Directors: 

Andrzej Wajda, Raoul Walsh, Andy Warhol, John Waters, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Peter Weir, Orson Welles, William Wellman, Wim Wenders, James Whale, Billy Wilder, Michael Winterbottom, Frederick Wiseman, Wong Kar-wai, John Woo, William Wyler

 

 

Wachowski, Andy and Lana

 

CLOUD ATLAS                                                       C-                    67

USA  (172 mi)  2012  ‘Scope  co-director:  Tom Tykwer Official site

 

This is Hollywood moviemaking at its excessive worst, which unfortunately the movie moguls think is the absolute pinnacle of box office entertainment, throwing $100 million dollars into big stars and an entire galaxy of computer graphic designers, where it takes over a minute during the end credits just to list them all, using a popular novel by David Mitchell as the source material, where in their eyes, this is a financial gold mine, a big budget item turned into a colossal action adventure movie modeled on so many other previous successes, like LORD OF THE RINGS (2001–03), AMISTAD (1997), ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975), AMADEUS (1984), or Blade Runner (1982), among others.  In the eyes of high-priced Hollywood executives, this is considered a popcorn movie sure to spark interest in the adulated viewers.  But the problem is the lack of coherent direction, actually using 3 different directors, brother and sister Andy and Lana Wachowski along with German director Tom Tykwer, as the story is told so piecemeal and haphazardly, continually stringing along a series of separate stories, moving back and forth in time, using actors in multiple roles throughout the constantly changing narratives, all supposedly coming together at the end in some kind of thematic whole, but it just doesn’t work.  And the problem exists at the outset, as each individual storyline is constantly interrupted, like a serial installment, moving backwards or forwards in time for yet another developing storyline, which is also abruptly interrupted, where so much of the time is filled with listening to an inner narrative reveal the different plotlines, hardly a scintillating concept, where the audience loses any real connection to any of the storylines or characters before they ever have a chance to gain interest.  By the finale, when similarities are supposed to impressively come together, it’s too late, as the audience no longer cares.  Few, if any of the characters throughout actually sustain any interest, where Tom Hanks is supposed to be the overall lead character but he’s completely miscast, as he’s never seen in character but instead as the ever likable Tom Hanks, and in the end turns into Uncle Remus.  Perhaps the one star of the show is Halle Berry, who actually delivers one of her better performances in her entire career, but so much of it is lost, as are all the performances, in the mumbo jumbo of the mangled storylines.

 

Unfortunately, not all the storylines hold sufficient interest, such as the mid 19th century voyage across the Pacific, where the entire segment continually plays to stereotype and could easily have been jettisoned in this near 3-hour monstrosity.  Similarly, equally uninspiring is another AMADEUS storyline that features a world renowned composer too ill to continue working until a young upstart with a mysterious past walks into his life and rekindles his musical inspiration.  Do we really care, as there’s nothing remotely original about either segment?  That leaves four other interweaving stories, where even one of those is questionable, but becomes significant due to Berry’s strong performance as an investigative reporter risking her life to get a secret report exposing a behind-the-scenes power play of corporate greed and theft, where big oil is intending to create an apocalyptic disaster to rid the earth of the remaining oil reserves in order to join forces with current owners to buy up monopoly shares in the nuclear power business.  Typically, the way this plays out, Berry is a lone do gooder who is targeted, much like Karen Silkwood in SILKWOOD (1983), a paranoid thriller with real life implications.  Honestly, the film could do without these 3 segments, which leaves 3 remaining segments and 3 directors, where one each might have been a more inspired idea.  However, since they so closely resemble, both in tone and atmospheric style, previous Hollywood blockbusters, this appears to be no accident.  One resembles ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, as an irate elderly brother plots revenge against his brother that desperately comes to him in a time of financial trouble and instead finds himself locked into a mental asylum run by a sadistic nurse (Hugo Weaving in drag) with no way out, where a comic escape sequence by an elderly foursome is inspired by CHICKEN RUN (2000) or THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963).  While this segment does have hilarious moments, starring the befuddled Jim Broadbent, it doesn’t hold a candle to the remaining two segments in terms of dramatic reach. 

 

The final two sequences are sci-fi futuristic, though one feels almost prehistoric and could just as easily be the mythical set of Xena:  Warrior Princess (1995 – 2001).  Both are the most spectacularly designed, one a futuristic world of robots and slaves, set in Neo Seoul, Korea in 2144, where Doona Bae lives her life as a corporate slave, treated and behaving exactly like a robot, where every other model looks and behaves exactly as she does, all programmed to serve customers in a futuristic fast food franchise.  In order to guarantee compliance, each wears a metal collar around their necks that with the push of a button will instantly kill them.  By accident, she observes one of the models risk their life for a chance at freedom, but fails, instilling the idea in her head.  Next, out of nowhere, she’s whisked away into a futuristic urban landscape by a freedom fighter of epic proportions, turning this into a mix of STAR WARS (1977) and Blade Runner.  The sequence connecting the future to the past is actually set in a post apocalyptical 24th century, a segment where the Hawaiian tribal language can feel restricting, where people are farmers and goat herders simply living off the land with primitive instruments while marauding raiders with horses and swords often plunder their villages and kill their people, where Tom Hanks witnesses some of the killings first hand while he was hiding and cowering in fear, engulfed in guilt afterwards, where he is visited by Halle Berry as a visitor from the future looking to unlock a key to her past.  Together, after initial mistrust, they forge a new understanding, one with Star Trek (1966 – 69) universal ramifications.  With often dreadful make up and costume changes, the idea that these characters are somehow connected over time, as advertised, just never comes together in any coherent fashion, as it might require character development, something altogether missing here with the possible exception of the continually misused Hanks and the resplendent Berry.  Spanning some 500 years, the film blends drama, mystery, sci-fi, action sequences, and enduring love stories as a means to suggest humanity is driven by an overriding need for freedom, inspiration, and love, suggesting these powers exist both before we are born and continue well after we are gone, where characters struggle and fight throughout the generations to rediscover these elements of their humanity, and that the world is somehow shaped by whatever acts and decisions we make.  All that’s missing is a rousing rendition of Michael Jackson breaking out into “We Are the World” Michael Jackson - We Are the World (6:20).

  

Exclaim! [Scott A. Gray]

Cracking David Mitchell's dense tome about how actions ripple through time to shape and affect souls for the screen must have been a daunting task, but the Wachowskis (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) do a masterful job of translating the ambitious text into a widely relatable epic.

Abandoning the novel's unique structure was a necessary conceit to the responsibility of engaging the fickle attention of a mass audience. For the most part, it works tremendously well, with the three directors adeptly juggling six interconnected plots taking place in different time periods and places around the globe.

A mid-19th century notary documents a perilous voyage across the Pacific; in 1931, a destitute young musician writes to his lover about his experiences as an amanuensis for a famed composer in Belgium; a reporter investigates a corporate conspiracy in '70s California; a present-day book publisher dodges Irish gangsters; a rebellious clone is interviewed before her execution in a dystopian future Korea; and a guilt-ridden tribesman in Hawaii wrestles with his inner darkness when confronted with a seed of hope presented by an outsider from a crumbled civilization.

These diverse stories are deftly connected by cyclical themes of oppression and resistance, love and sacrifice, courage and control. Existing in the visual medium of cinema forces the explicit interpretation of the evolutionary path each soul takes - it's one of a number of ways this adaptation spares the audience some intellectual strain - but it also gives the creative team room to expand upon gender themes and immerse the highly recognizable cast in a surprising number of roles.

The chameleon nature of the first-rate (though still sometimes distracting) practical effects encourages the actors to equally burry themselves in the colourful array of characters. Giving the performances some showiness reinforces the rather overt subtext that stories are embellished and distorted in the telling. That's how myths and legends are propagated, and that's how an elegant story packed with profound sentiments gets lured into a Hollywood ending.

It's a thematic compromise designed to mollify populist sensibilities, but a relatively minor one in the face of the broad-minded ideals championed and sheer exuberance of the film's cinematic craftsmanship.

The ensemble cast is uniformly strong (especially Tom Hanks and Jim Broadbent, but even Halle Berry rises to the occasion), the distinct art direction and special effects for each era are brilliantly executed, as are the required massive leaps in tone and style. And the music, that all-important Cloud Atlas Sextet hits all the right notes of emotional resonance, even if it's not as impossibly iconic as it wants to be, much like the film itself.

Alibi.com [Devin D. O'Leary]

“Unfilmable” is an adjective that has been attached to countless well-regarded literary works. It’s meant to convey a novel with a topic so epic or eccentric that translating it to screen would be nothing less than a minor miracle. That hasn’t entirely dissuaded filmmakers. Dune, A Confederacy of Dunces, Naked Lunch, The Life of Pi, Ulysses, Crash, Tristram Shandy, Gravity’s Rainbow, Neuromancer, Catch-22, The Lord of the Rings, Watchmen, The Catcher in the Rye—some of these have actually been produced. Some were even made well. Others, not so much. A few are still in the pipeline. And several will remain tantalizing, forever-unsolvable puzzles for the movie biz.

Among the books often labeled unfilmable is David Mitchell’s 2004 sci-fi hexaptych Cloud Atlas. Somebody finally decided to wrestle that tiger, though, and the results are structurally (if not always emotionally) miraculous—a $100 million genre-hopping art house blockbuster in search of a sympathetic audience. To achieve this Herculean labor took no less than the writing-directing superpowers of the Matrix-making Wachowski siblings (formerly known as the Wachowski brothers) and German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (best known for 1998’s Run Lola Run).

Kudos are definitely in order for even attempting the complex nesting doll of a narrative that is Cloud Atlas. In the first 15 minutes of the film, audience members are introduced to six different narratives in six divergent time periods. With a little patience and a modicum of attention, it’s relatively easy to sort out the tangled fragments. Chronologically speaking, we’ve got segments in 1850, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2177 and sometime way in the far-flung future. Tykwer handles the historical portions, while the Wachowskis (unsurprisingly) deal with the more action-oriented, space-age segments.

Once you’ve got the story sections organized in your head, you’ll come to realize that each exists as a (possibly fictional) segment in the following narrative. We start in the late 19th century with a young San Francisco man traveling to the South Seas to seek his fortune, ostensibly in the slave trade. That story carries over as a published journal read by a penniless English musician who finds work as an amanuensis (fancy word for “secretary”) to a famous composer.

The musician’s letters to his lover back home in London pop up in the next segment about a female reporter investigating malfeasance at a nuclear power plant outside ’70s-era San Francisco. In 2012, the reporter’s story becomes a mystery novel manuscript read by a harried book publisher who flees a thuggish client and ends up a prisoner at a nursing home. By the time we roll around to 2177, the book publisher’s tale has become a melodramatic movie viewed by a genetically engineered slave contemplating rebellion in the dystopian world of Neo-Seoul. Temporally if not structurally, the story closes out in the postapocalyptic Pacific where an island-dwelling villager (who happens to worship a goddess with the same name as our rebellious Korean slave) encounters a woman trying to access the long-lost technology of Earth’s ancient ancestors.

The impressive cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Hugh Grant and Keith David. Each one plays multiple characters across multiple timelines. Over the course of the film—and with varying success—the actors switch ages, races and even genders. (I’m guessing Lana—née Larry—Wachowski had a hand in this last sleight of hand.) Some viewers may choose to be offended by what occasionally amounts to high-tech blackface. But that’s an argument for another day. While there is a certain gimmickiness to the film’s cheeky game of spot-the-actor, it gives the stories an essential visual cohesion.

Overall, the stories hint at a universal unity, reflected heavily in the revolutionary words of our Korean slave girl, Sonmi-451. Her philosophy states that we are all attached to one another, past and present. Hence, our actions, both good and bad, reverberate throughout space and time. As sci-fi philosophies go, it’s more elegant (if less concise) than “Be excellent to one another!” from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.

If Cloud Atlas’ morality sounds suspiciously like karma to you, that’s probably correct. After all, our characters do seem to be playing out similar themes and stories (with very similar faces) over and over again. Are we meant to view these people as direct reincarnations of one another? Or is the web here more complex than that? On the surface, Cloud Atlas resembles Darren Aronofsky’s long-gestating vanity project The Fountain. That film too had a single cast enacting stories over multiple timelines. Cloud Atlas has a better sense of humor and feels less like a chatty discourse on destiny.

Despite coming from three different directors, our six plot strands weave together with expert precision, like instruments in a symphony. Occasionally, when the piece is really working, they dovetail beautifully, reaching a simultaneous crescendo of action. My only wish is that the payoff had been larger. The film’s major philosophical points (slavery is bad, do good things and good things will happen to you) aren’t what you’d call radical. And for a story with such a complex, borderline experimental setup, the plot strands all end right where you’d expect them to. I worry that average cineplex patrons will find the film too long and complex, while more adventurous viewers won’t be as stimulated as they’d hoped. Sad that the filmmakers could nail Mitchell’s massive narrative, yet fail to deliver the earth-shattering emotional coda it deserves.

The Hollywood Reporter [Jordan Mintzer]

Not quite soaring into the heavens, but not exactly crash-landing either, Cloud Atlas is an impressively mounted, emotionally stilted adaptation of British author David Mitchell’s bestselling novel. Written and directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, this hugely ambitious, genre-jumping, century-hopping epic is parts Babel and Tree of Life, parts Blade Runner, Amistad and Amadeus, with added doses of gore, CGI, New Age kitsch, and more prosthetics than a veterans hospital in wartime. One of the priciest independent films ever made (on a purported budget of $100 million), Atlas will rely on its chameleon cast to scale a 3-hour running time and reach the box office heights needed for this massive international co-production.

Mitchel’s 500-plus page book garnered several literary prizes and a huge following after it was first published in 2004, but many would have said that the novel’s unique structure–where multiple stories in different time periods are told chronologically from past to future and then back again—was impossible to adapt to the big screen.

The Wachowskis (with Lana receiving her first screen credit here) and Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International) figured out they could streamline the narrative by cross-cutting between the different epochs and casting the same actors in a multitude of roles. Although this helps to make the whole pill easier to swallow, it also makes it harder to invest in each narrative, while seeing the actors transformed from old to young, black to white, and occasionally gender-bended from male to female, tends to dilute the overall dramatic tension.

A brief prologue features an old man, Zachry (Tom Hanks), telling a story around a campfire, and from hereon in the film reveals how each plotline is in fact a tale told—or read or seen in a movie—by the next one (this is also a process used in the book). 

They are, in ascending order: an 1849 Pacific sea voyage where a crooked doctor (Hanks), a novice sailor (Jim Sturgess) and an escaped slave (David Gyasi) cross paths; a saga of dualing composers (Jim Broadbent, Ben Wishaw) set in 1936 Cambridge; a San Francisco-set 70s thriller about a rogue journalist (Halle Berry) taking on a nuclear power chief (Hugh Grant); a 2012-set comedy about a down-on-his-luck London book editor (Broadbent); a sci-fi love story about an indentured wage slave (Doona Bae) and the rebel (Sturgess) who rescues her, set in “Neo Seoul” in 2144; and a 24th century-set tale of tribal warfare, where Zachry teams up with a visiting explorer (Berre) in search of a groundbreaking, planet-shaking discovery.

Despite their myriad differences, the half-dozen plot strands are coherently tied together via sharp editing by Alexander Berner (Resident Evil), who focuses on each separate story early on, and then mixes them up in several crescendo-building montages where movement and imagery are matched together across time. As if such links weren’t explicit enough, the characters all share a common birthmark, and have a tendency to repeat the same feel-good proverbs (ex. “By each crime, and every kindness, we build our future”) at various intervals.

Yet while the directorial trio does their best to ensure that things flow together smoothly enough and that their underlying message—basically, no matter what the epoch, we are all of the same soul and must fight for freedom—is heard extremely loud and incredibly clear, there are so many characters and plots tossed about that no one storyline feels altogether satisfying. As history repeats itself and the same master vs. slave scenario keeps reappearing, everything gets homogenized into a blandish whole, the impact of each story softened by the constant need to connect the dots.

Of all the pieces of the puzzle, the ones that feel the most effective are the 70s investigative drama, which has shades of Alan Pakula and Fincher’s Zodiac, and the futuristic thriller, where the Wachowskis show they can still come up with some nifty set-pieces, even if the production design (by Uli Hanisch and Hugh Bateup) and costumes (by Kym Barrett and Pierre-Yves Gayraud) feel closer to the artsy stylings of Wong Kar Wai’s 2046 than to the leather Lollapalooza that is The Matrix trilogy.

Perhaps such choices go hand in hand with a movie that yearns to be both arthouse and blockbuster, yet can’t seem to make up its mind. Thus, the decision to utilize the same actors helps to visually link up the plots, but is so conspicuous that it distracts from the drama. It’s hard to take Berry seriously when she’s been anatomically morphed into a Victorian housewife (she’s much better as the crusading reporter), or to swallow Hanks as a futuristic Polynesian tribesmen with a face tattoo and a funny way of talking (he says things like “Tell me the true true.”)

Broadbent’s experience in spectacles like Moulin Rouge! and Topsy-Turvy makes him better equipped for such shape-shifting, and his present day scenario is both the silliest and in some ways, the most touching. But it’s Hugo Weaving who seems to have more fun than anyone, especially when he plays a nasty retirement home supervisor reminiscent of Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and does so by getting into full-out drag. It’s an effect that’s amusingly disarming—not to mention evocative of Lana Wachowski’s recent backstory—in a film that aims for the clouds but is often weighed down by its own lofty intentions.

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'Cloud Atlas' review: Baring your soul - San Francisco Chronicle  Mick LaSalle

 

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Wagner, Andrew
 
STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING                    A-                    93

USA  (111 mi)  2007

 

A surprisingly good movie, small and intimate, under-budgeted, shot in just 18 days, allowing the actors plenty of freedom of expression, exploring the rarely seen New York City literary world through a few of its contributors, an aging novelist Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), and a young grad student Heather Wolfe (Lauren Ambrose) who chooses him as the subject of her Master’s thesis, hoping her interest may resuscitate his career, as he’s been deemed old school, no longer in fashion, his books long out of print.  Schiller hasn’t published in ten years, but he’s been dutifully working on his 5th novel, where he shuts himself off in his room and sits at his typewriter free from any outside interruptions.  Heather is a whirlwind of interest that disrupts the very core of his being, a graduate from Brown University who is bubbling over at the opportunity to work with him.  Their personalities couldn’t be more opposite, as he’s quiet, precise, subdued, and pretty much closed off from the outside world, while Heather is drop dead gorgeous, smart, aggressive, and a bit manipulative, though she covers it with incredible personal appeal, yet she’s so beguiling that it would be near impossible for any man to resist.  Schiller resists with every fiber in his body, suspecting she will only detract from his work, which is all he cares about.  Having never recovered from the impact of his wife’s death years ago, also recently recovered from a heart attack, he suspects he needs to manage his time and energy wisely.  She becomes the temptress in his life, openly seducing him in an attempt to get him to open up about his personal life, hoping this will be a window into his work.  But his life is extremely guarded, and while he acknowledges all writers use autobiographical material, he suspects that is not the secret to understanding his own work. 

