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Archive for the ‘author Dean Treadway’ Category

By Dean Treadway

very nice 3

In this. the first Allan Fish Online Film Festival, devised by the site’s co-founder Sam Juliano after the untimely death of our British co-hort Allan Fish, Sam has asked many of the site’s contributors to throw in on a film festival designed to highlight Fish’s obviously consuming love of cinema. Many of the contributors here have many superlative things to say about Allan, each of them having a long online (and sometimes face-to-face) correspondence with the man. But I feel it’s correct to, at this point, detail my own run-ins with this completely genius-level film lover.

It’s really simple: Allan hated me. He thought I was a complete amateur as a film commentator, and frankly, I think he may have been correct, at least in comparison to himself. There is no way I could compete with Allan as a film expert; he had me beat (though I never realized this was a competition). His curiosity in viewing movies was incomparable. He could casually watch movies from Turkey, Columbia, France, Nambia, New Zealand, Bulgaria, South Korea, Peru, and Vietnam with as much zeal as I could watching films from the United States and Britain. He understood that I have an Ugly American’s view of film: they’re better if they’re in English. He was right there, and it made me slightly angry that he had my number. I could never match his curiosity toward world cinema and, further, I also couldn’t come close to his succinct mastery of the English language detailing that passion. We never shared a conversation, personally or online, leading to detante with one another. He insulted me directly many times in the comments section of this website. These comments did sting, but I never held them against him. I knew he knew more about the subject than I did, so I let it all slide (though I could give an insult back to him that matched the one he lobbed to me–“pretentious gasbag” comes to mind here; and I should say, he was wrong many times).

allan

Still, I admired him greatly. I tried to tell him this, but I don’t think he ever accepted my appreciation of his work. I guess he thought it was disingenuous (he was never one to respond favorably to sentiment, anyway). In the Wonders in the Dark yearly overviews–a project that took nearly two years to complete–I eventually got so fed up with his attempts to shape every year’s cinematic output according to what he thought was notable, I asked Sam if I could throw in some possibilities for each year, in order to make the project more complete and fair. I would add films and performances and artistic contributions to each year’s round up, and many of them were from films Allan had wholly disowned (and yet some of the elements that I added ended up winning the best of their respective year, so many of the people contributing to the site disagreed with him). Allan vehemently disliked my horning in on his well-determined territory, yet I thought this collective project of ours deserved to be completed with all possibilities considered. This did not result in a joyous collaboration. To him, I was a totally dismissible outlier with pedestrian tastes.

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innocents 9

By Dean Treadway

In the realm of horror movies, Jack Clayton’s The Innocents is beyond reproach. And we all realize the horror genre is overflowing with creepy kids. But in the realm of movies about children–the subject of this ongoing series–how does this film fare? The answer is complicated, but assured.

In this exquisite adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the images are boldly frightening, sexually suggestive, deceptively lush, and idiosyncratically shot in dreamy black-and-white Cinemascope by Freddie Francis. Deborah Kerr, in her own favorite of her many acclaimed performances, plays a repressed nanny whose new charges–the alternately rambunctious and preternaturally mature orphans Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens–prove to be more than her nerves or her faith can take. Is this secluded mansion she now oversees haunted by the ghosts of two sexually libertine servants? Or is she merely being put through the ringer by a couple of untrustworthy brats?

Even before the credits roll, we hear a thin, girlish voice (meant to recall the young tones of our female ingenue Pamela Franklin, here playing Flora, though it could also be the voice of the deceased governess Miss Jessel). Words are put to a vaguely secluded theme that soon becomes the movie’s niggling, incessant refrain. Written by composer George Auric and lyricist Paul Dehn, it’s a suitably ancient-sounding tune called “O Willow Waly,” and it reeks of a particularly lonely menace as we sit in the dark, waiting for a movie to begin like we’ve never waited for a movie to begin before or since: (more…)

