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by Sam Juliano

Those who were fortunate and privileged to know Allan or just even to cross his path immediately understood he was someone quite out of the ordinary.  His incomparable obsessiveness guaranteed that any venture he embarked upon would be afforded a maximum level of accountability.  Most know him for his cinematic prowess, the go to guy for reference, film availability and quality control specs.  Some also knew that movies, astonishingly enough, were not his sole focus.  He was a remarkably astute historian and could hold his own with anyone hankering to discuss music, theater and soccer and his grasp of literature from around the world past and present was beyond exceptional.  His still-unpublished massive tome, though primarily about the cinema, also includes a masterly investigation of television, a field Allan was as passionate about as any other, even to the extent of insisting there be no differentiation with its most towering achievements with those comparable film works.  Any list Allan composed invariably included television mixed together in a somehow comfortable melting pot with motion pictures.  He was a fervent aficionado of British small screen landmarks -often by his own admission serving as his country’s mercenary with the exclusive intent of turning heads of those he derided as American xenophobes.  Mind you Allan was attuned to the best in American television as well and often championed the shows we all do, but he was educated on the international scene and was always proud of Britain, which he once boldly told me eclipsed American television, despite the long list of great shows produced stateside.

This takes me to our family’s trip to England in 2013 when we spent two weeks in London and at Allan’s home in Kendal.  A running joke at that time was a carry-over from online ribbing with Allan as an exasperated host who was beside himself with my lifelong infatuation with American anthology television, particularly the horror and science fiction shows that originally aired in the late 50s through the early and mid 60s.  In a secret conversation with my five kids Allan instructed them to get hold of my DVD collections and books on Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Alfred Hitchcock Presents and hide them so I couldn’t access them anymore.   To be sure Allan himself loved (and included in his book with perceptive and generous entries) them well enough, but were not programs he considered at the forefront of his life.  Due to my sometimes excruciating nostalgic slant and my fondness for anthology television I directed conversations with my friend to these shows much too often and the result was sometimes hysterical chiding.  Allan wasn’t always willing to embrace my incessant defense that this era was my “specialty”, as he knew only too well -as he did when I attended Manhattan movie theaters to see classic films for the umpteenth time – that watching stuff over and over came at the expense of delaying the negotiation of new discoveries was patently absurd.  My kids to this day are in stitches when relating what was said in those talks, though based on our phone and e mail chats I think I have a very good idea.

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by Sachin Gandhi

West of the Tracks (Tie Qi Xu, 2003, Wang Bing): Parts I, II and III

Wang Bing is one of the best filmmakers working today yet his films are not as well known compared to other international film directors. One big reason has to do with accessibility of his films via legal channels. His films have been a fixture at many international film festivals but have found little distribution beyond the film festival circuit. Physical media of his films (DVD/Blu-Rays) are a rarity and until recently, many of his films weren’t available for streaming. Tracking down his debut film West of the Tracks was almost a seven year hunt for me.

I was first alerted to Wang Bing’s potential via a magnificent article by Robert Koehler in Cinema Scope where Koehler asks of Wang Bing’s West of the Tracks: “is there a more sublime debut in recent history?Thus began a hunt for that film but a DVD/Blu-Ray was out of sight. That changed in 2010 when a Rotterdam Film Festival issued DVD came out. I wasn’t the only one who came across that DVD in 2010. Allan Fish posted an entry on this site in 2010 as well.

West of the Tracks, divided in three parts, highlights the decline of the Tie Xi industrial sector in Northeast China. The film requires an investment of nine hours from its viewers but it rewards those patient viewers with plenty of riches. The three parts are a great example of “Direct Cinema” where the camera patiently records everything in sight and allows viewers to listen in to all the daily noises while leaving plenty of room for us to draw our own conclusions.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Somewhere, there’s an alternate universe where James Le Gros is playing recurring Elmore Leonard character Deputy United States Marshal Raylan Givens in a series of television movies instead of Timothy Olyphant in a T.V. series. Watching Le Gros in Pronto (1997) is a study in contrast of styles to what Olyphant would do later in Justified. Airing two years after Get Shorty (1995) was released in theaters, and based on the 1993 novel of the same name, Pronto clearly tries to ape it in style and tone only with less money and star power in front of the camera.

