Archive for the ‘Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2018’ Category

by Sam Juliano

American coming of age films became all the rage in the early 70’s.  Frank Perry’s sexually candid Last Summer appeared midway through 1969.  Peter Bogdonovich’s masterpiece The Last Picture Show, based on an acclaimed novel by Larry McMurtry took this sub-genre to new heights and Robert Mulligan’s Summer of ’42 showcased a splendid convergence of mood, atmosphere and period flavor.  Both released in 1971, the same year as the now virtually forgotten Red Sky at Morning, directed by James Goldstone from a popular novel of the same name by Richard Bradford.  1972 saw the release of two other long-anticipated novel-to-film adaptations, A Separate Peace, based on the great novel by John Knowles, and Bless the Beasts and Children from the Glendon Swarthout novella.

Red Sky has inexplicably been ignored on video tape and DVD and is only available in practically unwatchable bootlegs and online via a print hardly better.  Yet as Allan would often note when coming upon rarities he long sought after: “It is all we have and we much make do.”  Indeed there was a time when home video was a fledgling format and our acquisitions on tape of film treasures like The Passion of Joan of Arc and Nosferatu in beat-up-prints were thought at the time to be of great collector’s value when consumers hadn’t a clue how continued improvements were just around the corner.  But now, with the advent of greatly enhanced DVDs and the pristine quality of blu-rays it is unusual to come across a 70s film so poorly transferred, but the you tube incarnation is fairly decent. The aforementioned Last Summer and another early 70s film by Frank Perry, Diary of a Mad Housewife have not fared better.

Goldstone’s film is set in New Mexico during World War II, where an Alabama teenager relocates with his mother after the naval officer father has departed for his service.  The boy must deal with the culture clash solo and this includes race relations, a Hispanic bully, a flirtatious tomboy, and even the destructive ways of his mother who doesn’t seem to value her reputation.  Richard Thomas, the lead who plays this “nervous nelly” teen in his signature fashion (his previous work in Last Summer is comparable), one some critics at the time likened to “G rated James Dean.”  Thomas, who of course achieved his greatest fame as John Boy in “The Waltons” tries hard to fit in with the pack, and his scenes with Catherine Burns are especially compelling.  To be sure Red Sky at Morning sometimes loses focus as it tries to bring together sometimes myriad sub-plots:   Throughout the course of the movie, Joshua not only cares for his troubled mother, manages the household help, and befriends an eccentric local artist, but is introduced to a host of issues — including troubled race-relations, sex, bullying, and more — at his new high school. For instance, the local twin tarts — colorfully named Venery Ann, and Velma Mae — aggressively pursue Joshua and his friend Steenie, much to the ire of their shotgun-toting father; meanwhile, Joshua is bullied by two stereotypical Chicano hoodlums, the latter of whom is unnaturally protective of his busty yet religiously pious and naive sister who goes on to meet an awful fate at the hands of psychopathic Aniov.   (more…)

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by Anubhav Bist

A woman, her identity obscured by a black veil, steps out of her taxi and disappears into the dead of night. Having collected his fare from this mysterious passenger, Haseem readies to depart until he hears cries coming from the backseat of his cab. There he finds an abandoned infant, who’s survival is now his responsibility.

The set up is akin to a Kafkaesque nightmare and, as Hashem’s search leads him to a deserted construction site, the streets of Tehran assume a dreamlike quality; the minimalist mise-en-sense of deep shadows and abandoned urban environments isolating Hashem from the modern world. However, defining an aesthetic layout can be difficult as Ebrahim Golestan’s first feature shares many of the hallmarks one associates with an ambitious directorial debut. The Brick and the Mirror/Khesht Va Ayeneh unfolds episodically, sometimes feeling like a collection of short stories. As Hashem seeks guidance for the bizarre situation he’s found himself in, hopelessly conversing with friends at a cafe or visiting various state institutions for answers, Golestan uses each episode as an opportunity to experiment with both the narrative and formal conventions of cinema: from the disrupting the story’s rhythm with jump cuts or documentary style montage, to shifting from the film’s faux cinéma vérité style of realism to more abstract or philosophical forms of storytelling (one particular set piece involving Hashem visiting a police station plays out like an absurdist one-act). However, the heart of the story that ties these episodes together is a powerful relationship drama between Hashem and his girlfriend Taji, both of whom assume the role of the mystery child’s caretakers; with Hashem looking to rid himself of the child while Taji views it as an opportunity to save their rocky relationship – even motivation for all three to start a life together.

