Archive for the ‘Genre Countdown: Romances’ Category

Romeo-Juliet-about-to-kiss-on-Balcony-1968-romeo-and-juliet-by-franco-zeffirelli-32614019-638-410 (1)

by Sam Juliano

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The idea was to honor the Bard’s own vision of teenagers playing the parts of his eternally popular play about the star crossed lovers.  The two leads in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet were chosen for their physical beauty, not for any special or proven acting prowess.  In fact the performances are far more affecting because they are natural, delivered without dramatic ostentation.  The director, Franco Zeffirelli, put the cart before the horse, confident in his own ability to turn his lead players into Shakespearean thespians.  The end result was a wildly successful film version that at the time eclipsed any film version of the author’s plays in popularity by quite some distance.  Forty-six years later it still holds poll position, and remains the odds-on choice of educators aiming to supplement study of the play with a worthy film adaptation.  The film was made during the heyday of the golden reign of youth and the hippie era.  Rumor in fact has it that Zeffirelli came within a hair of convincing Paul McCartney to play the lead. An extensive talent search yielded the hiring of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, two extraordinarily attractive actors who imbue their roles with a physical intensity of first love, the kind of love that only those who have experienced it can fully decipher.  Hence there is an innocence, purity and lack of self-awareness to these performances that make them far more affecting than could have been negotiated by older actors with proven credentials.  The film’s lovemaking scenes are charged with eroticism, and there is some nudity in a bedroom scene (that at the time was considered scandalous for a PG movie) to bring consummation to the romance.  Throughout the film the lovers endlessly embrace, kiss and neck far more than in any other version based on the play, and this propensity has interestingly brought into question whether the love would morph into a union of permanence or whether this is just the hormonal awakening of teenagers.  Obviously the right answer is the latter contention, but it is fully consistent with the manner in which Romeo and Juliet are shown in the play.  They are rash, impulsive, oblivious to the consequences of their actions and blind to everything around them save for the burning flames inside them.  Some would like to believe their love is epic and definitive, immortalized as it is through suicide, and borne from the mutual hatred of their brethren, but what we have are two people stung by Cupid’s Bow, helpless to temper their incomparable potent youthful passions.  Romeo and Juliet is not an idealized romance, but rather a cautionary tale about the dire consequences of recklessness, partially facilitated by unfortunate timing and the intrusion of fate. (more…)

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by Ed Howard

By now, the plot of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows should be very familiar, considering it has been adapted for both Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul and Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. It’s the story of the lonely widow Cary (Jane Wyman), who falls in love with her younger gardener Ron (Rock Hudson), and plans to marry him despite the differences in age and social class which put external pressures on the relationship. As a satire of upper-middle-class pettiness and hypocrisy, it occasionally lays it on too thick, a hallmark of Sirk’s work that nevertheless contributes to his satire’s biting wit. As the gossip and snarky jokes and open disapproval of Cary’s friends, neighbors, and even children begin to weigh on her, the relationship seems less and less stable or possible. Sirk’s portrayal of these ungenerous souls is unremittingly caustic, with a devastatingly sharp satirical eye that never fails to capture the bitchiness and jealousy hidden beneath the ever-present phony smiles and friendly banter.

If Sirk’s satirical touch can sometimes be heavy and unsubtle, his visual sense is unfailingly exactly the opposite. Here, his style is most effective in contrasting the harshness of his high society satire with the lush warmth of his visuals, especially in the scenes set at Ron’s country retreat. Ron’s lifestyle evokes the pastoral philosophy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which is quoted from in one scene. Ron’s true-to-himself philosophy and rugged life, continually in touch with nature, is a stark contrast to the hermetically sealed spaces of Cary’s old-money mansion, her dead husband’s ancestral home and a constant reminder of her widowhood. Her daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott), a social worker who provides some of the film’s funniest comic relief in her straight-faced presentations of Freudian psychobabble, tells her mother about the old, outdated Egyptian custom of entombing the wife with her dead husband so she might enter the afterlife with him. That custom is long gone, the daughter assures her, but Cary isn’t so sure, and with good reason. What is her house but a brightly lit tomb, with her dead husband’s possessions all around her? And the townspeople are only too glad to make sure she stays in this tomb, alone and unhappy, unless of course she decides to marry a socially acceptable man like the much older Harvey (Conrad Nagel), who lacks passion or emotion but offers her at least, in his dry way, “companionship.” (more…)

