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 © 2016 by James Clark

      The films of Jim Jarmusch tend to entail bemusingly limited figures harboring what they believe to be a passport to the fabulous. Many of the interactions pertain to travel in the public domain, where protagonists make their moves in face of people they are meeting for the first time and are unlikely to ever see again.

Having mined within such structures three amazing veins of contemporary concerns and whimsy, in the fourth vehicle, Night on Earth (1991), he felt it was time to convene an array of urban regulars giving an account of themselves in that quintessential sounding board, a taxi on a long run.Attentive to the varied and rich disturbances such a site can reveal, our guide has put into play a series of 5 cabs in 5 modern cities, shaking things up on the same shift. (A first of many caveats as to the many revelations is that whereas the customers may blurt out self-disclosures in the rather unfamiliar venue as something they seldom run with, the complement of drivers may not infrequently tend to let those on the paying end hear about pet concerns distilled by solitary and stressful lives. A second alert catalyzing the front-seat/ back-seat dramas is the graphic design framework of an atlas showing many lands, many cultures, as coming to close-ups introducing, in turn, each region of the specific sagas, along with itemization of the correct time from one of five identical clocks arrayed on a wall.)

Added to the zoom from the general to the particular, the city itself is represented as a flashing light bringing to mind old radio-show movies (this first centre being LA, after all) as well as ushering in the far from old verbal magic of this cinematic windfall. Before loaded words hit the fan, however, there is the first driver, Corky, a young LA woman trying to derive enjoyment from smoking and chewing gum at the same time, with a couple of stoners in the back seat and power chords on her tape deck. Also on display, at the Executive Terminal of LAX, where the brain-dead rock stars were to be shipped out to thrill the nation, is incoming nation-thriller, Victoria Snelling, checking in by phone to the film studio for which, in her capacity of casting agent, she has found (would the term promiscuously be apt?) 10 hitherto middling young lovelies, one of which headed for silver screen sublimity. Victoria is not simply promiscuous for the sake of impressing her studio bosses but she is ballistically promiscuous on hitching her Grace Kelly-blonde, white (and black)-tailored, middle-age presence to Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), whereby the actressGeena Rowlands’ Victoria becomes stalked by Angie Dickinson’s promiscuous Kate (another Grace Kelly-blonde in a white suit that doesn’t stay white very long). This leaves Winona Ryder’s cabby, Corky, having the very tough act of Nancy Allen’s hooker, Liz, to follow, inasmuch as the latter traces to the inspirational better-half of Giuliana (played by super-tailored, super-blonde, super-cool, Monica Vitti, in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964). (more…)

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By Dean Treadway

Well, we’re finally here.  This conclusion, with Stanley Kubrick’s monumental film landing at #1, should come as no surprise to anyone. As is likely for many others, 2001: A Space Odyssey has long been my favorite film. I first saw it at Atlanta’s Rhodes Theater early in 1977, at age ten (though I suspect I caught a glimpse of it as a younger child while visiting a drive-in with my parents). Its eloquent, overwhelming vision transformed me immensely, leading me into a life of film study, filmmaking, and film writing. After seeing it literally a hundred times (at least 60 of them on the big screen, often projected on 70mm film, though, alas, I’ve never seen the Cinerama version), I unquestionably consider 2001 the best film that has ever been made, or ever will be made in any genre, but especially in the realm of science fiction. It is resolutely successful in dramatizing the history of mankind from ape to superhuman. No other movie could complete such a feat without being compared to this looming progenitor. 

In 1998, I was commissioned by a famous network to write a then-popular pop-up commentary on the film. The editors there knew I treasured Kubrick’s work and had studied 2001 closely, so they considered me the perfect person to do this. I was honored for the opportunity, but never got to see the pop-up version aired on this network; yet I have a nagging feeling they didn’t have room for all the work I provided. So here, now, is the complete set of notes I composed for them. This is the first time they are being seen in their entirety, and in this updated edit. They are meant to be read along with the movie. If I had the equipment, I would have recorded this as an audio commentary, but I will have to save that for another day.