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Director: Peter Fonda
Screenwriter: Thomas Matthiesen

The Allan Fish Online Film Festival 2020

By Roderick Heath

Peter Fonda famously left John Lennon uneasy but also creatively stirred when, as the young actor dropped LSD with the Beatle and his bandmate George Harrison, he recounted a childhood accident when he almost fatally shot himself in the stomach, reporting “I know what it’s like to be dead.” Lennon was inspired to write his song “She Said” sporting his riposte to the utterer, “It’s making me feel like I’ve never been born.” Fonda would for his part later try, when he became a film director, to articulate his enigmatic report from the fringes of existence. Fonda, son of movie legend Henry Fonda, found himself a figure strongly associated with the emerging counterculture vanguard around Los Angeles, an association that would briefly make him a major cultural figure. After making a mark in a small role as a young recruit confronted by the ugliness of life in Carl Foreman’s antiwar epic The Victors (1963), Fonda’s embrace of the hip scene in Hollywood saw his rise to conventional stardom frustrated, but he gained starring roles with Roger Corman in cheap and spurious but fascinating attempts to court a youth audience with tales of the new bohemia like The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967).
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Fonda accepted a sense of mission in trying to convey a more authentic sense of the zeitgeist in working with his friend and fellow actor Dennis Hopper on a project that eventually became Easy Rider (1969). Fonda and Hopper’s divergent sensibilities were thrown into sharp contrast in making the project a reality even as they joined in fertile collaboration. Fonda’s ambitious and thoughtful approach saw him turn to satirical writer Terry Southern to co-write the film with an eye to making an epic portrait of assailed Americana, but Hopper would later claim it Fonda and Southern took too long and he finished up writing most of the film himself. Hopper was generally accepted as the film’s auteur and engine for its rugged, improvisatory, freewheeling artistry. Hopper and Fonda’s quarrel over both the credit and profits for the film would spoil their relationship for decades, but Fonda did get a crack at directing in his own right on the back of Easy Rider’s industry-jarring success, whilst Hopper rolled on towards glorious disaster with The Last Movie (1971).

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This year Sam and I debated about having our yearly Allan Fish Online Film Festival. While it seemed an obvious choice in the positive—kept isolated and largely at home, what better time to hold an online only film festival in honor of our dear friend and esteemed cinephile, the late Allan Fish? A thought furthered when I kept seeing an array of arthouse theaters and actual famous film festivals copping the idea of showing their films to online communities, all in an effort to recoup costs as they hope to survive such a turbulent, uneasy time. But in reality, the second half of that statement was the reason for our trepidation: we wanted to respect the anxiety that so many face on a daily basis. But after some contemplation, we figured recommending films to friends and strangers alike, with the potential for discussion, could at the very least possibly offer a slight break, a diversion, to some. It was, as always, why the venture was started in the first place, to respect the memory of site co-founder Allan Fish, and remember him in a way he’d want, via the cinema.

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 © 2020 by James Clark

 

    There are Bergman films that seem to be like ancient frescos, disappearing the moment they encounter our atmosphere. Thanks to a few devotees, such apparitions reappear by way of streaming and deep space, allowing us to confirm that everything he touched was very important.

The film, Dreams (1955), is not only a beautifully crafted and powerfully ironic evocation; but it is at the apex of a clutch of early 1950’s filmic gems with a strange and wonderful weave about actors, names, habits, habitats and humiliation. (The concentration there would spread out into many of the factors of later Bergman films.)

A brief description of this patterning can get us underway with the specifics being buoyed by a universal frenzy, however masked. Our protagonist, Susanne, owner of an haute couture concern, first comes to us as stressed and morose, putting much use to her opera-length cigarette holder aflame and asmoke. Less than a year before, in the film, A Lesson in Love (1954), we saw another frustrated Susanne. But whereas the latest to have that name is played by actress, Eva Dahlbeck, the Susanne of A Lesson in Love is played by actress, Yvonne Lombard, while Eva Dahlbeck portrays there, “Marianne,” a flakey, violent and patrician wife to one, “David,” a patrician gynecologist, played by Gunner Bjornstrand. In Dreams, Bjornstrand portrays Otto, a multi-millionaire, who picks up one of Susanne’s models, played by Harriet Andersson, a cynical, infantile gold-digger. In A Lesson in Love, Andersson portrays “Nix,” daughter of David, far more balanced than her parents. Andersson also portrays, Monika, the eponymous protagonist in Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), who plays an unbalanced crocodile. Life going round and round; but going nowhere anytime soon.

