Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘author Joel Bocko’ Category

by Joel

Fixing a Hole is a series whose purpose is to cover films not yet discussed on Wonders in the Dark. This month’s theme is the avant garde. Check out this list for the hundreds of films included in “Film as a Subversive Art.”

Many years ago, while living in New York, I found myself reading Rousseau on a park bench, studying for a course on Political Theory. In this case homework would have more long-lasting benefits (however short the actual meeting) than an A on a test. An elderly man, about eighty, was sitting nearby with a female companion and, noticing my book, began talking to me. He had been educated by his parents according to the precepts of Rousseau’s Emile, and this early education had given him a lifelong openness to all sorts of experiences, a fondness for the offbeat and unconventional, and a unique way of seeing the world. We talked for a while, and I discovered his life story was fascinating. He had fled Hitler’s Austria, and in New York, just after the war, he had founded one of the first major film societies in the U.S., Cinema 16 – which would grow to become the most successful membership-based film society in American history.

Cinema 16 screened everything from political documentaries to foreign films to scientific movies to the occasional Hollywood picture (Hitchcock appeared at the theater to introduce The Man Who Knew Too Much). But its bread-and-butter was avant-garde cinema, a form (in all its different forms) that its administrator adored with the passion many reserve for their favorite genre or movie star. Frustrated by the inability of many friends and proteges to get onboard with experimental cinema, and eventually drawn into a rivalry with Jonas Mekas, whose Anthology Film Archives was founded in the early sixties in part as an alternative to Cinema 16’s operation, this man eventually decided to write a book, exploring and celebrating not just the avant-garde, but all forms of subversive cinema from the political to the aesthetic to the topical to the completely personal. When Cinema 16 folded in the early seventies (never having received funds from government or corporation, it was reliant on the support of its members, which eventually dwindled), this book would remain as his enduring legacy.

The man was Amos Vogel, and the book was Film as a Subversive Art. At the end of our pleasant conversation, Vogel gave me his business card and I still have it – a playful sketch of an absent-minded bearded man trotting off with a reel of film unspooling from under his arm. He did not mention his book at the time and only years later would I purchase it, but it’s become one of my cinematic treasures. While focusing on the offbeat and provocative, it is in fact a manifesto for a wide-ranging cinematic love with a keen eye for how subversion is ingrained in the very substance of the material itself – its ability to freeze, preserve, repeat and upend the physical world around us. Today I cover three films introduced to me by this book, and my entries include Vogel’s capsule on the film in question and an embedded video of each movie.

But that’s not all – such a brief sample could hardly convey the vast riches contained in this great book. I’ve tracked several of the selected shorts on You Tube and so a dozen videos follow the post. Some of these selections are narrative, some purely abstract, some are animated, some live-action, some documentary while others are fiction, and still others defy any description. They demonstrate Vogel’s broad taste, and his talent for spotting cinematic treasures in every corner. The avant-garde is, in many ways, not the far wing or the margin of cinema, but its very heart and soul, the – if you will – main stream of the medium. I would suggest watching all of these films when you get the chance, perhaps one each day after finishing the main entry. You won’t be sorry; if some of these are new to you, as they were to me, then you’ll be as thankful as I am for that warm spring day in New York.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Joel

Two weeks ago, I turned the “Fixing a Hole” series over to Maurizio Roca. However, he indicated that he did not want to pick it up until January, so as December was left unclaimed, and I like to finish what I started, I will be posting the last three entries in avant-garde month. Since I missed last Sunday, two will go up today – the second at 4pm EST, and the final entry will go up on Christmas. Happy holidays and hope you enjoy the pieces.

In the middle of the twentieth century, particularly in the United States, there was a very clear divide between the mainstream and the avant-garde in cinema. While the modernist obsession with abstraction and experimentation swept the other arts, making celebrities out of artists who defied or reinvented conventions, when it came to movies, you either told a story – with a budget and release schedule provided by the Hollywood system – or you disappeared into the margins. Yet talent thrived on those margins and the postwar era saw the growth of a vital underground cinema, fostered and facilitated by institutions like Amos Vogel’s Cinema 16, an inexpensive film society in New York (Vogel and his views of cinema will be the subject of the next installment in this series, going up Sunday evening).

Three figures – Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, and Stan Brakhage – probably had a bigger impact and wider reach than any others, and so here I will focus on three of their early works: Deren’s At Land (1944), Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), and Brakhage’s Cat’s Cradle (1959).