 

Schiller has a grown daughter who is nearing 40, the always energized Ariel (Lili Taylor), a former dancer who now utilizes her talents as a fitness instructor, who is something of a disappointment to her father, as he’s always felt her life was adrift.  But she looks in on him regularly, makes him warm soup, and loves him dearly, so she’s suspicious of Heather, his newly discovered friend, who after an initial rejection has been making herself comfortable in his apartment.  There’s at least a 40-year age difference between them, but Heather is an ambitious go getter, a girl who lets nothing stand in her way, least of all him.   Ariel on the other hand, is pursuing the idea of having a baby, with or without a man, believing it’s now or never to start a family.  After falling away from one possible boyfriend, she pursues one of the lost loves of her life, Casey (Adrian Lester), and black radical writer who’s interested in restarting a leftist political magazine, but who’s adamant about no more children in his life.  Her breakup with him years ago was extremely painful, where she lost a child, so her father can’t bear the two seeing each other again, even if it offers her a temporary happiness. 

 

If all of this is starting to sound like a novel, it is – based on the novel by Brian Morton, adapted by the director and Fred Parnes, so the film exquisitely explores the deeper sides of the relationships, where Langella and Ambrose couldn’t be more fascinating, each in quite different ways, yet their onscreen chemistry is unmistakable, as is the unbridled bundle of joy that Lili Taylor represents, as her relationship with Lester provides insight into her father in ways Heather could never suspect.  It’s a strange film that lures us into this literary world with surprising sensitivity and taste, offering intelligence as a means to guide us through, where Heather gets into a spirited debate about Schiller with a Village Voice-like magazine editor, Jessica Hecht, pulling Schiller himself into the argument at one point, but he despises advertisement driven literary works, claiming they lack seriousness and depth.  This is a brilliant comment on our times, as we compartmentalize everything we do to such an extent that reading novels is no longer a serious part of our lives anymore, replaced by speed-reading through magazines and journals and newspapers, rapidly exploring the Internet, but rarely taking on profound literature.  The difference in character between Heather and Schiller could easily be defined by this single fact, as Schiller is devoted to the old style typewriter approach to writing while Heather on her laptop is looking for a quick sum up of his career that may generate a sales boost for his largely forgotten works, thinking this financial breakthrough is a way of defining his worth. 

 

Heather’s intentions couldn’t be more admirable, and she offers genuine affection, but the difference in perspective coming from their life experiences is startling.  The film spends plenty of time unraveling bits and pieces of Schiller’s past, while Heather’s life remains a complete mystery.  And therein lies the real problem with the film, amazingly enough with the writing.  The acting all around is simply superb, the look and pacing of the film is near perfect, the musical score tastefully restrained, but the writing in the end disappoints, especially the way the story treats Heather, who is a burst of light and a luminous force throughout the film.  Take her away and its scary how dark and empty the film feels without her.  Perhaps that’s the point, as we’re finally into Schiller’s real world that is filled with all the empty spaces that surround a blank page, but it’s dramatically absent the core feeling that makes this such a tender and brilliantly observed film.  In the end, it’s like watching a Broadway show in the dark, with people going through the motions, but we can barely make them out.    

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

A pretty, bright graduate student, Heather (Lauren Ambrose, from "Six Feet Under"), with an impossibly silky curtain of red hair, decides to do her thesis on a brilliant, but out of print author, Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella). They meet for a series of interviews, and they grow closer, she attracted to his genius and stature, and he to her beauty and intelligence. (Their fling his handled delicately and tastefully.) Written by Andrew Wagner (The Talent Given Us) and Fred Parnes, based on Brian Morton's novel, the film begins a little too much like a Woody Allen film, talky and overwritten, but it soon finds its groove. Langella has received much praise for his performance as the stiff, guarded, restrained author, and though I agree that Langella is a magnetic performer, I'm not sure he completely pulled this off; it's difficult to convey stiffness without giving a stiff performance. Regardless, Ambrose is the one who makes the relationship work; her connection and reaction to him finds the holes in the character and patches them (it reminded me of Tom Cruise's ignored performance, enhancing Dustin Hoffman's award-winning one, in Rain Man). But the real reason the film works is the subplot: Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), nearing forty, wishes to have a child. She re-connects with her true love, Casey (Adrian Lester), who absolutely refuses. Their stalemate is often more interesting than the main plot, and it provides an interesting counter-balance between couples. It asks: what do we want from this other person? The answer may not be here, but there's still plenty for smart audiences to savor.

Screen International   Brent Simon

A superb performance by Frank Langella anchors the exceedingly literate, engrossing Starting Out In The Evening, a richly drawn and for the most part artfully understated portrait of an aged novelist struggling with the flickering flame of creativity's muse. Mainstream breakout potential is highly unlikely given the film's serene rhythms and preference for debate over action, but distributor Roadside Attractions should reap solid arthouse returns courtesy of reliable critical praise and dependable word-of-mouth.

While not making a marked difference in terms of box office, certainly Langella's recent Tony Award-winning turn in Frost/Nixon, and just-wrapped reprisal in Ron Howard's forthcoming film adaptation, could have a positive impact on profile and awards consideration. Though positioned later in the calendar, Starting Out in the Evening could, like Ryan Gosling's Half Nelson last year, attract exactly the right sort of attention courtesy of the nuance of its lead performance.

Leonard Schiller (Langella) is a once-famous New York writer now given to small, pedestrian rituals — the standard analogue man in an increasingly digital world. His books long out-of-print, Leonard doesn't take a freelance gig writing advertising copy because he deems it an objectionable compromise; he instead pecks away at a novel he's been working on for more than a decade, and enjoys get-togethers with his adult daughter Ariel (Taylor).

Despite having suffered a heart attack the previous year, Leonard still doesn't have much use for self-reflection until Heather Wolfe (Ambrose), an ambitious grad student defined by an obscure hunger for self-definition, enters his life. Leonard's early novels had an electrifying impact on Heather, and she now wants to use her thesis project to spur a rediscovery of his work.

At once shaken and emboldened by their challenging interview sessions, Leonard's staid, respectful tolerance for Heather slowly melts into consideration. An indefinable and precarious intimacy develops between them, but the stars in Heather's eyes dim when she slowly comes to the conclusion that Leonard is too closed-off from certain unacknowledged traumas of his past to ever again write a truly great book. This cooling coincides, meanwhile, with an unexpected turn in Ariel's life when she rekindles a relationship with ex-boyfriend Casey (Lester), a matter that greatly worries Leonard given their differing priorities (she wants kids, Casey avowedly doesn't) in life.

Langella is well known for his stage portrayals of larger-than-life characters — including Dracula and Sherlock Holmes, among others — but his perfectly modulated performance here is one of managed disappointment. Leonard is an emotionally imploded man, able, in his great intellect, to parse and justify his self-interested behaviors. In his stillness and the consistency of his proper actions (both in movement and diction), Langella captures the character's regret in evocative fashion before the story even spells out the particulars.

Adapted by Fred Parnes and director Wagner from Brian Morton's novel of the same name, Starting Out In The Evening is characterized by a great and involving sense of character detail. The movie grapples in an intellectually honest fashion with notions of aging, responsibility and reinvention, and how they intersect with creative fire. Through it all, Wagner (2005 Sundance entry The Talent Given Us) trades in an unfussy style that keeps the focus firmly on his characters.

The one knock on Starting Out In The Evening is that it has such a strong sense of Leonard that Heather is a bit recklessly sketched. While intelligently written — she's certainly no bubbled-headed ditz — the manner in which she, and the movie, eventually address the inevitable elephant in the room, the potential of romantic connection, rings false. Heather's occasional lack of awareness at how others perceive her actions also seems implausible, and after a while, her pluck becomes a bit irksome.

Technical standards are fairly polished and of a piece with the material, if understandably strictly defined, given bankroller InDigEnt's typical production parameters of small budgets, 18-day shoots and available locations. Production designer Carol Strober elicits a warm, believably lived-in feel for academician Leonard's nest, and Adam Gorgoni's discreet score never conjures up explicit emotional signposts.

The Village Voice [Ella Taylor]

In Starting Out in the Evening, a new film by Andrew Wagner, a pneumatic graduate student spreads honey over the face of the elderly New York novelist she's trying to seduce. Later, the two will lie down on his bed with their hands by their sides, and later still, he will slap her face, lightly but definitively. If you've seen Wagner's sly family comedy The Talent Given Us, you'll know that he's very skilled at goofy moments like this. But in Starting Out, the snapshots are uncharacteristic and sparely used, punctuating the quieter but more telling gestures in this novelistic film. Faithful in style and spirit to the award-winning novel by Brian Morton, which Wagner adapted with Fred Parnes, this wise, observant, and exquisitely tacit chamber piece complicates every May-December, academic-novel cliché in the book.

A mutually dependent relationship unfolds between Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), an old-school writer of the Bellow-Roth-Howe generation of realists, and Heather (Six Feet Under's Lauren Ambrose), the eager-beaver Brown University grad who worms her way into Leonard's life and tries to persuade him that her forthcoming master's thesis on his work will put a new shine on the old man's dusty reputation.

When Heather, a thief in more ways than one, bursts in on Leonard's cramped, poorly lit Manhattan apartment with her long red hair and chipmunk cheeks, the long-widowed writer is putting the finishing touches to a manuscript 10 years in the making that no hip publisher will even look at. Langella is superb, at once held-in and intensely physical in his rendition of this proudly anachronistic man, a shell imprisoned in his impressive bulk and formal suit, with only the slightly hunted look in his otherwise blank eyes revealing a fear that his day may be done.

Starting Out in the Evening is about people who are just ticking over, not just Leonard but his devoted, equally becalmed daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor), whom he loves but distractedly holds at arm's length. A former dancer and Pilates instructor whose biological clock keeps murmuring "pushing 40," Ariel is girlish and eager to please in the awkward way of women who have fallen behind in the business of finding an adult identity to grow into. (She tiptoes in and out of her dad's apartment bearing soup.) Her lack of self-definition also makes her both a victim and an exploiter of poorly chosen men, notably a similarly under-evolved former boyfriend (Adrian Lester) whose re-entry into Ariel's life earns the reflexive disapproval of her father, even as he succumbs to the blandishments of a woman less than half his age.

Like Heather, Wagner went to Brown, and his grasp of the clash between old and new academe is witty and quietly assured. But if there's little question about whose side he and Morton are on, neither world gets off lightly, or without sympathy. Callow, ambitious, and raring to connect the dots between what she thinks she knows about Leonard's life and his art (the movie takes a discreet swipe at dirt-driven magazine writing in the form of a canny Village Voice editor nicely underplayed by Jessica Hecht), Heather is a parasite. But she's a useful one, for Leonard, with his fastidious—and, did he but know it, terrified—withdrawal from the world, is the embodiment of snooty ivory-tower detachment. Heather may not know as much as she thinks about Leonard's life, but she galvanizes him, albeit with a high cost to them both.

If Starting Out is a movie about how little we know and how much we presume, it is also about transformation, about heartbreak and halting renewal. There's no vulgar equivalence between Leonard and Heather, and when it comes down to it, Starting Out in the Evening comes down squarely on the side of the old-fashioned literary life. Yet if Leonard may be kept going (and kept out of print) by "the madness of art," he can't proceed without the painful recognition that, as he ruefully puts it, his characters haven't been doing anything interesting. He's always known that the unexamined life is not worth living. Heather may be an intellectual and emotional thief, but she has forcefully awakened Leonard to the fact that the unlived life may not be worth examining.

Salon.com [Stephanie Zacharek]

Every reader knows that the delicate emotional textures of a good book are the hardest things to re-create on film. Some filmmakers seem to know it, too: In adapting Brian Morton's sturdily exquisite 1998 novel, "Starting Out in the Evening," Andrew Wagner (who directed the 2004 feature "The Talent Given Us") may not get every nuance of the book exactly right. But it's rare to see a movie adaptation in which a filmmaker has taken so much care in translating the odd little qualities that make a particular novel special, to preserve the complex and fragile threads of feeling between characters that are often much easier to grasp on the page. "Starting Out in the Evening" is a small picture -- it was shot on location in New York City, in high-definition video, in 18 days -- but it's from a filmmaker who's used his brains to make up for any monetary resources he might have lacked. The picture feels both intimate and immediate, a model for what smart young filmmakers can do with good material.

Frank Langella plays Leonard Schiller, a novelist in his 70s who has achieved moderate acclaim during the course of his career but whose books have drifted out of print. He's been working on his fifth novel for 10 years -- and this is real, old-fashioned work we're talking about, not coffee-shop laptop noodling. Leonard dresses for work, in jacket and tie, and sits down at the typewriter in his study for a specified number of hours each day. He's the kind of old-style writer, in the mold of Saul Bellow and (in his dedication to toil, at least) Norman Mailer, that was already becoming a dying breed when Morton's novel was published. Today -- particularly after the death of Mailer -- these men are even scarcer on the landscape, which gives the story a sharper edge of poignancy.

Leonard's life is changed when an ambitious 20-something graduate student named Heather (Lauren Ambrose) approaches him: She wants his work to be the subject of her thesis. (One of the loveliest qualities of the story is the way it asserts that a life can be changed even when a person has reached his 70s.) Heather wants his approval and his participation (and possibly more), and she's convinced her research will spark a rediscovery of his work. Leonard demurs, but he finds the attentions of this attractive, intelligent young woman difficult to resist. Leonard's daughter, Ariel (Lili Taylor), a former dancer who's nearing 40 and longing for a child -- she's on the brink of renewing a relationship with an old flame, played by the wonderful Adrian Lester, who doesn't share her desire for children -- is puzzled by the unusual bond that has begun to form between Heather and her father, but she resists passing judgment on it. Still, her own relationship with Leonard has always been complicated and a little prickly: Her mother, Leonard's wife, has been dead for some 20 years. Although Leonard clearly loves his daughter, over the years he's poured more emotional energy into his work than he has into his relationship with her, for reasons that are purely human: Words are so much easier to manage than people are.

Wagner -- who wrote the screenplay with Fred Parnes -- sees that this is a story with no villains, although the threat of emotional treachery is always vibrating in the margins. His actors are all beautifully in tune with the material and with one another. Ambrose gives a very fine and terrifying performance: Even though there's an inviting roundness about her, her dark, glittery eyes suggest a calculating hardness. When Leonard takes her to a party filled with literary stars, she immediately dashes from his side to make a beeline for a powerful editor (played by Jessica Hecht), boldly ingratiating herself in a clear bid to get some work out of the woman. Even so, as Ambrose plays her, Heather isn't wholly unsympathetic -- she doesn't know how to control what she's started, simply because it's uncontrollable. She's a young person who has allowed herself to be guided by impulse and ambition rather than compassion.

Taylor also gives a wonderful performance here: Her Ariel has a breathless, open-hearted quality that makes you want to protect her, but she's not a sap -- the mistakes she makes are the normal ones any of us might make in figuring out what we want out of life and how to get it. She also carries the movie's most beautiful and most wrenching moment, one that I suspect will resonate with any adult who has ever lost, or faced the possible loss of, a parent.

Langella carries the weight of Leonard's mistakes, achievements and missed opportunities on his tweedy shoulders. This is a lovely, fine-grained performance, the sort of role an aging actor is lucky to get, but also one that demands a great deal of surefootedness and sensitivity. Early in the picture he stares at his new young friend with wide, unblinking eyes, as if she were a creature from Greek mythology sent to the here-and-now to confound and test him. Later, as he warms toward her, his cautious openness is heartwrenching. For years now, white male writers -- the old-style kind, like Leonard -- have been out of fashion. These are the kinds of guys we're never supposed to identify with, as punishment for the fact that their view of the world was once treated as supreme. "Starting Out in the Evening" suggests, among other things, that once these writers have disappeared, we'll have lost more than we know. Someday their books will be in style again. Until then, there's no law against feeling something for them. Understanding the human heart is an equal-opportunity affair, and old -- or even dead -- white guys have often done it as well as anybody else.

Starting Out in the Evening  Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

Movie Shark Deblore [debbie lynn elias]

 

indieWire.com [Anthony Kaufman]

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Variety.com [Scott Foundas]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

 

CompuServe [Harvey Karten]

 

Film-Forward.com  Yana Litovsky

 

Filmcritic.com Movie Reviews  Blake French

 

Cinema Signals (Jules Brenner)

 

Newsweek (David Ansen)

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein)

 

Cinemattraction.com [Charley McLean]

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Between Productions [Robert Cashill]

 

Film Journal International (Doris Toumarkine)

 

Slant Magazine [Jason Clark]   one of the more misguided reviews out there

 

Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 
Wajda, Andrzej
 
MAN OF MARBLE

Poland  (165 mi)  1977

 

Time Out

 

A jaundiced regard for documentary practice pervades Wajda's slice of Polish history, which takes the form of an inquiry conducted by a young, aggressive film-school graduate into the fate, after reward, repudiation and rehabilitation, of a '50s Stakhanovite shock-worker, a record-breaking bricklayer. Film-as-evidence (monochrome flashbacks represent propagandist archive footage) is stripped of its authority just as inexorably as the investigative process meets an impasse at the point where preconceptions and actuality intersect. Wajda builds his own 'detection' story with complete assurance, though it's often difficult to decide whether his visual style is a parody of TV's (an ageing cameraman bemoans the constant use of hand-held shots and the wide-angle lens) or an accommodation of it.

 

Chicago Reader (Dave Kehr)

Andrzej Wajda appropriates the structure of Citizen Kane to mount as frank an attack on Stalinist ethics as possible in an Eastern European film in 1976. The mechanics of socialist mythology are explored as an ambitious filmmaker (Krystyna Janda, manic and bizarre) delves into the fate of a worker-hero who fell from official favor. Immortalized in a marble statue, he survives as an archetype while melting away as an individual. Wajda makes fine use of the investigative format in telling his story, but many of the incidental points are unclear, and the ending, pruned by the Polish censors, is totally unsatisfying. Late Wajda is a matter of plot, statement, and little else; his characters are merely functional, his camera style uninteresting. But the material here is compelling, for all its lack of resolution, and the film sustains interest throughout its 165-minute running time.

DVD Talk (Don Houston)

It wasn't long ago that film critics and consumers alike were scoffing at Vanguard Cinema for a lack of quality in terms of content and technical matters. The company took such criticism to heart and worked to improve both aspects at once. Since that time, they gained access to a number of excellent foreign films, most notably the back catalog for Andrzej Wadja, the Polish directing genius, and have planned their release over time. The latest such release is Man Of Marble (Cztowiek Z Marmuru). Here's what the boxcover said:

"Not only is Andrzej Wajda's award winning MAN OF MARBLE one of the most important films in the history of Polish cinema, it is one of the most compelling attacks on government corruption ever made. It is a Citizen Kane - styled story where Wajda introduces us to a young woman in Krakow who is making her thesis film. She is looking behind the scenes at the life of a 1950s bricklayer, Birkut, who was briefly elevated to the status of a communist hero. She wants to know how his heroism was created and what became of him. She gets a hold of censored footage and interviews with the man's friends and ex-wife, and the filmmaker who made him a hero. A portrait of Birkut emerges as a man who believed in the socialist ideals, the workers revolution, and in building housing for all. The young filmmakers hard-driving style and the content of the film however unnerve her supervisor, who thinks it's content is getting too close to a political nerve. The film project is killed with the excuse she is over budget but the young filmmaker pushes forward against all odds to finish her film."

