Thursday, January 28, 2010


by Allan Fish
(US 1920 29m) DVD1/2
How to commit suicide
p  Hal Roach  d  Fred C.Newmeyer  w  Sam Taylor, H.M.Walker  story  Hal Roach, Sam Taylor  ph  Walter Lundin  ed  Thomas J.Crizer  m  Robert Israel
Harold Lloyd (the boy), Mildred Davis (the girl), Mark Jones (acrobat), Roy Brooks (the other fellow), Charles Stevenson (cop),
There’s an immortal shot of Harold Lloyd that sticks in my mind more than any other.  In actual fact, it’s not a shot at all, but a production still.  I first remember seeing it on the cover of the 6th edition of the Halliwell Film Guide in about 1988, and it shows Lloyd, legs wide apart, hands out in front of him as if he’s trying to stop an oncoming car, bespectacled eyes betraying a look of sheer terror.  But because just the figure of Lloyd was shown, one would be forgiven for thinking that he was trying to stop a car.  In reality, it’s an oncoming girder on a crane from the top of an incomplete skyscraper.  Adding this vital component finally not only makes sense of the still, but shows how it could only have been Lloyd.

by Joel Bocko
This is an entry in my Best of the 21st Century? series. For the complete article (published on the Examiner), follow the link at the end of this post. This will be it for a little while; expect the series to return for the new year. Until then, happy holidays!

Despite its cheerful Yuletide title – which is in fact so warm and snug as to initiate Grinch or Scrooge-like reactions post-haste – A Christmas Tale displays all the surface signs of being a cynical, darkly comical take on the holiday. The director, Arnaud Desplechin, has already made a specialty of family dysfunction, asocial charm, and passive-aggressive relationships in his 2004 film, Kings and Queens. Matieu Amalric, who played the slightly mad musician in that one, returns as another difficult personality – this one more possibly more sane, if no less aggravating. In this round of Desplechin’s friendly feud with the nuclear family, Almaric plays Henri, the middle child of grand old eccentrics Abel (Jean-Paul Roussillon) and Junon Vuitton (Catherine Deneuve). Henri is returning home (to Roubaix! the opening credits inform us, exclamation point and all) for his first holiday celebration in years – ever since his older sister banished him from her sight. And that’s only one crumbling cornerstone of the family edifice: death, illness, depression, infidelity, age-old scars and new wounds alike, are all ingredients in the tastily rancid eggnog Depleschin serves up with delight. Ultimately, given the bulky nuggets of dysfunction stuffed into the film’s bulky stocking (and A Christmas Tale runs for 2 1/2 hours), it almost goes without saying that the movie has, more or less, a happy ending.

by Allan Fish
(Germany 1925 112m) not on DVD
Aka. Varieté; Vaudeville
Trapeze triangle
p  E.A.Dupont, Erich Pommer  d  E.A.Dupont  w  E.A.Dupont, Leo Birinsky  novel  Frederick Hollander  ph  Karl Freund  m  Erno Rapee  art  Alfred Junge
Emil Jannings (Boss Huller), Lya de Putti (Bertha), Maly Delschaft (Frau Huller), Warwick Ward (Artinelli), Georg John (sailor), Werner Krauss,
The first thing one must say about Dupont’s celebrated silent classic is that the version you are likely to see is a butchered American release version shown a year later, running only 75m.  Even I have never been able to see the full 112m version recently restored in Germany but, for some reason, as yet unreleased to DVD.  Dupont remains a somewhat forgotten figure, but for this and his later British companion piece Piccadilly, he should be reclaimed as one of the masters of twenties camera artistry.  For a long time the success of Variety was attributed to Karl Freund, but analysis of Piccadilly shows that the same photographic skill, camera dexterity and aesthetic artistry were purely Dupont’s.
            Take the change in the plot.  The framing device of a murderer in prison, seen as No 28, relating his story to the governor in exchange for his parole, is still in situ.  Essentially it’s an old-fashioned love triangle, which in the version commonly seen sees Jannings’ trapeze artist married to the younger de Putti and happily so until Italian Ward, previously one half of a brothers trapeze act, enlists them for his act and sets about seducing de Putti.  De Putti resists at first, but soon Jannings’ cuckoldry is the talk of the town and, eventually, he finds out about the affair and sets plans to confront Ward with his knowledge, with fatal results.

