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Archive for the ‘author Maurizio Roca’ Category

by Maurizio Roca

Like many other fellow readers of Wonders In The Dark, I had the pleasure of gaining considerable film knowledge from Allan Fish through his Obscuro Series and Decades Countdown. In fact, it was his Early Years (1895-1929) Top 100 list that made this blog an essential component of my day starting back in late 2009, early 2010. It rekindled my then dormant love of early avant-garde and surreal shorts from the silent era—my first serious gateway into more advanced film viewing beyond Hollywood mainstream fare. Part of what sparked my renewed interest was that many of those silents that I had treasured as a young adult were relegated to Allan’s Nearlies section. How is it that only the bottom two made the essay portion of his list I wondered!?!?

  1. Ballet Mecanique (Fernand Leger)
  2. Un Chien Andalou (Luis Bunuel)

Yes, these exclusions annoyed me at the time, but they also made me examine those movies that Allan had held in higher esteem. And in many cases, I discovered works of art that I may never have seen otherwise. One particular film of which I had made a mental note actually was placed in the Nearlies portion of Mr Fish’s countdown. It is called Fievre, made in 1921 by Louis Delluc, and a film Allan placed at #186. I had heard of this early French director before through his association with Germaine Dulac (who ironically made the list at #187 with one of my favorite experimental shorts, The Seashell And The Clergyman), but I had never seen any of Delluc’s films prior to that. I knew he wasn’t really a surrealist filmmaker, and more of an impressionist, which had fascinated me to a lesser degree at the time. Regardless, I made sure to seek this early French film out whenever the chance arose (which eventually happened through the internet).

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trippy-james-stewart-vertigo

by Maurizio Roca

What is it about a dream? Half remembered, maddeningly elliptical, hazy in its details. Snippets of information that one must process slowly as memories are recalled suddenly…sometimes never. Vertigo, for all its attributes, is best approached this way at first. It is a part of Hitchcock, but also separate, holding a certain position in his filmography that can feel isolated and distinctive. It’s not just out to entertain us, but to probe something mysterious and elusive within—a personal exploration through obsession that feels repressed, almost necessarily so by its author. When reality becomes too hard to face…maybe only a dream will do.

What is it about the wordless segment of Scottie tailing Madeleine throughout San Francisco that sinuates deeply into the viewer’s equilibrium? The aura that is permeated from Bernard Hermann’s exceptional score as we journey through a flower shop, then a church, followed by a graveyard, next to a museum, and finally into the McKittrick’s Hotel where eleven minutes of silence are suddenly breached. A conversation with a front desk clerk seemingly designed to arouse us from a blissful slumber back to the waking world.

What is it about the way Hitchcock methodically transforms the film from a mystery to a haunting look at infatuation? Making the likable Scottie slowly reveal a tortured preoccupation with control and sexual fantasy previously hidden. As his façade of normalcy gets stripped clean, we are witness to some endemic perversions he cannot conceal. Increasingly he falls deeper and deeper into his own personal abyss…a ghastly nightmare he cannot wake up from. (more…)

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imposter31

by Maurizio Roca

I initially had this piece slated for early March of this year before abandoning it for reasons that now escape me. I decided to post it after catching up with one or two new inclusions that motivated me.

 

 The criteria for this list are movies made and released in 2012 or films made in 2011 but released theatrically in the USA during 2012.  Two major exceptions are Once Upon A Time In Anatolia and The Turin Horse which arrived in NYC during the first quarter of 2012 but which I happened to see in 2011 due to certain favorable circumstances (and thus are ineligible). The former was named my second favorite picture of 2011 (behind only The Tree Of Life) while the latter just missed my top ten. Both would be in the same exact position this year if I decided to include them (Anatolia possibly even supplanting my #1 pick).

My list includes:

  • Ten films made and released theatrically in the United States in 2012
  • Zero film made in 2011, but not shown theatrically in the US until 2012.

Thirteen Almosts: Elena, The Invisible War, 5 Broken Cameras, Oslo August 31st, The Kid With A Bike, Monsieur Lazhar, Prometheus, This Is Not A Film, The Gatekeepers, Gerhard Richter Painting, The Hunter, Beyond The Hills, The Grey.  (more…)

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a playtime jacques tati criterion new PLAYTIME-9

by M. Roca

It’s hard not to feel bittersweet emotions while watching Jacques Tati’s Playtime. Here is a film touched with breathtaking moments of brilliance, but also with the recognition that an astonishing career would never fully recover again. Knowing that the filmmaker did not come out unscathed lends an aura of melancholy to the movie that is palpable to those who know the backstory. Daring and expensive, Playtime was a commercial failure that couldn’t recoup a large portion of its working budget. Tati went all out in the creation of his comedic masterpiece, sparing no expense. In fact, it was the most costly French picture ever made at that time in 1967. The enormous sets took hundreds of people to make and maintain. Such a colossal endeavor also lent itself to production woes that ate away the money and valuable time. Dubbed “Tativille,” Playtime’s set was basically a living, breathing city of glass, cubicles, and a fully functioning power plant filmed on 70mm. The high-resolution film stock caused even more problems for the director: Tati refused to show his work in theaters that were unable to accommodate that level of wide projection and considerable aspect ratio. These factors coupled with the challenging nature of the movie itself, irreversibly affected the rest of Tati’s career financially and artistically (though Trafic is also a masterpiece in my eyes). Debt and bankruptcy hounded him. He had had only the chance to complete six feature-length works. Regardless of what happened in the past, Playtime exists…and for this, we should be forever grateful. (more…)