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by Sam Juliano

Case numbers in my region have been on a steady decline.  While I must reject the claim of a very well-respected local physician who feels the “pandemic is basically done in this area” and I continue to fear a second wave or resurgence, I will admit there is finally evidence to be cautiously optimistic.  Most of my family were given the antibody test this past week and we are waiting for results.  The above photo was taken outside the Fairview office of Dr. Luke Eyerman.  Wishing everyone continued safety!

The 4th Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival will launch on Allan’s May 28th birthday, which is this coming Thursday.  The five post affair will include submissions from Roderick Heath, J.D. Lafrance, Sachin Gandhi, Jamie Uhler and Yours Truly.  The schedule is as follows:

Thursday, May 28  –  Jamie Uhler
Friday, May 29       –  Roderick Heath
Saturday, May 30   –  J. D. Lafrance
Sunday, May 31     –  Sachin Gandhi
Monday, June 1     –  Sam Juliano
We wish to thank all who have even considered a submission during this exceedingly difficult time, and likewise a salute to the e mail chain who have been respectful and supportive.  To the small group actively participating in the project there can’t be enough appreciation!

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By J.D. Lafrance

“When you’re approached by a studio, they say ‘We want you to make your own films’ – and then they describe how the project will get financed. These are well-intentioned people; they’re not stupid. But the amount of money they want to get, and the way they want to get it, prohibits me from making my kind of film. That’s why most big movies today are so homogeneous.”– Hal Hartley

It is this sentiment, coming from independent filmmaker Hal Hartley, which may explain the decidedly un-Hollywood kind of films that make up his eclectic body of work. He emerged on the scene in the late 1980s with films that explored the banality of suburban life mixed with the bizarre, often with hilariously ironic results. The stories and their settings that he explored were realistic enough (i.e. the boy-meets-girl tale of The Unbelievable Truth) but they were then contrasted by stylized dialogue delivered in a deadpan style reminiscent of the great stone-face Buster Keaton. His characters often talk in philosophical terms but in very mundane situations that challenge the audience. The way the dialogue is delivered by his actors appears to be awkward but this is done to illustrate the irony of the context that it is spoken in.

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by Sam Juliano

Here in the Garden State movement to open parks and some businesses is underway in view of dropping case numbers that are presently the lowest since the pandemic began.  With progress of course there is grief and in our local Hudson County Park, one of the largest in North Jersey we have had social distance violations and some park goers hurling insults at sheriff’s officers.  It seems incredible at this late stage that some people are still in denial and downgrading a deadly crisis that has taken almost 85,000 lives in the United States alone.  In any case there is clearly a light at the end of the tunnel now more than ever and many of us have embraced optimism like never before.  Wishing all our readers continued safety and well-being.

The Allan Fish Online Film Festival will begin on Allan’s birthday, May 28th, which this year falls on a Thursday.  We were hoping for at least 7 or 8 participants and still may have that number or more, but unfortunately at this time there are only four (4) rock solid commitments from Roderick Heath, J.D. Lafrance, project founder James Uhler and Yours Truly Sam Juliano.  Normally Jamie sets up the schedule but with the lower number of participants the order is really a no-brainer.  Hence, as usual Jamie will launch the fourth annual tribute to Allan Fish with his own submission on May 28th.  Roderick Heath will be second up on Friday, May 29th, J.D. Lafrance will post on Saturday, May 30th, and Sam Juliano on May 31st.  Robert Hornak is considering a post and a few others may yet respond in the affirmative.  In any event Jamie, Rod, J.D. and Sam now have their official days to move forward with.  Any possible additions will extend the calendar dates.  Thank you so much to all!

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by Sam Juliano

Things are looking more hopeful at present but we are still quite a distance from any true comfort or confidence what with other reports warning on future resurgences in several months.  It is difficult to believe anything these days.  I’d like to roundly condemn those right wing extremists who continue to regale those who are trying to keep things safe.  Their arrogant defiance and selfishness has set a new low in our society as they have geared up for a culture war, pitting our very continued existence against freedom. Yes we are all free to die, but I’ll have to take a pass on that proposition.  America needs to roundly reject this behavior at the ballot box and I know I speak for the site’s inner circle (and for most readers) in condemning the MAGA hat wearing, gun toting loons who are trying to lead the conscience of our nation into utter obliteration.

The Allan Fish Online Film Festival will be set to go later this month, though so far there are only four (4) writers who have committed to it:  Roderick Heath; J.D. Lafrance, Jamie Uhler and Yours Truly.  Though even that low number will still enable us to conduct the project, I am hoping when all is said and done we will have at least a few more. Continue Reading »