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Archive for the ‘Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2019’ Category

Dearest Allan:

In pondering my submission for the third annual online film festival at Wonders in the Dark, my mind drifted back to some of our classic four-way e mail correspondences.  Jamie Uhler of Chicago and Maurizio Roca of Brooklyn always helped to make said communications lively, opinionated and sometimes rowdy.  Roughly about two years before you departed this earthly realm to accept your current position as celestial authority of all things cinematic you were hot to trot to discuss DVD-blu ray labels and how in your view a then up and coming Region 2 UK company named Arrow had practically eclipsed longtime poll position occupants Criterion as the most exciting label out there with the most passionate and discerning film aficionados.  I’m sure you will fondly recall how we lined up on this matter and how we presented our cases for our champion.  In proclaiming Arrow as the top dog for collectors circa 2014 you cited some persuasive facts that at the time I was hard-pressed to dispute, regardless of where I stood when posting my numerical list.  After all, Arrow gave us sparkling new blu ray transfers of the Roger Corman Poe series, the Mario Bava collection, the lion’s share of Italian giallos, killer box sets on Walerian Borowcyck, Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer, Rainer Warner Fassbinder, and your all-time hero Yoshida not to mention some world classics like The Bicycle Thief, Ashes and Diamonds, The Night of the Hunter, Sweet Smell of Success, The Apartment, The Human  Condition and The Naked City among others in countering Criterion with even more extensive Region 2 incarnations of these masterpieces.  While we can safely assert that Arrow began as a niche label specializing in horror -and their more recent 4K transfer of John Carpenter’s The Thing, City of the Dead, and Horror Express have sustained that commitment.  Their catalog horror like the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Last House on the Left, The Hellraiser Trilogy, Carrie, The Hills Have Eyes, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Theater of Blood and The Crazies to name just a few continue to sell and remain in print.  Arrow have released superlative editions of Network, Donnie Darko, Children of Men and Gosford Park as you know well matching and surpassing their Region 1 counterparts on whatever label.  Allan, you always evaluated the complete package, and rightly pointed to the fabulous Arrow booklets which continue to surpass Criterion who have now downgraded to leaflets, the art (Jamie as I recall had mixed feelings on that front) and a bevy of desirable extras on nearly every release.  Since you moved on to better places where new students sit before you daily waiting to be enlightened, Arrow has maintained their strong reputation and impressive release schedule, but I suspect we’d be in accord that their product hasn’t been quite as captivating.  Heck, how could it be?  The blu ray business in general isn’t now what it used to be, though few are thinking it is on  an irreversible downswing.  Collectors like you and I are there and in a niche market, buyers like the passionate herds of book lovers who still haven’t warmed to kindle or e book alternatives and repeatedly contend a 500 year old technology still reigns supreme there are die-hards will never trade allegiance.  If Arrow has held the stage among blu ray aficionados, it has now been topped albeit marginally by another Region 2 company who have gone above and beyond in catering to a collectors market who want the best possible quality but also all those extras that fans are hoping for but do not always receive due to financial constraints. (more…)

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by John Grant

US / 31 minutes / bw / Huntington Hartford Dir: James Whale Pr: Huntington Hartford Scr: George W. Tobin Story: Hello Out There! (1941 play, staged 1942) by William Saroyan Cine: Karl Struss Cast: Marjorie Steele, Harry Morgan, Lee Patrick, Ray Teal.

Created as a segment of an anthology feature whose other two segments never got made, Hello Out There is a fairly faithful—perhaps too faithful—adaptation of a William Saroyan one-act play. One odd change (aside from the removal of the exclamation mark from the title) is that the play’s Emily Smith becomes Ethel Smith in the movie.

An itinerant gambler, Photo-Finish (Morgan), is in jail in the small Texas town of Matador, falsely accused of having raped a married woman in the neighboring town of Wheeling. Everyone’s gone home from the jail except the cleaner Ethel Smith (Steele), who cooks for the prisoners whenever there are any. She arrives in response to his incessant calls of “Hello out there!” and an instant bond springs up between the two: “I’m kind of lonesome too,” she says. “Yeah, I’m almost as lonesome as a coyote myself.” (more…)

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Cabiria01
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Director: Giovanni Pastrone
Screenwriter: Gabriele d’Annunzio

By Roderick Heath

This essay is proudly presented as part of the Allan Fish Online Film Festival.