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by M. Roca

The stories of both Frankenstein and Dracula, becoming huge hits during the early talkie era, have long been certified as Hollywood box office legend for taking a secondary genre and minting it as a dependable moneymaker. Soon, the rush was on at all the studio systems to try and replicate the fortunes Universal had unwittingly ushered in during 1931. Many rivals tried their hand at horror with varying degrees of success, but only Carl Laemmle’s company, who followed up these two titans of fright with many other worthy productions, kept at it with vigor and consistency throughout the decade. Things started slowing down after The Wolfman struttedhis yak fur in 1941, but the studio still kept cranking out a slew of B programmers well into the 50s when science fiction gradually took over. While the popularity of these pictures has never wavered with movie buffs (Universal just recently repackaged their Monster collection on Blu-Ray for the first time and umpteenth on DVD/VHS), those first two features are the ones both modern viewers and those from the 70s remember best.

Dracula, for all intents and purposes, has dated rather badly. It’s still recognized as a pivotal film that kicked off the horror craze (while also simultaneously launching the career of Bela Lugosi), but cinematically it’s basically a museum piece. It also never developed a succession of true sequels over a period of time that added to the legend. Dracula’s Daughter, for one, was only loosely tied to the original, while Son Of Dracula came much later and was also only arbitrarily connected to Tod Browning’s initial effort. Frankenstein, on the other hand, has basically collected the award for most substantial Universal property and series. Its enduring popularity is not only tied to the Boris Karloff/James Whale debut, but the two subsequent additions to the franchise that came after (Bride and Son). It’s no wonder that when Mel Brooks came up with the idea to spoof a Universal horror film, that Frankenstein would be his logical choice. With so many sequels having been made by the original studio, he could not claim a shortage of material to parody when the time came. A wealth of parts were spread over the cinematic table for Brooks to corral and attach to his own project… a little bit of Ghost Of Frankenstein, a small piece of House Of Frankenstein, and the total embodiment of the first three superior films into a wicked assembly of humor and farce. (more…)

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by M. Roca

“This guy has no flying experience at all. He’s a menace to himself and everything else in the air… yes, birds, too.”

Released during the first year of the 1980s, Airplane couldn’t help but look back at all the disaster movies made in the previous decade for some madcap inspiration. Sending up films like The Poseidon Adventure, Airport, and The Towering Inferno was a stroke of brilliance because it catered to an audience finally ready to laugh at the overt melodrama those corny features provided. It also gave the comedic team of Jerry Zucker, David Zucker, and Jim Abrahams a huge hit at the box office (for a reported 80 million gross on a skimpy 4 million dollar budget). For many excited filmgoers, the witnessing of possible death at 30,000 feet never seemed so hilarious and worthwhile. Sure, the end result might be painful and horrifyingly tragic, but you may possibly die laughing before either the spoiled fish or impending impact actually gets to anyone on board.

Airplane took slapstick comedy to the farthest reaches of absurdity. The subtle (and not so subtle) verbal puns and sight gags are unleashed at such a rapid pace that getting them all the first time around is not always a given. Its nonsensical charm never wears off or feels strained, instead it increases with every ticking minute to reveal more and more hilarity. Every scene has an unhinged quality that walks a tightrope between achingly funny and total surreal anarchy. Leslie Nielsen’s career about-face into these spoof roles starts right here. His classic deadpan delivery and clueless facade was never bettered than this opening salvo. Along with the first Naked Gun: From The Files Of Police Squad, Airplane was his best work in this type of picture (something he would mine from here on out with frequent regularity). Yeah, one could argue that Airplane is not very deep and indulges in some lowbrow humor, but when it comes to generating real laughs (the true barometer of comedy), very few films can best it pound for pound. (more…)

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by M. Roca

The Big Lebowski is a great example of the power of cinema to transcend its original medium into the wider realm of pop culture and cult fandom. If you ever happen to walk down Thompson Street in New York’s Greenwich Village, you could bump into a store wholly dedicated to the Coen brothers late 90s film. Stocked with paraphernalia and merchandise devoted to the comedy, The Little Lebowski Shop offers a glimpse of the movie’s continuously enduring popularity over time. Once inside, a visitor is thrust into the Dude’s world, and you can get the T-shirt to prove it!! Keeping one’s johnson from deliberately peeing on the store’s rug would seem insurmountable. Along with the (now) 10 years of beautiful tradition that the Lebowski fests (held all over the country and beyond since 2002) offer enthusiasts and bowlers alike, you can plainly see how Lebowski’s legacy has quickly become a far-reaching cultural phenomenon.

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