Screen grab from James Cameron’s extraordinary “Avatar”
 by Sam Juliano
     A raging snowstorm blanketed the NY metropolitan area, dropping over a foot in the city, northern New Jersey and on Long Island, leaving behind a white landscape that will reportedly insure a white Christmas, but preliminary findings indicate more may be coming around the 25th.  While the holiday spirit and shopping has cramped the schedules of movie goers and music lovers, it has surely fueled the end of the year excitement that always makes this time the most special of the year.
     At Wonders in the Dark, the 90’s poll results were announced in a lively post, where Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas was named top film in a close race with Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, and the “silent” poll, (which is actually films released before 1930) commenced with Allan’s extended Top 100 countdown.  Discussion has been typically most impressive.  A series of posts from Joel Bocko on contemporary films, which were first posted at the Boston Examiner have been appearing and several, like Grizzly Man, and Kings and Queen have attracted film lovers in the comment sections.  Bocko’s reviews will be ongoing.
      Lucille and I had a busy week, first attending an off-off-Broadway play at a small theatre in a housing complex on 26th Street titled In Fields Where They Lay.  this two act play was rather torturous to sit through even if the central idea, the real-life Christmas truce between the French and German soldiers during Christmas of 1914 is a potentially potent one (the film Noel from a few years ago dealt with it far more successfully) but the staging was static, the dialogue muffled, and the lighting ineffective.  Too bad, as small productions by unknown but dedicated artists are what we normally need more of.
     On Friday night, we saw a one-man show with famed filmmaker and comedian John Waters at the Landmark State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but I’m sorry to say that the one-hour presentation of peppered one-liners was stale, redundant and only sporadically amusing.  But the audience questions afterward were far more interesting.  At $47 a ticket, I think we got taken to the cleaners, even if I am a lifelong fan of the director and think Female Trouble and Desparate Living minor masterpieces of raunchy comedy.  Even the “turkey burger” I had at Fuddrucker’s afterwards was a losing proposition.
    But then after the beginnings of the two-day blizzrd things really hit their stride starting with a Saturday afternoon HD multicast of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann aired from the Metropolitan Opera House at nationwide theatres at 1:00 P.M.  The staging, brand new at the Met, was directed by Barlett Sher, who also helmed the musical show South Pacific, which is running across the courtyard at Lincoln Center.  The result was spectacular, and the singing, set design and costumes of this lyrical masterpiece were visionary.  Again the question of whether HD broadcasts are actually a better experiences than attending the opera is a valid one.  In fact my most updated views will be expressed in a review that will appear at WitD on Thursday.
    Then came the two recent films I saw in theatres:
Nine (Marshall)  *** 1/2   Saturday night (Ziegfeld Theatre, Manhattan)
Avatar (Cameron)  *****   Sunday afternoon (Edgewater Multiplex)
    Rob Marshall’s NINE is nowhere near as bad as some critics claim, but it has some obvious narrative issies, and not all the songs in this average score are remotely memorable.  Still, with magic moments like “Italia” and Judy Dench’s solo number, as well as that terrific beginning, there’s at least a trace of Fellini in the air and the chain smoking Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, marion Cotillard, Ms. Dench and Sophia Loren are all up to the task.  Marshall’s fluid editing, the strength of his past work, manages to conceal the slightness of the material.  It’s fun though, and that’s a good part of why we go to the movies.
     Then came one of those sublime, enrapturing experiences that we get only once or twice a year, and when it happens it restores your faith in contemporary cinema.  The fact that the man who created the film is none other than that infamous “King of the World” James Cameron makes this a highly unlikely development.  But there you have it.  AVATAR is a masterpiece – an often operatic, lyrical and sweeping spectacle that stirs and moves on a level rarely aspired to, much less achieved.  To look for flaws (every film ever made has flaws) or to attempt to downplay the film’s transporting quality and its transcendence it to willfully deny one of the greatest cinematic experiences of recent year’s and for me a film that seriously challenges Jane Campion’s Bright Star as film of the year.  There are some set pieces in the film’s middle are so visually stunning and ravishing, that you are left mouth open, chilled down your spine, and tears running down your cheeks.  The whole affair makes you happy to be have been still alive to witness such greatness.  Nah, I don’t wanna talk about suggested flaws.  Who really cares?  Pedestrian dialogue isn’t the point, when that is not the focus of this extended and immersive “tone poem.”  It’s a ruminative ride that won’t ever be forgotten, and it’s clear Cameron was influenced here by Malick and Jackson’s The Return of the King and Darren Aronofsky’s metaphysical slant in The Fountain.

