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Archive for the ‘Sam’s Forsaken 70s Cinema’ Category

1776 2

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This review, first published at WitD on July 5, 2009 is re-printed today to honor and acknowledge tomorrow’s 4th of July holiday stateside.

Back in 1972, upon the release of the film version of 1776 Vincent Canby put things in their proper perspective when he 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!). (more…)

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Robert Duvall and Michael O'Keefe deliver Oscar-nominated performances in Lewis John Carlino's moving drama from Pat Conroy's novel.

by Sam Juliano

This is a continuation of a long dormant  series that will examine films from the 1970′s and 1980’s that were either forgotten, undervalued or misunderstood at the time of their release, but now seen in a far better light by critics and/or audiences.

Originally shown on HBO under the title The Ace in early 1979, what was originally seen as a conventional television drama, eventually morphed into a big-screen release re-titled to conform with the novel that spawned it.  Indeed, Pat Conroy’s autobiographical The Great Santini was an acclaimed work that expanded on an eulogy given for his own father, one that bluntly asserted that “the children of fighter pilots tell different stories than other kids do.”  But unexpectedly, and with little initial fanfare, it gave celebrated actor Robert Duvall one of the best roles of his career, one that brought him an Academy Award nomination in the year that Robert DeNiro prevailed for Raging Bull.  Duvall’s electrifying macho turn as “Bull Meechum”, a  marine-training pilot, who works out of Beauford, South Carolina in 1962 is a wholly charismatic portrayal that play’s to the actor’s strengths.  Meechum’s war-time sensibility is hardly attuned to peace time domesticity, and with a ferocious rage he treats the members of his family as if they were recruits for an exacting even oppressive commando training.  Yet, he’s an inveterate drinker and practical joker, one who’s as adverse to protocol as he is for strict enforcement of rules in the dictatorial management of his household.  But Bull Meachum is no kin to  the inhuman characters portrayed by Lee Emery in Full Metal Jacket nor Mark Metcalf as cadet commander Doug Niedermeyer in Animal House.    He’s painted by Conroy and director Lewis John Carlino as a larger-than-life mountain of hubris and twisted priority, a flawed character whose inner sensitivity is hidden behind a facade of misguided self-assurance and inflated bravado, one who calls everyone “sports fan,” issues “direct orders” and fully expects to be addressed as “Sir” at all times.  He’s a slightly altered variation of Duvall’s own Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore from Apocalypse Now. (more…)

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young win 1

by Sam Juliano

     Despite its distinguished cast and reverent subject, Richard Attenborough’s Young Winston fared poorly at the box-office, while dividing the critics, and it quickly disappeared after a brief run in USA theatres.   The film did win a most prestigious honor though, and that was the Best Picture prize from the London Film Critics Association.  Decades later, the film’s reputation has risen, and is now seen for what it is: a superbly-acted, splendidly-mounted and poignant examination of the early years of Sir Winston Churchill, that is as enriching as it is inspiring.

     Winston Churchill has been the subject of many television biographies, and has appeared as a minor character in numerous feature films, but Young Winston was the only theatrically released film where the iconic figure was the protagonist.  Of course there have been several successful television series that have focused in on the twentieth century’s most famous single person, including Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years starring Robert Hardy and Sian Phillips and the 2002 British television drama The Gathering Storm starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave.  But a comprehensive portrait of the most-quoted of figures always seemed so prohibitive in scope that filmmakers always balked on pulling the trigger on such a project.  However, noted producer Carl Foreman managed to secure right’s to Churchill’s own My Early Life and The World in Crisis,  from which he crafted his own screenplay.  Rumor has it that Churchill himself suggested that Foreman adapt his early books, as he was a big admirer of the producer’s 1961 film, The Guns of Navarone.  As displaced in the onscreen credits, (I just re-viewed the Region 2 DVD I own in preparation for this review) interiors for this British-American co-production were shot at Shepperton Studios, London, with exteriors shot in London, at various locations throughout England, in Swansea, Wales and in the Atlas Mountains and other areas of Morocco, where the Indian, Sudanese and south American scenes were filmed.  Cinematographer Gerry Turpin asserted that the film’s period hues and transient landscapes were shot with the Colorflex camera process that he developed to create layers of color and light.  Voice-over narration recurs throughout the film, with central actor Simon Ward (who plays Churchill from ages 17 to 27) and other actors portraying Churchill’s voice at different ages, from early childhood through the time period when the books were written.  At various intervals actual letters, news reports, portions of speeches or passages from My Early Life are recited, sometimes by Churchill at different ages, other times by his mother, the American Jennie Jerome Churchill (Anne Bancroft), his father, Lord Randolph Churchill (Robert Shaw), or other minor characters.  A number of speeches, newspaper reports and letters are recreated, sometimes verbatim, from actual speeches, such as the “tattered flag” speech that was delivered before the House of Commons and other noted historical documents.  (more…)

