Archive for the ‘Allan’s up to 1929 Countdown’ Category

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by Allan Fish

(Australia/UK 2013 342m) DVD1/2

Operation Wildbird

p  Philippa Campbell  d  Jane Campion, Garth Davis  w  Jane Campion, Gerard Lee  ph  Adam Arkapaw  ed  Scott Gray, Alexandre de Franchesci  m  Mark Bradshaw  art  Fiona Crombie

Elisabeth Moss (Robin Griffin), Thomas M.Wright (Johnno), Peter Mullan (Matt Mitcham), David Wenham (Al), Skye Wansey (Grishina), Genevieve Lemon (Bunny), Robyn Malcolm (Anita), Holly Hunter (GJ), Lucy Lawless (Caroline Platt),

Can we call Jane Campion’s return to TV a return from the wilderness?  Twenty years after The Piano, still her signature work, she returned to New Zealand to make a series that may on the surface seem familiar.  There are essences of works as disparate as The Sweet Hereafter, The Silence of the Lambs, Red Riding, Twin Peaks and the Millennium trilogy.  There were some bleak, soul-destroying landscapes on offer in all of those, but this is New Zealand’s South Island.  This is not the New Zealand of Middle Earth that has so well served their tourist board since Peter Jackson’s Tolkien movies.  It’s beautiful, but it’s horrific, it’s savage, primeval.  And the locals have moulded to their landscape.

The town of Lake Top is a close-knit community and the home of detective Robin Griffin’s youth, and where she returns to visit her mother, dying of cancer, while trying to summon up the courage to make a decision on her five year engagement to a man back in Australia.  While there she is called up to act as a consultant in the case of Tui, a 12 year old girl who is found by her teachers to be pregnant.  Robin tries to find out who the father is and, against her wishes, Tui is returned to her father’s home from where she disappears.  Her father believes she’s gone into the mountains to take care of herself, while others think fouler play is afoot.      (more…)

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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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by Allan Fish

(USA 1928 115m) not on DVD

No honeymoon

p  Pat Powers, Jesse Lasky Jnr, Adolph Zukor  d  Erich Von Stroheim  w  Harry Carr, Erich Von Stroheim  ph  Hal Mohr, Ben Reynolds, Ray Rennahan  ed  Frank Hull, Josef Von Sternberg, Julian Johnson  md  Carl Davis (including various classics)  art  Erich Von Stroheim, Richard Day  cos  Erich Von Stroheim, Max Ree

Erich Von Stroheim (Prince Nicholas Ehrhart Hans Karl Maria Von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg), Fay Wray (Mitzi Schrammell), Matthew Betz (Schani Eberle), Zasu Pitts (Cecelia Schweisser), Maude George (Princess Maria Immaculata Von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg), Cesare Gravina (Herr Schrammell), George Fawcett (Prince Ottakar Von Wildeliebe-Rauffenberg), George Nicholls (Schweisser), Dale Fuller (Frau Schrammell),

The opening caption to Von Stroheim’s romantic folly confirms that it is “dedicated to the true lovers of the world.”  That in itself might seem a supremely romantic statement, were it not for the fact that Von Stroheim is referring not just to physical romantic lovers, but to true lovers of any aesthetic, in this case Von Stroheim’s beloved Vienna.  He’s not the only master director to create love letters to that most imperial of cities (Max Ophuls did so many times a few decades later), but Von Stroheim’s films have an altogether grander quality.  They are follies, but also amongst the most grandiose statements in silent cinema history.  None of his classics can be seen as originally intended; Greed, Queen Kelly and Foolish Wives only survive in grossly butchered states, and The Wedding March is actually only part one of a story which was continued in The Honeymoon, which is now probably the most sought after lost film of them all.  Originally the second film finished on a note of doomed romance.  As it is, minus the second stanza, this poem to romance leaves a somewhat cynical but in some ways more realistic aftertaste.