What impact it must have had in some muddy Apennine town where the twentieth century had barely arrived, to file into a jostling, steamy town hall and fight for a seat to watch Cabiria as the days ticked down to the start of the Great War. An experience that would link such hardy viewers with the residents of the White House half a world away, when Cabiria became the first film screened there, albeit out on the lawn. Cinema on the grandest scale, a point of gravity so much of the still-fledgling art form would orbit, taking on a form that undeniably laid to rest any notion film was just another carnival novelty. Giovanni Pastrone’s film, with storyline and titles written by the writer Gabriele D’Annunzio, expanded the scope of what cinematic narrative could encompass and how. Although it wasn’t the first film to run over two hours or to offer grand imagery and sophisticated directorial techniques, it was one of the new art’s great synthesising moments. On some levels, the weight of such historical importance can seem misaligned, as Cabiria is, in essence, a rip-roaring adventure story, replete with straightforward archetypes and heady melodrama. It stands as far more entertaining than any movie over a century old has the right to be. But it’s also a relic from a time when the new power of cinema was remaking our ways of seeing the world, even in ways that provoke misgiving in retrospect.
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Cabiria02
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Compared to The Birth of a Nation (1915), its chief rival as a landmark in feature film development, Cabiria seems much more comfortable to a modern audience with its historically remote setting, outsized, almost science fiction-like recreation of that past, and broad portrait of decency versus depravity as embodied by long-vanished civilisations. And yet aspects of its ultimate meaning and context are just as thorny. Pastrone, who also worked under the professional alias Piero Fosco, had been a precocious kid who made his own musical instruments, developing a talent for finely observed form and function that would serve him well as he turned to filmmaking. He made his directing debut with La glu (1908), and set up the production company Itala in 1909. The same year, he began his string of historical epics with Julius Caesar (1909), following it with The Fall of Troy (1911) and then Cabiria. Pastrone’s directing career ran out of steam in the mid-1920s and he decisively put the business behind him long before his death in 1959. Cabiria meanwhile has a title attributing its vision more loudly to D’Annunzio, who was paid a fat sum to loan his prestige and following to the film. D’Annunzio was greatly acclaimed at the time as a writer and whose life and career say much about the bizarre and worrying twists of Italian social and political life at the time.
(more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

One of the most fascinating aspects in the world of arts or music or literature or cinema, is how two artists sometimes end up becoming conjoined, pop-culturally as well as in more serious and self-conscious discourses, for reasons that may range from complex friendships to bitter rivalries (or a curios combination of both). Or perhaps, in the way they inspired one another to newer realms while pursuing distinctively different routes and choices to artistic expression. Or, for that matter, in the way they simultaneously converged and diverged.

Picasso-Matisse, Van Gogh-Gauguin, Camus-Sartre, Hemingway-Fitzgerald, Márquez-Llosa, Lennon-Dylan, Klimt-Schiele, etc. are all enduring examples. Godard-Truffaut, Ozu-Imamura, Fellini-Antonioni, Chaplin-Keaton, etc. were similarly memorable elucidations specific to world cinema. And then, a pair like Buñuel-Dali even took that beyond the confines of their respective mediums.

Those who’re well acquainted to these two contemporaries of Bengali cinema, would agree that Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, too, unequivocally belonged to this interesting club.

I’d become aware of Ray much earlier in my life – his popularity went significantly beyond just “serious” cinephiles because of his diverse filmography, his many artistic involvements beyond cinema, and his easy accessibility. Ghatak entered much later in my life, and that’s perhaps understandable since he’s not as universally known, albeit immensely admired by a small group of intense aficionados.