The story saw the exploits of the young student director as she led an investigative approach to what the truth behind the bricklaying hero was. Did the man really exist or was he a fiction character of the massive propaganda campaign? As she dug ever deeper, she discovered that Birkut was in fact an ideal man who truly cared for his fellow worker; the basis for making communism/socialism work as espoused by philosophers throughout the years. She found that he embodied the principles needed but was left wholly unprepared to deal with the realities of any system that relies on people and he soon was turned from hero to criminal by those who wanted to use him as a visual aid without his opinion or help. In short, the system that sought to use him as a dumb, malleable worker for their own benefit, quickly tired when he used his position to advocate his fellow workers, at which time he was taken out of the picture after being discredited.

I think Wajda, himself a victim of the political leanings of corrupt governments over the years, hit this one square on the head. Much like his films on Capitalism and War, the famed director presents a compelling cautionary tale that shows how revisionist history works as well as how the powers that be will distort any truths in order to accomplish their goals. Lest you think the movie is solely about the two political systems so properly skewered here, keep in mind that the themes of corruption and misuse of government resources to bury inconvenient people are particularly fitting in these times, regardless of your political leanings. For all it's strengths in direction, acting and writing, I think this one is well worth a rating of Highly Recommended, even without the advertised extras and the minor print flaws. Check it out.

History is replete with examples of regimes that sought to control the media and use it to discredit their opponents for their own gain. In this day of the Internet, even private groups seek to do the same thing, albeit with less degree of certainty, and movies such as this one remind us to be careful how we build, and ultimately destroy, our heroes. I look forward to more releases by Vanguard, particularly if they continue to obtain such gems as this one, but I'd really appreciate it if the company would spend more time restoring the prints before transferring them to DVD. In all though, it was well done and looked better than the small trailer I saw on videotape several years back (even the subtitles are much better on this one).

Man Of Marble. Man Of Iron   Polish Film and Politics, by Lisa DiCarpio from Jump Cut

 

Man of Marble  Acquarello from Strictly Film School

 

Epinions DVD review [Stephen O. Murray]

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby)

 
MAN OF IRON

Poland  (153 mi)  1981  ‘Scope

 

Channel 4 Film

With his magnificent war trilogy - A Generation, Kanal and Ashes and Diamonds - Wajda helped establish Polish cinema as a vibrant force. But as his fellow directors moved abroad and times changed, he gradually found that monumental political works, such as this one in support of the Solidarity movement and its equally ambitious predecessor Man of Marble, failed to engage international audiences. He wrote in despair that Eastern European films seemed 'of little or no interest to people in the West'. Twenty years on, this story of a journalist (Opania) who has to cover the crucial 1980 shipyard strike in Gdansk from the official viewpoint seems even more remote and less relevant. Even so, when it was still topical it was awarded Best Film at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival.

Time Out

 

Wajda's remarkable sequel to Man of Marble welds newsreel footage of the Solidarity strike to fiction in a strong investigative drama. A disillusioned, vodka-sodden radio producer is bundled off to Gdansk in a black limousine. His mission: to smear one of the main activists - who also happens to be the son of the hapless 'Marble' worker-hero. But, tempered by bitter experience of the failed reforms of '68 and '70, these new men of iron are more durable than their fathers, not as easily smashed. Media cynicism, censorship and corruption are again dominant themes, this time anchored through the TV coverage of the strike, though the conclusion hints with guarded optimism at a possible rapprochement between workers and intelligentsia. An urgent, nervy narrative conveys all the exhilaration and bewilderment of finding oneself on the very crestline of crucial historical change; and for the viewer, all the retrospective melancholy of knowing that euphoria shattered by subsequent events.

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

Man Of Marble. Man Of Iron   Polish Film and Politics, by Lisa DiCarpio from Jump Cut

 

KATYN                                                                      C                     75                                           

Poland (118 mi)  2007   ‘Scope

 

Despite the historical relevance of this film that attempts to set the record straight in telling the story of a Russian massacre of some 12,000 to 20,000 Polish officers, intellectuals, professionals, and soldiers in the Katyn forest located 12 miles west of Smolensk, Russia in 1940, later blamed by the Soviets on the Nazi’s several years later in a brazen (and at the time successful) attempt to alter the historical record and maintain Allied sympathies with Russia in the West, and despite the importance of unearthing the truth about war crimes, as there were two other similar burial sites in Mednoye and Piatykhatky admitted to by Russian Premiere Mikhail Gorbachov in 1990 totalling nearly 26,000 Poles killed, perhaps a fictionalized war drama is not the way to go about telling a story of this significance, even by a heralded Polish filmmaker who’s own father was murdered there.  Unfortunately, the grim tone of this film bears the Spielberg stamp of moral overreach, an honest, good-hearted but humanly flawed attempt that melodramatically overempahisizes the director’s own point of view, which is to make sure audiences will know what to think when they leave the theater.  In my view, this is conventional filmmaking at its mediocre worst, as the characters are never fleshed out but are drawn in stereotypical depictions, all emphatically meant to portray a specific type, an honorable Polish army officer in captivity, his loving and long suffering wife and child, good intentioned family and friends who are caught in the middle of not knowing what’s going on, corrupted Polish officers that survived only to be used by the Russians to help convey the “truth” of the Russian myth imposed on the Polish people, idealistic professors and intellectuals who were duped by the Nazi’s and later executed, bold, heroic Polish women who years later would rather die than admit to the Russian lie, next generation students after the war who for decades were not allowed to mention Katyn, subject to signed confessions admitting guilt or imprisonment, and of course, a shadowy Russian presence that only comes to light in a starkly realized final sequence of the massacre itself, where a bullet to the back of the head was Stalin’s method of choice, one after another falling into mass graves.  

           

I can’t speak for others, but the most effective cinema recollections of Holocaust atrocities, battle sequences since WW II, war crimes footage, or even seeing the Japanese bury Chinese citizens alive with bulldozers in the Nanking Massacre of 1937, has been through documentary footage that makes an indelible imprint in one’s memory banks that is not skewed by opinion or point of view, that simply shows what happens – here it is, look for yourself, perhaps something similar to the Rodney King footage.  Accordingly, within this film, like Hamlet’s play within the play, are two stunning newsreel depictions of Katyn, one by the Nazi’s in 1943 blaming the Russians (accurate) and the other by the Russians in 1945 blaming the Nazi’s (bogus).  Similarly, the director makes excellent use of the Polish officer’s diary that meticulously records being transported from camp to camp as he is being moved to the Katyn forest and then is strangely silent.  But this film leaves itself open to so many other subjective criteria, such as the annoying portrayal of the long suffering wife (Maja Ostaszewska, a stand-in for the director’s mother) righteously behaving as if she’s part of a privileged elite class, who always looks and dresses like a well dressed, lipstick-and-hair-always-in-place, movie actress, where the same could be said for almost any other character in the film, none of whom are particularly compelling or memorable.  Adapted from Andrzej Mularczyk's book Post Mortem – The Katyn Story, based on the letters and diaries of actual people, few of whom survive, perhaps the strongest and most powerful record left by this film is the singular brilliance of its composer, Krzysztof Penderecki, whose work “The Awakening of Jacob” has been previously chosen by the likes of Kubrick and Lynch, but is perhaps best suited here in his homeland where his music, especially the way it is used in the finale, adds a stunning elegiac reverance. 

 

KATYN (d. Andrzej Wajda;  Poland) *** 1/2  Ken Rudolph 

 

Wajda is, and has been for decades, an important master filmmaker; and this film proves that his skills are still vibrant.  It's the epic story of an early WWII massacre of captive Polish officers by the Soviets, who tried to change the perception of history after the war by promulgating a big lie that it was the Germans who committed this atrocity.  Much of this history came as a revelation to me; and occasionally I had trouble understanding the ins-and-outs of post-war Polish politics.  But that didn't stop me from respecting the sheer importance of this film and the tremendous artfulness of Wadja's achievement. 

 

Moviepie.com review

First up was famed Polish director Andrzej Wajda's Oscar-nominated film Katyn (4/8), a movie of great importance with a super-powerful climax that otherwise came across as muddled, disjointed, and rather uninvolving. Spanning from 1939 until after the war when the Soviets occupy Poland, several folks are followed, including a Polish general, an officer, a pilot, and the families/sisters/children that are left behind. None of the characters are explored with very much depth, and it doesn't help that some are children at the start of the film and are adults at the end. It is unfortunate the that film was only so-so, as it is obviously portraying a huge incident to the Poles, where 12,000 officers, scientists, intellectuals, and artists were massacred in the forest of Katyn by Soviets, who then turned the "official" blame on the Nazis when the war ended, literally rewriting history. The last 10 or 20 minutes are shocking and unbearable, showing the victims' fate, but everything leading up to it was unfortunately not too gripping.

User comments  from imdb (Page 2) Author: denis888 from Russian Federation

The very fact that this new film has already been prohibited in my native country, Russia, says miles about the real value of this grand masterpiece of Mr. Andrzej Wajda. Katyn is a very serious, deep, highly emotional, grave and dark movie. The topic of mass massacres of Polish officers by Soviet NKVD forces is still very painful in both states. In Russia, the fact was officially acknowledged only several years ago, but times have changed and we see the total return to Soviet propaganda. Here, the film is blackened with libel of "Pre-paid anti-Russian propaganda" and "senile silly work of once great Wajda". Not so! I loved every second of this breathtaking saga of several families whose men were killed in cold blood in April 1940 in the woods of Katyn. Poland is shown torn apart by the Nazi and the Soviets. Both sides are cruel and merciless, people are murdered and sent to death camps. But still, even in the midst of this craziness, there are people, valiant and brave. Major Popov, played by great Russian actor Sergey Garmash, saves the family of one officer, and we can feel that he will pay by his own life too. Nobody is happy in this film. All heroes are either killed or arrested, or commit suicide or are broken. Heavy heart, tears, pain... This great film Must be shown in Russia...

Stalin's Killing Field  Benjamin B. Fischer from the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, April 14, 2007 (excerpt)

The Katyn Forest massacre was a criminal act of historic proportions and enduring political implications. When Nazi occupation forces in April 1943 announced the discovery of several mass graves, propaganda minister Josef Goebbels hoped that international revulsion over the Soviet atrocity would drive a wedge into the Big Three coalition and buy Germany a breathing space, if not a victory, in its war against Russia. (A headline in the May 1943 Newsweek read: "Poles vs. Reds: Allied Unity Put to Test Over Officer Dead.") But Goebbels miscalculated. Despite overwhelming evidence of Soviet responsibility, Moscow blamed the Germans, and for the rest of the war Washington and London officially accepted the Soviet countercharge. When the Polish government-in-exile in London demanded an international inquiry, Stalin used this as a pretext to break relations. The Western allies objected but eventually acquiesced. Soon thereafter, the Soviet dictator assembled a group of Polish Communists that returned to Poland with the Red Army in 1944 and formed the nucleus of the postwar government. Stalin's experience with the Katyn affair may have convinced him that the West, grateful for the Red Army's contribution to the Allied military effort, would find it hard to confront him over Poland after the war…

Meanwhile, the Soviets obliterated references to Katyn on maps and in official reference works. Then, in 1969, Moscow did something strange that many believe was further calculated to confuse the issue further: it chose a small village named Khatyn as the cite for Belorussia's national war memorial. There was no apparent reason for the selection. Khatyn was one of 9,200 Belorussian villages the Germans had destroyed and one of more than a hundred where they had killed civilians in retaliation for partisan attacks. In Latin transliteration, however, Katyn and Khatyn look and sound alike, though they are spelled and pronounced quite differently in Russian and Belorussian. When President Nixon visited the USSR in July 1974, he toured the Khatyn memorial at his hosts' insistence. Sensing that the Soviets were exploiting the visit for propaganda purposes, The New York Times headlined its coverage of the tour: "Nixon Sees Khatyn, a Soviet Memorial, Not Katyn Forest." (The Times probably got it right. During the Vietnam war, the Soviets frequently took visiting US peace activists to Khatyn.)

The Economist

A CRIME and a lie are the twin strands in the shameful tragedy of Katyn: the massacre of 20,000 Polish officers by the Soviet secret police, and the cover-up that followed. Now Andrzej Wajda, Poland's leading film maker, has made his last film (he is 81) about what he calls the “unhealed wound” in his country's history.

Mr Wajda's own father, Jakub, was murdered at Katyn, as were family members of many of the production team. Those killings come in a gruelling, 15-minute final sequence. First, the film shows in sombre and claustrophobic detail the Polish POWs' travels to Golgotha; the occupation authorities' vengeance on their families, and flashes forward to the attempts by the country's post-war rulers to disguise and deface the historical record.

The film has been nominated for best foreign-language film at this year's Oscars. Those watching it should not expect to come away happily humming the dramatic theme music by Krzysztof Penderecki. “Katyn” is based on the letters and diaries of real-life victims—unearthed when the Nazis first came across the mass graves in 1943. The last entry records the Polish officers' arrival at the killing fields. “A thorough search. They didn't find my wedding ring. They took my belt, my penknife and my watch. It showed 0630 Polish time. What will happen to us?”

Expert cinematography, compelling acting, and a story that leaves the viewer both sorrowful and angry, are a strong combination. But they may not be quite enough to convince the judges. “Katyn” is filmed from an uncompromisingly Polish point of view. Some outsiders may find it confusing. One of the most powerful scenes, for example, is the mass arrest of the professors of Cracow University by the Germans. Those who already know about the upheaval that followed the German invasion of 1939 will see the point: the Soviets and the Nazis were accomplices. Others may puzzle.

The moral dilemmas of post-war Polish collaborators are better portrayed than those of the wartime occupiers. If honouring the dead means doom for your family—or for you—is it better to keep silent? Poles faced that choice again and again after 1945, as their new rulers used Katyn as a litmus test of loyalty. But barring one Red Army officer, impeccably played by a Ukrainian actor, Sergei Garmash, who saves his neighbours (an officer's widow and child) from deportation, the foreigners are so villainous as to be little more than sinister mannequins.

Melodrama is perhaps one fault of the film; an oddly sanitised picture of daily life is another. Teeth, complexions and clothes all evoke the prosperous Poland of today more than the squalor and hunger of 1945. Material deprivation brings out the worst and the best in people. But it needs to be shown to make the measure convincing.

Astonishingly, some in Russia are now reviving the lie that the murderers at Katyn were not by the NKVD, but the Nazis. That was maintained during the communist era, but only by punishing savagely those who tried to tell the truth. Last year, as Mr Wajda's film opened in Poland, a commentary in a Russian government newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta, dismissed the evidence of Soviet involvement in Katyn as “unreliable”. An Oscar would be a good answer to that.

DVD Times [Michael Brooke]

 

New York Review of Books  Anne Applebaum

 

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young] Berlin Film Festival 2008

 

Monsters and Critics  Ron Wilkinson

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Tomasz Lychowski from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Marcin Kukuczka from Cieszyn, Poland

 

Screen International review  Lee Marshall in Berlin

 

Prost Amerika  Mati Bishop

 

The Age review  Jake Wilson

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  Kirk Honeycutt

 

Variety.com [Leslie Felperin]

 

Taipei Times [Ian Bartholomew] (English)

 

Katyn massacre - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Official site of the Memorial of Katyn

 

Polish deaths at Soviet hands – website about Katyn forest massacre

 

The Katyn Massacre: An Assesment of its Significance as a Public and Historical Issue in the USA and GB, 1940-1993  Masters Thesis by Louis Robert Coatney, December 1993

 

The Lies of Katyn   Jamie Glazov from FrontPage magazine, August 8, 2000

 

Stalin's Killing Field  Benjamin B. Fischer from the CIA Center for the Study of Intelligence, April 14, 2007

 

Wajeman, Elie
 
ELIYAH

France  (90 mi)  2012

Aliyah  Fionnuala Halligan at Cannes from Screendaily

As the title, and superficially the script, might suggest, Aliyah is about a young Jewish man’s “ascent” to Israel. The fact that he is dealing drugs across Paris to fund the journey and listening to Hebrew language tapes while weighing up wraps of cocaine may give Aliyah a frisson of the forbidden - but Elie Wajeman’s debut is mostly about one man’s fight to escape the shadow of his brother and carve out a new version of himself. That this might occur in Israel is almost a secondary consideration.

Sincere and engaging, Aliyah fields a fresh and attractive cast with the director Cedric Kahn taking a lead role. The central relationship between Alex (Pio Marmai) and his overpowering brother Isaac (Kahn) is beautifully conceived and executed, a Cain and Abel push-and-pull that’s satisfyingly subtle and oblique. But there’s a lack of narrative tension that pulls Aliyah up short. The question of whether Alex will ever make it to Israel never feels urgent enough, although Aliyah does make it clear that if and when he gets there, it will be a Promised Land of all varieties of Jews, for better or worse - some running to something, others running away.

Wajeman has made a debut that calls to mind the world of Mia Hansen-Love, adopting a natural approach that takes on specific and yet highly universal themes. Some of the film is opaque: it hints at past events and makes reference to the brothers’ dead mother and unfeeling father, but it never offers an explanation. Yet other sections are over-emphasised and verge on the ponderous.

Ultimately, Alex has a tendency to take a casual attitude to his own fate which the film finds hard to overcome. Part of a close-knit extended Jewish family, Alex and his cousins are relaxed about their faith. Yet one has just returned from military service in Israel and is about to start a restaurant in Tel Aviv. Spontaneously, hash-dealer Alex says he wants to be part of it. The money he makes selling drugs goes on keeping Isaac out of scrapes, but now he ups the ante to scooting cocaine across the French capital to fund his investment in the restaurant and journey to an Israel he’s only once visited as a child and can’t even remember. “Maybe the country’s as screwed-up as I am,” he says - one of Aliyah’s more attention-seeking lines.

Nothing and nobody seems to be in any real peril in this chatty film. You always get the feeling that just as easily as Alex said he was in, he could be out again. He strikes up a sweet relationship with goy Jeanne (Haenel) but it’s clearly not going anywhere, and he has bittersweet feelings about his ex, Esther (Sarah Picard). As the brothers, Marmai and Kahn are convincing, with director-writer Kahn delivering just the right amount of edge to make Isaac a persuasively realistic bully.

With solid production values and some persuasive flourishes from cinematographer Chizallet, Aliyah opens and closes to Schonberg but remains mostly silent in between, apart from Sixto Rodriguez’ Sugar Man, an odd but effective selection.

Aliyah: Cannes Review  Jordan Mintzer at Cannes from The Hollywood Review

 
Walker, Lucy
 
WASTE LAND                                                         B+                   90

Brazil  Great Britain  (99 mi)  2010  co-directors:  Karen Haley and João Jardim

 

Now Suzanne takes your hand
And she leads you to the river
She is wearing rags and feathers
From Salvation Army counters
And the sun pours down like honey
On our lady of the harbour
And she shows you where to look
Among the garbage and the flowers
There are heroes in the seaweed
There are children in the morning
They are leaning out for love
And they will lean that way forever
While Suzanne holds the mirror


And you want to travel with her
And you want to travel blind
And you know that you can trust her
For she's touched your perfect body
with her mind

 

Suzanne, (Third verse), Leonard Cohen, 1966

 

WASTE LAND is another film that asks the question just what is art?  But in this case, the person asking is already an established commercial artist, Vik Muniz, a Brazilian-born visual artist living in New York, claiming his works are the highest selling art coming out of Brazil.  What’s unique about his methods is incorporating natural, everyday items onto the canvas, such as thread, wire, string, paper, peanut butter and jelly, or sugar, where his theory is that if your vantage point is up close, it looks like a jumbled mess, becoming beautiful from a distance, where it becomes something unimaginable.  He describes his hometown of Sao Paolo in the same manner, as the impoverished streets can be harsh and cruel, but if seen from a great distance, such as the aerial view from an incoming airplane or seen from a high vista, it has a breathtaking beauty.  Initially he gets the idea to visit the Jardim Gramacho dump, which is the world’s largest landfill, a vast stretch of undeveloped land that accepts 70 % of Rio de Janeiro’s garbage, adding all of the neighboring suburbs.  Until you get up close, you have no idea just how immense this is, as it is a community in itself due to the steady stream of some three thousand workers, known as catadores, many of whom live in a shanty village onsite, who pick through the garbage for reusable, recycled products which they can sell, eking out a barest minimum of a living.  Muniz brings his camera and introduces himself to dozens of the workers, starting at first by taking their picture and then narrowing his focus to a half a dozen subjects that interest him.   

 

First and foremost is Tiaõ, an ambitious young man who aspires to build a coalition of workers to help improve their living conditions while also becoming the point man leading demonstrations against the mayor and the city for dragging their feet and refusing to implement a citywide recycling program, as promised.  Suelem is an attractive 18-year old with a strikingly good looking face, but she has two children living with her sister away from the dump that she misses, so she periodically leaves the dump shantytown to visit them in a different dilapidated shack nearby that looks just the same, except they’re wired for a TV.  Isis is another attractive young woman with man problems, while Magna (truly the most interesting to me) is more mature, with a world weary expression on her face, as if she’s somehow capable of surviving some of the worst battles, while Irmã is the eldest and the woman who’s probably worked there the longest.  All live on the premises and are slowly brought into Vik’s world, as he has a large studio nearby where he takes the photographs, enlarges them to huge, places them on the ground, and then embellishes them with products found in the landfill, a tedious process that includes the involvement of the catadores themselves, who get a personalized taste of the high end art world, all startled by how it looks from a proper distance.  What’s interesting is the discussion about what happens next, as Vik’s wife comes to visit and she’s quite demonstrative about how taking responsibility for their lives is beyond any concept of art, as they’re being introduced unto a brand new world with no instructions on how to navigate their way through, claiming they are all fragile and vulnerable.  But Vik is not interested in negativity and in no short order rejects his wife’s ideas completely, claiming even if just for a moment if they could live outside the landfill for a few precious weeks and see how the rest of the world operates, that in itself would be a life altering experience equivalent to the transforming power of art. 

 

Next thing you know, Tiaõ is whisked off to London where his photograph will be the first one auctioned in a high end art exhibit, right next to works of Andy Warhol.  This is where the unique power of the film becomes evident, as this is truly a transforming experience, as never in his wildest dreams did Tiaõ ever imagine himself in this position, as the photograph sold for $50,000.  When the rest of the crew gets all dressed up walking out of their shanty huts, it’s like they’re going to a wedding, but instead it’s to the opening night of Vik’s gallery opening in Rio de Janeiro featuring photographs of them, where they are the living subjects of the art hanging on the walls.  Clearly they are moved by the power of the moment, which goes beyond proud or surprised, or even humbled.  They are in shock at the sheer audacity of the idea itself, how something they could never conceive was being valued and appreciated by others.  Their emotional lives are simply shattered and overwhelmed by it all, where the exhibit itself is like a personal gift and tribute to them.  While it’s evident Vik identifies with them all, something that probably took him by surprise, as he could easily have slid into this same kind of demoralizing poverty as a young kid.  Still, the story about the artworks themselves is nothing new, as art is constantly used to taking on new faces and reaching out into unthinkable horizons.  What’s clearly unique, surprising even the artist himself, is the notion of living art, something like living theater, where the subjects themselves interact with the artist and the audience in unanticipated ways, where there’s a personal investment in each one, initially thought of only in dollars and cents, but it ends up being the collaborative shared emotional life altering transformation the artist and filmmaker were searching for all along.   

 

Waste Land Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out London  Dave Calhoun

British doc maker Lucy Walker (‘Blindsight’, ‘Devil’s Playground’) profiles the successful Brazilian, New York-based artist Vik Muniz as he executes a project which touches on issues relating to his own modest background and the responsibility of anyone offering a temporary leg-up to those with limited opportunities. Walker joins Muniz as he travels to Rio de Janeiro’s immense Jardim Gramacho rubbish dump to photograph workers and transform those photos into giant portraits composed entirely from rubbish. Muniz then auctions the work to fund community programmes in the area. Walker clearly – and justly – admires Muniz but also just about honours our worries about these workers being given a brief glimpse of a very different life.

Review: Waste Land - Reviews - Boston Phoenix  Gerald Peary

 

Vik Muniz, a well-regarded Brazilian artist living in New York, is a socially conscious individual, and his photography-based œuvre celebrates the forgotten poor of Central and South America, with much of the profits being returned to the impoverished subjects of his artistry. For this documentary, filmmaker Lucy Walker accompanied Muniz on his most ambitious undertaking: a photographic tribute to the thousands who pick through the mountainous trash at Rio de Janeiro’s central landfill, digging in the rubble for recycling. Walker combines stirring studies of many of the Jardim Gramacho workers with a documenting of Muniz’s project — large-scale, dignified portraits framed by rephotographed, recyclable garbage. So here’s the question: are the indigent better off for this transformational experience, or does it just make returning to their grueling, stinking job that much more bitter? One worker’s answer: “I’m a person now — before, I was a little mule.”

 

The Village Voice [Eric Hynes]  also seen here:  Where Art and Life Intersect, Waste Land 

A fascinating look at the complex intersections of art and charity, reality and perception, Waste Land follows celebrated New York artist Vik Muniz back to his native Brazil, where he’ll work with outer Rio garbage-pickers on an ambitious art project. Ostensibly called to “give back” to the impoverished region from whence he came—after the magnanimous collaboration, the plan is to auction off the art as a fundraiser—Muniz finds that the individual lives he encounters are far more complex than the morbid hordes he’d expected. These “catadores” aren’t faceless bottom-feeders but proud laborers who’ve chosen the dirty job of hand-recycling over drug-trafficking and prostitution. Fast becoming one of today’s most adventurous and empathetic documentarians, director Lucy Walker (Countdown to Zero, Blindsight) wisely keeps the film several paces removed from Muniz, whether to capture footage that falls beyond the artist’s scope or to subtly critique both the art- and filmmaking processes. From a studio in New York, Muniz and Walker plot a story, and then at the massive landfill, we see how they select characters to represent it. It’s to their credit that the story adapts to these fiercely human characters, and that Muniz honestly contemplates his irresolvable quandary of intervention. The resultant art and film are uncommonly moving, but Walker keeps an eye on the messy pile of life that looms beyond the frame.

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

Jardim Gramacho is the biggest landfill in the world, taking in 70% of Rio de Janeiro's rubbish every day, and Lucy Walker's brilliant Waste Land shines a light on the people who make a living sifting through that trash for recyclable materials. Brazilian artist Vik Muniz had the idea of visiting this location and helping the pickers create self-portraits using the materials they have retrieved from the mountains of garbage they wade through every day, and Waste Land follows this project from its conception through to its extraordinary climax. The film is driven by the great characters and human stories that it finds in Jardim Gramacho: Tiaõ, the charismatic young man determined to form an association to support the pickers along with his colleague Zumbi; Isis, a woman who dreams of finding love and who has suffered a terrible tragedy; Valter, the enthusiastic veteran who is constantly offering words of wisdom, such as "99 is not 100." In sharing their stories and ambitions, Walker really makes us care about these individuals, and there is a tremendous sense of excitement in seeing their hard work pay off when Muniz begins taking their portraits to exhibitions around the world, raising much-needed funds and showing them a world they never imagined they'd see. Vik and his team do pause for thought at one point, wondering if it is wise to give them this glimpse of another life before sending them back to the dump, but in the picture's exhilarating finale we see how they have been inspired by their experiences to make a positive change in their situations. Walker does a wonderful job of balancing the overall arc of the film with the human stories within it, and the second half of the film moved me to tears on numerous occasions.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

Located outside Rio de Janeiro, Jardim Gramacho is the world’s largest landfill, collecting an astonishing 70 percent of the city’s garbage, and a full 100 percent from the surrounding suburbs. It isn’t just a dump, it’s a village populated by “pickers” who rummage through the piles for recyclable materials and take their earnings back to families in neighboring shantytowns. Seen from above, the pickers look uncannily like ants on a mound, congregating en masse whenever a dump truck unloads another pile, and scurrying in and out with bags full of bottles and plastic they can turn around for money. On the surface, however, there’s a surprisingly sophisticated, and evolving culture at work, with scrappy laborers trying and succeeding to convert trash into (extremely modest) treasure, and even organizing to their collective benefit.   

The compelling documentary Waste Land follows an ideal tour guide through Jardim Gramacho: Vik Muniz, a successful Brazilian artist known for incorporating trash and other unconventional materials into his work. (Muniz has recreated Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa twice, once with peanut butter and again with jelly, and did a series of portraits called “Sugar Children,” made from sugar taken from a plantation that employed the very young.) Muniz’s idea was to photograph pickers from Jardim Gramacho, sell the images at auction, and pump the proceeds back into the community. Lucy Walker’s documentary gives voice to the six subjects of Muniz’s photos, who range from the optimistic leader of a 3,000-person picker-representing organization to a cook who salvages unspoiled meat to feed her fellow workers.

Though narrower in scope and lacking the first-person angle, Waste Land resembles Agnès Varda’s great 2000 documentary The Gleaners & I, particularly in its awe of tough, creative, hard-working people who live on the margins. The dump itself is a marvel to behold, and Moby’s eerie score adds a cinematic ambience that helps relieve some of the stock documentary elements, like the way Muniz’s adventures are sometimes framed like a reality-TV show. It also does Muniz one better by humanizing photographs that are often too aestheticized and unresponsive to how his subjects actually live and work. Waste Land travels to an island populated by society’s discards, and finds a piece of salvation.

Cineaste  Karen Backstein

In the 1960s and ’70s, revolutionary Third World film had as its aim nothing less than the transformation of society through cinema. By removing the blinders put on audiences by Hollywood’s commercial fare, and championing both an “imperfect” cinema and the active spectator, filmmakers hoped to generate real political consciousness among the masses. But can an artist of any kind really change the world through his work?

Internationally successful Brazilian-born painter Vik Muniz believed that he could make a huge difference. So he left his adopted home in New York to return to Rio—but not to the city’s renowned beaches, tourist sites, or even the gun-packed hillside favelas that have become standard fare in so many recent Brazilian films. Instead, he focused on the ironically named Jardim (garden) Gramacho, the world’s largest landfill, and on the people who scavenge in this mind-bogglingly vast mountain of garbage. Muniz was determined to do nothing less than transform their lives through art.

Waste Land—or Lixo Extraordinario (Extraordinary Garbage) in Portuguese—documents Muniz’s work among the catadores, those who dig through the trash to gather all the recyclables, which they in turn sell to large companies eager to get the materials but not to do the labor. Directed by Lucy Walker, with codirectors Karen Harley and Joao Jardim, the film follows Muniz as he chooses several “pickers” to join him in creating a huge painted and collaged canvas, incorporating items scavenged from the trash. He then, additionally, paints portraits of these subjects, often in poses and scenes rich in cultural allusions, such as Jacques-Louis David’s The Death of Marat.

Obviously, one factor that distinguishes Waste Land is the landfill itself, a site so astoundingly enormous that it becomes an object of visual and intellectual fascination. Set on the outskirts of the city, Jardim Gramacho receives 7,000 tons of garbage each day, and serves as the central repository for Rio’s trash. A disturbing fun-house mirror on nature’s own landscape, this manmade dump yields dunes and peaks, and, like an actual garden it “grows,” nourished not by sunshine and water but by the never-ending influx of detritus. Also, like a garden, it feeds those who cultivate its dirt. Not only does it provide the scavengers with cash to buy food and other necessities, but in it they also uncover practical treasures, including furniture, books, clothing, and more.

 In Waste Land, Jardim Gramacho is presented as the inevitable consequence of our throwaway consumer culture and a concrete representation of the chasm between the extreme poor and even the moderately wealthy, who casually, thoughtlessly toss away mounds of still-usable goods on a regular basis. Seen from an ecological point of view, Gramacho is a microcosm of our planet, increasingly buried under too much human waste for anyone to handle.

But the “garden” is a paradox, too. Waste Land makes it clear that this eyesore—which by rights should not even exist—is actually crucial to thousands of people with no other means of survival. Its planned closing in 2012, noted in the film, means that all the catadores must be trained to do other work or they will have no way of making a living. And Waste Land makes us care deeply for these humans, for as expansive as Jardim Gramacho is, the people dwarf it. Like the documentaries of Eduardo Coutinho, this film employs “talking-head” interviews to good effect. The intelligence, articulateness, humor, and political savvy of most of the catadores—especially Tiao Santos, an activist who serves as a quasiunion leader—smash any preconceptions we might have about people forced to wade through garbage in order to live. Through their efforts, Gramacho has one of the highest recycling rates anywhere in the world, and the pickers’ work is now officially recognized and government services provided. If Muniz’s own art helps the world see the catadores in a new light, the film enables the world to hear their voices, too often unheard.

Vik Muniz, too, is a fascinating subject, constantly questioning himself and wondering what will happen to his subjects when his project finally concludes. (His friends and family worry on camera about this, too.) Because of Muniz’s introspection, the film actually brings up and debates many of the same questions that viewers might have. When the catadores attend the opening of Muniz’s exhibit, and enter to the applause of the upper-class gallery attendees, it’s hard not to think of Cinderella and what will happen when the clock strikes midnight.

Muniz’s larger-than-life depictions could—in the most hopeful interpretation of his project—turn a mostly “invisible” class of people visible once again

REVIEW: Waste Land Tracks an Artist Who Turns Trash -- and ...  Michelle Orange from Movieline

 

Cinematical [Christopher Campbell]  Doc Talk: How Involved Should Doc Filmmakers Be with Their Subjects?

Slant Magazine [Joseph Jon Lanthier]

alibi.com [Devin D. O'Leary]

Filmcritic.com  Chris Barsanti

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]

ReelTalk [Donald Levit]  Where to Look Among the Garbage and the Flowers

Talking Pictures [Howard Schumann]

filmsoundoff [Alex Roberts]

Eternal Sunshine Of The Logical Mind [Bob Turnbull]

Film-Forward.com [Nora Lee Mandel]

The House Next Door [Arthur Ryel-Lindsey]

Waste Land | Review | Screen  Tim Grierson from Screendaily

Cinespect [Ryan Wells]

Compuserve [Harvey Karten]

Image Good Letters: The IMAGE Blog Trash Transformed  Jeffrey Overstreet from Image

Monsters and Critics [Ron Wilkinson]

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

The Hollywood Reporter [John DeFore]

 

Waste Land: One man's trash is another man's … art? - The Globe ...  Stephen Cole from The Globe and the Mail

 

Waste Land movie review -- Waste Land showtimes - The Boston Globe  Wesley Morris

 

Finding beauty among trash and its sifters - Philly.com  Steven Rea from The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

Waste Land - Page 1 - Movies - Minneapolis - City Pages  Eric Hynes from the St. Paul Pioneer Press

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Walter Addiego]

 

Oscar nominations: Weighty matters in documentary and foreign categories  Reed Johnson from The LA Times, January 26, 2011

 

Documented, but is it real?  Reed Johnson from The LA Times, February 6, 2011

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden, October 28, 2010

 

Where Art Meets Trash and Transforms Life   Carol Kino from The New York Times, October 21, 2010, also seen here:  The Photographer Vik Muniz in 'Waste Land' - NYTimes.com

 

VIK MUNIZ

 

WASTE LAND : Vik Muniz  brief bio

 

WASTE LAND : Vik Muniz  PBS Independent Lens

 

Vik Muniz - Museum of Contemporary Photography

 

Vik Muniz on artnet

 

Vik Muniz - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

COUNTDOWN TO ZERO

USA  (90 mi)  2010

 

Countdown to Zero Uses Fear and Optimism in Discussing The Bomb  Vadim Rizov from The Village Voice

The title of Lucy Walker's pro-nuclear-disarmament tract Countdown to Zero has two meanings: a paranoiac's ticking off down the last moments until the bomb goes off, and an exhortation to work for the cause until zero missiles and weapons remain. Synthesizing fear and optimism like that requires Walker to be incredibly ambitious in scope, and she offers up a history of the bomb and treaty talks, scientific explanations, a primer on how to smuggle uranium, and much, much more. Trying to touch, however briefly, on everything related to The Bomb means that, inevitably, much of it gets short shrift: SALT I and II are barely mentioned, but the Reykjavík Summit's failure is inexplicably highlighted. Walker runs the same old archival test footage we've seen before and interviews the big names—Mikhail Gorbachev and Valerie Plame Wilson both make appearances—to reiterate her already-obvious p.o.v. She's also prone to very literal-minded exposition; to show that a tennis-ball-size bomb could level a city, she just throws a tennis ball up against a black screen and has it rotate ominously. This is another well-intentioned but preaching-to-the-choir doc, and boring as well. Never trust a movie that ends with a moveon.org link.

Countdown to Zero; The Housemaid; A Screaming Man; Outrage  Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 17, 2010, also seen here:  Peter Bradshaw

The most traumatic experience at Cannes so far was the horror film to end all horror films, during which I experienced a 90-minute anxiety attack. British documentary-maker Lucy Walker presented us with her Countdown to Zero, for which the tagline should be: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Fear the Bomb. Her film is about the ubiquity of nuclear weapons and the simply terrifying amount of weapons-grade material that is sloshing about, unaccounted for, after the breakup of the Soviet Union – material that terrorists would love to get their hands on.

Nukes are a subject that we have long made a semi-conscious decision to ignore. Walker powerfully revives the subject, touching on how we could have a nuclear detonation from terrorists or the Dr Strangelove scenario – a "legitimate" attack by accident. Walker has interviewed former intelligence and military personnel and statesmen, including Gorbachev and Tony Blair. There are some extraordinary facts, the most stunning of which is that we came far closer to nuclear war in 1995 than we did during the Cuban missile crisis. That year, a Norwegian scientific research rocket was mistaken for a US attack by the Soviets, and generals marched into president Boris Yeltsin's office with the strike codes: protocol demanded a retaliatory attack, but Yeltsin simply refused to believe it and the crisis passed. Walker's film implies that it was a good thing the generals happened to find Yeltsin sober, but it might have been that a few drinks had put him in a generous, forgiving mood. Either way, history owes Yeltsin a greater debt than any of us realised.