            The film is set in the very period prior to World War I that marked the final days of the Imperial Hapsburgs. Nikki, the hard-drinking, womanising and extravagantly living son of an impoverished aristocratic family, finally agrees to marry.  As his parents have often harangued him, he decides to “marry money” and is engaged to the crippled daughter of a wealthy industrialist.  Meanwhile he falls for a young lower class girl, Mitzi, and they enjoy a brief affair before her parents want her married off to the brutish Schani. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1924/1998 141m) not on DVD

A dentist’s tale

p  Erich Von Stroheim, Irving Thalberg  d  Erich Von Stroheim  w  Erich Von Stroheim, June Mathis  novel  “McTeague” by Frank Norris  ph  Ben Reynolds, William H.Daniels  ed  Erich Von Stroheim, Rex Ingram, Grant Whytock, June Mathis, Jos W.Farnham  Carl Davis  art  Richard Day, Cedric Gibbons   

Gibson Gowland (John ‘Doc’ McTeague), Zasu Pitts (Trina Sieppe), Jean Hersholt (Marcus Schouler), Chester Conklin (Popper Sieppe), Dale Fuller (Maria), Tempe Pigott (Mother McTeague), Silvin Ashton (Mommer Sieppe), Joan Standing (Selina),

No other film in the history of cinema fills us with such a sense of both awe and loss.  Loss because of what the characters go through during the film’s duration, but even more for the loss of the director’s original intention.  Greed was butchered like no other film was butchered, and unlike many such films of the modern era, there is no chance of a director’s cut ever emerging.  Von Stroheim’s masterpiece was edited down from well over a hundred hours of stock footage to an original length of 8½ hours, from which it was cut to exactly seven for its premiere.  When Irving Thalberg insisted he cut it down to a commercial length, Von Stroheim sent it to another artist on the MGM roster, his friend Rex Ingram, whose editor Grant Whytock helped him cut it down to 3¼ hours.  Refusing to cut any more, Ingram handed it back, but it was then further cut by June Mathis to 2¼, as it survives to this day.  It’s amazing it still stands as a masterpiece.

            The story is made into a tragedy of human despair and greed worthy of Hugo and Zola, as we follow McTeague from his beginnings in a gold mine in 1908 to his being sent away by his mother to learn dentistry from a charlatan.  Setting up in San Francisco, he comes to know Marcus, who introduces him to Trina, a delicate young girl whose teeth he fixes.  Marrying her, their life is thrown into turmoil when Trina wins an illegal lottery and she hoards the money from husband and friend alike, while McTeague is slowly driven to madness and violent retribution. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1927/1980 234m/324m) DVD4 (Australia only – 234m version)

Proud as an eagle

p/d/w  Abel Gance  ph  Jules Kruger, Léonce-Henry Burel  ed  Abel Gance, Marguerite Pinson  m  Carl Davis/Carmine Coppola (orig.Arthur Honegger)  art  Alexandre Benois, J.Schildnecht, Eugène Lourié  ph-spc  Simon Feldman

Albert Dieudonné (Napoleon Bonaparte), Vladimir Roudenko (Napoleon as a boy), Gina Manès (Josephine), Nicolas Koline (Tristan Fleuri), Alexandre Koubitsky (Danton), Annabella (Violine), Edmond Van Daële (Robespierre), Antonin Artaud (Marat), Léon Courtois (Carteaux), Philipe Hériat (Salicetti), Pierre Batcheff (Hoche), Abel Gance (Saint-Just), Jean d’Yid (La Bussière), Marguerite Gance (Charlotte Corday),

There are two great miracles to take into account when examining Abel Gance’s 1927 masterpiece; firstly that it was made in the first place and secondly that it has survived to universal critical approval.  The original version, which clocked in at six hours, is long lost, and even Kevin Brownlow’s 324m print with Carl Davis’ music has been unseen since Channel 4 last showed it to commemorate the bicentennial of the French Revolution in 1989 (and was minus the final widescreen Triptych that still amazes to this day).  The only version generally available is the Coppolas under four hour print, but those who retain copies of the Brownlow restoration from TV know the real power.