2001: A Space Odyssey begins with an overture–music meant to be played as the audience is filing into the theater. This was a common feature of the larger-scoped movies of the ’50s and ’60s, though it’s a practice that generally fell out of favor by the 1970s. This overture is not meant to be projected on-screen (unless there are closed curtains obscuring it), but these days, overtures are a thing of the past and, more often than not, filmgoers seeing 2001 on the big screen are now treated to a two-minute opening sequence of blackness, scored by the eclectic music of Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti. Many are certainly confused by this, but somehow, this meditative rest, punctuated by Ligeti’s screeching score, does put one in the mood for what’s about to be witnessed.  

The famed MGM logo of Leo the Lion was modernized in 1965 by the studio’s creative consultancy, NYC’s Lipincott. The newly sleek Leo, white against a blue background, was placed before three films: Grand Prix (66), 2001, and The Subject Was Roses (68). MGM’s Logan’s Run (76) utilized it at the end of its closing credits, and then it was retired in favor of the more familiar, roaring Leo. It lived on, though, as the logo for MGM Records and the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.


The short opening sequence helped pioneer movies without a full credits sequence at their fore. The 2001 theme, Also Sprach Zarathustra, was composed by Richard Strauss as an 1896 tone poem inspired by the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher who composed a book of the same name. Nietzsche’s work examining the transformation of Man into Superman would similarly inspire 2001‘s maker, Stanley Kubrick (though, perhaps not so ironically, the book includes the controversial quote “God is dead”). This commanding piece’s inclusion in 2001 would forever seal the music’s meaning and strength in ways Strauss could’ve never foreseen.

The opening scene—the emergence of the Sun over the Moon and then the planet Earth—was animated with the use of photographic transparencies delicately handled, with an arc light standing in as the Sun. It remains among the boldest of all movie openings. (more…)

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cat-coverby Sam Juliano

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view  until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

-Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

In the end it all comes down to perception.  That is both the crux of the matter in Brendan Wenzel’s  fabulously inventive They All Saw A Cat and the opportunity for its creator to put himself “in the shoes of the animal, and then make a piece of artwork representing how I imagine they might see a cat.”  Wenzel himself in a recent interview responded to an interviewer with that quote when explaining his strategy with a book that has taken the children’s book world by storm, and has endlessly delighted classroom teachers who were gifted a a literature unit complete with drawing enrichment.  But taken on its own terms this is a remarkable fusion of text and illustrations that not only is scientifically thought provoking but but an exceedingly sublime work that was created without playing favorites to any particular negotiating process.  Indeed as revealed on the book last (copyright) page “the illustrations in this book were rendered in almost everything imaginable, including colored pencil, oil pastels, acrylic paint, watercolor, charcoal, Magic Marker, good old number 2 pencils, and even an iBook.”  To bring such a seemingly undisciplined artistic melting pot to such unified heights is perhaps the most incredible achievement in They All Saw A Cat as the readers young and old alike are treated to a new adventure on every turn of the page.

‘The cat’ walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws provides the book’s entry point.  First to see the cat is the child, and the love for a pet is evident from the tail cuddled around the legs, the feline’s big-eyed smile and the cozy rug they stand on.  This is immediately contrasted in the next double-page spread where a none too happy dog sees a cat as all limbs – wiry, a face dominated by two rectangular eyes and a huge bell that enhances the noise for the already disgruntled canine.  The dog seems poised to pounce.  When the fox sees the cat, the equation is all about the prospects for the next meal.  Hence in the eyes of this predator the cat is plump and seemingly an easy target.  After another refrain reiterating the cat’s modus operandi, we see the cat as a blurry mass under the water where a small fish sixes up the cat in exaggerated terms where the size rivals some of the biggest fish in the lake or ocean.  The eyes are prodigious, the oversized whiskers lending some degree of definition to a blurry mass.  When a mouse sees a cat the fire truck red image is one of a ferocious monster with big teeth, fiery eyes and imposing claws.  This is not a look the mouse wants to partake of for very long as this cat’s temperament matches that of a jungle cougar moving in for the kill. (more…)

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Andre Techine’s quietly powerful gay-themed drama “Quand on a 17 ANS” is his best film since “Wild Reeds” in 1994 and a strong contender for the Best Film of 2016.