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unbearable

By Dean Treadway

Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being arrived in 1984 when the author, then and now based in France, was approaching his 10-year anniversary in exile from Czechoslovakia, his homeland. In Eastern Europe, his books–often baldly critical of the Communist regime that had taken over his country in 1968–had routinely been banned from publication, and Kundera himself was in fact stripped of his Czech citizenship in 1979 (he has since insisted on being considered a novelist of French origin). The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the last of his works to have an overtly political bent, was a fin de siècle which followed in a non-linear fashion the lives of five European citizens: Tomas, a 50-ish brain surgeon and womanizer; Sabina, the strong-willed artist with whom he has a iron-clad erotic connection; Tereza, the meek yet floridly emotional photographer who captures his heart (even perhaps against his will); Franz, the Swiss professor who naively falls for Sabina upon her escape to Geneva following the Prague Spring of 1968; and Simon, Tomas’ estranged son from a previous marriage.

When producer Saul Zaentz–who had won two Oscars producing films by Czech émigré Milos Forman–settled upon Kundera’s novel as his follow-up to the immensely successful Amadeus, he opted not with Forman’s services at the helm, but instead with Philip Kaufman, who was perhaps still reeling from the box-office drubbing that greeted his adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. One wonders why Zaentz settled on Kaufman rather than Forman, who certainly would have been able to lend more Eastern European authenticity to this adaptation. However, given that Kaufman had already successfully transferred Wolfe’s “unfilmable” book to screen and that Kundera’s work was similarly afflicted with such a label, Zaentz’s decision made sense. Furthermore, the hiring of master screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière as Kaufman’s co-screenwriter was another encouraging stroke. Carrière had already built an unparalleled career working with some of the world’s finest directors (Luis Bunuel, chief amongst them) on pieces focusing in on the delicate, often dark romantic dance between men and women, so he was perfect for this assignment. The screenwriters first jettisoned the novel’s non-linear structure in order to center in on the real story at its core: the love triangle between Tomas, Sabina and Tereza. They made Tomas a much younger character and, in doing so, eliminated the need for Simon, Tomas’ son. And, most wisely, they reduced the amount of political commentary, except as it related to the physical and emotional actions of the three lovers. (more…)

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good 6

by Dean Treadway

Lynn and Buddy, my parents, somehow always knew I was going to be a movie nut. That’s the only explanation I have for them taking me to see so many kid-unfriendly movies at the drive-ins back in the ’70s (that and the fact they probably couldn’t afford a babysitter, with their civil servant jobs). But they never tried to shield me from very much (though, with sex scenes, they always told me to cover my eyes with the warning term “X-Rated!”). Given that I wasn’t left in tears or bedeviled by nightmares from the movies I saw with them, I guess they sensed everything was copacetic–certainly, child-rearing wasn’t as fraught with as many rules then as it is now. I was surely in their company when they first saw Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly upon its US release in the winter of 1968 (this 1966 film was finally released stateside in the last days of 1967). At this time, I was only a year old, so I have no recollections, obviously. What I do know is that it was one of my father’s favorite movies, and even my mom–a lifelong Hopalong Cassidy fan–dug it, too. So we went back to see it, over and over, whenever it popped up on drive-in screens as either a main or second feature (and it was definitely a ubiquitous title at Atlanta drive-ins up until the early 80s). Clearly, my parents cherished this movie, and wanted to catch it whenever they could, and on the big screen, where it still works its most forceful magic. (more…)

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wild 1

By Dean Treadway

For years, I had not seen Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch in full. I had caught bits of it on TV, or maybe at the drive-in, where my mom and dad had carried me along to check it out. I’m sure my dad liked it–most dads adore The Wild Bunch–but my mom, who’d had quite enough of seeing dead bodies returning from Vietnam on TV, felt sickened by violence in movies at the time (both Bonnie and Clyde, with its bullet-riddled climax, and M.A.S.H., with its comedic treatment of medical gore, had similarly made her ill; since, of course, she’s been inured to on-screen messiness). For my own part, I found the movie dull, even as a pretty with-it kid; somehow, Peckinpah had not gotten his hooks in me (I now see that The Wild Bunch is a movie that works least best on the young, and also I always knew that, on TV, it was being shown pan-and-scan, and that’s just a outright no-no with what any movie geek can see is a beautifully widescreen presentation).