Though relatively unknown in the west, outside his connection with lover and frequent collaborator Forough Farrokhzad (having produced the great poet’s sole directorial credit, the 1963 masterpiece The House Is Black/Kẖạneh sy̰ạh ạst), Ebrahim Golestan remains a bit of a controversial figure in the history of Iranian cinema. His brash and almost volatile personality, along with a perceived disregard toward Iranian movie goers (highlighted by his antics during the 1969 Shiraz Festival, where he antagonized audience members), leaves an unflattering impression with many critics and intellectuals who have followed his career. Nonetheless, few would ever question Golestan‘s reputation as a pioneer or this 1963 existential portrait of a pre-revolutionary Iran, a reflection of the director’s own disillusionment with his homeland following the coup of Mohammad Mosaddegh, as anything short of a masterpiece. Holding the distinction of being first filmmaker in Iran to establish his own film studio (Golestan Film Unit), Golestan built a prolific body of work as a documentary filmmaker and helped many prominent Iranian filmmakers get their starts. Sadly, censorship under the Shaw and unreceptive audiences in Iran continued to frustrate Golestan, prompting him to self-exile in 1978. (more…)

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by Sachin Gandhi

I selected Cameroonian director Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Aristotles Plot because at its core, this film is about that vital debate of commercial vs artistic cinema, the blockbusters of Hollywood vs a nation’s local cinema. The film also offers the chance to discover a unique voice from African Cinema. Jean-Pierre Bekolo is not a well known name even though his debut 1992 film Quartier Mozart gained some recognition on the film festival circuit. The energetic and humorous Quartier Mozart combined folklore with some jaw-dropping moments. Still, the debut could not have prepared for what Bekolo attempted next in 1996 with Aristotles Plot.

At a running time of just 68 minutes, Aristotles Plot packs a lot of ideas and memorable dialogues about the meaning of cinema. The story features two characters on opposing side of the cinematic debate, a local gangster who consumes only Hollywood action films and a struggling independent filmmaker who wants people to care about African cinema. The gangster goes by the name of Cinema because he claims “he has watched 10,000” films. His rival is a filmmaker named Essomba Tourneur (E.T for short) who prefers to be called a Cineaste. The difference in view between the two is shown early in the film after Cinema claims to have seen 10,000 films, E.T counters and asks “oh yes, but how many of them were African?”. To which Cinema replies “very few” before going on to add that he doesn’t think much of African films. That debate about the worth of African cinema is repeated on a few occasions and highlights that locals flock to Hollywood films but stay away from African cinema. Even a local policeman claims to have never seen a single African film but is aware of Hollywood stars. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Ecstasy, a German-language film shot in Prague and Austria by a Czech director with an Austrian star and an international cast, had a movie life that perhaps could only end in Hollywood.

The film was a sensation all over Europe when it premiered in 1933 primarily because its barely legal star, Hedy Kiesler, played one scene in the nude and appeared to have an orgasm in another. The film’s fortunes varied by country: Hitler banned it, perhaps because Kiesler was Jewish, but it was nominated for the Mussolini Cup at the 1934 Venice Film Festival and Il Duce kept a copy of it in his private collection. The film finally appeared in the States after its nude scenes and insufficiently moral message were “corrected” by the distributor. In 1937, Kiesler, like the character she played in Ecstasy, fled from her controlling older husband, a rich Austrian fascist named Fritz Mandl. She moved to London, where she met MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer. He put her under contract, had her change her name to Hedy Lamarr, and launched her successful Hollywood career as “The Most Beautiful Woman in Film.”

Ecstasy no longer has the power to scandalize as it did in its own time. Nonetheless, the film continues to provoke because it does something that is still something of a rarity today—it offers an honest, unapologetic look at female sexuality from a woman’s point of view.

Lamarr plays Eva, a new bride waiting to be carried over the threshold of her new home by her husband Emile (Zvonimir Rogoz), a man who appears to be at least 20 years her senior. Eva is fresh-faced, optimistic youth personified; Emile is plodding, punctilious, and seemingly unaware that his life has altered in the least. Waiting impatiently for Emile to join her in the bedroom, Eva goes into the bathroom where he is engaged in his nighttime toilette. She begs for help with the strap of her slip and then with the clasp of her necklace, hoping that he will be prompted to unwrap her further. Alas, the scene ends with Eva laying alone in bed.

The months that follow show no improvement. Eva is bored and largely ignored by her contentedly oblivious husband. After watching and smiling at young couples dancing to a love song in a park, Eva turns to Emile, who is absorbed in reading his newspaper. He swats a bee that is bothering him and squashes it inadvertently under his chair. The symbolism of the act touches Eva and decides her on her next course of action. She returns to her father (Leopold Kramer) in the country and begins divorce proceedings.

Director Gustav Machatý leaves nothing to the imagination of his audience from here on out. The countryside is a garden of Eden where Eva swims in the nude and races through the trees and meadow after her runaway horse to retrieve the overalls she draped over its back. Naturally, her young, virile Adam (Aribert Mog) follows her horse’s trail to her. Both Adam and Eva are elemental creatures, emphasized when Adam catches a bee on a flower and offers it to her, a sharp contrast to the domesticated gelding she married. The sexual symbolism of the bee and the flower will reach its apex when Eva goes to Adam for a night of passion. Gilding the lily, Machatý offers a scene of suggested horse copulation following Adam and Eva’s tryst.

Ecstasy is nearly silent as Machatý lets his camerawork do his talking for him. A lot of it seems like trickery for its own sake, but certain scenes stand out for their psychological intensity. After Eva meets Adam, she finds herself restless and unable to sleep. She goes to the drawing room and starts playing the piano, an act used often in film to convey sexual tension. She breaks off and starts pacing in the shadows of the night, the wind blowing the diaphanous curtains as she gazes as a portrait of her dead mother, a wild creature like herself. Tormented by her longing, breathing heavily, she moves quickly through the night toward the object of her desire. Adam’s window, isolated in an otherwise dark frame, grows larger and larger in a series of jump cuts until Eva flings open his door.

Machatý also shows the particular humor often found in Czech films. On Eva’s wedding night, he cuts between an excited bride waiting in the boudoir and a tired bridegroom lolling in the bathroom. As Eva waits, we see Emile’s slippered feet start to slide along the floor. The longer Eva waits, and the more unhappy she grows, the farther the feet slip. Finally, she gives up, and the feet pop off the floor; Emile has dropped off to sleep on the edge of the bathtub.

Machatý spent four years in Hollywood learning the director’s craft from D.W. Griffith and Erich von Stroheim before returning to his home country to begin his career. The latter’s roots in German cinema seem to have taken root in Machatý’s style, a combination of German Expressionism mixed with the en vogue currents of Soviet social realism and fascist nativism. A long sequence that shows work tools idle until the workers come upon them and dramatically set the day in motion comes at the end of the film, a strange sequencing that may not have been as the director intended. The final shot, Eva playing with a baby, might have been Adam’s daydream of what their life could have been like had she not left him, but it’s hard to know. With the various cuts made in various countries to satisfy censors, it’s possible that the message of female sexual awakening had to be suborned to the demands of the state: a workers’ paradise in the Soviet utopia, a world of Aryan ubermenschen and the earth mothers to bear them among the Axis nations.

Running throughout is a thoroughly absorbing, emotionally mature performance by Hedy Kiesler Lamarr. She manages to convey feelings of love for her husband and her sadness at her disappointment with him. She is thoroughly uninhibited in conveying sexual desire and happiness with her lover. It’s hard to believe she was only a teenager when she made this film, yet what better time to access the rich emotions of young love and sexual awakening. Hedy Lamarr, a woman of great courage and intelligence, shows she always had the makings of a star.

You can view Ecstasy on YouTube here.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Burnt out from the debacle that was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club (1984) and the commercial failure of Streets of Fire (1984), Diane Lane had gone from promising A-list actress to box office poison. Stinging from these two high profile flops and eager to escape the media spotlight, she took some time off to regroup and figure out what she wanted to do next. In 1987, she came roaring back with a vengeance with two films, one of which was Lady Beware, a modest B-movie thriller that was a labor of love for its director, Karen Arthur, but ran afoul of studio interference. While hardly a masterpiece, it is an intriguing cinematic detour in Lane’s filmography.

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by John Grant 

charmingly innocent (well, sort of) romp, all done to the music of the Tango!

