Brothers Quay Art and Culture
It's a strange world that casts decor as its main character. This is the world of the Brothers Quay, in which all kinds of incomprehensible objects and machines hold the stage while human characters remain at their mercy. Disjointed, dreamy, labyrinthine, and oblique, this is a theater of the unconscious that twists everyday conceptions of space and time beyond recognition.
Indeed, this is a world of unexpected events. And not only for the viewer. The Brothers Quay exploit the accidents that arise in their own production process. And since they primarily work with puppets, accidents are bound to happen. Whether or not their creations are scripted or adventitious, they still give a sense of disjunction -- for the Brothers Quay, the absurd and the impossible lie at the base of all phenomena. These are not your typical narratives. The Brothers Quay take dreams as their models: they spin loose webs of associations, networks of images and metaphors that create a fragile, ethereal coherence in the midst of an essentially chaotic world.
Heavily influenced by animator Jan Svanlmajer and writer Robert Walser -– both of whom realize darkly humorous dreamworlds in their work -– the films of the Brothers Quay emerge in between physical and mental space. For these animators, space and time are not stabile, consistent forms; they are involuted, distorted, porous, and multi-layered. As in the visions of Lewis Carroll or Franz Kafka, characters are always at the mercy of an insidious, shifting, incomprehensible architecture.
Such is the architecture of their most celebrated film, "The Institute Benjamenta" (1995). This was their first predominantly live-action film, although splices of animation periodically emerge to heighten the disorientation. As usual, the Institute itself resides at the center of the film. And events display their requisite degree of absurdity. There is only one lesson to be learned at the Institute Benjamenta, and although it’s unclear exactly what the value of this lesson is, it nevertheless must be engrained into students’ bodies and brains by means of monotonous repetitions and castigations.
This is a dark vision. "The Institute Benjamenta," filmed in black-and-white, has the ominous, oblique quality of chiaroscuro. And when they do use color, the Brothers Quay uses a palette like that of Francis Bacon: a palette of colors that seem to have been bled of light.
Stephen and Timothy Quay, identical twins, were born in
The Quays are renowned for their craftsmanlike methods and their unusual sources of inspiration. Apart from their puppets, which typically look like old dolls abused by many generations of children, they construct their own sets, arrange the lighting, and operate the cameras. The films draw heavily on twentieth-century European visual and literary culture, especially the surrealist and expressionist traditions represented by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz, the painter Max Ernst, and their fellow director of puppet films, the Czech Jan Svankmajer. As with Svankmajer, the Quays' cinema is short on conventional narrative but long on enigmatic visuals; music usually plays a major part in creating a bizarre, sinister atmosphere.
The world invented by the Quays appears frozen in time, covered with dust and cobwebs, full of mirrors and strange machinery - a world stored in a locked room or glass cabinet that nobody has accessed for decades. The colour scheme often suggests the hues of old photographs: sepias, browns, and dirty yellows predominate. Nocturna Artificialia, describing the cataleptic hero's adventures when he leaves his room for the city, immediately established their individual technique and propensity for dream narratives. Subsequent films in the early 1980s, made for the Arts Council or Channel 4, paid specific homage to the team's European influences, including the Punch and Judy tradition, the artistic vortex of 1920s Paris, Svankmajer, the Czech composer Janácek, and, in Ein Brudermord, the claustrophobic imagination of Franz Kafka.
The twenty-minute Street of Crocodiles (1986), their
first film shot in 35mm, decisively lifted the Quays beyond the
quasi-documentary orbit. The film is a homage to Bruno Schulz, one of whose
novels bears the same title. The setting is a mythical land, somewhere in
pre-Second World War provincial
Further impressive film puzzles followed, among them The Comb, a sexually suggestive dream of damaged dolls, ladders, passageways, and a live-action woman (perhaps the dreamer), and De Artificiali Perspectiva, a quirky analysis of the optical distortions of anamorphosis. Then in 1995 the Quays mounted their first live-action feature, Institute Benjamenta (UK/Japan/Germany), inspired by the writings of the Swiss novelist Robert Walser. Like the Street of Crocodiles, the Benjamenta Institute for the training of domestic servants presents a sinister microcosm, with its inhabitants leading a half-life of repetitive, largely pointless activities. Typically, the presence of actors prompted no change in the Brothers' stylistic approach: Mark Rylance, Alice Krige, and Gottfried John became willingly used as quasi-objects, scrupulously positioned alongside forks, stag horns and dripping water in a fascinating if static symphony of light and shade constructed on the prevailing Quay themes of death, decay, and nothingness.
Recent collaborations with the choreographer William Tuckett and their small insert in Julie Taymor's Frida (US, 2002) have introduced wider audiences to the Quays; while The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes (Germany/UK/France, 2005), a live-action fairy-tale where a piano tuner attempts to rescue an opera singer from the clutches of a mad doctor in the Carpathian Mountains, is so bizarrely beautiful in its foggy, artificial, de-colourised way that it sure to attract new admirers. But the Quays remain director-animators for the cognoscenti - happy to live, like their films' characters and objects, in a remote, hermetic maze.
The Brothers Quay Criticism biographical overview
Quay Brothers bio from European Graduate School
The Quay Brothers Biography Fandango
Quay Brothers James Rose from Senses of Cinema, January 2004
Fetish, Filth and Childhood: Walking down The Street of Crocodiles Sarah Scott from Senses of Cinema, 2005
Hand of Hysteria: The Bipartite Body of the Brothers Quay Amir Mogharabi from Senses of Cinema (Undated)
Stephen and Timothy Quay Tribute to Raymond Durgnat from Senses of Cinema
Brothers Quay The Brothers Quay fan website
TALES OF THE BROTHERS QUAY previously at Film Forum in New York City bio info and critic quotes
Phantom Museums - The Quay Brothers Short Films Yunda Eddie Feng from DVDBeaver
Shifting Realities: The Brothers Quay - Between Live Action and Animation by Suzanne Buchan from the Animation World Network, 1996, also seen here: Suzanne Buchan
Quay twins get the image right Barbara Shulgasser from The San Francisco Chronicle, May 31, 1996
Bring Me The Head Of Ubu Roi (1998)
Life is a Dream: The Quay Brothers at the Brattle Gary Susman from The Boston Globe, July, 1998
Raymond Durgnat - Obituary from The Age (Melbourne, Australia) Reflections On The Legacy Of A Film Maverick, by Adrian Martin, May 22, 2002
Razorcake - The Brothers Quay Namella J. Kim from Razorcake, May 29, 2003
Kinoeye | The Brothers Quay and Bruno Schulz The Thirteenth Freak Month, by James Fiumara from Kinoeye, November 29, 2004
SHORTS MONTHLY: The Long Shadow of the Quay Brothers: The Maverick ... Kim Adelman from indieWIRE, May 16, 2006
Brothers Quay: The Ultra Surreal Filmmakers Mary Vareli from Ezine articles, November 21, 2006
The Cabinet of the Brothers Quay: Program One | The Dryden Theatre February 16, 2007
Degraded Reality: The Short Films of the Brothers Quay on ... Ricky Grove from Renderosity, December 10, 2007
Getting Dusty: Brothers Quay's Street of Crocodiles « Salt in the Code Gwyan Rhabyt from Salt in the Code, January 11, 2008
"The Importance Of Fortuitous Accidents." Karl J. Paloucek from Channel Guide Magazine, May 2008
RC CONTEMPORARY: Where the dust has settled: The Brothers Quay Jeffrey Baykal Rollins from RC Contemporary, November 23, 2008
The University of the Arts presents Brothers Quay Return to Philly ... December 22, 2008
They See A Darkness :: Cover Story :: Article :: Philadelphia City ... Shaun Brady from Philadelphia City Paper, February 24, 2009
Brothers Quay to Receive '09 Coolidge Award - Berkshire Fine Arts Mark Favermann from the Berkshire Fine Arts, March 26, 2009
WexBlog » Blog Archive » Quay Brothers in New York Dave Filipi from Wexblog, April 14, 2009
Stephen and Timothy Quay to receive Coolidge Award - The Boston Globe Sam Adams from The Boston Globe, May 3, 2009
The Brothers Quay Fourth Wall Project, May 5, 2009
Slideshow: Quay Brothers at Fourth Wall Project - Museum And ... Jennifer Morgan from The Boston Phoenix, May 11, 2009
The Quirky Quay Brothers | Here & Now May 11, 2009
Film and Video » Quay Brothers film sets on display in New York Joe Beres at Walker Art Center, May 19, 2009
Quay Brothers Creepy Film Decors on Display at Parsons - Gothamist John Del Signore from The Gothamist, July 16, 2009
The Art Department: Quay Brothers Exhibit Irene Gallo from The Art Department, July 30, 2009
TRACKS: The Quay Brothers and the Argument for the Real - The ... Thomas Micchelli from The Brooklyn Rail, September 2009
"Dormitorium: Film Decors by the Quay Bros. JE at Morbid Anatomy, September 4, 2009
Film decors by the Brothers Quay - Boing Boing David Pescovitz from Boing Boing, September 4, 2009
Dormitorium: The Brothers Quay « SheWalksSoftly October 3, 2009
The Brothers Quay at New York's New School — Lost At E Minor: For ... Chris Rubino from Lost at E Minor, October 3, 2009
Brothers Quay Cranial, October 17, 2009
Brothers Quay, Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt and John Evans, Robert ... Little Things Mean a Lot, by Alexandra Anderson-Spivy from Artnet, October 20, 2009
UNHINGED || Shadow Region: The Brothers Quay Discuss the Roots of ... Will Melton from Fused Film, February 4, 2010
News: The Brothers Quay Returning To Feature Film With SANATORIUM ... SANATORIUM UNDER THE SIGN OF THE HOURGLASS, by Todd Brown from Twitch, February 20, 2010, also seen here: Twitch
Celebrated Animators The Quay Brothers Return with a New Feature ... Russ Fischer from Slash Film, February 22, 2010
Brothers Quay To Get Their Bruno Schulz On - Again Dan Mecca from The Film Stage, February 22, 2010
The Quay Brothers get new project » GordonandtheWhale.com Joshua Brunsting from Gordon and the Whale, February 22, 2010
quay brothers: street of crocodiles (music by bleeding heart ... Cows Are Just Food, March 30, 2010
maska – the brothers quay – 2010 - ephemera Teleshadow, April 4, 2010
Comme des Garcons + The Brothers Quay: Wonderwood Ad Campaign Nathan Branch, May 18, 2010
The Quay Brothers' Maska plus film without images - HP Lovecraft's ... Paul Gallagher from The Edinburgh Festival, June 23, 2010
Metro Cinema: Tales of the Brothers Quay: Program 1 Metro Cinema, September 6, 2010
Metro Cinema: Tales of the Brothers Quay: Program 2 Metro Cinema, September 6, 2010
The Thing - Interview Ryan Deussing interview from The Thing, February 9, 1996
Dream team: the Brothers Quay | ArtForum | Find Articles at BNET Thyrza Nichols Goodeve interview from ArtForum, April 1996
Brothers Quay: In Absentia Roberto Aita interview from Offscreen, September 30, 2001
Dreams: The Brothers Quay and "The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes" Phil Stubbs interview from Smart, 2001
Through a Glass Darkly André Habib interview from Senses of Cinema, February 2002
"My Dinner With The Brothers Quay." Taylor Jessen from Animation World Network, June 16, 2006
Bright Lights Film Journal :: Interview with the Brothers Quay Reflecting the Theoretical Beyond, by Damon Smith interview, February 2007
"Shadow Region: The Brothers Quay Discuss the Roots of Filmmaking." Will Melton interview in Fused Film, February 4, 2010
Diane, A Shaded View on Fashion: The Quay Brothers on films and ... Video interview May 7, 2010 on YouTube (3:11)
Dazed Digital | Quay Brothers x Comme des Garcons Kiki Georgiou interview from Dazed Digital, May 19, 2010
Dazed Digital: The Quay Brothers Interview | Hypebeast Alex Milner interview from Dazed Digital, May 20, 2010
Institute Benjamenta: Interview with the Brothers Quay | Electric ... Virginie Sélavy interview from Electric Sheep magazine, June 8, 2010
The Quay Brothers | APEngine Gary Thomas interview from AP Engine, July 27, 2010
Brothers Quay Interview Video interview in 2000 on YouTube (3:50)
Quay brothers (41 seconds) on YouTube
YouTube - The Quay Brothers Stille Nacht (1:36)
Quay Brothers Montage (2:22)
Brothers.Quay.1992.Are.we.Still.. Are We Still Married? (3:16)
YouTube - The Quay Brothers Street of Crocodiles (3:59)
Tales from Vienna Woods THE (4:10)
The Cabinet Of Jan Svankmaje (5:01) Excerpt
Frank Zappa Willie The Pimp Quay Brothers animation (9:28)
The Summit THE QUAY BROTHERS (12:31)
The Cabinet Of Jan Svankmajer (13:38)
The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble live at. Visuals by the Quay Brothers, 2009 (13:45)
The Comb THE QUAY BROTHERS (17:24)
Nocturna Artificialia THE QUAY (20:34)
Bleeding Heart Narrative soundtracking The Brothers Quay's 'Street ... “Street of Crocodiles” (20:54)
Anamorphosis THE QUAY BROTHERS (25:02)
In Absentia THE QUAY BROTHERS (30:37)
I like the lower production value of this one. It's also the darkest Quay film - lots of shadows and you're never sure about what you're seeing. I've only seen it twice but it features a man (figurine), his bleak apartment, and a trolley that passes by, next to and through his abode. The figure ends up taking a trip on it through the city. Some of it is dream - some is reality - which is which is hard to determine. Very good music from apparently either late 19th or early 20th century. This is best watched at when all is dark and quiet. This film is in the Special Features section of the recently released DVD so some viewers might miss it.
This is the first short created by The Brothers Quay, and it
shows. Their obsessive animation and dust-bunny mise-en-scene still hold, but
the flow is a little off and it doesn't seem to go anywhere.
I still think it's a very incredible piece of work. These guys are deranged in their ability to create an almost perfect and seamless movement out of inanimate characters, and then to put them into a context beyond normal perception. To believe that dolls and small human-shaped figures are alive requires both the precise eye of the filmmakers (which they have in surplus, it seems) and a strong suspension of disbelief in the viewers (which is why, I think, stop-motion isn't used as often as other forms of animation... it takes a lot more work and often with a lot smaller pay-off). The fact that the Quay brothers can help create that suspension of disbelief AND put it into a confined dreamscape outside of the comfort zone of most viewers is testament alone to their skill, before even getting into the works themselves.
That's the reason why I don't think this short is as good as their later works. The problem with the flow is the same as the problem to the snippets of verse they keep cutting to: in terms of syntax, the sentences make sense, but in terms of general understanding, they're nonsense. They're either poetry with a deeper meaning missing because of the cuts between the lines, or they're just random statements.
I suppose one could argue that absurdity and nonsense is part of the point of this work. That's fair enough. This movie isn't bad, by any means. I just think it's not as good as their later works.
Nocturna Artificialia (1979) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
As with much of their later work, it's impossible to provide a coherent synopsis of the earliest surviving film by the Brothers Quay, as Nocturna Artificialia defies attempts at verbal encapsulation at every turn. The Quays themselves acknowledged this when they said "as for what is called the scenario, at most we have only a limited musical sense of its trajectory, and we tend to be permanently open to vast uncertainties, mistakes, disorientations, as though lying in wait to trap the slightest fugitive 'encounter'."
It consists of impressions of a man, a tram and an
unidentified city at night (the opening titles identify a specific
Everything is glimpsed or half-heard: light and shade seem as tangible as the more solidified reality (a spellbinding sequence sees his arm caressed by passing shadows, a brief Bartókian musical motif sounding as they touch). Tension is created not through narrative but through movement (by tram and camera, in parallel or in opposition), shifting focus, shadows moving across inanimate objects to bring them briefly into eerie life.
There's occasional recourse to religious imagery: at one point the tram passes through the interior of a cathedral, and then down a street named after the Crucifixion, but these elements seem as half-awake and half-remembered as everything else. Despite being presented in multiple languages, the eight intertitles are calculatedly cryptic ("Through gradually tightening avenues, I felt the ecstasy of something nameless"). It's a Surrealist film in the term's original sense - in that its imaginary landscape is equally populated by conscious and unconscious elements and little distinction is drawn between them.
Shot on 16mm and funded by the British Film Institute's Production Board, Nocturna Artificialia is a remarkably confident piece of work, the Quays surmounting obvious technical and budgetary limitations to create a private universe entirely out of their own recurring obsessions. Their later films may be more assured, but their roots are clearly visible here.
Nocturna Artificialia Zeitgeist Films
This beautiful short made by the Brothers Quay (directors of the great animated short "Street of Cocodriles") It's a captivating tale about a master and his disciple. This may sound as something very simple, but the Brothers Quay always manage to create a unique, fascinating world, with strange but very interesting characters, and strange and surreal situations as well. The animation looks beautiful and stylish, just like the other films directed by the Brothers Quay, and this little homage to Jan Svankmajer definitely worth a look, specially if you are fan of filmmakers as Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton.
The Quay brothers style is at it's best here, with beautiful, surreal puppets telling the story of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's life. The expressionist, stop-motion puppet work is perfectly suited to tell the story of Svankmajer's own surreal film-making. Split into several sections, the puppets (one expressing Svankmajer himself) act out the scenes, with maze-like, unidentifiable sets, dancing pins and a mesmerising soundtrack. All these elements combine into a treat for the eyes, and a severe hammering to the brain. The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer is a marvellous short, particularly of interest to fans of Svankmajer himself.
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer,
Even after the removal of the contextual material, what remains is surprisingly coherent and accessible, at least by the Quays' usual standards. Though prior familiarity with Svankmajer's work helps, even a complete newcomer (which would have described most of the original audience) will be able to glean that he's based in Prague, that he's fascinated by the era of the sixteenth-century Bohemian emperor Rudolf II, especially his court painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo (creator of portraits of human faces made up of fruit, vegetables, fish and other assorted objects), and that he has a peculiar addiction both to the hidden power of inanimate objects in general and, more specifically, their texture and feel.
While the Quays' film draws heavily on these elements of Svankmajer's universe, it otherwise makes no attempt at imitating his highly individual style. This was partly an expedient measure dictated by the demands of the original documentary, where it would clearly have been undesirable to risk confusing actual Svankmajer clips with the Quays' work - but it also allows them to delve far deeper into Svankmajer's philosophy by giving it an alternative interpretation via their own distinctive imagery.
The puppet representing Svankmajer bears little resemblance to the man himself: he's an Arcimboldesque representation whose head is made up largely of books. Throughout the film, he demonstrates his ideas to an unnamed child 'pupil', whose hollowed-out head he literally empties at the start, before crowning it with a small book-hairstyle of its own at the end to suggest that his education is complete.
The closing credits supply two dedications, the other being in memory of the then recently deceased Zdenek Liska (1922-1983). A major though undervalued composer, largely because his best work was produced for stage and screen, his music can be heard throughout the Quays' film in excerpts taken from the Svankmajer films Historia Naturae, Suita (1967), The Flat (Byt, 1968) and The Ossuary (Kostnice, 1970).
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer Zeitgeist Films
THIS UNNAMEABLE LITTLE BROOM
aka: The Epic of Gilgamesh
Great Britain (11 mi) 1985 co-director: Keith Griffiths
A self-contained, if rather obscure film which is nonetheless outstandingly skilled and imaginative. Loosely inspired by the Epic of Gilgamesh, the film transforms the story into a macabre tale told with grotesque models and a theatrical mise en sc�ne in which savage, vindictive machines whirr, slice, decapitate and imprison the unwary. It has the cold articulation of malignancy and evil commonly associated with the horrific fantasies of children's stories and games.
This is a fascinating little short that tells the tale of two incredibly fleshed out animated characters. One is a winged creature that falls into the trap of the other, a blond monster-person on a tricycle. It's not that simple, however. The imagery, though I don't profess to understand every last bit of it, was striking and surreal. This film targets the unconscious. It seeks to evoke a response through impressions and instinct. The animation is uncanny and beautiful, as these two characters are given grace, ferocity and emotion. The camera itself becomes an implement of the animation as it cuts frantically from side to side, with as much freedom as if a live-action scene were being filmed. This illusion is enhanced further by the deft focusing. This film must have taken such a tremendous amount of vision and effort, and the result is a commendable and evocative short film.
The Brothers Quay seem, to me, to be of an elite type of film-making that tend
to exploit the visual aspects rather than the sound or the narrative aspects of
film-making. This is a key proof of that, wherein one can still find something
of a narration but all told the movie seems to be an almost deja vu or
ineffable series of movements and events.
It's easy to call stuff like this "dreamlike", which I guess it is, but it seems cheap to just stop there. One of the key aspects about this particular short is that it has two characters that are both, in a reserved and quiet way, terrifying. One who has grown up on a diet of protagonist/antagonist will probably try desperately to relate to one character's fight against the other, but if you take a moment to think about it, what really is going on here, and who is doing what? There seems to be something of a fetishism here, some approach to sexualized objects. Without any real basis in reality, all fantasy and imagery, we can just take it as it is, which is a lot. The Brothers Quay have started to have defining control over their tools and I have a lot of faith in seeing the rest of their works as I delve further into this collection.
This Unnameable Little Broom (1985) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
Boasting the longest title in the Quays' entire output, this 1985 film is generally known as This Unnameable Little Broom, though the Quays themselves refer to it as Gilgamesh. It began life as a proposed hour-long Channel Four programme exploring aspects of the ancient Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest known surviving work of literature, which would combine puppet animation, dance sequences (courtesy of choreographer Kim Brandstrup) and live-action documentary elements. However, Channel Four were dubious about the project, and only agreed to fund a short animated sequence as a pilot - which is all that was ultimately made.
But even when divorced from the original planned context, This Unnameable Little Broom stands up very well on its own as a short parable of cruelty and oppression. The Gilgamesh character is portrayed as a childlike figure, seemingly welded permanently to a tricycle, with a grotesquely swollen head that, Picasso-like, simultaneously presents both a profile and a frontal view. His 'kingdom' is a box-like construction, seemingly suspended in mid-air, with a distant forest just out of reach.
At the start of the film, Gilgamesh sets various elaborate snares to lure Enkidu, the forest creature, into his domain. These range from conventional booby-traps to altogether more unsettling creations, notably the desk drawer containing what appears to be a detached, pulsing vagina (the Quays' typically oblique reference to the point in the original legend where Gilgamesh sends a prostitute to seduce Enkidu). Enkidu himself is a bird-like creature, partly made up of genuine animal skeletons, whose wide-eyed guilelessness proves his downfall.
The film had numerous inspirations besides the Gilgamesh legend. The frenzied viciousness that pervades the film was a tribute to Austrian writer Konrad Bayer, the design of Gilgamesh was sourced from artwork by Heinrich-Anton Müller, one of a trio of 'outsider artists' (the others being Friedrich Schröder-Sonnenstern and Adolf Wölfli) that the Quays originally intended to dedicate their film to, but shyness prevented them.
However, they weren't too shy to include a back-handed swipe in the title - 'Hunar Louse' is a satirical representation of Lunar House in Croydon, the headquarters of the Home Office's Immigration and Nationality Directorate, which called the Quays' visa status into question at the time they were making the film. Though this was alarming at the time, the experience helped fuel the paranoid, Kafkaesque atmosphere that pervades their film.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (or This Unnameable Little Broom) Zeitgeist Films
Devotees of Jan Svankmajer and Kafka, identical twins Stephen and Timothy Quay distill every disturbing dream you've ever had into a decidedly unsettling short film. American by birth, the twins seem European by sensibility and have settled in London to make their films. Street of Crocodiles is one of their better known efforts and is obliquely influenced by Polish writer Bruno Schulz, who published the memoirs of his solitary life under the title, Sklepy Cynamonowe (literally translated as The Cinnamon Shops, although generally known in the English speaking world as Street of Crocodiles). The Quay's short follows a gaunt puppet who is released from his strings as he explores his bizarre surroundings: rooms full of dark shadows, unexplained machinery and strange eyeless dolls. Everything has a sense of decay and Victorian melancholy. There is a notion of a plot, possibly dealing with sexual tension, but really Street of Crocodiles is about establishing a mood and a nightmarish and deeply sinister world. The Quay's use of tracking shots and selective focus is unparallelled in the world of stop motion.
I've seen this three times, once in 35mm, once in 16mm (or through a dim projector bulb) and once on video. The first time it impressed me, short as it is, as one of the best horror films I'd ever seen, if not the best. The second and third time, to my disappointment, it didn't work very well because I couldn't see it properly. Some of the detail is gossamer-fine and must be seen in a clear print on a theatrical screen (or perhaps a large-screen TV) to be seen at all. The film is elusive enough anyway. Like many of the Quays' films it takes the viewer inside a world of cracked dolls and pieces of antique machinery, where the dolls are victims of totalitarian control. Of the Quays' short films I've seen, this is the most disturbing. It's best seen, I think, apart from the others, as I first saw it. The other major ones are of a piece with it and become somewhat redundant taken in a group. The slighter ones are also somewhat tedious. The general meaning of this is clear enough, but the exact topical application, if there is one, and if it isn't explained by the quotation given, which I didn't recognize, is obscure to me. I also wonder how serious the filmmakers are when they use, and use up, their style and technique on music videos. I prefer to think of this film as I came to it originally, as one of a kind. It's an unnerving experience.
Boasting the biggest budget for one of their short films (both then and to date), Street of Crocodiles was the first Quay Brothers film since Nocturna Artificialia (1979) to be conceived from the outset as a self-contained work. Though the BFI Production Board insisted on a recognised literary source as a condition of funding, the Quays responded by licensing a story by the Polish author Bruno Schulz, whose writing relies more on dream-logic than conventional narrative. They also departed considerably from the original, notably in the 'dance routine' involving an assortment of screws. Improvised during production, it nonetheless chimes perfectly with the Schulzian universe.
This universe is entered via an old-fashioned kinetoscope machine, examined in the opening scene by a (live-action) caretaker, who brings the mechanism to life with a gobbet of saliva before cutting the strings of the puppet protagonist, allowing him to roam free. The rest of the film depicts the puppet exploring an occasionally familiar but more often decidedly unsettling netherworld, where laws of physics and perspective no longer apply, bizarre machines perform pointlessly repetitive and unproductive tasks and a small urchin brings supposedly inanimate objects to life by casting reflected light upon them.
Ultimately, the explorer's journey concludes in a strange
tailoring establishment, where he is surrounded by a trio of sinister, vaguely
female figures with hollowed-out heads (each stamped with a serial number on
the back), gliding as though propelled by a higher power. The tailor is
portrayed as a megalomaniacal figure remodelling the world in his own image (he
owns a map of
The increased budget allowed the Quays to shoot in 35mm for the first time, which allowed them to pay much more attention to texture, fine detail and the quality of the light. The impression of a long-dormant civilisation is conveyed by the volume of dust, grime and discarded objects (illustrating Schulz's notion of a "degraded reality"). The Eastern European feel is further enhanced by the scratchy, spiky score by Leszek Jankowski, who wrote and recorded the music before the film was made, and who was so taken with the end result that he became the Quays' regular composer.
Street of Crocodiles Zeitgeist Films
Great Britain USA (78 mi) 1987
If you're familiar with the Brothers' work, then you don't need me telling you about this. If you're not, well, I'm not all that sure I can tell you about it. Five films here, including Street of Crocodiles, Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, Are We Still Married? The Comb, and Anamorphosis. Combining puppetry, stop motion, and lots of dust, the Quay Brothers (American-born identical twins based in London) work in the same vineyard as their apparent idol, Jan Svankmajer, the Dutch surrealist whose work is frequently the visual springboard for the Brothers' nightmarish images. And nightmarish they are, echoing the uneasy, somnolent wanderings of fevered minds the world over. You almost expect Kafka's Gregor Samsa to scuttle across the screen, or “K” to wander by, bewildered as ever. They don't, of course, but they would hardly be out of place if they did. 1986's Herculean effort, the award-winning Street of Crocodile, is among my favorite pieces of animation ever. At 21 minutes, it's just long enough to give you bad (or at least resoundingly odd) dreams for days afterwards, as it follows the meanderings of an accidentally animated puppet-man who wanders about the decrepit interior of some nameless museum. As in most of the Quays' work, everything is coated with a thin film of grime, and their characters are ancient, broken things, come to life and wandering about on strange errands whose significance you never can quite grasp. Another standout here is the recent Anamorphosis, which is an animated demonstration of the principles of this near-extinct art form, with an accompanying, illuminating voiceover. If you're among those who have yet to experience the dark magic of the Quays, here's you're chance to see their haunting, unforgettable work in a theatre, where it belongs.
I first encountered the Brothers Quay, like many, through
that pustule on the face of music, MTV. In 1988, the Quays were commissioned to
contribute to MTV's series of artist-oriented promos ("Art breaks").
Whilst flipping through channels, it was hard not to stop on MTV every time
they aired Dramolet, the spot that the Quays created. Despite being only
60 seconds long, the clip was a hypnotic, bizarre black-and-white creation
using stop motion animation that defies easy explanation. Since that time, I
have grown to truly admire the brilliant, surrealist work these two filmmakers
have brought to the world. Despite MTV's attempts at shamelessly copying their
work, be it in promos or videos, the Quays definitely remain servants to their
own natures, despite their foray into more commercial work.
The Brothers Quay (Timothy and Steven) are indentical twins living in England. Though born and raised American, their style and intellect seems almost certainly rooted in European traditions. Their films often feature captions in European languages, musical scoring by the classic avant-garde composers of Europe, and are sometimes inspired by European literature. Often classified as "animators", the Brothers Quay are much more. Their films are vast, surrealist epics that open doors to incredible, yet untouchable, landscapes of nightmarish visions. Their worlds use harsh film-stocks, warped lenses, and an impeccable grasp of the artistry behind puppetry and stop motion. The work rarely has any sort of clear narrative or storyline, or in fact anything that distinguishes a typical film. It uses dolls, often deformed, and superbly realistic, almost antique, settings, much like a twisted doll house performance. The imagery will often amaze, if not disturb. I won't pretend to understand what drives the Quays, nor will I pretend to grasp some subliminal context to their work that no one else has. I will say that what I find fascinating is how accurate their stop-motion work is to re-creating the nightmarish quality of a chaotic night of uneasy sleep. I've never liked the attempts at explaining or rationalizing the work presented in Quay shorts, or any seriously surreal artform, so I'd advise that viewers of these films simply turn down the lights and immerse themselves.
This DVD presents 10 of the Brothers Quay's short films (technically 11 since their very first short is presented as an extra feature. The films included are:
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984)
14 minutes, Color.
The Epic of Gilgamesh (or This Unnameable Little Broom) (1985)
11 minutes, Color.
Street of Crocodiles (1986)
21 minutes, Color.
Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies (1987)
14 minutes, Black-and-white.
Dramolet - Stille Nacht I (1988)
1 minute, Black-and-white.
The Comb (From the Museums of Sleep) (1991)
17 minutes, Color and Black-and-white.
Anamorphosis, or De Artificiali Perspectiva (1991)
15 minutes, Color.
Are We Still Married? - Stille Nacht II (1991)
3 minutes, Black-and-white, music by His Name is Alive.
Tales From the Vienna Woods - Stille Nacht III (1992)
3 minutes, Black-and-white.
Can't Go Wrong Without You - Stille Nacht IV (1993)
3 minutes, Black-and-white, music by His Name Is Alive.
Nocturna Artificialia (1979) [credited as a bonus feature]
21 minutes, Color.
The disc contains, essentially, all of the Brothers Quay independent work. Although they have done more work (including the famous Peter Gabriel video Sledgehammer), the films here were done completely under their own creative control, in their isolated studio called "Konnick." While most of the work is completely surrealistic, some of these films have distinct points.
The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer is an obvious tribute to the awe-inspiringCzech stop-motion animator of the same name, whose work (films like Faust and Alice) is the only thing capable of even comparing withthe Quay's. Cabinet has definite undertones of a young boy's mind beingemptied of typical, childhood things, and replaced with the education and desire tobecome a bizarre animator. Anamorphosis is an educational piece the Quays did for a longer film about art history. The piece is an extremely well madelook at the process of anamorphic distortion (a classical form of optical illusiondating back to the 1700's), but done in that distinct Quay style. Usually acclaimed as the "best" Quay short is Street of Crocodiles, one of their longest works. Two of the "Stille Nacht" shorts are music videos commissioned by the band His Name Is Alive, and are among their most potent modern work. Both videos featurethe similar themes of a stuffed rabbit and a fidgety, mysterious young girl. The bonus short, Nocturna Artificialia is similar in some respects to Street of Crocodiles with some of the same artistic themes. This short is, to the best of my knowledge, the earliest Quay short still in existence (their film school work was, sadly, lost some time ago).
Great Britain USA Canada (2 mi) 1988
This short is utterly delightful. There's not much to it in terms of what is available to be seen and commented on, but there is a lot to it in terms of what was done and how. Instead of flecking their sets with dust and hair, the brothers Quay place a magnet in a field and let the magnet play with all the little magnetic fragments. It's creepy... but it's fun! I honestly don't know what to make of the babydoll that watches the whole thing, eventually to turn and attempt to eat a meal, but it doesn't make me want to eat anything anytime soon! I think this is more something the brothers have done in order to experiment with something they haven't yet put into a longer film, but wanted to do regardless.
This movie comes straight out of your worst nightmares. I
remember watching it when I was 13 years old; I had a fever and was staying at
home. I could not forget this film until 16 years later, when I finally found
who did it (and got the DVD).
There's no plot whatsoever in this movie - I guess that's what makes it so special. As every other film by the Brothers Quay, this is a disjointed trip into someone's imagination. The best description I can find of it is that it's the closest thing I've ever seen to a dream - no wonder I thought for a while this movie didn't exist, and that I had dreamed it!
The only thing going against it is that it's just too short - it was ideal for MTV, circa 1988, but it definitely leaves you expecting something more out of it.
Stille Nacht (1988) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
The Quay Brothers made their first foray into the world of the pop promo in 1986, when they were amongst a number of animators who worked on Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' video (d. Stephen R. Johnson). Although they had mixed feelings about their contribution, 'Sledgehammer' was one of the most influential videos of its era, and opened up new commissioning possibilities. In 1988, the US-based MTV cable television music network asked several animators to create a number of very short pieces that could be played as an 'Art Break' between the music videos that formed the bulk of the station's output.
The typically cryptic subtitle reads 'Dramolet für R.W. in
Herisau', which is the first reference in the Quays' output to Swiss writer
Robert Walser (1878-1956), who ranks alongside Franz Kafka and Bruno Schulz in
their literary pantheon (and whose work also inspired The Comb, 1990,
and the Quays' first feature Institute Benjamenta, 1995). Walser
specialised in highly condensed, allusive pieces, including prose, poems and
miniature dramas, or 'dramolets'. He spent over two-and-a-half decades in
various institutions, culminating in the Herisau sanatorium in eastern
None of this is explicitly dramatised in the film, but there's a pervasive impression of chilly, institutionalised loneliness. The Quays' familiar puppet animation (here looking even more cracked and peeling than usual) is here enhanced by the use of animated iron filings, which suggest the rapid formation of frost over every surface, the swaying of the individual particles suggesting a hefty buffeting by a keen, piercing wind. The puppet watches this 'frost' out of the window, then turns to a bowl that's filled with the same substance. His spoon begins to vibrate and, as if in sympathy, more spoons emerge from the wall behind him. As the picture fades to black (via a silent-movie-style iris-out), the 'frost' is starting to form on the surface of the table. To chime with the shopworn imagery, the music is deliberately distorted, as if sourced from a badly-tuned crystal radio.
The Quays received several more commissions from MTV over the following few years, the one-minute Ex Voto (1989) and what would become the three subsequent instalments in the Stille Nacht cycle: Are We Still Married?, Tales From Vienna Woods (both 1992) and Can't Go Wrong Without You (1993). They also designed an animated MTV station ident.
Dramolet Zeitgeist Films
Don't watch this one if you're going to the doctor's anytime soon. The
bright, white mise-en-scene (relatively brighter than most of the dust gray of
most Quay brother features) has that clean, scrubbed look of a place you go for
surgery. This is very different than the dust bunnies of Quay features, but on
the other hand it makes their characters (made of string, wire, and rusted
metal) seem that much more dirty and painful. It makes me think that watching
this will give one tetanus.
I love the acknowledgements in the beginning. Offering this movie to evangelists seems a particularly harsh move on the Quays' part, but then again so much of this film is jagged-edged and rusted that maybe that direct approach fits it in an odd way.
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
When the Quays secured funding for Street of Crocodiles (1986), it was on condition that it was based on a recognised literary source. No such restrictions were imposed on their next film, Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies (1987), and the result may well be their most baffling work - at least on a first viewing.
The starting point was a piece of music that Leszek Jankowski had written for a Kafka-themed project that never got off the ground. From this, they devised a choreographic plan involving certain precisely calibrated camera movements, and built a set with these in mind. They also came up with a visual conception based on black lines, traced by a calligrapher's pen in the opening shot, but also appearing as barcodes, striped sheets and wallpaper (in an interview with the art historian Nick Wadley, the Quays described their film as "a private documentary on the straight line, that bleeds and runs and is softened by the focus"). The camera movements are also designed to reveal tiny, initially almost imperceptible elements in the décor, hidden spaces that can only be seen from certain angles and which vanish as quickly as they appear.
The thematic content was initially sourced from Le Verrou, an ambiguous painting (and subsequent engraving) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) which depicts a man reaching for the lock of a door and a woman lying on a bed - and to this they added elements taken from the work of the artist's cousin, the anatomist Honoré Fragonard (1732-1799), whose disturbing yet fascinating 'écorchés' preserved flayed human and animal corpses in poses designed to reveal cross-sections of their interior structure.
Whatever the challenges of interpretation, there is little doubt that this is one of the Quays' most visually striking creations. The first of their films to be shot in pure black and white, they make brilliant use of the contrast between the white 'exteriors' and the central room, where the black lines ultimately converge. It's also the first Quay film to make extensive use of exceptionally narrow depth of field, with the slow focus pulls as much a part of the overall choreographic texture as the movement of the camera and puppets. And for all the tantalising lack of coherent 'meaning', there's something inexplicably melancholic about the protagonists, reduced to empty, repetitive gestures and, in one case, to an anatomical structure so basic that it's barely life-supporting.