by Sam Juliano

Last week’s miss for the Monday Morning Diary was the first such rare instance since my two week trip to the United Kingdom in August of 2013 when my family spent two weeks with Allan and his mum.  The winding down of the long running Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown and some Caldecott Medal Contender review commitments convinced me for this one time to combine the activities into a single week.  Therefore my round-up constitutes what I managed to negotiate in the prior two week period.  Speaking of the countdown, it really has caught fire as it nears the finish line (this coming Wednesday in fact) and some of the most spectacular reviews that have ever published at the site have appeared in the person of some glorious scholarship.  It is hard to believe we are nearly done, but it will be a project always remembered for the tenacity of its participants and the unconscionable darkness that hovered over it with the passing of our beloved friend and film mentor about half way through.  Because of that incomparable grief and battle with depression it was an unprecedented challenge to move forward.  Thoughts of cancellation nearly came to pass, but after discussion with Jamie Uhler it was deemed a better idea to divert to the subject out dear friend lived his life for, thus this countdown is devoted to Allan Fish, whose reviews were seen more times in the Top 100 than any other writer aside from Roderick Heath.  Mr. Heath of course has moved mountains with numerous staggering essays that redefine the capabilities of the form.  But a number of other writers have penned brilliant pieces and I will discuss those in the countdown round-up next week.  The Sunday posting of J. D. Lafrance’s Blade Runner represents another case of stupendous scholarship, and earlier this week Duane Porter wrote up a storm for his La Jetee review as did Robert Hornak and John Greco respectively for Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  Aaron West last week wrote an achingly beautiful review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it goes on and on.  And then there is Allan who needs no further commendation.  I also want to thank the childrens’ book fans for their amazing support by way of comments and page views for the fourth annual Caldecott series.  As soon as the Science-Fiction countdown ends I will be devoting quite a bit of time towards resuming the series, though I also would like to post some horror film reviews  from some of our staff as we move closer towards Halloween.

It does seem pretty clear that the Republican nominee for President will be going down to resounding defeat, not that anyone is at all surprised.   But the past weeks on that front have been as bizarre as have maligned any election.  Ha, only in the US!  Yes right now it does look like a Chicago – Cleveland World Series (Geez, if Jamie were a baseball fan who might he be rooting for?  He grew up in Cleveland, where his family still lives, but he’s been a Chicago resident for a number of years now)  I do not count out the Toronto Blue Jays just yet, but they have to turn it around fast.  Jim and Valerie Clark are two of the team’s biggest fans, and I’ll be thinking of you both as the series winds down.  This is the second year in a row the Jays have been knocking at the door. (more…)

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By Duane Porter

Nothing distinguishes memories from ordinary moments. It is only later that they claim remembrance. By their scars. — Chris Marker, La Jetée


Writer, editor, photographer, filmmaker, world traveler, archivist and multimedia/installation artist, unclassifiable and without boundaries. Born Christian-François Bouche-Villeneuve on 29 July 1921 at Neuilly-sur-Seine, an exclusive suburb of Paris, Chris Marker has sought to circumvent the expectations and limitations associated with background and class by choosing a name that might belong to anyone and that is easily pronounced anywhere. Working under various pseudonyms, avoiding interviews and photographs, and being somewhat evasive regarding his biography, Marker maintained a certain level of anonymity that has proved useful in his work. Beginning in January 1947, he published poems, short stories, and essays in the eclectic intellectual journal, Esprit. Also among his early works are one novel, Le Coeur net (1949), about airmail pilots in Indo-China after the war, and a critical monograph of playwright Jean Giraudoux (1952). He became increasingly interested in film, writing essays on Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, Cocteau’s Orphée, and Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc, among others. Having mastered the personal essay, inspired by a love for word and image, he ventured into filmmaking with Olympia 52 (1952), an account of the Helsinki Olympic Games. His second film was actually his first, begun two years before Olympia 52 but not finished until one year after, Statues Also Die (1953), co-directed with his friend, Alain Resnais. Being about African art and the effects of colonialism on traditional cultures, it was banned by the French government for its criticisms of colonialism and wasn’t seen in it’s entirety until 1968. Several distinctive essayistic travel documentaries followed, A Sunday in Peking (1956), Letter from Siberia (1958), Description of a Struggle (1960), and Cuba sí! (1961), firmly establishing his association with the essay film. Marker considers his work up to this time to be merely a rough draft, maintaining that his filmmaking career began in 1962 when he began work on Le jolie mai (1963), an intimate interrogatory account of Paris during May 1962 in the days following the close of the Algerian War. It was during breaks in the shooting for Le jolie mai that he made most of the photographs that make up La Jetée, a 27 minute post-apocalyptic love story made up almost entirely of black and white still photographs. A meditation on time and memory that is also a reflection on the nature of the photographic image. A photograph being a perception of immediate reality, an image of the present that instantly becomes the past, a photograph is always a memory.