US / 16´ 24´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Mauricio Carvajal
Cast: Matthew Mičetić (Reynold Clifton), Julene Beeson (Natasha Primrose), Jenna Hastreiter (Mabel May), Lilah Wallach (Harem Girl), Jerry Wallach (Genie), Evan Halbert (Natasha’s Genie), Steve Correl, Elango Samy Manin, Julian Prokofiev, Patrick Bledsoe, Carol Hess, Monte Hess, Ted Roe, Christopher Duff, Graham Powrie, Jessica Kimmet

The fifth, last, most ambitious and in my opinion finest of the Tango Silent Films series of short movies made by Joe Leonardo with the participation of various members of the Portland (Oregon) Argentine Tango Community. You can find below details of #1–#4 in the series, plus an ancillary song-short. A recurring backdrop in some of the movies is the Portland center Tango Berretín. The soundtracks to the movies consist of Tango music, plus the whirring of a (supposed) projector. Verisimilitude is enhanced by the use of black-and-white stock, occasional fluctuations in brightness, and of course the performances of the cast.

Pornography has two acts. In the first, set in the Tango Berretín, rich Reynold Clifton (Mičetić) is incensed when trophy spouse/girlfriend Natasha Primrose (Beeson) flirts outrageously to the room. Reynold responds by doing his very best to get into a clinch with alluring barfly Mabel May (Hastreiter). Just before a fight can break out between the two women, Reynold takes Natasha home.

Julene Beeson as Natasha Primrose.

Act two starts with the couple spatting:

Reynold: “Frankly, this conversation is beneath me.”
Natasha: “Well, that’s the only thing that will be beneath you tonight . . .”

She stomps off to bed while he retreats to his study and his stash of vintage cheesecake. As he peruses a photo essay called “The Dance of the Harem Girl” it comes to life in his imagination as a scene of a belly dancer (Lilah Wallach) performing for a genie (Jerry Wallach). This transforms, as Reynold’s fantasies get more feverish, into a scene of Mabel May dancing for him . . .

Jerry Wallach as the Genie.

Jenna Hastreiter as Mabel May.

Matthew Mičetić and Julene Beeson (like Jessica Kimmet, who alas has only a bit part here but stars in others of the series) have brilliantly expressive faces, which makes them perfect pieces of casting for a silent movie; Mičetić in particular can have me chuckling with just the flicker of an eyebrow, while Beeson’s caricature of the incandescently hot superbitch trophy wife offers a wonderful foil.

Matthew Mičetić as Reynold Clifton.

In an email, creator Joe Leonardo explained to me:

“Pornography deals more abstractly [than the earlier movies] with the concept of objectification and fantasy, which still have strong roles in social dancing, though the story itself has the least to do with actual tango dancing.”

Natasha (Julene Beeson) discovers the seductive joys of unadulterated SMUT.

The movie’s attraction for this particular viewer, aside from the humor and the cleverness of the cinematography, is the fact that it’s such an effective piece of fantasy. Yes, of course it echoes the fantasies you’ll find scattered through countless Arabian Nights-style feature movies, not to mention any number of pre-Code and later romantic comedies, and it does so deliberately, but at the same time, because the movie signals its allegiance to two quite different periods, the 1920s (if not before) and the twenty-first century, the fantasy gains an extra layer that gives it a quite surprising impression of freshness.

You can find the Tango Silent Films on YouTube and Vimeo, but a better option is to go to the project’s own site, where you can watch the complete series. A long interview with creator Joe Leonardo on the Oxygen Tango site goes into far more detail about the background to the movies than I have space for here.


The Tango Silent Films Series

Although each of the five movies stands on its own (especially Pornography), the fact that they share a number of recurring characters and become progressively more expansive means there’s a lot to be gained by watching them as a set, in order.

Brief notes on the others:

#1: A Christmas Present for Hannah (2009)
US / 10´ 55´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cast: Joe Leonardo (self)

A circular tale, in that the movie itself is the Christmas gift, made using the camera (in fact a Kodak Brownie or similar) that, within the movie, Hannah leaves for Joe as his Christmas present. According to the Tango site, this was made as “the experimental prototype and template for the Tango Silent Films project.”

Joe Leonardo in A Christmas Present for Hannah.

#2: The Private Lesson (2010)
US / 11´ 25´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Jessica Kimmet (Patience Trueheart), Jade Luiz (Sadie Bloom), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Julene Beeson (The Two O’Clock)

Two wannabe students of the Tango—the flamboyant Sadie Bloom and the mousier-seeming Patience Trueheart—have been given clashing appointments by dance teacher and lothario Rudy Valentine.