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fiddler 1

by Sam Juliano

     Based on stories by Ukranian writer Sholem Aleichem, the Harold Prince production of Fiddler on the Roof stands as one of the most beloved musicals in Broadway history, and has inspired productions all around the world.  The show debuted at the Imperial Theatre in New York in September 1964 and ran till July of 1972, amassing an impressive 3242 performances.  It has spawned four revivals, and has been regularly performed by school and community groups.  It’s beautiful score has produced some of the most widely-loved standards of the past fifty years, but perhaps most significantly, it has galvanized audiences worldwide, celebrating as it does the trasncendent themes of tradition during change, homelessness and suffering and religious faith and doubt.  But this is central work in the Jewish experience, as it poignantly chronicles religious persecution and the indominable spirit of  a people who stood steadfast in their devotion to God, community and family, and Fiddler on the Roof, set in a Russian village, is a symbol for Jews moving to America at the turn of the century and of  the inevitable geographical transience that has informed a number of ethnic groups.   The musical’s title stems from a painting by Marc Chagall, one of many surreal works he created of Eastern European Jewish life, often including a fiddler.  The fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through traditional and joyfulness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. (more…)

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i never sang 1

by Sam Juliano

     New York playwright Robert Anderson, who died in February of this year at the age of 91, may not have been on the same level of greatness as Tennessee Williams or Arthur Miller, but his small body of work achieved a significant measure of success on stage and screen in its intimate and painful examination of relationships.  His 1953 play, Tea and Sympathy enjoyed a hugely successful  run of 712 performances on Broadway, where it was directed by Elia Kazan, and at one point starred Joan Fontaine and Anthony Perkins.  The original leads, Deborah Kerr and John Kerr reprised their roles in the 1956 film version, directed by Vincente Minelli.  In the late 60’s the author revealed his own familial demons with the largely autobiographical I Never Sang For My Father, which sustained a brief run before being preped for it’s eventual 1970 film release, a project that featured actors Melvyn Douglas and Gene Hackman as father and son, and Dorothy Stickney and Estelle Parsons in the supporting roles of mother and daughter.  Both Douglas and Hackman scored Oscar nominations for their superlative performances, but the film, an intimate domestic drama, did unimpressively at the box office and faded away.  To this day, Columbia has balked at releasing a proper DVD of the film despite the substantial cult following it has acrued over the past decades. (more…)

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female 1

by Sam Juliano

     Present-day John Waters fans who are only familiar with his vomit-inducing Pink Flamingos may be unaware that his best work  followed that landmark of sleaze with Female Trouble (1974) and Desparate Living (1977).  Of these two, the former rates a slight edge, as it gave bad taste an entirely new level of meaning.  Yet, it’s outrageous characters, vile mise en scène and trashy decor was what Waters was all about in those years, and as he was in his writing “prime” it brought out his most inspired talents for satire and self-parody, no matter whose expense it was at.  You know you’re in for a most “special” experience after the opening scene, when rotund Baltimore high-schooler Dawn Davenport (played by the king of sleaze himself, Divine) takes major issue with a Christmas present she received from her parents; she discovers a shoe box under the Christmas tree that does not contain the cha cha heels she asked for:

Dawn Davenport: What are these? 

Mrs. Davenport:    Those are your new shoes, Dawn!

Dawn Davenport:  Those aren’t the right kind, I told you cha cha heels, black ones!

Mr. Davenport:  Nice girls don’t wear cha cha heels!

Dawn Davenport:  Gimmie those presents, I’ll never wear those ugly shoes!  I told you the kind I wanted!  You ruined my Christmas!

[stomps the Christmas presents]

Mrs. Davenport:  Please Dawn!  Not on Christmas!

Dawn Davenport:  Get off me you ugly witch!  [pushes mother into Christmas tree]

Mr. Davenport:  Dawn Davenport are you crazy?  Look at your mother!