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by Robert Hornak

Mary Shelley’s original novel was born in the long wake of the western world’s great unshackling from regal tyranny. The American and French Revolutions were still visible in the rear view mirror, being free was the lingua franca of the day, and by the early 1800s, a de facto requirement for progress and individual happiness. Meanwhile, Shelley’s own mother had been a force for gender equality, working to break women away from the tyranny of male power structures. It’s no wonder that Mary, whose blood must have pumped with the assumptions of freedom, would push her imagination into the ultimate realm of tyranny, death itself. Her impromptu story that fateful stormy night in Switzerland, having first captured the imagination of the small group of literary souls that surrounded her that weekend, has grown tall, unconquerable, and endlessly re-built into a myriad combinations from horrifying to hilarious. It’s immediate popularity spread even further in play form, needfully limiting the scope of the novel, and adding elements – like, eventually, the right-hand lab assistant – that might help keep the stage-bound version as captivating as was her globe-trotting tale of a man and his philosophically-minded creation. By the age of film, the story was already ubiquitous, and generally known as much from its ancillary versions as its original incarnation. Thus, by 1931, the ground was ready for the tilling, and Universal, seeking to recapture Dracula‘s lightning in a bottle, leapt upon Shelley’s story, setting it before a new audience, one for whom the bright optimism of the Enlightenment had long since been dimmed by the most bloody, spirit-rending war the world had ever seen, the dark memories of which moved alongside the despair pulsing up out of a brand new, worldwide economic catastrophe. It was tyranny of another kind, a spiritual and psychological one, as well as economic, and all steeped in the relative newness of Freudian self-awareness. Man, whose 19th century take-away was that science, not God, would rescue them, had crawled through the mud of war and poverty to conclude that not only would God not rescue them, but that God wasn’t even there, and that it was time for the great human DIY project. In this spirit, director James Whale framed his version in pitch-black bolts of shadow and delivered the ultimate story of man-as-God to a world that could now embrace the creature rescued from death in the mold of these new, early 20th century tyrannical shackles, and would watch him burst forth into the new world – a place where the chance to live forever could be crushed by the ever-adapting forces of hate and fear. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

There can be nothing more disconcerting to a young child than finding out that their latest book find is well beyond their sphere of negotiation.  The exasperated yellow duckling with the pink beak in veteran artist Sergio Ruzzier’s latest innovative creation, This is Not a Picture Book is initially ecstatic when he comes upon a book with a bright red cover.  Soon enough the anticipated eye candy is exposed as a tome, one indecipherable to an ankle-biter, whose sphere of enlightenment has up until now been in the most stringent visual terms.  Gloriously framing this pained encounter between this impressionable tyke and the latest step in learning are the first set of end papers that reveal that words by themselves are indecipherable at the earliest stage, in fact they project to said prospective reader the futility of a foreign language.  After the exclamatory titular pronouncement on the double page spread that sets off the deceit with Duck Amuck bravado our offended protagonist rejects his latest acquisition, rethinks his action, and finally atones in a series of delightful vignettes that make striking use of white space.  The duckling picks up the book again and is approached by a cricket who asks “What is that?”  The duckling repeats the central dilemma, and the cricket deems it “Wacky” and asks if his new friend is able to read it.  Surprisingly the duckling doesn’t rule out the possibility just before the book enters a new dimension.

Ruzzier, the Italian born classicist who is unwaveringly in the Caldecott hunt for the fourth consecutive year has produced what is probably his picture book masterpiece, and by any artistic and conceptual barometer of measurement one of the finest works of 2016.  Like all the best creations, This is Not A Picture Book is thought-provoking, elegant, and invested with the most vital, if rudimentary measure of advocacy for our youngest readers.  The book celebrates the power of reading and the unlimited boundaries of the imagination. Once again Ruzzier’s colorful and sumptuous otherworldly tapestries evoke a European sensibility and some of his eccentric carnival scenes envision the surrealist cinema master Alejandro Jodorowsky, though framing the art as Felliniesque seems just as appropriate.   (more…)

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