Archive for the ‘Allan’s 80s 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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I draw the reader’s attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of the main piece…

heaven's 2

(USA 1980 219m) DVD1

In principle, everything can be done

p  Johann Carelli  d  Michael Cimino  Michael Cimino  ph  Vilmos Zsigmond  ed  Tom Rolf, William Reynolds, Lisa Fruchtman, Gerald Greenberg  m  David Mansfield  art  Tambi Larsen, Spencer Deverill, Maurice Fowler  cos  Allen Highfill

Kris Kristofferson (James Averill), Isabelle Huppert (Ella Watson), Christopher Walken (Nathan D.Champion), John Hurt (Billy Irvine), Sam Waterston (Frank Canton), Brad Dourif (Mr Eggleston), Joseph Cotten (Rev.Doctor), Jeff Bridges (John L.Bridges), Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Masur, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Elizabeth McGovern,

Among a host of monumental films that bombed at the box office, stretching back to Intolerance through La Fin du Monde and Cleopatra, Heaven’s Gate surely still holds pride of place.  Even now the very term ‘a Heaven’s Gate’ is synonymous for financial debacles in the movie industry.  For here was a director, Michael Cimino, fresh from the almost universal praise allotted to his The Deer Hunter, given carte blanche to make whatever film he liked by a studio – United Artists – that would come to regret it.  For all the endless vitriol and critical mutilation (one recalls Pauline Kael sharpening her poison quill with “it was easy to see what to cut, but when I tried afterward to think of what to keep, my mind went blank”), Cimino’s film deserves placing altogether higher in the eyes of posterity.  To these eyes, it’s a far better film than The Deer Hunter, for all that film’s merits. 

            Twenty years after graduating from Harvard, James Averill returns to Caspar, Wyoming, after a visit to the east, and finds the town crowded with poverty and an incontrollable influx of immigrants.  Soon after, he meets old friend Billy Irvine, who informs him over a game of pool that there is a death list of 125 settlers the wealthy cattle barons want to eliminate.  Returning to Sweet Water, Johnson County, James delivers a present to his beloved Ella, the young immigrant madam of a brothel.  To complicate matters, the cattle baron’s hired gun, Nathan Champion, also loves Ella. (more…)

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once upon 1

(USA 1984 228m) DVD1/2

An appointment at Fat Moe’s

p  Arnon Milchan  d  Sergio Leone  w  Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero de Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Stuart Kaminsky, Sergio Leone  novel  “The Hoods” by David Aaronson, Harry Grey  ph  Tonino delli Colli  ed  Nino Baragli  m  Ennio Morricone (with Giaocchino Rossini, Cole Porter, Joseph M.Lacalle, Lennon & McCartney)  art  Carlo Simi, James Singelis  cos  Gabriella Pescucci, Nino Baragli

Robert DeNiro (David “Noodles” Aaronson), James Woods (Max), Elizabeth McGovern (Deborah), Treat Williams (Jimmy O’Donnell), William Forsythe (Cockeye), Tuesday Weld (Carol), Burt Young (Joe), Danny Aiello (Police Chief Aiello), Joe Pesci (Frankie), Jennifer Connelly (Young Deborah), Larry Rapp (Fat Moe Markowitz), James Russo,

Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone’s defining statement as a filmmaker, one that it effectively took him twelve years to conceive and make.  It wasn’t helped by the fact that Leone’s masterpiece was butchered in the US to 149m with the sort of careless glee not seen since Jack the Ripper roamed Whitechapel and, like so many other masterpieces of the eighties (see Kurosawa’s Ran and Bergman’s full Fanny and Alexander), it was made by a man a generation after his peak, but it’s also one of the greatest films of its decade. 

            Noodles Aaronson has been summoned back to New York 35 years after all his friends were supposedly killed after a robbery went wrong.  He knows not why he’s been summoned or, apart from a name, who by, but he starts to piece together the pieces while looking back at his childhood before World War I in New York’s Jewish quarter. (more…)

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singing det

(UK 1986 415m) DVD1/2

Ten cents a dance, fella

p  John Harris, Kenith Trodd  d  Jon Amiel  w  Dennis Potter  ph  Ken Westbury  ed  Bill Wright, Sue Wyatt  m  Stanley Myers  art  Jim Clay

