Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Childhood Films’ Category

mou 2

by Allan Fish

(France 1967 81m) DVD1/2

Going out like Mouchette

p Robert Bresson d/w Robert Bresson ph Ghislain Cloquet ed Raymond Lamy, Robert Bresson   m Monteverdi, Jean Wiener art Pierre Charbonnier

Nadine Nortier (Mouchette), Jean-Claude Guilbert (Arsène), Marie Cardinal (mother), Paul Hébert (father),

It was only a few years ago that Robert Bresson’s masterwork was referenced by another eclectic European director, Bernardo Bertolucci. In his film The Dreamers the principals discuss the final scene of Bresson’s film and “going out like Mouchette.” The film did quite well, both critically and financially, but how many people got the reference? I think most of the audience would have been under forty and thus would not have recognised the reference, going to Bertolucci’s film purely for the talked of sex and nudity. The intellectual central trio in Bertolucci’s film loved cinema, every aspect of it, and could reference everything as far back as Queen Christina and Blonde Venus. Today, the so-called movie intellectuals couldn’t go back any further than Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese and Coppola. We live in a sad world. All of which goes doubly for the protagonist of Bresson’s film. It has often been called one of the great studies about adolescence, and yet really it isn’t. It’s great, yes, but has nothing really to do with adolescence, rather about loneliness, alienation and premature adulthood. As a film about teenage alienation it has no peers, with its heroine not so much not belonging as not being wanted at all. (more…)

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Bobby Henrey as Phillipe

by Lee Price

Sometimes as adults, we forget how lonely and confusing childhood can be. Produced in England in 1948, The Fallen Idol (1948) resonates long after its final scene for its moving central depiction of vulnerability and helplessness.

Fade in on Bobby Henrey as Phillipe, an inquisitive-looking boy peering through a second-floor railing, watching the clockwork precision of the embassy staff below. Everyone has a job to do but him. In his privileged position as the diplomat’s son, Phillipe is simply an observer, like a child in a movie theater (or, more pessimistically, like a prisoner behind bars). Being so young, nine-years-old at the most, he watches intently but probably understands only a fraction of what he sees.

Throughout The Fallen Idol, Phillipe is shown standing apart, often on a threshold, trying to discern what’s going on and how he should respond. He’s struggling to learn the art of social interaction—including the lies and evasions of everyday life—through his clumsy imitations of the adults around him. He misinterprets dialogue and misses important nonverbal cues. He lacks the knowledge and communication skills needed to navigate the confusing adult environment of the London-based embassy where he lives. Virtually parentless and friendless, with only a pet snake and the kind attention of the embassy butler Baines providing company, he appears desperate to make connections. But his attempts at communication increasingly fail as the movie progresses.

At one point, Phillipe overhears Baines on the phone, talking to his lover. “It makes no difference about the boy,” Baines says. “Of course, he doesn’t understand.” The adult viewer naturally anticipates that Phillipe will be hurt by the comment. But Baines is right! His unflattering remark whizzes right past Phillipe. He really doesn’t understand.

With some movies, I tend to forget the actual closing scene. For me, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) ends on a highway, in terrifying communication breakdown with the desperate Miles (Kevin McCarthy) screaming, “You’re next!” at passing cars with oblivious drivers. After that brutal scene, the coda where the authorities suddenly realize the truth—“Operator, get me the Federal Bureau of Investigation!”—swiftly fades from memory. It’s the scene on the highway that cuts to the core of things. I remember that no one is listening. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

Ana, a small, darkly serious girl of about 10, stands at the top of the stairs of her darkly ominous home and hears sounds that we guess are all too familiar to her. A man and a woman are in a room below obviously in the throes of a sexual embrace. The passionate declarations of love cease abruptly as something apparently has gone wrong—someone can’t breathe. Ana descends the stairs and watches as an attractive woman, dressed save for an unbuttoned blouse, runs toward the front door, spilling the contents of her purse in the process. Ana watches her unemotionally as she gathers her things; when the woman finally notices her, they stare at each other wordlessly, and then the woman exits the house. Ana enters the room, finds her father laying dead on his bed, picks up an emptied glass from his dresser, takes it into the kitchen, and washes and hides it among the glasses sitting next to the sink. Clearly, Ana believes she has poisoned her own father, an act for which she shows no emotion.