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies Zeitgeist Films
In the Brothers' Quay own words, taking everything as a Freudian
symbol is a little too easy and kind of turns 90% of cinema into one single
picture. However, this movie is so, well, Freudian. From the undertitle
("from the Museums of Sleep") to the in uteral mise-en-scene, this is
a cinepoem of free association.
A lot of Quay brothers features have that feeling, but most of them are set in dusty corners, seemingly within the space of cracks in the walls and dustbunnies, what happens underneath your bed when you're not around to observe it. The use of color in this film, however, gives it a strong internal-space feeling, or to be more precise, the Quay brothers literally take us into a woman's body and send hands feeling all over her.
Essayists of haptic criticism state that a strong way to create a sense of touch from glance in film is to play with focus, and the Quays' do that a lot in most of their films. Saturating that dim slight-focus with flesh-tone sunsets makes it seem even more organic. I disagree that this area looks like something out of a Grimms fairytale... the Grimms like blood and forests, not organics and menstruation.
Explaining an avant-garde film such as The Comb is like trying to
explain the concept of colors to a person who has been blind since birth. The
blind may conjure up their own ideas of what colors look like, but they cannot
fully realize them. Such is the way of the avant-garde cinema. It simply cannot
be explained through mere words due to its abstractness. In order to fully
realize it, you must experience it. Viewing The Comb is like entering a
nightmare netherworld unimaginable even in your darkest dreams. Much like a
dream, it is difficult to explain in mere words. Like all avant-garde films,
The Comb must be experienced first-hand to be fully realized. This film is set
in a disturbing little world full of moth-eaten 19th century dolls, crooked
passageways, rotted wood and trees and mazes of ladders leading to an
other-worldly crimson sky. Surrealism is prominent throughout; it seems as if
The Comb is a Salvador Dali painting animated to life. The dream scape
presented in The Comb has few resemblances to the real world, as everything is
given a nightmarish tilt. As in their other films, The Quays once again animate
the inanimate and bring lifeless objects to creaky, jerky life.
The main character, if I may call it that, is a dirty, cracked porcelain doll who is intent on climbing a tower clustered by mazes of ladders and small passageways that all lead toward a blood-red sky. Periodically Intercut between the doll's difficult journey upwards is a woman tossing and turning in her bed, which is set in a grainy, Victorian-era room loaded with worn antiques. The brief scenes of this woman (circa 4 of the 18 minutes the film lasts) are live-action (a real human, no animation) and in B&W while the rest of the film occurs in the lushly colored netherworld made living through stop-motion animation. The woman appears to be having a nightmare which may be linked to the world the doll is struggling in. The actions of the woman echo into the doll's dream world and vice versa. At the end of the film, the relation between the doll and the sleeping woman is brought into perspective.
The Comb is very surreal and avant-garde, meaning it breaks from conventional film making practices. There is no dialogue, no narrative story, no named characters; just pure abstract avant-gardism. The nameless characters seem to be symbols, and their antics tell a story that is open to anyone's interpretation. I think The Comb expresses the relationship between Man and his Dreams. What we do in the 'real' world (displayed by the woman in bed) reverberates in our dreams (the doll's journey). I believe the woman in bed is dreaming everything that happens in the film.
There is no score, except for disjointed stabbing violins, scratches and indecipherable moaning, which adds to the already disturbing visuals. Like most avant-garde films, this will tap into your subconscious and have a strange, personal effect on you. Whenever I watch The Comb, I feel as if my life is put on hold for 18 minutes as I'm pulled into this enigmatic, surreal world. I have seen most of the Brothers Quay films and feel this is their second best, under their masterpiece The Street of Crocodiles. The Comb is highly recommended for fans of stop-motion animation, avant-gardism or just something different.
Comb, The (1990) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
The most deliberately dreamlike of the Quay Brothers' films, The Comb is bookended by (and intercut with) a black-and-white live-action sequence of a woman asleep in bed, the implication being that these disconcerting, dislocating impressions of fairytale landscapes populated by decrepit puppets and an endless series of ladders (shot in colour) are taking place in the darker recesses of her mind. However, this is the only aspect of the film that's in any way easy to grasp, the rest setting out to wrong-foot the viewer at every turn, and the result wilfully defies verbal analysis.
Space and scale are ambiguous throughout, the central setting taking on different aspects according to the angle at which it's viewed (which constantly shifts). At the time of production, the Quays were researching the optical phenomenon of anamorphosis (the subject and title of their next film), and the distortions visible in the background décor imply the existence of hidden images. At times it appears to be a discarded theatrical set, an impression given further credence by a camera pull-back to reveal what appear to be stage flats and a proscenium arch - though it could just as easily be a forest.
As far as the foreground action is concerned (if that's an appropriate term for events just as likely to take place offscreen or in blurred areas outside the camera's immediate depth of focus), it draws on various fairytale elements - there's a sleeping beauty, and motifs of hair and ladders suggest Rapunzel - but without coalescing into anything concrete. Even the consistency of the atmosphere is open to question, as one typically enigmatic title reads "And suddenly the air grew hard".
There appears to be some kind of 'dialogue' between the sleeper and the puppet, as their middle fingers twitch in unison (this unnatural effect achieved in the live-action sequence by filming at six frames per second, speeding up the action fourfold), but the precise connection between them is never explained. The soundtrack alternates between multilingual gibberish and Leszek Jankowski's guitar-based score, which sculpts the mood without ever imposing a formal structure.
But if viewed as a purely cinematic experience, The Comb is one of the most inexplicably compelling of all the Quays' creations. Indeed, when the sleeper awakes at the end, the effect of her enigmatic smile is to prompt an immediate repeat viewing: what does she know that the viewer doesn't?
DVD Outsider Slarek
The Comb (from the Museums of Sleep) Zeitgeist Films
Great Britain (14 mi) 1991
This is probably the only Quay Brothers film I have seen that is in any way
conventional. I understand it was their segment used in a greater work about
art styles. The Quay Brothers explore the technique of Anamorphosis (a type of
visual trickery where a picture seen at certain angles can reveal a hidden
image that is not noticeable when viewed front on).
As with all the Quay's work the film is beautiful and strange and utilises their trademark stop motion techniques and odd, dusty Victoriana , yet as mentioned, it's a little more conventional than usual. It comes with a charming narration and is an utterly engaging documentary on a fascinating and little known subject.
As an introduction to the Quay's work it is hardly typical, but a good place for the timid to start. Then try In Absentia for something truly strange!
I tend to find that when people review shorts of this type with prior
knowledge of the makers (The Brothers Quay), they tend to talk about how the
makers still manage to put their own distinct style into someone else's
project. This time it feels like it's the other way around, that a professor
(with a comically accented voice) is providing meaning to a Brother Quay film.
It seems nothing's out-of-the-ordinary (except of course that the Quay brothers
aren't ordinary) in this film.
The topic is Anamorphosis, a visual trick of painters to hide meanings in paintings by requiring a person change their focal point for it. A painting of the countryside from the front looks like a painting of a person praying under a tree from the side. An odd painting-like segment within a painting of vice and greed turns out to be a skull.
The producers of this work couldn't have picked anyone better than the Brothers Quay. It's obvious seeing most of their works that these two artists are well versed in not only art, but issues of perspective and hidden meaning. Most of their films could be considered like semiotic Anamorphoses themselves. Their doll-hero-figure makes a perfect protagonist to explore around this world of pre-cinematic animation.
Anamorphosis (1991) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
Between 1980 and 1984, the Quay Brothers spent much of their time either making or contributing to documentaries. This was part of a conscious strategy devised by their producer Keith Griffiths to help attract television commissions and give their puppet animation wider circulation outside the confines of the experimental film. Their early work included Punch and Judy (1980), The Eternal Day of Michel de Ghelderolde (1981), Leos Janacek: Intimate Excursions and Igor Stravinsky: The Paris Years chez Pleyel (both 1983) and The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984).
Since that time, the Quays have preferred to explore their
own fantastical worlds, but in 1991 they made a brief return to the documentary
form with Anamorphosis, commissioned as part of The Program for Art on
Film, a project backed by the Getty Foundation and the Metropolitan Museum of
Anamorphosis relies on a deliberately deformed image that
can be made to reappear in its true shape when viewed in an unusual way (for
instance, obliquely, or through a distorting mirror), and the Quays provide
several examples. Firstly, there's a short lecture on the principles of
perspective, illustrated by an example of how the eye can be fooled (a
massively elongated chair appears to be normal from one particular viewpoint).
Two woodcuts by Erhard Schön (c. 1535) show how subversive material can be
hidden inside outwardly normal images, while an anonymous painting (c. 1550) is
arranged with strategic peepholes to reveal lurking religious imagery. On a
more ambitious scale, Emmanuel Maignan created an anamorphic fresco for a Roman
monastery in 1642, while Hans Holbein's The Ambassadors (1533), on
permanent view in
The Quays alternate between their familiar puppet animation with a new technique incorporating three-dimensional cut-out figures that emerge from and retreat into the background, providing a witty visual equivalent of the anamorphic process. There is also much analysis of the original artworks, viewed in close-up and from several angles.
Anamorphosis Zeitgeist Films
Great Britain (3 mi) 1992
Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In) Zeitgeist Films
A playful and gorgeously colorful vignette set to a haunting ballad by Michael Penn.
The Quay Brother's "Stille Nacht" series is their more commercial
work, though one without that knowledge would be hard pressed to see what makes
these works any different stylistically and thematically from their
"independant" works. This one, Stille Nacht II (or "Are We Still
Married" after the song by His Name is Alive) is basically a music video,
utilizing some repeated elements from Stille Nacht I.
This short is kind of interesting to look at because it shows what can be done with music videos besides making them three-minute commercials for the band's own song you're already currently hearing. It's use is so effective that the style has been used by the band Tool (of which I am a fan) in their own stunningly claustrophobic stop-motion animation.
However, later inspirations aside, the Brothers Quay unique mise-en-scene sticks out. A sort of Alice in Wonderland characterization changes pace completely into a rabbit that interacts with a ball that came from a woman's tear. Rather than creating the "Tortured soul" effect of a Tool music video, the Brothers Quay entrap the audience into the song itself, from a band I'm not actually familiar with, but which seems to sing about the decay of relationships even as the track itself sounds like it's decaying on an old cassette tape.
Are We Still Married? (1992) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
This was the first music video that the Quay Brothers were entirely responsible for, having previously contributed animated sequences to Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' (d. Stephen R. Johnson) in 1986. They had previously been approached by Warren Defever, the Michigan-based founder of the musical project His Name Is Alive (alongside vocalist Karen Oliver and drummer Damian Lang), who wanted to licence extracts from Street of Crocodiles (1986) for use in one of their music videos. The Quays refused permission, but were sufficiently intrigued by Defever's work to agree to shoot a music video for him from scratch.
'Are We Still Married?' was originally released in 1991 as a track on His Name Is Alive's second album Home Is In Your Head. This is very typical of the band's work, and indeed many other releases on the 4AD label, creating a dreamlike ambience through selective distortion of instrumentation and vocals, to the point where it's often hard to make out specific lyrics. Naturally, this approach suited the Quays down to the ground, and they duly ignored the song's textual content in favour of a typically oblique evocation of childhood.
The most immediately striking image is of a young girl, whose head is barely visible, but whose ankles expand and contract in a rhythmic motion. This looks as though it was computer-enhanced, but the effect was in fact entirely mechanical - the Quays' regular technical collaborator Ian Nicholas built a hinge mechanism in the girl's ankles. Around her, a somewhat moth-eaten white rabbit plays a manic solo game of ping-pong.
The video was initially inspired by an image by an anonymous photographer of a girl standing in front of a door holding a paddle. There was also a white doorknob in the picture, which the Quays initially mistook for a ping-ping ball. Although the Quays claimed not to have read Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, there are unmistakable echoes, from the general theme of little girls growing and shrinking before one's eyes, mysterious bottles of unidentified substances and doorknobs that turn into ping-pong balls.
This last image is not sourced directly from Alice, but it fits Carroll's dream-logic approach - as did similar departures from the text in the Czech animator Jan Svankmajer's feature-length adaptation, Alice (Neco z Alenky, Switzerland, 1988), which he began work on shortly after the Quays paid tribute to him in The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984).
Are We Still Married? Zeitgeist Films
It's not very often that I find something that is so entirely the work of
unique filmmakers and still find it not nearly as good as their other works.
The Brothers Quay's Stille Nacht III doesn't have the same engaging presence as their other shorts. The motion of the fired bullet is the only thing that really stands out on it. The rest of the short is darker, much darker even than their usual lighting, and it's hard to see. The movements don't seem as up-to-speed as they usually do, and it's much harder to see what the Quays are trying to do, exactly.
Also, as a product of the Stille Nacht series, it has not the repeated imagery and re-workings of the other four segments. It doesn't feel connected at all.
Interestingly enough, parts of this short were used as the theatrical trailer for Institute Benjamenta, the Quay Brothers' live-action full-length film. And, amusingly enough, it works better as a commercial for things to come than a stand-alone work.
Tales From Vienna Woods (1992) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
The third in the quartet of black-and-white films comprising the Quay Brothers' Stille Nacht cycle (the others being Dramolet, 1988, Are We Still Married?, 1992 and Can't Go Wrong Without You, 1993), Tales From Vienna Woods was also made with the intention of exploring imagery that they planned to develop further in their first feature Institute Benjamenta, which was then in limbo awaiting funds. In fact, so close were the short and the feature in terms of overall tone (despite the one being animated and the other live-action) that the former was subsequently recycled as the latter's theatrical trailer, in a slightly but not significantly modified form.
A clue to the film's purpose is embedded in a wreath adorning a pair of asymmetrical deer antlers: Ich bin im Tod erblüht ("in death have I blossomed" - for once, an onscreen translation is provided). This is followed by a sequence in which an animated severed hand explores a dusty archive of arcane exhibits, the central display of which consists of a table with multiple legs that's been suspended from the ceiling above a base of forest detritus, notably pine cones. As the camera circles slowly around to the front, we see that the table has been decorated with the same asymmetrical antlers, and at the back a pair of testicles can be glimpsed beneath the table top.
What the film is doing, in characteristically oblique form, is endlessly replaying the moment when the deer met its death: the film delicately but unmistakably implying (through the metaphorical use of pine cones) that it was shot in the testicles. From time to time, in the dead of night, the table regurgitates the bullet via a long-handled spoon that emerges from between its rear legs, intercut with images of the bullet emerging from the gun and commencing its journey to the target, slowed down to highlight every step.
Tales from the Vienna Woods Zeitgeist Films
The Quay Brothers return to the Stille Nacht series, they return to His Name
is Alive, and they make another music video based around the music and the
repeated images of previous in the series (minus Stille Nacht III), and somehow
they make it more disturbing and ephemeral than ever before.
Not to describe this as plot, but in this short the white rabbit returns to chase an egg and try and save it from other forces. Meanwhile, the figure with the socks (I consider her a representational relation to Alice) bleeds. The Freudian aspects of this film are more disturbing than I want to get into, but the actual interplay itself seems like the Quay Brother's darkest nightmare.
His Name is Alive's grinding, degrading music fits well into the mood of this piece. After seeing this and Stille Nacht II (Are We Still Married?), I think I'm going to make it a point to check out this band. What do you know? The Quays' more commercial work has helped actually sell something!
Can't Go Wrong Without You (1993) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
Following their first collaboration the previous year with Are We Still Married? (1992), the Quay Brothers reunited with Michigan-based musicians His Name Is Alive to create the video for their 1993 single 'Can't Go Wrong Without You'.
Very consciously a sequel to the earlier video, this recapitulates many of its central Lewis Carrollian motifs: the girl with constantly expanding and contracting height (an effect enhanced here by standing her on scales, her weight fluctuating in time with her changing size), the paddle decorated with the image of a heart and a pair of eyes, the rabit, and recurring impressions of keys, locks and dark, mysterious secrets.
But the imagery takes on an altogether more disturbing aspect as spots of blood form on the scales between the girl's legs. A shot of a cut finger hints at a straightforward explanation, but it could just as easily be the onset of menarche. This theme of surrendered innocence is further developed via a black-clad male figure wearing a demonic mask, who seems locked in a power struggle with the rabbit, the latter trying to prevent him from obtaining a precious egg (a visual echo in more potent form of the white ping-pong ball in the earlier video).
All of this takes place in an off-kilter Expressionist world of skewed angles, doors, rickety balustrades and treacherous steps, squarely in line with The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Germany, 1919) via film noir - though the Quays add further disorienting touches in the form of glasses rolling across the ceiling and a pervasive impression that the very fabric of their universe can be unravelled by merely pulling the right thread.
Can't Go Wrong Without You Zeitgeist Films
If this has a meaning beyond the one on the surface, which carries no conviction, it's one of the classic horror films. But so far I can't see that it does. The authoritarian, sexually perverse world it depicts seems the creation of someone who has never experienced oppression or obsession at first hand and has nothing to say about it. This is a totally artificial and hermetic work. On the other hand, its distance from reality and purpose allows its manufacturers to take as much time as they please to refine and distill its essence, as in a bottle. But what is it they're distilling? Whatever it is, it gives off a lovely scent. One exquisite shot follows another; the actors are perfectly cast. Alice Krige I suppose can be called a cult figure now (I'm one of the cult), and in this she has finally found the ideal environment. The film is never uninteresting but should have been disturbing, and some day I hope to find something inside it.
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
Sometime this century, somewhere in Europe: Jakob von Gunten (Rylance) enrols at the Institute Benjamenta, a run-down edifice headed by an eccentric tyrant (John) and dedicated to the training of suitably unambitious, humble servants. Though Jakob readily submits to the repetitive regime of incredibly banal lessons in servility, he begins to wonder whether he might be sufficiently princely to rescue his melancholy tutor, Benjamenta's sister Lisa (Krige), from the suffocating half-life she leads inside the school's sinister, shadowy walls. Inspired by the writings of Swiss novelist Robert Walser, the first feature from the Brothers Quay is as outlandishly beautiful, bizarre, mysterious and inventive as one might expect; more surprising, perhaps, given their history as animators specialising in puppetry and rather abstract metaphor, is the firm grasp of narrative and the intense performances elicited from a strong international cast. Overall, the film can be seen as a (finally subversive) variation on traditional fairytale motifs, as an allegory on our progress through - as an alternative title would have it - 'This Dream People Call Human Life', or as a loving tribute to cinema's fantastic capacity for poetry. Genuinely unsettling.
Institute Benjamenta is an oddity. Let me say that first, get it out of the way. Part of me hesitates from revealing here that it is one of my favourite films of all time because I know I'll make some people reading this mini-review approach it from the wrong angle. A film like this should never become required viewing. You should stumble across it at a repertory cinema somewhere or be beguiled by the video-box art showing the striking visage of Alice Krige as she paces before her blackboard, deerfoot staff in hand. You should find one evening that its the only thing that sounds interesting on TV, or peer at a still alongside a mention in your TV guide and wonder what on earth the picture is supposed to depict. Contained between main and end credits here is a world so visually ravishing and technically abstruse that you are only in the film while you are watching; the rules of the outside do not apply. You peer into the dreamy, foggy black-and-white and what you can't identify for certain your imagination fills out. These are the most special special effects because you wonder 'what' and 'why' by never 'how.' The Institute of the title is a school for servants, the lessons they are taught bizarre and repetitive to the point of making 'deja-vu' a permanent state of being. Is the repetition the point of it all or has the teacher lost the plot? If she has, how come we care? None of this is vaguely like real life. None of it, that is, bar the characters emotions. Or is the whole thing like real life, like Life with a capital 'L?' In the end does this sort of pondering make for a good movie? I won't answer that because I'm terribly biased. Remember the title and look it up sometime. It's the cinematic equivalent of a stunning old-fashioned magician's trick. A monochrome bouquet, a sad smile. There are images, scenes that may make the hairs on the back of your neck think they're a cornfield with a twister on the way. I tried to warn you as quietly as I could.
The first full-length film from the twin masters of the sublime and bizarre is also their first to utilize, to any great degree, human actors. While some may find this the ultimate departure for the team they consider to be the greatest puppeteers alive, suffice to say the Brothers Quay have created an eerie masterpiece in which living actors very adequately take the place of their less mobile brethren. Loosely based on the story “Jakob von Gunten” by Swiss writer Robert Walser, the film is set entirely within the walls of the titular institute: a bizarre, timeless boarding school for professional servants-to-be, lorded over by an entirely mad principal, Herr Benjamenta (Fassbinder regular John) and what appears to be his sexually explosive sister Lisa (Krige). Into this maelstrom (literally -- the film opens with repeated shots of swirling, spilling, splattering water) arrives our hero, as it were, Jakob von Gunten (Rylance), a butler-in-training who soon finds himself learning far more than he bargained for at the Institute. Trying to describe a Brothers Quay film with any degree of exactitude is nearly as difficult as trying to comprehend the constantly shifting degrees of meaning inherent in the images they keep showing you. As with all of the Brothers' films, you leave feeling slightly shaken, a bit disturbed, and troubled as though you had just awoken from a bitter dream you can't quite recall. Institute Benjamenta is no different in this regard -- there's even a heightened sense of the outre that comes with using real live actors against the familiar, washed-out backdrops that suddenly spring into alarming focus. Shot in hazy black-and-white with an amazing number of subtle camera and optical tricks, Institute Benjamenta is a triumph of the surreal, a masterwork of fantasy, and a breathtakingly tenebrous walk off the beaten path and into the dark, pulsing forest of dreams.
Made by identical twins who possess a single, and singular, vision, the stop-motion animation of the Quay brothers deserves the "astonishing" tag attached to the title of a new collection of their short films. Though born in Pennsylvania, Timothy and Stephen Quay are best known for the quintessentially European films they created in England. Inspired by Czech surrealist animator Jan Svankmajer, the brothers wear their influences on their sleeves in one of their earliest films, The Cabinet Of Jan Svankmajer, but from there they didn't take long to refine their style. Street Of Crocodiles (1987) is an early Quay masterpiece, creating a nightmarish dystopia using actors made from found objects, wonderfully evocative miniature sets, and graceful camera techniques. (Consider the implications of performing a tracking shot with stop-motion animation and you have a sense of the craft that goes into the Quays' work.) When these films work, as in an inexplicably moving video for the His Name Is Alive song "Are We Still Married?" (starring a melancholy, high-strung toy bunny), they work on an almost dreamlike level; trying to figure out a literal interpretation is not only difficult but distracting. This works against the Quays' feature-length, live-action debut, the torturously slow, willfully frustrating Institute Benjamenta. Released elsewhere in 1995 but only now receiving an American video release, Institute follows the educational progress of a man who enrolls at the titular establishment, a school to train servants. Inspired by the work of Swiss author Robert Walser, especially his novel Jakob Van Gunten, Institute might work better for an audience familiar with the relatively obscure early-20th-century writer's work. As it is, the film comes off as an intentionally obtuse, sub-Kafka look at alienation and bureaucracy. Visually, it's a stunner, but in the field of live-action, the Quay brothers have yet to learn the dividing line between dreamlike and somnambulistic. Those interested in their truly astonishing work will be better off sticking to the shorts.
Nitrate Online (capsule) Eddie Cockrell
Mondo Cinephilia Timothy Farrell
Boxoffice Magazine review Ed Scheid
Institute Benjamenta Zeitgeist Films
DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version] Brian Montgomery
The Brothers Quay are brilliant artists whose body of work, both their
puppet films and live action feature Institute Benjamenta, stands as one of the
great achievements in cinema. While their new piece In Absentia does not
ultimately compare to past masterpieces such as Street of Crocodiles and
Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies, it's still a remarkable film that will move
the viewer with its hermetic beauty.
A combination of live action and puppet animation, In Absentia details the attempts of a woman to write a letter from within the cracked, faded walls of an asylum, her progress as glacially slow as the movement of the stars. She is doomed to endlessly repeat the steps and be forever left speechless in her cell, while outside a wasteland of waring light and dark reflects her despair.
With a gorgeous score by K. Stockhausen, the film at times feels ever so slightly music video-esque, and one wonders if without the well regarded composer's music it would fall apart rather quickly. But although a lesser work, it is still a fascinating and moving one.
In Absentia (2000) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
Given their preference for working with pre-recorded scores, the Quay Brothers were natural choices for the BBC's Sound On Film initiative, which showcased collaborations between filmmakers and composers. Discounting filmed stage works, In Absentia was the first authentic Quay film since Institute Benjamenta (1995), but attracted most attention because it was a collaboration with Karlheinz Stockhausen, elder statesman of the twentieth-century musical avant-garde.
It was sourced from Zwei Paare ('Two Pairs'), an electronic piece originally composed for the opera Freitag in 1991. Long-term admirers of Stockhausen's work (one of their earliest professional commissions was the cover design of a 1973 book, Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer), the Quays agreed to make the film before hearing the music. But when the recording arrived, they were disconcerted to discover that it consisted almost entirely of electronic howls and distorted human cries, with very few melodic, harmonic or rhythmic elements to latch on to.
But this relentlessness fitted their chosen subject, which
was a depiction of the mental state of one Emma Hauck (1878-1920). Diagnosed
with dementia praecox, she was incarcerated in
But Hauck herself doesn't appear properly until halfway through the film, by which time her mental state has already been established by means of time-lapse studies of light patterns moving around her room, its furniture and windows, as well as low-angle shots of a childlike automaton aimlessly kicking its legs to and fro. Much of this is shot in black and white, with occasional flashes to colour shots of a demonic, horned, insectoid creature.
When Hauck appears (albeit mostly seen from behind), the film's focus narrows, with great emphasis placed on extreme close-ups of the objects central to her existence: the pencils, the sharpener, the paper, her cramped, clenching hands, blackened fingernails, endless stubs of broken-off lead, and finally the letters themselves, packaged up and 'posted' uselessly into a grandfather clock. It's one of the most unflinching depictions of psychosis on film, and one of the most unnervingly convincing.
The Ensemble Sospeso - The Brothers Quay Joshua Cody from Sospeso
In Absentia Zeitgeist Films
Great Britain (24 mi) 2003
DVD Outsider Slarek (Excerpt)
Now here's a curiosity, a series of animated pieces set to a selection of songs by The King's Singers. Those of you of a younger age may not be aware of these fellows (there are still going strong, I gather, albeit with a modified line-up), a vocal ensemble group formed at Cambridge University who came to prominence in the 70s singing cappella versions of well known pop songs and whose facial animation during performance sometimes bordered on parody. Their work here provides a structurally complex (you've never heard Oranges and Lemons sung like it is here) and melancholic basis for one of the Quays' most abstract and unsettling works to date. There are plenty of familiar Quay elements on display, including blank-eyed dolls, small rapidly oscillating objects, a wooden anatomical model (a fascinating if rather creepy creation), diffused imagery, and a sleeping figure whose arm is under independent control, and in terms of its light levels this is probably the brothers' darkest film to date.
Strictly Film School (NYVF 2003 notes) Acquarello
My favorite entry from the program, the brothers Quay create yet another beautiful, haunting, atmospheric, and exquisitely tactile composition of stop-motion animation and live action as an unseen visitor wanders an empty museum that houses a curious repository of medical school paraphernalia. Observing and manipulating the antique dolls, prosthetic limbs and mechanisms, and surgical devices, the video creates an indelibly poetic meditation on the biological processes of human existence.
Phantom Museum, The (2003) Michael Brooke from BFI Screen Online
The Phantom Museum was originally
commissioned by the Wellcome Trust as a video installation for the
Typically, the Quay Brothers' film consists more of a series of impressions of the Wellcome collection than a guided tour, their approach summed up by its subtitle 'Random Forays into Sir Henry Wellcome's Medical Collection'. A linking device (shot on grainy black-and-white Super 8 stock) involves a man clad in a black suit and white gloves ascending staircases, warlking along corridors, switching on lights and investigating rooms full of cabinets bearing tantalising labels ('Shrunken Heads - Scalp').
Interspersed with these are much sharper colour sequences, depicting various objects in Wellcome's collection. Sometimes they're displayed as static museum pieces, sometimes rotated, and occasionally animated. Many of the exhibits are explicitly sexualised, from the diagram demonstrating the use of a chastity belt (next to an example of the real thing) to tender Oriental sculptures of human lovemaking. Many of the collection's many dolls come apart to reveal their anatomically-correct innards - one female body has a baby in her walnut-sized womb, connected via an umbilical piece of string.
Prosthetic arms and legs abound, in one case attached to a live human body, while there are plenty of dead ones glimpsed in the collection's storerooms, their lipless mouths fixed in a permanent grin. If the film is often unsettling, this is less because of the Quays' proven feel for the uncanny than for the way the Wellcome collection itself inescapably exploits our most fundamental fears: of birth, sex, mutilation and death.
The Quays originally edited the film to pre-existing recordings of the music of Czech composer Zdenek Liska (previously featured in The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer in 1984), but were unable to clear the necessary rights. In the final version, filmmaker-musician Gary Tarn provided a plangent semi-electronic accompaniment, occasionally interspersed with sound effects, notably in the shot of an old birthing chair and forceps being pressed into service on an invisible mother-to-be, whose baby can be heard crying as it emerges.
The Phantom Museum British Museum site for the Henry Wellcome Collection, with two downloadable excerpts from the Quay's The Phantom Museum
The Phantom Museum Zeitgeist Films
Evoking fairy tales, European art, surrealist literature, and daguerreotypes, London-based directors the Brothers Quay confound their viewers with as much lush imagery as they can cram into a frame. The twins, Stephen and Timothy, have been making eccentric animation, short films, music videos ("Sledgehammer"!) and commercials (Coca-Cola!) since the late '70s, but The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes is only their second feature, after 1995's Institute Benjamenta. The story—about a beautiful opera singer falling captive to an evil doctor, his fetishistic housekeeper, and the doc's innocent piano tuner—is only important in that it gives the Quays a foundation for their fabulous animated tableaux. The doctor's bizarre musical machines whir. They click. They act out primal scenes. And though loose themes like the divide between master and servant resonate, in the end (which mirrors the beginning) it all makes less sense than it did when we started. No matter. As Dr. Droz (Gottfried John) explains to the tuner: What we are seeing is the most rational irrationality—and all sheer artifice anyway.
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
There are two major problems that torpedo this film, and they glom onto each other like viral cells, replicating and mutually mutating in an exponentially expanding wretchedness. The Quay brothers (I refuse to capitulate to their self-congratulatory mythmaking by calling them "the Brothers Quay" -- this is not the Victorian era) are filmmakers accustomed to the short-form, and they lack the most basic sense of humor. Piano Tuner is clearly attempting to function as an evocative but unresolved mood piece, providing enough information to imply a dreamlike narrative, with multiple presents and temporal reversals and spatial ambiguity. But as short filmmakers, what they actually accomplish is the stringing together of discrete and unrelated ideas, in little five to ten minute bursts. There's a music thread, an automaton thread, a stop-motion "uncanny" thread, and much much more. The only thing tying any of this together is a wispy, soft-focus, oh-so-Victorian fear of female sexuality. Poor Amira Cesar is reduced to a doe-eyed hysteric in need of mental fine-tuning by the titular rationalist, and there's never a sense that the Quays are critiquing these antiquated stereotypes. Instead, they clearly take them, as well as themselves, with a deadly level of seriousness. They have created something sui generis -- the only reasonable comparison beyond their own work would be Guy Maddin's worst film, Twilight of the Ice Nymphs -- but the result is suffocating and precious. At the end of the screening I wanted to boo, but didn't feel like it was worth getting into.
Time Out London review Geoff Andrew
The all-too-long-awaited follow-up to the Quays’ wonderful
first feature (‘Institute Benjamenta’) is as imaginative, eccentric and visually
seductive as one expects from these seasoned explorers of the uncanny. Great
expertise is again evident in the blending of live action and puppet animation
in the tale of Malvina (Amira Casar),
a beautiful opera singer abducted during a performance by the sinister Dr Droz
John). The mad inventor whisks her away from her lover, subjecting her to a
life of mournful seclusion on a remote tropical island that is his home and
kingdom, whither Felisberto (Cesar
Sarachu), a piano tuner, is meanwhile summoned to repair seven automata…
In other words, the film’s a weird fairy tale, a Gothic fable of obsessive desire, magical prowess and bizarre coincidence that owes at least as much to painting, literature, music and myth as to cinema. (In fact, save for Borowczyk and a handful of horror movies, it’s hard to divine much common ground between this and most cinema likely to screen these days.) The pace, in keeping with the feverish, dreamlike hothouse isle on which the delectable damsel’s kept against her (lack of) will, perhaps tends a little too much towards the languid, and Sarachu’s performance comes over as clumsy; Assumpta Serna as Droz’s devotee also seems slightly adrift, so only Casar and John have the full measure of the piece. Still, no one expects conventional pleasures from the Quays, and for those who like their movies different, ambitious and luscious to look at (Nic Knowland’s ’Scope camerawork is extraordinary), there’s much here to enjoy.
Eleven years after Institute Benjamenta, Stephen and Timothy Quay
return to the land of the live-action—and the fixations that have defined their
groundbreaking stop-motion animated work—with The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes,
a tragic fairy tale drenched in otherworldly visual splendor. As with Institute,
this new film concerns the appearance of an interloper at a secluded forest
mansion, in this case piano tuner Felisberto's (César Saracho) arrival at the
villa of Dr. Emmanuel Droz (Gottfried John), who has abducted and imprisoned
beautiful opera singer Malvina (Amira Casar). Felisberto has been hired to
fine-tune not pianos (of which Droz has none) but seven wondrous musical
automatons—stop-motion creations housed in giant boxes and viewable through
widescreen glass windows—and it is here that the Quays most directly and evocatively
dramatize their overriding preoccupation with the dialectic between waking and
slumbering life, the rapport shared by the tangible and the illusory, and the
magical animation of inherently inanimate objects.
A combination of allusions both classical (Orpheus, Lazarus) and esoteric (a recurring anecdote about ants, spores, and insanity that forms one of the film's thematic cruxes), the brothers' story follows Felisberto (himself a doppelganger of Malvina's true love) as he's entranced by Droz's housekeeper Assumpta (the lusciously mysterious Assumpta Serna), uncovers the mad doctor's plan to stage an opera starring Malvina that will bring catastrophe to the cultural establishment that's shunned him, and endeavors to rescue the captive princess. However, with the Quays treating their actors like expressive puppets, Piano Tuner's pulse-pounding passion is derived not from narrative plotting—which, though more linear than Institute, is obscure and lethargic by design—but from stunning close-ups of their cast's expressive countenances (John's in particular) and ominously ethereal imagery (as in a backwards-running moonlit sequence). A sense of manipulation pervades the proceedings, with the performers mechanically moving about environments that, constructed with wire, dirt, flesh, and fog, come across as large-scale variations of the Quay shorts' claustrophobic, tracking shot-navigated milieus.
Snow globe visions and gnarly mouth nightmares swirl together in this darkly lyrical fantasia, the brothers' employment of ominous wind-tunnel drones, pulsating underwater-ish shadows, and a burnished palette of silvery black-and-whites and heightened colors giving the film a sense of the unreal and real symbiotically blending together. That this journey through an eerie unconscious landscape is ultimately little more than a collection of familiar Quay constructs and motifs makes Piano Tuner both sumptuously self-contained and frustratingly insular, the directors offering up a private world not easily traversed without at least passing knowledge of their eccentric oeuvre. When married to a general lack of momentum, this abstruse state of affairs requires one to embrace Assumpta's opinion that "after a while, you get used to the confusion." Quay novices will likely beg to differ, but for those on the filmmakers' bizarre, idiosyncratic wavelength, such opaqueness in no way makes this unsettling descent into dreamlike imaginativeness any less haunting.
Reverse Shot (Leo Goldsmith) review Nocturna Artificialia, Fall, 2006
DVD Times Noel Megahey
DVD Outsider Slarek
Film-Forward.com Jack Gattanella
Twitch (Todd Brown) review September 9, 2005
Twitch The Brothers Quay Returning To Feature Film With Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, by Todd Brown, February 20, 2010
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [2/5] Richard Scheib
Mondo Cinephilia Timothy Farrell
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes Zeitgeist Films
The Japan Times Giovanni Fazio
DVDBeaver dvd review Brian Montgomery and Yunda Eddie Feng
Great Britain (12 mi) 2007
DVD Outsider Slarek (Excerpt)
A live action musical interpretation Orpheus' quest to rescue his dead lover Eurydice from Hades, bristling with extraordinary monochrome imagery, into which colour quietly bleeds in the later stages. An appreciation of the music is probably required to get the most out of the film, despite its visual splendour, and it's not as instantly recognisable as a Quay Brothers work as the two preceding shorts.
Qubeka, Jahmil X.T.
OF GOOD REPORT B 85
An extremely provocative South African film, where the director was born in South Africa, raised in East London, educated in English, where his first feature film is something of an homage to genre pictures, including film noir, as it is shot in low contrast Black and White and features a lead character, Parker Sithole (Mothusi Magano), a teacher by trade who is besieged by hallucinations, yet never utters a word. The film certainly plays on audience expectations, where it’s hard to believe anyone entering the theater could have possibly anticipated what this film delivers, as it’s a bit mind blowing. With only one film under his belt, Qubeka is already the bad boy of South Africa, a bit like the brash style of Tarantino, but Qubeka is much more experimental, where the director does resort to exploitive and often horrific imagery, including the naked body of a minor, which has generated criticism that he’s a child pornographer, yet supposedly the film was made to elevate a public discussion on social issues, specifically gender violence. One might question whether the best way to elucidate the issue is to make a film where an adult brutalizes a young girl, but that is one of the fundamental problems in South Africa, where according to the Human Rights watch in 2001, “for many South African girls, violence and abuse are an inevitable part of the school environment.” This is a nation where educators misuse their authority and sexually abuse young girls. It’s not young boys that are impregnating young girls, it’s those with money (which the kids certainly don’t have), the stereotypical “sugar daddy.” In one South African province alone, KwaZulu-Natal, today there are somewhere between 10 – 15,000 female students that become pregnant each year, astonishing figures, which don’t even take into account the number who may have contracted HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
Initially scheduled to premiere at the Durban International Film Festival, the largest in South Africa, the film was banned prior to the screening on child pornographer issues, something that took the filmmaker completely by surprise as he wasn’t aware they banned films in South Africa post 1994, where prior to that they banned everything, “including Eddie Murphy movies.” The Durban Festival has a history of protest, and of showing taboo work, where even during the apartheid era when films were routinely banned, the festival found a way to show those films. Within about 10 days, the court overturned the ban, as the actress playing the 16-year old child is actually 23, and allowed the film to be seen on the final day of the festival. Mind you, this film offers no moralizing or lectures of any kind, and isn’t remotely a message film, but is a hugely subversive take on genre films, using a radical musical score from Philip Miller, much of it drawn from his LP Music for the Films of William Kentridge, whose unnerving dissonance keeps the audience disoriented and provides a shattered sensibility, reflecting the psychological breakdown of the lead character, Parker Sithole, who served time as a soldier before reporting for duty in an impoverished rural South African township with no local connections, yet he comes with excellent recommendations, a man “of good report” during a time of teacher shortages, so he’s seen as exactly what they need and is immediately enlisted as a school teacher, where everyone involved with the school has high hopes for this shy and quietly introverted man. So with inverted expectations, it’s a bit shocking to see him instead develop into a deranged psychopath, where the film shows the early origins of a serial killer, where Parker becomes sexually involved with a beautiful underage girl, Nolitha (Petronella Tshuma), something of a sirenesque Lolita who turns out to be one of the students in his class, but rather than end the relationship, he escalates the time they spend together, becoming more and more sexually obsessed, where he does little to hide his prurient interest in her.