            The story essentially covers Napoleon’s formative years – from his schooldays at Brienne in 1781, through to the Italian campaigns in the late 1790s – but right from the first shots in the snow at Brienne as Napoleon plays at snow battles with his school friends and enemies, one is not only hooked but aware of cinema history being made.  Here was a truly revolutionary film about the Revolution, and nearly eighty years on, one can safely say that there has never been a film like it.  Gance lets his camera dance and move and almost go crazy in a way few have tried since, let alone succeeded; he uses multiple exposure, quick fire editing to out-do Eisenstein, split-screen (not only in two, but three and even at one point nine!!!).  Not to mention the innovations such as placing cameras in huge pendulum devices to simulate the rough sea (corresponding to “the raging whirlpool of the Reign of Terror” in the film) and handheld camera for crowd and party sequences.  It’s a symphony of experimentation that still influences today – the escape from Corsica paid homage by Peter Jackson (think Black Riders, Liv Tyler and waves).  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 1928 83m) DVD1

Aka. The Passion of Joan of Arc

Cinematic sainthood

p/d  Carl T.Dreyer  w  Carl T.Dreyer, Joseph Delteil, Pierre Champion  ph  Rudolph Maté  ed  Carl T.Dreyer  art  Hermann Warm, Jean Hugo  cos  Valentine Hugo

Renée Falconetti (Joan), Eugène Silvain (Bishop Cauchon), Maurice Schutz (Nicholas Loyseleur), Michel Simon (Jean Lemaitre), Antonin Artaud (Massieu), Louis Ravet (Jean Beaupère), André Berley (Jean d’Estivet), Jean d’Yid (Judge),

Joan of Arc has long been the subject of cinematic interpretation.  One recalls de Mille’s visually arresting but dramatically stultifying epic Joan the Woman with Geraldine Farrar, the awful 1948 Hollywood borefest with Ingrid Bergman, the derided Saint Joan with Jean Seberg, the 1962 minimalist Bresson version with Florence Carrez and the more recent attempts with Leelee Sobieski and Milla Jovovich.  Only Marco de Gastyne’s overlooked 1929 La Merveilleuses Vie de Jeanne d’Arc and Rivette’s 1994 epic two parter, Jeanne la Pucelle, come close to greatness, but even Rivette – in spite of the performance of Sandrine Bonnaire – fails to rival Dreyer’s seminal masterpiece.  Put simply, Dreyer’s film is a true visionary work, a film of startling freshness and power. 

            The film is based strictly on the actual 1431 Rouen trial records preserved in the parliamentary library in Paris.  As one of the titles says “we discover Joan as she was – not with a helmet and armour, but simply a human being, a young woman who dies for her country.”  Whether Joan was indeed a blessed chaste saint or merely a misguided nationalist with insane visions is immaterial.  At its heart, Dreyer’s film isn’t just about Joan, but about faith itself.  It doesn’t matter whether we believe her, but that she believes herself.  Either way it’s impossible, even for one of the nation to whom she proved such a bane, not to feel some sympathy for her plight.  “It is you who have been sent by the devil to torment me” she proclaims at one point, and it would take a hard man not to sympathise.  However, the overall feeling one gets as we watch the trial go on its remorseless, relentless way to its inevitable infernal conclusion, sometimes makes one forget just how revolutionary its approach was.  No film before or since has used close-ups so menacingly or so effectively.  No film has ever had such majestic period sets and then basically refused to show them.  Dreyer’s camera is restless, rarely remaining still unless to dwell on the face of an accuser or the eponymous accused.  The effect is shattering, its faces closing in as if accusing you the viewer.  You feel every humiliation Joan receives and the final execution is surely one of the most realistic ever put on camera.  We literally see Joan burning to virtually the last fibre of her being, long after we can recognise the cross she clutches to her chest.  Religious figure or not, she is a martyr to her own beliefs, and for that alone we can only sit in awe.  With no action or romance, only the sheer emotional pain of the ultimate cinematic experiment, is it any wonder it failed commercially? (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1924 155m) DVD1/2