Dawn Davenport:  Get off me……Lay off me!  I hate you; fuck you!  Fuck you both, you awful people!  You’re not my parents!  I hate you, I hate this house, and I hate Christmas! (more…)

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brother sun 1

by Sam Juliano

     We probably know more about St. Francis of Assisi than any other medieval saint.  We are in possession of much of his own words, testament, letters, poems and liturgical writings, but perhaps most signicantly the intimate accounts of several of his disciples, written down within twenty years of his death.  From this great plethora of authentic material a clear picture of the man emerges.  St. Francis is one saint whom both Catholics and non-Catholics have united in honoring.  Certainly no other has so appealed to Protestants and even to non-Christians, and the appeal is timeless:  Francis captured the imagination of his contemporaries as well as that of modern men by his unique simplicity and a pure grace of spirit.  A classic collection of popular legends, the Little Flowers of St. Francis, first printed in 1476, contains some charming and beautiful stories of Francis’s love for the poor, of animals, of all nature.  In action it can reasonably be assumed that in action he was an “original”, in speech picturesque and poetic, yet ultimately he was a man inspired by faith and in devotion of the risen Christ.  He was born in the stony hill-town of Assisi in Umbria in the year 1181 or 1182.  His father Peter Bernadone was a wealthy merchant, while his mother by some accounts was gently born and of Provencal blood.  Much of Bernadone’s trade was with France, and his son was born while he was absent in that country.  Perhaps for this reason the child was called Francesco, “the French man,” though his baptismal name was John.  As a youth he is said to have been ardent in his amusements and seemed carried away by the mere joy of living, taking no interest at all in his father’s business or in formal learning.  Bernadone, proud to have his son finely dressed and associating with young noblemen, gave him plenty of money, which Francis squandered foolishly.  Though Francis was high-spirited, he was too fastidious to lead a dissolute life, especially as this was the age of chivalry, and he was thrilled by the songs of the trubadours and the deeds of knights.  At the age of twenty or thereabouts, during a petty war between the towns of Assisi and Perugia, he was taken prisoner.  During a year of captivity he remained cheerful and kept up the spirits of his companion, but soon after his release he suffered a long illness. (more…)

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A Separate Peace Poster

by Sam Juliano

Today’s review of  “A Separate Peace”, based on the novel by John Knowles is the second in a planned series that will examine films from the 1970’s that were either forgotten, undervalued or misunderstood at the time of their release.

     From the late 60’s to the late 90’s three novels dominated the literature component of high school English curriculums, and each of the three were written and published around the same time.  Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird has probably maintained the most venerated position of the three, and captured the Pultizer Prize, but both William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and John Knowles’s A Separate Peace have held the literary stage both for their writing excellence and the intricate expression of their universal themes.  It was inevitable that all three would be made into films, but  A Separate Peace took the longest to materialize, finally appearing as a film in 1972.  The Paramount release, with Larry Peerce serving as director and unknown actors in the leads, received divided notices, and has since been displaced as the film of choice on this novel by a 2003 television version directed by Peter Yates. (more…)

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Bless the Beasts Movie Poster

by Sam Juliano

Today’s review of  Stanley Kramer’s “Bless the Beasts and Children” is the first of a planned series that will examine films from the 1970’s that were either forgotten, undervalued or misunderstood at the time of their release

     Producer/director Stanley Kramer has been the recipient of both glowing praise and outright condemnation from the film community, yet there’s little denying that his fame rests mostly on the former of his two vocations.  Kramer, who passed away at age 87 in 2001, produced a half-dozen Hollywood classics and semi-classics: Champion, Cyrano de Bergerac, High Noon, A Member of the Wedding and The Caine Mutiny.  His direction, which in large measure has centered around the genre of socially-conscious cinema has yielded some well-respected even venerated films like The Defiant Ones, Inherit the Wind, Judgement at Nuremberg, On the Beach, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Ship of Fools.  His most popular film of all of course is the comedy It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World,(1963) whose title was used for his published autobiography.  The confusion or overlap of Kramer’s dual artistic roles drew wide criticism from the intelligentsia, including David Thomson who declared “Commercialism, of the most crass and confusing kind has devitalised all of his projects.”  Pauline Kael, no less kind, claimed deception when she wrote: “Kramer’s reputation as a great director (was) based on a series of errors.”  Of his late work as helmer, one film, reviled by many upon its release in 1972 stands today as both an moving treatment of its subject and an epitagh to the kind of films Kramer gravitated to through his career. (more…)

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