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By Jon Warner


Back in college I got a film recommendation from a very dear friend of mine. She talked admiringly about a film that she said was basically, “two people talking and walking around the whole movie”. Before Sunrise is that…..and oh so much more. I think back on that initial viewing and recall the freshness and genuineness that the film spoke to. It was a film that held me in its romantic grip like very few films ever have. Throughout the last 20 years, this work and it’s sequels have come to gather additional weight and impact with the passing of time. As the real-time examination of a long-term bond between two people has played out, The Before Trilogy is one of the most significant film achievements of its time. In many ways, I admire each film of the trilogy for different reasons. I have passed on a love for these films to others…..my sister loves them and my wife adores them as well. In fact, both my wife and I have seen the last 2 films in theaters together, and have continually held each of these films dearly to us. If pressed into a decision, I must say that the original, Before Sunrise, is my favorite and can stand alone all by itself. It is a fully self-contained work that doesn’t necessarily need the other two films for immediate impact. Additional resonances are and insights are to be found when discussing the trilogy, but this review will focus specifically on Before Sunrise alone.


Before Sunrise is a film about talking and listening, of profound discussions of life, death, and love, and a relationship that is born, blossoms, and within the context of this film alone……closes within 24 hours. We’re introduced to Celine (Julie Delpy), a Parisian, on a train in Europe. She is reading a book in her seat, but is bothered by the arguing couple next to her. She picks up her stuff and moves to the back of the car and sits down on the seat across from a guy named Jesse (Ethan Hawke). He and she notice each other. He strikes up a conversation with her. This conversation will last for something like the next 24 hours. They flirt and make small talk. Then, suddenly, he convinces her to get off the train with him in Vienna where he needs to catch a flight back home, instead of her continuing on to Paris, which is her final destination. They both realize the next day they will part ways, but in between they take a spontaneous chance to see what happens. They spend the entire day, night, and next morning talking, listening, and falling in love. When he asks her to go with him to Vienna, there is no risk to him. He’s got nothing to lose. Celine’s acceptance of the improvised moment, to leave the train with Jesse, is her leap of faith to accept his trust without question. Their timid and awkward first moments after getting off the train soon lead to letting their guards down, to sharing their inner beliefs and dreams, leading to undeniably romantic passages of the film as they realize they might be each other’s soul mates. Linklater’s technique doesn’t artificially trump-up the romance or create a voyeuristic sense of preoccupation for the audience. These two are awkward with each other and don’t always have the right answers. But we feel that Celine and Jesse earn each other’s trust because they are generally interested in each other as equals. This is all done through patience and observing human nature as it unfolds: jokes to break the ice, tentatively giving complements to the other, being respectful of the situation and not taking advantage of the other. (more…)

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 © 2014 by James Clark

      Jules and Jim (1962) is a staple of the French New Wave and thereby we brace ourselves for a monsoon of flip self-congratulation. In doing so, however, we should not close the door on valuable surprises.

The prime mover of this filmic flare-up, Francois Truffaut, turns out to be, even by movie standards, very volatile. We might best clarify our concern here by noting a moment from the DVS’s supplementary programming. The man who coined “auteur” (only to have a posse of such colleagues outstrip his daring and lucidity) is giving a TV interview whereby he wants to maintain, to a not fully won-over host, that his film is all about “two wonderful men and a wonderful woman.” After flashing a quietly smug smile at the recollection of how thrilled was the novelist, Henri-Pierre Roche, to have his original version of the narrative forming the prototype for the film, Truffaut proceeds to assure us that the questionably odd fusion of moods he brings our way is absolutely true to the writer’s purpose. Here is the helmsman’s rendition of the heart of Roche’s autobiographical work, an account which a perusal of the original writing would clearly contradict. “This story, with its shocking situation, is never scandalous or indulgent, because it is a tale about morality. But this morality doesn’t come from the outside world. It’s invented by the characters as they go. And never out of self-indulgence, but out of necessity… All this must have been very painful back then. Yet fifty years later, it enchants him…” Under further questioning, the ingratiating man of the hour warns us not “to believe it too strongly… It had to be filmed like an old photo album…” (more…)

