Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Sam on Movies’ Category

ketzel-the-cat-who-composed 1

by Sam Juliano

Cat lovers will be utterly charmed.   Classical music aficionados will be transported.  Those who profess an affinity for both will find Leslea Newman’s Ketzel the Cat Who Composed nothing short of a revelation, though few would ever fathom the story’s central conceit was a factual one.  Though it is the kind of thing that would sit comfortably as a miraculous one off in the Guinness World Book of Records, it is story steeped in humanism and its conceivable sphere of possibilities.  One could easily enough conclude that the book’s central event was just a lucky occurrence, a triumph over the law of probability or a validation of fate.  Either way, Ketzel the Cat Who Composed is a life-affirming work with a deeply emotional center.  While preparing for this series I came upon it by accident.  After securing a planned purchase of another title at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder, I quickly browsed the shelves, and was taken by the cover and the subject.  You see I am one who did find the book a lightening bolt of sorts, as a lifelong multiple cat owner and classical music fanatic.  Such a story was too irresistible to ignore.  Then there were the amazing illustrations.  I have since discovered that the book had received fabulous reviews and strong word of mouth by online picture book lovers.  And it was even named by some as one of the year’s recommended titles.

Moshe Cotel lives in solitude on the third floor of an apartment building on a cacophonous street in a city that never sleeps.  Yet sounds of all variety are music to the ears of a composer, which is in effect what his own teacher had taught him.    Moshe began his day sitting at his piano listening the sounds outside and inside himself, and turned them into rapturous music.  His routine was always to leave the apartment when his composition session was complete, not only for exercise but to listen to all the sounds for possible inspiration.  One day after hearing an unusual, more intimate sound Moshe came upon a black and white kitten nestled in a box around a corner.  He named him Ketzel and took him back to his apartment, where he sat the small creature down on the top of the piano to witness his work in progress, sharing the advice that the teacher had given Moshe. (more…)

Read Full Post »

room 3

by Sam Juliano

It is rare for one to conclude that a title sequence is the most unforgettable component in a film that offers so much more, and succeeds admirably on practically every level.  Yet this is precisely the case with Ismael Merchant and James Ivory’s ravishing period piece A Room with a View (1985) based on the beloved 1908 novel of the same name by E. M. Forster.  Over the sublime vocals of soft-toned soprano Kiri TeKanawa, who delivers an incomparable reading of Giacomo Puccini’s great aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” from Gianni Schicchi, the third part of the composer’s triptych opera Il Trittico, we are treated to the sumptuous watercolor illustrations by Florentine artist Folco Cianfanelli. Ornate shapes, patterns and designs accompany the peace meal scrolling of the film’s actors and craftsmen, but more importantly this collaboration of aural and artistic elements render the film a sensory as well as narrative appeal.  The Forster hook was there, it was up to Merchant and Ivory to craft the proper sensibilities.  In any case the affinity for Puccini did not end with the beloved credit aria, as the big kiss in the Italian fields was immeasurably boosted by the intoxicating “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” from the composer’s La Rondine, also voiced by the inimitable Ms. Te Kanawa.  The number is revisited in part by way of orchestration in other parts of the film.  When Puccini isn’t dominating the soundtrack in his traditional take no prisoners manner -his two arias accentuate the richness of the setting and the romantic underpinning of the story-  the Merchant/Ivory stock company composer Richard Robbins brings his own considerable measure of lyricism that is perfectly attuned to the score’s operatic hook.  As far as the aforementioned credit sequence is concerned it should be noted that the same design is interspersed throughout the film in the manner of chapter titles.

It could certainly be argued that Forster’s Howard’s End and A Passage to India are more complex novels with a wider breadth, but by way of delight and engagement A Room with a View may hold poll position in his canon.  The novel is an Edwardian comedy of manners with some acidic wit that is magically transformed on the screen from what seems like a light and frivolous enterprise into something much more soulful in its rapturous appreciation of Italy’s scenic resplendence.  It wound up influencing a host of other films like Enchanted April and Under the Tuscan Sun, but on the strength of it’s writing, cinematography, music, set design and especially it’s cast it is the best in it’s sub-genre.   (more…)

Read Full Post »

i walked 2

by Sam Juliano

Ah, woe/Woe is me/Shame and sorrow for the family.