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Conducted by Joel Bocko

What does a serial killer do when he’s not killing? In M.O., first-time feature director Mitch Rouse hopes to answer that question, taking a neorealist/documentary approach to the daily life of a killer. His influences include the work of the Dardennes brothers, traditional neorealism, and the new crop of young filmmakers shooting in the neorealist tradition. His subject, however, will be quite different from theirs.

The following conversation (as you’ll see, not all of my questions were short!) focuses on the themes Mitch hopes to explore and the stylistic approaches he plans to employ; it also addresses some of the practical aspects of this venture. M.O. will be financed via a Kickstarter campaign, which is going on right now (Kickstarter is a website set up to promote funding through multiple donors). Mitch will be dropping by the site later today, so if you have any questions for him, leave them below as comments.

_________________

Hi Mitch, hope all is well. I know you were out this afternoon – were you working on anything related to M.O.? How much time does this project take up for you these days?

I was actually working at my full-time job today. I edit for a living, so all of the work I do for M.O. is done in my free time. I usually spend a least two or three hours a night working on the film, whether I’m revising the script, coordinating schedules with actors, or otherwise getting things ready for production. We’re scheduled to start principal photography in six weeks, so we’re right in the middle of pre-production and we have a lot to do before that can happen.

In a few words, how would you introduce people to this film, your intent behind, and the process for creating it?

It’s tough to be concise! But I’ll give it a try:

M.O. is a realistic look at the life of a serial killer. The main character in the film is a seemingly average, ordinary guy. He’s married, he has a daughter, and he has a job and a house like any middle-class family. But in secret, he’s a pathological killer.

The intent behind this film is to treat this subject matter without sensation and to leave viewers asking more questions than they came into the film with. On my end, I wanted to make a film that addresses questions I’ve never seen answered in a film before. Questions such as: What does a serial killer do before and after a murder? How does he plan a murder and then live as if everything is normal, and that he hasn’t committed a terrible crime? How does the family of a serial killer not know what he’s up to?

The process for creating this film so far has been for me to put myself into this character’s shoes. So I’ve had to imagine what I would do if I had just committed a murder, and then driven home and had dinner with my family as if it were just a regular day. Rather than simply studying the psychology of serial killers, I asked myself what they do when they aren’t killing and what their everyday habits are. Do they watch TV like everyone else? Do they spend time with their families? In the main character of M.O.‘s case, what is his relationship with his wife like? How does he treat his daughter? So I wanted to know how this character attempts to live like a regular person, and not simply what he does when he’s in the process of committing a murder.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a series whose purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on Wonders in the Dark. The theme for November is “Animated Animals.”

The Story: One spring, a little fawn is born into a world of sunshine and flowers – but as the seasons pass, and the young deer comes of age, neither he nor the world around him will remain so innocent.

_____________

“You’d be forgiven for picturing cute, wide-eyed little critters wandering through daisy fields and singing happy songs,” I wrote when introducing this month’s theme, adding pointedly, “Not so.” And I meant it – yet here we are! Well, let this prove that clichés obscure more than they illuminate. The cute, wide-eyed little critters of Bambi inhabit a violence- and sex-filled world of tragedy, stoicism, and carnage. Despite frequent light and happy moments, this is ultimately a very dark forest indeed. Why? To unearth Bambi‘s roots, I dug up the book that gave it birth.

Felix Salten’s Bambi was published in 1923, and it shares the qualities of much classic children’s literature: quiet, thoughtful, with a delicate playfulness, yet fundamentally somber, elementally instructional and subtly allegorical – simple yet deep. Walt Disney more scrupulously balances the dark and light, yet much of the book’s mood and atmosphere is effectively conveyed. Those majestic moments when Bambi and his mother cautiously approach a meadow, or tiptoe through the snow to hunt for food, admirably capture Salten’s spirit. Even those prototypical Disney elements – anthropomorphized chattering forest critters, resembling gossipy housewives or restless schoolkids – have their source in Salten, who devotes many pages to the silly conversations of little birds.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

November 20, 2011

Toontown City Council, c/o Cloverfield Development Co.
Acme Avenue & Avery Alley
Toontown, CA 90@#!

Dear Toons,

Well, gang, I just watched Who Framed Roger Rabbit again, this time for an online series called “Fixing a Hole.” (You know, holes, those convenient black discs you carry around in your pockets, portable escape hatches when you’re in a pickle – incidentally, how much those go for nowadays?) Anyway, the movie was a delight as always; though the climax is a bit drawn-out, the appearance of a one-dimensional Judge Doom, crushed and cackling like some maniacal cross between Johnny Paper and Johnny Rotten, is well worth the wait.

