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Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

1776

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This review,  first published at WitD on July 5, 2009 is re-printed today to honor and acknowledge the 4th of July holiday stateside.  It has been substantially revised:

Back in 1972, upon the release of the film version of 1776 Vincent Canby opined: “The music is resolutely unmemorable.  The lyrics sound as if they’d been written by someone high on root beer, and the book is familiar history, compressed here, stretched there – that has been gagged up and paced to Broadway’s not inspiring standards.  Yet Peter H. Hunt’s screen version of 1776, a musical play I somehow didn’t see during its three-year Broadway run, insists on being so entertaining and, at times, even moving, that you might as well stop resisting it.  This reaction, I suspect, represents a clear triumph of emotional associations over material.”  Others, like Rex Reed were not so hospitable, likening the film and the show it was based on as “a history lesson for the mentally retarded.”  The roll-out for the movie was most extravagant as it premiered at Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall near the very end of that cultural landmark’s status as a movie house, before its advent as an exclusive concert venue.  (As a 17 year-old I saw the film during its run here, and vividly remember being assaulted by a Bob Dylan-The Kinks-John Lennon loving friend who accompanied me to the screening with a few others, and who vociferously objected to some of the film’s cornball song lyrics, telling me at the end of the film: “You’re dead Juliano!).

1776 is a musical treatment of our nation’s defining historical coda, and its two-fold aim is to inform its high-profile independence-seeking adherents, while simultaneously chronicling the electrifying drama that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the numerous obstacles that preceded it.  The famed document of course, penned by Thomas Jefferson for the Second Continental Congress is one of the world’s treasures, and the wrangling that both and inspired and compromised it is the real subject of Stone’s theatrical work.  Back in the 70’s before the artistic rehearsal that now has plays regularly being based on films, it was fashionable for critics and jaded audiences to dismiss film adaptations of Broadway as some sort of violation of form.  Yet, while there can be no doubt that the theatrical intimacy that characterized many stage works could never be rendered full justice on film without the regular cry of staginess, there can likewise be little question that film can allow for the “opening up” that can eliminate the claustrophobia evident in drama mainly played out in meeting halls.  Such is certainly the case with 1776, a project that literally calls out for alluring Colonial era settings to compliment the defining garb of the period.  Director Hunt makes fine, if modest use of ornate gardens, town squares and the exterior environs of Independence Hall, while not losing focus of the show’s prime focus, which of course is the drive to create a new nation.  Hunt provides some attractive saturated fantasy sequences in which John and Abigail Adams meet and sing of their eternal love and familial commitments, and a delightfully cornball scene in which Ben Franklin and John Adams join Martha Jefferson for a dance in her garden as she sings her love for Tom. (“He plays the Violin.”)  Harry Stadling’s widescreen cinematography makes excellent use of sepia-tone filters and muted color as a deft replication of time and place, yet there is also a sweeping visual panorama that makes full use of the rectangular compositions, and the placement of characters within a frame. (more…)

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winter-in-wartime-b

by Sam Juliano

The plight of Holland during the terrible days of the Third Reich invariably leads to the real-life story of Anne Frank, a gifted 13 year old, who with her family, were captured and sent off to concentration camps in the waning days of the second world war.  The diary she left behind, which stands as an amazingly perceptive coming-of-age testament,  has served as an inspiration for schoolchildren in the intervening decades, and as a lasting monument to the irrepressible human spirit.  Director Martin Koolhaven’s Winter in Wartime, (Oorlogswinter) a visually arresting Dutch film made six years ago contains a number of themes that invite comparisons with the Frank document: age of the main character, betrayal, concealment and maturation in a time of oppression only months before the war’s conclusion.  The major difference aside from the “fact vs. fiction” aspect is that Winter in Wartime concerns the successful clandestine activities of native Dutch townspeople in the final months of the German occupation.