Using flashbacks and dream sequences, along with frequent hallucinations, Parker goes berserk when Nolitha leaves him, becoming Othello to her Desdemona, often veering into the horror genre, where the past and present converge and it’s often hard to distinguish between some of his mad ravings that exist only in his head and what actually happens, much like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (2000). While offering a convincing portrait of a tortured man who can’t help himself, it recalls Peter Lorre in M (1931), a psychopathic pedophile who can’t stop himself from kidnapping and murdering little girls. Parker is a miserably lonely man, likely stripped of all dignity during apartheid, endlessly wallowing away his time as a soldier, where he learns to kill, slowly losing touch with the world as he descends further into the moral abyss, escalating into utter depravity, becoming a nightmarish vision of Hell on earth where he hermetically seals himself away from the world outside, utterly alone with his handiwork. We see what he does, which for some will be graphically excessive, generating gasps in the audience, and we see him get away with it, at least temporarily, where he lives to do it all over again, like a deadly parasite attaching itself to another living form. Opening and closing with the same visual motif, a man stumbling through the desert, where the camera shows nothing above the waist and focuses only on his dirty boots covered in mud and dust, a highly effective device, as the film is about the arrival of a stranger, a non entity, someone with no local roots, who comes bearing excellent recommendations, a man “of good report,” where much like the white-gloved, overly polite boys in Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), no sooner have they brutally murdered one family before they move on to the next. Of interest, this is a South African and Icelandic production, where one wonders where the Icelanders came into the picture. The director, who was present for the screening, suggested he would love to come back to this character in about 20 years and pick it up again. When he made it, he was hoping it would become a cult film. It’s a strange and intensely moody portrayal of a post-apartheid society that fails to recognize the continuing existence of an evil presence lurking within, that lives invisibly among us, where over the end credits the film turns to color with an animated red Devil dancing off to the side, a laughing reminder of more victims yet to come.
Originally banned in
Jahmil XT Qubeka’s filmis startling, not only for the controversial subject matter but also for the sheer audacity and competency of his direction. Parker shouts, growls, bleats, cries and howls but never speaks-some feat when he is in virtually every scene, at times his hang dog face elicits sympathy. A risky sexual encounter with Nolitha in a toilet cubicle turns into nerve-shredding suspense when her friends are locked outside. We should be shouting from the rooftops for Parker to get caught, but instead we are deceived into rooting for him to escape, because Qubeka manipulates his audience just like Parker manipulates an entire community. “Of Good Report” then leaves the same savage aftertaste as “Cold Fish” or Richard Stanley’s “Dust Devil” and a character in Parker Sithole as shocking as Travis Bickle or Patrick Bateman.
Of Good Report, the striking feature-length debut of South African filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, opens with the scene of a battered and bloodied man stumbling across a treacherous African desert. It's a particularly unsettling opening for what is, on paper, a seemingly familiar domestic drama about an affair between a male teacher and his female pupil, but one that immediately implants an underlying sense of gruesome volatility that never quite detaches itself from the film's core.
With its stark black-and-white photography and
mournful brass-driven musical accompaniment, Qubeka’s style casts the African
continent in an altogether different light, immersing us in the cultural
identity of the locale but draining away its natural mystique. The
In the dread-inducing way that it is able to shift perceptions of its tortured male character, Of Good Report echoes William Wyler’s The Collector (1965), whose antagonist Freddie Clegg slowly transforms from a harmless mummy’s boy to an erratic potential psycho. The psychological turmoil of the teacher, Parker (Mothusi Mangano), bears some similarities to that of Clegg, but unlike Terence Stamp in Wyler’s film, Magano is too disconcertingly opaque and expressionless when called upon to convincingly relay the introverted man’s disturbed inner life.
Even if the acting isn’t always up to par, though, Qubeka’s direction picks up enough of the slack for the film to make an impact nevertheless; his mirroring of the film’s opening and closing sequences is especially effective at heightening its impact as a cynical tale of past trauma and unforeseen danger. Qubeka’s directorial command provides Of Good Report with a lasting bitterness and visceral power rarely seen in cinema these days.
The film you're not allowed to see Charl Blignaut from City Press, July 28, 2013
Of Good Report, denied a classification by the Film and Publication Board, views SA through a prism that makes for uncomfortable viewing. Charl Blignaut sees what you’re not allowed to
The biggest problem when it comes to the discussion around the banning of Jahmil Qubeka’s Of Good Report is that few people have seen it. I have.
It was available to journalists as an online screener ahead of the Durban International Film Festival.
Unfortunately, I saw it on a computer and not in a cinema. I have no doubt it’ll be even more impressive on a big screen.
And it is impressive. Shot in black and white as a homage to film noir, it’s a very dark comedy told as an African Western by a bona fide auteur. It’s a fresh, confident, quirky and accomplished art-house movie with excellent performances and a genius score. It takes experimental South African film up several notches.
What it doesn’t do is wag a moral finger or try drive its message home. It isn’t a piece of social realism or a “message film” (whatever that is). It’s not the kind of film that pushes a line in “nation building” that government film agencies are so keen to see on our screens (think Darrell Roodt’s Yesterday).
Neither does it push a notion of “social cohesion” because it’s about social disintegration and a country of crumbling morals – where an older man, a man “of good report”, can get away with murder. And our sugar daddies do, every day.
When the film maker approached the National Film and Video Foundation for funding they rejected his application because, they said, it doesn’t “offer a protagonist we can root for”. They advised him to look at Red Dragon or Dexter to up the lead character Parker Sithole’s moral convictions.
But easy comparison or classification evades this film. And this makes the debate around its depiction of underage sex even more complicated.
Because the language of the film is difficult, its classifiers will need to understand film language first. And if you see the film, you will wonder if they do.
The sex scene in question is stylised and absolutely inexplicit. It’s the least of the problems the film raises. Yes, the girl is 16, but so is the age of consent.
The Film and Publication Board (FPB) is governed by an act that says she must be 18 or older. The actress playing her is 23.
Where “the aesthetic element is predominant, the image will not constitute pornography”, stated former chief justice Pius Langa. By this definition – a landmark judgment by the Constitutional Court on the FPB’s definition of pornography – Of Good Report is not pornography.
It’s not an overtly political film either. When it takes a jab at political corruption it does so symbolically – President Jacob Zuma talking on the TV while a poster of him is stuck to a wall next to it. The message is clear, but you have to work to find it.
Most people who end up seeing this film will probably not even realise, by the end, that Sithole doesn’t utter a single line of dialogue in it.
He’s a miserable and comical man, stripped of his dignity by apartheid and hardened by his former life as a soldier. He is a killer who is unable to get in touch with his emotions.
In one scene, we finally see him cry. Except he doesn’t. The tin roof of his room is leaking and water is dripping on to his face. When he meets Nolitha, she offers a small glimmer of joy in his dark life.
Yes, she’s a Lolita. She thinks it’ll be fun to seduce this man in authority, her teacher.
She appears to even enjoy the sex. Perhaps it’s this that really upset the FPB.
Here we have a real and complex character who doesn’t easily fit into the portrayal of South African women as either virgins or whores – as academic Sarah Dawson argues in The Con, an online magazine.
Dawson saw the film when helping make selections for the Durban festival. She proposes our problem with Nolitha is we don’t know how to classify her because we barely recognise her rights in our patriarchal society.
The banning, she writes, “has happened purely because the sexualised young female of Nolitha doesn’t yet have a proper meaning in this society”.
As Of Good Report’s powerful final scene ends, it instantly took its place in my all-time South African top-10 favourite films.
Our poor moral report - City Press Senzo Mchunu from City Press, August 19, 2013
“Of Good Report”? - Africa is a Country Zachary Levenson from Africa Is a Country, August 19, 2013
Reopening the debate about censorship, art and its value ... - Africiné Hans-Christian Mahnke
Durban Fest Offers Rare Spotlight on African Cinema - The ... Rutendo Nyamuda
Of Good Report: The serial killer movie they tried to ban - CNN.com CNN interviews the director, August 21, 2013
Of Good Report: The Serial Killer Movie they Tried to Ban Eric Ford interviews the director from Houston Style magazine, August 21, 2013
Qubeka Brings Anarchy, Mayhem, Dissent to S.A. Biz | Variety Alex Stedman interviews the director from Variety, July 18, 2013
LOVE LIKE POISON (Un Poison Violent) B+ 91
you were here before
Couldn't look you in the eye
You're just like an angel
Your skin makes me cry
You float like a feather
In a beautiful world
I wish I was special
You're so fucking special
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
I don't care if it hurts
I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul
I want you to notice
When I'm not around
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
She's running out the door
She run, run, run, run
Whatever makes you happy
Whatever you want
You're so fucking special
I wish I was special
But I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
I don't belong here
—“Creep,” by Thom Yorke, Radiohead, 1992
From the opening pan of parishioners singing inside a church, this film shows how French culture remains dominated by the influence of the Catholic Church, yet is also a rapturously beautiful coming-of-age story of a sensitive young 14-year old girl, given a thoroughly intelligent overview as seen through the observant eyes of this female writer/director. After attending a private girl’s boarding school, Anna (Clara Augarde) returns to her small town home to spend the summer, where she is reunited with her over-controlling mother (Lio), her sexually candid but dying grandfather (Michel Galabru), along with Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil) a cute young boy who enjoys spending time with her. What immediately grabs our attention is the use of music, where the old English folksong “Greensleeves” sung by Barbara Dane, has a mesmerizing effect, where the piercingly melancholic mood is heart rendering, sung during a downpour of rain that falls over the French countryside. This sets the tone for the use of more songs, each bearing a personal stamp of intimacy, many of them folk songs from an earlier era. This music coincides with a young girl’s self-awakening, the discovery of her own body, and the effect she has on the opposite sex. At the same time, her parents are going through a bitter separation which leaves her traumatized by their seemingly petty bickering. The other main character is the parish priest (Stefano Cassetti), a bearded, wire-rimmed young man who expresses genuine interest in the lives of others. As she prepares for her confirmation, one of the more interesting scenes is Anna expressing her doubts to the priest, who reminds her that this is quite common with people of faith, that Mother Theresa continually doubted her faith throughout her life, so this shouldn’t in any way diminish her thoughts of herself as a primarily good person.
The film is understated and low key throughout, where Augarde as Anna is surprisingly assured in this her first screen role, where her character yearns for a kind of individuality and freedom she doesn’t have, that no one has, as problems seem to fall on the shoulders of everyone, holding everyone back. Even in the tenderest moments between mother and daughter, this will be followed by an all too depressed mother who remains bitter and angry at her father, becoming overly critical and hurtful in her remarks to Anna. The film plays out like a short story, as the attention to meticulous details of small-town life is essential to the overall mood of Anna’s experience, as her life unfolds through a series of vignettes that she shares with various people, where her maturity and kindness feels more highly evolved than others around her, where perhaps only the priest has a pretty good window into her character. At her confirmation, the Bishop brought in to speak chooses excerpts from the Apostle Paul which are a harsh reminder of sins of the flesh, which is the only message he’s conveying to a group of teenagers who pretty much only have thoughts of the flesh on their minds at that age. This example of the Church being so out of touch with their everyday lives contrasts heavily with Anna’s own rhapsodic sexual discoveries, which are a universe of walking contradictions, the sacred and the profane. The real showstopper, however, is the extraordinary use of an all woman’s choir singing the Radiohead song “Creep,” (heard here on YouTube: scala creep radiohead 4:45), which reverberates like a church choir, but with a much more humane message that speaks so earnestly about the transparency of the human soul, where all we ever really want is to feel human.
The teenage daughter of a divorcing couple begins to feel the first pangs of love just as she is about to undergo her religious confirmation. Sensitive coming-of-age tale as seen through the eyes of people struggling with issues of identity and faith, sensibly performed and directed.
CIFF 2010: LOVE LIKE POISON Ben Sachs from Cine-File
A fourteen-year-old girl returns from Catholic boarding school to spend the summer in her small-town home, where she must confront her parents’ separation, her grandfather’s slow death, and the attentions of a cute boy in the neighborhood. This is familiar material, to be sure, but writer-director Katell Quillévéré displays such feeling for her characters and setting that the film doesn’t feel like a series of clichés. She’s also surprisingly frank in depicting sexual subject matter without letting it overwhelm the story at hand: This isn’t THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS, but it isn’t Catherine Breillat territory, either. Quillévéré is after a holistic portrait of adolescence, and her tone–probing, attentive to small things, and honest in its emotional content–reflects the manner in which many teenagers aspire to see themselves. Also commendable is the film’s treatment of Catholicism, which is serious without turning reverent or critical: Anna may come to doubt her religious teaching, but Quillévéré wants us to know that doubt is perfectly natural, too. In recent movies as diverse as Krzysztof Zanussi’s A WARM HEART and Daniel Sánchez Arévalo’s GORDOS, European cinema has provided images of religious and secular values operating in mature co-existence; and LOVE LIKE POISON provides several more. (The character of a self-effacing, soccer-playing priest is especially charming.) This is more of a cultural achievement than a cinematic one, but it’s edifying all the same.
Small communities, Catholicism and burgeoning sexuality - it’s a classic, some might say over-familiar, combination in French debut features. But it’s rarely carried off with such confidence and subtlety as in Love Like Poison, Katel Quillévéré’s superb drama, which has already won the 2010 Jean Vigo Prize for first features.
Given the low-key quality of the narrative, there’s nothing obviously commercial in the film, apart from the presence of two stalwart names with some mainstream cachet - Lio and veteran comic actor Michel Galabru. But the film’s sheer command, and the candid central performance by promising newcomer Clara Augarde, will win the film equal support from critics and audiences on the festival circuit, which should help it to respectable sales in a select art-house bracket.
Fourteen-year-old Anna (Augarde) has returned from boarding school to her village in Brittany, where she lives with her mother Jeanne (Lio) in the house of her elderly, ailing paternal grandfather Jean (Galabru). Anna’s father Paul (Neuvic) is absent - he turns up only late in the film - as he and Jeanne have broken up.
One gap between them, it seems, is Jeanne’s committed Catholicism, which Paul doesn’t share and has only recently become a problem for them. Things are complicated by the increasingly depressed Jeanne’s attraction to easy-going young village priest Père François (Cassetti). Anna, meanwhile, is caught between her own religious convictions - she’s due for her confirmation - and her teenage sexual stirrings, which are awakened by choirboy Pierre (Leboulanger-Gourvil), a precocious squirt who’s in a hurry to get beyond best-friend stage.
Not a great deal happens, but when it does, it means a lot: two funerals, a couple of faintings on Jeanne’s part, and a genuinely tense moment between Jeanne and François in which it looks as if he’s going to have to do some soul-searching and fast.
There are also some delicate, but boldly handled, scenes of exploratory physicality between the two kids, which Augarde and the engaging Leboulanger-Gourvil carry off fearlessly, but with just the edge of nervousness that the material calls for.
Galabru, generally associated with broader material, brings an imposing sense of crumbling physicality - it’s anything but a vain performance, given the actor’s age and girth - and has a good time as a blustering rager against piety. Some unsettling sexually-charged scenes between the old man and Anna are carried off with a shrewdly judged tone that shows how much Quillévéré is on top of her material.
The film is beautifully shot by Tom Harari, who captures faces and the Breton landscape with equal sensitivity, and a very individual soundtrack includes English folk songs, church choirs and a highly unconventional Radiohead cover over the end credits.
Small in scale, but beautifully written, extremely well-played and sensually lensed, "Love Like Poison" from first-time French helmer Katell Quillevere centers on a middle-class 14-year-old in the Breton countryside about to celebrate her confirmation in the Catholic church. Winner of the 2010 Jean Vigo prize, this naturalistic coming-of-ager encompasses the cycle of life from adolescence through infirmity, confirming the ongoing demands of the flesh and the way they frequently conflict with religious faith. Kudos, strong reviews and name adult cast will draw auds in French-lingo territories with extended life in ancillary. Quality fest item could find niche distribution offshore.
When Anna (newcomer Clara Augarde) arrives at the remote village home of her ailing grandfather (Michel Galabru) during spring break from her Catholic boarding school, she finds her father (Thierry Neuvic) has finally left her devout mother (Lio). While her mother seeks consolation from local priest Father Francois (Stefano Cassetti), Anna cares for her earthy grandfather and explores her budding sexuality with neighboring teen Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil).
After a trio of short films, Quillevere appears an assured director of actors, achieving an impressive credibility in both familial heart-to-hearts and scenes of teens on their own. Although her depiction of the relationship between the mother and the priest occasionally feels a little heavy-handed, she makes entire pic underscore theme of the contradictory impulses between one's imposed education and inherent instincts.
Obviously a personal story, prize-winning script by Quillevere and
As Anna, curvaceous redhead Augarde reps a true find. With her lively intelligence, malleable features and sexy figure, she can look forward to a long career. Meanwhile, octogenarian comic actor Galabru steals every scene he's in, bringing an affecting poignancy to a man who has lived life to the fullest but now faces death. In smaller parts, the rest of the adult cast acquit themselves strongly.
Standing out among solid craft credits, the lush location camerawork of Tom Harari fluidly shifts between handheld and dolly work. The well-chosen music track, including hymns and American folk tunes, anchors pic's mood of melancholy and rapture.
French title refers to a Serge Gainsbourg song, though sales agents may want to find a more resonant, less forbidding English moniker.
Camera (color), Tom Harari; editor, Thomas Marchand; music, Olivier Mellano; music consultant, Frank Beauvais; set designer, Anna Falgueres; costume designer, Mahemiti Deregnaucourt; sound (Dolby Digital), Emmanuel Croset; line producer, Mathieu Verhaeghe; casting, Sarah Teper, Leila Fournier, Francois Guignard. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 14, 2010. Running time: 92 MIN.
IONCINEMA.com review [2/5] Eric Lavallee
The Hollywood Reporter review Bernard Besserglik
scala creep radiohead “Creep” Scala & Kolacny Brothers ()
France Belgium (91 mi) 2013 Website
Quillévéré’s earlier film, LOVE LIKE POISON (2010), is a beautiful coming-of-age story, one that reflects a rare insight into the mindset of female youth, often using superb choices of music to expand the depth of character. Along with Xavier Dolan, the Canadian French-speaking wunderkind from Montreal, both are among the best of the new directors in probing the interior worlds of today’s youth, where Dolan uses more experimentation, such as wildly colorful artificiality mixed with heavy doses of realism, continually changing the film speed, literally immersing the audience in music, along with shifting moods and atmosphere. Quillévéré is often harsh, brutally honest, heavy on the stark realism in this French working-class drama, but ultimately generous, reaching for a poetic intimacy with her characters, where both use music and novelesque detail to accentuate complexity, ambitiously covering 25 years here in just 90-minutes, where what’s left unsaid or the spaces in between scenes often express more than words could ever do, which means both directors rely upon powerful performances, giving the audience something they’re not used to. That is certainly the case here, which has one of the more beautifully photographed openings, as it’s a colorful montage of exuberant young kindergarten age girls getting dressed up in red, sequined costumes and feathers in their hair, along with sparkle on their faces, just before they give a dance performance. It’s exactly the sort of thing every young girl experiences and it’s a moment to be showcased publicly in front of eager parents with their cameras, where applause and approval greet them afterwards, where it’s a wondrous expression of the innocence of happiness.
Jump ahead ten years, Suzanne (Sara Forestier) and her younger sister Maria (Adèle Haenel) are flirtatious teenage girls living with their widowed father, (François Damiens), who’s often away for extended durations driving a truck, but we also see times when he picks them up after school in his truck, where the warm enthusiasm shows. They are a close-knit family, where the two girls do everything together, always looking out for one another’s interests, while they also join their Dad on regular visits to their deceased mother’s grave. What quickly develops is Suzanne has a mind of her own, often at odds with everybody else, including her father, where her idea of independence is not having to listen to anybody tell her what to do. When she gets pregnant, letting the school inform her father, as she hates confronting him, their relationship instantly deteriorates. Jump ahead five more years, where Suzanne and Maria are seen frequenting bars hauling around her son Charlie, often asleep on her shoulder, but he’s passed around whenever someone wants to get up and dance. When she meets Julien (Paul Hamy), something of a punk gangster with a flair for gambling, irresponsibility, and leaving out the important details, where he tends to get in trouble, often having to leave town on the spur of the moment. When it’s time to make a quick dash, Suzanne leaves Charlie behind, where she doesn’t see him for another several years, but hears that he’s living with a foster family from her attorney inside a prison cell. Without providing any backdrop of this development, the news is received like an emotional cluster bomb, where she literally drops from the impact.
Forestier’s strength is never overplaying any scene, showing quick bursts of infuriorated emotion followed by an immediate attempt at a getaway, usually protected by her sister, where she doesn’t stick around for the lectures or moralizing. Her dizzying love affair with Julien went from being a deliriously rapturous expression of never wanting to say goodbye to never being mentioned again, but when she receives a necklace from him she literally melts. She’s an emotional whirlwind of changing moods, a wandering soul that follows her heart and her desires at the expense of everything else, where the audience may be as exasperated with her as her father, but the director always presents her in a non-judgmental light, where the film continuously explores her unique qualities that make her what she is. When her father has to sit in court and listen to the unending list of charges being made against her, none of which she denies, it’s an utterly devastating moment, as this is not the vivacious little girl we saw in the opening shot. Co-written by the director and Mariette Désert, this is a stunning exposé of indefatigable strength followed by incredulous naïveté, where she’s instantly elated or sullenly depressed, but never for a second does she express vanity or pretension. The bracing scenes of realism with the intoxicating allure of love have rarely been captured with this degree of melancholic immediacy, eventually leading to pure heartbreak, where Quillévéré creates sympathy for a woman who would otherwise typically be seen as an outcast. The hauntingly atmospheric music composed by Verity Susman from the all-girl English band Electrelane offers an impressionistic palette, where this beautifully observed, pieced-together drama has a way of rendering its full impact at the end, once we get a fuller picture of her life, where music high priestess Nina Simone sings the Leonard Cohen song live at Montreaux in 1976 over the end credits, seen here in Rome 1969 at the Teatro Sistina Nina Simone - Suzanne (Live) - YouTube (6:28).
Cannes 2013: Suzanne – review | Film | guardian.co.uk Catherine Shoard at Cannes from The Guardian, May 17, 2013
This up-tempo drama from a young French woman director is acutely observed and at times almost unbearably moving
There may be only one female director with a film in
Baldly recalled, it sounds like a telenovela: Suzanne and her
elder sister, Maria, live with their widowed father in the
It weighs in at just 90 minutes, but Quillévéré crams in 25 years of life, with chiming between the early and late scenes; it takes time to absorb. The rapidity of the jumping between years cuts both ways: the pace is kept tight, but you're often left reeling, not given space for events to settle before their repercussions have already become bread-and-butter to the characters. It's a device that lends the film unusual oomph but after a few too many slaps can feel manipulative.
Yet the brilliance of Quillévéré's direction is in the performances she coaxes from her cast, and the clear-eyed, non-judgmental way she presents them. François Damiens, a Belgian actor previously seen bumbling about in the likes of Heartbreaker and Delicacy, is brilliant as the father: almost unbearably moving in a courthouse scene in which a roll-call of minor charges are levelled at his daughter, whom he hasn't seen for years. As the sister who moves from tearaway to matriarch, Adèle Haenel is terrific, too; but Sara Forestier is just indelible in the lead, brimful of feeling and sympathetic stupidity, now depressed, now quixotic, never obvious or vain.
Mostly, Quillévéré manages to match her lead (there's a brilliant shot from a window of Suzanne and her boyfriend parting), but from time to time the switchback tempo and on-the-button music cues (the Leonard Cohen song is reserved for final credits) highlight Forestier's brilliance by comparison.
The second feature from Love Like Poison director Katell Quillevere confirms her talent for capturing the precious moments that can define and shape a life. Suzanne offers snapshots of the title character from carefree child to careworn adult. There are rare moments of joy, reckless decisions, heartache and much more in a film that feels like flicking through a family album filled with births, deaths, wrong turns and piercing regrets.
The random nature and episodic structuring of the film presents a problem as it tends to work against a complete emotional investment in what is unfolding. Too many gaps in the narrative are left unexplained or there is such a compression of developments that it risks feeling superficial at best or melodramatic at worst. Quillevere may be guilty of striving to achieve too much in such a conventional running time but there is still enough in the trials and tribulations of Suzanne’s downbeat life to engage the heart and secure further
Festival exposure and a decent theatrical life for the film. Quillevere has a real gift for bringing out the best in her performers. The early scenes of children putting on a show and the giggly fondness between the young Suzanne (Apollobia Luisetti) and her sister Maria (Fanie Zanini) are among the best in the film; fresh, naturalistic and entirely true to life.
They are also among the happiest even as we are made aware of their mother’s death and the widowed father (Francois Damiens) who does his best to care for them. The mood darkens as we quickly jump forward to the day the father is called to school to be informed that Suzanne (Sara Forestier) is pregnant, to a kiss that means everything to Suzanne and her boyfriend Julien (Paul Hamy), to the day she abandons her son and other stops along the way in a life that tips into a downward spiral.
The intensity of Sara Forestier keeps you on the side of what could be construed as a fairly selfish, irresponsible character and there is an equally impressive performance from Adele Haenel as the adult Maria, a woman who remains a loyal and loving sister through everything that happens.
It is only when the narrative moves forward too rapidly that it starts to lose its grip. Years pass, lives change in the blink of an eye and there is no chance to let things breathe or give each moment the weight it really requires. Elements of thriller and melodrama do not always successfully gel and yet they are balanced by the surges of emotion that Quillevere extracts from particularly telling acts and their consequences.
An atmospheric, haunting score by Verity Susman considerably enhances the changing moods of a film that in its finer moments can readily stand comparison with the films of the Dardenne brothers.
Fabien Lemercier at Cannes from Cineuropa
In addressing with Suzanne [festival scope], which opened the Critics' Week last night at the 66th Cannes Film Festival, the path followed by a character over a 30-year period, Katell Quillevéré, already noticed on the Croisette in 2010 with her first feature Un poison violent [trailer] (Love like Poison), has set the bar pretty high. A risk accepted and crowned success with a romanesque film, sensitive and moving, borne along by an excellent Sara Forestier in the role of a young woman who tries to take short-cuts and inevitably pays the price.
From this shred of fate over which there wafts a hint of bad luck, the director culls a very clear and affectionate portrait of a family of modest means in the depths of France, that of truck-drivers, working women and waitresses, barbecues in shabby courtyards, children placed in foster families, bars and clubs in which people try to escape, and small-time dealers. This world of solitude where family ties serve as lifelines is conveyed by Katell Quillevéré with a healthy energy, an excellent screenplay (co-written by Mariette Désert) skilfully addressing the time factor, and intelligent staging (without any ostentation), effectively swinging from the intimate to a vaster perception of the outer world.
It all starts with the innocence and laughter of childhood for Suzanne (Sara Forestier) and her sister Maria (Adèle Haenel), lovingly raised by their protective father (François Damiens) in a working-class suburb in the South of France. The absence of their mother, who has passed away, does not seem to weigh on the two little girls who soon become "grunge" and rather forward teenagers. The film is set in the 1990's and the first stroke of fate is about to fall: school-girl Suzanne gets pregnant and gives birth to a boy, Charly, whom she raises alone in the family home. Maria leaves to work in Marseille, though the very strong bond of affection between the two sisters lasts until Suzanne falls madly in love with Julien, a young lout (Paul Hamy) trying to wheel and deal at the race-course. Borne along by passion, Suzanne follows him and disappears, abandoning her young son who is taken care of by the grandfather. A few years later, the young woman finds herself in prison after committing a burglary with a break-in and violence. Julien is on the run, and Suzanne, devasted by loneliness and guilt, discovers that her son has been placed with a foster family. She pays him a visit when she gets out and tries to make her life over after getting back togther with her sister and father. But the smart Julien, who has risen in the ranks of the criminal world, turns up by chance. The couple get back together against a backcloth of drug trafficking with Morocco, which doesn't prevent Suzanne from giving birth to a daughter. Once again far from her family, the young woman pursues her chaotic destiny, but unpleasant surprises are still lurking in her path…
Going one better as compared to her first feature film, Katell Quillevéré (born in 1980, just like Suzanne) has several strings to her bow as a filmmaker. Overcoming with great ease the difficulties inherent to the plot and wide time-span, she succeeds in giving her characters real consistency, even for the most secondary roles (Corinne Masiero, Anne Le Ny), with the overall quality of the acting also worthy of praise. Anchored in social realsim which is perfectly recreated and using music very effectively (composed by Verity Susman from the English band Electrelane), Suzanne deploys a rather irresistible charm in the touching wake of a young woman on a desperate quest for love and freedom.
Several classic Hollywood notions combine here: that capitalism is tickety-boo as long as businessmen aren't corrupt, that one dumb broad can defeat the wiliest crooks in the business, that a male and a female goody will inevitably fall in love. With the rallying cry of 'Somebody's got to keep an eye on these big businesses', Judy Holliday, in a variation on the part that made her in Born Yesterday, takes on the wicked businessmen and rallies Middle America behind her. It's pernicious, but fun.
Turner Classic Movies review Jeremy Arnold
The hit Broadway stage version of The Solid Gold Cadillac
(1956), written by George S. Kaufman and Howard Teichmann, ran over 500
performances beginning in 1953 and starred the famed stage actress Josephine
Hull. She was 67 when she took on the role, and she earned raves.
But when the Columbia Pictures film version was released in 1956, moviegoers instead saw 34-year-old Judy Holliday in the part. It turns out that the play as originally written had actually called for a much younger actress, but it was rewritten to suit
Certainly Holliday was already as famous as
In The Solid Gold Cadillac, a corporate satire, Holliday's comedic abilities are aptly displayed. She plays a dizzy blonde who owns ten shares of stock in a major company and basically serves the profiteering board members their comeuppance. Paul Douglas co-stars as the former head of the company who joins forces with Holliday; a romantic subplot between the two was added for the movie. The stars' chemistry was a known commodity, as they had already worked together a few years earlier on stage in Born Yesterday. Narrating the movie from off-screen is George Burns, a job held by Fred Allen on Broadway.
Critics loved The Solid Gold Cadillac. The New York Times raved that "[Holliday] is knocking the role completely dead... She's an actress who has the ability to move mountains." Variety noted that the production "achieves a plushy look without the use of color or big-screen assists" (though there is a color sequence at the end). Indeed, that "look" landed an Oscar nomination for Best Black-and-White Art Direction, though the movie won only for Best Black-and-White Costume Design.
Breezy comedy, with gargantuan Baccaloni (a popular New York opera singer of the '50s) pissing off Italian-American couple Holliday and Conte by interfering in the birth of their child. Holliday has no special religious convictions but her boozy father-in-law-to-be insists she confirm her faith before the sprog is born. Holliday is vivacity itself; Baccaloni is a roly-poly firecracker; and the script by cult author John Fante (from his own novel) strikes just the right note.
Turner Classic Movies review Jeremy Arnold
In the comedic drama Full of Life (1956), Judy Holliday and Richard Conte play a married
couple a few weeks away from having a baby. When their kitchen floor collapses,
Conte brings in his Italian-American father, played by Salvatore Baccaloni, to
fix it. Baccaloni not only repairs the floor but also builds a large,
unnecessary fireplace, all the while attempting to indoctrinate them on
Catholicism which he feels they have abandoned.
Driven more by its characters than its plot, Full of Life is probably most notable for being the work of writer John Fante, who adapted his own novel for the screenplay. Fante is best known today for his Depression-era novel Ask the Dust, which was made into a movie by writer-director Robert Towne in 2006 and is one of four Fante novels to center around the fictional character of Arturo Bandini, a struggling writer. While that character does not figure into Full of Life, Conte does play a writer who bears many resemblances to Bandini.
Full of Life was Metropolitan Opera star Salvatore Baccaloni's American film debut. "Amusingly corpulent and mannered," The New York Times said of him. "Judy Holliday, usually outstanding, is decidedly in his shadow as the wife... Conte is excellent as the husband."
Also in the cast is Esther Minciotti, the intrepid Italian-American mother specialist, who played virtually the same mother role in The Undercover Man (1949), House of Strangers (1949), Marty (1955) and The Wrong Man (1956).
Fante's script, with its frank depiction of pregnancy, ran into some trouble with the Production Code Administration. "It plunges into the details of pregnancy with very little discretion and little exercise of good taste," was the verdict. The offending scenes were somewhat toned down but Full of Life remains frank for its time, and for his efforts Fante received a Writers Guild nomination for Best Written American Comedy.
USA (87 mi) 2008 Official site
Written, directed, produced, shot, and edited by Tom Quinn,
so one would think his imprint is all over this film, and perhaps it is, as
it’s a sprawling work of raw, unedited emotions, shot over several years on a
shoestring budget, supposedly $7,000, yet offers vital insight into the harsh
realities of a particularly unpleasant divorce, leaving the kids to fend for
themselves like damaged goods. Set in
the working class neighborhood of
Jack, in his mid twenties, works at a local bar and plays sax in his dad’s marching band, the South Philadelphia String Band, who are largely featured in this film, both in endless rehearsals and finally in competition, but he’s growing irritated by his dad’s destructive behavior in splitting up his family, a guy who claims he wants to stay together, but then does all the wrong things to guarantee they stay apart. While we catch glimpses of them in their daily lives, much of this has an amateurish feel, but not necessarily in a bad way, more in the way the film feels sloppily assembled. But this lack of polish accentuates the raw emotions which are surprisingly real, especially in the gutty performance by Jennifer Welsh, whose already messed up teenage life is simply in turmoil, but she pretends she can handle it, and remarkably, for the most part, she does. Her astonishing confidence is underscored by moments when she simply falls apart, as she nearly has to jump into her boyfriend’s lap to get his attention. But somehow, she prevails, and despite the father and son thing going on, she’s really the heart and soul of the film, as she’s so conflicted about her mother’s heartbreaking actions.
The parental behavior on display is tragically self-centered, where Jack tries to assume the role of the more responsible big brother, but he’s conflicted as well and considers jumping ship and playing in another marching band, separating himself from his father, who’s embarrassing him and become too big a burden to bear. Their parents don’t make it easy. What makes it worse is all the talk among the members of the band, as all the family secrets are suddenly an open book. How do kids and young adults handle their business being the subject of jokes and ridicule all over the street? Not easily, as both would rather be just about anyplace else than where they are. Kat goes through a tug of war between her two separated parents, and at her tender age, she’s expected to choose between them? That’s a horrible thing to ask of her when all she really wants is her first kiss, and a guy to appreciate and accept her while her world is coming apart. The performances by the kids especially is very good, while the parental missteps are hauntingly memorable,
as the pain they inflict is unstoppable, a lit fuse waiting to explode. The film doesn’t condescend or offer any real conclusions or moral lessons other than in life one endures. It’s a grim, but realistic portrait of the emotional carnage left behind by parents who stop caring about one another. The director brings a very observational style to his work, and despite its flaws, the quiet moments are perhaps its best, as that’s what draws us into the world of people we grow to understand and occasionally admire.
Chicago Reader Andrea Gronvall
Two grown siblings are blindsided by their parents' breakup in this gritty but delicately nuanced indie drama, which plays out against the backdrop of the annual Mummers Parade in Philadelphia. The son (Greg Lyons), a doughy but soulful bartender, is so intent on doing the right thing by everyone that he almost loses himself, while his teenage sister (Jennifer Welsh) resents mom (MaryAnn McDonald) but has qualms about moving in with dad (Andrew Conway). Writer-director Tom Quinn draws heartrending performances from his four nonprofessional leads and grounds this cinema verite feature, his first, by involving the South Philadelphia String Band, working-class stalwarts who exude integrity and venerate family and tradition. 85 min.
NewCity Chicago Ray Pride
Tom Quinn’s genial, four-years-in-the-making “The New Year Parade,” winner of a Slamdance jury prize, is a study of the effects of divorce on the members of one South Philadelphia family across the course of a single year. Set in the world of Mummers, or competitive marching bands, Quinn’s great stroke beyond marshaling the time scheme of the film is getting the motions (and emotion) of hundreds of musicians on screen in such lucid fashion. The seemingly improvised performances have a sweet, ragged edge, and the music swells. Nothing musical on film has touched me the way the first viewing of “Once” did, but “The New Year Parade” is a song in the heart. With Greg Lyons, Jennifer Welsh, Andrew Conway, MaryAnn McDonald, Irene Longshore, Tobias Segal, Paul Blackway, The South Philadelphia String Band. 90m.
eFilmCritic Reviews Jason Whyte
A hit at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival, Tom Quinn’s heartbreakingly real human drama is among the best indie dramas this decade. A working class family in urban Philadelphia is going through some pretty tumultuous times; the parents are breaking up, the twenty-eight-and-still-living-at-home son is trying to take that next step in life, and his teenage sister is experimenting with losing her virginity. Spanning the course of a year and utilizing a kind of documentary style filmmaking that feels like we are voyeurs in the lives of these people, Quinn is able to make us feel like this domestic drama is really happening, but it is also thanks to great song selections from Elliot Smith and amazing, real performances from his leads (Jennifer Lynn Welsh as the precocious daughter is a knockout) that makes this film very unique and brutally honest. I also admire the fact that this film was made for nearly no money yet is so rich in scope and drama that it is easy to overlook. It’s kind of awesome to see.