#3: Oh My, What a Night! (2011)
US / 12´ 23´´/ bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Christopher Duff (Buddy St. Cloud), Graham Powrie (Chance Beaumain), Jessica Kimmet (Patience Trueheart), Julene Beeson (Natasha Primrose), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Matthew Mičetić (Reynold Clifton)

Everything conspires tonight at the Tango Berretín to stop the shy Buddy St. Cloud getting a girl to dance with him, and the advice of his pal Chance Beaumain doesn’t help. Fat-walleted Reynold Clifton lures away Buddy’s second preference, Natasha Primrose, while his ideal, Patience Trueheart, seems out of his league. But then . . .

Jessica Kimmet as Patience Trueheart in One, Two, Three!

#4: One, Two, Three! (2012)
US / 13´ 20´´ / bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Pr: Joe Leonardo, Jenna Hastreiter
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Jessica Kimmet (Patience Trueheart), Graham Powrie (Chance Beaumain), Christopher Duff (Buddy St. Cloud), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Jenna Hastreiter (Mabel May)

At Tango practice, pals Chance Beaumain and Buddy St. Cloud have a contest of testosterone to see who gets to dance with the lovely Patience Trueheart. (Ans.: Neither.)

Jade Luiz as Sadie Bloom in Sadie’s Song.

A Tango Silent Films Short: Sadie’s Song (2011)
US / 2´ 30´´/ bw / Tango Silent Films
Dir & Pr & Scr: Joe Leonardo
Cine: Wayne Williams
Cast: Jade Luiz (Sadie Bloom), Graham Powrie (Chance Beaumain), Ted Roe (Rudy Valentine), Matthew Mičetić (Reynold Clifton)

Essentially a song-video, this features Sadie Bloom and three of her admirers.


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By Roderick Heath

This essay is offered as part of the Allan Fish Online Film Festival, a festival founded by Jamie Uhler and hosted by Wonders in the Dark, held to honor the memory of the late cineaste extraordinaire Allan Fish.

Rudolph Valentino. Over ninety years since he died aged 31, his name is still familiar to people who have never watched any of his movies. As the first great heartthrob of Hollywood film, his impact lingers like background radiation in pop culture. Valentino was the defining archetype of the Latin Lover and icon of silent film’s budding cosmopolitan promise, and is still the subject of legend and feverish speculation, particularly in regards to off-screen escapades and omnivorous sexual tastes. Young Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella acted out the essential myth of early Hollywood. He arrived in America as an eighteen-year-old immigrant, struggling in his early days in New York and skirting the outer edges of a scandalous tragedy before taking to the road as a travelling actor. Valentino took the advice of movie actor Norman Kerry to go to Hollywood and try his luck there, but found himself initially typecast as a villain for his dark, exotic looks. Then he was cast in the lead of Rex Ingram’s adaptation of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s bestseller, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, produced by Metro Pictures and released in 1921. Valentino was catapulted to stardom, and in spite of the film’s seriousness as a World War I drama, what everyone remembered afterwards was Valentino’s tango scene.

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The Allan Fish Online Film Festival was conjured up as a way to remember the passion of Allan’s fervent cinephilia, and the online tie that bound so much of us to him like flies to a glowing lightbulb, and then built this community at large. So let me begin by saying to everyone: thanks for participating and following along for a second straight year. We’re truly keeping the flickering image alive!

As I did last year with Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen, György Pálfi’s 2012 collage romp through film history, I’ve tried to again imbue my pick with Allan’s love for cinema, pick a film very much about films. (more…)

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Starting Monday, May 28th Wonders in the Dark will be hosting a 12 day Allan Fish Online Film Festival (Allan Fish OFF 2018). The rules are simple; each day will see a new chairman host the festivities and select a film that is available to be watched by anyone, online for free from a popular streaming site (youtube, vimeo, dailymotion, etc.). The host for that day will decide how the film they chose will be presented; an essay, a sparse teaser introduction, or ‘other’ (the creativity seen on the blogosphere for film commentary knows no bounds as we all know). Thus, conceivably the film festival could be nearly real; people anywhere on the globe watching the same film, at roundabout the same time. It’s named in honor of our dear friend and film scholar Allan Fish, whose birthday was May 28th, and will be an annual event, with this years being the second one. He found so many of his treasured Obscuro’s doing just what we’re setting out to do with this Festival, so it seemed the most fitting way to remember him. 


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