Happiness must be earned

p  Douglas Fairbanks  d  Raoul Walsh (and Douglas Fairbanks)  w  Douglas Fairbanks, Lotta Woods  book  “The 1001 Nights” ph  Arthur Edeson  ed  William Nolan  md  Carl Davis  m  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov  art  William Cameron Menzies, Anton Grot  cos  Mitchell Leisen  spc  Ned Mann  restoration tinting  Ron Sayer

Douglas Fairbanks (Ahmed the thief), Julianne Johnston (Princess of Bagdad), Snitz Edwards (thief friend), Anna May Wong (Monol slave), Brandon Hurst (Caliph of Bagdad), So-Jin (Prince of the Mongols), Noble Johnson (Indian Prince), Mathilde Comont (Persian Prince), Charles Belcher, Etta Lee,

Right, here’s the scenario.  You are in a cell on Death Row with a DVD player or a VCR and you are being allowed one film to watch the night before you die, but only have a library of silent films to choose from.  Well forgive me Messieurs Chaplin, Keaton, Gance, Eisenstein, Murnau, et al when I say that there is only one choice; Doug Fairbanks’ fantasy The Thief of Bagdad.  Not only is it my favourite silent of them all, it’s one of the best.  Without it (and Lang’s Die Nibelungen) fantasy in the cinema may not have come as far as it has today as this one set the rules.  It also stands as a testament to that most joyous of silent stars, Douglas Fairbanks, who David Thomson perfectly described as a “transforming movie actor whose presence so embodied the spirit of naïve adventure.”

            It differs quite a bit from the later Korda version of the tale; for starters, it basically combines the role of the thief with the heroic prince.  The eponymous Ahmed is a thief who obtains a magic rope to help him into the palace for acts of larceny, only to fall in love with the princess.  When the princess later challenges her several suitors (including a megalomaniacal Mongol) to bring back the rarest treasure to win her hand, Fairbanks enters into the fray, going through adventures in such wonderfully corny places as the Valley of Fire, the Valley of the Monsters, the Cavern of Enchanted Trees and the Abode of the Winged Horse on his way to the Old Man of the Midnight Sea.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1922 96m) DVD1/2

Aka. Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie des Grauens

A true symphony of horrors

Albin Grau  d  Friedrich W.Murnau  w  Henrik Galeen  novel  “Dracula” by Bram Stoker  ph  Fritz Arno Wagner, Günther Krampf  m  Hans Erdmann/James Bernard/Art Zoyd  art/cos  Albin Grau 

Max Schreck (Count Orlock), Alexander Granach (Knock, the estate agent), Gustav Von Wangenheim (Wutter), Greta Schröder (Ellen),

Werner Herzog is of the belief that Nosferatu is the greatest German film ever made and certainly it would have to be a serious contender to that crown, and Herzog paid it his own homage with a fair remake with the loathsome Klaus Kinski in 1979.  However, there is only one version of the tale and Murnau’s film, freely adapted from Bram Stoker’s masterpiece of Gothic horror, is the greatest vampire film of them all, a film that truly lives up to its subtitle, “a symphony of horrors.”  If it were a symphony, it’s worthy of those eternal children of the night Dowland, Moussorgsky, Borodin and Kilar.