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By Dean Treadway

Out of the seventeen movies Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger made together, A Matter of Life and Death was their sixth, sandwiched in between two other humanistic yet fantastical tales, “1945’s “I Know Where I’m Going!” and 1947’s Black Narcissus. This team was, at the time, used to dazzling audiences with their idea-dense, often passionate and visually rich (thanks to their collaboration with legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff) flights of imagination. Yet A Matter of Life and Death feels somehow different, maybe because it’s such a glorious mashup of so many genres. It first feels almost like science-fiction, with that quick, witty tour of the galaxy at the film’s outset (this is the first glimpse of the subtle but often brilliant special effects featured throughout the movie). Then it most certainly feels like a war picture in the spectacular opening scene between David Niven’s presumably doomed RAF pilot Peter Greene and Kim Hunter’s June, the “Yank girl” he radios as his plane is going down (few movies, if any have had the temerity to begin with such florid and unbound emotions—I mean, what gorgeous close-ups we have here–and yet with the two main characters at the edge of being separated not only by space but by life itself).

For a while, the film becomes a fantasy, as we are taken into another world…a world that may be Heaven (though Powell and Pressberger purportedly wanted to avoid inferring anything such; they balked at the American retitling Stairway to Heaven) or it may be simply another dimension that exists only in a dusty corner of Peter Greene’s brain. It does feel like if the directors truly wished to erase the concept of Heaven from the film, they wouldn’t have had new arrivals in the black-and-white world picking up their made-to-measure wings at the sign-in desk, nor would they have given the young Richard Attenborough—as a breathless newbie–his only line in“It is Heaven, isn’t it?” Either way, the film works in the possibility that all Peter Greene is experiencing—including a ghostly visitation by an erring French “conductor” (Marius Goring)–is a hallucination suffered as a result of something nasty pressing down on his brain. In this way, with the introduction of Roger Lievsay’s Dr. Frank Reeves (he’s magnificent here), the film also becomes a tense medical drama. (more…)

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By Stephen Mullen

Love Me Tonight starts with the ringing of bells, then fades in to shots of Paris – rooftops, streets, the Seine. We see a lone bicyclist, hear the swish of his tires on the street, then see an overhead shot of one street, with a man pushing a wheelbarrow. We hear its wheels; he stops, tosses his tools into the street (clank, clank), and he starts working, pounding a steady rhythm. We cut to an overhead shot of a bum, asleep, snoring. Then to a woman sweeping; to steam whistling from a chimney; to windows opening, a baby crying, to a man with a sawhorse, kids in the street, another man opening a store; women hanging out clothes, flapping them off their balconies; two cobblers sit down to their work, pounding nails (bang: tap/tap – bang: tap/tap); a knife grinder grinds, there’s traffic in the streets, there’s a woman pounding a rug, a car horn sounds – all of it mixes together, layered on everything else, a symphony of sounds, finished, so to speak, by a woman opening her window and turning on her gramophone, the whole street come together in music. And the camera goes into one room and finds Maurice Chevalier, dressing for the day, trying to shut out the noise, but not able to resist it – give him a second, and he’ll be singing along. (more…)

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1 troubleinparadise WitD

By Duane Porter

In the darkness, light filters through the glass panes of a closed door. A man steps up and takes hold of a garbage can that has been left outside the door. He carries it to the edge of a canal and adds it’s contents to the already huge pile of garbage in his waiting gondola. Setting down the empty can, he exuberantly breaks into song with “O Sole Mio” as he pushes off on his way down the canal. This is Ernst Lubitsch’s Venice.

Having just pulled off an audacious robbery, master thief Gaston Monescu (Herbert Marshall), posing as some sort of baron, is making plans to have a most romantic dinner with a beautiful visiting countess.

“It must be the most marvelous supper. We may not eat it, but it must be marvelous.”

“And, waiter. You see that moon?”

“Yes, Baron.”

“I want to see that moon in the champagne.”

