By J.D. Lafrance

El Topo (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972), Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and Repo Man (1984). These iconic films are examples of “midnight movies” – cinema so outlandish and bizarre that they could only be viewed at midnight screenings, typically financial flops during their initial theatrical run only to be rediscovered later by a small but dedicated following that worships every scene, every bit of memorable dialogue. These films dealt with wild elements like drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, sex and violence in extreme ways so that the act of going to see them felt like a taboo smashing event in itself. The midnight movies aesthetic nearly became extinct thanks to the decline of art houses and repertory theatres and the popularity of home video and the Internet. Like the zombies in Romero’s Dead films, however, the midnight movie experience refused to die with films like Donnie Darko (2001) developing a cult following through late night screenings. Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy (2018) continues this tradition.
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by Sam Juliano

A week after Princeton, we attended an even bigger festival up in Chappaqua, New York on Saturday afternoon (where the Clintons have long resided) on the specious grounds of the Bell Middle School. Jeremy, Sammy and I met up with some our friends, with whom we chatted with while securing their most recent titles. Jeremy is featured below with Florence Friedman and Wendell Minor though photos were also taken with Caldecott legends Jerry Pinkney and Bryan Collier.  There were so many others we crossed paths with as well including Caldecott Honor winner Nancy Tafuri, Susan Hood, Jason Carter Eaton, the Ransomes and others. Next week Warwick!!!!

Both James Clark and J.D. Lafrance published extraordinary essays, with Clark’s review of Bergman’s The Silence the continuation of an ongoing series devoted to the iconic director.

Jamie Uhler’s latest Horrorfest review considers The Vampire Bat (F. Strayer/1933):  “A cheapie made to capture on the success of the Lionel Atwood/Fay Wray pairing in Doctor X from a year prior (review on that to come) and the Mystery of the Wax Museum that was set to arrive in theaters imminently, looks at least a decade older than each of these in comparison given its threadbare production. Sure, it borrows sets from James Whale’s great, lavish vehicles Frankenstein and The Old Dark House, which creates an aura beyond what would’ve been there otherwise, which is talk heavy plot (hey, actors could talk in the talkies now, so some of the early ones took full advantage!) and minimal suspense. That being said, it is a curious oddity, if a slightly mundane one. When you consider the plot, it uses a red herring in an actual, deranged young man who is obsessed with bats whom the townspeople suspect to be an actual vampire when several dead bodies turn up due to ‘blood loss’. As the townspeople build towards mob justice (surely lifted from Frankenstein), lead investigator Karl (the always stiff Melvyn Douglas) suspects more earthly suspects. Soon, Dr. Otto (the lean, cold Lionel Atwill) appears to be the prime target, and when his blood transfusion experiments are revealed for their more nefarious intentsto feed the artificial lifeforms the blood they need to keep going—we build to the films climax. It’s that idea, how science and technology can drive Horror rather than the classic Horror tales of Monsters and supernatural phenomenon from the Old World that provides something interesting, and relatively original. It would certainly become the norm for the cheapies made in the Horror and Science Fiction films for the next 3 decades or so. 

The direction is compact and subtle from Frank Strayer, perhaps greatest is his idea to use slowed, diagonal wipes to denote scene ends, evoking something like a bat wing or vampire cape cascading across our visual frame. While I wouldn’t rush anyone to see this one, in an age when the heavies—James Whale and Todd Browning—were defining what Horror looked like to American audiences, this is an interesting juxtaposition that I’d say Horror fans could stand seeing (of course Browning would make Freaks after Dracula and make any easy characterization of his aesthetic moot). If it was a bit brisker and more action oriented, which is perhaps unrealistic on poverty row, it’d have been tremendous. 

A ravishing biographical period piece “Colette” stars a luminous Keira Knightley in what could well be her finest performance since ‘Atonement’ as the radical bi-sexual title character who because of her gender is denied of credit for her famed writing by her husband, Henry, an unrepentant womanizer. Colette is actually the iconic French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1948 and famously penned “Gigi” upon which the beloved Lerner & Loewe musical was based. This pioneer in women’s rights fought back with fiery determination, allowing Knighley to flex her acting chops with dynamic fortitude. Directed by Wash Westmoreland this exquisite British work features resplendent period cinematography by Giles Nuttgens and above all the absolute greatest score of 2018 by Thomas Ades, whose classical themes and melodious flow beautifully underscores the film’s temper. 4.5 of 5.0. One of the best films of the year. (Seen in Montclair Saturday night with Lucille, Sammy and Danny). Continue Reading »

700_26_02. LETS GET LOST

By J.D. Lafrance

Why do we find ourselves fascinated by people who seem to have it all: good looks, loads of talent, and that special sort of something that elevates them to iconic status? Yet, they can never seem to handle this power and inevitably something, whether it is a self-destructive streak from within or outside influences, brings them crashing back to earth. It is this tragic arc that we find so fascinating — people who seem to have everything and then throw it all away. Such is the case with Bruce Weber’s absorbing documentary-portrait Let’s Get Lost (1988), which focuses on jazz trumpeter Chet Baker, a man who epitomized what Pauline Kael called, a “self-destructive beauty.”
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by Sam Juliano

The annual New Jersey children’s book bonanza known as the Princeton Book Festival was staged Saturday at Hinds Plaza next to the Princeton Public Library. Jeremy, Sammy IV and I were thrilled to chat with Caldecott record-holder David Wiesner, who grew up in New Jersey and presented his new book “I Got It”; with good friend Lauren Castillo, whose new work “Imagine”, authored by Juan Felipe Herrera was center stage on her table, and with Rowboat Watkins, whose latest, “Big Bunny” was his own latest offering. We also crossed paths with David Ezra Stein, Greg Pizzoli, Daniel Salimieri, Susan Verdi, Angela Dominguez and others on this beautiful day in the center of the Garden State. (Jeremy pictured with Wiesner).