Cria Cuervos, a masterpiece of Spanish cinema, is the work of director Carlos Saura, perhaps best known for his dance films, especially his flamenco trilogy comprising Blood Wedding (1981), Carmen (1983), and El amor brujo (1986). As with those films, Saura’s passionate, brooding sensibility informs what in other hands might be a simple story of grief. Ana, you see, is a Spanish girl living in a spacious home in Madrid because her father (Hector Alterio) is an officer in Franco’s fascist army. The times and her father’s compulsive womanizing that cruelly tortured Ana’s beloved mother (Geraldine Chaplin) until her untimely and painful death have marked Ana. She seeks a vengeance her mother was too weak to exact, thus marking her as every bit her father’s daughter. (more…)

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by Brandie Ashe

I was two years old when the Steven Spielberg-directed E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial debuted in theaters. I was six years old when I saw the film for the first time, which my parents had taped from television along with two other movies (the titles of which I can no longer remember) during a free preview weekend of whichever premium channel we could not afford to indulge in full-time. And I was perhaps ten years old when that videotape became no longer watchable due to the sheer number of times I rewound it to play E.T. over and over and over again.

Mom and Dad eventually bought the film on tape, and the obsession continued. And even today, the Blu-ray is on regular rotation ’round these parts, because it’s one of those movies that remains just as magical and fresh and revelatory today as it was more than thirty years ago.

To say that E.T. had a profound affect on young me would be an understatement. Next to the animated films and classic cartoon shorts that I adored (and still do) above all else, E.T. was something truly special–a film where the focus was on the kids, kids who were smart and brave but also flawed, who strove to do the right thing and yet weren’t perfect paragons of cinematic characterization. They were, in essence, real kids, and I identified with them as much as I longed to actually be them, and to have an adventure with a cuddly alien all my own.

That focus on the children is not a mere by-product of the film’s central science-fiction storyline; it is the entire purpose of the film. Indeed, Spielberg, himself a child of divorce, had long sought to make a film about the myriad ways in which divorce affects kids. Told from the perspective of a family of three kids–two boys and a girl–E.T. is ultimately less about the titular alien than it is about the dynamics of a broken family, and how that damaged unit dusts itself off and learns to function as a smaller whole. (more…)

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Photo-1-SlippersHeels (1)

By far the most successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 fairy tale about a Kansas girl thrust into a land of enchantment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “The Wizard of Oz” achieves an iconography unique to Anglo-American culture. The film also catapulted its star, Judy Garland, to a career of legendary proportion.


by Pierre de Plume

The first time a movie made me cry was in 1957 when I was 6 years old. I remember like yesterday sitting in the kid-sized rocking chair that my dad, whose hobby was carpentry, had built of oak for our Midwestern home. Because my first emotional reactions to the film remain vivid in my memory, I decided recently to take advantage of a rare 35mm Technicolor screening of “The Wizard of Oz” at a lovingly restored movie venue, the Heights Theater near Minneapolis. There, I thought, I might revisit the experience of seeing Oz as a child and report back to readers at Wonders in the Dark about why this Depression-era musical fantasy has continued to capture the hearts of so many children — young and old alike.

What I encountered on the night of the screening was a sold-out crowd of diverse ages, from parents with eager children to gray-haired elders. A patron sitting next to us in the 400-seat Beaux Arts–style theater, a thirtysomething woman waiting for her special date, soon was joined by her salt-and-pepper-haired dad. Under the glow of the grand chandeliers, we waited as the Wurlitzer pipe organist played songs from the movie we soon would relive.

My experience of seeing Oz on the big screen — in 35mm Technicolor for the first time — left me not just in tears (again) but also wishing to know more about the literary origins of Dorothy Gale’s fantastic odyssey. (more…)

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CP 1

by Sam Juliano

The Ridgefield Park Rialto closed its doors on June 13, 2008.  This local institution was the last single screen theater in Bergen County, New Jersey, and the only one in that domain that had shown art house movies.  Opening in 1927 as a vaudeville showcase, it was soon enough transformed to a movie house in the late 30’s, and was purchased in the 70’s by a single owner.  That same person held ownership with his daughter all the way to the final days, showing mainstream fare until the mid 90’s, then catering to the Indian community for Bollywood features until 2001 when the schedule was comprised exclusively of foreign language and independent films.  The experiment yielded mixed results, though there were times when the 600 seat auditorium sold out, if the film was an appealing one.  The inevitable cessation of operations signified the end of an era, and left bewildered customers waxing lyrical about their own personal stories related to their attendance at the venerable institution.  The common lamentations were along the line that larger multiplexes had made it financially incompatible for the smaller operators to earn their keep, and equipment had become antiquated.  In any case the closing of the theater was an emotional time for workers and customers, and it had some regulars scurrying for souvenirs that included posters, marquee letters and actual seats that were unscrewed from the floor by employees.  Any token, big or small would provide some tangible physical evidence well into the future of   a place that helped formulate dreams and escape, a movie house mecca that in the end that left a more lasting impression than even the splendid product it served up to the public.