Tom Quinn sets the dissolution of a South Philly family against the backdrop of string-band culture, making for a low-key but satisfying blend of melodrama and observant naturalism. Greg Lyons and Jennifer Welsh play the children of oddly named South Philadelphia String Band leader Mike McMonogul (Andrew Conway) and wife Lisa (MaryAnn McDonald), whose infidelities split their marriage apart. Although his cast is largely composed of nonprofessionals, Quinn draws relaxed performances from most, especially rock-scene veteran Lyons (current Eastern Conference Champions and former Laguardia/Trip 66 drummer), although Conway seems uncomfortable with some of his more dramatic moments. The film's best parts have little to do with its leading roles, or even its story. Quinn spent a year hanging around with real Mummers, and the time he put in shows in the film’s detailed but unforced capturing of a culture often reduced to fat drunks in drag. At times, Quinn literally loses the plot, wandering off to let some banjo-playing veteran reflect on years of Mummery, but the stories, and the faces, are so engaging you don’t mind the diversion.
THE NEW YEAR PARADE Facets Multi Media
Set in the Irish-American, blue collar community of South Philadelphia and bookended by the traditional Mummer's Parade, The New Year Parade charts the destabilizing effect the separation of Mike and Lisa has on their two kids. Jack (Greg Lyons) is 25, a bartender and featured player in the South Philly String Band, led by his dockworker dad. Kat (Jennifer Walsh) is 16, a smart high school student whose steady boyfriend wants more from her. Both appear to be coping, but the hurt and doubt cannot help but come out in different ways. Kat believes that their parents will reconcile and keeps the situation secret, but as months pass and tensions mount, she becomes isolated between family and friends with no one to confide in. Meanwhile, Jack is forced to mediate between his parents and carries the burden of the family finances, while questioning his loyalty as the impending divorce adversely affects his own personal relationship. Just as fidelity is central issue in their divorce, Jack contemplates an almost greater transgression: moving to another club. Written with great tenderness and sensitivity and cast with a combination of professional and first-time actors (including the majority of the actual South Philadelphia String Band), this film authentically captures the heritage of the Irish and Italian neighborhoods where fathers and sons pass on the traditions that define their culture. Writer-director Tom Quinn shot and edited the film with a minimal crew over several years and creates a very moving melodrama without trivializing the emotional turmoil that his characters endure. His actors -- all of them new faces -- respond with open and honest performances that cut right to the heart. Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the Slamdance Festival, The New Year Parade is one of the most assured and poignant independent films of the year.
This was a fascinating "reality show" type movie
set in Philadelphia from Jan 2004 to Jan 2005. The subject matter of the film
is a working class family in South Philly going through a messy divorce, the
relationships between the Father, Mother, Daughter, & Son. There is a great
deal of tension due to the impending divorce. The Father & the Son belong
to the South Philly String Band, which marches in the annual Mummer's Day parade
each New Year's Day. The story is thus twofold: the dynamics of the family
going through the divorce process and the Mummer's Day parade backstory, which
is actually the main story and what gives this movie a special edge, especially
if you live around Philadelphia and watch these parades each year.
The casting and screenplay did have the appearance of a "reality show". I'm sure there was a screenplay but it's hard to tell while watching the movie. That's not to say the dialog was anything less than outstanding, it just had a spontaneous character to it. It seemed very genuine working class Philly.
The cinematography was outstanding, with many excellent pictures and scenes of South Philly, Mummer's preparing their costumes & practicing their music & dance routines, the screenplay and backstories were great.
As a Philly native, I really loved this movie, but even if you live in LA or NY or Dallas, this is worth checking out. It's a very good movie and as Indie movies go, quite excellent.
I had the privilege of seeing this yet to be released film at
the Museum of Modern Art in New York City where the director spoke to the
audience after the film was viewed. As of this writing, the film does not yet
have a distributor, but hopefully, it will, and this review will entice the
readers to go see it. I was not involved in the making of this film at all, but
I appreciate the artistic endeavors of the creators to get their work seen.
The story is about a troubled family, where the parents are separated and the grown son and younger daughter are trying their best to deal with the traumas it has caused them. The father and son are members of an all-male band in South Philadelphia, and much of the action surrounds their involvement in helping get the band in shape for the annual New Year's Day Parade. Mother works several jobs to make ends meet, while the daughter is in high school and has a paper route. There are hopes that the parents will get back together, but it seems doubtful due to the breakdown in communications between the adults. In fact, the mother and father have very little on-screen footage together, making it seem that their love for their children is the bind that had kept them together as long as they were and that the communication in their 25 year relationship is sorely lacking.
The daughter has anxieties over the separation, which causes the mother to get a school counselor involved. She also has the responsibility of getting chores done after school while the mother works, in addition to getting her own meals and dealing with the various boys who are interested in her for one reason or another. Considering that all four major players are played by unprofessional actors, they all do an outstanding job. The actress playing the mother reminds me of a younger Joan Allen, while the actor playing the father in certain close-ups reminded me of Barry Williams ("The Brady Bunch"). And the children? They are not cotton candy examples of Hollywood actors trying to play real people; They are real people just doing what they were chosen here to do-play real people, and they all do it darn well. If the actress playing the daughter chooses to make acting a career, she could do well; She has an innocent Christina Ricci like quality to her, and is very pretty, without being glamorized like the typical teen actors we are used to seeing in movies today. There is a scene after the parents have a violent argument where the brother consoles the sister that is very touching. I have not seen anything like this in domestic films of this nature, making it much more than just a typical Lifetime TV Movie.
I could also relate to the scenes involving band preparation for the parades as I spent several summers in marching bands, and at least on the North East coast, these events are very important to communities big and small. The costumes for the Mummers are outrageous and fun, and the editing was brilliant as well.
In this day and age when big brassy spectacles are all that make money in movie theaters, films like this tend to go unnoticed. As an adult near the age of the parents, I could also relate to their inability to express themselves to each other and yet be more open to their children and expect to get their loyalty over the other parents. Several strong messages I got from the film were just because a couple is married for a long time and has children, doesn't mean that they have fully and emotionally matured. Some people never do; In fact, some people I know say that most people never do. This is a sweet film that says hang in there, kiddo, we know life is rough, and we're all having a rough go of it. Married, single, young, older.
While apparently the print I saw is not the finished work, what I saw certainly impressed me as an artist to say what I saw I liked, and this film's festival awards did not go undeserved. Best of luck to the creators as they work on getting this out to the mainstream.
Indiewire Eric Kohn at Sundance
Director's statement Scott Macauley interview from Filmmaker magazine, November 18, 2008
The Hollywood Reporter Deborah Young
Variety Peter Debruge
TimeOut Chicago Ben Kenigsberg
Chicago Tribune Michael Phillips
SHAHADA (Faith) B- 80
This film starts out
promising enough with the introduction of multiple characters expressed with a
stylish realism through different chapter headings, but eventually despite the
headings, three stories become interwoven into a larger fabric about Muslims
living in Berlin, as seen through the guilty conscience of a Muslim police
officer who accidentally kills another woman’s unborn fetus, feeling unending
streams of remorse, the daughter of an Imam who secretly has a back alley
abortion with horrible consequences, and two Muslim coworkers who develop a
homosexual relationship which is forbidden under Islam. According to the director, this film was his
college graduation thesis, thinking it was perhaps a bit “too edgy” for
American audiences, as if no one has ever read Dostoevsky before or seen movies
that dealt with these themes, while cris-crossing the narrative wouldn’t happen
to resemble CRASH (2004), BABEL (2006), or fellow countryman Fatih Akin’s THE
EDGE OF HEAVEN (2007)? This film
actually won the Best New Director Award at the
While two of the three stories deal with devout religious beliefs, the story of the guilty policeman shooting an illegal Bosnian immigrant who was accidentally caught in the crossfire when he was aiming at a burglar, has no Islamic religious references and simply deals with age old questions of guilt. However the story of Sammi (Jeremias Acheampong), a devout African Muslim, does seek religious guidance from the Imam (Vedat Erincin) when he begins to reciprocate his best friend’s gay affections. Using wisdom that all Americans would love to believe, the Imam suggests that the Koran has many passages to describe what’s right and what’s wrong, but only Allah really understands the love in one’s heart, claiming Islam is a religion based on love, suggesting there is no love that Allah would deny. Now of course, there’s no Imam in the world who would utter such a thing or practice such tolerance, or Catholic priests for that matter, and very few Jewish rabbi’s and Protestant ministers, as the director appears to be going for the entire rainbow coalition.
The most intensely urgent of the three stories
surrounds Maryam (Maryam Zaree), the daughter of the Imam, a somewhat
westernized, independent thinker who conceals her self-inflicted abortion by
taking illegal medicines. When the
bleeding persists indefinitely, she believes this is a sign from God and
against the more liberal teachings of her father, developing strict
fundamentalist interpretations as if the Apocalypse was upon us, as it is
certainly within her. Her sudden
rigidity shocks everyone, from her friends, family, and Muslim community, as if
she became deranged overnight. While the
last two stories feature characters who attempt to reconcile their behavior with
Islamic teachings, of course, they can’t, as their behavior is forbidden, as it
is under the Catholic Church as well, under archaic religious interpretation
which outlaws abortions and homosexuality.
While the filmmaker acknowledges that this liberal thinking Imam does
not represent reality, it instead reflects the views of his grandfather, as the
filmmaker himself was raised Catholic, Muslim, and Jewish, which required a
real balancing act to theorize a kind of love that they all have in common. As it turns out, the chapter headings, which feel unnecessary with
names like Sacrifice and Devotion, are named after a step of the Hajj
Three Berliners, children of immigrants, are torn between their beliefs in the Muslim religion and their desire to live their lives the way they want to. Thoughtful mosaic melodrama that has something to say about contemporary Germany and says it very clearly and confidently.
The Hollywood Reporter review Deborah Young at
Western Islam in several variations is examined in "Faith"
("Shahada") through the intertwined stories of three young
German-born Muslims. A film school graduation project that landed in Berlin
competition, written and directed by Burhan Qurbani, shows a promising new
talent grappling with an over-written script and too many characters, none of
whom come across as real people viewers can care about. Another problem is the
somber open-ended finale which leaves too much open to interpretation to
satisfy most audiences.
Still, the effort to communicate is there and it's a relief to find the subject of religion treated, for once, without making the seemingly obligatory reference to terrorism, such as in Bruno Dumont's "Hadewijch," another recent tale of faith gone bad. Here, caught between their religious upbringing and the liberated lifestyle of the West, the young characters fixate on lines from the Quran to find an easy way out of their moral dilemmas.
ways, the film itself takes the easy road out of the problems it poses, coming
to facile, feel-good conclusions like, "Everyone decides how to live his
faith," and "The Quran is a book of love that guides and consoles us,
but can't tell us what to feel." This approach may create maximum
consensus with audiences, but does not a deep film make.
"Faith" is structured in chapters with mythic Arabic/English titles like "Beginning of the Journey," "Sacrifice" and "Self-Sacrifice," which portend intriguing things to come, but unfold more banally as a series of dangerous sexual liaisons.
The most significant of the stories belongs to Maryam (Maryam Zaree). The German-born daughter of a tolerant, kindly local Imam, she first appears as a rebellious nightclubber out on the town with her girlfriend. Barely minutes later, she's having a deliberately provoked abortion in the disco toilet. The sight of the fetus so shocks her that she turns into a half-mad bigot who upsets the entire community with her raving desire for God's punishment.
The growing attraction between Sammi (Jeremias Acheampong), a young Muslim believer, and Daniel (Sergej Moya), who works in the same packing plant, throws Sammi into a wrenching inner struggle with his homosexual desires, which are forbidden in the Quran.
Ismail (Carlo Ljubek) is a cop racked with guilt over the accidental shooting of a pregnant woman, who lost her unborn child as a result. When he bumps into her again, Leyla (Marija Skaricic) so inflames his imagination that he leaves his wife and son for her. The story is utterly improbable but the two handsome, brooding young actors raise the temperature a few notches.
Blending urban cityscapes with subtle Orientalisms, the visuals have a very distinctive look. Yoshi Heimrath's cinematography is evocative throughout, from the endless warehouse to the humblest dwellings.
Three Muslims in
Maryam (Maryam Zaree) is the daughter of a liberal imam, Vedat (Vedat Erincin), a widower. Very much a Westernized girl, Maryam wonders whether the difficult aftermath of her messy illegal abortion is a punishment from God. Too ashamed to talk to her father about it, she drifts into more radical religious thinking.
One of Vedat's students at his Koran school is Senegalese Muslim Sammi (Jeremias Acheampong), who works at a market hall with his best friend, Daniel (Sergej Moya), a German. Sammi's developing feelings for his friend, who is gay, are difficult to reunite with his firm religious beliefs.
At Sammi and Daniel's workplace, a thirtysomething cop of Turkish origin, Ismail (Carlo Ljubek), checks the papers of the immigrant workers. Last in line is Bosnian Leyla (Marija Skaricic), who was a victim of an accident that also involved Ismail, who has never been able to forgive himself for it.
Maryam's and Sammi's stories, focusing on the generation of religious youngsters who have to reconcile forming their identities with living between two cultures, are the strongest. Qurbani neatly explores the effort it takes for them to live by the rules of their religion, and also suggests that these rules aren't set in stone because each individual is different. The story of Ismail -- who is older, has his own family and is the least religious of the three protags -- never quite feels part of the mix, despite editor Simon Blasi's nimble cutting between the occasionally overlapping storylines. Pic's division into chapters ("Devotion," "Sacrifice") isn't really necessary.
Though Qurbani, who also co-write the screenplay, shows a deft hand in setting up his scenes, he is not quite as successful in taking them through to their final payoff, and there's no sense at the end of the film that we know any of the characters very well. The director's tendency, as with the films of Ferzan Ozpetek, to circle the protags with his camera while the music swells on the soundtrack to illuminate their inner struggles doesn't always work. Some of the thesps, notably Zaree, are much better at conveying their feelings with words and actions than with simple looks.
"Shahada," which can be roughly translated as "faith," looks very good, especially for a first feature (not only for the director but also for the d.p. and production designer). Handsome widescreen lensing, in a combination of static shots and handheld camera during the tenser moments, is aces, and transfer from HD to 35mm is spotless. Production and costume design firmly place the story in contempo Berlin's Muslim community, with Maryam's changing sense of dress a subtle indicator of what her character is going through.
Camera (color, HD-to-35mm, widescreen), Yoshi Heimrath; editor, Simon Blasi; music, Daniel Sus; production designer, Barbara Falkner; costume designer, Irene Ip; sound (Dolby Digital), Magnus Pflueger; creative producer, Leif Alexis; casting, Karen Wendland. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 16, 2010. Running time: 88 MIN.
Sensibly realising that science fiction is always a distortion of the time at which it was written rather than a prediction of the future, Radford aligns himself with Anthony Burgess' suggestion that the book only makes sense as 1948, with its food rationing, its housing shortages, bad cigarettes and Churchillian slogans. The look of the film certainly achieves the right rubble-strewn, monochrome period feel with precision and genuinely cinematic scope. Perhaps the greatest hurdle cleared, however, is the problem of incident. Radford's achievement is to have incorporated the impossible preaching and crazed ideas into the fabric with hardly any loose threads. The locations look very like modern Britain; and Burton at last found the one serious role for which he searched all his life.
Filmed during the actual dates in 1984 as described in the book, 's adaptation is the preeminent film version of 's infamous novel. The stark gray settings effectively set the mood of a totalitarian state. is a beaten-down Winston, whose weathered face shows every result of his tortured existence, especially during the final devastating scenes with the Thought Police. does what she can as Julia, bringing some human warmth to the otherwise grim and desolate surroundings. In the last performance before his death, conveys Inner Party member O'Brien with a strange fatherly compassion that makes his sadistic role all the more disturbing. In contrast to some other flashy and visually inventive future dystopia movies, focuses on the plight of humans with an austere landscape, washed-out colors, and severe close-ups signifying the omnipresence of Big Brother. In general, faithfully follows the book in story, character, and tone, which makes for an authentic if thoroughly depressing and slow-paced movie.
George Orwell is probably one of the greatest writers of all time. And his "1984" is probably his best (although I might argue it could be "Animal Farm"). The novel, written around 1948, I think, is a bleak story of a future where there is peace but the expense is a totalitarian state where everyone is miserable and afraid because there are TVs everywhere where "Big Brother" watches so you don't do anything treasonous. It's a frightening idea and pretty much illustrates that "Give Peace a Chance" might be a bad idea.
Michael Radford (director of "Il Postino") directed this film, ironically made in 1984 within the dates the book took place. He paints a futuristic world which doesn't resemble anything else before. There are no flying cars, monorails, or anything. The world is just a ruin with run-down buildings and plain old buses and what-not. In every room, there is a big television where Big Brother, the symbol of the state, is watching and the Thought Police are always the threat of even thinking of a treasonous act.
Our protagonist is Winston Smith (John Hurt), who really looks like he has been beaten down by the state in all senses of the word. He is a state worker who rewrites history the way the government wants it and in his spare time, writes in a journal about his dreams of having rampant sex, which is prohibited. One of his co-workers, Parsons (Gregor Fisher), is the symbol of the ultimate defeat of the state, since he is constantly telling of his love for everything that embodies Big Brother. In one darkly humorous scene, he talks about the processed meat and how it isn't even meat and that's why it's good.
Winston runs into (literally) a woman named Julia (Suzanna Hamilton) who's also a government worker and who passes him a note (Hello? Junior High?) saying she loves him and wants to meet him. They carefully plan their meetings and end up having intense sex in a far off place where no one, not even Big Brother is watching. Their sex is not actually about love, but as a form of rebellion and expression of their way to anti-supress themselves. They try to join the rebellion, headed by an O'Brien (Richard Burton, in his final performance), but that turns out to wind them up in prison and a torture sequence on Winston where he is beaten into admitting that 2 + 2 doesn't equal 4 and stuff like that. It's a horrific scene in all senses of the word.
"1984" the film works because it wonderfully embodies the bleakness that was the book. All of the scenes are drearily set and the film is as depressing and thought-provoking as the book...well, maybe not as thought-provoking. And John Hurt and Richard Burton are fabulous in their respective parts.
I highly reccomend this film for anyone who loved the book, but for anyone else, it's not going to be fun. It's a highly depressing film that is so dark that you might have to watch it in two sittings. But the message is still there and that's what counts. If you want a livelier film (and a better one, in my opinion), try Terry Gilliam's "Brazil." But this one will do if you're looking for a good intellectual film.
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web and Tuna
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) January 1, 1984
aka: The Postman
When, in 1952, the exiled Chilean poet and diplomat Pablo Neruda (Noiret) takes up residence in a house on a quiet little island off the Neapolitan coast, the fan mail he receives is so copious that the postmaster hires Mario (Troisi), the none too bright son of a local fisherman, to deliver the celebrity's mail. At first, Mario is simply star-struck by Neruda, who responds with understandable wariness to the postman's gauche attempts at conversation; soon, however, he's teaching Mario about metaphors, and when the postman falls for Beatrice (Cucinotta), a lovely but rather aloof barmaid, the poet agrees to try to help him win her with words. Inspired by an incident in Neruda's life, the story's engaging blend of easy humour and sunny romance takes hold from the start and never lets go. Much of its seductive charm derives from the excellence of the leads: Noiret does his gruff but malleable turn to perfection, while Troisi (who died soon after filming finished) exudes a simplicity of heart, mind and soul that never seems excessively sentimental. Mercifully, Radford avoids making the small peasant community too glamorously Arcadian. Old-fashioned it may be, but it knocks the spots off pap like Cinema Paradiso.
If you ever wanted to explain or understand how a metaphor works in language or in poetry, then this film is the cipher.
The story is this: after the communist party is outlawed in 1948,
Pablo Neruda is forced to flee his native
Mario Ruppolo, the bored son of a fisherman (his father's main preoccupations: silence and eating), gets the job of delivering the mail to Neruda who lives in an isolated cottage in a setting that is as beautiful as it is poetic. There are many magnificent landscape backdrops as the Postman cycles back and forth over the cliffs above a brilliant ocean in the lee of a brooding volcanic mountain.
From the very start, Mario is fascinated by the famous poet and the deluge of mail he receives from female admirers. He observes him dancing the tango with a woman in red (his wife Matilde), sees first hand the maestro's easy sensuality... and therefore has to know the secret. He reads Neruda's poetry, is bemused by the imagery, cautiously broaches the question: what is a metaphor?
Mildly reticent, Neruda recites a cliche, "the sky weeps", and Mario immediately understands the analogue for rain. As the film gains atmospheric and emotional power, there are a number of such scenes:
Mario: I'd like to be a poet too.
Neruda: No, it's more original being a Postman.
Mario: How do you become a poet?
Neruda: (on reflection) Walk around the bay slowly and look around you...
Mario: And will they come to me... these metaphors?
And they do. Soon Mario is writing metaphors, poetry, in a notebook, reflections on his beach walks... and soon he meets the woman of his dreams, the fascinating Neapolitan beauty, Beatrice, the niece of the local innkeeper. The scene is one of the best of its kind, the first encounter: Beatrice is alone, playing Fooze Ball (they call it pinball) and the hypnotized Mario is drawn into her game only to knock the white ball out of the machine. Mario searches the floor unsuccessfully and when he stands again, sees the ball locked between her beautiful lips as she stares contemptuously... or is it erotically?
This is a metaphor too, one which the cinema longs for but all too often fails to deliver. It's interesting to note the number of visual "metaphors" that help bind the narrative to its theme: the white pinball, the poet's cottage on the mountain, the island, Our Lady of the Sorrows on the fishing boat, etc.
Mario's first overture to Beatrice is "your smile spreads across your face like a butterfly". Later her Aunt (the innkeeper) snatches a Mario poem from her cleavage and is horrified by its "metaphors", takes it to the priest for evaluation. In another memorable scene she interrogates/berates Beatrice as she lies on her bed. In a hoarse voice she says "When it comes to bed, there is no difference between a poet, a priest, or even a communist!" and concludes that "Words are the worst thing ever."
The secondary plot concerns a political campaign by a smooth right-winger called di Cosimo who, when Mario tells him he is voting communist, chides Mario for being in love and following Neruda, says he should try another poet who writes about Beatrice too, d'Annunzio (in reference to the Italian nationalist/soldier poet), "my poet". di Cosimo wins the election on a dubious election promise to bring piped water to the island.
After Neruda returns to Chile, the politicized Mario is killed during a riot at a rally where he was invited to read his poetry.
But before this the Postman wins his "Beatrice", gets married, wants to call his first child "Pablito" in honour of his mentor but becomes mildly disillusioned when there is no further word from Neruda except news of his successes in the newspapers. One day a letter comes from Neruda's secretary requesting that certain items left in the cottage be forwarded to Chile; Mario finds the dictaphone, prepares a poetic message of sound bytes (the ocean, the wind, the church bell, his unborn child's heartbeat), a piece of whimsy created in relation to the time Neruda asked him to name the most beautiful thing about the island (Mario: "Beatrice Russo").
Neruda later hears this epilogue from his dead apostle during a return visit to the island. Some might consider the ending a bit rushed, with a lot of information and exposition rather than direct dramatization. But the use of montage here is excellent and in fact enhances the emotional intensity as we learn of Mario's ultimate fate through Neruda as he revisits the bay and beach of their dreams.
It's interesting to note that Neruda had a house on Isla Negra (Black Isle), an island off the coast of Chile, so the combination of fiction and history make this story all the more appealing. The film in fact concludes with a scrolling Neruda poem which begins, "And it was at that age that poetry/ arrived in search of me".
Island to island, man to man, poet to poet.
Beautifully filmed and dramatized, full of pathos and sentiment without resort to the vulgar or propaganda (despite the clear political sub-text), a great film for the literati. Or anyone. The simple faith of a man touched by beauty, yet doomed to an early death by the capricious hand of Fortune -- is this not the soul of the Poet?
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
France Germany Italy (102 mi) 2011
Michel Petrucciani: Cannes Review Kirk Honeycutt at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 13, 2011
Doc about the French jazz pianist is a clear-eyed, non-judgmental portrait of an artist as a permanent young man.
If you only knew jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani through his recorded music, you’d know this was an extraordinary individual. His phrasing, the electricity of his right hand and the cleanness of his improvisations take jazz to the very heights of artistry. But as many jazz aficionados know and Michael Radford’s film Michel Petrucciani will make known to many more, one needs a better word than “extraordinary” to describe this man.
For Petrucciani was born in the south of France with osteogenesis imperfecta — or brittle bone disease — that prevented him from growing beyond three feet and subjected him to a life of pain as bones broke constantly, even as he was playing. None of this caused him ever to stop. He lived life in a rush — “I hate wasting time,” he says early in the film — knowing that with his affliction he would not enjoy a long life.
The film chronicles his overindulgence in food, drugs, wine, women and discarded friends as he raced against time, playing sometimes 10 hours a day and performing over 200 concerts in a year. He died at age 36 in New York in 1999, not so much from his handicap as foolishly going out into a cold New Year’s Eve with his fragile lungs and then catching pneumonia.
Radford has assembled ample footage and interviews with his subject from many friends and other sources along with numerous interviews with colleagues and lovers to pull together a clear-eyed, non-judgmental portrait of an artist as a permanent young man. Even spurned lovers and friends have mostly kindly things to say about a man who so blazed through their lives that they still have a startled, dazed look about them.
Here, clearly, is a charismatic, dazzlingly talented individual that lived every moment to the fullest. His 36 years is more like 72 for anyone else. He even managed to learn fluent, colloquial English in six months.
What the film never says is that music may be what nourished him, that every hour at the piano may have added an hour or more to his life. Another thing the film only barely mentions is that his deformity, if you will, may have added to his genius. To witness in archival footage the rapidity with which the fingers of his right hand hits the piano keys defies all understanding of that part of the human anatomy. How can fingers move so fast? They don’t seem to with a “normal” person’s hand.
The one great fault with this doc, which makes an ideal film for special runs in art-house venues and, of course, on TV and DVD, lies in Radford’s unwillingness to identify his interviewees. In press notes he claims such identification is “irrelevant.” No, it’s not.
Otherwise though, the film has much to stay about overcoming fate, loving life and living with eternal optimism.
Michel Petrucciani Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily
It’s always a labour of love to make a jazz film, a jazz documentary even more so - especially when the musician subject is no longer around to promote it. But the labour pays off beautifully in Michel Petrucciani, Michael Radford’s fond and informative portrait of the phenomenal jazz pianist, who died in 1999. Petrucciani’s life is a story of exuberant triumph over challenge, and of the pleasures and prices of living life to the full.
The film takes a four-square but effective documentary approach, stitching together archive footage with interviews, and features enough of Petrucciani’s performances to make this a must for jazz buffs, whether or not they’re fans of the subject himself (major jazz names interviewed include Lee Konitz, Joe Lovano and John Abercrombie). This will be a hard sell theatrically outside jazz-loving France, where it’s released in September, but its DVD prospects should be brisk.
The film represents a confident return to non-fiction for British
director Radford, best known for 1984 and Italian-language hit Il Postino
but a documentarist through the 1970s. Here, Radford takes an unshowy and
intensely sympathetic rather than reverent approach to the life
Petrucciani, who was born in 1962 in Montpelier, France with the condition osteogenesis imperfecta, sometimes known as ‘brittle bone disease’.
As an adult, Petrucciani grew to only three feet, while his
fragility meant that he often broke his bones and that his extremely energetic
playing style was a constant physical risk. The son of a jazz guitarist father,
Petrucciani fell in love with piano after seeing Duke Ellington on TV at the
age of four. Rapidly becoming a prodigy, he played his first professional
concert with trumpeter Clark Terry at the age of 13 - although some friends are
quick to debunk the myth about the gig being an entirely impromptu marvel.
Through a friend, the pianist visited California, where he was befriended by saxophonist and mystic Charles Lloyd. A phenomenal transatlantic career followed, with Petrucciani becoming the first non-French artist signed to legendary label Blue Note. Success also brought the opportunity to indulge himself, and much of the ’80s, we learn, was spent in a wild rush of champagne, cocaine and partying.
Petrucciani, we learn, was irresistible to women and, one former
consort claims, was as talented between the sheets as on the keys. In
interviews filmed at various stages in his life, Petrucciani is candid about
his hedonistic tendency to overdo things - a penchant which, friends suggest,
contributed to his early death. This portrait is anything but reverent about
the pianist - we learn from his ex-wives and girlfriends that he had a habit of
leaving one abruptly to take up with another, and associates reveal, albeit
sketchily, that he had a callous side.
But what emerges, not least from footage of the man himself, is that Petrucciani was a hugely charismatic and ebullient character. Most importantly, we get insights into his blindingly rapid and inventive playing; and ample, hugely pleasurable footage of Petrucciani solo, or in tandem with greats such as Lloyd, Konitz and Stéphane Grappelli will make non-converts want to go out and discover the music.
A modernist Holocaust film made just a few years after the
end of WWII using an experimental film style that includes archival film mixed
with re-enactments which offers a vivid feel that resembles Rod Serling and the
Twilight Zone. The film opens like the Nazi Academy Awards,
as one by one, each top ranking official, from Hitler to Goebbels on down, introduced
in a huge title boldly displayed onscreen, is seen at the podium offering a
rousing speech for the fatherland, like a series of Nazi greatest hits,
accompanied by marching troops and bold Nazi symbols. After a blitzkrieg of Nazi images, another
realist story begins about a female Jewish doctor in
Also of interest, the dialogue occasionally completely disappears, turning the story into a silent film, using shadows and other Expressionist images, also barely lit film noir imagery with occasional jolts of energy from a mixture of avant garde jazz music and orchestral passages to enhance the mood. All in all, it was rather difficult to follow the narrative, as the characters resembled one another, and one did need to have a knowledge of history to understand the nuances, such as the use of the Terezin (Terezienstadt) concentration camp in Prague as a show camp, supposedly built to protect the Jews, a mythical idyllic city cleaned up, with children singing in the corner of the frame, giving the Red Cross from the West a view of Jews living in peaceful harmony before the curtain falls after they leave, turning from a transport camp, a waiting station until they could be transported further East into the death camps, into another one of the Nazi crematoriums where nearly 100,000 died, including 15,000 children.
One by one, where all the Jews are marked by the mandatory
wearing of a Jewish star, the doctor’s family is shipped off to the camps, while
a Jewish band plays music as they are herded like cattle down the city streets,
leaving her in a state of bewilderment, not knowing what happened to any of
them, while she herself is eventually fired from her job, and all the other
Jews are rounded up to live in a cramped ghetto without walls, totalling some
150,000, until eventually she and her Aryan husband are among the last to be
transported to the camps. When the scene
shifts to the camps, we see them building the crematoriums, with brief
documentary images of actual dead bodies lying in an open field. Unfortunately, this film begins to resemble a
style of miserablism, with unnecessarily exaggerated displays of sadistic Nazi
temperament, always displaying the most openly cruel behavior possible. The filmmaker Radok was himself imprisoned in
the last months of the war in the detention camp of Klettendorf near
CZECH MODERNISM IN FILM: The 1920'S to the 1940's Charles Coleman, Facets Film Programmer
Confronting the horrors
of history head on, Radok and his crew shot this first feature film about the
Holocaust just three years after the war ended. The film combines actual
footage with reenactments and Expressionist camera setups to create a vivid,
immediate look at the concentration camps. With Blanka Waleská, Otomar
Krejča. Directed by Alfred Radok,
Czech Modernism in Film: The 1920s to the 1940s JR Jones from the Reader
Czech director Alfred Radok lost his father and grandfather
in the Holocaust and spent several months in a detention camp himself, which
makes the poetic control of his 1949 drama -- the first to confront the subject
-- even more impressive. He carefully charts the growing anti-Semitic
Village Voice J. Hoberman (excerpt)
"Czech Modernism" includes only two postwar movies—one, Alfred Radok's 1949 The Distant Journey (December 10), is a masterpiece. Among the first movies to represent the Holocaust, Distant Journey focuses on a Jewish doctor who briefly forestalls her deportation to the "model" concentration camp at Terezin by marrying a Czech colleague. (Their wedding dinner is a remarkable blend of gaiety and terror— the proper bourgeois guests marked for death by their mandatory Jewish stars.)
Like Orson Welles, Radok was a man of the theater and his use of film form has a comparable audacity. Distant Journey is filled with outsize shadows and shimmering reflections; it interpolates newsreels and noir angles, using a spare, mournfully jazzy soundtrack to underscore its expressionist touches. Once the action shifts to Terezin (where Radok's father and grandfather died), the fantastic is a function of the movie's verisimilitude.
This horrifying, emptied-out world seems distinctively Czech—or at least Kafkaesque—with its gnarled old people and vast warehouses filled with confiscated Jewish belongings.
Something similar happened to the movie itself—withdrawn after a brief run and locked in the vaults for the better part of two decades. In his history of Czech cinema, novelist Josef Skvorecky links The Distant Journey to the Czech new wave of the 1960s, remembering it to have been "as much a revelation to all of us as were the films of Véra Chytilová, Milos Forman, or Jan Nemec"—all of whom were profoundly influenced by this "tragically premature and anachronistic work of art."
The Reeler Peter Hames
Central Europe Review an extensive review by
New York Times Bosley Crowther
All-Movie Guide Hal Erickson
The nephew of famed playwright , American director decided to forego the expensive
education planned for him and take up cross-country vagabondage instead. He
worked in a rodeo at 15, became an ocean-liner deckhand two years later, and a
jazz drummer a year after that. He entered
Film Reference profile by Rodney Farnsworth
Bob Rafelson is a neglected director mainly because he lays bare the myths essential to America. He does not sugarcoat the bitter dose of his satire, as do Coppola and Altman. A distaste on the part of mainstream critics has caused attacks upon, but mostly the neglect of, Rafelson's The King of Marvin Gardens , which is his most representative film. Head is bound by the conventions of the teenage-comedy genre and shows few marks of Rafelson's authorship; Stay Hungry is a minor work that sustains his standard theme of the dropout—this time it is a Southern aristocrat who falls into the underworld, which is ambiguously mixed with the business world above. Something of a popular success, Five Easy Pieces certainly demands attention.
Five Easy Pieces was the first expression of the burned-out liberalism that was to become the hallmark of American films of the 1970s. Rafelson's film expresses the intelligentsia's dissatisfaction with its impotency in light of an overweening socio-economic structure. Either capitulating or dropping out seemed the only choices. The film's protagonist seeks escape, from a successful but unsatisfying career as a concert pianist into the world of the working class—first as an oil-field worker and then, at the end of the film, as a logger. The film centers on his foray into the bourgeois bohemia of his family's home—a sort of ad hoc artist colony under the aegis of his sister. The world we see is both figuratively and literally one of cripples. His sister's lover is in traction. His father is a paralytic. All are emblems of a pseudoclass, without a vital motive force, that the protagonist rejects, but cannot replace. The protagonist's sole contribution to an intellectual discussion among his sister's friends is an obscene comment on the senselessness of their phrase-weaving. In the largest sense, Five Easy Pieces is about the American intellectual's self-hatred, his disorientation in an essentially anti-intellectual society, and his resulting inability to feel comfortable with his capacity to think and to create.
The King of Marvin Gardens cuts through the American dream—the belief that every man can achieve riches by ingenuity. The protagonist becomes drawn into his brother's success dream. Rafelson sets the film in pre-boom Atlantic City—an emblem of economic desolation. The locale's aptness is affirmed by the scene of the protagonist's sister-in-law throwing her make-up into a fire. Her ageing face, without make-up, is seen against the dilapidated facade of boardwalk hotels. Her gesture (and in Rafelson's uncommitted world we daren't ask for more) of defiance is directed against what has been the female share of the American Dream: the male has traditionally taken for himself the power that comes of wealth and left woman the illusion called "glamour." Another symbol is the blowing up of an old hotel; it collapses in a heap like the dream of entrepreneurship the protagonist momentarily shares with his brother.
Rafelson's elliptical style creates tension and interest in the opening moments of thrillers like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Black Widow , and Man Trouble , but this style makes for occasional plot confusion. It is often hard to tell whether the ellipses are accidental or part of aesthetic strategy. In one instance, whatever the intent, an ellipsis poetically seems to suggest a shudder of horror at the human condition and a desire to drop out entirely from it: Rafelson suddenly presents us with the strangely clipped, abrupt walkout of the protagonist at the end of Black Widow. The films focus on what is the main theme of Rafelson's films of the 1980s and 1990s: betrayal from those closest to you, especially from within the family group. Rafelson cannot ever be said to have been caught up in the recent sentimentalism about the traditional family structure. In his filmic vision, he places no trust in the values found there.
Only in the unconventional pairing between the explorer Burton and a liberated aristocrat (exhilaratingly played by Fiona Shaw) in Mountains of the Moon does one find a positive vision of marriage and human trust, achieved only after the hero drops out from the competitive struggle for grants toward explorations and for credit from the findings. Burton experiences betrayal from Spekes, his boon companion during the exploration of the mountains at the source of the Nile River. While the film tries but fails to exonerate Burton of any deep complicity in British imperialism, it does pointedly show how powerful English interests seek in every possible way to harm his career and discount his accomplishments because he is of Irish birth. The socio-historical impact is otherwise weakened by the narrative. Whereas Rafelson's thrillers benefit from elliptical expositions, they play considerable havoc with much of the first half of Mountains of the Moon. Rafelson has failed to gain audience popularity and rare critical approval because he does not soften brutal political deconstruction with dazzling techniques. He devotes his attention not only to the straightforward expression of his themes but to getting brilliant acting out of his casts. He forces them to explore the darker sides of their characters—each a microcosm of society.
Bob Rafelson biography from Turner Classic Movies
Bob Rafelson The Indie King, which includes a biography, from Film Festival
Bob Rafelson - Screenrush biography
Bob Rafelson brief bio from NNDB
Bob Rafelson @ Filmbug brief bio
Bob Rafelson from No Good Deed - at Film.com brief bio and filmography
Bob Rafelson Mubi
Film View; THE STORY IS THE SAME BUT HOLLYWOOD HAS CHANGED Janet Maslin from The New York Times, April 26, 1981
Bob Rafelson | Popdose Ken Shane from Popdose, November 19, 2009
One for the road: Bob Rafelson and ‘Five Easy Pieces’ David Thomson chats with the director from Sight and Sound, September 2010
They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
Film Journal Interview Bob Rafelson and His Odd American Places, includes an interview by Peter Tonguette from The Film Journal, October 2004
After NBC canceled their innovative sitcom, the Monkees and their TV brain trust, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, hatched this big-screen psychedelic freak-out (1968), a narrative cul-de-sac of genre parodies, musical numbers, smug antiwar statements, and bilious McLuhan-esque satire. Scripted by Rafelson and Jack Nicholson (who would next collaborate on Five Easy Pieces), it's uneven but mostly a blast, with great tunes like Harry Nilsson's "Daddy's Song," Michael Nesmith's barn burner "Circle Sky," and Gerry Goffin and Carole King's grandiose "Porpoise Song." Rafelson directed; with cameos by Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, Frank Zappa, Annette Funicello, Sonny Liston, Teri Garr, and Victor Mature. 86 min.