I dug that, and I laughed along with Roger, cringed for Baby Herman (somebody tell that middle-aged infant about Viagra, or better yet, don’t), and marveled at Bob Hoskins’ ability to play it straight even as he was acting against thin ai-  er, I mean, against real, live Toons who must have been rather intimidating “in the flesh.” And Jessica Rabbit. Oh Jessica Rabbit. With her in their extended family, it’s no wonder the fluffy-tailed little mammals are so eager to breed.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series on Wonders in the Dark whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on that site. The theme for Novembered is “Animated Animals.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

The Story of the Fox (1937/France/directed by Wladyslaw and Irene Starewicz)

stars the voices of Claude Dauphin, Romain Bouquet, Sylvain Itkine, Marcel Raine

written by Jean Nohain, Antoinette Nordmann, Roger Richebe, Irene Starewicz, Wladyslaw Starewicz from Johann Wolfgang Goethe • photographed by Wladyslaw Starewicz • designed by Wladyslaw Starewicz • music by Vincent Scotto • animated by Wladyslaw and Irene Starewicz

The Story: The royal lion seeks to punish Monsieur Renard (Mr. Fox) for eating his fellow creatures, yet the crafty animal tricks, manipulates, and fights his way out of every scrape.

_____________

 “Animated Animals”: you’d be forgiven for picturing cute, wide-eyed little critters wandering through daisy fields and singing happy songs. Not so: this month there’s one cuddly creature (albeit too mute to sing), an amiable buffoon, a murderous yet still sympathetic monster, and then there’s Monsieur Renard (French for “fox”), the eponymous antihero of the brilliant stop-motion feature The Story of the Fox. Crafty, nasty, and carnivorous, Renard may have the least redeeming qualities of all the November beasts; unsurprisingly, he may also be the most human.

Watching as he assaults and semi-cannibalizes his fellow creatures, regarding us every now and then with an ambiguously conspiratorial twinkle in his eye, we titter nervously.  We recognize we aren’t really compatriots in crime but rather spectators in a show enacted only for the fox’s own benefit. Renard has the gifted performer’s contempt for the audience – and we’d probably be his next victim were we onscreen ourselves. Not only the fox but his master are winking at us with raw, mischievous relish.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Joel Bocko

An American in Paris (1951/United States/directed by Vincente Minnelli & choreographed by Gene Kelly)

stars Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant, George Guetary, Nina Foch

written by Alan J. Lerner • photographed by Alfred Gilks (ballet photographed by John Alton) • designed by Preston Ames, Cedric Gibbons • music by George Gershwin, Conrad Salinger • costumes by Orry-Kelly

The Story: Wealthy, debonair Henri (Guetary) loves pretty young Lise (Caron), a girl he cared for during the war. Lonely heiress Milo (Fochs) loves cheerful yet skeptical artist Jerry (Kelly). Unfortunately Lise and Jerry love one another and as they dance their way into each others’ hearts against a romantic Parisian backdrop, they must struggle between the pull of money and loyalty on the one hand, and true love on the other.

_____________

First of all, this isn’t just an American in Paris, it’s an American Paris – not a City of Lights that is or ever was, but rather a Paris dreamed of across miles and miles of sea and continent, far away in Hollywood. That’s an important point. This Paris is full of authentic touches (productions of the time attempted to reproduce specific areas on soundstages) and cultural references, but it’s also purposefully artificial. Likewise, Jerry is more an idea of a painter than an actual painter – we only glimpse his canvases, and his patter consists of the cliches of bohemian artist life (though Kelly’s a rather clean-cut bohemian) rather than technical insight or the passion of vision. For those who don’t like musicals because of their gap from reality, this is not the musical to win you over. But for those who love bravura dancing, full of machine-gun-fire taps and the gracefully propulsive gestures and flexes Kelly specialized in, or intensely creative choreography and stage direction, replete with artfully tangling and untangling bodies and sensuous, eye-popping colors, An American in Paris is right up your avenue. And yet it isn’t all make-believe.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Joel Bocko

This entry consists of an essay and a video piece (not just a scene from the movie intended as an addendum, but something I actually created as an important part of my contribution to the countdown). You can take it any order, but I open with the video to highlight its relevance to this entry. It shows through juxtaposition and structure what I am saying in the essay itself, and maybe makes my point better than words can do.

The five-minute video opens with dialogue from the film, follows with a rehearsal montage set to “Getting to Be a Habit With Me” (showing the progression from casting call to finished production), and closes with the dance sequence of “Young and Healthy” in its entirety, just to show what the film was building up to. Altogether the video demonstrates how the raw and often frustrated urges of the characters for sex and power are sublimated and transmuted into the discipline of a creative act, and then shows the end result in all its glory. The essay pursues the same theme.