Michael Gambon (Philip Marlow), Patrick Malahide (Mark Binney), Alison Steadman (Lili), Joanne Whalley (Nurse Mills), David Ryall (Mr Hall), Ron Cook (1st mysterious man), George Rossi (2nd mysterious man), Janet Suzman (Nicola), Leslie French (“Noddy” Tomkey), Bill Paterson (Dr Gibbon), Ken Stott (Uncle John), Jim Carter (Mr Marlow), Gerald Horan (Reginald Gibbs), Sharon Clarke (night nurse), Imelda Staunton (Nurse White), Badi Uzzaman (Ali), Janet Henfrey (schoolteacher), Lyndon Davies (Philip, aged 10), David Thewlis (soldier),

Following the transmission of the first episodes of Dennis Potter’s magnum opus on BBC1, their viewer response show Points of View was bombarded with complaints from the Mary Whitehouse brigade, including a mirthfully Pythonesque response from Colonel R.S.Vine, BSc, MRCS, LRCP, FRC Path, who called it “this extraordinarily obscene production.”  It still amazes me how truly shatteringly narrow-minded the average person is – and was – in the so-called modern age, and I’m sure it left Potter equally aghast.  It was as if sex was the only thing that The Singing Detective was about, when in actual fact it was but one layer of many.  Rather than showcase Potter as having a filthy mind, they were actually uncovering their own shortcomings. (more…)

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berlin alex 1

(West Germany 1980 921m) DVD1/2

There is a reaper, he is called Death

p  Peter Marthesheimer  d/w  Rainer Werner Fassbinder  novel  Alfred Döblin  ph  Xavier Schwarzenberger  ed  Jiliane Lorenz  m  Peer Raben  art  Harry Baer

Günter Lamprecht (Franz Biberkopf), Hanna Schygulla (Eva), Barbara Sukowa (Mieze), Gottfried John (Reinhold), Franz Buchrieser (Meck), Karin Baal (Minna), Peter Kolleck (Nachum), Elisabeth Trissenaar (Lina), Brigitte Mira (Frau Bast), Hans Zander (Eliser), Margit Carstensen (1st angel), Helmut Griem (2nd angel), Ivan Desny (Pums), Claus Holm (Max), Helen Vita (Franze), Hark Bohm (Lüders), Annemarie Düringer (Cilly), Roger Fritz (Herbert), Barbara Valentin (Ida), Rainer Werner Fassbinder (narrator),

There have been many truly great television drama serials made and many of them have been wonderful adaptations of classic novels (such as Granada’s Brideshead Revisited), yet Berlin Alexanderplatz is so much more than just a magisterial monumental adaptation of a piece of literature, it is the best pictorial and dramatic representation of any city at any given time as has yet been offered.  Not that Döblin’s masterpiece is the only book to so capture a time and a place (one thinks of Petronius’ Satyricon for 1st century A.D. Rome and Joyce’s Ulysses for Dublin), but those works have proved rather elusive on screen.  Fassbinder not only captured the essence of Döblin’s work, but in some ways improved on it, adding his own perspective, most notably in the phantasmagoric epilogue, which dispenses with plot for the most part, instead presenting a hallucinatory descent into a man’s near fatal madness, mixed with Wagner, Strauss, Glenn Miller, Kraftwerk, Dean Martin, Leonard Cohen, Lou Reed and sacrilegious imagery.  The result is overpowering, egotistical but also essential Fassbinder, and one of the greatest in the German cinema. (more…)

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Dekalog (no 5)


(Poland 1988 559m) DVD1/2

Aka. The Decalogue/The Ten Commandments

More monumental than Sinai

p  Ryszard Chutkowski  d  Krzysztof Kieslowski  w  Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krsysztof Piesewicz  ph  Wieslaw Zdort, Edward Klosinski, Piotr Sobocinski, Krzysztof Pakulski, Slawomir Idziak, Witold Amadek, Dariusz Kus, Andrzej Jaroszewicz, Jacek Blawut  ed  Ewa Smal  m  Zbigniew Preisner  art  Halina Dobrowolska

Henryk Baranowski (Krzysztof), Wojciech Klata (Pawel), Maja Komorowska (Irena), Krystyna Janda (Dorota), Aleksander Bardini (Consultant), Olgierd Lukaszwicz (Andrzej), Daniel Olbrychski (Janusz), Maria Pakulnis (Ewa), Joanna Szczepkowska (Janusz’ wife), Adrianna Biedrzynska (Anka), Janusz Gajos (Michel), Miroslaw Baka (Lazar Jacek), Krzysztof Globisz (Piotr), Jan Tesarz (Taxi driver), Grazyna Szapolowska (Magda), Olaf Lubaszenko (Tomek), Stegania Iwinska (Godmother), Anna Polony (Ewa), Maja Barelkowska (Majka), Wladyslaw Kowalski (Stefan), Boguslaw Linda (Wojtek), Maria Koscialkowska (Sofia), Teresa Marczewska (Elzbieta), Tadeusz Lomnicki (Tailor), Ewa Blaszczyk (Hanka), Piotr Machalica (Roman), Jerzy Stuhr (Jerzy), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Artur), Henryk Bista (Shopkeeper), Artur Barcis (recurring cyclist/man),

Oh, how to convey so briefly the essence of Kieslowski’s masterpiece.  Books could be written on it alone, a vast, yet intimate tapestry of daily lives colliding in one small Warsaw apartment block, Dekalog is, in its basic essence, a series of ten tales based loosely on the morals of the Ten Commandents.  Each is quite wonderful taken individually, but collectively, they are a shattering, unforgettable experience.  So shattering that even the extended versions of parts five and six, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, could not be considered, being as they are cogs in a much greater machine.  (more…)

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Heimat (no 6)

heimat1 copy

(West Germany 1984 923m) DVD1/2

Aka. Heimat: Eine Deutsche Chronik/Homeland

A 1938 film, starring Zarah Leander

p/d  Edgar Reitz  w  Edgar Reitz, Peter Steinbach  ph  Gernot Roll  ed  Heidi Handorf  m  Nikos Mamangakis  art  Franz Bauer

Marita Breuer (Maria Wiegand-Simon), Michael Lesch (young Paul Simon), Dieter Schaad (older Paul Simon), Karin Kienzler (Pauline Simon), Eva Maria Bayerswaltes (older Pauline Simon), Rüdiger Weigang (Eduard Simon), Karin Rasenack (Lucie), Peter Harting (Hermann Simon), Jörg Richter (young Hermann Simon), Gertrude Bredel (Katharina Simon), Willi Berger (Mathias Simon), Johannes Lobewein (Alois Wiegand), Kurt Wagner (Glasisch-Karl), Eva Marie Schneider (Marie-Goot), Manfred Kühn (Wirt), Hans-Jürgen Schaltz (Wilfried Wiegand), Jörg Hube (Otto Wohlleben), Sabine Wagner (Martha), Helga Bender (Martina), Arno Lang (Kröber),

Just think for a minute of that magical photo library in Shooting the Past and let’s assume a fiction within the fiction and make this proposition; if there was a small cardboard box on a shelf in that establishment marked Schabbach, Hunsrück, Germany (c.1919-1982), could the photographs therein, many of them taken by local resident Eduard Simon, have told the story that Edgar Reitz and his collaborators here unfold?  The answer is of course negative, and yet having seen the lives taking place, each of the photographs we see in the narrated recaps at the beginning of individual episodes strikes a memory, which of course sums up the dual magic of photographs; instant remembrance for those who witnessed, and a source of much fantasy for those who do not. (more…)

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asthenic 1

(USSR 1989 153m) not on DVD

Aka. Asteniceskij Sindrom

A bottleful of sadness has been spilt

p  Micha Lampert, Kira G.Muratova  d  Kira G.Muratova  w  Kira G.Muratova, Sergei Popov, Alexander Tschernych  ph  Vladimir Pankov  ed  Vladimir Olinik  m  Franz Schubert  art  Oleg Ivanov

Olga Antonova (Natasha), Sergei Popov (Nikolai), Galina Zakhrudayeva (Masha – blonde), Natalya Buzko (Masha – brunette), Pavel Polishchuk (Iunikov), Natalya Ralleva (mother), Aleksandra Svenskaya (teacher),

Surely one of the least seen of all great films of the last twenty-five years, director Kira Muratova’s magnum opus is one of the most taxing films you’ll ever see.  Though my introduction aimed to try and open up new possibilities to the popcorn munching brigade, this one probably isn’t for their membership.  I’d suggest that they try, but I think in converting people to watching foreign, and especially difficult foreign movies, one must start them off in more favourable surroundings; start with Cinema Paradiso, Crouching Tiger, some Kurosawa and the Claude Berri Pagnol films and work from there.  This, one might say, is a graduation assignment.

