Archive for the ‘Sam on Movies’ Category

blizzard cover

by Sam Juliano

As I sit down to pen my review of John Rocco’s wildly popular picture book Blizzard, a swirling snowstorm is setting in on the northeastern New Jersey outside of Manhattan, where my family and I reside.  While the projected numbers may not quite equal the 1978 super storm Rocco chronicles, this is a major event that will have people digging out for days, not to mention all the severe travel restrictions that lie ahead.  Nightmare scenarios that include late-arriving plows, the inability to drive to a store for food and supplies, and the effects of cabin fever are part of the blizzard experience.  Always a fun time for the kids, who see the arrival of snowflakes as a passport to scholastic absence, it is that relatively rare time to ride sleds, throw snowballs and build snowmen and igloos with reckless abandon.  It is a time when nature plays the role of the great equalizer, neutralizing parental authority, as a result of the communal task at hand.  The arrival of a blizzard brings on a divergent but amenable mix: excitement, consternation, uncertainty and claustrophobia, though the perceptions of kids widely differ from that of the more responsible adults.  One thing is certain: whatever plans one had in place are all left on the back burner when a blizzard strikes.  The priorities are down to one. (more…)

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starlight cover

by Sam Juliano

There is a defining moment in Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper’s A Dance Like Starlight that coaxes comparison with Italian neo-realism.  After an aspiring young ballet dancer completes a backstage recital performance she recoils sheepishly, lacking all measure of self-confidence.    A ballet master witnesses both her lovely turn and the embarrassment she is unable to conceal from being watched, and poignantly reassures her:

I turned away when I saw him watching, ashamed how he saw me trying to do their dance./But he took my face in his hands and looked into my eyes./”Brava, ma petite,” he told me.  “Brava.”/That’s when hope picked my dream up from the floor of my heart, just like Mama said,/and it started growing.

starlight 4

The mixed media application (referred to as a “subtractive” process that yields sensory textures) of the girl’s face in close-up is incredibly powerful – her dreams and nightly wishes to the stars that never appear, and the opportunities that are seemingly within the realm of fiction paint a picture of intense yearning and the sadness that results from unrequited hope.  This is the face of someone who has worn herself out, one of innocence and conviction, one of someone who tearfully has seen the implausibility of what she imagines.  This is the face one associates with many other talented African-Americans from that period, many of whom were as gifted as any in their field, but were denied equal opportunity because of their color.  It is a face that would melt the hardest of hearts, and is is one of the most unforgettable single illustrations in any picture book released in 2014. (more…)

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Brief Encounter 7

brief encounter 1

by Sam Juliano

A steady drizzle and overcast sky suffused the late morning hours of Saturday, 17, August, 2013, in the town of Carnforth, part of the northwestern county of Lancashire, England.  The gloomy weather is pretty much normal for that region and that time of year, but somehow it atmospherically accentuated the twenty or so mile trek we embarked on from our home base of Kendal in the county of Cumbria.  Our destination was a seemingly sedate and rustic train depot on the outer fringes of a parish populated by barely five-thousand, and geographically distinguished by hilly terrain and its close proximity to the sea.  The Carnforth Railway Station, which has a history dating back to the mid 1800’s was used as a waylay station for soldiers during both World Wars, and served as a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish railways.  It was refurbished in 1938, and subsequently entered the movie history books after it was chosen as the primary setting for one of the most famous films ever made – David Lean’s timeless classic of repressed emotion – Brief Encounter, which was filmed during the last stage of World War II in early 1945.  The location was chosen by film executives, because it was far enough away from major cities to avert blackouts which were common during the war years.  Said Lean: “the war was still on and the railway people said, ‘there may be an air raid at any moment, and you’ll have time to put out the lights in that remote part up in the north.  We’ll know when the planes are coming.’  We were a blaze of lights from filming.’  More recently renovations were completed to the Brief Encounter refreshment room (the tea room in the film) and the “Heritage Center” that are now places of pilgrimage for the film’s fans.

Upon entering the station proper, my tourist party -which included my wife Lucille, son Sammy, and site colleague Allan Fish and his maternal aunt and driver Ann Cafferkey – we were all taken with the imposing overhead platform clock,  a powerful icon in the film.  It did send shivers down my spine to contemplate that one of the greatest films of the British cinema, and surely one of the two or three most celebrated screen romances was filmed around that very spot.  A further investigation of the station unveiled a Brief Encounter souvenir shop, the beautifully restored former tea room, where much of the film’s drama was staged, and lovingly adorned open-ended screening room that offers up a continual showing of the film from start to end and them over and over for the duration of the station’s hours of operation. Alas it was here, while sitting down with Sammy while the others engaged in another room that featured an elaborate miniature train –Brief Encounter epitomizes David Lean’s lifelong fascination with and affection for trains-  and other film memorabilia, that I nodded out after a sleepless night into a dream world of David Lean’s poetic masterpiece, one that commenced over seven decades ago…..  (drifts into sleep) (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The following is the transcript of an interview held on August 12, 2013 with the last surviving lead performer of the 1939 Hollywood landmark ‘Gone with the Wind.”  Olivia de Havilland, who lives alone in the U.K., decided to grant a rare interview in deference to her continuing interest in WitD’s Romantic Films Countdown.  Ms. de Havilland was 97 years old at the time, but sprite to a fault.

SJ:  Ms. de Havilland, I want to thank you so much for allowing this interview, especially as I know you need your rest, and rarely grant one-on-ones anymore.

OD:  Well, Mr. Sam, I am pleased to be of some assistance.  Your site’s Greatest Romantic Countdown has attracted my interest, and it is one of the places I have been visiting during my limited on line sessions.  I have been mightily impressed with many of the reviews by a bevy of writers.  You people have really taken this project seriously, and should be proud of what you have accomplished.  I read somewhere that a man named John Grant suggested that you seek a publisher for the whole lot.  I must say I heartily agree with the bloke.  And please call me Olivia young man.

SJ:  Thanks for the compliment Olivia, but I am not so young anymore.  I think Mr. Grant came up with a very good suggestion there, and I will certainly be looking into it.

OD:  Before we go on could I order you any refreshments?  There’s a good fish n chips shop two blocks to the south, and they deliver.

SJ:  Thanks so much Olivia, but I did have something about an hour ago.  I’m good.  I was told you lived in Paris since 1960, but I was told by a reliable source you moved to London eight years ago.

OD:  That’s right Mr. Sam.  I was being heckled by the paparazzi.  They always want to exploit my non-relationship with my sister Joan, and frankly it is none of their business.  A friend helped me to secretly make passage from Paris to London using a disguise and a fake passport.  Only my daughter Giselle and a few very close friends know I am here, and one was your contact.  (editor’s note: Joan Fontaine passed away four months later in December of 2013 at the age of 96)

SJ:  Absolutely Olivia.  I can’t say that I blame you at all.   I guess you know what film I am here to talk about then, right? (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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 Sam Juliano

The film of  West Side Story produces the same brilliant effect as the play.  This does not mean that the stage show has merely been duplicated; on the contrary, to get the same effect, it had to be effectively translated into a second medium.  Because of the quality of the original materials and of the translation, the result is the best film musical ever made.              -Stanley Kauffmann, The New Republic

West Side Story, a cultural institution with a legacy to match any American film in the musical genre or otherwise, is also a curiosity.  Though it originally ran for 732 performances on Broadway starting in 1957 -an impressive number by any barometer – it did not reach the zenith of theatrical and musical fulfillment until it was transferred to the screen  four year later.  The original show is now seen as much more than a classic musical, indeed one of the very few works that fundamentally changed the form of the musical.  One of the greatest of the influences was in the theatricality of its presentation – the seamlessness and cinematic flow of its staging and the integration of script, song, dance and set.  The operatic score by Leonard Bernstein, with book and lyrics from Stephen Sondheim is arguably one of the two greatest ever written for the musical theater – the other is Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat, which also represented a radical departure in musical storytelling.  Almost every song from that score is now considered a standard and most of them are regularly performed in concerts, nightclubs and updated recordings.  Cast albums have been produced all over the world in places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Sweden and Italy among others, and in various styles, instrumentation and interpretations.   The play continues to be mounted frequently in high schools, universities, community and regional theaters, and in successful revivals around the globe.  The libretto has been translated in over 26 languages, and in high school English classes it has been taught as a companion piece to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the timeless romantic work upon which it was based. (more…)

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