Set in a village in the Netherlands in frigid January, the film presents the point-of-view of 13 year-old Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) the uncooperative son of the town’s Mayor, who mainly out of fear for the safety of his family cooperates with the Nazi gauleiter.   A sense of urgency is imparted in the perspective of having all the events of the film unfold through the boys’ eyes, even accentuating that view by including a number of shots of Michiel looking at other characters through holes and narrow openings.  Indeed it’s what gives this film it’s power and singular focus, in large measure due to the increasing awareness shared by the protagonist and the audience.  And setting plays a large role in advancing the plot.  In this sense the expansive, unmitigated whiteness that is seen in the vast majority of the film’s outdoor sequences serves as a thematic contrast to the caliginous hues of war. (more…)

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oliver!

by Mark Lester (a. k. a. Sam Juliano)

My name is Mark Lester and I am now nine-years old.  I just got back from America, after appearing at the Academy Awards, where the movie I starred in, Oliver!  won the Best Picture Oscar.  I flew in with my friend Jack Wild who received an acting nomination for the same movie.  Oliver! is about an orphan boy who lived in London a long time ago during a period they tell me was known as the “Victorian Age.”  Mind you, that boy wasn’t real at all.  He was imagined by a very famous writer named Mr. Charles Dickens.  He’s the same bloke who invented the story about that old miser Scrooge and the invalid boy Tiny Tim.  My dad has always told me how much he enjoyed reading other books that Mr. Dickens wrote.  One is called David Copperfield and another starts off with the words “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”  Mom loves watching some old black and white movie about a prisoner in a church yard, a young man named Pip, and an old hag known as Miss Haversham.  She said she read a book in school about some bleak house that had many secrets.  The book store is two blocks away from my house in the city of Oxford in the county of Oxsfordshire has all of Mr. Dickens’ books on sale for only five quid.  Mom said this was really the dog’s bollocks and she would be going there straight away to pick up the lot.

Anyway it all started almost a year ago when a a proper looking limey in his early 60’s came to my school to conduct interviews for a new movie he was planning to direct.  He first addressed the whole student body in the assembly hall, where I am told Winston Churchill once spoke during the war years.  He sounded dead serious when he said that the honor of Britain was at stake.  He identified himself as Mr. Carol Reed and he mentioned some of the older movies he had directed.  I can’t remember all the names but he seemed to be most proud of two: The Third Man and Odd Man Out.  Anyway those weren’t the kind of movies that a boy like me was interested in watching.  Give me “Doctor Who” and that American space show that features the officer with the pointed ears, any day.  Black and white movies are uncool.  (more…)

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river's edge 5

by Sam Juliano

A persuasive case could be made for 1986’s subversive River’s Edge as the most nihilist film about teenagers ever made.  The fact that this perverse drama was directed by one who just four years earlier gave the coming-of-age angle a conventional if perceptive spin in Tex, (based on the S.E. Hinton novel) makes it all the more startling, but to be sure Tim Hunter was filtering an unconscionable event that took place in California in 1981.  Without the factual underpinning the story would read as over-the-top fraudulence, fueled by its sensational implausibility.  But when a 16 year old male named Anthony Jacques Broussard raped and murdered his 14 year-old girlfriend, and then bragged about the act to all his friends, the stage was set for a work that would invariably document the moral decline of today’s adolescents.  The disturbing revelation that these kids could wait two days to contact police, bound by in large measure the gang mentality of a mercurial, stoned teenager who incredibly deems loyalty to the apathetic and unappreciative killer should come before informing, makes for a dire commentary on the disintegration of the moral compass, and the utter heartlessness of disaffected and dysfunctional youth without direction or priorities.  In an age when senseless violence – by young gunmen – is often aimed at  schoolchildren, churchgoers and those who are simply in the wrong place at the most inopportune time, we can look back at Broussard’s act and the screenplay Neil Jimenez wrote for Mr. Hunter and conclude that the breakdown chronicled is deep-seeded, with both the killer and his bizarre first protector as soulless perpetrators of a doomed deceit that never even had a remote chance to succeed.  The fact that it was even attempted is unspeakably chilling.