              Syndrome opens in stark monochrome at a funeral, where the deceased’s wife suddenly bursts into extreme hysteria and walks away from the graveside.  The mourners follow her, but she tells them in no uncertain terms to “go to hell”, and stomps off to deal with her grief in her own way.  That way involves changing into the epitome of rude, aggressive offence, deliberately pushing people over in the street, insulting people, including one’s boss in the act of resigning, and even slapping a man and bursting into hysterics when he answers in the negative when she asks whether he’ll sleep with her.  She picks up a drunk, offers sex, and then screams as she throws him out afterwards. (more…)

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(Sweden 1982 309m) DVD1/2

Aka. Fanny och Alexander

One role follows another

p  Jörn Donner  d/w  Ingmar Bergman  ph  Sven Nykvist  ed  Sylvia Ingemarsson  m  Daniel Bell  art  Anna Asp  cos  Marik Vos

Pernilla Allwin (Fanny Ekdahl), Bertil Guve (Alexander Ekdahl), Jan Malmsjö (Bishop Edvard Vergerus), Ewa Fröling (Emilie Ekdahl), Gunn Wallgren (Helena Ekdahl), Allan Edwall (Oscar Ekdahl), Boerje Ahlstadt (Prof.Carl Ekdahl), Christina Schollin (Lydia Ekdahl), Jarl Kulle (Gustav-Adolph Ekdahl), Pernilla Wallgren (Maj), Mona Malm (Alma Ekdahl), Gunnar Björnstrand (Filip Landahl), Erland Josephson (Isak Jacobi), Harriet Andersson (Justina), Lena Olin (Rosa), Anna Bergman, Kirsten Tidelius,

Ingmar Bergman’s final masterpiece has been called many things; a childhood rhapsody, an elegy to the past, a subtly intricate family saga, a compendium of his entire oeuvre and a ravishing recreation of turn of the century Sweden.  In truth it’s all these things and much more.  All Bergman’s favourite themes run through its five hours, from life and death to love and sex, from food and drink to fidelity and marriage, from faith and truth to pleasure and lies, from childhood and family to grief and joy, with more than a little time for dreams and ghosts.  It’s not only a masterpiece but a summation of one man’s brilliant career.  As Bergman himself has said, “Fanny and Alexander is the sum total of my life as a filmmaker.”

            The tale covers the lives and loves of the Ekdahl family in the small town of Uppsala, beginning in Christmas 1907.  During this family gathering, which was very much a Scandinavian institution, the servants mingle with the gentry and the gentry eye up the maids.  However, the almost detached reality of this holiday period is soon shattered when the father of the two eponymous children dies suddenly of a heart attack and his bereaved mother agrees to marry a local puritanical bishop.          (more…)

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The Shining (no 9)


(US/UK 1980 146m) DVD1 (114m only on DVD2)


p/d  Stanley Kubrick  w  Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson  novel  Stephen King  ph  John Alcott  ed  Ray Lovejoy  m  Bela Bartok, Wendy/Walter Carlos, Rachel Elkind, Gyorgi Ligeti, Krzysztof Penderecki  art  Roy Walker, Leslie Tomkins 

Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrence), Shelley Duvall (Wendy Torrence), Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrence), Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann), Barry Nelson (Stuart Ullman), Philip Stone (Delbert Grady), Joseph Turkel (Lloyd, the barman), Anne Jackson (doctor),

Of all the puzzling enigmas at the heart of Kubrick’s bona fide horror masterpiece, the biggest that still plagues me is rather why he saw fit to shorten the film for its UK release from the version that showed elsewhere.  In the UK it is only shown in the full 2½ hour version on TCM, Kubrick himself having had control over his movies in the UK (which of course allowed him to withdraw A Clockwork Orange so famously).  At the time of its release, like Barry Lyndon before it, it was roundly misunderstood and jeered; critics and audiences expected a horror movie and a transcription of King’s novel.  They failed to understand that source novels are merely the bare bones upon which Kubrick fleshes out his movies with something deeper that interests him more.  What is so baffling is that the shorter version, though tighter, misses a pivotal early sequence with Lloyd, Duvall and Jackson’s psychiatrist, which at least goes some way to explaining one aspect of the piece, if not remotely all. 

            Jack Torrence is a recovering alcoholic who has had trouble in the past getting started on writing a novel and has come to the Rocky Mountain resort of the Overlook Hotel to become the site’s new winter caretaker during the off-season.  He brings with him his wife and his young son, Danny, who unbeknownst to his parents, is possessed with a special gift of sight which the hotel chef, also a possessor of the ability, is the only one to recognise.  Jack slowly begins to feel at home at the hotel, and thinks he’s been there before, but the atmosphere proceeds to send him insane, much like a previous holder of the post, who killed his family several years earlier. (more…)

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