            Many versions of Dracula have followed, with the 1931 Universal (with the immortal Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye) and the 1958 Hammer (covered previously) standing out and a mention in despatches for the romantic Frank Langella.  They may indeed stick closer to the novel and keep the characters’ names, but the very term ‘Nosferatu’ isn’t just referring to the undead, rather a sort of pestilent plague that spreads after sunset.  Indeed the opening titles refer to the tale that follows as “A Chronicle of the Great Death of Wisborg – 1838.”  The story, which we shall not waste space detailing, may be changed radically from the original, being set in Germany and Transylvania rather than England and with rather dramatic changes to the rest of the characters, but it’s still a truly disquieting movie to this day.  There are scenes here that truly chill over eighty years on; the first vision of the Count, beckoning on his guest into the castle with cadaverous glee, lusting after his blood when he pricks his finger; the shot of Orlock standing on the deck of the ship of the dead; the immortal shadow of Orlock climbing the stairs and unlocking Ellen’s room; his death as the sun rises over the very houses opposite which he owns; and arguably most memorably of all, the numerous shots of sunsets and sunrises over the German countryside.  Murnau has always been fascinated with temptation and the symbolism of sunlight and of the earth itself (just check out The Burning Soil, for example), but never has it been more prevalent than here in his first true masterpiece.  It’s here that we first see the imagery that would be so perfectly deployed in Hollywood in Sunrise(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(Germany 1927/2010 150m) DVD1/2

I’ve just met two girls named Maria

p  Erich Pommer  d  Fritz Lang  w  Thea Von Harbou  ph  Karl Freund, Günther Rittau  Gottfried Huppertz   art  Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht  spc  Eugene Schüfftan

Brigitte Helm (Maria), Alfred Abel (John Fredersen), Güstav Fröhlich (Freder Fredersen), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Prof.Rotwang), Fritz Rasp (Slim), Theodore Loos (Josephat), Erwin Biswanger (11811), Heinrich George (Grot), Olaf Storm (Jan),

Fritz Lang’s supreme folly and the most ambitious silent film ever made, UFA’s flagship sci-fi fantasy has it all.  It has influenced more films directly than almost any other (take Things to Come, Frankenstein, Modern Times, The Fifth Element, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner to name but half a dozen), nearly ruined its studio financially but now stands out as arguably their greatest achievement.  Some may decry the somewhat naïve politics and religious symbolism, and the finale is certainly quite laughable, but its message rings clear.

            Metropolis is a giant city circa 2000 A.D.  Its workers live underground in an ant-commune like city whilst the children of the rich, with its Club of the Sons, play idly above ground in their mansions and stadiums.  Almost unconscious of their totalitarian power, the young rich only have their eyes opened when a young woman, Maria, comes to the Eternal Gardens with a group of slum children.  Freder, son of the master of the city, is fascinated by her and follows her underground and sees for himself the poverty.  But when his father persuades a professor, Rotwang, to create a model Maria to replace the real one and stamp out any revolutionary tendencies, things take a turn for the worse. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1926 80m) DVD1/2

General hilarity

p  Joseph M.Schenck  d  Buster Keaton, Clyde Bruckman  w  Al Boasberg, Charles Smith  ph  J.Devereux Jennings, Bert Haines  ed  Sherman Kell  art  Fred Gabourie

Buster Keaton (Johnnie Gray), Marion Mack (Annabelle Lee), Glen Cavender (Capt.Anderson), Jim Farley (Gen.Thatcher), Frederick Vroom (Southern General), Charles Smith (Mr Lee), Frank Barnes (Annabelle’s brother), Joe Keaton (Union general),

What was the greatest Civil War film of the silent era?  The Birth of a Nation?  Nah, milestone in cinema history though it was and included in this list though it might be, there is only one truly, truly great Civil War silent; Buster Keaton’s crowning glory, arguably the funniest silent film ever made, The General.  It’s a great comedy, a great action film and a great film full stop.  It really doesn’t get much better than this.

            At the time of the Civil War’s outbreak in 1861, Johnnie Gray is an engineer on the Western and Atlantic Railroad and he loves his train nearly as much as his girl.  However, his efforts to enlist are turned down by the Confederacy as he’s too valuable to the South as an engineer.  His girl doesn’t think so, believing him a coward and promptly refuses to see him until he’s in uniform.  Dejected he returns to his train, but a year on fate makes him the sole potential rescuer of the girl when her train is hijacked by Unionist forces when she is on the way to see her injured father.  It becomes a race against time for Johnnie to rescue his girl and report back of the Unionist plans which he has overheard to the Southern generals and thus save the day.  (more…)

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