It has been argued in scholarly cinematic circles that “there are two Lewton masterworks: I Walked With A Zombie (visually the more eloquent and elegant) and The Seventh Victim (the more poetic and profound).”  It has furthermore been alleged  that “Neither film employs a conventional narrative structure although the subjects, voodoo and devil worship, are the stuff of traditional horror movies.”  For both films Lewton formulated a mosaic-like structure that doesn’t so much as present a full story than suggest it’s “possibilities.”  Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar  would be an example of this practice, as it eschews conventional narrative for the exploration of a specific theme.

The same theme seems to prevail in Lewton’s films: the power of reason vs. the power of obscurity.  The concerns are given the same attention, but Lewton, a studied man with a literary slant, is in essence a measured artist whose greatest gift was always reveling in the humanity of his characters, a gift that once won effusive praise from the great critic James Agee.  Hence it is assumed that the powers of darkness will in the end be negated by rational thinking.  Perhaps the most startling element in I Walked With A Zombie, the second in his famous low-budget horror series, is that diabolical forces emerged victorious at the film’s conclusion.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

CITY 3

CITY 4

by Sam Juliano

The following film review of “City of the Dead” is offered up as a “Halloween” special.

    John Moxey’s 1961 low-budget City of the Dead is an eighty minute feature that in story, theme and execution could well have fit comfortably on Boris Karloff’s one-hour Thriller, which ran the same year and one beyond.  It wouldn’t even seem out of place as one of the one hour Twilight Zones shown a few years later, or even as an installment of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.  Made on a shoe sting on studio lots, one could hardly anticipate the reputation it has enjoyed to this very day.  Sure it features Christopher Lee in a relatively minor role, and offers up an early assignment for celebrated cinematographer Desmond Dickinson, but upon conception and subsequent release it wasn’t especially distinguished.  Yet like fine wine, this fog enshrouded story about witchcraft set in the fictional “Whitewood” Massachusetts has risen in reputation and remains one of the very best films of his kind.  It trumps the very well made but didactic Burn Witch Burn, and it isn’t at all out of place to speak of it when recalling Mario Bava’s masterpiece Black Sunday, another monochrome gem made the same year as the British City of the Dead.   The story device of the young heroine being killed off early in the film was apparently lifted from Hitchcock’s Psycho, 

Known in America by a more sensational title, Horror Hotel, the film opens with a stunning prologue, set during the Puritan era in late seventeenth century Massachusetts.  A young woman named Elizabeth Selwyn (played by Patricia Jessel) is burned at the stake for “consorting with the devil.”  The hostile crowd cheers on her demise, while the woman appeals unsuccessfully to another Puritan named Jethro Keane to help her.  Keane, fearing for his own life remains silent, but privately urges Lucifer to assist her when a cloak of darkness suddenly descends to announce his arrival.  Selwyn boasts to the crowd that she has made her pact, before she is roasted on the pyre.  The scene then segues into the present at the home of Professor Alan Driscoll (Lee) who is highly respected by a young blonde beauty, Nan Barlow (played by Venetia Stevenson, the daughter of the director of Mary Poppins), who informs him privately that she wishes to do her research at a place where witchcraft once flourished.  Driscoll tells her he knows just the place – a town “off the beacon track” named Whitewood, and writes down the name of the “Raven’s Inn,” advising her to speak to the woman running the place, a “Mrs. Newless.”   (more…)

Read Full Post »

Bogdanovich-Last-Picture-Show1

Texaco

by Sam Juliano

Well, why don’t you love me like you used to do?
How come you treat me like a worn-out shoe?
My hair’s still curly and my eyes are still blue
Why don’t you love me like you used to do?

Well, why don’t you be just like you used to be?
How come you find so many faults with me?
Somebody’s changed so let me give you a clue
Why don’t you love me like you used to do?

– Hank Williams Sr.

the most important work by a young American director since Citizen Kane.”