Rafelson's first feature, made when Monkee mania had all but died, Head proved too experimental for the diminishing weenybop audience which had lapped up the ingenious TV series. It flopped dismally in the US, and only achieved belated release here. Despite obviously dated aspects like clumsy psychedelic effects and some turgid slapstick sequences, the film is still remarkably vital and entertaining. Rafelson (who helped to create the group), together with Jack Nicholson (co-writer and co-producer), increased the TV show's picaresque tempo while also adding more adult, sardonic touches. The calculated manipulation behind the phenomenon is exposed at the start, when the Monkees metaphorically commit suicide. The typical zany humour is intercut with harsher political footage and satire on established genres of American cinema, exploding many a sacred cow into the bargain.
Turner Classic Movies review Jeff Stafford
It sounds like someone's LSD flashback. Frank Zappa, boxer
Sonny Liston, Annette Funicello, female impersonator T.C. Jones, San
Francisco's legendary topless dancer Carol Doda and other cult celebrities
appear in a movie scripted by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (Five
Easy Pieces, 1970) that showcases the TV-created pop band The Monkees in
the leading roles who in one scene play dandruff in Victor Mature's hair.
(1968), this Cuisinart-puree of pop culture infused with anti-establishment
posturing and served up in the then-current style of a trippy experimental film
could only have happened in the late sixties when Hollywood studios were in a
try-anything phase to capture the rapidly receding youth market. Rampant use of
recreational drugs among
Virtually plotless with a free-form structure that owed a lot to the scattershot sketch format of TV's "Laugh-In" (1968-1973), Head was like the anti-A Hard Day's Night (1964) for cynical hipsters. Instead of depicting David, Micky, Michael and Peter as the endearing goofballs worshipped by teenyboppers across
Initially called Untitled, Head was an unconventional project from the beginning. According to author Patrick McGilligan in Jack's Life: A Biography of Jack Nicholson, "Bob, Bert [Schneider, executive producer], and Jack, with the four Monkees in tow, went to Ojai [
By the time filming began on Head, The Monkees were less than happy with their circumstances. Not only were they feuding with
When Head was completed, Rafelson and Nicholson launched a guerilla advertising campaign in
The remarkable thing about Head is how well it holds up today despite being mired in the counterculture of the sixties. Some of the satirical jabs and anti-war rhetoric are as timely as ever, particularly the scene where Micky attacks a defective coke machine in the middle of an
In the end, The Monkees may have had the last laugh since they were finally able to play their own music in Head after being dubbed by studio musicians in their television show (The band members, with the exception of Michael Nesmith, weren't real musicians when they were first hired for the TV series but learned how to play by the time Head went into production). And Head includes some of their best songs such as Nesmith's all-out-rocker "Circle Sky" (recorded before a live audience in Utah), Tork's two "Summer of Love" ditties, "Can You Dig It" and "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again," "As We Go Along," a Carole King-Toni Stern composition featuring the guitar work of Ry Cooder and Neil Young, plus "Daddy's Song" by Harry Nilsson and the psychedelic opening number, "Porpoise Song," written by Jerry Coffin and Carole King.
Years after being ridiculed as an infantile imitation of The Beatles, packaged for fickle teenagers, The Monkees are finally getting a little overdue respect for Head whose cult continues to grow whenever it is shown. And Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson have nothing to be ashamed of either.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
FIVE EASY PIECES A 96
You don’t sit down and say, “I’m feeling alienated today, I think I’ll make a movie about alienation.” —Bob Rafelson (director)
Shot while Nixon was secretly bombing Cambodia in the winter of 1969 – 70 and released in September 1970, the same year as the Kent State shootings, 100,00 people marched on Washington D.C. protesting the war, and the Beatles released Let It Be. A 60’s counterculture film, Counterculture of the 1960s, one that reflects the mood of rebellion and alienation during the Vietnam war era, one of the first to be viewed by mainstream audiences portraying the dissatisfaction of an anti-hero while also using a new indie style in American cinema, where the minimalist approach in telling a story is a different way of expressing itself, a complete turn away from the action and Hollywood glamorization which shoots for overkill, like PATTON (1970) which won the Best Picture and George C. Scott the Best Actor (which he refused to accept) at the Academy Awards that year. Perhaps the industry wasn’t ready yet to recognize and herald in a new era in filmmaking driven by naturalistic performances, but the film, screenplay, and two acting performances were nominated for Academy Awards and certainly left its mark with pitch perfect direction and a moody self reflection that continues to challenge the collective consciousness of the nation. It remains a classic example of dropping out of society, as seen today in the films of Kelly Reichardt like OLD JOY (2006) and WENDY AND LUCY (2008), where disenchantment with the system overall may not lead to any specific new answers, but it does send one in search of new directions. Shot by the brilliant Hungarian cinematographer László Kovács, a lover of naturalist landscapes and fresh off his work in EASY RIDER (1969), his use of differing location shots exquisitely depicts the central character’s state of mind, as it moves from the oil fields of Bakersfield, California to the scenic Pacific coast highway to the upper class exclusivity of the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound, Washington.
Displaying an array of skills we only see early in his career, Jack Nicholson gives the performance of his career in Bobby Eroica Dupree, a brooding outsider layered in an understated and downbeat realism that borders on miserablism and discontent, a gifted classical piano student who left his upper class background and traded it in for a life on the road, working the hot and back breaking work as a rigger on the oil rigs, living in a trailer, spending his time drinking beer in cheap bars and motels and bowling alleys while living with his girl Rayette, Tammy Wynette stand-in Karen Black in one of her more superb roles as a pretty but dim-witted waitress with a mouth that won’t quit, where at one point he tells her “If you wouldn't open your mouth, everything would be just fine.” She smothers him with her undying love, while he prefers to keep a safe distance, making no commitments which he obtains through male cruelty and infidelity, regularly spending nights away from Rayette and sleeping with whatever comes around, which includes Sally Struthers in one memorable scene. When his co-worker on the rigs, Elton (Billy Green Bush) lets it slip that Rayette is pregnant, Bobby flips out in a full tantrum, pissed that his life is suddenly in full view for others to pass judgment upon, especially since he went to such trouble to disappear to the ends of the earth where no one would find him.
Around this same time he visits his sister making a
classical recording in
By the time they get to Puget Sound, Bobby parks his girl in some cheap motel while he goes to visit his family, calling in every few days to report nothing’s happening, while in reality, he gets the hots for Susan Ansbach, a young pianist who is studying music and also engaged to his brother Carl. In little time the audience gets a sense of what Bobby was running away from, as this little den of secluded artists is really a picture of family dysfunction, superbly exposed by the roving eye of the camera which catches every meticulous detail. When Rayette shows up unannounced after a week or so with the subtlety of a Mack truck, it turns out to be a hilarious contrast in social class, each more contemptible than the other, where it’s difficult to tell which one he’s ashamed of the most, his family or Rayette. In the end, of course, nothing compares to the loathing he feels for himself. Nicholson does have a brilliant monologue alone with his father Jack Nicholson: Five Easy Pieces ("Life You Don't ... - YouTube (3:15), where he attempts to make some sense out of his messed up life, where he continually fouls things up so bad that he has to run away from his own stupid mistakes, a haunting scene that actually includes tears, perhaps the only Jack Nicholson scene on record to do so. When he makes his escape, it comes in the most unexpected fashion, a moody, existential moment where he takes stock of his life, all shot in a masterful style of picturesque quiet and understatement Five Easy Pieces (8/8) Movie CLIP - I'm Fine (1970 ... YouTube (2:12).
Time Out review (link lost)
Rafelson's second film - in which Jack Nicholson, seemingly a redneck oil-rigger, turns out to be a fugitive from a musical career inherited from a family of classical musicians - is a considered examination of the middle-class patrician American way of family life. Centreing on Nicholson's drifter, the film unswervingly brings him into confrontations with his past as he equally unswervingly attempts to evade everything, preferring to make gestures rather than act consistently. The result is less a story and more a collection of incidents and character studies, all of which inform each other and extend our understanding of Nicholson's mode of survival: flight.
Time Out Tom Huddleston
It’s a film of stark, superbly judged and beautifully sustained contrasts, the soundtrack hopping confidently from Tammy Wynette to Chopin as Bobby and his waitress girlfriend Rayette (Karen Black) travel from the lusty, sun-baked south to the cerebral, rainswept north to pay final respects to Bobby’s dying father. Refusing to submit either to gross sentimentality or pompous pontificating, Rafelson and co-writer Adrien Joyce play their themes like piano keys, touching lightly but effectively on ideas of masculinity and mortality, class and creativity, family and frustration.
It’s not a particularly subtle film – some of the supporting characters, notably Black’s dogged but witless Rayette, are written and played a little broadly – but it is a magnificently insightful and engaging one, flipping effortlessly from icy realism to heated melodrama while always maintaining a darkly comic, at times quietly satirical undercurrent. All of which is reflected in Nicholson’s phenomenal central performance, for Bobby is himself a kind of actor, playing at being ugly, mean and self-sufficient in a doomed effort to disguise his absolute emotional emptiness, feeling himself exposed layer by layer as the film approaches its devastating climax.
CINE-FILE: Cine-List Ben Sachs
The films of the so-called American New Wave were united by an
effort to translate European arthouse aesthetics to a
Last Week - CINE-FILE: Cine-List Ben Sachs
FIVE EASY PIECES is one of the indisputable
masterpieces of the New American Cinema, displaying a complexity worthy of epic
literature in wholly cinematic terms. Carol Eastman (working under the
pseudonym Adrien Joyce) wrote the character of Bobby Eroica Dupree specifically
for Jack Nicholson, and it's one of the greatest gifts a writer has ever given
to a screen actor. Drawing on the actor's moodiness and darting intelligence,
Eastman created an unforgettable antihero, a contemptuous jackass who's also a
wounded, pitiable soul. When we first meet Dupree, he's a surly blue-collar
type working on an oilrig; we quickly learn, however, that this life is only an
epic charade, an attempt to convince the world he isn't really a blue-blood
piano prodigy. Yet the charade is a failure, as Dupree lashes out at his
friends and cheats constantly on the sweet-hearted girl naive enough to love
him (Karen Black, in the movie's other immortal performance). Few
Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]
The title of "Five
Easy Pieces" refers not to the women its hero makes along the road,
for there are only three, but to a book of piano exercises he owned as a child.
The film, one of the best American films, is about the distance between that
boy, practicing to become a concert pianist, and the need he feels twenty years
later to disguise himself as an oil-field rigger. When we sense the boy,
tormented and insecure, trapped inside the adult man, "Five
Easy Pieces" becomes a masterpiece of heartbreaking intensity.
At the outset, we meet only the man -- played by Jack Nicholson with the same miraculous offhandedness that brought "Easy Rider" to life. He's an irresponsible roustabout, making his way through the oil fields, sleeping with a waitress (Karen Black) whose every daydreaming moment is filled with admiration for Miss Tammy Wynette. The man's name is Robert Eroica Dupea. He was named after Beethoven's Third Symphony and he spends his evenings bowling and his nights wearily agreeing that, yes, his girl sings "Stand By Your Man" just like Tammy.
In these first marvelous scenes, director Bob Rafelson calls our attention to the grimy life textures and the shabby hopes of these decent middle Americans. They live in a landscape of motels, highways, TV dinners, dust, and jealousy, and so do we all, but they seem to have nothing else. Dupea's friends are arrested at the mental and emotional level of about age seventeen; he isn't, but thinks or hopes he is.
Dupea discovers his girl is pregnant (his friend Elton breaks the news out in the field, suggesting maybe it would be good to marry her and settle down). He walks out on her in a rage, has a meaningless little affair with a slut from the bowling alley, and then discovers more or less by accident that his father is dying. His father, we discover, is a musical genius who moved his family to an island and tried to raise them as Socrates might have. Dupea feels himself to be the only failure.
The movie bares its heart in the scenes on the island, where Dupea makes an awkward effort to communicate with his dying father. The island is peopled with eccentrics, mostly Dupea's own family, but including a few strays. Among their number is a beautiful young girl who's come to the island to study piano with Dupea's supercilious brother. Dupea seduces this girl, who apparently suggests the early life he has abandoned. He does it by playing the piano; but when she says she's moved, he says he isn't -- that he played better as a child and that the piece was easy anyway.
This is possibly the moment when his nerve fails and he condemns himself, consciously, to a life of self-defined failure. The movie ends, after several more scenes, on a note of ambiguity; he is either freeing himself from the waitress or, on the other hand, he is setting off on a journey even deeper into anonymity. It's impossible to say, and it doesn't matter much. What matters is the character during the time covered by the film: a time when Dupea tentatively reapproaches his past and then rejects it, not out of pride, but out of fear.
The movie is joyously alive to the road life of its hero. We follow him through bars and bowling alleys, motels and mobile homes, and we find him rebelling against lower-middle-class values even as he embraces them. In one magical scene, he leaps from his car in a traffic jam and starts playing the piano on the truck in front of him; the scene sounds forced, described this way, but Rafelson and Nicholson never force anything, and never have to. Robert Eroica Dupea is one of the most unforgettable characters in American movies.
Big Real Place: BBS From Head to Hearts
Criterion essay by J. Hoberman,
Easy Pieces: The Solitude Criterion
essay by Kent Jones,
Michael Wood reviews 'Five Easy Pieces' · LRB 9 September 2010 Michael Wood from The London Review of Books
Bright Lights Film Journal :: Auspicious Beginnings Andrew Culbertson, August 2007, also seen here: Bright Lights Film Journal
Five Easy Pieces - Film (Movie) Plot and Review ... - Film Reference Thomas L. Erskine
Thoughts on "Five Easy Pieces" Ken D. Kraiker
Reflections on "Five Easy Pieces" Stuart Fernie and David Dieni
Jerry's Armchair Oscars or . . . They Wuz Robbed [Jerry Dean Roberts] Jack Nicholson for Best Actor (winner, George C. Scott, Patton)
One for the road: Bob Rafelson and ‘Five Easy Pieces’ David Thomson chats with the director from Sight and Sound, September 2010
indieWIRE Peter Bogdanovich
Bleasdale] also reviewing KING OF
Five Easy Pieces: Criterion Collection | Happy to Hang Around Drew Morton from Pajiba
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
DVD Savant Glenn Erickson, America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, Criterion Blu-Ray
The QNetwork [James Kendrick] America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, Criterion Blu-Ray
DVD Town Christopher Long, America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, Criterion Blu-Ray
Parallax View [Sean Axmaker] America Lost and Found: The BBS Story, Criterion Blu-Ray
rec.arts.movies.reviews Walter Frith
British Film Institute Geoff Andrew
The DVD Journal JJB
eFilmCritic.com M.P. Bartley
Goatdog's Movies Michael W. Phillips, Jr.
rec.arts.movies.reviews Brandon Stahl
FIVE EASY PIECES Facets Multi Media
Five Easy Pieces Beautiful Stills from Beautiful Films
Time Out Joshua Rothkopf
Film review: Five Easy Pieces | Film | The Guardian Peter Bradshaw, also seen here: The Guardian
Easy Pieces was oddly conservative for a 1970s Jack Nicholson film John Patterson from The Guardian,
Nicholson David Thomson from The Guardian,
The Observer Philip French
Los Angeles Times Glenn Kenny interviews the director, April 21, 2010
Review - - Rafelson's 'Five Easy Pieces' Bows The New
Nicholson On Age, Acting And 'Being Jack'
Dana Kennedy from The New York
Kovacs, Cinematographer, Dies at 74
Douglas Martin from The New York
magazine interview with screenwriter Carol Eastman
Five Easy Pieces - by Carole Eastman The screenplay
Time Out review Tom Milne
An irresistible movie, not least for its haunting vision of Atlantic City as Xanadu, a stately pleasure dome of genteelly decaying palaces, run-down funfairs, and empty boardwalks presided over by white elephants abandoned to their brooding fate. It's like some unimaginable country of the mind, and so in a sense it is as two brothers embark on a sort of game (Atlantic City provided the original place names for the Monopoly board) in which they exchange their lives, their loves and their dreams. One has retreated, like Prospero, from the pain outside into the island of his mind; the other pursues an endless mirage of get-rich-quick schemes which will let him escape to an island paradise. Their fusion is a stunningly complex evocation of childish complicity and Pinterish obsessions, inevitably leading to tragedy as the obsessions founder on reality. One of the most underrated films of the decade.
Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson's
creative relationship began because of The Monkees. Rafelson directing and
Nicholson writing their weird and wonderful psychedelic cult classic 'Head'.
After that the two teamed up for one of the early Seventies best loved movies
'Five Easy Pieces'. A couple of years later they did it again with 'The King Of
Marvin Gardens', though inexplicably it doesn't have the reputation or the high
profile of their previous collaboration. I really fail to see why. File it
under "great lost 1970s movies" alongside 'Scarecrow', 'Bring Me The
Head Of Alfredo Garcia', 'Tracks', 'Fingers' (and add your own personal
favourite to the list).
Senses of Cinema (Maria San Filippo) review Boardwalk Xanadu: The Time and Place in The King of Marvin Gardens and Atlantic City, March 2001
Derek Malcolm's Century of Films The Guardian
One for the road: Bob Rafelson and ‘Five Easy Pieces’ David Thomson chats with the director from Sight and Sound, September 2010
Cinespect [John Bleasdale] also reviewing FIVE EASY PIECES
Reel.com dvd review [3.5/4] Pam Grady
DVD MovieGuide dvd review Colin Jacobson
Movie Reviews UK review [4/5] Damian Cannon
After the sombre melancholy of Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens, Rafelson pursued his interest in social dropouts and marginal life-styles with this offbeat comedy drama. Bridges oozes carefree charm as a young Alabama heir caught up in a property speculation involving a gym, but instead investing his interest in Arnie and his muscle-building pals. His relationship with gutsy working gal Field helps fill out the picture, although the preponderance of loose narrative threads tends to leave one with an impression of individual scenes rather than any sense of coherent plot. The scene in which Bridges slips though a hole in the social hedge to join a bunch of fiddle players in a country hoedown epitomises the gentle, quirky feel of the film. Based on a Charles Gaines novel about the rootlessness of the so-called 'New South', it has its slack spells, but Rafelson's sure feel for the inexpressible subtleties of emotional relationships is evident throughout.
This is one of the weirdest movies
I've ever seen. There's something about movies made during this time period -
the late 70s, and maybe the very early 80s - that is very distinctive, though I
can't really say exactly what it is. It might have something to do with the
coloring and lighting and the way it looks visually - there's less
"artistic" style, and the aesthetics are more candid looking. It
might also be because there seems to be more nudity in those older movies than
the ones that are made now. One of the movies this reminded me of is
"Caddyshack." Another is "Used Cars" with Kurt Russell.
"Stay Hungry" has a really loose story that has very little cohesion.
It's almost more of a series of vignettes and oddball scenes (and I do mean
oddball - I don't know where they came up with some of the random weirdness in
this film) very loosely revolving around a central story of an idle heir
(Bridges) whose life intersects with Field and Schwarzenegger's characters.
It's not the plot that makes this movie good, it's the series of strange scenes that make it up. It's almost like someone took a bunch of comedy sketches from the old Saturday Night Live and strung them all together. But the end result is a delightfully bizarre film, the kind of movie that could never be made today because it's just too unstructured and offbeat. This film was written by Charles Gaines, who also created "Pumping Iron." Gaines is a bodybuilding aficionado which would explain the common thread of bodybuilding in both of these films and the presence of Schwarzenegger.
There's little doubt from looking at the case housing this
DVD which member of the cast went on to pump up the box office returns in a
slew of action movies. It's Arnold front and center, oiled up and with a bad
haircut, and a sticker on the packaging reminds us that Schwarzenegger won a
Golden Globe for his performance—Best Newcomer of 1977. But this isn't a movie
for fans of his Pumping Iron
years or of his best shoot-'em-ups (The
Terminator would surely top that list). Instead, this is a moody
coming-of-age picture from Bob Rafelson, at the height of his years as an angry
young man—his work in the last couple of decades has been decidedly uneven, but
this movie is very much of a piece with the director's early work. Stay Hungry was preceded by Five Easy Pieces and The King of Marvin Gardens,
and this film may be the most overlooked of the three. It's certainly a
mercurial and unusual picture, but it's from arguably the last great period of
American filmmaking, and features three performances that changed the courses
of actors' careers.
Jeff Bridges plays Craig Blake, orphaned heir of
Blake gets sidetracked not just by the scene, but especially by Mary Tate (Sally Field), the perky young thing behind the front desk, and the sometime girlfriend of Joe Santo (Schwarzenegger), in training for the upcoming Mr. Universe competition. Bridges is terrific in the lead role, fulfilling the promise he demonstrated in The Last Picture Show; that was an ensemble piece, and here he's asked to carry the picture, and he does so admirably. This is Field's first screen work of any significance, and this performance goes a long way toward eradicating the image of her as either Gidget or Sister Patrice; this seems like a necessary transitional performance for her, making possible her work in movies like Norma Rae and Places in the Heart. And even with superstardom, the Governor of California was never much of an actor; but here, for the first time, he's human, and lacks the annoying self-consciousness and smugness that characterizes so much of his later work.
As Joe Santo,
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web and Tuna
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
From its opening shot - Theresa Russell's split reflection in a make-up mirror - both the theme and the over-schematic symbolism of Rafelson's thriller are immediately apparent. For Russell plays a homicidal psychopath whose killings of various wealthy husbands are investigated by a Justice Department workaholic (Winger), who slowly but surely becomes a kind of mirror-image of her Protean prey. The story and treatment are familiar from '40s noir thrillers, but it's clear that Rafelson is attempting something more than mere homage. Disappointingly, the femme fatale - apparently in love with her husbands even as she plans their demise - is presented as somehow more female, fulfilled and complete than the career woman, who in turn eventually discovers both dress sense and the joy of sex with her opposite's next victim-to-be. There are things to enjoy - committed performances, Conrad Hall's elegant camerawork, a script that becomes pleasurably tortuous towards the end - but the film finally offers far less than meets the eye.
PopcornQ review Cherry Smyth
Reading mainstream films subversively, lesbians have often
constructed heroines who do not officially belong to them. The persistence of
the dyke invention of lesbian heroines urged me to reconstruct a mainstream
Sharon Stone's character in Basic Instinct may be distinctly antifeminist, but was cited popularly as a lesbian heroine.
Black Widow lends itself to a similar kind of ironic reinvention. Here we have a rich, young, beautiful woman, the eponymous Catherine (Theresa Russell) who picks up and poisons her husbands with the skill of a brain surgeon. She is discovered and sought after by a rather dowdy and workaholic federal agent, Alex (Debra Winger), who needs a bit of hands-on excitement. It's a classic chase movie, with the familiar, and so compelling, ugly duckling motif thrown in. What is less familiar is that not only are there two female protagonists, but that Alex develops an obsession with Catherine far beyond the call of duty.
The psychological motivation is thin. When Alex tells her boss that "no one knows why anybody does anything," the gate opens and the psychiatrist has bolted, leaving the field of supposition totally accessible for a dyke interpretation of motivation. Alex's reply, which deflects her boss's concern that she is obsessed with Catherine, acts as a comic cypher for all the times dykes have no answers for the "why." "Why do you always have to have your hair so short? Why don't you ever wear a dress? Why do you have to be so public about it? Why do you enjoy licking pussy?" Alex may be obsessed, but she's not going to see a doctor. She has become a hunter.
Theresa Russell as Catherine is young, stiff, bereaved, and stylish, conjuring up the image of Catherine Deneuve, not only in Belle de Jour, but also in the later and much more dyke-embedded The Hunger. As a widow, however, Catherine is not upset enough, which the spectator may read as a betrayal or as an opening for a story of female revenge, of a husband killed because he deserved it, murdered because he tried to thwart his much younger wife. Catherine is already constituted as a "bad girl," therefore, ripe for transgressive lesbian identification.
To Catherine men are disposable. She swots up enough specialized knowledge to catch her professional mate, exposing hetero-desire as being as superficial and simple to mimic as a game show. Alex, by contrast, is contructed as operating in an adolescent presexual state of distraction. Her reluctance to socialise with her male colleagues (except when playing cards) reinforces the trope of Alex as a lesbian who doesn't know it. Yet. Black Widow is a slow time-bomb of a movie whose formula is charmingly predictable and whose lesbian subtext is so unimaginable to itself that its frissons have endless repercussions. As soon as lesbianism is suggested it is quickly denied.
SORRY, BUT ONE of the many dark delights of the detective thriller "Black Widow" is seeing "Blue Velvet" villain Dennis Hopper get his -- wooed, webbed and then poisoned by his loving wife, a seductive serial killer.
Theresa Russell and Debra Winger costar as the wicked widow and the Justice Department drudge who picks up Russell's paper trail while researching a mafioso's murder. The mobster, a New York publisher and then a Texas toy tycoon (Hopper) all die of the same rare disease -- and two of them are survived by their newlywed wives. Or is it wife? Winger's boss pooh-poohs her suspicions, forcing the fledgling agent to pursue the case on her own.
Winger, that homespun heartthrob with a cat's purr and a doe's eyes, makes merry work of this widow's chase. Her character is sexually repressed workaholic Alex, whose obsession with murderess Catherine -- a killer who probably reads Cosmo -- finally releases her pent-up womanliness. Winger gets a 10 on the charismometer and gives the film its warmth and innocence. Russell, a wry sensation as Marilyn Monroe in "Insignificance," plays this femme fatale for keeps.
After careful study, chameleon-like Catherine makes herself into the perfect wife for the billionaire bachelor of the moment. Her fourth fiance', for instance, confides a ridiculous wish to build a hotel under the Kilauea volcano. "God," she gushes, "in the right place, it would be fantastic." Whether it's an airhead he wants -- or an egghead, or a ditzy Dallas belle -- he gets what he deserves.
The relationship between the women, as unpredictable as lava flow, is left deliberately ambiguous. Unnerving and mysterious undercurrents keep us guessing as to the possible outcomes of this glossy game of cat-and-kitten.
Ron Bass wrote the solid and entertaining screenplay that never falters till its end, which suffices -- even surprises -- but fails to live up to Catherine's devious promise. Director Bob Rafelson (creator of the Monkees, director of "Five Easy Pieces" and the man who launched Arnold Schwarzenegger the actor) creates a coherent, soundly paced and smart production.
Rafelson draws memorable cameos from a quirky supporting cast that includes B-movie queen Mary Woronov as a dictatorial scuba diver, Diane Ladd as the sister of the Texas toymaker and Nicol Williamson as the Seattle philanthropist who dies happy (if a little prematurely) as Catherine's third hubby. James Hong is especially hardboiled as an island P.I. named Shin. "You been looking for someone for four weeks?" he sneers at Alex. "Once I looked for somebody for 18 years."
Despite the department's skepticism and the lack of cooperation from local dicks, Alex prevails in this liberating vehicle for gal gumshoes -- a leap from those doddering old dears from England to a female with the quiet intensity of a Real Detective.
from imdb Author: ShootingShark from Dundee, Scotland
from imdb (Page 2) Author: Robert
J. Maxwell (email@example.com) from
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3.5/5] Richard Scheib
An atypical Iranian film with plenty of European stylistic touches, which detracts from the eventual power and authenticity of the subject matter. Iranian films are known for their raw, simplistic storytelling that get to the heart of the issue without resorting to cinematic gimmickry. This film attempts to accentuate the Iranian judicial system, which is revealed in a dramatic ten minute sequence, which is then re-hashed from every different perspective again and again for the rest of the film, much of it left to the viewer’s imagination.
One prisoner is facing the death penalty, ironically less
than 9 months from the date of his crime, which is a far cry from the
decade-long jurisprudence that takes place here in
Our prisoner witnesses this process with another prisoner, as they are both condemned for execution on the same morning. The other prisoner is forgiven, but he must donate his family’s house as payment for his crime. Our prisoner’s proceedings are delayed, as the family has not shown up for the last three scheduled executions, leaving him and his family in a state of purgatory limbo, as the exact same process will have to be re-scheduled again until the victim’s family arrives. To further dramatize his agony, we witness several suicide attempts while in prison, or a prisoner fight that breaks out where he steps into the middle in order to be blamed, attacking a guard that intervenes, guaranteeing solitary confinement. What we are seeing is a condemned man punishing himself even further. Each time he is given a reprieve, the other prisoners celebrate by singing and dancing, looking like something out of a poorly rehearsed Youssef Chahine film, which specialize in exotic musical numbers.
What we witness is the same sequence of events, the prisoner rising in the morning by guards walking him to the physical examination, intercut with flashbacks and dream sequences, all of which allow for different possibilities, all of which are playing out in his head. It becomes impossible to know what is real and what is imagined, but eventually it becomes like a Twilight Zone episode where Dennis Weaver dreams that he is condemned to die, and the court proceedings replay in his head over and over again like the myth of Sisyphus, his own internalized psychological hell from which he can never break. He can not, even awake, separate himself from the sequence, knowing it will re-occur again and again, that he is condemned to participate in this sequence forever. The power of the film is the negotiation sequence with the family, the judge, and the condemned prisoner, as that is a revelation to most of the world’s eyes. The rest of the film, shot in a dark, colorless, shoddy-looking video, we’ve all seen before, put to a better use, as it’s simply a swirling variation of the same theme.
Three stories encapsulate different aspects of traditional moral instruction. The first sees a stern father banishing his young son from the household to spare him the sight of his dying mother; the second follows the good deeds of a devout disabled boy left at home when his family visit a religious shrine; the third shows the dilemma in which a teacher finds himself when local villagers are eager to believe he possesses spiritual powers. The didactic lessons will be more obvious to Iranian audiences than to Western eyes. That said, the rugged landscapes are striking and there is a captivating reverence in the way the director films a bowl of apples, for instance, or a rippling pool.
Mojtaba Raei's episodic, three-part 1997 feature is a good
example of the vital Iranian cinema our cultural gatekeepers rarely allow us to
see, without the packaging and automatic charm of Gabbeh or The White
Balloon but with plenty of artistic credentials of its own, a film so
deeply involved in its own brand of Islamic thought that the absence of easy
access to outsiders is part of its special fascination. (This is also true of
Mohsen Makhmalbaf's very bad early feature Fleeing From Evil to God,
though in contrast Raei is clearly in command of the material.) Filmed in
remote mountain areas of northern
Mojtaba Raei's mystical meditation, ''Birth of a Butterfly,'' was filmed in the mountains of northwestern Iran, where the people's elemental relationship with nature is colored by an intense spiritual faith. Consisting of three parables in which that faith is tested, the movie suggests that Christianity and Western culture have no monopoly on turning out religious kitsch. Although ''Birth of a Butterfly'' is comparatively restrained and tasteful as these things go, it imitates the Hollywood technique of using gushy music to underscore moments of revelation.
The protagonist of one parable is a shining-eyed teacher who leaves civilization behind to trek through the wilderness and instruct the children in a remote mountain village. Exuding a charismatic radiance, he becomes an informal adviser to the community. When one man who has lost a cow wonders where he can find it, the teacher suggests he look in a certain field. Another man is waiting for his son who disappeared a year ago to return. The teacher counsels patience and says the son will soon come back.
When both insights prove true, word spreads through the village that the teacher is a prophet. And when a flood threatens the community, the villagers plead with him to intercede with God. Even after the teacher insists he has no special powers, they refuse to believe him and stalk off angrily.
The miraculous upshot of the parable could just as well be Christian as Islamic (in the entire movie there's no mention of Allah), and can be summed up in one sentence: And the faith of a child shall lead them.
The other parables are not as clear-cut. In one, a man whose wife is critically ill blames his innocent stepchildren. In another, a young boy on a pilgrimage to a sacred spring whose waters are supposed to cure all ills engages in a dialogue with an old man he meets along the way.
''Birth of a Butterfly,'' which will be shown on tomorrow at 5:45 P.M. and Monday at 9 P.M. at the Museum of Modern Art as part of New Directors/New Films, is best appreciated as a kind of visual poem in which human beings are seen as intelligent wildlife clinging to the rocks of a harshly beautiful natural landscape. The faith the movie explores seems to spring naturally from an environment where human life is so entirely at the mercy of the elements that catastrophic events are assumed to have spiritual and moral dimensions.
Sam Raimi - Director - Films as Director:, Other Films:, Publications Steven Schneider from Film Reference
Director, writer, producer, and occasional actor Samuel Raimi was born the third of five children, and was raised in a large home in Franklin, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. His father, Leonard Raimi, a furniture and appliance store owner, staged and shot elaborate home movies, and Sam quickly became "fascinated by the fact that you could capture reality, however staged, with an 8mm camera, replay it, edit it, and make things happen in a different order than they did in real life."
When he was just eleven years old, the younger Raimi made his first film. At age thirteen, he bought his first 8mm camera, using money he had earned from raking leaves. The movies he made at this time ranged from slapstick comedies that resembled and were inspired by his beloved Three Stooges, to a huge "Civil War extravanganza using props and costumes with fifty extras." Sam and his older brother Ivan (with whom he would later co-write Darkman and Army of Darkness ) were constantly experimenting with different camera techniques in order to get the strangest angles possible—a preoccupation evident in his films to this day. At the age of fifteen, Sam and his friend Bruce Campbell (who would go on to attain cult status as Ash in the Evil Dead trilogy) began attending classes taught by industrial filmmaker Vern Nobles. Nobles hired Sam as a production assistant, and after directing his own amateur films (as well as some commercials in the local Detroit area), Raimi enrolled at Michigan State University. There he met future business partner and aspiring producer Robert Tapert. Sam, Ivan, Tapert, and Campbell formed Renaissance Pictures, and after a few early efforts by Raimi ( It's Murder! , Within the Woods , and Clockwork ), they struck gold with The Evil Dead in 1982.
Stephen King called The Evil Dead , "the most ferociously original horror movie I have ever seen," and this unexpected compliment brought the picture instant credibility. Made on a budget of approximately $50,000, Raimi's backers were at first annoyed because the film appeared to be a comedy, when they thought they would be getting a horror movie. But it is precisely the director's trademark combination of gore and slapstick (otherwise known as "splatstick"), along with his innovative camerawork—particularly his use of demon point-of-view shots—which made the film a hit. The Evil Dead , an expanded version of Raimi's earlier short, Within the Woods (also starring Campbell), tells the story of five students who travel to a creepy cabin in the woods for a weekend break and are cut off from the outside world when a bridge collapses beneath them. In the basement of the cabin, the students find the Book of the Dead (bound in human skin) and a tape recorder. The tape's narrator warns of the evil dead, malevolent demons he has unwisely summoned. Sure enough, the evil dead show up, and all hell breaks loose. One of the female student goes outside and is raped by possessed vines, a scene which incurred the wrath of moralists in Britain, and led to the film being prosecuted under existing "video nasty" legislation. Although The Evil Dead 's super low budget is unintentionally revealed at times, the film's kinetic camerawork, over-the-top gore, and sheer intensity insured its status as a cult fave.
In 1985, Raimi teamed up with friends Joel and Ethan Coen (who hit the big time a year before with Blood Simple ) on the flawed but inspired Crimewave. In this movie, a pair of cartoon-like exterminator/hitmen kill the owner of a burglar-alarm company, and proceed to stalk the partner who hired them, his wife, and a nerd framed for the murder, who tells the story in flashback from the electric chair. Two years later, Raimi would direct the next installment of The Evil Dead on a substantially higher budget than his previous efforts. Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn retells the entire story of the first film in about ten minutes, and develops the franchise's underlying mythos, thereby paving the way for the third and most whacked out installment, Army of Darkness , in 1993. One crucial difference between Evil Dead II and its predecessor is that the latter is a more overtly comic film. The gore is still there, in spades, but as one critic puts it, "the flying eyeballs and lopped-off appendages serve as the functional equivalents of custard pies and buckets of whitewash rather than anything psychologically retrograde."
Raimi made his major-studio debut with Darkman in 1990, which he co-wrote as well as directed. Although he tried to secure the eponymous lead role for his friend Campbell, the producers opted instead for established star Liam Neeson. The film—a moderate success at best—concerns a scientist who is horribly burned by a fire in his lab lit by criminals. Using the synthetic skin he had invented, he seeks revenge under different identities. After Army of Darkness , Raimi teamed up with the Coen brothers once again, this time on The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), which he co-wrote. In 1993–94, Raimi also co-produced a pair of Jean Claude Van Damme action spectaculars, Hard Target (directed by Hong Kong legend John Woo), and Time Cop. In addition, he found great success as executive producer of the hit schlock television shows Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess. Raimi returned as director on the revisionist Western, The Quick and the Dead (1995), starring Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman, Russell Crowe, and a pre-Titanic Leonardo DiCaprio. But his critical breakthrough came three years later, in 1998, with A Simple Plan , in which Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton play brothers who find a bag full of money in the woods, with disastrous consequences. As well as being Raimi's first heavyweight, serious film, it was also his first shot at directing an adaptation of a bestselling novel (written by Scott M. Smith). A Simple Plan wound up garnering two Oscar nominations, for Best Supporting Actor (Thornton), and for Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Raimi's next feature, the tepid Kevin Costner baseball vehicle For Love of the Game (1999), led some fans to believe he was selling out. But that view should change with his upcoming film, Spider-Man scheduled to appear in 2001.