James Clark and J.D. Lafrance published magisterial essays this past week on Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets at the site.

Jamie Uhler’s continuing horrorfest essays this past week included fabulous pieces on George Waggner’s 1941 horror classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and Lynn Ransay’s 2017 psychological horror You Were Never Here:

“One of the last of the singularly title Universal monster films, I’ve long really liked this feature anyways. Universal’s long held, and rightly earned, ‘House of Horror’ was running on fumes as the Forties hit. Frankenstein and Dracula had already been done within 3 variations each (with a fourth Frankenstein title in 1942), and things looked bleak. None of the new enterprises seemed to add much to the stable, but with the retreads continuing to rake in the dough, who could really care to establish new (1940’s The Invisible Man Returns, for example, was a smash, prompting The Invisible Woman to be rushed into production)? It was under this that The Wolfman came, a genuine new venture, featuring a new monster not previously explored in full in quite this way. Werewolf of London, from 6 years prior, doesn’t attempt the emotional anguish of this film, as good as it is (and I’m slated to do it this season). Some works wonderfully, while some does not—Lon Chaney Jr. is a little sluggish as the sensitive, love struck wolf, but otherwise, this stands tall with the classics of the Universal monster stable.  Continue Reading »

 © 2018 by James Clark

      Ingmar Bergman’s film, The Silence (1963), is generally understood to be part of a trilogy upon the issue of an absent God. Though it does raise affinities to the film, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), it also swarms with the discoveries of the decidedly non-sixties earlier films, The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Virgin Spring (1960). Instead of packaging 3-packs like that, I think we’re well advised to notice that every one of his films (or every one of which marked his graduation from hack duties) deals with the same obsessive shock that world history has boarded a train going nowhere.

That the train going somewhere is far from transparent may be inferred by the fact that the most unlikeable figure, in The Silence, happens to be also the only one with a taste for integrity. This so-called person of interest, perhaps predictably, comes to us as totally upstaged by her sister, Ester, in the First-Class compartment of the train, they share, along with a boy, Johan, of about 10, whose mother, Anna, feeling the heat of the well-appointed but not air-conditioned cell, fans herself with a magazine. Ester does not feel that heat pressing upon her sister. She’s dressed in a tasteful suit, and she could be taken for a middle-management bureaucrat. But she feels heat nevertheless.

The nature of distribution of heat is as important as it is obscure; and it needs clear-sightedness on our part, a take going beyond the flabby pundits who slide off the rails in claiming that Ester has been stricken by a plague-like, devilish biological killer. She does have, several seconds into the first scene, some kind of fit, bending over and vomiting and needing Anna’s help to reach the washroom. But the irony of the very beautiful actress, Ingrid Thulin’s, vivid portrayal of Ester—forbidding the notion of her being eaten by microbes—never becomes a question. Anna, played by actress, Gunnil Lindblom, though having a handsome face, is overweight and has no taste in apparel. The credits have been accompanied by the loud and racing ticking of a clock. The moment of Ester’s cracking up had been accompanied by the pronounced rushing and ringing of the train. Johan had, in asking Ester the impossible question of what the signage in and out of the vehicle meant, underlined to the adults what it feels like to be visited by a range of action foreign and solidly indifferent to them. But perhaps it was the universe they had inhabited all their life. That the next station finds them stopping over to allow Ester to deal with her malaise, once again introduces a current of foreignness they seem very unprepared for. Continue Reading »


By J.D. Lafrance

Martin Scorsese’s truly great films have all had a personal touch to them. One only has to look at films like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) to see a real vitality and energy to the action on-screen. It is these early films that convey a real sense of someone intensely in love with film — which may be due in part to the fact that Scorsese and his cast and crew were just starting out. Mean Streets, in particular, is a visceral, intimate experience that is just potent today as it was when it first came out.

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by Sam Juliano

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

-John Lennon

The Museum of Modern Art, affectionately identified as MOMA is surely the most heterogeneous all New York City art institutions.  Located in midtown Manhattan on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues this expansive mecca for modernist painting, sculpture, architecture and design is just as celebrated for its film series, dance theater and performance programs and is perhaps the most resolute sponsor of extensive illustrated children’s book exhibitions.  Among this cultural epicenter’s most treasured possessions are masterpieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Rosseau and Pollack.  The most artistically intimate exploration of this highly influential tourist favorite ever attempted in a picture book is the prime focus of the wordless Imagine by Raul Colon, a fantastical adventure inspired by real life exploits from the artist’s childhood.

Colon, a critically-acclaimed author-illustrator, who also rates as one of the most prolific at his craft, lived in Brooklyn for a number of years after growing up in Puerto Rico.  His cherished experiences of Manhattan culture are conveyed in a fictional story of a boy (the artist himself) on a skateboard who gains access to the museum and other locations via the Brooklyn Bridge, a crossing of the East River just a few blocks from the “Dumbo” section of the Big Apple’s most populated Borough.  In a series of cityscape vignettes the intrepid youngster resolves to avail himself of opportunities exclusive to the region and after the proverbial hop, skip and a jump he crosses the historic steel-wire suspension bridge, eyeing the skyscraper metropolis en-route, and then scoots down the sidewalks heading to his midtown destination. Continue Reading »