The Hollywood Reporter review  John DeFore at Sundance, January 31, 2010

PARK CITY -- A doomsday doc suggesting that climate change and eco-degradation aren't going to matter much if we blow up the planet first, "Countdown to Zero" reminds viewers of old fears most people have put on a back burner. Convincingly argued and extremely polished, it has theatrical potential for auds whose reservoir of worry about humanity's future hasn't already run dry.

Taking cues from a famous JFK speech, the doc studies three ways -- accident, miscalculation, or madness -- in which nuclear weapons might be detonated. Director Lucy Walker (also bringing the lighter-hearted "Waste Land" to Sundance this year) makes the odds look pretty bad on all three fronts, especially when a scientist points out that, even in terms of unlikely scenarios, "low-probability events happen all the time."

Some possibilities seem anything but low-probability, though: Walker's account of the insecurity of nuclear materials in Russia is absolutely chilling, with so many low-level numbskulls gaining access to highly enriched uranium (HEU) it's a marvel that some intelligent villain hasn't yet gathered enough to use.

Experts like Valerie Plame and Princeton nuclear scientists discuss the plans that unfriendly powers have to build, buy or steal a bomb, and Walker efficiently gets viewers up to speed on the current state of the global arsenal. (There are around 23,000 operational weapons on the planet.) She points out the near-worthlessness of much-vaunted
radiation detectors at shipping docs, which give false-positive readings for everything from CRTs to kitty litter and could easily be bypassed by a few grapefruit-sized chunks of HEU.

With its constant stream of images of the world's great cities -- with "five-mile" circles showing the area of maximum devastation -- the film never lets us forget the specifics of a hypothetical nuclear detonation. Walker only goes overboard near the end, where she uses footage of happy Times Square visitors to needlessly emphasize the
innocent lives a bomb would destroy.

Ending on a de rigueur positive note, Walker reveals that the film's title refers not only to the doomsday clock but to the push to dismantle every nuke in the world. It's going to take more than texting a protest to the number given in the film's closing titles, but "Countdown" makes the cause seem as urgent as ever.

Andrew O'Hehir Valerie Plame on Naomi Watts and nuclear doom, from Salon, May 17. 2010

 

Mary Corliss  at Cannes from Time magazine, May 18, 2010

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

David Bourgeois  at Cannes from Movieline magazine, May 16, 2010

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: (leooel2) from United States

 

Cannes 2010. Lucy Walker's "Countdown to Zero"  David Hudson at Cannes from The Auteurs, May 20, 2010

Christopher Goodwin  The Blond's Bombshell, interview with Lucy Walker from The London Times, May 16, 2010

Owen Gleiberman  at Cannes from Entertainment Weekly, May 16, 2010

 

Variety (John Anderson) review

 

Walker, Michael
 
PRICE CHECK                                                        B                     84

USA  (92 mi)  2012

 

First and foremost in this movie, even better than the movie itself is the music by Dean and Britta and their former band, Luna, which by itself is worth the price of admission, where their still relatively unknown exposure could use a jump start from this small indie film.  Links to available YouTube music videos of songs used in the film will be listed after the review.  This is a wildly uneven but comically satiric, capitalistic take on the American Dream gone wrong film, as personified by Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius), a normal and typically easy going guy, living from paycheck to paycheck in the New York suburbs of Long Island, not particularly happy in his job, but he knows and likes the people, even if none of them are really his friends.  Working in the marketing division for a string of supermarket chains, this was never his career choice, rather the kind of job he settled for in order to pay the bills, as his real joy is spending time with his lovely wife Sarah (Annie Parisse) and infant son.  When his longtime boss retires, someone from corporate headquarters is being brought in with a reputation for being a “real ball-buster.” The new boss’s arrival is, of course, preceded by a moment of brilliance from Amy Schumer as Lila, seen as she walks into the building in the morning when she deadpans “I feel like shit, being human sucks. I hope someone brought donuts.”  This defines the prevailing blasé office attitude where casual nonchalance takes precedent over actual work.  Of course, who’s brought in to shake things up and get these slackers in line?  Susan Felders, rising corporate star, played by none other than Parker Posey, introduced here:  Price Check Movie (Parker Posey & Eric Mabius) - YouTube (1:35).  Posey is energy in a bottle, given a starring role written for her by the writer/director, where she channels the spoiled and manic nature of her previous role in The House of Yes (1997), where she is literally so narcissistic that she always has to have her way, steamrolling over others to make sure she gets it.  Her ruthlessly ambitious personality is both lovably adoring, the way Posey plays it, yet also slightly terrifying, like she’s an unleashed monster in the room.  

 

Posey’s high strung character represents the boss from Hell, the Type-A personality that has you immediately sending out resumé’s for another job, but then she pats you on the back, calls you by your first name, and starts throwing out impossible sales projections that need to be met by next week, accompanied by the shouting of hurrah, clapping her hands, yelling let’s get to work, and deep down, you know she really means it.  Immediately you know your life is not the same anymore, as it’s owned by the company you work for.  But Pete doesn’t see it that way initially, as he’s a decent and earnest guy, responsible and hard-working, feeling it’s time to step up to the plate and try some of these new ideas, though doubling his salary and making him a company Vice-President doesn’t hurt in buying his allegiance.  Sarah’s a little upset that he’s bringing work home with him, that he never has time for his family anymore, but she’s fine with it as she’s finally able to pay off the credit card debt.  Hell, she’s even got her eye on a new Volvo to replace that stinker in the driveway.  Posey always works best with a straight guy, and Pete couldn’t be more straight and narrow, where she has him eating out of the palm of her hand, supporting her every move, reduced to being a corporate lackey, yet actually excited about implementing these newfangled business ideas.  Susan needs a guy like Pete to do all the work, as we never see her do any of it, instead she’s the sleight-of-hand, deviously motivating “bullshit” overseer that expects everyone else to pull their weight, and hers as well.  She, of course, takes home the corporate paycheck, while everyone else earns the satisfaction of a job well done, and maybe, in good times, a small Christmas bonus. 

 

In the 40’s and 50’s, Posey would be played by Judy Holliday, where her unbridled enthusiasm would liven up stale business practices, and she’d catch the ear of a corporate mogul who’d find her ideas refreshing and exactly what was needed to prevent the company from being driven to corruption and ruin by the predictable financial experts who were little more than yes men.  Half a century later, the company plays with sharks in the water who bully and terrify the workers into becoming yes men, where in reality it’s a cutthroat business where only the strong survive and any misstep only gives them grounds to cut you loose.  The meat of the narrative hardly feels like a comedy, and the way Susan manipulates Pete, the financial numbers, and her entire corporate world is an artificially dizzying process that is oftentimes uncomfortable to watch, as it’s saturated in greed and self-centeredness.  Susan not only controls Pete’s working life, but she takes over his personal life as well, as he’s forced to spend every waking minute with her.  Again, his wife Sarah suspects something’s up, but she’s willing to overlook it because of all the money rolling in.  What’s truly unique is the use of the Dean and Britta music playing quietly underneath, where Susan and Pete actually catch them in a live act, which is nothing short of brilliant, but Susan’s only there to be seen with a hip crowd, where she still wants to be the center of attention, barely even conscious that a musical group is onstage, as it’s all about her.  Like a Faustian bargain, straight arrow Pete actually falls for this, as he envisions seeing himself up the corporate ladder somewhere on easy street.  And it all could have happened, only it doesn’t, as instead of his trusted business ally, Susan in real life is a heartless backstabber, cutting him loose without a second thought, undermining his own ambition with a little of her own, where nowadays it’s considered sound business practice to eliminate the competition.  The capitalistic ruthlessness of the film is a bit frightening, dressed up in what appears to be light comedy, even the so-called happy ending where Pete lands on his feet, but it’s a savagely downbeat and dark tone. 

 

Musical Soundtrack

“Someone Else” The Working Title                Someone Else - The Working Title  (3:31)

“Black Postcards” Luna                                  Luna - Black Postcards (Tell Me Do You Miss Me ...  (9:54)

“When There is No Crowd” White Fence      White Fence - When There is No Crowd  (5:37)

“Eyes In My Smoke” Dean and Britta                       Dean & Britta : Eyes in My Smoke (4:35)

Malibu Love Nest” Luna                              Dean and Britta Malibu Love Nest  (4:31)

“We Dress Ourselves” Princess Katie and Racer Steve         Princess Katie & Racer Steve We Dress Ourselves Rock Songs Music For Kids  (3:11)

“Harvest Moon” Pepper Rabbit                      Pepper Rabbit, 'Harvest Moon' @ Bootleg Theater, 1.19.10 (4:06)

“Mermaid Eyes” Luna                                                Luna - Mermaid Eyes (3:33)

“After the Moment” Craft Spells                   Craft Spells - After The Moment  (4:01)

“Radio” My Hero                                           My Hero Official "Radio" Music Video (3:28)

“Well Well Well Well” The Satin Peaches      The Satin Peaches - Well Well Well Well  (3:33)

 “I Found It Not So” Dean and Britta                        Dean & Bretta - I Found it Not So  (5:30)

“Show You Mine” Alyx                                 Alyx - Show You Mine  (2:50)

“Ramona” Craft Spells                                               Craft Spells - Ramona  (3:16)

“Night Nurse” Dean and Britta                                  nightnurse - dean wareham britta phillips (3:54)

“Knives From Bavaria” Dean and Britta        KNIVES FROM BAVARIA  (2:55), also here:  Dean and Britta "Knives from Bavaria" Live @ The Warhol in Pittsburgh JANE HOLZER  (4:43) 

“Ticking is The Bomb” Luna

“Big Toe” Xray Eyeballs                                Xray Eyeballs - Big Toe (2:58)

“We Are the Dinosaurs” Laurie Berkner        The Laurie Berkner Band - We Are The Dinosaurs (2:28)

“All I Ask” Theodore                                     Theodore-All I ask (4:43)

 “All Things Merry” Britta Phillips

“The Day Summer Fell” The Sand Pebbles    Sand Pebbles The Day Summer Fell (4:05)

 

PRICE CHECK  Facets Multi Media

 

Pete Cozy (Eric Mabius, Ugly Betty), is a good guy who used to be cool and once had his dream job in the music industry, but now finds himself working in the pricing department of a failing supermarket chain. He has a home in the suburbs which he shares with his loving wife and young son. His position allows him to spend quality time with his family, and they are quite happy, despite the fact that they are living beyond their means. However, everything changes when Pete gets a new boss, the high powered, fast talking Susan Felders (Parker Posey, House of Yes, Best in Show). She is an alpha female, and with her enthusiasm and unconventional ideas, Pete finds himself on the executive track, a new role which both surprises and excites him. As his salary increases, he is busier than ever, and work becomes so demanding that it starts to adversely affect his life at home. Pete begins to wonder if this new career is changing him in ways that he can no longer control, in this smart and honest dramedy about the high price of a middle-class life. The question becomes: What are we willing to do for the life we think we deserve.

 

Village Voice  Chris Packham

 

At what point do the responsibilities of marriage and family supersede those of personal actualization and dream fulfillment? A lot of people would say "at the moment of conception," while others might suggest that kids are just along for the ride, anyway. Go ahead and found that puppet theater or artisanal ukulele atelier you've always dreamed of, and just pack the kids to junior college at 18. Director Michael Walker's Price Check presents a miniature Faust story in which Peter (Ugly Betty's Eric Mabius), a husband and new father, grinds away precious hours of unrecoverable life in the fluorescent-lit head office of a failing chain of supermarkets. The company sends in Susan (Parker Posey), a tornadic new vice president with a terrifyingly unstable personality and epic professional ambitions. Recognizing Peter's intelligence and stability, she immediately bullies him into naming the office's worst performers (whom she fires) before doubling Peter's salary and enlisting his help to ram a difficult new business model past the board. She barges into his personal life, befriending his wife and inviting herself to parties at his child's school and to his house on the holidays. During a business trip to Los Angeles, she seduces Peter with an insane but persuasive invitation to impregnate her. Is his halved and compartmentalized life a fair price to pay for his rise in prospects and income? Mabius is understated and sympathetic as a guy who makes some dickish choices, and Susan, played by anyone else, might be a completely unrelatable force of nature. Although Posey renders Susan's instability and dominance with gusto, the character's vulnerability and pain are manifest.

 

National Public Radio [Scott Tobias]  also seen here:  NPR 

When Parker Posey was crowned "queen of the indies" in the mid-to-late '90s, the title referred to her Sundance-dominating ubiquity. But it could just as well have applied to the Parker Posey type — powerful and wonderfully imperious, with a habit of cutting her underlings down to size.

That's the Posey who turns up in Michael Walker's tense comedy Price Check, where she plays a relentless corporate climber who shakes up a sleepy regional office. She inspires. She terrorizes. Whatever it takes to get the job done.

Posey dominates Price Check, mostly for the better: Whatever observations Walker's film makes about the perils of ambition or women in the workplace register entirely through her. She's simply funnier and more interesting than anyone else, and Walker has written her a complex character whose immediate wants are clearer than her long-term ones.

She's the conqueror of the boardroom, bold and visionary and castigating when she needs to be, but there's a subtle note of uncertainty that seeps through the cracks. Professional triumph for her seems certain, but what will it mean in the end? Just a few more units sold?

The story is told from the considerably blander vantage of Pete Cozy (Ugly Betty veteran Eric Mabius), an utterly defeated middle manager at the Long Island headquarters of a failing supermarket chain. His office resembles the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, minus the quirk of Steve Carell and company — a motley collection of clock-punchers, each just a coffee cup away from falling asleep at their desks. And Pete is no exception: With his wife (Annie Parisse) at home raising their son, he's reasonably content to slouch through his 9-to-5 shift and devote himself to his family.

When Susan Felders (Posey) turns up to replace the long-standing supervisor of the pricing department, she instantly recognizes Pete's potential and offers to double his salary for a sharp increase in responsibility. While the money allows Pete and his wife to pay off their debtors and seriously consider a second child, it comes at the cost of nights and weekends and other predictable consequences. For a passive guy like Pete, being put in an intimate working relationship with a voracious go-getter like Susan is a recipe for disaster.

Pete's moral journey — from stand-up married guy willing to shelve his dreams for family to glad-handing slickster who loses his way — has been taken many times before, and Walker doesn't miss many cliches in getting to his destination. But the character does serve as an effective audience surrogate, a regular guy who gets swept up in the maelstrom of Susan's all-consuming passions.

Posey, again, is the real heart of Price Check, an ambiguous figure who introduces chaos into the Long Island branch, but who animates it too, rallying the troops behind a pricing strategy with all the zeal of Patton at the Battle of the Bulge.

Beyond writing a plum role for Posey, who makes it impossible to fathom anyone else in the part, Walker throws himself into the details of the supermarket pricing game — which may sound like the dullest endeavor in cinema history, but which ultimately has the effect of increasing the tension. The promise of an 8-to-10-percent increase in sales over three months becomes the carrot at the end of the stick, and it helps Walker convey the excitement that can ripple through an office when they're on the chase. It's what happens when they finally get the prize that unsettles the characters in Price Check.

Because after all, it's just a carrot.

Sound On Sight  Lane Scarberry

 

Slant Magazine  R. Kent Osenlund

 

The Playlist [Gabe Toro]

 

Twitch [Chase Whale]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Film School Rejects [Kate Erbland]

 

Paste Magazine [Christine N. Ziemba]

 

Hollywood Reporter  Justin Lowe

 

TV Guide [Mark Deming]

 

Variety [John Anderson]

 

Los Angeles Times  Barry Goldstein

 

Chicago Tribune  Nina Metz

 

New York Times [Stephen Holden]

 

Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips

 
Walker, Stephen
 
YOUNG @ HEART                                                 B                     88

aka:  Young at Heart

Great Britain  (107 mi)  2007

 

Does watching a singing group that averages 81 years of age sound appealing?  What if they choose rock n roll songs, or even more absurd, a few punk songs to perform?  One could easily find fault with this film, as outside of an amusing premise which is revealed in the film trailers, what more is there to stick around for?  There’s no real groundbreaking cinematic material here, nothing particularly novel in the director’s style of filming a documentary where the camera is nearly incidental, and the subject matter dreadfully sounds like the sort of thing especially designed for The Price is Right game show contestants.  Send them on a trip to Hawaii and let them all have a good time entertaining the hotel crowd.  The initial absurd factor kicks in immediately as a 92 year old war widow with a thick British accent opens with the Ramones “Do I Stay or Do I Go?” where the words are so distinctive, it’s as if Alfred Hitchcock himself was doing the pronunciating.  And behind her, the men and women in the chorus are jumping up and down as if they are performing a Peter Brook free-form version of Marat Sade, all to the thundering 2 chord garage rock beat of the Ramones that starts pounding in the back of our heads.  If it wasn’t real, it would be ridiculous.  But the funny thing is that it gets real as we are slowly introduced to the members of this Massachusetts singing group which has a 25 year history of performing in Europe where they are actually better known abroad than here in their own country.  The British director heard about them at the Rotterdam Film Festival and initially contacted them for a British TV show, expanded to a feature length documentary.  Suddenly, in this context, where the oldest is age 92 and the youngest 72, the lyrics take on a different meaning.  “Do I Stay or Do I Go?” is not a lover’s question, but a life or death question. 

 

Led for 25 years by a strict taskmaster, the 50 something Bob Cilman, who is described by one member as “Tough as nails.  He breathes rust,” they are practicing some brand new material for a local performance, among which includes some Talking Heads songs, also a couple that are really tripping them up, “Yes I Can,” a song that was a hit with the Pointer Sisters which features the repetitive use of the word “can” 71 times in the song, and Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” which has them all shaking their heads and holding their ears.  Cut to a few face shots where members are asked to name their favorite music, which inevitably turns out to be classical, with opera hitting the top of their list.  From my perspective, listening to Sonic Youth’s version with this group was a real leap of faith, as one wondered if perhaps this wasn’t beyond their reach.  Then we learn a little health background about a few members of the group, a few who have been pronounced dead but survived, several who have overcome what was believed to be terminal illnesses, one who survived 5 bouts of chemotherapy, but somehow they survived.  Every man and woman in the group attributes it to their participation in this group, which forces them to focus beyond themselves but to a larger goal.  What they have in this performance group is one large support network where they all reach out and care about one another. 

 

Inevitably, members succumb.  In the entire history of the group, over 100 members have died.  Suddenly, what was a silly movie about octogenarian rock singers turns into a poignant study about impending death.  When one of the members dies, which was reported to the group off camera where the audio was still rolling as they sat in a yellow school bus, his death was honored an hour later in a performance at a local correctional facility of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”  When they finally perform to a sold out house in their home town, the same situation happens again, where one of the guys who was sharing the lines to the Talking Heads song “Life in Wartime,” the guy who just nailed it in the rehearsals, died shortly before the concert.  In tribute, Fred Knittle, a barrel of a man connected to an oxygen tank for the rest of his life, who was introduced in the film singing “Ghost Riders in the Sky” at his kitchen table, sings an eerily haunting and supremely touching version of Coldplay’s “Fix You,” easily the seminal moment of the film, as it’s quiet enough that you can hear the pumping rhythm of his oxygen machine.  Death doesn’t come much closer than this, particularly in a live performance.  Knittle’s acutely apt rendition is perhaps the singlemost outstanding cinema sequence I’ve seen all year, as the raw authenticity emanating from that moment is simply unforgettable.  We hear another woman sing an astonishingly beautiful rendition of Sinead O’Conner’s “Nothing Compares to U.”  And yes, the group brings the house down singing a wild version of “Schizophrenia.”  Apparently the group used to tour singing show tunes and old cowboy ballads, songs from their era, until onstage one night one woman in the group inexplicably broke into the Manfred Mann song “Doo Wah Diddy” and the audience went crazy.  The rest is history.     