The above quote by Paul D. Zinnemann of Newsweek is one of the most famous examples of critical hyperbole ever recorded, yet, 44 years later it still underscores the reputation of a movie classic and the director who bettered a literary classic in making a  film that is arguably the finest by an American in the 1970’s.  I first discovered it as a budding movie fan in the magazine section of my hometown library a short time after I turned seventeen in a section of wildly favorable capsules that not only included The Last Picture Show, by also Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.  All three films were released in the final third of the year.  Peter Bogdonovich would go on to direct some other fine films like Paper Moon and What’s Up Doc? but he never again equaled the grand slam he achieved with his aching elegy of Anarene, Texas, a town doomed by technological advances. The 50’s were arguably the final decade where the movie theater held prominent sway in one’s social life, and in The Last Picture Show its importance is literal and thematic.  Seventeen years later, the Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore would traverse the same territory with Cinema Paradiso, though the approach was unadulterated wallowing in nostalgia.  Bogdonovich manages to derive the same level of emotion in one of the most deeply-felt of all American films, but he does it without the aid of sentimentality and the unbridled lyricism of Ennio Morricone.  Mind you, this writer is a huge fan of Cinema Paradiso, but is still willing to note the vast difference between directorial approaches.

Bogdonovich underscores his intentions by filming in high school yearbook styled monochrome at the urging of his friend Orson Welles, enlisting the renowned Robert Surtees, whose work here is as accomplished as in any American film.  The proper mood and deep focus possibilities could only reach fruition with the use of black and white.  The Last Picture Show opens brilliantly as the camera pans across shabby Main Street and a decaying cluster of buildings, with a ferocious wind swept howl providing audio embellishment.  The camera eventually settles on a beat up pick up truck that belongs to high school buddies, one that blares out the Williams standard posted here above while sputtering before it starts up.    The theater -the Royal- stands next to a minimalist pool hall and a cafe that remains open all hours.  These are the only places that provide a modicum of activity in a town rife with ennui and adolescent alienation from parents they are always escaping from.  Quiet despondency seems to run over two generations in this one-horse town.  Bogdonovich brings an extraordinary visual sense to the themes examined by his screenwriter Larry McMurtry, whose acclaimed novel is the source for this searing evocation of a place that offers no opportunity or sense of identity – only an unchanging mode of existence that centers around sex.  The main characters include two young men, Sonny and Duane, who during the course of the film fall in love with the same girl – the school’s ravishing beauty Jacy, but there are other relationships they indulge in that complicate what is on one level a stylized soap opera.  McMurtry makes it clear enough that there s very little to do in this stagnant whistle-stop, and the various pursuits are exclusively hedonistic.  The fact that we learn virtually nothing about our central characters’ home lives makes them symbols of a marked transformation of a culture, though with magnifying glass intensity McMurtry and Bogdonovich draw full bodied characters with powerfully observed intimacy.  Sonny’s father is seen once at a dance hall – it is clear enough he’s got a drinking problem, and Duane’s mother is seen briefly at the front door of their home near the end. (more…)

Read Full Post »

hope-and-glory

by Sam Juliano

John Boorman’s Hope and Glory stands apart from nearly-all other World War II-themed films in that it presents an idyllic view of terrible events, seen through the eyes of a ten-year old boy.  By displaying the humor and the resilience of the boy’s family and the British people in general, the film at first broaches denial, and then segues into domestic life wrought under danger and hardship, where luck plays a large part in the survival game.  Hope and Glory is for it’s writer-director a semi-autobiographical work centering around his own experiences of a child growing up during the war, and of the psychology of a nation not yet ready for such a calamity.  When a school teacher quips “a few bombs may wake up this country” and the boy’s mother complains that they’re “starting  a war on such a beautiful day”you know that many aren’t prepared for, nor aware of the deadly battle of wills that is to soon ensue.

Young Bill Rohan, played by a spunky young actor named Sebastian Rice Edwards, lives with his parents and two sisters in a London suburb.  His father, who is too old to serve in combat, is assigned to a military desk job early in the film, so the young boy is surrounded by females and a close friend of his mother.  His daily routine is in large measure to attend school, engage in mischief with friends, and scour through the wreckage caused by bombs that penetrate the blimp defense employed around the country.  You don’t have to be British to be stirred by an emphatic school master’s patriotic speech invoking Churchill and and the brave young warriors enlisted to defend the country, with the strains of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” underscoring the noble defiance.  When Billy holds up the cover of a war periodical at the end of the sermon, we’re reminded that the kids think it’s a big adventure, no different that when Billy plays with his collection of soldiers before going to bed.  And few mothers won’t be able to relate to a wrenching scene when Bill’s mum breaks down a the train station, at the planned prospect of sending Billy and his youngest sister away to safer pastures until the end of the war, only to change her mind and be rejected by the officials. (more…)

Read Full Post »

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.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 543 other followers