(more…)

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Daylight 1

by Sam Juliano

Though much of his picture book output was produced in collaboration with some exceedingly high profile award winning authors, Wendell Minor sometimes traversed his outdoor habitats solo.  The inspiration for his latest solitary foray has produced an uncommonly beautiful book, one that focuses on the animals that live around us while we engage during the day and also while we sleep.  There is nothing obscure or geographically specialized in Minor’s new work, rather he seeks to sponsor an open house tour – a zoo without physical parameters that is dictated only by what terrain the readers reside in.  Excluding those living in the urban centers or the desert, most would readily identify Wendall’s benign array of wildlife wonderment, either because they encountered some of the animals or were long familiar with the sounds they make.  The renowned author-illustrator enticingly broaches how a day turns into night (and vice-versa) and how motherhood is at the center of activity for all mammals.

     At the very start Minor sets up the different cast of players that inhabit the diurnal and nocturnal landscapes of chosen locations.  His opening spread depicts a wooded clearing framed by a fence, tree trucks and a flat stone pathway.  There is pictorial continuity in the design, yet the left panel, subtly lit, shows the creatures we might see in the daylight, while the right shows the ones only seen or heard when the stars are twinkling.  Minor asks his young readers to identify those who inhabit his ravishing tapestries, by posing an innocuous inquiry.  No wildlife artist captures the soaring majesty of a hawk in flight like Minor, and the bird is promptly presented  in detailed close-up that is as arresting as it is radiant: (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

One of the crowning glories of 50’s science-fiction, Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based on a short story by Jack Finney, still enthralls both genre buffs and those riveted by the notion of the fantastic seeming perfectly credible.  The story of seed pods replicating living people and changing them into emotion-less conformists who communally work towards a world order without love or compassion, offers no obstacles to believability, and leads to the most unthinkable of nightmares.  Allied Artists were themselves so caught up in the hopelessness of this “psychological siege” that they forced Siegel to add a prologue which intimated that mankind would be saved.

The film was re-made in 1977, with Phillip Kaufman at the helm, but it lacked the original’s brilliant pacing, which has the excitement building all the way to the denouement.  Siegel employs a number of devices that keep the film in full-throttle, like characters always in motion, racing their cars, and spying each other through windows, blind and glass doors and reaching a level of unbearable tension in the scenes in the cave where the two lead characters hide beneath the wooden boards, after being chased up the steps of a long and very steep hill.  Siegel employs subtlety to great effect too, like the scene when the fleeing couple attempt to feign transformation to the soulless beings that are taking over the small town, only to be betrayed by one’s scream as a dog is about to be struck by a car.  The race against time and in the instance of this film, the struggle to stay awake, is woven into the fabric of it’s sense of urgency.  No less an authority than Jean-Luc Godard quotes the film in his futuristic Alphaville, and Francois Truffaut makes reference to it in Fahrenheit 451.  It is even suggested by UCLA Film Professor Maurice Yacowar (whose running commentary on the Criterion laserdisc in the early 90’s was one of the famous and controversial ever recorded) that maybe even the great playwright Eugene Ionesco was thinking of the film’s fearful “pods” when he wrote his absurdist masterpiece Rhinoceros, where humankind turns into thick-skinned, insensitive, conformist rhinos–pods on the hoof. (more…)

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A.I. 2

by Sam Juliano

The idea behind A.I. was originally conceived by Stanley Kubrick, who subsequently entrusted the proposed project to Steven Spielberg.  When Kubrick died suddenly in 1999, his widow successfully persuaded Spielberg to assume complete artistic control of the film, including the direction.  Set in a future time when progress in robotics poses a conceivable menace to the human species, David (Haley Joel Osment), a robotic boy, is the artificial life form who is capable of experiencing love.  As a prototype, he is given to a couple whose real son is mired in what appears to be an irreversible coma.  After a discordant initiation David and his mother bond, at which point the “real” son miraculously awakens from the coma, rejoins to the family, and tricks David into engaging in dangerous things.  The father concludes that they must return the robotic boy to the manufacturer for destruction, but the mother arranges for his escape via abandonment.  For the duration of the film David seeks to be reunited with his mother, and for a time is joined by “Gigolo Joe,” a robot designed to function as a male prostitute.  David becomes frozen I an the ocean, and millennia later–long after the extinction of the human species–robots of the future rescue him and allow him to reunite with his mother for one day that will last in his mind for eternity. (more…)

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