 

There are a few previously produced rock videos made by the group for the TV show which admittedly don’t have the same spontaneous impact as their live footage, but it does include a hilarious rendition of the Ramones “I Wanna be Sedated,” a group travel video where they’re actually lost on the side of the road in the Talking Heads song “Road to Nowhere,” or a cheesy Saturday Night Fever spoof of “Staying Alive” shot with background singers and dancers in a bowling alley.  But one of the more memorable moments in the film was one man’s utter inability to get the 7 word lyrics right in the James Brown song “I Feel Good,” where even in rehearsals, he was never able to sing “I feel nice, like sugar and spice.” But the song brought the house down anyway, kids were jumping in the aisles, as it’s the idea of rockers on parade having fun that simply makes people feel good.  Cilman does an excellent job choosing material for the group, as the lyrics truly resonate beyond the stage into the audience.   

 

While the film is somewhat amateurish, brilliant production values alone do not make a great film, but this film does find its audience by simply showcasing a marvelous group of people who live with the close proximity of death every day, where the mortality in the film is so real, yet throughout it all the group maintains their composure and lives the remaining years of their lives with a great deal of dignity by having a rollicking good time at rehearsals or on the road with a group of their peers, where they all commiserate and work through their losses through music and song, but also still find a wonderful joy in being alive and still feeling appreciated.  The emotion in this film may feel a bit raw and raggedly unrehearsed, but since it took 8 decades developing, at this point it’s hard-earned and genuine, and in a youth dominated culture where it’s all about teenage angst and maintaining your youthful appearance, this is a film that makes the rest of us sit up, take notice, and appreciate the elderly.

 

a partial list off songs:

 

Bob Dylan -  Forever Young

Ramones – I Wanna Be Sedated

Talking Heads – Life in Wartime

Talking Heads – Road to Nowhere

James Brown – I Feel Good

Fix You – Coldplay 

Sinead O’Conner – Nothing Compares to U

Sonic Youth – Schizophrenia

David Bowie – Golden Years

Bee Gee’s – Staying Alive

Clash – Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Yes I Can – Pointer Sisters

Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze

 

User reviews from imdb Author: penncare from Philadelphia, PA

I just saw this movie at the Philadelphia Film Festival. This was an excellent feel good movie. I highly recommend it. It's the type of movie (documentary really) that more Hollywood Studios should make. In the Q&A afterwards, the director commented on how hard it was to get musical releases for the various songs. When you see the movie, you will understand why because the songs were sung by many famous performers and the producers got all of the releases but one, U2's One. During the scene in which one of the characters is in the hospital the scene was supposed to show the character singing One in a past performance interlaced with the current event. Alas, since U2 didn't agree to release the rights, it will never be shown. The director commented that so many people on the production staff would stop in the editing room just to see it. Once you see the movie, you will understand why I say, U2 sucks!

Village Voice   Scott Foundas

From the washed-out images to the twee voice-over (courtesy of director Stephen Walker), this British television documentary about the titular Massachusetts-based senior-citizens' chorus so slavishly embodies the creakiest clichés of British television documentaries that you begin to wonder if it's not all a big put-on—if Christopher Guest didn't direct the damn thing under a pseudonym. Fortunately, Walker's subjects—nearly all in their eighties and nineties, with a greatest-hits collection of medical ailments and a set list that runs the gamut from the Beatles to Sonic Youth—more than carry the day. Set over the six weeks leading up to the chorus's latest concert, Young @ Heart adopts the will-they-pull-it-all-together-by-showtime formula of so many backstage docs, with the caveat that, for these performers, neither time nor Father Time is on their side. The film's appeal is at once sentimental and perverse: It's not every day that you get to see a 92-year-old woman soloing on "Should I Stay or Should I Go," or a deeply affecting rendition of Coldplay's "Fix You" performed by an octogenarian with congestive heart failure. Not surprisingly, a feature remake is already in the works.

The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin]

Don Argott's 2005 crowd-pleaser Rock School illustrated how tough, unsentimental documentary filmmaking can undercut the sentimentality of even the most oppressively adorable subject. School explored the career of Rock School proprietor Paul Green, a mercurial, foul-mouthed teacher whose life goal entails bringing the rock to adorable tots and sulky teens. Young@Heart explores a similarly crowd-pleasing story from somewhere at the opposite end of the age spectrum—it tells the story of Bob Cilman, an iconoclastic teacher brave or foolish enough to teach a chorus of senior citizens songs from artists like The Clash. But any hope that Walker will steer clear of sap vanishes when he guilelessly gushes early on that documenting the choir was like picking up dozens of new grandparents. Walker undoubtedly means well, and his affection for his subjects is palpable. But the "Aren't these geezers adorable?" approach ends up diminishing his subjects rather than honoring them.

Walker's film follows the "Young At Heart" chorus as it tries to learn tricky new songs by Sonic Youth, Allen Toussaint, and others for a climactic performance. The singing seniors turn out to be a gregarious lot delighted to have an appreciative audience for their corny jokes and rambling tales. The film's first half is human-interest-story peppy, but as one chorus member after another stares down his imminent mortality, the film grows darker and more heart-wrenching.

Cilman looks to be almost as intriguing a subject as Green, but Walker unwisely maintains a respectful distance from him and avoids asking tough questions, like whether teaching confused seniors a Sonic Youth song is broadening their horizons, or imposing his own arty taste on folks who'd rather sing the Irving Berlin songbook. Walker similarly stumbles in including homemade Young At Heart "music videos" that come off as cheesy and condescending instead of cheeky and irreverent. Which is a shame, because there's a wealth of great material here, especially a shattering performance of Coldplay's "Fix You" by a soulful mountain of a man named Fred Knittle. In this transcendent, goosebump-inducing moment, the facile gimmick of senior citizens performing the music of their grandchildren's generation disappears, giving way to something truer and more profound: a great singer connecting on a primal level with the heart of a terrific song. It's a wonderful sequence that deserves to be in a deeper, better film.

Chicago Tribune (Jessica Reaves)

Anyone who’s ever faced a birthday with a sense of impending doom, or stared bleakly in the mirror at a causeway of emerging wrinkles, knows we could all stand to be reminded, now and again, that there are benefits to growing old, even beyond the obvious (it’s a whole lot better than the alternative). Thankfully, just such a reminder has arrived in the form of “Young @ Heart,” an exuberant, affectionate documentary by first-time filmmakers Stephen Walker and Sally George.

“Young @ Heart” follows the eponymous chorus (average age 80) as they prepare a new repertoire of songs for a springtime tour, putting their signature spin on the classics. Classics like The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” “Life During Wartime” by the Talking Heads and, naturally, that old chestnut, “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth. You can’t truly appreciate the absurdity of certain lyrics (Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” for example) until you’ve heard them read painstakingly aloud by an octogenarian with a magnifying glass.

Led by chorus director Bob Cilman—a wry, passionate candidate for Ultimate Mensch of the Universe—the troupe is populated by a range of characters, many who seem straight from central casting. Irene, a 92-year-old coquette, carpools to practice with sweet Joe, who’s survived multiple rounds of chemotherapy and memorizes lyrics after just one reading, and the irascible Lenny, a World War II pilot drives like a 16-year-old but can’t quite remember the words to “Purple Haze.”

While their vigor and enthusiasm makes it easy to temporarily forget, or at least ignore, the realities of the chorus’ collective age, there are inevitable, harsh reminders. Two members died during the filming process, and another came awfully close (but survived to deliver a truly astonishing rendition of Coldplay’s “Fix You”). Director Stephen Walker does a remarkable job of respecting his subjects’ grief even as their experiences inform and enhance the film’s emotional canvas. Movie death, even in documentaries, can feel like a cheap shot. Here, the emotion, like everything else about the project, feels categorically genuine.

After persuading the initially reluctant chorus to let a film crew trail them for months on end, Walker and George shot “Young @ Heart” with a nonexistent budget, and it shows: Production values are shaky at best, punctuated by awkward camera angles and amateurish lighting. Given the profoundly joyous end result, dwelling on such technicalities feels petty, if not downright mean-spirited.

There may be people who won’t fall in love with this movie, people who aren’t captivated by its motley cast of characters. I just hope I never meet any of them.

Reel.com [Jason Morgan]  also seen here:  Filmcritic.com 

When we were kids, all we wanted to do was grow up to stay up late and eat ice cream whenever we wanted. We don't know when adulthood hits. One day we wake up and have a job and responsibilities. Suddenly, aging terrifies us, as if our lives our end at 50. And then there's Young at Heart, a chorus with members ranging from 72 to 92-plus years old belting out rock classics from The Clash to Talking Heads.

From frame one, we giggle, as 92 year-old Eileen Hall screaming The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" with a grandmotherly British accent. But we aren't laughing at her. We laugh because we're surprised. Surprised by the grit and fire in the voices. Surprised by the vitality of rock and roll. Surprised because old age has never been so alive. The documentary follows the geriatric rockers as they prepare for a new tour. And director Stephen Walker lucks out because there's nothing he could have done other than point his camera and shoot to make the film any stronger than it is. As a documentary, it's raw, unpolished footage. But for its lack of tact, it allows the strength of the chorus' personalities to come alive onscreen.

Every moment of laughter and tears is created by the choir (not the filmmaker), from Lenny Fontaine driving with the reckless abandon of a teenager with Eileen and Joe laughing in tow to Fred Knittle channeling Johnny Cash when singing a duet-turned-solo after the chorus loses a member. Walker goes beyond the rehearsal hall as the members of the chorus allow us to become a part of their daily lives. Along with the humor and hope, there's a shadow always looming. While the spirit of the chorus members is always willing, the rest of them doesn't always cooperate. Given the benevolent candor of the members, when one dies, it's not a character in a film that passes, but a person that let us follow him around to enjoy what he enjoys and experience what he goes through. You know that at the end, they aren't going to bound back onto the stage for the final curtain call.

To keep the pace brisk and the mood light, Walker inserts Young at Heart music videos into the story. The scenes of the chorus wheeling and dancing around a nursing home to The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" help offset the sadness of watching Fred practice his song at home alone, without his duet partner. But the smiles and laughs are bigger than the tears. Though we are surprised by their youthful vitality, the chorus also strengthens the old adage that with age comes wisdom. While the chorus is obviously affected by the loss of members, they have a perception of death that is far more inspiring than fearful.

The spirit of rock and roll is embedded in the singers, but that's not what we connect with. We connect with their passion and honesty -- two emotions that are rarely found in life, let alone cinema. Where popular documentaries present a reality filtered through a filmmaker, Young at Heart allows reality to play out as it happens. The movie could show audiences that documentaries don't have to be stuffy, politically-driven creations, but rather can be touching stories of everyday people that are potentially more moving and enjoyable than any Hollywood blockbuster, if only audiences would step outside themselves and take a chance.

Movie Shark Deblore [debbie lynn elias]

For me, anything having to do with screening a film, reviewing it, consulting with filmmakers or even doing my own production work, is a labor of love. But today, with YOUNG @ HEART, writing this review goes even beyond that. I had the privilege of screening YOUNG @ HEART when it premiered last year at the Los Angeles Film Festival. From the opening frame, I knew this was something special. Many of you may have read my raves last year. as I screened it, not once, not twice but three times. And obviously the LAFF audience had the same love affair going with this documentary film as I, for it walked away with an LAFF Audience Award and garnered standing ovations and cheers at each screening and the closing night ceremonies. This film and its subjects, speak to your heart and as you will see for yourselves, comes from the heart and is filled with heart. My respect and admiration for the members of the Young @ Heart chorus is unparalleled but for that which I have for their choral director, Bob Cilman, and the film’s writer/director, Stephen Walker, whom I am privileged to know.

Many of us have long been consumed with a fear of aging....and to a large degree, rightfully so. For years, the mantra was “don’t trust anyone over 30", then 40 and 50 became feared and dreaded, “wrinkle” became a watchword and a curse, and by the time one got to be 60 or 70, they were put out to pasture. And let’s not even think about what happens when you are 80 or 90 or even 100+. For me, age was never something I thought about and thanks to blessings of grandparents who were vital and active well into their 90's (and beyond) and a father who in his 70's still works more than full-time in broadcast television, activity means longevity and vitality. But that’s not how it is for many who are beyond their golden years and left to their own devices or, put out to pasture. And luckily, for the good folks of Northampton, Massachusetts, they’ve got a friend in Bob Cilman.

Back in 1982, Cilman, a passionate musician and artist, became involved with the Northampton Senior Center and created Young @ Heart, non-profit arts organization and chorus comprised of seniors ranging from 70 to 90+. Drawing on the 30,000 citizens in the area, since 1982 over 100 individuals have been members of the chorus. Thanks to Cilman’s devotion and dedication, seniors that may have floundered or faded are rejuvenated and excited about life and living. They have purpose; they are needed; they are respected and appreciated. And did I say talented!! But what makes this particular chorus of seniors so special? Well, how often do you hear a 90 year old woman sing James Brown’s “I Feel Good” or Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” with 78 repetitive “cans”? And what about a senior’s interpretation of the Sonic Youth hit, “Schizophrenia” or a poignant “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” This is the essence of Young @ Heart and it is a brief month long chapter taken from the lives of its members that is the foundation of the film YOUNG @ HEART. And while only a mere chapter, the film speaks volumes.

A 25 year work in progress, the chorus has gained international notariety, touring Europe and appearing before packed theaters and thunderous applause. It was to one such show that documentarian Stephen Walker was “drug” by his wife to see “a group of old people singing rock ‘n roll music...embarrassing karaoke type stuff.” (Of course when you see the film or hear the chorus, you quickly realize , it’s not karaoke at all, but Bob Cilman’s exquisite reinterpretation of those songs.) As Walker describes it, “The audience was completely packed and it was every age group. All ages. More young than older. A lot of people in their 20's and 30's. It was a low key opening. They came on carrying walkers; an older man stood by the upright piano and sang a Cole Porter style number. I wasn’t even sure the show had started. Then suddenly the lights dimmed, the entire chorus stood up and they started singing the Talking Heads song, ‘Road to Nowhere’ and I was blown away. And then very quickly Eileen Hall, the 93 year old, comes up to the microphone and does what she does in the film and sings The Clash. And it’s a shock value. But instantly it became the obvious. ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ was not a song about relationships when it’s sung by a 93 year old. It’s a song about life and death.” It was in that moment that Walker knew what he had to do. He had to bring Young @ Heart to the big screen - and now - to the world. “We were revved up. We were thinking, actually nobody does a film about old age and export all those taboos and talk about sex and sickness and death and all those things and do it through music, music that people can identify with, struck us as being a really fresh and original thing to do.”

Getting Bob Cilman to agree to Walker’s concept was another matter. Protective of the chorus, it took some six months before he came around to Walker’s way of thinking, although Cilman’s main thrust was and remains that the music is interesting whereas Walker concentrates on several of the chorus members and deems people to be the interest and focus. Cilman was also concerned about the sound and deferring to his knowledge and expertise, Walker recorded in 24 track “really making it sound good so the chorus would sound good.” And so, Stephen Walker and crew crossed the Pond and spent two months shooting the chorus at practice, performance and play, combining interviews with the more outgoing and celebrated members like Eileen Hall, Dora Morrow, Stanley Goldman, Joe Benoit, Fred Knittle, Bob Salvini and Steve Martin, with the groups patented musical stylings amidst life, love and sadly, death. This group has the most individual and collective indominable spirit. Energetic, determined, zealous, inspirational and uplifting, you will embrace each member with your heart as you watch and listen to their stories. Personally, talking with Dora, Stan and Steve was an experience I will cherish throughout my life.

What Cilman and the group are doing with these songs is extraordinary. They give totally new meaning to songs well familiar to most of us. When Lenny Fontaine sings about “Purple Haze”, it’s no longer about drugs, it’s about dementia. When they sing “I Want to be Sedated”, it becomes the ultimate punk song as the chorus sing sit angrily in an “old people’s home” and the meaning now becomes how people can get treated in those places.

Shot with two cameras around Northampton, the imagery is poignant and never more so than when the group performs at a local prison. Stan Goodman, a former teacher who taught English in prisons, was ecstatic at the opportunity to perform for the inmates. And although the rest of the chorus had some reservations, through Walker’s lens we are privy to emotion not rarely captured on camera. “I remember still, looking through the viewfinder and just thinking, my God. This is extraordinary. This happens very rarely. This is where documentary just becomes incredible because the complexity of emotions on those men’s [inmates] faces is just remarkable. Everywhere I looked I saw the same stuff.”

The prison performance piece one of the most powerful in the film was a challenge. According to Walker, “We were very careful about where to cut. I remember my editor Chris King saying, ‘There’s not going to be a dry eye in the house when this goes out.’ The truth is, it’s been like that in every single screening we’ve witnessed. I’ve watched people’s faces. They are entranced by what’s happening on the screen and there are tears pouring down their faces. It’s a privilege to be in a situation like that.”

Editing, key to the success of this project, in and of itself was a challenge or as Walker puts it - “hell.” First go round for Walker and editor, Chris King, was 14 weeks which provided the LAFF and BBC version (complete with commercial cuts). When Fox Searchlight acquired the movie at LAFF, Walker went back into the cutting room and spent another 6 weeks in cutting room, tightening it, losing some commentary. “We did a lot of work at the beginning of the film making it much more cinematic. We had a lot of commercial breaks in there originally so we had to close that. It took a lot of work. Most of all, we changed the sound. We went into the dubbing theater and we had the same guy in sound design who designed “The Golden Compass.” And we redesigned the sound completely in 5.1 surround. So now, it’s this huge sound. Now it’s all around you. We went right back to the beginning and it took weeks to do that because I wanted people to feel like they were right in it. I want them to feel like it’s a rock concert because music is such a big part of this film. All in all, 20 weeks for editing. I’ve made 23 films. This was toughest editing experience of my life.” Yet, Walker and King make it all very seamless. You get the sense that everyone is everywhere from beginning to end. There is a cohesive togetherness and solidarity among the chorus. Each song is carefully tracked so you know where you are with each song. “You have to keep in mind to remind the audience of where you are with that song and that happens with each one of the songs.” Walker equated editing this film to a massive jigsaw puzzle spread out all over the table.

And for those wondering about Academy consideration, take note. There is enough difference between this version and that shown on then BCC to qualify YOUNG @ HEART for submission for Oscar consideration, not to mention, grab Oscar gold as Best Documentary in 2009. Different in look and texture, it is filled with even more joy and emotion, but retains the integrity, spirit and heart of not only Stephen Walker’s vision, but that of Bob Cilman and the essence of the chorus.

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll stand up and cheer. You’ll leave the theater with a song in your heart and a spring in your step. But more than anything, you will always be young at heart once you see YOUNG @ HEART. This is the single most powerful and personal moviegoing experience you will ever have.

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

indieWIRE   Nick Pinkerton from Reverse Shot

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Newsweek (David Ansen)

 

Cinemattraction.com [Robert Levin]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Jason Whyte)

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski)

 

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice   Mark Bell

 

FilmJerk.com Review [Brian Orndorf]  also seen here:  OhmyNews [Brian Orndorf]  and here:  DVD Talk

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer   Andy Speltzer

 

Austin Chronicle [Steve Davis]

 

Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 
Wallach, Eli – actor

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | Western Special: Eli Wallach - The Gun ...  John Exshaw from Sight and Sound, January 2006

Western special The latest in our Actors series celebrates a veteran performer who often played the heavy against starrier names. His signature role is one of the great Western rogues: Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Stepping out of the elevator I find a short corridor with two identical doors at either end. I look left and right; neither is numbered. I continue to look one way then the other, like an idiot at a street crossing. A line spoken by Eli Wallach in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly flashes through my mind: "There are two kinds of spurs, my friend. Those that come in by the door, those that come in by the window." Not very helpful: there aren't any windows and I'm not wearing spurs... This deranged line of thought is interrupted when the door on the left opens to reveal Wallach himself - Broadway legend, Hollywood character star and Brooklyn's greatest gift to the Western. We shake hands and he welcomes me in, grinning as if at some shared joke.

This is not our first meeting. In May, at New York's National Arts Club, I had watched as Wallach, together with his wife of 57 years and frequent co-star Anne Jackson, performed readings of two early one-act plays by Tennessee Williams. In the second - Me, Vashya! (1937) - Wallach played Vashya Shontine, a European arms manufacturer who has been selling munitions to both sides in an ongoing war. Though Me, Vashya! turned out to be poor-man's Chekhov, it was nonetheless vintage Wallach. Cunning, wheedling, threatening, bombastic and vicious by turn, the actor was in his element, his sly, peasant's eyes darting about, his right hand clenched, index finger jabbing upwards in a gesture that immediately recalled his gallery of great movie villains: Silva Vacarro, the oily seducer in Baby Doll (1956); Calvera, the rapacious bandit in The Magnificent Seven (1960); and, most memorably, Tuco Benedicto Pacifico Juan Maria Ramirez ("known as the Rat") in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). Afterwards he signed copies of his newly published autobiography The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage for an orderly queue of theatre aficionados, each of whom seemed eager to share a special memory of his distinguished Broadway career.

This afternoon, in his spacious Riverside Drive apartment on New York's Upper West Side, he begins by reminiscing about the time he spent in London in 1954 when The Teahouse of the August Moon transferred from Broadway to Her Majesty's Theatre, with RADA students Alan Bates, Albert Finney and Peter O'Toole earning £1 a night as stagehands. Wallach is smaller than I'd expected, maybe 5'6", and looks fit and compact in a blue shirt and dark slacks, a slightly jerky gait the only evidence of two hip replacements. His white hair is cropped short and his close-cut moustache and goatee give him the air of a well-preserved Spanish don, an appropriate look for an actor whose best-known roles have been Mexican bandits or sinister Italians (think of the doddering but deadly Mafia boss Don Altobello in 1990's The Godfather Part III), despite his real-life Polish-Jewish background. Or perhaps because of it? The Union Street area of Brooklyn where he grew up was predominantly Italian and he can remember as a child being terrified by a bloodthirsty puppet show, the pupi siciliani that would later influence Sergio Leone's development of the picaresque Tuco.

Wallach worked as a Broadway actor for a decade before making his movie debut in Elia Kazan's Baby Doll (1956), a film constructed from two one-act plays by Tennessee Williams. (The playwright has figured prominently in Wallach's life: it was during a production of This Property Is Condemned in 1946 that he met Jackson; in 1951 he won a Tony Award for his role in The Rose Tattoo; and he and Jackson continue to stage their show Tennessee Williams Remembered.) Baby Doll, with its hothouse plot of two older men fighting for the attentions of Carroll Baker's titular nymphet, brought Wallach his only major film-acting award in a career encompassing some 50 feature films. "After Baby Doll I won the British Academy Award for the best entrée into film," he says. "In America it was condemned by the Church, and Time magazine said it was probably the most pornographic movie ever made, filled with Priapian details that would make even Boccaccio blush. But the British film industry recognised the performance."

A good actor steals

Wallach's striking debut came courtesy of 'the Method', an acting technique distilled from the psychology-based teaching of Konstantin Stanislavsky which encourages actors to use "emotional memory" to bring their personal experiences to a role. In 1947 Wallach and Jackson had become charter members of the Actors Studio, the famed rehearsal group co-founded by Kazan which embraced the Method with missionary zeal. Among their fellow members were Marlon Brando, Karl Malden and Patricia Neal, with later disciples including Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Montgomery Clift, Jack Palance and Rod Steiger. Wallach himself remains closely identified with both the Actors Studio (which he describes as "a gym for actors to work out in") and the Method, which makes his opening remarks on the subject surprising.

"There is no 'the Method'," he growls, index finger thrusting upwards. "Everyone says, 'the Method' - it's like mumbo-jumbo. Each teacher or director develops their own method." Having already encountered Stanislavsky's theories during his studies at the Neighborhood Playhouse and with Lee Strasberg (who would become artistic director of the Actors Studio in 1949), Wallach soon realised that Kazan and his colleagues were putting their own spin on what 'the Method' should be. "I wasn't convinced that this Method knew the answer to it all. A good actor steals. I take from what's given, the rules of the game, and I sift it through my machine. I take what I need and what I think I can use."

I ask if the technique, combined with his family background, were of help when he made Romance of a Horse Thief (1971), the only film I can think of in which he plays a Polish-Jewish character. "No," he says after a pause. "I played a horse thief. I didn't think in terms of playing a Pole." He then goes on to describe The Wall (1982), about "the uprising of the Poles in Warsaw, which we shot near Krakow, near Auschwitz. There I had the experience of thinking what would have happened. My father's and mother's families were wiped out. It's a part of history that you think could never have happened, and yet it's repeatedly done. To quote Yip Harburg, who wrote Finian's Rainbow: 'We learn this after every war/That life is not worth dying for.'"

Wallach has frequently been cast as a spokesman for the Method, on one occasion participating in a 'Method versus Classical Acting' debate in London organised by Kenneth Tynan in which Wallach and Kim Stanley were pitted against Rex Harrison, Wendy Hiller and Robert Morley. "We were insufferable," he recalls. "We had found the key to great acting and we were a pain in the ass." After the debate a furious Rex Harrison rounded on Tynan, accusing him of trying to destroy the British acting system, while Wallach was taken aside by Harrison's wife Kay Kendall, who said: "Eli, don't mind Rex. We English are so square we have to smuggle our tits past customs." Wallach throws up his hands, still delighted by the memory. "What a sentence! What a thought!"

The most famous proponent of the Method was, of course, Marlon Brando, for whom Wallach acted as both rent collector - when Jackson sublet her apartment to him - and sparring partner at the Actors Studio. He was also to encourage Marilyn Monroe to attend the Studio and she soon became a family friend and occasional babysitter. Wallach first met her during the New York run of The Teahouse of the August Moon, when she visited his dressing-room and asked, "How do you do a whole play?" She was subsequently his co-star in John Huston's troubled production of The Misfits (1961) alongside Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift. The film was an adaptation by Monroe's then-husband Arthur Miller of one of his own short stories, but by the time of filming in 1960 the marriage was in crisis. As Wallach recalls, "What was happening in that movie was the undercurrent of what was happening in real life. Her marriage was dissolving. She felt that the cameras were like X-ray machines, and they'd go right through her eyes into her brain so they'd know what she was thinking. It made it terribly difficult."

Monroe's problems increased as filming progressed: her reliance on sedatives resulted in her forgetting her lines, turning up late on set and causing production to be halted. The arrival of Montgomery Clift, himself reliant on painkillers and suffering from depression after being disfigured in a car crash in 1957, briefly lifted Monroe's spirits - she described Clift to Wallach as "the only person I know who's in worse shape than me" - but the effect was shortlived. Wallach, who was committed to begin a play in New York and had become friendly with the beleaguered Miller, got increasingly irritated and by the time production ended (at a cost of $4 million, making it the most expensive black-and-white film since the silent era) he and Monroe were no longer speaking.

Sweaty and in character

He has happier memories of working with Clark Gable, whose character in The Misfits competes with Wallach's Guido for the affections of Monroe's Roslyn. "The first day I worked with Clark he had sent his assistant to come and talk to me, to read the scene we were going to do. Evidently he'd heard about this Method, and these strange blackhaired guys from Brooklyn who were doing it. So on the first day of shooting I'm in my truck, he leans over the window, and John Huston says 'Action!' And Clark is looking at me, thinking 'Who the hell is this guy with his Method?' And I'm looking at him, thinking 'This is the King of the Movies! I hope he doesn't know I haven't seen Gone with the Wind.' Both of us are mesmerised, like animals checking one another out. And Huston said, 'Cut! What's the matter? I said action!' Then, 'Props, bring on the drinks.' We each had a shot of Jack Daniels and then we went into the scene and for the rest of the movie we bonded."

New York actors are not usually noted for their contributions to the Western. James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart provoked universal mirth when asked to saddle up for The Oklahoma Kid (1939) and Bogart compounded the error with a distinctly embarrassed turn as a Mexican heavy in Virginia City the following year. Certainly most stage actors of Wallach's calibre would have rejected out of hand the role of a Mexican bandit who appears mainly in the first and final scenes of a big-budget Hollywood Western, and indeed that was Wallach's initial reaction on reading the part of Calvera, the flamboyant predator he played with such relish in John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven. Yet Wallach could see that the role was short on screen time but long on impact; throughout the film, the audience keeps wondering, 'When's he coming back?'

Wallach had certain advantages over Cagney and Bogart when it came to riding the range. A photograph of him aged eight shows him seated on a pony pretending to be William S. Hart or Tom Mix, the leading cowboys of the silent era. After completing high school in 1932 he was dispatched to the University of Texas at Austin, where he learned to chew tobacco and ride polo ponies and wrote Western sketches when he worked as a summer-camp counsellor. Once cast, he proceeded to bring the Method to bear on the role: what, he wondered, would a bandido jefe do with his ill-gotten gains? Conspicuous consumption seemed the likely answer, and so Calvera was fitted out with silk shirts, gold teeth and a silver saddle. Every morning of the shoot Wallach led his gang of 35 muchachos on long rides through the Mexican countryside, arriving on set sweaty and in character to menace the hapless peóns with lines like, "If God did not want them sheared, He would not have made them sheep." His only regret is that he didn't hear Elmer Bernstein's score before playing Calvera: "Otherwise I would have ridden my horse with more authority."

A great clown

A one-armed gunslinger bursts through a door and begins to gloat over a grime-streaked figure in a bath. Four bullets erupt from the bubbly water. Tuco Ramirez stands up, covered in suds, and dispatches the gunslinger with a final shot. Wagging his pistol reprovingly, he says: "When you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk!"

It's a line Eli Wallach has had to say only twice - once on set in 1966 and once in the dubbing studio a year later - but he's had it quoted back to him a thousand times by fans of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Wallach had assumed it was his performance as Calvera that had caught the attention of director Sergio Leone; in fact it was a moment in Henry Hathaway's 1963 film How the West Was Won. As Charley Gant, Wallach mimes the shooting of George Peppard and his two children before exiting cackling. Leone recalled: "People said to me, 'Keep away from him - he comes from the Actors Studio,' but I knew he would be a great clown."

In a Hollywood Western Tuco would have been a villain of the darkest hue, his list of transgressions enough to make even Calvera blanch, but in Leone's vision and Wallach's playing there's something heroic and moving in his raging against "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune". Leone encouraged Wallach to develop the role: Tuco's frantic crossing of himself was an exaggerated version of a gesture Wallach had seen among Italians back in Union Street, while the lines - "You are the son of a thousand fathers, all bastards like you! And your mother it is better not to talk of her!" - were often adlibbed. Wallach particularly enjoyed the scene where Tuco bursts into a store and begins to assemble a gun to his own specifications: "Leone said, 'Well, go in and put the gun together,' and I didn't know how. But he left the camera on and let me toy with it and imagine what it would be like." When it came to the bathroom scene, Wallach recalls, "I said to Leone, 'I'm in the bathtub, in the nude, and this man is going to shoot me and I shoot him. Isn't the water going to get in the gun?' He says, 'Eli, it's only a movie. Shoot him.'"

At one point in the film Tuco says to Clint Eastwood's character Joe, "Blondie, you realise we might be risking our lives?" And indeed Wallach remains grateful to Eastwood for warning him, "Don't be daring. Don't be brave with stunts." For instance, it was at Eastwood's insistence that he and Wallach moved to a position of greater safety during the set-piece dynamiting of Langstone Bridge; after it was blown up they realised that their initial position, chosen by Leone, was deluged with falling rocks and debris.

Wallach seems both surprised and pleased by Tuco's lasting impact: "Even today I sometimes park in a garage where every time I approach the owner whistles the music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and then offers me a special price. I don't get residuals for Italian movies, but this man who runs that garage gives me a break!"

Unlike Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Charles Bronson, who all became major stars as a result of their collaboration with Leone, Wallach peaked as a film actor with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. When I ask him if he regrets that Tuco didn't lead to bigger things, he replies: "No, I never thought of it in those terms. I used to go into agents' offices and they'd have pictures of these handsome movie men and I knew I'd never be up there. I'm a journeyman actor. I didn't think about stardom." So Wallach returned to the stage and television, occasionally enlivening otherwise dire Hollywood films with sharply etched character studies.

As the end of our two-hour session approaches, the 90-year-old actor seems as full of energy as he was at the beginning. Looking back on his long career, he says: "See how lucky I am? As a little boy I used to see these movies where the villain would always heat the sword and he was going to puncture the hero. And here I am in Cambodia [for Lord Jim, 1964], in Angkor Wat, heating a sword and I'm going to puncture Peter O'Toole. I mean, how can you have a better life?"

"A Master of His Craft: Eli Wallach" an interview by Paul M. Riordan from Images

Walsh, J.T. – actor

 

J.T. Walsh Obituary  Jim Emerson from cinepad

 
Walsh, Raoul

 

Raoul Walsh | Senses of Cinema  Tad Gallagher from Senses of Cinema, July 2002

 
THE THIEF OF BAGDAD

USA  (155 mi)  1924

 

Time Out review

 

Fairbanks' Arabian Nights spectacle presents American silent cinema at its most flamboyant. The collection of sets were said to extend over six-and-a-half acres; the designs, partly by William Cameron Menzies, are a dizzy conglomeration of Manhattan chic, Art Deco, and rampant Chinoiserie, guaranteed to amaze the eyes. Fairbanks leaps and grins through them all, the personification of American 'pep'. Korda's version of 1940 has the quirks and the luscious colour, but this one has the electric energy.

 

Decent Films Guide (Steven D. Greydanus) review [A]

Rivalled only by the awesome Babylonian segments of D. W. Griffith’s Intolerance, Douglas Fairbanks’ lavish, extravagant The Thief of Bagdad ranks as the very pinnacle of silent-era spectacle. Yet The Thief of Bagdad’s blend of Arabian Nights magic, storybook romance, mythopoeic fantasy travelogue, and sense of wonder and fun is incalculably more entertaining and joyous than even the best moments of Griffith’s muddled melodrama.

Taking as its theme the edifying precept "Happiness must be earned," The Thief of Bagdad introduces Fairbanks as a carefree Middle Eastern street thief (a role that allows the forty-year-old actor to flaunt his acrobatic physique in only baggy breeches and a turban).

Though at first the thief is a cheerful infidel who believes only in taking what he wants, the path to redemption begins when he falls in love with the caliph’s royal daughter (Julanne Johnston). Initially impersonating a prince to win her hand, the thief winds up scourged and humbled, ultimately seeking the advice of the "holy man" he earlier mocked, who advises him that if he loves a princess, he must "become a prince."

The ensuing pilgrimage takes the thief on a fantastic storybook odyssey ranging from the depths of the sea, haunted by sirens and giant spiders, to the world above the clouds, where he finds the abode of the winged horse and the citadel of the moon. The magic of this mythic journey outstrips anything in the highly regarded, possibly overrated 1940 remake.

Fairbanks’s flamboyant acting style is at its most overwrought here, but his charisma and exuberant physicality carry the day (one critic even suggests that his "daringly, beautifully florid performance is grounded less in dramatics than in dance" [TV Guide]).

With its unprecedented special effects and imaginative sets, The Thief of Bagdad is perhaps the first great achievement of cinematic epic mythopoeia, and the forerunner to the likes of The Lord of the Rings.

Reel Bad Arabs:  How Hollywood Vilifies a People, by Jack G. Shaheen, book review by Christian Blauvelt from Jump Cut, Spring 2008

 

moviediva

 

David M. Arnold retrospective

 

DVD Talk (John Sinnott) dvd review [5/5]

 

DVD Times  Anthony Nield

 

Walsh: The Thief of Bagdad (1924)  Billy Stevenson from A Film Canon

 

Camera Journal [Paul Sutton]

 

2 Things @ Once

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Images (Gary Johnson) capsule review  reviewing 10-video Douglas Fairbanks:  King of Hollywood

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]  Kino’s 5-disc The Douglas Fairbanks Collection

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [5/5]

 
THE BIG TRAIL

USA  (125 mi)  1930      uncredited co-director:  Louis R. Loeffler

 

Time Out review

 

Walsh's epic Western has gone down in cinema history as the film that made bit-part actor Marion Morrison into leading man John Wayne (though it needed Ford's Stagecoach to revive his career a decade later). Originally made simultaneously in normal 35mm and a short-lived 70mm process called 'Grandeur', it has recently been restored to its spectacular wide-screen glory. The saga of a wagon trail, the film is more striking now for its wide shots - vast landscapes, wagons being hauled up impossibly steep cliffs - than for the knockabout humour of the character scenes.

 

The Onion A.V. Club dvd review  Keith Phipps

Though the plot of the 1930 Western The Big Trail is one steady march from the banks of the Mississippi to Oregon territory, it's otherwise a film of false starts. Director Raoul Walsh, who enjoyed considerable success in the silent era, and experienced a second golden age from the late '30s on, thanks to films like They Drive By Night and White Heat, employed 70mm film and a then-new widescreen process called "Fox Grandeur," an early form of what would later be known as Cinemascope. As his star, he plucked from relative obscurity a baby-faced, wavy-haired young actor named John Wayne. Trouble was, with the onset of the Depression, few theaters had the technology to show the film as it was meant to be seen. The Big Trail flopped, and Wayne labored on in B-Westerns until Stagecoach made him a star in 1939.

Did audiences miss much? Yes and no. Like a lot of early talkies, The Big Trail struggles to incorporate dialogue gracefully, even breaking up the action with old-fashioned title cards that are more expressive than the exchanges between characters. And even with all the new technology, the story must have looked tired. While traveling cross-country, Wayne seeks revenge on a pair of buddy-killing nogoodniks (Charles Stevens and the much-less-handsome-than-his-son Tyrone Power Sr.) while romancing the spirited Marguerite Churchill. Between the action scenes, El Brendel provides ostensible comic relief as a slow-witted Swede.