The countess arrives in a fluster, worried that she has been seen entering his rooms and that, surely, a scandal will ensue. His suave soothing manner seems to put her at ease and they start the evening with a kiss and a cocktail. She is Lily Vautier (Miriam Hopkins), but she is no more a countess than he is a baron. As the evening progresses, they each become aware that neither is who they purport to be. She has lifted a wallet from his pocket and guesses it to be from the earlier robbery, news of which has traveled very fast. Not easily taken unaware, Gaston now knows that his guest is a charming little pickpocket. He grabs her by the shoulders and shakes her until the wallet falls to the floor. He picks it up, puts it in his pocket, and resumes his dinner. Delighted, they begin returning various items they have taken from each other. He has her pin. She has his watch. They are surprised and excited by the other’s prowess. (more…)

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penistan crag

by Sam Juliano

Heathcliff, it’s me, your Cathy, I’ve come home
I’m so cold, let me into your window
Heathcliff, it’s me, your Cathy, I’ve come home
I’m so cold, let me into your window

                                            -Kate Bush, 1978

Emily Bronte’s wildly-popular Victorian Age novel Wuthering Heights is surely one of the half dozen greatest novels ever written in the English language.  It is also one of the most adapted works for television and the screen, with nearly twenty titular interpretations, including a 1920 British version directed by A.V. Bramble that appears to be lost.  The most recent adaptation was a visually resplendent 2011 revamping by Andrea Arnold, while the most faithful to its source is undoubtedly the 1978 television series, directed by Peter Hammond,which practically followed the book line by line because of its 255 minute running time.  Some of the most famous of the films based on the novel include Luis Bunuel’s Spanish-language Abismos de Pasion, filmed in Mexico, which accurately reflections the original personalities of the characters while largely eschewing narrative fidelity; the stylish and primordial Japanese Onimaru by master Yoshishige Yoshida which features a serpent-like Heathcliff and a story of taboo desires; French maestro Jacques Rivette’s spiritually provocative and beautifully shot. Hurlevelent, which covers the first half of the novel; and a 1992 interpretation by Peter Kominsky and starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche that divided the critics.

Two operas were written on the novel – one an extraordinary work by celebrated American opera composer Carlisle Floyd that was released in 1958 and the other by film maestro Bernard Herrmann, who wrote it in the late 40’s, though it wasn’t actually recorded in its entirety until 1966.  The British pop singer Kate Bush, who was just 18 at the time, never wrote a more popular song in her distinguished career than her 1978 “Wuthering Heights” whose plaintive refrain “Heathcliff, it’s me, I’m Cathy…I’ve come home” helped bring the complex romantic novel new life with teenagers, many of whom were motivated to tackle the novel as a result of the Number 1 charts single. (more…)

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My Darling Chico,

You have been away from me for nearly 2 years now at war. I simply can’t believe you’ve been away that long. It’s also been so long since I’ve heard from you. I miss you so much. We parted on our wedding day and I relive those last moments together as if they exist outside of time. I wonder how you are and pray to God that you will return home soon. I long for you to hold me in your arms. So many moments of our short life together come flooding back to me. I woke up on the street that day to you holding a violet over my face to wake me up. Words can’t express how much I wanted you to take me in your arms and carry me away to safety. I had hardly met you but quickly I knew you were something special. You so selflessly gave of yourself to me, saving my life, when even I didn’t think it worth saving. Claiming me as your wife to keep me from going to jail….. I could tell you had a good heart right from the start and I knew we were meant to be.


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By Jon Warner

Is there a romance that is as cute as this one? I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I think this film is immensely delightful. It’s unabashedly sentimental and romantic, yet the earnestness of the filmmaking propels it onward and upward. It’s also one of cinema’s great romance films, and one of its most unsung. Romance films can be accused of being too manipulative, sentimental, and slight and when done poorly. True they can be. However when done right, there is an intelligence, a wit, and a keen perception of our humanity on display. I think of Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, or even Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy. The two stars of Lonesome, Barbara Kent and Glenn Tryon, don’t have nearly the same cachet as other classic on-screen pairings, but they sure give it the old college try in this lively and charming, late silent film masterpiece. Until Criterion’s release a few years ago, this film had little exposure. It sure deserves it’s high ranking on this countdown, and in my personal opinion, ranks right up there with the best of them. (more…)

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