And don’t worry – they’re both fun!

42nd Street (1933/United States/directed by Lloyd Bacon & choreographed by Busby Berkeley)

stars Warner Baxter, Ruby Keeler, Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels, George Brent, Guy Kibbee, Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers

written by Rian James, James Seymour and Whitney Bolton from Bradford Ropes’ novel • photographed by Sol Polito • designed by Jack Oakey • music by Al Dubin & Harry Warren • edited by Thomas Pratt & Frank Ware

The Story: Determined to direct a hit show, even if it kills him, Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) struggles with romantic entanglements, last-minute injuries, and a nervous ingenue named Peggy (Ruby Keeler). Will the curtain open or come crashing down on “Pretty Lady”?

_____________

“Pretty Lady” – the stage extravaganza at the center of 42nd Street – owes its existence solely to sex. Well, don’t we all? Some musicals present themselves as good, clean fun but 42nd Street, God bless its dirty face, is not one of those musicals. At the root of its massive appeal, kinetic energy, and increasingly exciting narrative and musical structure are three simple motivating factors: sex, sex, and sex. Well, a fourth too: money – and in this film the two are wound around each other like the two strands of DNA.

As Chaos Theory holds that a butterfly need just flap its wings to spawn a typhoon halfway around the world, so Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels) has only to spread her legs. Thus is birthed a larger-than-life production, upon which the career of a broken, possibly dying director relies, through which a naïve young ingénue will become the biggest name on Broadway, and from which two hundred hustling, horny, hungry human beings will draw their daily bread (and dreams of glory). Dirty old man, sugar daddy, and cuckold Abner Dillon (Guy Kibbee) tells Dorothy he’ll do something for her (finance the show she wants to star in) if she’ll do something for him (guess what?). And with that, we’re off!

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Via an email exchange last weekend, Allan Fish revealed an awesome poster he had created, with 660 images representing a timeline of cinema history. By sheer coincidence, I had recently completed a similar venture: a rapid-fire video tour, albeit limited to 1912 – 1970 and contingent not on a canon but whatever I had on DVD. Nevertheless, similar spirit at work. Fish had fun trying to identify the clips from their brief appearances and later Shubhajit seemed to dig the montage too (after putting this post up, fellow blogger Srikanth Scrivasson said it “plays out like the output of a malfunctioning super-projector in its final minute of operation”, a description I can certainly get down with). So I’ve decided to reproduce it here for the Wonders gang.

Warning: not for the epileptic.

Read Full Post »

by Joel Bocko

“Fixing a Hole” is a new series on Wonders in the Dark whose sole purpose is to review films that have not yet been covered on that site. The theme for October is “Universal Horror.” Some spoilers are discussed below.

The Old Dark House (1932/United States/directed by James Whale)

stars Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, Charles Laughton, Melvyn Douglas, Gloria Stuart, Lillian Bond, Raymond Massey, Brember Wills, Elspeth Dudgeon

written by R.C. Sherriff and Benn Levy from J.B. Priestley’s novel • photographed by Arthur Edeson • designed by Charles D. Hall • music by David Broekman • edited by Andrew Cohen

The Story: On a dark and stormy night, a married couple and their bemused third-wheel friend are forced to stay the night at a gloomy old home, inhabited by the very strange Femms, a family full of neuroses and dark secrets.

_____________

See a movie called The Old Dark House and you think you know what to expect. Well, unless you’re psychic, half-mad yourself (you’d have to be to come up with this scenario), or have already seen it, you’d be dead wrong. Sure, there’s an old house on a hill. Okay, a bickering young couple and their friend wind up having to spend the night there. Yeah, the residents of the house are a bunch of freaks, weirdos, and psychopaths. But the devil’s in the details and if the outline sounds familiar, the details are anything but. Every line of dialogue, every gesture, every plot development is unexpected and off-the-wall.

Who could predict the lesbian onslaught of sister Rebecca Femm (Eva Moore), pausing every now and then in her overbearing religiosity to a cop a feel from the heroine? Who would expect the appearance of 102-year-old Sir Roderick Femm, bedridden, cackling, and despite the misleading cast listing (actor’s name supposedly “John Dudgeon”) quite clearly an old lady with a scraggly beard glued to her wrinkly chin? And best of all, who should foresee the climactic revelation of Saul Femm (Brember Wills), outcast brother locked in his room for twenty years, set free to plead sanity – almost convincing us (we’ve certainly seen how nuts his siblings are) before the hero turns his back and Saul’s meek expression dissolves into a mask of fantastically cunning dementia?

(more…)

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »