Archive for the ‘Allan’s 70s Countdown’ Category

by Joel

This post is a tribute to Allan Fish, who has just concluded his ambitious, erudite, and stimulating countdown of every era in film history (a top 100 for the first 35 years of cinema, a top 25 for the 1930s, a top 50 for the ensuing decades of the 20th century, and another top 100 for the decade just past). The project was launched on the popular website Wonders in the Dark in the autumn of 2008. A poll was attached to the end of each countdown, so that the readers could voice their own opinions. Not that they needed the excuse – if anything defined the excitement around Allan’s exercises, it was the fantastic discussion which sprouted from many of his choices, sometimes voyaging far abroad from the starting point, spanning hundreds of comments and dozens of topics. Many of these were among the best conversations I’ve had on the internet – or anywhere else for that matter.

There were numerous contributors to the buzzing atmosphere, not least of whom was Sam Juliano, the irrepressible administrator of Wonders in the Dark, who drummed up enthusiasm and participation in Allan’s countdown with the exuberant discipline of a Falstaffian ringleader. And then, of course, there’s Allan himself. A thirtysomething Brit who has seen just about every major film known to man, he also harbors a no-bullshit attitude and a brooding sensibility. Though bruising at times, he was the perfect yin to Sam’s yang – and their odd couple routine defined the site’s bright but unpretentious tone from the get-go. More important, his virtually peerless immersion in film history provided a wealth of choices for the countdown and he drew on them with gusto. Many times his #1 (not to mention lower-ranked picks) took us by surprise and sent us scurrying to the margins of filmdom to polish off his proclaimed masterpieces.

In several paragraphs, Allan would summon up the world of the movie effortlessly, giving a bit of history and story, but focusing on the film’s mood, its connections to other movies (and books and TV shows and plays…), and whatever it is that drew him in the first place. These short, succinct, yet highly evocative pieces were intended to evoke curiosity and excitement, and in this they were assisted by an often bold and original image – a screen capture in almost all cases, snapping a picture in the midst of merry movement, making us want to see more. The remainder of this tribute focuses on these pictures. Rather than lay these images out in the order of his ranking, I’ll fuse them into a seamless portrait of movie history, a voyage into the silver screen’s past, starting with the most recent and ending with the earliest glimpses of the medium’s potential.

Click on the picture and you will be taken to the review in question. (And if you click on the picture topping this post – an arresting, sultry frame from the French miniseries “Mesrine” – you will arrive at a list of all Allan’s countdowns in numerical order.) Enjoy…

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duelle 1

by Allan Fish

(France 1976 121m) not on DVD

Aka. Duelle – une quarantaine

The Fairy Godmother

p  Stéphane Tchalgadjieff  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Eduardo de Gregorio, Marilu Parolini  ph  William Lubtchansky  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  m  none  art  Eric Simon

Bulle Ogier (Viva), Juliet Berto (Leni), Jean Babilée (Pierrot), Hermine Karagheuz (Lucie), Nicole Garcia (Jeanne/Elsa), Claire Nadeau (Sylvia Stern),

Imagine if you will that you are in a dream state akin to cine-heaven.  Imagine you are being directed around by a guide not dissimilar to the cloaked figure in Sokurov’s Russian Ark and deep within this cinematic Hermitage there is a rather neglected annex marked ‘JR’.  Here we enter the world of Jacques Rivette, and it’s not a world we enter in the normal fashion.  Next door is the world of Jean Cocteau, accessed by incanting “L’oiseau Chanté avec ses doigts” until you are able to glide through the mirror that forms the seemingly impassable doorway.  Your guide hands you some funny looking coloured sweets and, upon sucking on one for a few seconds, the walls part and you enter.  It’s a magical world, like an infinite variation of a playhouse, populated by adults.  One half expects to see Siouxsie Sioux singing ‘Happy House’ in her inimitable fashion and harlequin costume.  Within said annex we come to a door.  It’s locked.  No-one can go inside.  We see Jean-Pierre Léaud outside searching for the Thirteen, Michel Piccoli paints Emmanuelle Béart au naturel in the corner and Sandrine Bonnaire is being prepared behind a screen for her martyrdom.  (more…)

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stalker 1

by Allan Fish

(USSR 1979 161m) DVD1/2

Welcome to The Zone

d  Andrei Tarkovsky  w  Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky  novel  “Roadside Picnic” by Arkady Strugatsky, Boris Strugatsky   ph  Aleksandr Kynazhinsky  ed  Ludmila Feganova  m  Eduard Artemyev  art  Andrei Tarkovsky, R.Safiullin

Aleksandr Kaidanovsky (stalker), Anatoli Solonitsin (writer), Nikolai Grinko (professor), Alissa Freindlikh (stalker’s wife), Natasha Abramova (stalker’s daughter),

My first encounter with Tarkovsky’s existential sci-fi epic came when I was but nineteen.  Having been fascinated by his Solaris I was eager to view this later work, but in the end, as one might expect, I was unprepared for it emotionally.  To my immature teenage eyes there seemed something faintly laughable about it, its protagonists going on a journey in which, for long stretches, the danger is taken for granted and not actually demonstrated.  It was almost like that ridiculous Monty Python sketch about climbing the North Face of the Uxbridge Road.  I just wanted to cry out “get on with it!

            In the midst of an industrial wasteland called The Zone, turned to desolation following an apocalyptic event (possibly a meteorite landing), there exists a mysterious hidden room with the power to grant one’s deepest desires, but only for those with the physical and mental fortitude to make it there.  Only specialist stalkers are up to the journey, and one of them agrees to take a scientist and a writer to the room.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1977 429m) DVD1/2 (Germany only)

Aka. Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland

You are the executioner of the western world

p  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  d/w  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  ph  Dietrich Lohmann  ed  Jutta Brandstaedter  m  Gustav Mahler, W.A.Mozart, L.Van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Joseph Haydn  art  Hans Gailling

Heinz Schübert, Andre Heller, Helmut Lange, Amelie Syberberg, Harry Baer, Peter Kern,

When debating the masters of modern German cinema, most critics would concentrate on the canonical trio, Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog (with a passing nod to Reitz and Schlöndorff).  And yet arguably the most individual, ingenious and undoubtedly the most demanding, was Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.  His films are hard to see, largely unavailable on DVD anywhere in the English speaking world, but in a film that parallels Arthurian legend, the Grail analogy is a worthy one.  To see your first Syberberg is a life-changing experience, and if his entire oeuvre cannot mean as much as it would to one of his nation, his films remain idiosyncratic treatises of incredible complexity, individual “J’accuse” testimonies to provoke outrage, anger and, occasionally, a nod of acknowledgement. 

            Syberberg’s masterpiece consists of four parts, and was shown as such on West German television in the seventies; “The Grail”, “A German Dream”, “The End of a Winter’s Tale” and “We Children of Hell.”  Each part probes, examines, and generally performs a post-mortem on the reasons behind the rise and fall of Hitler, his doctrine and iconography, the psyche of the German people and even turns the accusation on the individual viewer.  As the narrator observes, it wasn’t Hitler’s ideals that were beaten but his army.  The ideals stood fast to the very end. (more…)

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barry 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1975 187m) DVD1/2

Saraband for Embalmed Lovers

p  Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams  d/w  Stanley Kubrick  novel  “The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon” by William M.Thackeray  ph  John Alcott  ed  Tony Lawson  md  Leonard Rosenman  m  Franz Schubert, W.A.Mozart, George F.Handel, J.S.Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, Giovanni Paisiello, Frederick the Great, Irish folk music  art  Ken Adam, Roy Walker, Vernon Dixon  cos  Milena Canonero, Ulla-Britt Soderlund

Ryan O’Neal (Redmond Barry/Barry Lyndon), Marisa Berenson (Lady Lyndon), Patrick Magee (The Chevalier de Baribari), Hardy Kruger (Captain Potzdorf), Leon Vitali (Lord Bullingdon), Gay Hamilton (Nora Brady), Leonard Rossiter (Captain John Quin), Murray Melvin (Rev.Samuel Runt), Godfrey Quigley (Captain Grogan), Arthur O’Sullivan (Highwayman), Diana Koerner (German girl), Marie Kean (Barry’s mother), Frank Middlemass (Sir Charles Lyndon), André Morell (Lord Wendover), Philip Stone (Graham), Steven Berkoff (Lord Ludd), Pat Roach (Cpl.Tool), Ferdy Mayne, Bernard Hepton, Anthony Sharp, Michael Hordern (Narrator),

As the Radio Times put it, a.k.a “1789: A Georgian Odyssey”.  How can I put into words my feelings for this incredibly savage film?  Taken on face value, it is probably the most pictorially beautiful film ever made; a series of breathtaking painterly images put together with the barest threads of plot, with several exquisite uses of candlelight and sunlight that remain unsurpassed for their beauty, shot by Orange lenser Alcott with equally spectacular clarity and through natural light (and with the help of the groundbreaking lenses of Carl Zeiss).  Some have said that as a narrative it’s too drawn out and far too slow.  On that score alone they are absolutely right.  However, though neither was quite as long, the same could also be said of Kubrick’s two previous visions of the future, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange.  He was forgiven there because they were prophecies of the future that must, by their very definitions, be symbolic to a point.  Those who praise A Clockwork Orange praise it not for its plot but for its savage (in more ways than one) damnation of society.  That is where people have made an understandable but fatal mistake with regards to this Thackeray adaptation.  (more…)

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scenes from 1

by Allan Fish

(Sweden 1973 299m) DVD1 (only shorter 168m version on DVD2)

Aka. Scener ur ett Aktenskap

Love in an earthly and imperfect way

p  Ingmar Bergman  d/w  Ingmar Bergman  ph  Sven Nykvist  ed  Siv Lundgren

Liv Ullmann (Marianne), Erland Josephson (Johan), Bibi Andersson, Jan Malmsjö, Anita Wall, Gunnel Lindblom,

When Ingmar Bergman made Saraband, his swansong to the cinema in his 85th year, it highlighted something I’d always suspected.  There was something about his TV drama Scenes from Marriage that made me think it was the one in which he put most of himself.  It was the first of his major TV works, and here he was, thirty years later, revisiting the same characters of Johan and Marianne, now in old age, and filming on his beloved Faro. 

            Scenes told the story of the disintegration of a bourgeois marriage after ten years of wedded bliss.  Johan goes off with another woman leaving Marianne distraught, then Bergman catches up with them again several times, intermittently, to see how their lives have progressed.  In the shorter film version the structure and the probing analysis fell apart, leaving characters it was hard to like.  In the full version we still may not entirely like them, especially the selfish Johan, and yet we know them, we feel them, and bring our own lives to the mix.  Scenes shows, unlike any other film in his canon, the doubts, fears and insecurities of relationships, the hurt, despair and anguish, coupled with the odd moment of joy.  Sex plays its part, and yet Bergman also looks at the desire just to be held; “I wish we could spend all week in bed, just cuddling” Marianne says at one point. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1971 137m) DVD1/2

A bit of the old ultraviolence

p  Stanley Kubrick, Bernard Williams  d/w  Stanley Kubrick  novel  Anthony Burgess  ph  John Alcott  ed  Bill Butler  m  Walter Carlos (including Henry Purcell, Edward Elgar, Giacchino Rossini, L.Van Beethoven, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov)  art  John Barry, Russell Hagg, Peter Shields  cos  Milena Canonero

Malcolm McDowell (Alex de Large), Patrick Magee (Mr Alexander), Michael Bates (Chief Guard), Warren Clarke (Dim), James Marcus (Georgie), Michael Tarn (Pete), Anthony Sharp (Minister of the Interior), John Clive (stage actor), Adrienne Corri (Mrs Alexander), Miriam Karlin (Miss Weathers), Carl Duering (Dr Brodsky), Clive Francis (Joe), Dave Prowse (Julian), Philip Stone (Dad), Sheila Raynor (Mum), Aubrey Morris (P.R.Deltoid), Godfrey Quigley (prison chaplain), Paul Farrell (tramp), Steven Berkoff (cop), John Savident (conspirator), Margaret Tyzack (lady conspirator),

Viddy well at this horror show cine, o my brothers.  Kubrick’s most controversial film, this was the definitive cult film in the U.K after its withdrawal from our eyes for 26 years.  (Indeed, I still remember the sweaty-palmed glee with which I devoured the film for the first time when a friend imported a video copy from the US.)  A horror comic masterpiece of sorts, without a shadow of a doubt, it follows the story of a young murderer cum rapist in a futuristic nihilistic Britain who is released from prison after undergoing the Ludovico experimental treatment, this time as a victim of society. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Poland 1973 124m) DVD2

Aka. Sanatorium podklepsydra

Here he hasn’t yet died

p  Wojciech Has  d/w  Wojciech Has  stories  Bruno Schulz  ph  Witold Sobocinski  ed  Wojciech Has  m  Jerzy Maskymiuk  art  Andrzej Plocki, Jerzy Sjarzynski

Jan Nowicki (Józef), Gustaw Holoubek (Dr Gotard), Tadeusz Kondrat (Jakub, Józef’s father), Halina Kowalska (Adela), Irena Orska (Józef’s mother), Mieczyslaw Voit (blind conductor), Bozena Adamek (Bianca), Janina Sokolowska (nurse),

Anyone who has seen Wojciech Has’s earlier phantasmagoria The Saragossa Manuscript would find it hard to believe that Has would later make another masterwork even more surreal than its predecessor.  Likewise, I’m sure that when filming stopped on Andrzej Zulawski’s The Third Part of the Night, lead actor Jan Nowicki would have been forgiven for thinking that he’d just made the weirdest film he would ever be in.  Lesson to learn – never presume anything!

            Ostensibly the plot of Sanatorium surrounds the journey made by Józef, who arrives after a long train journey at his destination, a seemingly derelict sanatorium out in the middle of nowhere where his dying father is being treated.  He’s told soon after his arrival that his father, though actually dead in Józef’s world, he’ll be brought back to life as time can be altered in the sanatorium (in the Doctor’s words, they “reactivate time past with all its possibilities”).  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1973 205m) not on DVD

Aka. Welt am Draht 

Wo ist Güenther Lause?

p  Peter Marthesheimer, Alexander Wesseman  d  Rainer Werner Fassbinder  w  Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Fritz Müller Scherz  novel  Daniel F.Galouve  ph  Michael Ballhaus, Ulrich Prinz  ed  Ursula Elles, Marie Anne Gerhardt  m  Gottfried Hünsberg  art  Horst Giese, Walter Koch, Kurt Raab

Klaus Löwitsch (Fred Stiller), Barbara Valentin (Gloria Fromm), Mascha Rabben (Eva Vollmer), Gunther Lamprecht (Fritz), Gottfried John (Einstein), Wolfgang Schenck (Franz Hahn), Karl Heinz Vosgerau (Herbert Siskins), Ulli Lommel (Rupp), Ivan Desny (Güenther Lause), Adrian Hoven (Henry Vollmer), Margit Carstensen (Maya Schmidt-Gentner), Joachim Hansen (Hans Edelkern),

Not only the forgotten masterpiece of screen science-fiction but one of the forgotten masterpieces of the screen in any genre, Fassbinder’s adaptation of Galouve’s novel is like the ultimate cinematic Kafka, a science-fiction epic which hardly any of the trappings of the genre.  We assume it’s set in the future, but aside from the technology we take for granted and a few novelties like video phones, we could just as easily be in the 1970s.  (more…)

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don't look now 1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1973 110m) DVD1/2

What is it you fear?

p  Peter Katz  d  Nicolas Roeg  w  Allan Scott, Chris Bryant  story  Daphne du Maurier  ph  Anthony Richmond  ed  Graeme Clifford  m  Pino Donaggio  art  Giovanni Soccol 

Donald Sutherland (John Baxter), Julie Christie (Laura Baxter), Hilary Mason (Heather), Celia Matriana (Wendy), Massimo Serrato (Bishop), David Tree (Anthony Babbage), Leopoldo Trieste (Hotelier), Renato Scarpa (Inspector Longhi), Giorgio Trestini (Workman), Ann Rye (Mandy Babbage), Adelina Poerio (Dwarf),

So Donald Sutherland is asked by the police inspector he visits when looking for help in tracking down his wife who he believes has returned to Venice.  His answer should perhaps be “the unknown”, for it is into this unknown that he finds himself drawn inexorably right up until the shocking finale.  Nothing is what it seems here, all emotions and factors that one takes to be as immovable as the pyramids (love, time, death) are anything but.  Many of Roeg’s films delve into the darker areas of the mystic and hint at almost otherworldliness (one thinks especially of the outback in Walkabout), but Don’t Look Now is his masterpiece and arguably the best British film of its decade. 

            Following the drowning of their small daughter, a couple meet two old sisters in Venice (where the husband is restoring a medieval church) who claim to able to speak to the girl in the next world.  The wife becomes interested, the husband suspicious, but he keeps repeatedly seeing a red-coated little figure walking the wintry alleys by the canals. (more…)

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