Sam Raimi > Overview - AllMovie biography from Hal Erickson
Sam Raimi: Biography from Answers.com biography
Sam Raimi - Yahoo! Movies biography
God of Filmaking Sam Raimi director of Spider Man biography and film reviews
Sam Raimi biography and filmography from NNDB
Sam Raimi Biography from Who2.com brief bio
Sam Raimi Biography (2006–) Film Reference
Sam Raimi Filmography Fandango
Optimus Prime Films | Directors | Sam Raimi May 25, 2000
Sam Raimi is Spartacus! in New TV Series for Starz ... Nix from Beyond Hollywood, October 27, 2008
Sam Raimi reveals why he loves horror from the set of Drag Me to ... Patrick Lee from Blastr, April 14, 2009
Set Visit: Sam Raimi's Drag Me To Hell - ShockTillYouDrop.com Ryan Rotten from Shock Til You Drop, April 14, 2009
'Drag Me to Hell': Sam Raimi's Genre Curse - The 62nd Cannes Film ... Richard Corliss at Cannes from Time magazine, May 14, 2009
Sam Raimi has horror in his clutches - Los Angeles Times Gina McIntyre feature and interview from The LA Times, May 28, 2009
5 DISTURBING SAM RAIMI MOMENTS Buckminster Schumacker III from Screen Junkies, May 28, 2009
Sam Raimi's star Vehicle | Sound On Sight Ricky D. from Sound On Sight, May 28, 2009
Sam Raimi Tortures His Actors for Your Amusement | Little Gold Men ... Eric Spitznagel from Vanity Fair magazine, May 29, 2009
Hell and Back Again: Sam Raimi drags himself back to horror with his new film Steve Biodrowski from Cinefantastique Online, June 1, 2009
Retrospective Interview: Sam Raimi on swinging from Evil Dead to Spider-Man Steve Biodrowski feature and interview from Cinefantastique Online, June 2, 2009
The Phil Nugent Experience: A Sam Raimi Report Card Phil Nugent, June 10, 2009
Sam Raimi and Lucy Lawless, Bloody and Naked - TV Feature at IGN Matt Fowler from IGN, June 30, 2009
Sam Raimi to Direct World of Warcraft Movie - Giant Bomb Ryan Davis from Giant Bomb, July 22, 2009
Sam Raimi Does World Of Warcraft: Will It Be Brilliant Or Rubbish ... Stuart Heritage from Heckler Spray, July 23, 2009
The week in geek: Can Sam Raimi raise his game for World of Warcraft? Ben Child from The Guardian, July 23, 2009, also including photo gallery here: World of Warcraft: Catalcysm – concept art collection
Sam Raimi to produce 'Refuge' Steven Zeitchik from The Hollywood Reporter, September 23, 2009
Cinematical Article (2009) Directors We Love: Sam Raimi, by Jeffrey M. Anderson from Cinematical, October 11, 2009
Sam Raimi Vs. Christopher Nolan - Mania.com Batman Vs. Spider-Man: Who Is the Better Director? by Joey Campbell from Mania, October 13, 2009
Tobey Maguire, Sam Raimi Out of Next SPIDER-MAN Anna Robinson from Alt Film Guide, January 11, 2010
'Spider-Man 4' delayed; Tobey Maguire, Sam Raimi out ... GMA News, January 12, 2010
Tobey Maguire and Sam Raimi part ways with Spider-Man franchise ... The Telegraph, January 12, 2010
Lions Gate Buys Sam Raimi Film About Jew Ghost « Heeb Magazine Heeb magazine, April 6, 2010
Sam Raimi, Robert Downey Jr. Confirmed for Wizard Of Oz Prequel ... Jennifer Ross from Paste magazine, June 10, 2010
Episode 48: Darkman (1990, Sam Raimi) / Darkman II: The Return of ... Alan Smithee, June 30, 2010
Sam Raimi to do apocalyptic scifi western Annalee Newitz from io9, July 20, 2010
Sam Raimi to Direct 'Earp: Saints for Sinners' - Screen Rant Chris Schrader from Screenrant, July 20, 2010
Sam Raimi lassoes Wyatt Earp for sci-fi film | Reuters Borys Kit from Reuters, July 20, 2010
Tarantino to pen ‘The Shadow’? Tom Powers from Cinefantastique Online, August 4, 2010
Random Facts About Sam Raimi and His Films: His Underrated Gem ... Kristy from the Bloodsprayer, August 27, 2010
TSPDT - Sam Raimi They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They
DGA Interview How to Make a Scary Movie...Sam Raimi on The Gift, by Darrell Hope interview from DGA, March 2001
Sam Raimi discusses Spider-Man Steve Biodrowski interview from Hollywood Gothique (2002)
Film Monthly Interview (2007) Sam Raimi Talks Spider-Man 3... And Beyond, by Paul Fischer from Film Monthly, April 22, 2007
Spider-Man 3 Interviews: Director Sam Raimi | Superhero Hype Superhero Hype interview, April 22, 2007
Sam Raimi Interview - Drag Me to Hell at Comic Con 2008 Video Rebecca Murray video interview from About.com, 2008 (1:39)
Sam Raimi's 'Spider-Man' regrets: 'I would have done everything ... Gina McIntyre interview from The LA Times, May 18, 2009
Dailymotion - Sam Raimi Talks Vampires In Spider-Man 4 - a Film ... FearNET video interview on YouTube (1:09)
Sam Raimi Interview WORLD OF WARCRAFT Movie, Oz, The Hobbit Saturn ... Steve “Frosty” Weintraub video interview from Collider, June 25, 2010 (8:30)
Raimi's first feature, a sensationally bad-taste effort which narrates the rapid decline into demonic mental and physical possession of a clean-cut, all-American holiday party holed up in a mountain Tennessee retreat. The woods come alive, devils possess the living, and Tom Sullivan's amazing make-up effects climax with a final fiery exorcism which makes George Romero look like Playschool. Short on characterisation and plot but strong on atmospheric horror and visual churns, this movie blends comic fantasy (EC Tales) with recent genre gems like Carrie and Texas Chain Saw Massacre to impressive effect.
Countless imitators later, The Evil Dead remains a dizzying bloodbath in which gore proves both nasty and amusing. Setting the template for thousands of subsequent followers, Sam Raimi’s debut film charts the saga of two guys and three girls as they embark on a vacation in a remote forest cabin where, in a creepy dungeon decorated with a torn The Hills Have Eyes poster, they discover the Book of the Dead and an accompanying audio recording. Once played, said tape lets loose the surrounding area’s demons, who proceed to possess the hapless twenty-somethings save for Ash (Bruce Campbell), a sweet, somewhat timid guy who begins the evening giving his main squeeze a necklace and ends it by chopping her head off with a rusty shovel (severing the inflicted’s limbs being the only method of stopping them). Raimi’s rollercoaster cinematography seems no less gimmicky now than it did in 1981, creating a freewheeling vibe that contributes to the goofy comedy that underlies the film’s over-the-top gross-out scenarios, which primarily involve Campbell – in an iconic turn both sweet and terrified – having his face splattered with crimson goo. No serious subtext to be found here, just vigorous love and respect for the simultaneous horror and humor inherent to the genre, here epitomized by an infamous sexual assault carried out by animated tree branches, the chilling sight of girlfriends morphed into milky white-eyed ghouls who taunt victims with nursery rhymes, and endless POV shots that place one directly in the line of Raimi’s projectile-fluid fire.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
Stumbling upon a Book of the Dead that zombifies folks might have in the previous decade pointed toward unearthing the characters' own political unrest; here, it's a green-light for unspooling rivers of gore, oozy but giddily unthreatening. Armed with zero budget and tons of film-school antsyness, Sam Raimi and pals hit the woods for the quintessential shoestring horror hit, mining the ol' chestnut about spelunking youngsters stranded in a log cabin fending off demonic forces till dawn arrives. Bruce Campbell, Dudley Do-Right jaw continually moist with splattered viscera, plays Ash, the kind-of leader, in the sequels upgraded into chainsaw-toting Curly and surly knight, but mostly the pantsy here. The opening session is all ominously scuttling cameras, breaking through windows and darting past trees when not hiding behind a swinging pendulum; once the demons are loose, it's full-on slaughterhouse slapstick. Ellen Sandweiss gets raped by malevolent weeds before picking up where Linda Blair left off in The Exorcist, Betsy Baker morphs into a gurgling, white-eyed bobble-head doll while Hal Delrich hacks possessed girlfriend Sarah York with an ax until blood literally douses the lenses. Limbs are rudely separated from their owners, goo squirts from orifices, and the zombies melt until their creamed-corn guts spill all over Ash's hilariously disbelieving mug. For all the bug-eyed panache, the gremlins-at-the-wheel pyrotechnics get wearying, all the more so for trading the radicalized tropes of '70s horror films for jokey film-class flailing. Still, what sets Raimi apart from the condescending emptiness of his buddies the Coens (Joel, incidentally, is credited as assistant editor here) is his lack of snarky distancing -- power outlets start bleeding, but Raimi is always alongside his characters, preferably as a disembodied track zooming into a screaming mouth.
Evil Dead Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine
Twenty years after its original theatrical release, Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead still feels like the punchiest horror flick this side of a gialli. Made on a shoe-string budget, The Evil Dead is difficult to assess for what initially seems like nothing more than B-movie schlock. Ash (Bruce Campbell) and his friends take a weekend trip to the woods only to stumble across the mysterious Book of the Dead. Spells are unleashed, friends go zombie and Ash is forced to test the limits of his squeamishness. Raimi's script is riotously deadpan, his compositions undeniably breathtaking and inventive. The director relentlessly fashions the film's first half as a creepy-crawly sweat chamber with evil seemingly taking the form of an omniscient, roaming camera. Raimi takes so much joy in poking fun at his five protagonists you might wonder why Kevin Williamson even bothered Screaming. Artist Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is literally raped just outside the film's infamous cabin, busy twigs and branches suggesting horny woods at play. Despite the signs (the difficult-to-start vehicle, the fallen bridge), no one else believes the woods are alive. Ash and his girlfriend Linda (Betsy Baker) share an intimate, peek-a-boo moment through which Ash gives Linda a necklace. When he is later forced to kill her, Raimi takes great joy in referencing this coquettish exchange of affection. Ash is horrordom's most memorable wuss, victim to both a hissing group of crazed friends and to Raimi's lightweight yet burdensome mise-en-scène. Now infamous for its over-the-top gore and cheesy effects sequences, The Evil Dead is most impressive for Raimi's unnerving wide angle work and his uncanny, almost unreal ability to suggest the presence of intangible evil via distant headlights, bleeding light sockets and, in the film's most awesome set piece, a simple game of cards. Raimi actively teases his protagonist for not being a man. Ash may return for the sequel, but The Evil Dead's finale suggests that he was never really up to the challenge.
The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers] Evil Dead Trilogy
DVD Times Anthony Nield, Evil Dead Trilogy
Jerry Saravia review Evil Dead Trilogy
Deep Focus (Bryant Frazer) review [A-] Special Edition
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [4/5] Richard Scheib
eFilmCritic.com review [4/5] Slyder
Classic Horror review Nate Yapp
Shooting Down Pictures » Blog Archive » 933. Evil Dead II (1987 ... Kevin Lee, September 3, 2007
Digital Retribution dvd review Collector’s Edition
The Digital Bits dvd review [Limited Edition] Todd Doogan
Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [2.5/4] Limited Edition
DVD Town (Dean Winkelspecht) dvd review Limited Edition
Cinescape dvd review Anthony C. Ferrante, Limited Edition
DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review Limited Edition
Needcoffee.com - DVD Review Doc, Limited Edition
The Evil Dead: Limited Edition Blu-ray vs. Ultimate Edition DVD Steve Biodrowski from Cinefantastique
Bloody-Disgusting review [5/5] Ryan Daley, Ultimate Edition 3-disc
Twitch (Todd Brown) review Tim Janson, Ultimate Edition 3-disc
DVD Town (Tyler Shainline) dvd review Ultimate Edition 3-disc
DVDActive (Gabriel Powers) dvd review [8/10] Ultimate Edition 3-disc
Home Theater Info (Doug MacLean) dvd review Ultimate Edition 3-disc
KQEK (Mark R. Hasan) dvd review Ultimate Edition 3-disc
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review [Ultimate Edition] Michael P. Dougherty II
FEARnet [Scott Weinberg] Blu-Ray
Mondo Digital EVIL DEAD and ARMY OF DARKNESS
Sam Raimi Bruce Campbell Evil Dead Blu-ray Commentary Clip - UGO.com Matt Patches from UGO, August 17, 2010, including YouTube (1:42)
EVIL DEAD by Sam Raimi Screenplay Online
Not so much a sequel, more a self-parodic reprise, like some black comic nightmare in the damaged brain of sole survivor Ash (Campbell). This time though, tired of cowering in the corner, Ash gets tooled up with a shotgun and a chainsaw, and lets the monsters suck on some abuse. Meanwhile, four other victims - none of whom has ever seen a horror movie - arrive at the shack and start settling in, unaware that they'll be dead by dawn. The dialogue has been pared to the bone, the on-screen gore toned down, and the maniacal laughter cranked up to full volume. Using the same breathless pacing, rushing camera movements and nerve-jangling sound effects as before, Raimi drags us screaming into his cinematic funhouse. Delirious, demented and diabolically funny.
Slant Magazine review Fernando F. Croce
Where the original Evil Dead was a juggling act of film-school antics and genuinely evocative creepiness, Sam Raimi's sequel/remake is full-on gore slapstick, more Tex Avery than Dario Argento. All of the first film is wittily telescoped into the opening five minutes, recapping how Ash's (the inimitable Bruce Campbell) weekend getaway in the woods got interrupted by evil forces unleashed by the Book of the Dead, right down to the ominous final tracking shot straight into a screaming mouth. Daybreak gives the hapless hero some much-needed time-out, but, since the film is shaped as a wide-eyed comedy of bravura kineticism, it doesn't take long for the frenetic splatter gags to kick off again. Indeed, for the most part, Evil Dead 2 places Ash as straight man to Raimi's delirious camerawork, with no prankish stone left unturned—winking setups, rotating sets, disorientating lens tricks, forced perspectives, and blood geysers erupting from shotgun blasts. Raimi delights in using sinister movement to suggest unseen menace: In one showstopper, the demonically skittering camera chases Ash from room to room inside the cabin, crashing through door after door, then losing him along the way and retreating back into the woods. A new batch of victims (including Denise Bixler, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva, and Richard Domeier) eventually turn up, donning monstrous make-up and blank eye-caps, though Raimi, despite the picture's pricier budget, remains dedicated to the original's brand of guerilla ingenuity and retro-chintz. The hero's decapitated beloved rises from her grave to provide a little stop-animation ballet, trees crush houses like beer cans, and a skull-faced demon's neck stretches to the sound of shrieking chimpanzees—fond Ray Harryhausen shout-outs all, but my favorite is Ash facing a chortling deer-head trophy. (A literalization of the title of Pupi Avati's underrated chiller The House With Laughing Windows, maybe?) Yet Raimi's resourceful restlessness ultimately pushes the movie beyond gooey genre pastiche and into uniquely absurd farce. Ash may lose limbs as he chainsaws his way through the installment, but Evil Dead 2 holds together as the giddiest treatment of viscera this side of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive.
Turner Classic Movies review Richard Harlan Smith
With Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987),
writer-director Sam Raimi pulled off a typically impossible feat – he made a
sequel to a cult movie milestone ("the ultimate experience in grueling
terror") that was widely considered to be better than the original.
Initially, Raimi had wanted to press on from the exposure afforded him by The
Evil Dead (1981) to a sequel that would catapult its benighted protagonist
Ash (Bruce Campbell) into the Middle Ages. When moneyman Dino De Laurentiis
came aboard (at the behest of Stephen King, then making his own directorial
debut with the De Laurentiis-produced Maximum Overdrive), the
power behind the newly minted De Laurentiis Entertainment Group demanded a
scenario more in line with that of Raimi's original cult hit. With a budget ten
times that of The Evil Dead, Raimi's follow-up has a more aesthetically
pleasing look and a host of special effects that pays homage to a score of horror
and suspense classics: the canted angles of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
(1920), the anthropomorphic trees of The Wizard of Oz (1939), the fruit
cellar of Psycho (1960), stop motion animation reminiscent of Ray
Harryhausen, the boarded-up windows of Night of the Living Dead (1968),
the "blood flood" from The Shining (1980), the rays of light
streaming in through a sundered wall from Raising Arizona (1985) and
it's anyone's guess whether Ash's perambulating hand was a nod to The Beast
with Five Fingers (1946), The Crawling Hand (1963) or Dr.
Terror's House of Horrors (1965).
With Evil Dead II, Sam Raimi took the opportunity to experiment with time cuts, which advance the action one significant piece at a time in the manner of comic book panels. This technique is most pronounced in the now celebrated setpiece in which Ash amputates his stump with the help of nominal heroine Annie Knowby (Sarah Berry), whose father has unwisely unleashed ancient evil upon the world. In addition to the forward momentum gained by telescoping these events, this editing tack brackets the dumb fun (which so often metastasize into full blown surreal slapstick) with an authorial intelligence that was not lost on moviegoers whose enthusiasm turned Evil Dead II into an instant cult classic rated slightly higher than Raimi's gnarly original. Raimi had grown up on the punishing physical comedy of The Three Stooges and the hyperkinetic cartoons of Tex Avery, which bent the physical world to the demands of animated high comedy. In Evil Dead II, Raimi and crew freshen the shopworn formula of inanimate objects coming to an horrific semblance of life (a gimmick driven into the ground with the trifecta successes of The Exorcist , The Omen and Carrie [both 1976]) by making these items (a rocking chair, a gooseneck lamp, a stuffed deer head) not just so much telekinetic flotsam and jetsam but characters in their own right, who taunt Ash in witchy high octaves, pushing him to hysterical, transcendental laughter even while promising he'll be "dead by dawn."
In a 1988 interview with British journalist Jonathan Ross, Sam Raimi projected for himself an inevitable loss of creativity that would come with the assignment of bigger budgeted studio projects. Indeed, as Raimi became the A-list director-for-hire of such popular successes as A Simple Plan (1998), For Love of the Game (1999) and the Billy Bob Thornton-scripted The Gift (2000), the stately, tasteful manner of his craft seemed a betrayal of his salad days as a DIY splatterpunk using Milk Duds to thicken his bathtub ichor. If Raimi had been suspected by his early fan base of having sold out prior to the New Millennium, his helming of Columbia's mega budget Spider-Man franchise from 2002 on was likely the final coffin nail for the faithful. Yet while these summer blockbusters (the final budget of Spider-Man 3 is calculated to have hit $350 million) seem, at least superficially, to be anathema to the hands-on Raimi aesthetic, there is an obvious and reassuring kinship shared by Ash of The Evil Dead canon and Spider-Man's Peter Parker. We meet both characters on the cusp of adulthood and witness their maturation being interrupted by occult forces, supernatural events that change them physically, complicate their love lives and compel both to rise above their fears and physical limitations to become unlikely and initially unwilling heroes. Although Raimi rarely works in full-on horror these days, Ghost House Pictures, the production company he founded with Evil Dead producer Robert G. Tapert, remains a strong brand in the genre with such box office hits as Boogeyman (2005) and The Grudge (2004) and 30 Days of Night (2007).
The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers] Evil Dead Trilogy
DVD Times Anthony Nield, Evil Dead Trilogy
Jerry Saravia review Evil Dead Trilogy
Classic Horror review Chrissy Derbyshire
Kamera.co.uk review Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell
Juicy Cerebellum (Alex Sandell) review Halloween party pick
eFilmCritic.com review [5/5] Slyder
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [4/5] Richard Scheib
DVD Review e-zine dvd recommendation Mike Long
Cinescape dvd review [Collector's Edition] Steve Biodrowski
The Digital Bits dvd review [Regular and Limited Editions] Florian Kummert
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review [Divimax Edition] Dante A. Ciampaglia
Horror Express review Finn Clark
USA (96 mi) 1990
Dr Westlake (Neeson) is on the verge of perfecting a synthetic skin which conceals disfigurements; the problem is, the skin dissolves in sunlight after 99 minutes. When his laboratory is ransacked and blown up by gangster Durant (Drake), Westlake is left for dead, face down in a vat of caustic chemicals. But he survives (sans visage) as Darkman, an avenging angel who uses temporary masks to impersonate and destroy his enemies, while simultaneously attempting to win back his estranged love (McDormand). Drawing self-consciously on the 'misunderstood monster' tradition of Universal's golden age, Raimi's major studio debut abounds with conflicting ambitions, juggling pathos, horror and incongruous slapstick as it attempts to meld (with variable success) an archaic narrative structure with a kinetic, modern visual style. Neeson's performance encapsulates these contradictions, mixing camp histrionics with moments of touching precision. But the breathtaking action sequences find Raimi in his element: wild, woolly and occasionally wondrous, Darkman has the chaotic charm of untrammelled, undisciplined talent.
I must thank Roger Ebert for recommending Darkman
when it was first released in 1990, when most critics generally panned it. His
praise for Sam Raimi's low budget film intrigued me enough to check it out
before it vanished from the theaters, and a number of scenes have remained in
the long time pleasurable memory zone. Recently re-watching Darkman
on DVD, I find the film continues to hold up as entertaining melodrama and
offers hope for the Spider-Man series.
After two misfires with mainstream releases For Love of the Game and The Gift, it's refreshing to see Raimi taking on the essentially cartoon characters of Darkman and creating a believable universe in a visually rich environment with touches of pathos. Although most Raimi cultists loyally stand by his Evil Dead trilogy in hopes that he'll transform Spiderman into a worthy film, the best indicator of Raimi's ability to work with cartoon material lies with his vastly underrated Darkman.
Liam Neeson (destined to star in Schindler's List three years later) carries the film as Darkman, an identity scientist Peyton Westlake takes on after being horribly burned and left for dead. Westlake has been working on synthetic skin, developed from digitally transforming photographs, but unfortunately the skin breaks up at the 99th minute.
Similar to Hitchcock's protagonists, Westlake is a victim of random circumstance. His girlfriend, Julie (Frances McDormand, six years before she strikes gold in Fargo), discovers compromising papers from her boss that prove extensive corruption and leaves them in Westlake's lab. Mobster Robert Durant (Larry Drake) and his henchmen show up for the papers, blow away Westlake's lab assistant, thrash and trash Westlake and lab, and leave him for dead as the lab explodes in a beautifully filmed fiery inferno.
Alive, but deformed with burns covering 40% of his body, Westlake anonymously is treated in the hospital by removing nerve endings to make his life tolerable. Ironically, rendering him in this manner subjects his mind to high stages of rage and episodes of extreme strength, similar to the Incredible Hulk without changing green, but now he becomes a creature of the shadows—Darkman.
He sets off to win back his girlfriend, but cannot do so in his deformed condition. Using scientific intelligence, Darkman reconstructs his lab, collects photographs of his adversaries, and creates duplicate masks to extract revenge on Durant and his crew of mobsters in plots reminiscent of Mission Impossible that set the bad guys against each other.
This provides some great humor and also establishes another Hitchcockian theme—the idea that evil dwells within us all. Raimi beats us over the head with that theme often, but as a cartoon this is perfectly acceptable—this isn't exactly in the same territory as Notorious, but I can imagine the Master of Suspense enjoying Raimi's work here. The depiction of good and evil within the protagonist demonstrates that Raimi understands how to bring a measure of depth to characters that would be left paper-thin in more traditional treatments. One memorable sequence with the evil Durant's cigar cutter evokes physical reactions in the audience without even showing the blood, and a subsequent parallel scene with an enraged Westlake crunching a carnival worker's fingers further establishes his theme associating our protagonist with his dark side.
Credit the main actors for translating Raimi's screenplay into the flesh. McDormand delivers the goods believably as the loyal girlfriend, conflicted when Westlake apparently dies. Her part could be expanded more, but the film allows Neeson to demonstrate his acting skills to a much fuller degree. His over the top scenes of rage show excellent comic timing, but he shows a great deal of range. The quieter moments with his pained looks add far more sympathy for his character than we'd expect in such a screenplay.
Darkman contains many pleasures that film aficionados will appreciate. Incorporating Chicago locations in the mix and combining warm sunlit open spaces with darker closed in sets, cinematographer Bill Pope (The Matrix) captures great explosive scenes, surreal dream sequences with lots of reds and yellows, and really gloomy scenes in darkened alleyways with the despondent Darkman character.
Overall, this film shows off Sam Raimi's vision and gives the clearest preview of what we can expect of his Spider-Man. Should the large budget movie fail, we can still bring out this far less seen DVD as definitive proof that Raimi remains one of the better directors working in the business. Of course his Evil Dead fans have believed this for years.
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [3.5/5] Richard Scheib
Classic Horror review Jenn Dlugos
FEARnet [Scott Weinberg] Darkman Trilogy
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review [HD-DVD Version] Nicholas Sheffo
High-Def Digest [El Bicho] Blu-Ray
Cinephile Magazine [Richard X] Richard Saad
PopMatters [Bill Gibron] capsule review
Hope Lies at 24 Frames Per Second Adam Batty
Siskel & Ebert (audio)
USA (81 mi) 1993 Director’s Cut (96 mi)
A calculated tilt at the cross-over mainstream audience, this second sequel eschews the hardcore horror of The Evil Dead and the splatter comedy of Evil Dead II, in favour of a swashbuckling comedy. Catapulted back in time, chainsaw-wielding hero Ash (Campbell) joins forces with the inhabitants of a besieged castle - and damsel in distress Sheila (Davidtz) - in their battle against an army of skeleton Deadites. With its stop-motion effects and knockabout humour, this plays more like a Ray Harryhausen version of El Cid than a horror movie, with plenty of slapstick but very little gore.
With the reluctant hero Ash (Bruce Campbell) having been unwillingly sent from his haunted cabin in the woods back to medieval times, the opportunities for camp indulgence in Army of Darkness have been considerably expanded upon from those in the first two Evil Dead films. Looser than the overdrawn original film but not as tight or relentlessly original as the second, this capper to Raimi’s schlock horror trilogy is wicked fun in delightfully bad taste, the visual gags coming fast and cheap as Ash disposes of any possessed creatures that unwisely crosses his path with prowess and brio to spare. Here, the zombies take a backseat to a skeletal army that wages war against the local castle residents, led by a chainsaw and shotgun wielding Ash (“You see this? This is my boom stick”). The feel is fittingly haphazard, moving from one outrageous visual gag set piece to the next without a moment more of screen time dedicated to the necessitated plot than is absolutely necessary. Perhaps no moment of the film is funnier (at least to knowing film geeks, a la Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still) than when Ash, commanded to retrieve a sacred book that can return him to his own time, tries to cover up his failure to remember the magic words needed to do so with perfectly timed ineptitude. With loving references to the legends of King Arthur, Gulliver’s Travels and The Three Stooges abound, Army of Darkness succeeds thanks to its indulgences into the utterly ridiculous.
CINE-FILE: Cine-List - Cine-File.info Kian Bergstrom
Also known as BRUCE CAMPBELL VERSUS ARMY OF DARKNESS, this is the third and, so far, final film in Raimi's saga following the moron Ash (Campbell) as he strives to save the world from the legions of the damned. Dripping with glee, ARMY OF DARKNESS revels in its gore-splattered Deadite lunacy, featuring a plot that's little more than a series of contrivances for visual puns, hackneyed romantic clichés, and action set-pieces of virtuosic, if incoherent, energy. Every poke in the eye, every zombie glare, every threat upon one's edible soul is an opportunity for Raimi's teenage sense of humor to show itself, making this perhaps the most 3 Stooges-inflected action-horror film ever made. Certainly it's the lightest film Raimi's ever made, an effervescent dollop of self-mockery capping off a stage in his career of wild-eyed experiment and go-for-broke invention. This is filmmaking at it's happiest, glorying in the bald capacities of cinema to shrink, duplicate, and transform its actors, to mold and mistreat space, to weirdly stutter and truncate time. Merely getting to move the camera is enough pretext for Raimi to set up an elaborate genre reference or visual gag, and the intricate stupidity of Ash, thrust back in time to Medieval England to fight the zombies he unleashed from the Necronomicon in the previous two (modern day) films is an elaborate counterpoint to his surprisingly badass versatility with a chainsaw and broomstick. In this lead role, Bruce Campbell, long-time muse to Raimi, demonstrates a self-effacing, deeply sensuous performance style that's long been under-recognized. One of the great physicalists of screen acting, Campbell's anti-naturalistic tics, too-careful gestures, and winking, self-aware line readings form a kind of over-saturated scaffold upon which the campy drapery of the narrative hangs. A scene-chewer in the best possible sense, Campbell steals every scene, dominates every shot, never missing an opportunity to deflate the film's artifices or turn his fellow actors' work against them. In the face of his mugging, defamiliarizing body, everyone else plays permanent catch-up. This is the last great Raimi film to date, and a milestone in Campbell's career. "Hail to the King, baby."
Classic Horror review Chrissy Derbyshire
Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness is not a great horror film. Not an auspicious start to any review. Let’s take it one step further. Sam Raimi’s Army of Darkness is not a horror film at all. It’s a madcap comedy, avec zombies – but don’t expect Shaun of the Dead either. This third and (thus far) final film in the Evil Dead series is an amalgam of Three Stooges and Monty Python style comedy antics and groovy Harryhausen-esque special effects, all squeezed into an Evil Dead plot so thin it looks ready to rupture at any moment.
The long-suffering Ash (Bruce Campbell) was, if we remember, transported back in time at the end of Evil Dead II. For those of you who don’t remember, never fear: an inexplicably re-shot flashback sequence will explain all. Suddenly, Ash finds himself responsible for saving the Medieval world from the deadites. This, in true Ash parlance, really pisses him off. Campbell is in fine form here, turning a wispy plot and weak script into a whole that merits its unquestionable cult status. He has more lines in this film (the film being generally a lot more ‘talky’ than the previous two) and, despite having little to work with, really develops the antiheroic, arrogant yet lovable character of Ash.
One aspect of Army of Darkness that might truly be called classic is the playful creativity of the special effects. In one particularly memorable sequence, Ash smashes a mirror, and from the shards spring dozens of reflected mini-Ashes who proceed to attack their original in a most ungrateful manner. Eventually they force Ash to swallow one of their number, causing him to grow an evil twin from his shoulder. One gets the impression that Raimi poured all his comic tastes into the character of ‘Evil Ash’, who is far more silly than he is scary, especially in the hilarious fight scene between Ash and his evil clone.
Then again, the whole concept here is more silly than it is
scary. The deadites, for instance, seem far more inclined to swing a farcical
punch than to swallow anyone’s soul. Resurrected skeletons scream and get blown
up – and if you listen carefully you can hear one utter a whispered threat to
rip off certain tender parts of Ash’s anatomy.
Embeth Davitz is another predominately comic foil as Sheila, Ash’s love of the moment, whose function (like most women in Evil Dead films) appears to be to scream a lot and become possessed. Unlike Evil Ash (also played by Campbell), she is, unfortunately, not very funny at all. Raimi is a miracle-worker in many ways, but Davitz would be better moulded by a carpenter than by a director. Still, her performance and those of some of the other non-actors in this film cannot take away from Bruce Campbell’s no-holds-barred performance. He’s a great physical actor, he works brilliantly with Raimi, and this combination of actor and director will always be classic.
Watch this film with expectations of comedy, and you won’t be disappointed. It’s good fun, even if it ain’t art. However, I would urge you not to expect horror, or you certainly will be disappointed. Finally, if you’re deciding between editions of Army of Darkness, choose a copy that includes the alternative ending. Look out for this cracker of a sequence. It includes the best line in the film and, in my (never humble) opinion, one of the best closing lines in film history.
An alternate ending (shown in Europe and available on the official "bootleg" DVD amongst others) has Ash waking up a century too late in a post-apocalyptic world.
The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers] Evil Dead Trilogy
DVD Times Anthony Nield, Evil Dead Trilogy
RevolutionSF (Kenn McCracken) recommendation Evil Dead: An Appreciation, Evil Dead Trilogy
Jerry Saravia review Evil Dead Trilogy
Army of Darkness – Review & Retrospective Steve Biodrowski from Cinefantastique Online
a wasted life Bryin Abraham
Jay's Movie Blog Jason
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [2/5] Richard Scheib
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review David Milchik
DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Director's Cut] Colin Jacobson
DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review 2-disc Special Edition
Exploitation Retrospect review Dan Taylor
eFilmCritic.com review [4/5] Slyder
Bloody-Disgusting review [3.5/5] The Thinker
Celluloid Dreams Simon Hill
Mondo Digital also reviewing EVIL DEAD
Talking Pictures (UK) review Sweets for the Sweet, by Ed Cooper, also reviewing CANDYMAN, BRAIN DEAD, and HELLRAISER III: HELL ON EARTH
Entertainment Weekly review [C+] Owen Gleiberman
BBC Films review Nick Hilditch
DVDBeaver dvd review Mark Wilson
USA Japan (107 mi) 1995
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
This engagingly hyperbolic homage to the style and revenge fantasies of the spaghetti Western centres on a deadly tournament - organised by Hackman, boss of a township called Redemption - to find the fastest gun in the West. Enter a motley crew, among them Sharon Stone's Eastwood-like interloper, who has a secret agenda of her own... A deadpan black comedy, Sam Raimi's fast-paced movie looks and sounds like a Leone oater but more so. The violence is heightened by an intelligent, often hilarious use of special effects. Stone, who co-produced, is surprisingly effective in the lead, and Hackman's Herod is wonderfully, unrepentantly villainous. Terrific fun.
Sam Raimi, best known for the Evil Dead series, directs this surrealistically action-packed Western (based entirely on a gunfight contest) as if he'd taken the title to heart and slowing down would kill him. Every sequence spills over with visual punchlines, obnoxiously funny zoom-in shots and ferocious one-liners. It's almost too much movie for itself, and protagonist Sharon Stone can't anchor the picture the way it needs; her Clint Eastwood-style sullenness lacks substance. But the gallery of supporting actors, which includes Lance Henriksen, Leonard DiCaprio, Gene Hackman (doing a twisted take on his evil sheriff role from Unforgiven), fill the movie with so much wanton charisma that Stone's performance as the "straight man" actually starts working after a while. It's a weird picture where A-movie and B-movie qualities are blended at such a high velocity that you start to lose track of which is which.
VideoVista review Donald Morefield
A lone rider arrives in the western town of Redemption,
seeking vengeance for her murdered father - a marshal who challenged the
criminals that killed him. Back in the mid-1990s, following her attainment of
stardom in Basic
Instinct, in between action roles in Total Recall (opposite
Schwarzenegger), and The Specialist (with Stallone), a 'wild west'
picture with Sharon Stone was quite an enticing prospect. Here, she plays 'the
Lady', later identified as Ellen, a novice gunfighter joining a duelling
contest organised by town despot Herod (Gene Hackman, performing a cheekily
extravagant variation of his Oscar-winning 'Little Bill' Daggett supporting
character in Eastwood's Unforgiven).
For a slick western thriller that also counts Clint Eastwood's seminal High Plains Drifter (1973) among its varied influences, perhaps this particularly astute casting of Hackman as the chief villain, might be viewed as one borrowing too many from Eastwoods' oeuvre... But director Sam Raimi, and screenwriter Simon Moore, have crafted such an obviously affectionate homage to both stylised 'spaghetti' westerns, and traditional Hollywood horse operas, and then blessed the film with simmering undercurrents of both femininity and feminism (Stone's Ellen is a notable amalgam heroine - seemingly inspired by Calamity Jane, Annie Oakley, and Jane Fonda's Cat Ballou), that even such blatantly developed influences, aesthetic and narrative, do not, in any significant way, detract from this film's board appeal to mainstream cinema tastes.
Other principal castings for The Quick And The Dead - of Russell Crowe, whose stardom was clearly ascendant back then; and the 20-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio, just ahead of his leading role in Baz Luhrmann's modernist Shakespeare, Romeo + Juliet (1996), plus extremely talented supporting actors such as Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Tobin Bell, with superb veteran, Pat Hingle - provided further evidence of the filmmakers' savvy in assembling team players capable of roundly expressing peculiar individualities for their often ironically-mannered iconic western roles. In fact, every key role in the unfolding drama of sudden death is perfectly balanced for easy recognition by genre fans of several wild-west archetypes; from the undertaker Doc Wallace (Roberts Blossom), and victimised saloon-girl Katie (Olivia Burnette), to grungy outlaw, 'Scars' (Mark Boone Jr), and local sleaze, Dred (Kevin Conway), a rapist and paedophile.
It's not immediately clear, in the timetable of clock-strike scheduled gunfights, who is most likely to end up shooting the hateful villains, or the boastful gunslingers (a Sioux Indian, named Spotted Horse, claims invulnerability to bullets; Henriksen's charismatic trick-shot artist, 'Ace' Hanlon, is fatally exposed as an unskilled fraud by Herod's expertise), but there are few genuine surprises here. It's to be expected that Herod will manipulate proceedings to such an extent that he ends up shooting his immodest son 'the Kid' (a rather unsympathetic DiCaprio), and that the villain is wily enough to pit reluctant hero Cort (Crowe, underplaying almost to the point of invisibility), against vulnerably-anxious heroine Ellen, necessitating their rule-breaking ruse to counteract and prevent a wicked twist of fate that Herod plans for them.
Raimi employs numerous camera tricks or displays of prosthetics to enhance, with consummate wit and savage humour, the wounding and killing scenes. This cannot be praised as a modern classic of the western genre, but neither is it a complete flop (as its US box-office receipts had suggested). It's unlikely to be found on any critic's top 10 listing of cult movies, either. The Quick And The Dead is merely a competent production, a lively mix of clichés and talent, which is quite satisfactory by anyone's standards.
Raging Bull Movie Reviews review Vanes Naldi, Dan McGowan, and Mike Lorefice
Movie House Commentary Johnny Web
The Digital Bits dvd review Todd Doogan
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Robert Edwards) dvd review Superbit Edition
Moda Magazine dvd review Brian Orndorf, Superbit Edition
DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Blu-Ray Version] Colin Jacobson
Entertainment Weekly review [C] Owen Gleiberman
BBC Films review Matt Ford
USA France Germany Great Britain Japan (121 mi) 1998
Time Out review Geoff Andrew
In fiction at least, no plan is ever simple, especially if crime's involved. So when the chance discovery of a wrecked light aircraft on a snowy Minnesota nature reserve places $4m in easy reach of farmer Hank (Paxton), his dim brother Jacob (Thornton), and the latter's ethically challenged buddy Lou (Briscoe), they should surely have known not even to think about keeping it. Still, they're only human, and soon they're arguing over how to hang on to the cash, without arousing the suspicion of friends and families, and desperately trying to conceal the crimes that follow, as if by destiny, hard on their initial lapse from honesty. Raimi takes the old story about dishonour among thieves and renders it fresh through the calm, cool, steady assurance of the telling. The aura of familiarity extends even to the snowscapes, but the sturdy characterisation and taut plotting, which charts the progress towards deadly infighting with all the rigour of a philosophical syllogism, make for an impressively lean thriller.