The movie that was screened on that final day was the 1988 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, the Italian-made Cinema Paradiso, a sentimental feature about a venerated Sicilian movie house that entertained small town denizens before and during the war, and then again when it was resurrected after a fire.  Like its modern day Garden State counterpart, and like so many other treasured movie palaces that were forced into closure because of dwindling profits, the fictional Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, a metaphor for theaters everywhere, was finally razed after it was sold to developers.  The Rialto was not blasted by dynamite as the theater in the movie was, but was left for a Korean group to build a planned mall.  Ironically the inside of the theater was gutted, but has been laying dormant for six years, making this picture even more lamentable.


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by Aaron West

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Zéro de conduite is the most fully revealed of Vigo’s “social cinema.” Even though his anarchist politics were complicated, Zéro de conduite helps clear them up. In some respects it is a blueprint for exactly the type of anarchic revolution that Vigo longed for, yet it takes place in the unlikely setting of a young boy’s school.

The children in the boy’s home are characters that many can relate to. They push the boundaries of authority, and try to get away with whatever they can. They are into hijinx, practical jokes, and overall misbehavior. They are not a peaceful bunch, and they give it to their teachers at every opportunity, whether to their face or behind their backs. The only exception is Monsieur Huguet, who they find as an ally and a character that understands them.

The other teachers are impatient for any mischievousness, and they rule with an iron fist. “Zero for Conduct” is the punishment for any transgression. It means that they are not given their freedom on Sundays to visit family or friends, and instead are required to stay in school at detention. Furthermore, the teachers dole out the punishment arbitrarily and unfairly. Vigo is intending to portray this as a totalitarian state where the lower class’ (or children’s) rights are being impeded.

The children may be the goats, but they also get to be the heroes. With some assistance from the friendly teacher, they lay out plans for rebellion. The planning is carefully orchestrated and is not put into action until the authority tries to compromise one of the oppressed. It begins with an expletive, continues with a rowdy food fight, and the revolt is in progress. The children hoist their flag and march with exaltation. The sense of freedom and liberation is palpable, just as Vigo expects that it would be in reality. Even though the film is of revolution, it is combined with the exuberance of childhood merrymaking. (more…)

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by Stephen Mullen

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood begins with the sound of a cuckoo, and a shot of a boy standing behind a tree, looking up at us through cobweb. It ends with the same boy chasing a little girl along a beach, the two of them circling a dead black tree, that seems to keep forcing itself into the image. Both are dreams: the boy, Ivan, is in the middle of a war, dreaming of the world before the war, his childhood. He is still a child in the present of the film, but his childhood is long gone.


Ivan’s Childhood, like Germany Year Zero, is a war film about childhood that is also a childhood film about war, using each side of the equation to heighten the emotion of the other. Ivan is already a hardened veteran when Ivan’s Childhood begins – orphaned, a partisan, now working for the regular army as a scout. That is where he is when the film’s story begins – but that is not how the film begins. It begins with the dream, Ivan walking, running, flying, through fields and forests, coming to rest at his mother’s feet, drinking from a bucket of water. It begins with the childhood he has lost, before waking him to the war he is living in. But it is a very thin line between waking and dreaming. The difference may mean everything to Ivan, but it is very permeable for Tarkovsky’s filmmaking. In Ivan’s dream, Tarkovsky’s camera soars and swirls, almost gleefully defying gravity and rules of space. But when Ivan wakes in a ruined windmill and goes out, the camera remains as vertiginous as in the dream, swinging around, taking extreme angles, cutting up his experiences into flashes of imagery. Real life is immediately established as being as disorienting and strange as any dream. (more…)

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Patricia Perry

At the age of 12, I first pulled down a copy of Betty Smith’s beloved novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from a school library shelf.  Like many a sensitive young reader had done, before and since that day, I fell in love with Smith’s poignantly detailed account of tenement life as experienced by one struggling family, and claimed its central character, Francie Nolan, as a literary soulmate.

Seventy-two years after its initial publication, Smith’s semi-autobiographical work remains cherished and widely read, routinely included in lists of great American novels and “Books to Read Before You Die.” And the opening credits of this 1945 adaptation clue us into its literary pedigree right away: the name “Betty Smith” entirely fills the first title card, before we ever see the words “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

The film’s other claim to fame is that it was director Elia Kazan’s first feature-length film, and it is an impressive debut. In its honest, unsentimental depiction of the Nolans’ struggles, we can see the first seeds of the socially conscious filmmaking that Kazan would come to be known for.

