caiaphas caught between appeasement of his Roman ruler and satisfaction of Messiah-hungry Jerusalem; and finally, a Jesus quite distant from the coiled intellectualism and burdensome political power of the other two central characters, but no less tormented by his sense of duty. Initially described as a “loon,” he wanders through the desert picking up followers and preaching the word of God, winning coverts as much through passionate, two-fisted delivery as through the stark, intoxicating words spilling from his lips. Screened at a time when youthful radicals were spurning conventional power structures and living by instinct and camaraderie rather than cold, careful strategy, Son of Man presents a Jesus whose earthy presence is a manifestation of the spiritual truths he represents. Colin Blakely invests this Christ with a hearty appreciation for the tangible, caressing a cross while ironically admiring the quality of its timber (in the film’s most celebrated line, Jesus sighs, “You should have stayed a tree, and I should have stayed a carpenter”).

The grubby, sweaty physicality of this Biblical landscape is underscored by frequent eruptions of brutality. Numerous bodies are beaten to a gory pulp in clashes between Romans and Jews, Pilate casually discusses pacifism while a gladiator is mutilated before his eyes, and Jesus himself is raised atop the cross with stinging lacerations criss-crossing his torso. In one of Son of Man‘s most chilling moments, the culmination of violence is suggested rather than shown: Pilate slaps around a beautiful maidservant while she proclaims her faith in Christ’s message of love, and then a few scenes later we discover (via an off-hand remark) that she was subsequently flogged to death. The film even opens by cross-cutting (no pun intended) Jesus’ solitary seizure in the wilderness with a Roman massacre in the Jewish Temple. Immediately we are taught to link spiritual and physical torment, social upheaval with inner turmoil. Hard-won clarity and lingering pain go hand in bloody hand.

Son of Man‘s recognition of the physical and psychological costs of being divinely possessed – and its consequent depiction of a doubtful, very human Jesus – link it to another revisionist Biblical film, Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988). I’m currently reading the Nikos Kazantzakis book on which that film was based, and the similarities are striking – both stories depict Jesus asking God repeatedly, “Is it me?” (and almost seeming to plead that it not be) and both authors focus on tensions between revolutionary, anti-Roman currents in Messianic Judaism and the universalist, peaceful, inner-centered message of Jesus. Yet there are notable differences too: while both Potter and Kazantzakis envision the traitorous Judas Iscariot as a crucial character and kind of audience surrogate, Son of Man reveals him as a lamb of a man, arguing for mercy from his worldly leader as he’s forced to betray his spiritual leader, while Last Temptation features an angry redheaded brute of a Judas, a man of ironclad convictions, determined to challenge Christ because he isn’t forceful enough. Likewise, the two stories have opposite interpretations of Jesus himself: the Christ of Last Temptation is fragile, wavering, an innocent overwhelmed by God’s grace, while the Son of Man is rough-hewn, thick-bodied, vibrating with a manly sense of righteous fury.

Finally the two tales of Christ suggest different authorial visions of the grace of God and the coming of his Kingdom. On page at least, Kazantzakis struggles less with having faith than following it – his Jesus knows what God wants and resists because it terrifies him, not because he doubts its truth; in the world of the novel we too are guided to feel God’s mysterious but undeniable presence. Whereas Potter paints a picture that, suiting its medium, is externalized: we hear Jesus’ preaching, we see the impact it has (including on Pilate and Caiaphas, struck by doubts at the moment of condemnation), but when the potential Messiah is asked for proofs of his divinity, he denies them not only to his onscreen interlocutors but to us. The ambiguous presentation of Jesus’ otherworldliness and the film’s apparently pessimistic ending challenge us to draw our own conclusions. Potter cannot tell us if Jesus’ words are correct, if his path is the one to follow: only by listening and thinking for ourselves can we decide. It’s a credit to the power of Potter’s speeches, Davies’ presentation, and especially Blakely’s performance that at film’s end our greatest temptation is to believe.

Be sure to check out Allan Fish’s review of “Son of Man” which introduced me to this film. And finally, you can watch “Son of Man” itself on YouTube, which seems to be the only place it is available right now:


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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 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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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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