Potential viewers of A Simple Plan should not be deterred by those trailers and stills of Billy Bob Thornton, in a major supporting role, wearing glasses duct-taped together over his nose and an old knit cap that plasters greasy hanks of hair down around his face. These promotionals, exacerbated by a goofy grin filled with seriously yellowed teeth, suggest that the writer and star of One False Move and Sling Blade may have finally strayed too far over the line into caricature. As it turns out, in A Simple Plan Thornton brings very quietly and subtly to life one of the most interesting tragicomic characters in recent American film. The performance is one of the chief surprises and satisfactions among many in this arresting morality play, adapted for the screen by Scott B. Smith from his best-selling novel, directed by Sam Raimi, with cinematography by Alar Kivilo, design by Patrizia von Brandenstein, music by Danny Elfman, and an acting ensemble that includes Bill Paxton, Brent Briscoe, and Bridget Fonda.
A Simple Plan is a deceptively simple film in which we are reminded – as we too infrequently are by many current films – that drama is not only not afraid of simplicity but recognizes the mastery of it as an essential step toward artistry in the form. Focused tightly on relatively few characters, its storyline correspondingly taut, A Simple Plan sustains the conviction of its good script and actors, its intelligent direction, and strong visual elements; its exploration of good and evil goes deep rather than wide. It is precisely the creative team’s determination not to cover their commercial demographics by throwing in extraneous characters, plot lines, and cinematic kitchen sinks that makes this project refreshing and, despite a few flaws, has earned it several nods in the early awards competitions. The film is involving, disturbing, and highly entertaining.
Set during the long winter in a small town isolated among the forested hills and rolling farmlands of eastern Minnesota, the film’s tone of irony is established immediately. The snowy fields are clean and white, the hills etched softly in the pale sunlight, the stands of trees rise with the timeless authoritarian grace of nature. It is the human figures that cast the only ambiguous shadows in this pristine landscape, and the movie wastes no time in letting us know that, as in any good tragedy, it’s often the good, moral, and happy man – played here by Paxton in his best role and performance to date – who casts the longest shadow.
In part because of the corkscrew-like circumscription of Scott’s screenplay and in part because of Kivilo’s evocatively stark cinematography, A Simple Plan has the odd sensibility of a dark Jacobean drama laced with the mordant humor and ironic fatedness of some medieval Norse saga. There are some important surprises in the story, but much more significantly this is a tale of inevitabilities. Playwright Arthur Miller has said of his Death of a Salesman that the audience response he wanted to incite “was not ‘What happens next and why?’ so much as ‘Oh, God, of course.’” The “why” of A Simple Plan comes early: Hank (Paxton), his brother Jacob (Thornton), and Jacob’s buddy Lou (Briscoe) discover a small plane that had apparently crashed in the woods some time ago; its pilot is long dead and stashed onboard is $4.3 million. “It’s the American Dream in a goddamned gym bag!” crows Lou. “You work for the American Dream,” protests Hank. But he doesn’t protest long. Though we know where this is headed, the “what happens nexts” of this tale of corruption keep the suspense hissing along like a long-fused bomb. But it is specifically the “Oh, God, of course” toward which A Simple Plan ineluctably moves – fueled by the unadorned humanity of Paxton’s and Thornton’s performances – that separates this film from the pack of postmodern noir drivel and gives it staying power.
Sight and Sound review Philip Kemp from Sight and Sound, June 1999
Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan may resemble other recent small-town crime films, but its emotional power and subtlety put it in a class of its own
Early on in A Simple Plan, a man cautiously enters the fuselage of a crashed plane. The pilot is sitting in his seat, his head shaking as if in pain or incredulity. Thinking he's still alive, the newcomer speaks to him and starts forward. His movement causes the fuselage to tip, lurching him forward into the pilot - the crows that have been feeding on the dead man's face erupt in a tumult of angry squawks and stabbing beaks.
It's easy to guess how the Sam Raimi we know and love, splatter-happy director of The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, Darkman and The Quick and the Dead, would have built on that scene. Easy to imagine the in-your-face shocks, the crow-haunted nightmares, the vengeful zombie with a half-eaten visage chewing its way up the cast list. The humour would have been gleefully ghoulish, the characters and violence pure cartoon, the genre conventions teased and twanged and mercilessly mocked. But A Simple Plan is the work of a very different Sam Raimi, a film-maker who here austerely rejects hyped-up camera tricks and jokey shock effects and creates living, complex characters whose fates we care about. The result is easily his finest film to date.
The subtlety and the pervasive sense of unease are matched from the start by Danny Elfman's insidious score (hailed by Paul Tonks in Gramophone magazine as "the most daringly original score from Hollywood in years"). Like Raimi, Elfman has come a long way from his cartoonish beginnings (a frequent Tim Burton collaborator, he scored the first two Batman films and A Nightmare Before Christmas). Here, he sets up the chill, edgy mood with an off-key duet between detuned piano and banjo, like a distorted reflection of small-town rural values; they're joined by an eerie ensemble of flutes, alto through bass. By the time the three men (Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Brent Briscoe) stand beside the wrecked plane, debating what to do with the stash of loot fallen literally from the sky, there's little doubt where we're headed. Things are already going badly wrong, and they're going to get worse.
The corrosive effect of an ill-gotten windfall on ordinary lives is no new theme, of course (Shallow Grave, to look no further), and the use of bleak, near-monochrome Minnesota snowscapes - in fact shot in Wisconsin, since the Minnesota winter turned disobligingly mild - inevitably recalls the Coen brothers' Fargo. But Raimi's film never feels derivative, thanks not least to the strongly individualised performances he's drawn from his lead actors. Paxton proves once again that he's one of the most underrated (and understated) actors in Hollywood, his Hank a "nice, sweet, normal guy" horrified to find himself sucked down to disaster by one brief capitulation to his own worse instincts. As his brother Jacob, Thornton gives a masterfully gauged portrait of a man whose emotional insights - which are as acute as anybody's - are constantly wrong-footed by his mental limitations. His performance is all the more moving for never lapsing into the sentimentality that tinged his similar role in Sling Blade. Only Bridget Fonda, as Hank's wife Sarah, doesn't quite come together as a character - not the actress' fault but the script's since it requires her to switch a little too abruptly from moral revulsion to all-out avidity.
But A Simple Plan shares with Fargo something more than a use of rural winter backdrops: its stern, absolute morality, as starkly black and white as crows against a snowfield. An alternative title, in fact, might have been that of the film which gave Paxton his previous best role: One False Move. Hank's single moment of weakness, allowing himself to be persuaded by the less-grounded Jacob and their third accomplice Lou (Briscoe) instead of holding out for integrity, leads with horrifying inexorability into the abyss, making their destruction complete. Utterly different in tone as Raimi's earlier films may have been, they held in common with this latest work a sense of the fearful flimsiness of everyday normality. Just one rent in the fabric of things and darkness is let loose.
But while the plot moves with inevitable momentum to its dénouement, it's far from predictable. Central to the film's dramatic impact is the way its moral centre shifts, quite unexpectedly, from Hank to Jacob. To begin with Hank clearly occupies the moral high ground: he's honest Mr Normal, the guy we identify with, while Jacob's eager venality aligns him with the shiftless Lou. When Lou describes the cash as, "the American Dream in a goddam gymbag", Hank retorts (a touch pompously), "You work for the American Dream, you don't steal it." But as Hank embarks on his slow slide into perdition, it's Jacob, a seemingly gormless figure with his protruding teeth and cheap taped-up glasses, who takes on the role of conscience. By the time he asks, "Hank, d'you ever feel evil? I do", he is confronting the questions his brother is desperately trying to evade.
The key point of transition is the scene when Hank, blackmailed by Lou to hand over some of the cash, comes to persuade his brother to help him gain counter-leverage by framing Lou. As the scene progresses it emerges that for all his slowness of brain, Jacob's scruples are finer than Hank's. Where Hank sees Lou as a contemptible lowlife against whom any tactics are justified, Jacob sees a friend he is being asked to betray. His distress as Hank piles on the pressure is pitiable, and he gives in only when offered the one bribe he can't resist: that Hank will help him regain their father's farm.
Before Raimi took it on, A Simple Plan was to have been directed by John Boorman. (A scheduling conflict with The General obliged him to withdraw.) It may well have been this transfer of moral stature that attracted Boorman to the project; one can imagine the film as a snowbound counterpart to Boorman's Deliverance, another study of everyday guys destroyed by a headlong train of events, and of an individual's self-image (Jon Voight then, Paxton now) fractured and degraded under pressure. But Raimi makes the film his own, carrying over from his previous work the sense of encroaching paranoia as formerly solid ground starts to give way beneath the feet and the avenues of escape are blocked off one by one.
Scott B. Smith, scripting from his own novel, charts his characters' descent into hell with remorseless control and impeccable narrative logic. At each step it's made clear how, at that panic-stricken moment and with no benefit of hindsight, these people could hardly have done other than they did. With each turn of the screw the options narrow down, until Hank, broken and weeping, a gun in his hand, finds himself forced into committing the final, lethal act of destruction. His grief is the more lacerating since by doing so he shatters the only thing to emerge from the grim events, a new-found closeness to his formerly estranged brother.
A Simple Plan is bookended by Hank's voice-over. At the outset he reflects how, despite the dullness of his daily round, a man like him should feel blessed in having "a wife he loves, a decent job, friends and neighbours who respect him." At the end, looking back on the betrayals and deaths, the ambitions raised and crushed, the ruin of that modest measure of contentment, he muses sombrely: "There are days when I manage not to think of anything at all. But those days are few and far between." There's more unbearable anguish in those few spare words than in all the gore and mayhem of Raimi's previous output.
The Goblin’s dilemma in Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and Spider-Man Boyd White and Tim Kreider from Jump Cut, Summer 2003
World Socialist Web Site review David Walsh
Film Freak Central review Bill Chambers
Movie Reviews UK review [4/5] Michael S. Goldberger
Plume Noire review Fred Thom
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review Arthur Lazere
Ruthless Reviews review Erich Schulte
Mondo Digital also reviewing THE GIFT
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Owen Gleiberman
The Boston Phoenix review Peter Keough
With the stir and crash of Elfman's opening theme, the vertiginous weave of the credit crawl and the hardbitten noir voice-over ('Who am I? Are you sure you want to know?'), this accomplished blockbuster announces itself as a stylish piece of pop myth-spinning. Director and writer afford the old Marvel comic strip the reverence film-makers used to reserve for the Scriptures - which is not to suggest that they miss the fun of it. Every inch the nerd's nerd, Maguire is adroitly cast as Peter Parker, a brainy orphan with a suppressed wild streak and a lot of growing up to do. When the worm turns (courtesy of a GM spider bite), his elation is palpable, a testosterone rush which sends him sky-high. The first thing is to score some greenbacks to impress the red-head next door (Dunst). Meanwhile. Dafoe's arms inventor, Norman Osborn, is the fly in the ointment, trying on his own altered ego - the Green Goblin - to test-Spider-boy's moral mettle. Despite the movie's solid storytelling virtues, it must be admitted that the action spectacular scenes are a somewhat disappointing, and that Dunst is little more than an old-style scream queen.
Slant Magazine review Ed Gonzalez
Everyone wants to be a superhero, even Stan "The Man" Lee. On the April 29th episode of The Simpsons, Lee was convinced he could turn himself into the Incredible Hulk if he pulled a Homer Simpson fit of rage. Poor Lee. Screwed by Matt Groening just when he got the chance to see himself all green and greased up for his fanboys. As played by the perpetually angst-ridden Tobey MaGuire, Spider-Man is less cocky webslinger than rebel-without-a-cause. No, Spidey ain't no wuss. As envisioned by director Sam Raimi, Lee's hyphenated superhero is an existential geek tortured by his superpowers. When a super arachnid bites Peter Parker on a class trip to a hi-tech gene splicing facility, he's kick-driven past that final leg of his adolescent cycle and wakes up with the stud body it takes everyone else half a lifetime to sculpt. Amid the muscle mass, Peter is still a quintessential dork. "Don't be ashamed of who you are," says Uncle Ben not long before irony shoots the wise man in the heart. Spider-Man is a superhero caper cleverly disguised as a coming-of-age saga. With great power comes great responsibility so Peter must negotiate more than silk-clogged pores when the Green Goblin (a carefully campy Willem Dafoe) goes bump in the night. Raimi's millenium Spider-Man is both sensitive and realistically self-serving, rescuing women from rapists but never forgetting that he's got bills to pay. Spidey also does his own PR work, saving a toddler from a fire after the city calls for his arrest. He may be too late to save New York City from Osama Bin Laden (see the film's awesome WTC wink) but Spider-Man is still needed, even if Raimi's New Yorkers treat their superheroes like yesterday's fad. Spider-Man is cheesy and drags at two hours, but Raimi does right by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original creation via an old-fashioned comic-book aesthetic worn on Kirsten Dunst's bright red hair, the Daily Bugle newsroom pyrotechnics and Aunt May's prayers to God. In the end, Spider-Man delivers New York from evil, stares at the face of a selfishly earned moral view and, during the film's bittersweet finale, learns that it sucks being a teenage superhero in love.
Handing Sam Raimi $130 million and the lucrative Spider-Man franchise was anything but a sure bet. Yes, it was a smart move given Raimi's undeniable talent and inherent affection for the material, but the guy hasn't exactly been a box-office dynamo. Moreover, I haven't had much use for anything he's directed since his early masterpiece The Evil Dead, save for his tense A Simple Plan. There are fans who argue that Darkman is a terrific comic-book movie, but I'm not among them, and he was unable to draw any flavor out of genre gimmes like The Quick and the Dead and The Gift.
What a relief, though, that he stood at the helm of this film, investing it with the proper degree of respect for Spider-Man's origin story, a great contemporary mythology. In order to sell this stuff, you have to play it incredibly straight. The result is a wonderful blast of nostalgia; the fancy digital effects that allow Raimi to fashion the kind of web-slinging sequences that seemed impossible to put on film just a decade ago turn out to be essential to setting the film's giddy mood, but simultaneously trivial. In comparison to the disarmingly retro characters, the life lessons delivered with a conviction that's gone missing from the movies, and the breathlessly melodramatic romance at the story's core, they're window dressing and filler.
In case you're completely unfamiliar with this stuff: Spider-Man is Peter Parker, a geeky honor-student-with-few-friends type who's bitten by an unusual spider and subsequently develops superhuman strength, the ability to climb walls, and a cool "spider sense" that warns him of impending danger. The Marvel Comics version was always sort of a Superman knock-off-Parker even works as a newspaper photographer, echoing Clark Kent's career as a reporter-with the key difference that Parker wasn't just mild-mannered, like Kent, but was actually an ordinary schlep. And, boy, did creator Stan Lee beat him up. Being a Marvel superhero was never a piece of cake, and the early issues of The Amazing Spider-Man were full of loss and mourning.
Tobey Maguire, with a poker face punctuated by sad yet dreamy eyes, plays the character to near-perfection just by showing up. Kirsten Dunst plays Mary Jane, for whom Peter carries a torch, with a dash of pathos adding a smidge of depth to her reliable girlishness. And the equally dependable Willem Dafoe plays Norman Osborne with the supernatural aplomb that he brought to such characters as Max Schreck and Jesus. It's in the scenes where Dafoe has manic, staring-into-the-mirror conversations with his villainous persona, the Green Goblin, that Raimi takes his Spider-Man closest to the edge-and gets a massive payoff for taking the risk.
Screenwriter David Koepp has made some changes to the comic-book continuity in a bid to streamline affairs-notably combining two female characters into one and giving Spider-Man organic web shooters instead of the science-project contraptions Peter assembled in the comics-but has wisely maintained the cornpone stylings of the original, including the gentle presence of the elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben as Spider-Man's foster parents and the "With great power comes great responsibility" tagline that defined Stan Lee's ambitions for the character. Indeed, the film carries that lesson to unexpectedly heartbreaking lengths. Like The Lord of the Rings, Spider-Man is grandly, emotionally affecting in a way that it had started to seem that Hollywood blockbusters never would be again.
So why isn't this, like, A-plus material? For one thing, while the action scenes are admittedly virtuousic-especially for comic-book fans who have long imagined how this sort of material might be translated intact to film-they're also utterly phony. That Spider-Man gets so much mileage out of its human characters makes it that much more jarring when Tobey Maguire turns abruptly into a cartoon. More significantly, for all its virtues, Spider-Man as a film is missing a strong personality of its own. Raimi seems to have directed mainly by getting the hell out of the way. Sure, some of the touches-like the shots of Peter teaching bully Flash Thompson a well-deserved lesson by kicking, repeatedly, directly into the camera lens-have the startling energy of vintage Raimi, but his generally vivid, in your-face style seems finally to have been mostly subsumed by the rigors of studio filmmaking.
When the resulting film is this good, I can't complain too much-it just feels as though it's been wiped clean of directorial fingerprints on the way into the camera (and the digital-effects workstations), and I prefer movies that feel a little more handcrafted. Those cavils aside, Spider-Man is almost as exciting a kick-off for a summer movie season as we could hope for. (And George Lucas will have a lot to live up to when Attack of the Clones opens on May 16.)
Sight and Sound review Kim Newman from Sight and Sound, July 2002
The Goblin’s dilemma in Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and Spider-Man Boyd White and Tim Kreider from Jump Cut, Summer 2003
The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers] Spider Man Trilogy
DVD Verdict - The High Definition Trilogy (HD DVD) [Dennis Prince] Spider Man Trilogy
Movie ram-blings (Ram Samudrala) review Spider Man Trilogy
World Socialist Web Site review Alex Lefebvre
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review review [2.5/5] Richard Scheib
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review Arthur Lazere
Ruthless Reviews review Jonny Lieberman
DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Superbit Edition] Colin Jacobson
DVD Journal Damon Houx, 2-discs
The Digital Bits dvd review [Widescreen Special Edition] Todd Doogan, 2-discs
Needcoffee.com review Widge
hybridmagazine.com review Zack Schenkkan
Talking Pictures (UK) review Jen Johnston
Newsweek (David Ansen) review He's Got The World On A String, May 6, 2002
Newsweek (David Ansen) review Movies: Spy Vs. Spy, June 10, 2002
Plume Noire review Fred Thom
Bright Lights Film Journal review Alan Vanneman (capsule review)
BBC Films review Neil Smith
The Boston Phoenix review Gary Susman
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review William Arnold
DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version] Gary W. Tooze
State of the art
special effects film, complete with explosions and flying debris all about,
multiple car crashes, and hysterical, panic-ridden street bystanders who scream
while chunks of buildings fly every which way, and huge parts of the city get
demolished. There is even an elevated
train derailment shot partially in
Within this predictable format, there are several slow and quiet moments of poignancy, as Maguire is hesitant, circumspect and humbled by his awesome responsibilities, even losing his powers from time to time as he questions who he is, whether he just wants to be a man, or live with his extraordinary responsibilities which prevent him from living an ordinary life, just like apprentice witch Kiki in the Miyazaki classic KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE. Maguire’s reluctance prevents him from developing a relationship with the woman of his dreams, Mary Jane, played in her usual whiny, self-centered manner by Kirsten Dunst, who here, with her vacuous stare, resembles a silent movie siren, complete with getting tied up at the end, as if on the railroad tracks before an oncoming train, and true to type, an explosive wreck does occur where she needs to be rescued by the hero. However, what’s interesting is there are scenes that go against type, several where the super hero is seen as vulnerable and even (gasp) unmasked, where someone in the crowd acknowledges, “He’s just a kid.” There is a level of complexity here that can be emotionally gripping, and there is a flowing majesty to the Spider-Man whirling through the stratosphere flying from building to building. If you can get past all the violence and the loud, horrid soundtrack with its chorus of neverending sorrows, there’s a kinetic energy to the whole experience with moments of genuine pathos.
What’s a superhero to do when he fancies – nay, loves – a
girl but there’s a whole load of crime to fight in the big, bad metropolis?
Peter Parker (Tobey
Maguire) hits a mid-career existential crisis in this superior follow-up to
the original, and the result is all the more interesting for it. Sure, Spidie
still emits goo from his wrists and swings through the streets in pursuit of
comic book criminals (there’s no terrorist threat in this New York City), but
he does so with a heavy heart. Superman was always most intriguing when he was
battling his own powers – cowering at the sight of Kryptonite or drunkenly
flicking peanuts at bartenders in ‘Superman 3’. Now, poor old Parker joins the
line-up of good guys having a crisis. He’s fed up and depressed. Hell, he
doesn’t even know if he wants to be a crimefighter anymore, goddammit! Welcome
to twenty-first-century America; where even superheroes need a shrink.
The problem? Sweet old Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst) is still on the scene, tempting Parker to renege on his earlier commitment to duty over domesticity. But there’s trouble brewing in the world of science: maverick nuclear physicist Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina) accidentally turns himself into an eight-limbed, metallic creature who looks pretty nifty in a black leather coat and sunglasses. Molina makes a great bad guy; less of a caricature than Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and more menacing as a result of scrimping on the camp histrionics.
It’s not all neuroses and nuclear science. Two centrepiece showdowns between Octavius (or ‘Doc Ock’ as the Daily Bugle tags him) and Spider-Man – the first on a speeding subway train, the second on a derelict pier – make for excellent, gripping viewing. All in all, this sequel is a blockbuster with both a heart and a brain. And Raimi leaves the door wide open for the next, hopefully welcome instalment.
Kamera.co.uk review Ian Haydn Smith
US critics have been so ecstatic in their praise of Spiderman 2, it seemed all-too-inevitable that the film would prove a disappointment when it finally arrived in the UK: another over-egged blockbuster, like last summer's Hulk, whose triumph of narrative complexity, which favoured ambiguity over conventional Manichean characterisation, was undermined by a botched ending and a ridiculous realisation of Bruce Banner's oversized alter-ego. (At least Ang Lee's offering fared better than the lacklustre adaptation of Alan Moore's 'League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'). In his review of the film, Roger Ebert claimed that Sam Raimi had not only created the best comic hero film since the trend became fashionable again in 1978, (following the release of Richard Donner's Superman), but also one that desrved to transcend its targeted summer blockbuster market and appeal to more refined cinema-going tastes.
So amidst such hyperbole, it is a pleasure to report that Spiderman 2 is actually very good. A more rounded and satisfying entertainment than its predecessor, its characters have a depth rarely seen in summer films, and those expecting thrilling set pieces will marvel at the battles on the face of a skyscraper and on top of a subway train. Gone are the moments where the webbed-wonder looked ill-matched with the background against which he had been animated. In its place are impressively staged fight sequences across the city skyline. Punctuating these are moments of pathos, as we watch Peter Parker attempting to cope with ordinary life; no mean feat when you've been up all night fighting crime and saving lives.
The film's major strength is its finely-tuned script. From a story co-written by Michael Chabon, whose novels are well-versed in the stylised world of comic book storytelling ('The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay' is a wonderful example of a novel that has its cake and eats it – revelling in the pleasures of comic hero lore while at the same time debunking the notion of these myths and poking fun at their heroic foibles), Alvin Sargent's screenplay takes great pleasure in exploring Peter Parker/Spiderman's troubled existence. The opening half hour feels more like a male version of 'My So-called Life', detailing Parker's attempts to hold down a job, continue his studies at college, pay the rent and look after his aunt, all the time ensuring that life is safe in the metropolis. Far from simulating 'nerdiness' the way Clark Kent does in order to cover his true identity, Parker is one of life's genuine losers. Indecision, embarrassment and bad timing ensure he is seen by all as a joke. It's only when he is unmasked in front of a group of subway commuters, shocked by how young he looks, that his awkwardness becomes understandable. Unlike other super heroes, Spiderman is a fledgling, whose powers and temperament are still adjusting to the hormonal imbalances that make most teenagers' lives hell.
This awkwardness permeates the all-too-believable relationship between Parker and Mary-Jane. Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst offer relaxed, unshowy performances, whose ordinariness makes them accessible and likeable, and which has you rooting for them from start to finish. Dunst in particular is wonderful. In a cinema overcrowded with conveyor belt starlets, her persona harks back to an earlier age of screen idols, whose individuality, both in performance and appearance, transformed them from actress to idol. Unusually mature for her years, Dunst's choice of roles has only enhanced her image: enigmatic and original amidst the airbrushed world of Lohans, Biels, Olsens and Duffs.
Sargent's script also fleshes out the support characters. May Parker (Rosemary Harris) plays to the film's core values of responsibility and moral strength in the face of adversity and self-interest, and also makes for a credible – and perhaps cinema's first – septuagenarian action character. James Franco's Harry Osborn is a much darker and tortured soul, with the film's coda offering a glimpse of the story to come in part three. And as Doc Oc, Alfred Molina makes for a worthy adversary. Playing him with a mixture of charm, menace and barely suppressed hysteria, he is a more rounded and entertaining villain than Green Goblin, his prosthetic limbs transforming him into one of cinemas more distinctive megalomaniacs.
It's unlikely that a better film will hit our screens this summer. Raimi, like Peter Jackson, has lost none of the mischievousness of his earlier work in moving to a larger canvass. That both have allowed a degree of sentimentality to creep in is forgivable, considering their achievement. Whether you like their films or not, both have visualised what Michael Chabon called 'the inspirations and lucubrations of five hundred ageing boys dreaming as hard as they could'.
Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 , from a screenplay by Alvin Sargent, based on a screen story by Alfred Gough, Miles Millar and Michael Chabon (and the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko), turns out to be surprisingly and delightfully superior to Mr. Raimi's first Spider-Man (2002). But you don't have to take my word for it. Since I never aspired, even in my grouchy childhood years, to be a comic-book connoisseur-least of all comic books about superheroes-at the recent press screening of Spider-Man 2 , I enlisted the services of two pre-teen consumer consultants, Ezra and Fallon. With the consent of their parents, also in attendance, I asked them which edition of Spider-Man they preferred. They both came down on the side of Spider-Man 2 , which surprised me somewhat, since I'd imagined the opinions of youngsters and adults might diverge regarding the two versions-after all, Spider-Man 2 is much more a grown-up love story than its predecessor.
From the beginning, Spider-Man the superhero has enjoyed an edge over his comic-book superhero predecessors, Superman and Batman. For one thing, Spider-Man is not nearly as forbiddingly omnipotent. Indeed, in the movie, he is strikingly vulnerable-we get to see him in a state of powerlessness and helplessness as he's tossed around like a rag doll by the octopus-like tentacles of arch-menace-to-civilization Dr. Octopus, a position of mortal jeopardy we don't really see Superman or Batman in.
As a child, I recall experiencing something akin to an erotic thrill whenever someone I liked onscreen was saved at the last minute from a dire fate. Both Spider-Man/Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and the love of his life, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst), find themselves occasionally on the edge of extinction, a fate they face with superheroic sangfroid. This is the grace note of their final union-Mary Jane Watson is found to be worthy as much as he is found brave enough to make a commitment to his sweetheart, despite the danger in which his crime-fighting prowess places her. We're back in the Middle Ages of knights and their lady loves, albeit with Spidey and his sweetheart displaying a romantic intensity few medieval movies ever attain.
There are several possible factors to explain why Spider-Man 2 took off so spectacularly from the unfulfilled premises and promises of the original Spider-Man . Mr. Raimi has clearly experienced a deepening vision of his subject, enhanced by the screenwriting prowess of Messrs. Sargent and Chabon. The maturing roles of Mr. Maguire and Ms. Dunst, and the electrifying expansion of the quasi-maternal Aunt May character by Rosemary Harris, has also added greater depth to the original comic-book characterizations. Perhaps the greatest boon to the Spider-Man sequel is the curiously masochistic pseudo-visionary villain, Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), with his dream of perpetual fusion, who becomes the tabloid-headlined "Doc Ock" with his diabolically energized steel tentacles. Add to this the throwaway pathos of Broadway superstar Donna Murphy as the ill-fated Rosalie Octavius and the sweetly old-fashioned B-picture ambitiousness of having Mary Jane Watson "star" in a small Greenwich Village production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (which Louis Kronenberger once brilliantly summarized as "everything counts and nothing matters").
I must confess, there was a stretch in the film when I felt a childish gee-whiz exasperation with the way Spider-Man was perpetually mistreated and misunderstood by the very people he was trying to save from criminal harm. As Peter Parker, he's unable to hold a job either as a pizza-delivery boy or as a photographer for nasty newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons), whose malicious diatribes against Spider-Man make Charles Foster Kane look saintly by comparison.
Worst of all, Peter Parker continues standing up Mary Jane despite all her overtures and advances. She finally seems to give up on Peter and starts a whirlwind romance with a glamorous astronaut who just happens to be John Jameson (Daniel Gillies), the son of Spider-Man's bitter enemy. Here, the essential intelligence of the film is confirmed by its refusal to discredit Mary Jane's suitor in any way. Indeed, John Jameson is not only drop-dead gorgeous as a future husband for Mary Jane, but he even seems to have a sense of humor. If Mary Jane is to leave him at the altar (as so many of her Hollywood sisters did in the past), she'll have to do it on her own and without any encouragement from Peter or the scriptwriters. I wouldn't have thought that today's children would embrace Hollywood's elective affinities, but I seem to have been wrong.
I now think that I was far from being alone in my disappointments with Mr. Raimi's first Spider-Man film for not resolving the romance between Peter and Mary Jane. My more cynical friends assured me that the two had to be kept apart for the sake of the inevitable sequels. After all, does Clark Kent ever marry Lois Lane? Get real. Well, folks, Mr. Raimi and his collaborators have gone and done it, and I, for one, am happy they have. This may create a problem for Spider-Man 3 , but as a comparatively impoverished movie lover, I don't have to face any stockholders with explanations as to why I risked the commercial viability of a future production.
Lest I drown in my own euphoria, let me reassert my professional skepticism: I was less than ecstatic about the gimmicky metal appendages attached to the villainous Dr. Octopus, which my esteemed colleague, Gene Shalit, aptly described as an Erector Set. Fortunately, Mr. Molina is charismatically ambiguous enough to project complex feelings despite his ridiculous encumbrances. His not entirely unsympathetic monster is made to seem humanly redeemable by his recollections of how he'd once inspired Peter Parker, the science student, at Columbia.
Despite the emotional amplitude of the dialogue, what drives the love story most strongly is the overwhelming spirituality of the camera's love affair with Ms. Dunst. I haven't seen such luminous close-ups since the great screen stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. Who would have thought that Mr. Raimi, the director of horror films, would light up the screen with such a chaste depiction of love, and without a trace of lechery?
Senses of Cinema (Violeta Kovacsics) review The Three Faces of Spidey: Spiderman 2, September 2004
The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers] Spider Man Trilogy
DVD Verdict - The High Definition Trilogy (HD DVD) [Dennis Prince] Spider Man Trilogy
Movie ram-blings (Ram Samudrala) review Spider Man Trilogy
Reverse Shot review Ken Chen, Summer 2004
Film Freak Central review Walter Chaw
The Film Journal (Peter Tonguette) review comparing the film to SUPERMAN II
Slant Magazine review Ed Gonzalez
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review Scott Von Doviak
Ruthless Reviews review Jonny Lieberman
Jay's Movie Blog Jason
DVD Review e-zine dvd recommendation Alan Lindsay
PopMatters [Bill Gibron] 2-disc Extended Cut
DVD Town (James Plath) dvd review 2-disc Extended Cut
digitallyOBSESSED.com (Chuck Aliaga) dvd review 2-disc Extended Cut
Fulvue Drive-in dvd review Nicholas Sheffo, 2-disc Extended Cut
Movie Gazette (Anton Bitel) review [8/10] 2-disc Extended Cut
DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Superbit Edition] Colin Jacobson
DVDActive (Matt Joseph) dvd review [7/10] Superbit version
hybridmagazine.com review Edward Rholes
Exclaim! review Chris Gramlich
hoopla.nu review Mark and Stuart
World Socialist Web Site review David Walsh
Premiere.com review Aaron Hillis
Shadows and Smog Stuart Klawans from The Nation (Page 2)
Entertainment Weekly capsule dvd review [A] Dalton Ross
BBCi - Films Stella Papamichael
The Boston Phoenix review Peter Keough
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review William Arnold
DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version] Gary W. Tooze
USA (99 mi) 2009 ‘Scope
A gross-out fright movie that is, in the director’s own
words, ‘more like a funhouse ride than a bloodbath’, ‘Drag Me to Hell’ takes Sam Raimi
back to his B-movie roots, fusing the scary intensity of ‘The Evil Dead’ with
the cartoonish, slapstick humour of ‘Evil Dead II’. Originally conceived as a
short story way back in 1990, ‘Drag Me to Hell’ has had a long and strange
gestation, which might explain its repeated references to ‘There Was an Old
Lady Who Swallowed a Fly’.
Inside a mock-gothic pile, all hell breaks loose as female medium Shaun San Dena (Adriana Barraza) struggles to save a young boy from the malevolent force unleashed by a gypsy’s curse. This brilliantly staged prologue seems to herald the Second Coming of Sam Raimi, but the film as a whole never quite lives up to its throat-grabbing opening.
With one eye on the vacant assistant manager’s job, ambitious loans officer Christine Brown (Alison Lohman) refuses to extend the mortgage of an old gypsy lady, Mrs Ganush (Lorna Raver). Christine blames her boss (David Paymer), but the gimlet-eyed crazy lady sees all. Shamed by having to beg on bended knee, Mrs Ganush fixes Christine with her beady peeper and warns: ‘Soon it will be you who comes begging to me.’ The slighted woman’s campaign of terror involves the projectile vomiting of blood, maggots and green slime, a slice of cake with a swivelling eyeball implanted in it and the summoning of a black goat.
A late replacement for ‘Juno’ star Ellen Page, the sparky Lohman seizes the lead role with both hands and confidently makes it her own. As does the aptly named Raver, whose vengeance starts with cackling laughter, then spirals upwards into imaginative spitefulness. The flashy pyrotechnics make up for a plot that is riddled with holes, and there is a wickedly funny gag about the possibility of ameliorative kitten-sacrifice. But the crude ‘eye for an eye’ morality recalls an average EC Comics story, and you don’t need a crystal ball to predict the wicked twist in the tale.
Scott Tobias The Onion A.V. Club
Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell opens with the ’80s Universal Studios logo, only the first indication that Raimi, who’s been shackled to the Spider-Man franchise for the last decade, intends to go back in time. Specifically, he’s recalling his own time at Universal in the early ’90s, when he brought the splatstick hokum of his Evil Dead days to the studio playground with 1990’s Darkman and 1992’s Army Of Darkness. A sort of de facto Evil Dead 4, Drag Me To Hell picks up where he left off, trafficking in lots of supernatural mumbo-jumbo (gypsy curses, psychics, ass-whomping ghosts) as an excuse for gloriously over-the-top horror-comedy. Just as Spider-Man 3 seemed to buckle under the weight of increasingly unwieldy endeavor, Raimi’s new film feels distinctly unburdened and fun, happily frolicking in its own pulp silliness.
Playing a farm-girl wallflower with surprising moxie, Alison Lohman stars as a sweet-natured loan officer competing for an assistant-manager position. Her boss (David Paymer) warns her that the job requires making the tough decisions, but Lohman chooses to demonstrate her toughness on the wrong customer, denying a spooky old woman (Lorna Raver) an extension on her home loan. The spiteful women unleashes an ancient curse on Lohman that involves three days of torment—Evil Dead-style spirit-beatings, basically—followed by a creature that drags her… well… it’s right there in the title.
Starting with a hilariously protracted confrontation between Lohman and the old woman in the parking deck—it may be the first time anyone has been in danger of being gummed to death—Drag Me To Hell piles on the cartoon horror setpieces in rapid succession. That PG-13 rating may sound like a liability for a director who once hosed Bruce Campbell with torrents of blood shooting out of the walls, but Raimi makes a sly asset of this limitation. Just like other PG-13-rated horror movies, the film relies on shock effects instead of blood, but Raimi pushes those effects to a full-on visceral assault. He wants viewers to jump out of their chairs, to laugh and scream and cheer, and to nudge each other over the transcendent ridiculousness of what they’re witnessing. This is junk filmmaking at its finest.
Drag Me to Hell Brent Simon at Cannes from Screendaily
Clearly delighting in a return to his roots, Sam Raimi downshifts from the billion-dollar Spider-Man franchise with Drag Me to Hell, a slickly made, engaging horror film that evokes the spirit of much of the director’s early work, particularly the Evil Dead series. Mixing different modes of horror storytelling with dark touches of humour, Raimi proves here that gore isn’t necessary for a cathartic horror-thrill ride.
Raimi’s name should pull in some Spider-Man fans, but those unfamiliar with the humour of his early work will likely feel baffled by how much Drag Me to Hell differs from current teen-baiting horror fare. Still, mid-eight-figure grosses seem certain, outstripping the returns of similar genre hybrids such as Slither and Cabin Fever.
Los Angeles loan officer Christine Brown (Lohman) has a good life; she’s happy with her boyfriend, Clay Dalton (Long), a young professor at a nearby college, and seems to have the inside track on a promotion. In an effort to impress upon her boss (Paymer) that she can make tough-minded decisions with an eye on the bottom line rather than human compassion, Christine denies a third extension on the home mortgage of an old woman (Raver), which means certain foreclosure.
Feeling that she has been shamed, the woman viciously attacks Christine after work in the parking lot and places a curse on her. A spooked Christine consults with psychic Rham Jas (Rao), and learns the specifics of the gypsy curse: that she will be tormented for three days by a spirit which will eventually come to claim her soul. Increasingly panicked attempts to alter that destiny ensue.
Drag Me to Hell trades in an aggressive sound mix and plenty of conventional horror signifiers — creaking windows and wind-slammed garden gates, mewing cats and clattering pans. But the movie also shows a smart sense of construction.
Working from a script with his brother Ivan, a frequent collaborator, Raimi seeds his story with alternately small and amusing details (farmgirl Christine used to be overweight, which quietly feeds her insecurity and anxiety over being accepted by Clay’s rich parents) that help give the movie the feeling of an anchored drama. Overall, the emphasis is definitely on the thrills and horror, but comedic notes are interwoven throughout as well.
Raimi also proves himself to be a master manipulator of genre mood, efficient with effects both practical and computer-generated. Ominous shadow play and a handful of low-angle tracking shots are intermingled with other trademark Raimi flourishes, like his resurrected fetish for wildly over-the-top, hand-to-hand violence perpetrated by and against seemingly possessed old ladies. These low-fi sequences help give the film’s artificial visual effects greater punch and value.