Ghatak was a rebel, a radical and a recluse. He was never easy to endear personally – he was embittered, alienating, abrasive, unpredictable, innately non-conformist, oftentimes contrarian, and yes, a self-destructive alcoholic too. As an auteur, as well, he’s an acquired taste (though one, once acquired, is difficult to let go) – he made just eight films in his life (except for a dazzling burst of 5 films, viz. Ajantrik (The Unmechanical / Pathetic Fallacy), Bari Theke Paliye (Running Away from Home) and the ‘Partition Trilogy’, made between 1958-’62, he was never a very prolific filmmaker); his films were seeped in a milieu and style and context that were singularly his own and hence often tad difficult or uncomfortable for those who’re not well accustomed to them; and, most importantly, his cinema was inextricably linked to a complex combination of his resolutely formal vision and avowedly leftist politics. (more…)

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HARVEY WALLINGER - title 2

By Robert Hornak

A slight detour into nonsense.

I gather that Allan, if not a Woody Allen fan, per se, at least respected his work since I see he put a dozen of the prolific filmmaker’s movies on his list of “5,000 best screen works” on this very site. This may be thin justification for my entry in this year’s AFOFF, but there’s also some justification in light of my pick’s ubiquitous omission from nearly every corner of Allenalia, a rare political jab from “not essentially a political comedian” directly to Dick Nixon’s flummoxed jowls.

Despite his sometimes claim to political agnosticism, certain moments of commentary survive in Woody lore, namely his Woody Allen Looks at 1967 television special, from that year, wherein he spars with a particularly game William F. Buckley, Jr., or any number of his standup sideswipes: “I took some time off to write. I was working on a non-fiction version of the Warren Report.”), to the stammering quip he gives rally-speaker Alvy in Annie Hall: “I dated a woman working in the Eisenhower administration and I thought it was ironic, cause…I was trying to do to her what he’s been doing to the country for eight years.” Most of Allen’s politics is scattered over just a handful of examples, while Harvey Wallinger remains his most potent concentration of full-frontal political satire.

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by Sachin Gandhi

I have selected Francesco Rosi’s 1963 film Hands Over the City (Le Mani sulla città) because it is a film that feels contemporary despite being released almost 6 decades ago. Given the film’s topic of corruption and urban sprawl, it will always feel contemporary as long as politicians spend more time slinging mud at their rivals and lying to protect their crimes while letting innocent civilians suffer. The words “urban sprawl” are part of our everyday language yet it was Rosi’s film that gave an incisive look into how such a situation could occur. The city in Rosi’s film is his beloved Naples but as the film dives into the close connection between city planners, politicians, land developers and businessmen, it becomes evident that there is a universal aspect to the film.

The opening shots of Hands Over the City begin with a few aerial shots of Naples which highlight the city as a maze of buildings. After the opening minutes, we learn that it will get worse. That is because we are shown an informal meeting between a few businessmen who all want to profit from fast land development. The city council is about to propose expanding along the city’s core, which makes sense from an urban development point of view. But these businessmen and land developers want to build outside the city because the land is cheap and they can earn more profits in the future. The businessmen can get away with this because one of the leading land developers is also on the city’s board and he has a lot of friends on the council. The promise of fast money is enough to swing the votes in his direction. (more…)

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Given that the artwork of this years festival is more personal to Allan’s taste, I figured my pick should follow suit to officially kick Allan Fish OFF 2019! ‘Kick’ seems an apt word, what with the subject matter of my pick for this year. You’ll recall that in years past I’ve used my pick not only to highlight works that I personally love, but that also say something about how I became, and remained, friends with Allan over the several years that I knew him. In 2017 it was Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen, a kaleidoscopic film whose creation was entirely from old, classic film clips collaged together to form an entirely new narrative. Its purpose in selection obvious; Allan was a man of few peers in his encyclopedic knowledge of film history, watch the film rush past you I compared to conversing with Allan about film, his brain making seamless connections across genre, era, region, and everything in between. While last year, in selecting the Italian comedy classic The Icicle Thief, I moved more towards narrative cinema. But again, a work very much on the nature of watching and interacting with movies. It appeared that in both instances I was sticking to the object that tied Allan and I in the first place: watching movies obsessively.

But, this year I thought differently. (more…)

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