It wasn’t until its 1995 restoration and re-release, when I was approaching my 30s, that I finally did my duty and caught The Wild Bunch on the big screen at a four-wall theater, as it was meant to be seen. Afterwards, I could’ve kicked myself twice, three times even for not previously grasping what a powerhouse masterpiece it was, for Peckinpah’s film finally bowled me over as it did almost everyone who saw it in the late 60s/early 70s (it’s certainly a movie that should be seen at least once at a theater; if you haven’t experienced it as such, you’re partially abandoning its strength). From its very first scene–that staccato credits sequence portraying the titular bunch trotting past a group of joyful kids cackling as thousands of fire ants overtake two deadly but hapless scorpions (a mirror of the film’s famous conclusion)–The Wild Bunch aims to encapsulate the brutality of criminally-minded men and, simultaneously, their deeply-held longing to regain some modicum of innocence, honor and compassion. In its dichotomies, Peckinpah’s picture is like no other. It set a template for a few decades worth of film output behind it.  (more…)

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jesse 8

By Dean Treadway

The passage of time, and of eras, overwhelms the first frames as cinematographer Roger Deakins aims his camera into the ether, catching time-lapsed storm clouds speeding through the Missouri skies, with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ tick-tocky score sounding like mournful timepieces ringing out the end of one hour, and the beginning of another. We first see Brad Pitt’s Jesse James as a pensive, well-loved 34-year-old family man fervently contemplating his humanity and his concomitant mortality. The eloquent narration–some of the best ever written for a film–begins by illustrating Jesse’s foibles, normalcies, lies, physical flaws, and almost superhuman charisma. Actor/filmmaker Hugh Ross is the unseen narrator, who speaks in third-person as if he were dissecting this tale’s movements with scientific fervor; his serious, folksy voice is perhaps the most important in the movie, because it’s the authoritative voice of human history–the same history that will ensnare and mangle the lives of our two title characters. Writer/director Andrew Dominik, working from Ron Hansen’s novel, laboriously crafts the language of this narration, making it feel like it was cribbed from an 1882 St. Louis newspaper. Even the film’s title–The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford–reads like a bold headline over a story one might’ve consumed the day following Ford’s notorious bullet. This use of antiquated speech, inspired by Hansen’s work, is one of many tricks that Dominik deftly employs as a time-travel devise in this masterful period piece. Often, experiencing this picture’s sights and sounds feels like being hypnotized and transported directly into the heel of the 19th Century. (more…)

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josey 5

by Dean Treadway

Two renowned westerns hit American movie screens in the bicentennial summer of 1976: Don Siegel’s funereal vehicle The Shootist, starring John Wayne in his final role as J.B. Books, a famed gunslinger taking up short-term residence in Carson City, Nevada after being diagnosed with terminal cancer (of which Wayne also was suffering, and would succumb to only a short time later); and The Outlaw Josey Wales, Clint Eastwood’s second outing as a western director (after his 1973 hit, the ghostly High Plains Drifter, and nearly two decades after his establishment as a genre icon portraying Rowdy Yates in TV‘s Rawhide and–most importantly–his career-defining Man with No Name in Sergio Leone‘s 60s trilogy). Closely grouped together as they were, with Wayne’s film oozing finality and Eastwood’s heralding a character with newly-minted legend status (and with both films‘ leads being relentlessly hunted by nasty grubs looking to cash in on their heads), it’s easy to see the relationship between the two films as a sort of passing of the torch. The Shootist still feels like a more traditional oater, brightly lit and studded with roles for old Hollywood stars like James Stewart, Richard Boone, Lauren Bacall and Henry Morgan. The Outlaw Josey Wales, meanwhile, is foreboding and dark (being shot by that Prince of Darkness Bruce Surtees), while also featuring a supreme array of 70s character actors. Josey Wales also feels like it’s staking new claims on behalf of two constituents that usually didn’t get their fair due in westerns: Native Americans and women. (more…)

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