While Drag Me to Hell is rated PG-13 in the US, it’s unlikely that most horror buffs will feel cheated. The director gleefully dispenses with the usual sacred cows (neither children nor kittens are safe), and also leans on wild gross-out moments to goose his audience. There are effusive sprays of slimy phlegm and vomit, as well as one comedic blood-gushing sequence, all of which would make Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote proud.
If there’s a problem, it’s that the film doesn’t quite feel tethered enough to a forceful personality, as with Bruce Campbell’s Ash in the Evil Dead movies. This is mitigated slightly by a final 30 minutes in which Christine becomes more assertive.
Lohman brings a steadying presence to the picture, while Long nicely balances sympathetic assistance and confused ambivalence at watching his girlfriend mentally unravel. It’s the disgustingly made-up Raver, though, who steals the show, guaranteeing that viewers will think twice about speaking ill of old women taking too long to cross the street.
There is nothing I can write that would better convince you that Drag Me to Hell is inarguably the best horror comedy since Evil Dead 2 and, arguably, the best horror movie of the decade than this simple fact: Rex Reed hated it. Yes: The New York Observer critic who thought Batman Begins was “the worst Batman movie ever made,” who wrote that Memento was “despicable,” that Being John Malkovich was “abominable,” who opined that Oldboy was a “noxious helping of Korean Grand Guignol as pointless as it is shocking,” who suggested that The Curious Case of Benjamin Button was “one of the greatest films ever made” and who once got caught shoplifting Mel Tormé albums absolutely loathed Drag Me to Hell. Is there a more forceful stamp of approval short of a boot heel imprint of “Go See It, Asshole” to the back of your head than Rex Reed’s disdain? Is there any better reason to see it than to spite that cantankerous old shit?
Yes, there is. And it comes, perhaps, in this line from Reed’s DMTH review: “Seeking the help of a loopy carnival medium, Christine finds herself up to her pierced ears in corpse vomit, animal sacrifice, violent séances and open graves.”
Corpse vomit? Sign me up, you curmudgeonly old bitch. Forget Spider-Man 3. Hell, forget the Spider-Man series and For Love of the Game while you’re at it. Drag Me to Hell represents a complete return to form for Sam Raimi, who hasn’t made a movie this good since he kicked Ashley J. Williams to the curb. Take an adult diaper, folks, because when DMTH isn’t making you piss yourself with laughter, it’ll be scaring the shit out of you, which makes for an awfully messy movie-going experience. But it’s worth a few Depends undergarments and half a pack of wet wipes. And only a director as talented as Raimi could force a series of X-Rated exclamations out of you while you’re watching a PG-13 movie.
What’s even more remarkable is that Raimi is working from the flimsiest script he’s ever had. Co-written by Sam and his brother Ivan, the storyline is layer-free and straightforward, nothing more than a framing device for a series of shock-your-balls-off sight gags and shock-cut jump-scares that will put you in the lap of a theatergoer sitting six rows in front of you, begging him to hold you. Alison Lohman stars as Christine, a loan officer who is forced to foreclose on the house of an old milky-eyed gypsy woman who looks eerily similar to the comically gnarled Possessed Henrietta at the end of Evil Dead 2. The gypsy hag takes umbrage and puts a hex on Christine, and she spends the rest of the film trying to remove it, all the while aiming to convince her yuppie boyfriend (Justin Long, perfectly cast) that the funhouse of horrors that’s following her around isn’t a sick delusional joke being played on her by a demented Jack-in-the-Box with a twisted sense of humor popping phantom weasels into her life. Christine eventually finds her way to a psychic (Dileep Rao), who reveals that — in three days time — a goat demon (yes! A goat demon) will pull her down into the bowels of hell for all eternity.
What ensues is a series of maliciously hilarious gross-out visuals, each more amusingly repulsive than the other before: Christine fights off the gypsy with a stapler to the head; she sprays from her nose a geyser of blood on her boss; and her face accepts more projectile vomit than a sidewalk outside the Viper Room, including — yes, Rex — corpse vomit.
Drag Me to Hell is as rapid-paced a film as I’ve seen in years. Raimi goes elephantine balls to the wall, completely for broke, attacking the material with a feverish insanity of a pimple-popping teenager fucking his pillow. It’s frantic — gonzo even — but completely controlled. There’s no subtext to the story; Raimi isn’t trying to tell you anything. There’s no big metaphor; there’s no connection to real-world events; and there’s no cultural commentary. It’s just campy, over-the-top, off-the-hook, over-the-backboard, and through the net with a gloriously bloody squish.
Rex Reed has it all wrong, folks. He writes that “the true test of any successful horror flick is how wretched it makes you feel.” That’s the most boneheaded retarded statement I’ve ever seen a critic write. No wonder print journalism is dying. You don’t watch a horror flick so you’ll feel wretched afterwards. Sometimes, you watch them because it’s fun. Because you want to laugh so hard you embarrass yourself releasing a rectal tremor on the guy next to you. Because you want an honest excuse to cling to your date’s arm with all your might. And because nothing is more satisfying than telling the world that a movie was so scary that your tattooed, 6’2” metalhead music editor shrieked like a 12-year-old girl who’d espied a protuberance in the crotch area of a Jonas Brother. Hell, I didn’t leave this movie feeling wretched; I left reinvigorated, giddy, and absolutely sure of one thing: That Drag Me to Hell is as successful a horror film as you’re likely to see for a long time.
Sight and Sound review July 2009
Kim Nicolini: Foreclosure is Hell Kim Nicolini from Counterpunch, June 12 – 14, 2009
Hell and Back Again: Sam Raimi drags himself back to horror with his new film Steve Biodrowski from Cinefantastique Online, June 1, 2009
Reverse Shot [Michael Koresky] Gag Reflexivity
Twitch review Canfield
Classic Horror review Timothy J. Rush
Slant Magazine review Ryan Stewart
CBC.ca Arts review Lee Ferguson
Eric Kohn Borrowing From Himself: Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me To Hell,” from indieWIRE, May 27, 2009
The Video Graveyard Chris Hartley
Little White Lies magazine Matt Glasby
The Digital Bits dvd review [Director's Cut] Adam Jahnke
DVD Verdict (Michael Rubino) dvd review Director’s Cut
Digital Retribution dvd review Mr. Intolerance, 2-disc Special Edition
DVD MovieGuide dvd review [Blu-Ray Version] Colin Jacobson
Drag Me to Hell : Sam Raimi's Genre Curse Richard Corliss at Cannes from Time magazine, May 14, 2009
What Has Happened to Sam Raimi? | The New York Observer Rex Reed from The New York Observer, May 26, 2009
Cinema Suicide Bryan White
The Lumière Reader Caleb Starrenburg
Bloody-Disgusting review [4.5/5] Brad Miska (Mr. Disgusting)
Jam! Movies review Jim Slotek
A Nutshell Review Stefan S
Drag Me to Hell | A Regrettable Moment of Sincerity Adam Lippe, May 29, 2009
Drag Me to Hell David Hudson at Cannes from The IFC Blog, May 21, 2009
David Bourgeois covers the Cannes press conference by Raimi, May 21, 2009
Lane Brown interviews Raimi for The Vulture section of New York magazine, May 22, 2009
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Owen Gleiberman
Peter Debruge at Cannes from Variety, May 20, 2009
The Daily Telegraph review [4/5] Sukhdev Sandhu
The Daily Telegraph review [3/5] Mike McCahill
Boston Globe review [3/4] Wesley Morris
DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version] Leonard Norwitz
Grim and unengaging, much of it amateurish, particularly in the way the film was loosely edited together, rambling all over the place, spreading itself too thin, losing much of the focus when it attempts to cover too much ground. However, there is some interesting material. We see cameras allowed inside the Rio de Janeiro courtrooms in Brazil, following the preliminary first level proceedings as a judge interviews arrested suspects, most are young adolescents just past age 18 who are being tried for the first time as adults, usually for robbery, petty theft, or drug possession, clarifiying their stories, checking it against the prosecution’s version of events, sometimes with their wives, girl friends, or mothers sitting silently in a corner, as the judge enters their plea into the record, setting a date for their trials. The prisoners are handcuffed, transported back to prison, where we see dilapidated cells so completely overcrowded, packed like sardines, where not 6 inches separates any one prisoner from the next, all stuffed together, maybe twenty or more in one cell, dressed in their underwear in a sweltering heat, as there are makeshift fans blowing everywhere. The conditions are a disgrace, but that’s the system, and for many of these kids, that’s their future.
Of interest to me was the version these inmates gave to their public defenders, completely contradicting their sworn testimony to the judge, claiming they couldn’t tell the judge what really happened, as that would be stupid. What wasn’t so effective was the cameras following the judges home in their cars, or the public defender, witnessing their banal dinner conversation, where they repeat the business of the day to their families, as if they’re interested, or we see the mothers or wives of the prisoners having to make it on their own, revealing the harsh realities of slum living. Contrast this to the ceremony of judges being accepted to the higher court, where the only problem was deciding whether or not to bring their old robe to the new court. Interesting that the words used at the judges ceremony were very similar, using some of the exact same phrasing as slum pastors who promised the impoverished and the destitute that God had heard “enough” of their strife-filled lives, that salvation, through belief in Him (or is it in justice?), was just around the corner. Much more interesting was witnessing visiting day in the prison, where again families are stacked together all out in the open, without an ounce of privacy, making sure the families themselves, with pain etched all over their faces, feel the anguish and embarrassment of prison confinement.
Brazilian director Maria Ramos opens a window on a criminal courtroom in Rio de Janeiro, peering at public attorneys, prosecutors, judges, and the accused as they navigate the country's prickly legal system. The film brings to mind the good and bad of two other courtroom documentaries, Raymond Depardon's rigorous 10th District Court and Kim Longinotto's good-hearted Sisters in Law: Like Depardon, Ramos is almost objective to a fault, her camera gawking at her subjects from a distance that exudes both respect and trepidation, but she gets at truths that evaded her predecessors. When one of the documentary's judges lectures a classroom, he discusses the struggle he faces when trying to determine the truth of a specific situation. There's no doubt that there are bullshitters among the documentary's accused fold—which includes a young man who claims not to have stolen the car he drove into a tree and a boy who insists, no joke, that he was flying a kite, not harboring guns and drugs, when cops arrested him—but there is also a sense that the nation's police officers are doing more harm than good. Over and over again the accused report having been framed and beaten by officers, but what's most shocking is the casual tone with which the crimes of the country's authority figures are detailed, suggesting police brutality has become a way of life in the nation's favelas. The judges hardly break a sweat, but from the glimpses we get of their personal lives, their compassion is evident, and it's clear that they struggle to tell truth from fiction. Ramos's coup, though, is how she lingers on dirty, overcrowded prisons not far removed from the seething inhumanities cataloged by Hector Babenco in films like Pixote and Carandiru, suggesting that her country's legal system still faces considerable renovation.
The Onion A.V. Club review Noel
By this point, some adventurous cable channel could probably carve a pretty substantial reality series out of the recent spate of fly-on-the-wall documentaries about international criminal justice. Since Frederick Wiseman's Florida-bound epic Domestic Violence five years ago, we've had a look at the French court system in Raymond Depardon's 10th District Court, Cameroon's in Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto's Sisters In Law, and now Brazil's in Maria Ramos' Justice. Like the rest of the Wiseman-inspired flock, Justice dedicates most of its running time to scenes of people sitting in public offices and courtrooms, trying to hash out what they did wrong and what the punishment should be, while the officials on the other side of the desk offer varying degrees of sympathy. By the time everyone's done talking, viewers are more likely to be interested in whether the process is fair and humane than in the cases' actual truth.
Justice carries that question even further by giving glimpses of Rio De Janeiro's holding cells, where prisoners are jammed in like factory chickens, and their loved ones wait outside in long lines for visitation. Ramos follows two defendants in particular—a juvenile accused of being a lookout for drug dealers, and a young man who was a passenger in a stolen car—and she implies that while both boys are likely guilty, neither deserves the punishment in store, and neither should have to endure a trial process that has the judge dictating biased statements for them.
Because Justice is from the Wiseman school of documentaries, there's no narration and people don't share their thoughts with the camera, which means the movie can come off as a little hollow. But Ramos fills some of the gaps with artful slice-of-life scenes of urchins and fervent churchgoers, to give some sense of the mix of poverty, religion, and overpopulation that informs Rio's legal process. She also visits the homes of the judges and lawyers, listening to them complain to their families about a system more concerned with tallying up convictions than, as one judge says, determining "the truth of an intention." As a result, Rio's jails are packed to the walls with people who are technically criminals, though some are hardcore, and some just took a ride with the wrong friend at the wrong time.
Strictly Film School Acquarello
New York Times (registration req'd) Neil Genzlinger
Ramsay, Lynne Art and Culture
Lynne Ramsay has the qualities of a good ghost: she swings open doors and pulls back curtains, not to nag or threaten but just to remind the present of the values of the past. In her short career as a director and writer, Ramsay has brought a beautiful, slowed-down sensibility back into contemporary filmmaking. Ramsay creates confident films that blossom; her images sometimes demand patience, but they do resonate emotionally once they've finally developed.
Ramsay has been compared to Bill Douglas, Ken Loach, and Robert Bresson. Of course, it's easy to see the comparison between "Ratcatcher" and a certain other Ken Loach film about an alienated little boy. But Ramsay's work has a languid kind of stylization that's all her own; there’s no existing genre that really suits her style. Critics rave about the photographic "stillness" in her films, her use of repeated images, and her painterly sense of composition.
In her debut feature film "Ratcatcher," Ramsay uses
these techniques to tell the story of a 12-year-old boy named James growing up
in the slums of
But "Ratcatcher" is more than a social commentary. The film’s real mission is to question whether James is a child or an adult; the audience is torn between the James who is independent, tough, and pays no societal debt for his friend’s death, and the James who is playful, needy, and lonely.
Althoug Ramsay hasn’t yet produced many films, her small repertoire is undoubtedly strong. "Ratcatcher" has earned dozens of prestigious awards and her earlier short films has garnered three jury prizes: at Cannes in 1996 for "Small Deaths"; at Clermont Ferrand in 1997 for "Kill the Day"; and at Cannes in 1998 for "Gasman."
screenonline: Ramsay, Lynne (1969-) Biography Annette Kuhn from Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors
Born in Glasgow on 5 December 1969, Lynne Ramsay was educated at Napier College in Edinburgh, where she studied photography. From there she went to the National Film and Television School, specialising in cinematography and direction. Her graduation film, Small Deaths, won the Prix du Jury at Cannes in 1996, and her other short films Kill the Day and Gasman (both 1997) also garnered numerous awards. Hailed as one of the brightest new talents of British cinema, in a short directorial career Ramsay has already produced a promising and distinctive body of work.
Ramsay's acclaimed debut feature, Ratcatcher (1999), is a darkly redemptive film set in '70s strike-bound Glasgow, piled high with bags of rotting refuse. A boy is pushed into a polluted canal, and the rest of the film follows his accidental killer, twelve-year-old James. Its grim setting notwithstanding, Ratcatcher is more Dovzhenko than Loach, and in the end James finds a world of hope and redemption at the end of a bus line. Ratcatcher opened the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1999 and won its director the 2000 BAFTA Carl Foreman Award for a newcomer in British film.
Reduced to its storyline, Morvern Callar (2002), Ramsay's next film - adapted from Alan Warner's cult novel - sounds grim too: a young supermarket worker in the West of Scotland discovers that her boyfriend has committed suicide, claims authorship of the novel manuscript he has left behind, and goes on a spree in Spain with her best friend. But the plot is hardly the point: Morvern Callar is as emotionally open as it is narratively spare, allowing the silent, and strangely innocent, world of its heroine to unfold in a succession of haunting images.
Relentlessly experimental, Ramsay brings a photographer's eye to the cinematic image: through silence and space within the frame her films unfold in expanded time, showing rather than telling. Everything is on the surface; there are no hidden depths. Against this visual canvas, sound assumes a special importance, carrying weight and resonance in its own right. "Sound is the other picture," Ramsay has said, and this is certainly true of Morvern Callar's sophisticated use of the music on Morvern's compilation tape (a posthumous gift from her boyfriend), which works at every level from (apparent) underscoring to expression of Morvern's near autistic relationship with her surroundings.
Lynne Ramsay acknowledges the influence of the work of US avant-garde filmmaker Maya Deren, with its trance-like meditation on detail; and of Robert Bresson's Notes on the Cinematographer ("If the eye is entirely won, give nothing or almost nothing to the ear"). Other filmmakers whose work has been likened to Ramsay's include Bill Douglas and Terence Davies - both influences which probably have less to do with cinematic style than with a shared openness to the silent, brutal and magical world of the child and the innocent.
Profile: Lynne Ramsay Academy Films
Lynne Ramsay brief bio from NNDB
Lynne Ramsay British Film Directors
Famous Alumni Edinburgh Napier University graduates
ALWIN KUCHLER Ramsay’s cinematographer
Women and Film Emma Hedditch from BFI Screen Online (Undated)
"Film Features: The world's 40 best directors… 12. Lynne Ramsay" The Guardian (Undated)
The Roddick Profile: Lynne Ramsay Ramsay profile as RATCATCHER is presented to the Cannes Festival, May 1999
"Festival de Cannes: Ratcatcher" Cannes film profile, May 1999
Lynne Ramsay RATCATCHER is presented to the 1999 Edinburgh Festival, Inside Out Film, August 15, 1999
Details Are Acoustical - Lynne Ramsay | Afterimage | Find Articles ... Catherine Cullen from Afterimage, July 2001
Now for her next flick Lynne Ramsay, the Glaswegian director whose ... Maggie Shiels from The Herald Scotsman, August 29, 2002
FilmFestivals . com - EUROPEAN FILM AWARDS December 7, 2002
Save the Last Trance Jessica Winter from The Village Voice, December 17, 2002
"Ramsay needs to shoot a film about Kevin" Paul Arendt from The Guardian, June 6, 2006
What's happened to Lynne Ramsay? - Scotsman.com News The Scotsman, February 2, 2007
Whatever Happened to Lynne Ramsay? « Movie Musings Movie Musings, November 19, 2008
The Lovely Bones Review, Preview, Photos, Posters, Trailers ... Worst Previews on THE LOVELY BONES, August 24, 2009
Director Profile: Lynne Ramsay (Part 1) Amy Flinders from Flickering Myth Movie Blog, January 16, 2010
Director Profile: Lynne Ramsay (Part 2) Amy Flinders from Flickering Myth Movie Blog, January 23, 2010
Lynne Ramsay's Columbine-like horror movie 'We Need to Talk About ... Superheidi from Fangirltastic, February 17, 2010
In Stratford, sweet love drowns out sour weather John Burgeson from CT Post, March 30, 2010
The welcome return of Lynne Ramsay Adam Dawtrey from The Guardian, April 22, 2010
BBC - Press Office - We Need To Talk About Kevin to begin filming ... BBC News, April 26, 2010
Running Into a Bright New Future Sean O’Hagan interviews Ramsay for the Guardian, October 31, 1999
Nitrate Online (Interview) Paula Nechuk interview with Ramsay, January 26, 2001
BBC - Films - interview - Lynne Ramsay David Michael interview from the BBC News, October 17, 2002
Lynne Ramsay | Film | guardian.co.uk Geoff Andrew interview from The Guardian, October 28, 2002
Film makers on film: Lynne Ramsay - Telegraph Sarah Donaldson discusses Cassavetes 1974 film A Woman Under the Influence with Ramsay from The Telegraph, November 2, 2002
Gerald Peary - interviews - Lynne Ramsay April, 2003
Greetings from the Scottish New Wave / Lynne Ramsay brings a ... Paula Schwartz interview from Moviemaker magazine, February 3, 2007
Academy Films | Academy | Music Videos | lynne ramsay a selection of music videos from Academy Films
A junkie breaks into a locker and steals a bag, to get money for drugs.
Later we see him in prison. He seems like a loner. Guards taunt him and try to
make him lose his temper, so that he will be denied parole. When he's released,
he tries to go straight. Interspersed with these scenes are flashbacks of his
Ramsay's second short film is similar in structure to her first. There are long time lapses between the scenes shown, and we learn nothing about what happens during that time. But it's a more ambitious piece, and works more as a whole. It tells a small, intimate, powerful story, and the final scene makes a big impression.
Another step forward for Ramsay. Definitely worth seeing if you can catch it.
Ramsay sure knows how to make the most of 18
minutes. This, her second short film, is available along with two others on
Criterion's "Ratcatcher" DVD.
The plot is very simple, but the story is told in such an unexpected and refreshing manner you just can't wait to see what happens next. Brilliant editing and unexplained scene changes which only become clear later.
Particularly charming is the filmmaker's approach to working with children. Only completely innocent and natural shots are used. A scene here where a group of boys are running about in underwear and eventually skinny-dipping seems more like home movies than a deliberate scene in a film.
Ramsay is definitely a director to keep an eye on and it's quite nice to be able to collect her work right from the beginning, including these early shorts.
The young Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay's second short film shares many of the same preoccupations of her feature debut Ratcatcher (UK/France, 1999). While both focus on subjects that fall under the heading of social realism, Ramsay eschews the naturalistic trappings of this genre in favour of close studies of her characters' inner worlds, blurring the boundaries between reality and dream life. But where the imagistic poetry of Ratcatcher figured in an off-kilter coming-of-age story, the more paranoid and pessimistic Kill the Day has a memory-obsessed, junkie jailbird for its protagonist. It implicitly poses the question, 'where does one go when innocence has long since been lost?'
The film is structured around crystallised moments of emotion that emerge from the shifting mental landscape of James, played with lean ambivalence by James Ramsay (a Lynne Ramsay regular). The direction foregrounds recurring visual motifs, such as a disc-like pattern that suggests paranoia about surveillance. Sound is used carefully to stress the stillness and stagnation of James's world; the oppressive droning of a fly bookends the journey into James's thoughts. These deft touches have the double effect of situating the viewer within the film's achronology while dislodging the protagonist from his own story. As he lies in bed pondering his fate, James would appear to ask himself not 'who' but simply, 'where am I?'
As in Ratcatcher - which also contained a fetid body of water heavy with metaphor - guilt is something transferred onto the unknown, a dark canal one can slip into without warning. Explanations remain elusive, partly by design and partly because of a few false notes struck along the way. Ramsay had at this point not quite found the lightness of touch that made Morvern Callar (UK/Canada, 2002) - about the partner of a suicide victim - a film of such unknown pleasures, and here idyllic scenes of childhood frolicking keep strange company with the desultory figure cut by James.
If the tone is less hopeful and full of wonder than in her features and other shorts, Kill the Day impresses with its exploration of memory. The junkie at its centre seems to be its prisoner, and despite the familiarity of the themes of crime, punishment and the true walls that enclose us, he is strangely compelling.
Promising short feature, made by Lynne Ramsay as
her graduation movie from film school. It covers 3 events in a girl's life. The
first shows her as a very young girl watching her father get ready to go out
for a night. In the second segment she's a teenager who witnesses a nasty
incidence involving a cow. While in the third she's a young adult who goes to a
creepy building with her boyfriend. He goes upstairs, leaving her to fidget
nervously below. But then he calls to her ...
Dark, intimate snippets of everyday life, lovingly captured. An impressive debut by the director of Ratcatcher. This immediately establishes the mood, focus and ambition of her later work. It won a prize at
To the music of “Walkin’ in the winter wonderland, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow..,” a divorced couple meet at an empty railroad track, offering a young girl the opportunity to meet one of her father’s other children. None of this is known at first as we see them join together and play and dance and go to a Christmas decorated pub, where the kids dance with Santa, seen later on his own downing a pint, but one of the little girls asks her father if he’s this other girl’s daddy? He walks them all back to the railroad tracks, holding hands with the kids in a night fog. The mother and father walk away with two kids each in opposite directions. The little girl who asked the question can be seen picking up a rock, perhaps to throw it at them, but drops it.
User reviews from imdb Author: from United States
This short film from Lynne Ramsay is extremely impressive on a technical level as well as emotionally stirring. The director has an uncanny ability to capture those seemingly small and insignificant moments in a child's life which have a lasting and profound effect; those moments when everything changes, innocence is lost and nothing will ever be the same again. The children in her films learn the facts of life the hard way and quite often have to make sense of them on their own without the aide of an understanding parent. I was more moved by "Gasman" than I was with "Ratcatcher" (her first feature length which is a must see for true film connoisseurs) for this reason. The director keeps information from the audience, so that when we discover what the little girl discovers it's just as new and poignant for the viewer without being predictable. Lynne Ramsay is a true "auteur" who possesses the uncanny ability to capture beautiful and haunting moments of life.
Gasman is a short film that stirs up a great amount of detail and emotion in a short period of time. Seen very much from a young child's point of view, it shows nothing in the beginning but then starts to develop itself with a great potential. For example, in the beginning, the kids are getting ready to go out with their father but the mother stays at home and watches out the window as they leave. Then, you just see them walking through the tracks until finally they get to a stop. Then you start to realize that the father has another family and his kids seem very much confused by what is going on. There are a lot of mixed feelings throughout the film and it is very much clear, although not many words are said. The way the camera moves around from character to character is what tells the story and gives it so much power. The mixed feelings between the characters are clear through the way that the camera moves around between the characters. It is an extraordinary piece that is told by its form, rather than text.
It's grim up north the old saying goes; Gasman by Lynne Ramsey
won't change that stereotype but it does illustrate the talent of this
director. This short film shares similarities with the both work of Mike Leigh
and social realist 'kitchen sink' films of the sixties, in showing a slice of
life story from the lower classes. Read; bleak setting and diegetic sound.
Set in an undisclosed Scottish city at Christmas, the story concerns a day in the life of lower class father (James Ramsey), daughter Lynne (Lynne Ramsey Jr) and son Steven (Martin Anderson) as they walk the tracks. En route, they mysteriously pick up more children from a woman (Jackie Quinn), Lisa (Lisa Taylor) and Robert (Robert McEwan).
Gasman is a powerful piece, due in no small part to the performance by Lynne Ramsey Jr. It is a powerful portrait of a working class young girl and the confusion she faces. When pretending to be Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, you really believe that 'There's no place like home.' The supporting cast are also suitably bedraggled for their characters to be believable. There are some fine visual flourishes in this short piece; the close shots of people getting ready for their day out give the film a very intimate feel, as if you are really looking into their family life. There is appropriate use of light and dark contrast, in particular as they are in wide shot walking up the tracks. Also, the working club Christmas party is visual delight, with child POV shots, slow motion and chopped up editing.
At times the Scottish dialect is quite hard to follow with the sound quality being quite raw. My main issue with the film would be that Gasman doesn't have anything original to say. Gasman is suitably bleak according to genre convention but its essential message being that it's challenging growing up in a lower class environment has been a mainstay of social realist cinema since before Kes. Still grim it would seem.
British Short Films - cinema16 | short film dvds brief bio and comments by Ramsay on the film
UNLV Short Film Archive - Archive 100 also reviewing RATCATCHER, with a Ramsay bio
The House Next Door [Robert Humanick] Cinema 16: European Short Films
DVD Verdict [James A. Stewart] Cinema 16: European Short Films
Turner Classic Movies review Glenn Erickson, Cinema 16: European Short Films
Lynne Ramsay - Gasman (1997) (Reupload) in AvaxHome movie photos
This is the most beguiling British film about childhood since Kes (1969), a slowburning look at days in the life of a small boy on the brink of adolescence. He has adolescent encounters, including an uneasy bath with an unpopular older girl, but he's very much a pre-adolescent child, with all the helplessness and vulnerability that that means. Lynne Ramsay's great strength as a filmmaker is an ability to recreate the world as seen through her characters' eyes. From with the deprivation, the film is set on a housing estate during a binman's strike, she finds moments of real beauty - a joyfully filmed tumble in a hayfield - and strikingly surreal moments, such as a backward boy's pet mouse flying to the moon on a balloon. If Ratcatcher has a forerunner, excepting Ramsay's own award-winning shorts, it is not The Bill Douglas Trilogy, a semi-still life of a Scottish slum boy, which it eclipses completely, but the great hand-crafted films of Lindsay Anderson: This Sporting Life; If..., and O Lucky Man!
The imagery in Lynne Ramsay’s feature debut comes at right angles to the story, pulling you up and away from the morbid tale of murderous Glasgow poverty. Like other directors who’ve made the transition from poetic shorts to more conventional features (Jane Campion, Under the Skin’s Carine Adler), Ramsay sprinkles her narrative with arty tableaux which sometimes derail the story — you can get away with such indulgences in a short, but the full-length format is less forgiving. Still, sometimes it’s a relief to be given a chance to breathe, as Ratcatcher’s plot is unremittingly bleak. Beginning with 12-year-old James (William Eadie) accidentally drowning another boy in a waste-clogged canal, the film is set during a garbage strike; filth piles up literally in the streets as it does metaphorically in the characters’ lives. We clutch at the few moments of hope like drowners clinging to driftwood — a half-smile or a moment of kindness seem like epiphanies. While it doesn’t have sophistication to match its visuals, Ratcatcher builds to a profound truth: that life can only be lived once we’ve confronted death.
In the first of many self-consciously—but still genuinely—poetic shots in Lynne Ramsay's auspicious directorial debut Ratcatcher, a poor young Glaswegian boy wraps himself in his mother's white drapes like a mummy, as if sensing his premature ossification. His death in a fetid canal a few minutes later is as cruel as it is inevitable, especially in light of other working-class films from Britain, where those who can't sing and dance their troubles away are pummeled by tragedy instead. But just when Ratcatcher seems overly content to bathe in Euro-art squalor, Ramsay counters with passages so breathtakingly lyrical and improbably optimistic that they shake off the oppressive pall that too often passes for hard realism. Much like another recent debut, David Gordon Green's George Washington, Ratcatcher keeps poverty and death omnipresent in its young characters' lives. But both Green and Ramsay prefer to view childhood as a richer experience, rife with moments of humor, tenderness, and offhand beauty. Apart from the opening scenes, which play like a mini-Psycho in introducing and then killing what appears to be the main character, the story is told through the eyes of 12-year-old William Eadie, a tough-minded boy living in a Glasgow apartment block in the early '70s. While a garbage workers' strike leaves piles of stinking refuse to fester in the summer heat, Eadie spends his afternoons at the nearby canal where his friend died earlier as a result of their horseplay. Nagged by occasional feelings of guilt, Eadie skirts a band of young thugs, fosters a tentative relationship with a gawky misfit (Leanne Mullen) with skinned knees, and fantasizes about his family's possible transfer to the countryside. The sunny pastoral scenes, which are all the more gorgeous in contrast to the overcast city gloom, owe a debt to Terrence Malick's Days Of Heaven, as does a magical sequence with a mouse tied to a balloon that uses the same music ("Musica Poetica") as Malick's Badlands. (Coincidentally, George Washington also borrows heavily from Malick.) Ramsay employs these lyrical bits sparingly, as a brief respite from the grim cycle of alcoholism and abuse in Eadie's family. But they make all the difference in setting Ratcatcher apart from other films of its kind, by exploring childhood's vast possibilities. Ramsay's singular obsession with the dreams and traumas of lower-class adolescents was first developed in three outstanding short films, which have been included on the new DVD. A photographer first and a filmmaker second, Ramsay makes ideal use of snapshot portraiture in 1995's Small Deaths, 1996's Kill The Day, and 1997's Gasman, scrapping formal stories in favor of small, vibrant impressions of everyday life. Her interest in children trapped in urban squalor never wavers, but she makes the most of a limited palette.
Lynne Ramsay's first feature is a harrowingly beautiful tale of adolescence that deepens and refines the themes articulated in her three award-winning shorts. Much like American director David Gordon Green's contemporaneous debut, George Washington (US, 2000), Ramsay's film is concerned with the subjective experience of childhood and its relation to death amid urban decay - against the backdrop of 1973's crippling Glasgow dustmen's strike. Ratcatcher, however, is contemplative rather than didactic, hijacking the British tradition of social realism and steering it into uncharted and distinctly poetic waters.
One body of water in particular - a forbidding local canal - provides an anchor for the impressionistic and episodic narrative and holds a mysterious attraction for the young protagonist, James Ramsay. The water's murky surface marks a tenuous boundary - between life and death, innocence and experience - to which James constantly returns. In the bold opening sequence, James is secretly implicated in the accidental drowning of a neighbourhood playmate. The scar this incident leaves only makes the awkwardness of emerging adolescence more acute, from the disinterested father who insists on buying the sensitive, unathletic lad football shoes to the older girl who befriends James by placing his hand on her leg.
Taking her cue from still photography, Ramsay hones her narrative in its moments of inactivity, in their potential for movement. Time seems to slow for James, and pangs of discovery intermingle joy with sadness, as when his fingers touchingly examine his sleeping mother's toe, suggesting poverty by poking out through an old nylon. It is also with the patience of a photographer that Ramsay approaches her subjects. Her family scenes breathe with a rare naturalness, and her direction of children allows for their irritating qualities, making them wholly un-irritating. A willingness to spend time with her complex, broken characters - especially James' Da - rather than relying on thumbnail illustrations, is what grants the often grim Ratcatcher its moments of sublimity and grace.
In the film's ambiguous conclusion, Ramsay confers upon her child hero the same measure of redemptive grace, allowing us to see through his eyes. The canal finally claims him beneath its reflective surface, but in his mortality he sees an exultant vision. The earth and slate tones of the slum fall away and an ordinary housing development by a field becomes a paradise of promise. The viewer is lifted with James in the hope of a better world to come.
Sight and Sound review Charlotte O'Sullivan from Sight and Sound, November 1999
The army arrive to clear up the refuse. James returns to the estate in the country, but the houses are no longer accessible. Back home he discovers Margaret Anne having sex with the older boys and begins rowing with Kenny, who blurts out that he saw James "kill" Ryan. Later James jumps into the canal, but images also show the family arriving at the new house with their possessions.
You can't help liking Ratcatcher. Like the canal that dominates so much of the film, Lynne Ramsay's painterly portrait of childhood drags you in. You believe in 12-year-old James, all Prince Charles ears and snappable wrists. You adore his mousy mother. You're glued to his sister Anne Marie (her bouts of giggles erupt like the foam around a shaken bottle of pop). But does it work? Ultimately Ratcatcher is most successful when scribbling in its own margins. The beginning, for instance, is a triumph, precisely because it isn't a beginning but an end. We follow the progress of Ryan, an intense little boy who all of a sudden dies. James' mother hugs him, saying, "I thought it was you," her skin shining with relief. The audience might say the same thing: we are temporarily dumbfounded, assuming our hero, our narrative centre, is dead. Ramsay has shown us a horrible possibility right from the start. We obey the Darwinian principle: we want to back a winner.
It's when the film tries to be linear that problems arise. James' father's rescue of Kenny leaves him in a stupor. As a result, when the council inspectors pop by, he and the flat are a sorry sight. And for some reason this jeopardises the family's chances of relocation. Why this should be so is never quite made clear, but Ramsay seems desperate to push home a grim message: good deeds are rewarded only by punishment. In the same way, Mrs Quinn's sweet request for James to have Ryan's shoes results in destruction (a box of possessions is smashed). Still more importantly, when James' dad helps a little girl by holding her kitten, he attracts the jeers of some macho lads and is beaten up.
Another message seems to be that good people are masochists. When James saves his friend Kenny's mouse Snowball from Matt Monroe's gang, Kenny himself then tries to impress the boys by attaching the mouse to a balloon and letting Snowball drift into the sky. Unprotected, doomed Margaret Anne also chooses to go with the older, abusive boys rather than stay loyal to James. Most crucially, James' mother takes back his dad after she's battered. Not only is the world a predictably bad place, but everyone in it seems wilfully self-destructive. In justifying the grim ending, the plot feels contrived. As central narratives go, it's just too neat.
Even more disappointing is James' relationship with Margaret Anne. In a
scene in which they share a bath the pathos feels strained and she fails to
become distinctive – she could be any giggling, uneasy-bodied girl. So when we
see her betray James with
This is a shame, since James and Margaret Anne's relationship begins so well. There's one gorgeous scene, for instance, where Margaret Anne, having been poked by all the other boys, receives young James. In one of the film's many powerful silences we see him lying on top of her, as if he'd been there for ever, his brain as well as his body at peace. And yet the real tension in his character remains intact. As usual, his small-adult desire is to protect – he's covering up Margaret Anne's body from the other boys' lecherous gaze, keeping her warm, like a rug or an extra layer of clothing.
This brings us back to what Ramsay's feature debut does best. Ratcatcher makes you see the world with bigger eyes, revealing the layers beneath every surface. We're frequently asked to notice materials in conjunction with each other: flesh beneath curtain fabric, a bathtub beneath plastic, a toe beneath nylon, spectacles beneath water. These textures don't cancel each other out, they just add mystery, blurring our perceptions. The pugnacious Ryan, who begins the film twisted in a net curtain, is visible but we don't know whether he's in pleasure or pain – from the twists and turns of his dancing mouth, his mood seems enigmatically extreme.
The film works in the same way, providing an impression of intensity without judgement. Thus what might appear to be an easy distinction – contaminated rubbish versus pure countryside – is made complex. The rubbish is dangerous, but it's not aberrant. It's merely another layer, partially but never entirely obscuring the view. The council workers make us realise this when they judge the Gillespies' flat negatively. They assume the family are also rubbish and can't see the mess as simply the surface of the Gillespies' existence. And it's the council people, therefore, who are exposed as superficial.
In the radiant scene when the mother cleans the flat we fall into the same trap, assuming this is the start of good, wholesome things, but the family is just as fractured as before. Similarly, and most importantly, the dream that closes the film – a dream of life, wealth and nature – is as real (or unreal) as James' possible death. Ratcatcher has two beginnings; it also has two ends. The dream is a layer of James' consciousness that neither covers up nor is covered by the matter of his drowning. A layer of material can be read as a shroud: a preparation for, and protection from, the ultimate nakedness of death. William Faulkner would have loved the slow burn of Ratcatcher, a film that won't choose life or death, but makes perfect sense of the phrase As I Lay Dying.
Ratcatcher Criterion essay by Lizzie Francke, September 2, 2009
World Socialist Web Site review Paul Bond
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review Arthur Lazere
Images (Derek Hill) review Derek Hill
Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/4] Criterion Collection
Kamera.co.uk review Monika Maurer
Mees Talking Pictures
UNLV Short Film Archive - Archive 100 also reviewing GASMAN, with a Ramsay bio
Entertainment Weekly review [A] Lisa Schwarzbaum