by Allan Fish
(USA 1918 84m) DVD1
So elergant
p  Jesse L.Lasky, Mary Pickford  d  Marshall Neilan  w  Frances Marion  novel  William J.Locke  ph  Walter Stradling  ed  uncredited  m  Philip C.Carli  art  Wilfred Buckland
Mary Pickford (Stella Maris/Unity Blake), Conway Tearle (John Risca), Marcia Manon (Louisa Risca), Camille Ankewich, Josephine Crowell (Aunt Gladys Linden), Herbert Standing (Sir Oliver Blount), Ida Waterman (Lady Eleanor Blunt), Lou Conley (nurse), Gustav Von Seyffertitz (surgeon),
Trying to watch a Mary Pickford film in the UK is like searching for the sangraal.  None of her films have ever been released on video, let alone DVD, and they are never seen on the box.  Did she do something to provoke her cousins across the Atlantic to such a boycott, or is there perhaps a more explainable reason to do with copyright?  Could it even be that there wouldn’t be much of a market for them?  It’s true, some of her films are almost unwatchable today, not because of their technique, but their sentiment.  Try watching The Poor Little Rich Girl, Heart of the Hills or Suds now without laughing, or even more so her most famous dual role, in Little Lord Fauntleroy.  Better than all these are My Best Girl and Sparrows, two family gems of their day with much to interest any serious devotee of the silent movie art form.  There’s no doubt, however, which is her best film, the only one which has any claims to being called a classic, and another in which she played two parts.
Here we are again, guys.  Another poll, and the biggest if not in terms of expected participation, then certainly in terms of anticipation from yours truly and with the longest countdown.
Put simply, this Silents poll is covering a far greater timespan than any other poll, incorporating the eligibility of any film, of whatever length, first shown prior to 1st January 1930.  The term Silents poll is a bit of a misnomer on two counts.  Firstly in that early talkies from 1927-1929 (The Jazz Singer, Applause, The Love Parade, to name three usual suspects) are eligible, while silent films released after 1929 aren’t (Earth, City Lights, Modern Times, The Goddess, I Was Born But…, etc were eligible for our first poll for the 1930s back in what already seems like the distant past).
The reason this poll is so looked forward to, however, is because it gives me the opportunity to don my missionary’s hat and point you in the direction of some masterworks from this embryonic era that you may not have heard of.
As the countdown itself is raised to 100 entries, beginning tomorrow, it’s only fair the nearlies should double, too.  So here’s no 200 down to 101, including some just missing the cut that may surprise…but when have I disappointed on that score.  Prepare to have your Eyes opened.
200 The Life Story of David Lloyd George (UK 1918…Maurice Elvey)
199 Blind Husbands (US 1919…Erich Von Stroheim)
198 The White Hell of Pitz Palu (Germany 1929…Arnold Fanck, G.W.Pabst)
197 Les Mystères du Château du Dé (France 1929…Man Ray)
196 Aelita (USSR 1924…Yakov Protazanov)
195 Dynamite (US 1929…Cecil Mille)
194 The Jazz Singer (US 1927…Alan Crosland)
193 Civilization (US 1916…Thomas H.Ince, Raymond B.West, Reginald Barker)
192 Alraune (Germany 1928…Henrik Galeen)
191 Heimkehr (Germany 1928…Joe May)
190 Applause (US 1929…Rouben Mamoulian)
189 Destiny (Germany 1921…Fritz Lang)
188 True Heart Susie (US 1919…D.W.Griffith)
187 The Seashell and the Clergyman (France 1928…Germaine Dulac)
186 Fièvre (France 1921…Louis Delluc)
185 The Three Must-Get-Theres (US 1922…Max Linder)
184 City Girl (silent version) (US 1929…Friedrich W.Murnau)
183 Ingeborg Holm (Sweden 1913…Victor Sjöstrom)
182 The Magician (US 1926…Rex Ingram)
181 The Smiling Madame Beudet (France 1923…Germaine Dulac)
180 The Chronicles of the Grey House (Germany 1925…Arthur Von Gerlach)
179 Ella Cinders (US 1926…Alfred E.Green)
178 La Glace à Trois Faces (France 1927…Jean Epstein)
177 Waxworks (Germany 1924…Paul Leni)
176 The Queen of Spades (Russia 1916…Yakov Protazanov)
175 La Terre (France 1921…André Antoine)
174 Sparrows (US 1926…William Beaudine)
173 La Femme et le Pantin (France 1928…Jacques de Baroncelli)
172 Daydreams (US 1922…Buster Keaton)
171 The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (USSR 1924…Lev Kuleshov)
170 Wings (US 1927…William A.Wellman)
169 The Cheat (US 1915…Cecil Mille)
168 The Circus (US 1928…Charles Chaplin)
167 A Woman of Paris (US 1923…Charles Chaplin)
166 The Cat and the Canary (US 1927…Paul Leni)
165 El Dorado (France 1921…Marcel l’Herbier)
164 The End of St Petersburg (USSR 1927…Vsevelod I.Pudovkin)
163 The Girl With the Hatbox (USSR 1927…Boris Barnet)
162 The Manxman (UK 1929…Alfred Hitchcock)
161 Crainquebille (France 1922…Jacques Feyder)
160 The Scarlet Letter (US 1926…Victor Sjöstrom)
159 The Marriage Circle (US 1924…Ernst Lubitsch)
158 Exit Smiling (US 1926…Sam Taylor)
157 The Life and Death of 9713 a Hollywood Extra (US 1927…Robert Florey, Slavko Vorkapich)
156 L’Inhumaine (France 1924…Marcel l’Herbier)
155 The Cameraman’s Revenge (Russia 1912…Wladyslaw Starewicz)
154 Crossways (Japan 1928…Teinosuke Kinugasa)
153 Neighbors (US 1920…Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline)
152 Orphans of the Storm (US 1921…D.W.Griffith)
151 Erotikon (Sweden 1920…Mauritz Stlller)
150 The Beloved Rogue (US 1927…Alan Crosland)
149 The Late Mathias Pascal (France 1926…Marcel l’Herbier)
148 The Wonderful Life of Nina Petrowna (Germany 1929…Hanns Schwarz)
147 Kino Eye (USSR 1924…Dziga Vertov)
146 The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg (US 1927…Ernst Lubitsch)
145 L’Arrivée d’un train en Gare de la Ciotat (France 1895…Auguste Lumière, Louis Lumière)
144 Noah’s Ark (US 1928…Michael Curtiz)
143 The Strong Man (US 1926…Frank Capra)
142 Tumbleweeds (US 1925…William S.Hart, King Baggott)
141 Male and Female (US 1919…Cecil Mille)
140 The Great Train Robbery (US 1903…Edwin S.Porter)
139 King of Kings (US 1927…Cecil Mille)
138 Le Voyage dans la Lune (France 1902…Georges Méliès)
137 The Iron Mask (US 1929…Allan Dwan)
136 The Garage (US 1919…Fatty Arbuckle)
135 The Dying Swan (Russia 1916…Evgenii Bauer)
134 Regeneration (US 1915…Raoul Walsh)
133 Cabiria (Italy 1914…Giovanni Pastrone)
132 Robin Hood (US 1922…Allan Dwan)
131 Flesh and the Devil (US 1926…Clarence Brown)
130 Nerven (Germany 1919…Robert Reinert)
129 Gertie the Dinosaur (US 1914…Winsor McCay)
128 Gösta Berlings Saga (Sweden 1924…Mauritz Stiller)
127 The Adventurer (US 1917…Charles Chaplin)
126 October (USSR 1928…Sergei M.Eisenstein)
125 Terje Vigen (Sweden 1917…Victor Sjöstrom)
124 The Navigator (US 1924…Buster Keaton, Donald Crisp)
123 Menilmontant (France 1926…Dimitri Kirsanov)
122 The Cure (US 1917…Charles Chaplin)
121 An Italian Straw Hat (France 1927…René Clair)
120 The Cameraman (US 1928…Edward Sedgwick)
119 The Iron Horse (US 1924…John Ford)
118 Peter Pan (US 1924…Herbert Brenon)
117 Nanook of the North (US 1922…Robert J.Flaherty)
116 Barbed Wire (US 1927…Rowland V.Lee)
115 The Black Pirate (US 1926…Albert Parker)
114 For Heaven’s Sake (US 1926…Sam Taylor)
113 Steamboat Willie (US…Ub Iwerks, Walt Disney)
112 One Week (US 1920…Buster Keaton)
111 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (US 1921…Rex Ingram)
110 The Unknown (US 1927…Tod Browning)
109 The Love Parade (US 1929…Ernst Lubitsch)
108 Berlin, Symphony of a Great City (Germany 1927…Walter Ruttmann)
107 Der Golem (Germany 1920…Paul Wegener, Carl Boese) 
106 Show People (US 1928…King Vidor)
105 Way Down East (US 1920…D.W.Griffith)
104 The Paleface (US 1922…Buster Keaton, Eddie Cline)
103 Broken Blossoms (US 1919…D.W.Griffith)
102 Storm Over Asia (USSR 1928…Vsevelod I.Pudovkin)
101 The Phantom of the Opera (US 1925…Rupert Julian, Edward Sedgwick, Lon

Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Marty's Mom and Robert de Niro in 'Good Fellas'
  by Sam Juliano
        Martin Scorsese’s wildly popular mobster epic, Good Fellas took top honors for the two-and-a half month long 1990’s voting by a razor thin margin over the first runner-up, according to official voting tabulator Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. unveiling the results from his Binghampton, New York home.  D’Arminio officially confirmed that Good Fellas scored 419 points in the weighted ballot tabulation, 14 more than Kieslowski’s Blue, which finished with 405.  Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line, (with 312), Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter (with 305) and Kieslowski’s Red (with 302) rounded out the top five.  Kieslowski, one of cinema’s greatest artists, led the field of directors by placing three films in the Top 25, with The Double Life of Veronique finishing at No. 14.  A total of 16 American films placed in the Top 25 with one Canadian entry and one from the U.K.  Seven foreign-language films were named.  The 90’s poll attracted over 40 voters, and the final numbers were extraordinarily close.  The final tabulation is as follows:
2    BLUE (KIESLOWSKI)    405
5    RED (KIESLOWSKI)    302
8    FARGO (COENS)    258
9    DEAD MAN (JARMUSCH)    257
12    MAGNOLIA (ANDERSON)    223
18    JFK (STONE)    176
21    HEAT (MANN)    166
22    THE PIANO (CAMPION)    158
23    GATTACA (NICCOL)    144