Francie Nolan, a character created from Smith’s own experiences growing up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, is a sensitive, starry-eyed bookworm – the type of child who presses a favorite book to her chest while sighing in ecstasy or makes impassioned, teary-eyed declarations in the classroom that confound her exasperated, overworked teachers.  She deeply loves her charming alcoholic father, Johnny, responding to his flights of imaginative fancy and his gregarious personality with wholehearted affection. Still a child, she cannot yet grasp the toll her father’s drinking and unreliable employment have taken on his marriage and the family’s finances.  Late in the film, after her father falls ill and dies while looking for work, Francie sobs out loud to God that “no one else loved him like I did,”  which is both true and untrue.  Francie’s love for her father is idealized and untainted by disappointment, while her mother’s deep love of her husband is complicated by her resentment at being the family’s breadwinner and ‘granite rock.’ (Both Johnny and his wife, Katie, want their ‘nice kids’ to have opportunities and do well in life, but only Katie is clear-eyed and realistic about their chances.) (more…)

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anne green gables

by Sam Juliano

Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Crombie, who passed away earlier this year in New York City at the age of 48 of an unexpected and tragic brain hemorrhage. The beloved actor was, is, and forever will be the world’s only Gilbert Blythe.

I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls.  I just want you.

Anne Shirley to Gilbert Blythe, “Anne of Avonlea”

Mark Twain once described freckled-faced and incorrigible Anne Shirley as fiction’s dearest child since Lewis Carroll’s Alice.  While such a glowing contention would be difficult to contest, it might be harder yet to deny she is the most famous character in all of Canadian literature, and that her creator, Lucy Ward Montgomery  is often referred to as the “American Mark Twain.”  The author’s young heroine was the subject of an eight book series that brought great fame to Montgomery in her lifetime, giving way to translation in twenty-five languages, and bringing sustained scrutiny to the author’s diaries, letters and full body of work.   This brought bringing lasting fame to her birthplace, homes and grave site on the extraordinarily beautiful Prince Edward Island, a tiny province of Canada off the shore of Nova Scotia that now owes much of its prominence to Montgomery and her venerated Anne.  Tourism is a one of the island’s most lucrative assets, and for decades a “Green Gables Tour” has been a godsend for fans of her novels.  Canadian tourism officials report that in excess of 125,000 visitors a year descend on the paradise hamlet to behold the literary landmarks and partake in the related festivities.  It could well be argued that Prince Edward Island can’t be even contemplated without a thought for Anne and the author who best extrapolated on the place’s special and incomparable allure.  To this end there can be no doubt that the mid-80’s television adaptations have taken the franchise to places never seen before.

Though the beloved first book in the series – Anne of Green Gables – was made into a successful RKO film in 1934, its extremely short length didn’t give opportunity for a well-rounded look at Anne, nor at the many narrative and character complexities in the novel.  Some stage plays followed, but not until Kevin Sullivan acquired the rights in 1984 did the book receive the kind of treatment that not only exhibited fidelity to its source but brought an exceeding level of warmth and humanity that has continued to hold thrall with viewers around the world.  Sullivan’s battles in court to defend his acquisition of the rights and the lawsuits connected to them have reached all the way to the shores of Japan, where ironically the most passionate Anne of Green Gables fans reside.  Sullivan took full advantage of the loveliest of rural settings, filming on the island and assembling a dream cast that to this day represents a rare chemistry that is achieved through luck, timing and talent.  Sullivan co-wrote the script for Green Gables with Joe Wiesenfeld and handled the direction, and for all the film’s exemplary components it remains the key ingredient in the work’s enduring appeal.  When the great success of the 200 minute film was assured -Sullivan moved forward on a sequel, which is titled Anne of Avonlea, and as written and adapted solely by him based on three books in the series – Anne of Avonlea (Book Two); Anne of the Island (Book Three) and Anne of Windy Poplars (Book Four) it represented a unique hybrid.   Again the writing was exceptional, and the addition of several characters and sub-plots were woven in successfully.  Avonlea also featured a hefty running time at 230 minutes, though as fans and critics have glowingly attested it remained engrossing throughout.  Following up on the heels of its revered predecessor, Avonlea in short order became the highest rated drama to air on network television in Canadian broadcasting history.  It spawned a spectacularly successful television series Road to Avonlea, which was activated by some of Montgomery’s short stories and novellas.  At 93 episodes it remains the longest running, most popular and lucrative drama series ever produced in Canada.   A third film, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story arrived in 2000, though to weak reception.  But the first two films, which are the subject of this review, will be considered as a single work, though with the dividing specifications.  Together they comprise what is arguably the most magnificent television work based on fiction ever produced in the western hemisphere.  Sullivan later added an animated Anne of Green Gables, which was fairly well-received, and then a fourth film a few years back that was lesser regarded. (more…)

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