Juliette Binoche in Kieslowski’s ‘Blue’ which finished at #2
Screen capture from Terrence Malick's 'The Thin Red Line' which finished at #3
Ian Holm and Sarah Polley in Atom Egoyan's 'The Sweet Hereafter' which placed at #4
Irene Jacob in Kieslowski's 'Red' which finished at #5

Screen Cap from Kathryn Bigelow’s ‘The Hurt Locker,’ Critics’ Darling
 by Sam Juliano
       The New York Film Critics Circle this afternoon named the realistic Iraqi war picture The Hurt Locker as the ‘Best of 2009′ following the lead yesterday by the Los Angeles critics in a rare instance of solidarity that would seem to place the film as the Oscar favorite ahead of the early leader, Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air.  The film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow was named best as well, another repeat of the L.A. balloting on Sunday.  The following is the full result from the N.Y. polling:
  • Best Film: The Hurt Locker
  • Best Director: Kathryn BigelowThe Hurt Locker
  • Best Screenplay: In the Loop
  • Best Actress: Meryl StreepJulie & Julia
  • Best Actor: George ClooneyUp In The Air and Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Best Supporting Actress: Mo’NiquePrecious
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph WaltzInglourious Basterds
  • Best Cinematography: Christian Berger - The White Ribbon
  • Best Animated Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox
  • Best Non-fiction Film: Of Time and the City
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Summer Hours
  • Best First Feature: Hunger, director Steve McQueen
  • Special Award: To Andrew Sarris – his contribution to film criticism
     I was most disappointed with the top two acting prizes, though I did like Streep as Julia Child  moderately.  Colin Firth and Abbie Cornish gave the best performances in leading roles this year in A Simple Man and Bright Star respectively.  But a number of the other choices here were fine, and I look forward to discussing them in the comment thread.
     Thanks to Craig Kennedy at LIC for the superlative announcement post,  from which I took down the winners.

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