Fortunately, film is a visual medium, and Walsh provides one breathtaking vista after another as the scenery shifts from river to desert to mountains. Beyond and above the drama of Wayne's quest for vengeance is the drama of a graceful, committed man moving against landscapes whose magnitude and danger are matched only by their beauty. As a movie, it's only so-so, but as a dramatic travelogue of the American West, it's a treasure.

Key features: Time critic Richard Schickel provides a typically insightful commentary track. A second disc supplies a 35mm version of the film.

User comments  from imdb Author: Ron Oliver (revilorest@juno.com) from Forest Ranch, CA

A heroic young trail scout leads a large party of pioneers along THE BIG TRAIL to the West, with Indian attacks, natural disasters & romantic complications all part of the adventure.

As sweeping & magnificent as its story, Raoul Walsh's THE BIG TRAIL is a wonderful film, as entertaining as it was more than seven decades ago. With very good acting and excellent production values, it lives up to its reputation as the talkies' first epic Western.

John Wayne, pulled from obscurity for his first important movie role, looks impossibly young, but he immediately impresses with the natural charm & masculine authority he brings to the hero's role; he quietly dominates the film with the attributes which would someday make him a huge star. Marguerite Churchill is fetching as a lovely Southern belle who slowly warms to the Duke's attentions. Dialect comic El Brendel is great fun as a Swedish immigrant beset with mule & mother-in-law woes; his appearance in a scene signals laughs for the viewer.

Looking & sounding like a human grizzly bear, Tyrone Power Sr., vast & repulsive, makes a wonderful villain. Slick cardsharp Ian Keith is a sophisticated bad guy. (His famous physical similarity to John Gilbert is very apparent here.) Silent movie character actor Tully Marshall is impressive as a wily old mountain man who helps guide the wagon train. Corpulent Russ Powell, as a friendly fur trapper, puts his vocal talent for making nonsense noises to good use. Sharp-eyed movie mavens will spot Ward Bond as one of the Missouri settlers.

What will surprise many modern viewers is that THE BIG TRAIL was filmed in an early wide screen process, called Grandeur. More than living up to its name, the picture looks marvelous, with Walsh showing a mastery of the new technology. He fills the screen, every portion of it, with action. Notice during the crowd scenes, how everyone is busy doing real work, which adds so much to the verisimilitude of these sequences. Walsh deserves great credit for being one of the first directors to use wide screen. In addition, the film is blessedly free of the rear projection photography which blights so many older films. It should also be stressed that it is only natural that the soundtrack sounds a little primitive; talkies were still in their cradle. That Walsh was able to use a microphone at all, with most of the scenes shot out of doors, is more kudos for him.

THE BIG TRAIL was not a box office success. In 1930, William Haines' comedies were the big money makers and the public was looking for fare other than intelligent Westerns. Most of the cast slipped into obscurity, including Wayne. It would not be until 1939, when John Ford rescued him in STAGECOACH, that John Wayne's legend would begin in earnest. And despite its grand & sweeping vistas, it would be another 25 years before wide screen caught on with Hollywood, largely as an answer to the economic threat from television.

Chicago Reader [Fred Camper]

 

mardecortesbaja.com :: THE BIG TRAIL  July 22, 2008

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jeff Rosado) dvd review

 

Film Freak Central dvd review  Travis Mackenzie Hoover

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

DVDTalk -- John Wayne Fox Westerns Coll. [Paul Mavis]

 

DVD Verdict (Barrie Maxwell) dvd review

 

The Digital Bits capsule dvd review [Special Edition]  Barrie Maxwell

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

Needcoffee.com - DVD Review  Dindrane

 

Frank's Movie Log

 

Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]

 

KQEK.com 2-disc DVD Review [Mark R. Hasan]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Walter Addiego) dvd review [1/4]

 

The New York Times (Mordaunt Hall) review

 

WILD GIRL                                                               B+                   91

USA  (78 mi)  1932

 

This is actually a remake of several earlier Silent film versions, all based on the 1898 Bret Harte novella Salomy Jane’s Kiss, from William Nigh and Lucius Henderson’s SALOMY JANE (1914) starring Beatriz Michelena, and George Melford’s SALOMY JANE (1923) starring Jacquelyn Logan, to this early 1932 Pre-Code Raoul Walsh version starring Joan Bennett, where all three versions are adapted from Paul Armstrong’s 1907 four-act stage version called Salomy Jane.  Set out West after the Civil War during the mid 19th century, it takes place entirely in the redwood forests of California’s Sequoia National Park, a supremely beautiful location that only adds a unique element to this film.  Walsh grew up in New York City as childhood friends with John Barrymore, becoming an actor for the stage and screen before being hired by D.W. Griffith, working as his assistant director while also playing John Wilkes Booth in Griffith’s racially controversial but also highly influential epic film THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915), the first film to ever be shown in the White House under Woodrow Wilson.  Walsh lost an eye in a car accident while making the film IN OLD ARIZONA (1928), where actor Warner Baxter went on to win the Best Supporting actor in the part Walsh intended to play, effectively ending Walsh’s acting career, but he wore an eye patch for the rest of his life while still directing well over 100 feature-length films.  Walsh discovered Marion Morrison, an unknown prop boy at the time working on THE BIG TRAIL (1930), turning him into the star of his film while also changing his name to John Wayne, after Revolutionary War General Mad Anthony Wayne, who happened to be the subject of a book the director was reading.  Walsh became known as one of the most competent craftsmen during the heyday of the studio system, specializing in adventure stories, a director who knew how to utilize outdoor locations and drive the action through pace, composition, and editing sequences, becoming a classical Hollywood filmmaker. 

 

This early talking film shows how effortlessly Walsh made the transition from Silent to talking pictures, using the opening credit sequence with photograph album photos introducing the cast, but the characters come to life on camera humorously introducing some little tidbit about their character, “I'm Salomy Jane, and I like trees better than men, because trees are straight,” a clever and charmingly amusing aural and visual cue that not only introduces sound, but enhances the audience’s appreciation for the cast even before the movie begins.  Another clever device is an optical page-turning effect, where each transitional dissolve into the next scene is a rarely used technique reinforcing the storybook aspect of the movie.  And the opening of this film is a true delight, somewhat dated with a black Mammy character, but there’s never the least inference of bias or mistreatment, as she becomes the mother figure, best friend, and playmate of Salomy Jane, Joan Bennett as a feisty young frontier woman who is something of a tomboy in perfect harmony with the natural world around her, at home among the trees, the creatures in the woods, and playing with little children.  When she sees the stagecoach arriving, she waves to the driver before running home through the woods, grabbing Louise Beavers as Mammy, where the two have to fend off a half a dozen or more live bears en route, which is a dazzlingly filmed sequence as they are all in the same frame together, no computer graphics, making this a most impressive opening.  Eugene Pallette as stagecoach driver Yuba Bill is another revelation, as he’s a hearty old soul who loves to tell stories, something of a Shakespearean Falstaff character with his rotund girth, his gift for gab, his embellishments of stories making him the true hero, and of course, his ultimate cowardliness.  Again, when making the transition to talking pictures, it helps to have such a natural born raconteur and scene stealer who is as thoroughly entertaining as Pallette, who eventually became too physically large for screen roles, building a secondary career just doing voice effects.  His best scene here is when he describes a conversation between horses, using hysterical voice inflections to describe the different animal’s sound as well as their intentions.  If that’s not inventive enough, Bennett, alone in her element, even goes skinny-dipping in the river showing her bare backside where of course she’s discovered by someone she knows only as Man, continually calling him that until the final frame of the film, turning out to be Billy, aka the Stranger (Charles Farrell), who in the opening credit sequence indicates he fought with Robert E. Lee.  

 

A stranger in the midst is enough to arouse people’s suspicions, as it matches the unusual occurrence of the stage getting robbed, so the sheriff rounds up a group of men folk to hang by a tree whoever the culprit is before the night is done.  That’s quick and efficient justice in this outland Western frontier.  And if that’s not enough trouble, Jane is constantly pursued by an assemblage of men competing for her affections, including card shark Jack Marbury (Ralph Bellamy), the man in black always seen curling his waxed moustache, or a contemptible swine Rufe Waters (Irving Pichel) who believes he has an early claim on her, or an overly pious man running for Mayor who secretly molests women, Phineas Baldwin (Morgan Wallace), none of whom really catch her interest.  But when she hears the handsome Stranger tracked down Baldwin and shoots him on the spot, settling an old score, apparently from Kentucky, where the two are seen running over rooftops, she develops a sudden attraction for the man.  So the sheriff adds another noose for his double lynching of a stage robber (the poorest man in town) and a murderer (a stranger), which sends Jane into a swooning depression, only to later find a renewed sense of optimism.  Walsh evidently witnessed an actual lynching as a child, adding some degree of authenticity to this sequence, beautifully shot with quick edits and offscreen sound, with the shadow of the hanged man all that’s seen on the ground, a chillingly effective moment in what is otherwise a rather humorous tale, told with a tongue-in-cheek style from the outset, using plenty of exaggeration and understatement mixed together, almost as if the audience is being told a bedtime story, as in subsequent tellings other aspects might be emphasized.  It’s all blended together with a deft hand and a unique mystique, where the simplest of stories is the least of our interest, but the embellishment of the redwoods, the calm and collected Stranger, a man with few words, the joyous energy of Jane, who is the picture of innocence, yet strong-willed and independent enough to stand up to any man, and the mystifyingly beautiful natural setting is an authentic natural treasure.  The enchanting tone gives this an upbeat feel throughout, even when real human issues are addressed like starving, poverty, vengeance as justice, or crime and punishment are ultimately addressed, giving this a mythical feel of living in Divine Eden, a perfect, picturesque world, where early signs of civilization are the purest forms of human expression, where sin is seen as violating the laws of nature, not God or the laws of man, making this something of a Pantheist western.

 

The Golden Age of American Talkies: 1932 | Peter Bogdanovich

 

Raoul Walsh’s other release this year was Wild Girl, which I saw in 1966 and commented: “Beautifully photographed and robustly directed adventure set in the West, centering around a backwoods girl, delightfully played by Joan Bennett, and her dealings with several men: a good-hearted gambler, a hypocritical, lecherous politician, a two-faced rancher, and a young stranger who fought with [Gen. Robert E.] Lee and has come to kill the politician because he wronged his sister. The location shooting much improves the film, and Walsh’s unpretentious handling, speedy pace and sense of humor---as shown in the amusing stage-driver Eugene Pallette scenes---keeps things going even when the script bogs down in plots and sub-plots.”

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Julian Anton

If Raoul Walsh's 1932 film WILD GIRL had any kind of a reputation, its title would probably have pigeonholed it as just another steamy Pre-Code film, perhaps something like BABY FACE only set in the woods. Fair enough: WILD GIRL does have plenty of Pre-Code sensuality; but it really has more in common with Disney's Silly Symphony cartoons (complete with storybook-style optical effects, skinny-dipping youths, and friendly woodland creatures) and its truehearted contemporary B-westerns. It's also an extraordinarily textured, funny, and sensitive look at a dysfunctional (as in: Eugene Pallette is in charge) Civil War Outpost in California. Shifting effortlessly between comedy and melodrama, and often blending the two with a two-fisted unpretentiousness few directors are capable of, Walsh's swift pacing is in full force and a joy to watch on screen. If WILD GIRL isn't the best thing you'll see all year, you'll have been hard-pressed to find something better. (80 min, Restored 35mm Print)

Wild Girl : The New Yorker  Richard Brody

 

This turbulent and tangled Western, from 1932, directed by Raoul Walsh—and filmed on location in Sequoia National Park—portrays a rustic post-Civil War outpost in California in all its sordid, violent, yet romantic energy. Salomy Jane (Joan Bennett), a barefoot backwoods maiden, innocently arouses the lust of the neighboring town’s local grandee (Morgan Wallace), whose predatory past catches up with him in the person of a Virginia stranger (Charles Farrell), a Confederate veteran who comes to town to avenge his sister. Meanwhile, Salomy is being courted by a pair of rivals—a high-hatted, smooth-talking saloon gambler (Ralph Bellamy) and a crude, jealous rancher (Irving Pichel)—and protected by Yuba Bill (Eugene Pallette), the jolly and fast-witted coachman. But the deck is shuffled anew when she and the stranger cross paths. The richly textured populist panorama, with its long-simmering feuds, casual gunplay, corrupt local politics, and the shoddy justice of vigilante mobs, blends the comic hyperbole of long-ago tall tales with the intense melodramatic spectacle of life and death in the daily balance. Walsh’s rowdy round of adventures is, above all, anchored by love and centered on the home, in all its varieties; the action pivots on passels of children in need of tending. With Minna Gombell, as a sharp-tongued madam; Sarah Padden, as a layabout’s long-suffering wife; and Louise Beavers, as Mammy Lou, who doesn’t live separately and isn’t treated equally.

 

Raoul Walsh's Wild Girl blazes into Evanston on ... - Chicago Reader  Ben Sachs

 

On Friday at 7 PM, Block Cinema at Northwestern University will screen Wild Girl, a recently restored comic western directed by Raoul Walsh. Released in 1932, the film comes from a fascinating period of Hollywood cinema—the years following the introduction of sound and prior to the implementation of the Hays Code, the system of self-censorship that would govern mainstream movies for another three decades. It also comes from a prolific time in Walsh's career, a three-year period wherein he signed eight feature films and did uncredited reshoots for a few others. As evidenced by two of his 1933 efforts Sailor's Luck and The Bowery (both of which screened in Chicago in the past few years), these years saw the director at his most carefree and vulgar. Luck and Bowery come on like a loudmouthed stranger buying a round for everyone in the bar; they're brash, unsubtle, and eager to please. And based on the half-hour I saw on Monday (before an unexpected fire drill ended the press screening early), Wild Girl seems just as high-spirited as those two films, if not necessarily as coarse.

The film tells follows a rough-and-tumble young woman (Joan Bennett) from the northern California backwoods who gets involved with a runaway convict (Charles Farrell) and some local gamblers (among them a top-hat-wearing mustache twirler played by Ralph Bellamy) in the mid-1800s. Light on plot, Wild Girl is nonetheless rich in behavior—courtesy of Bennett, Bellamy, and the great Eugene Pallette as a stagecoach driver who likes to imitate horses—and the Sequoia National Park locations where the movie was shot. It's the sort of lively pre-Code entertainment that may look better now than it did at the time of its release, since it conveys an uninhibited bawdiness that wouldn't last for much longer in Hollywood films.

In her biography Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood's Legendary Director, Marilyn Ann Moss writes that the director didn't think very highly of Wild Girl—or much of his early-30s output, for that matter. Walsh started the decade with The Big Trail, an epic western shot in a process called Grandeur, a predecessor to the 70-millimeter format. It was one of his most ambitious and self-consciously artful films, though it turned out to be a commercial flop that nearly brought Fox to bankruptcy. (A major contribution to this failure, Moss writes, was that only two theaters in the U.S. were equipped to present The Big Trail in the Grandeur format; for most viewers, the lavish photography existed only in theory.) He rebounded by directing several fast and cheap projects in hopes of bringing some money back to the studio. Walsh considered these impersonal jobs, yet it's hard to watch them today without sensing his brusque, big-talking persona behind the camera.

It was around this time, Moss notes, that Walsh began to rely on a practice that he'd maintain for the remainder of his career. "[A]fter he put in place a particular camera setup, he walked away instead of looking in the camera . . . But he had good reason: he preferred to hear how a scene sounded; he already knew it by heart." The approach might account for the unique tone of Walsh's entertainments, which feel laid-back in their overall pacing and abuzz in their moment-to-moment characterization.

Raoul Walsh  Tag Gallagher from Senses of Cinema, July 2002

 

Raoul Walsh - Senses of Cinema  Print the Legend – Raoul Walsh: The True Adventures of Hollywood’s Legendary Director, by Marilyn Ann Moss, December 2011

"To Save And Project" and Raoul Walsh's "Wild Girl" (1932)  Glenn Kenny from Some Came Running

Self-Styled Siren: To Save and Project: MOMA Screens Wild Girl ...

 

Movies in the City: To Save and Project 10: Day One (Oct. 11)  Casey

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: wmorrow59 from Westchester County, NY

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: boblipton from New York City

 

Overview for Raoul Walsh - Turner Classic Movies  biography by Shawn Dwyer

 

Wild Girl  Block Films

 

MoMA | Wild Girl

 

When skinny-dipping didn't violate the Code 1/2  Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune

 

Wild Girl (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
ST. LOUIS BLUES

USA  (92 mi)  1939

 

User comments  from imdb Author: HarlowMGM from United States

This is an amusing but lightweight comedy/musical vehicle for Dorothy Lamour in the early years of her stardom. Dottie plays a Broadway star who is forever cast in South Seas melodramas (hmmm) who decides to run away and live in seclusion in a small river town. Familiar plot of course but the movie has a major director, Raoul Walsh, a lovely star and a good supporting cast although noted character actor Lloyd Nolan is not charismatic enough to be Lamour's leading man. The movie includes several good songs including "I Go For That", one of Lamour's biggest hits. The legendary title song (a turn of the century hit) is regrettably on used as background music. This movie was retitled "Best of the Blues" for television to avoid confusion with the 1958 movie "St. Louis Blues".

Variety review

 

The New York Times (Frank S. Nugent) review

 

ROARING TWENTIES
USA  (106 mi)  1939

 

The Roaring Twenties   Eric Henderson from Slant magazine

 

An epochal rise-and-fall epic of the gangster cycle, Raoul Walsh's skittering, impetuous The Roaring Twenties (bookending the glorious ascent of James Cagney's bootlegger with a cold reception for soldiers returning from overseas following WWI on one side and the '29 Crash on the other) hits the ground running, but a couple lengths further back on the track than one would expect. Mark Hellinger's story begins not with the green-eyed and spry neophyte chump tripsying his way into the stage door of a hotbox revue, but with the same kid stumbling his way into a blown-out crater in Europe during the War. Maybe it's because Cagney's role as the rushed Eddie Bartlett (a principled soldier who blossoms into a hoodlum with a conscience) comes at a peculiar point in his career as a uniquely physical being (long past the point where his violent temper could be written off as arrested adolescence, a vulnerability seemingly entrenched in the two deep, Guy Pearce-like gashes that bisect his jaw), this lengthy prologue sets the stage for a gangster micro-epic that wobbles intriguingly on the moral imperative of the gangster ethic.

When Bartlett stumbles downward (with only the faintest shading of metaphor) into the foxhole at the beginning of the film, he collapses onto George Hally (Humphrey Bogart, before his miscreant meatiness was forever tenderized down at Rick's Café) and Lloyd Hart (Jeffrey Lynn). Very quickly, the two are established as extreme ends on the naughty-nice continuum, respectively, which is all more or less according to the Walsh action film blueprint; he may glamorize his thugs, but they are rarely glorified without compunction. And though The Manny Farber wrote in an article extolling the work of Walsh that the director "goes to sleep when he handles Decency, the wooden lawyer who works for the DA's office." The DA, Bartlett's lawyer and former foxhole companion Hart, admittedly does walk the same tightrope between corruption and godliness. (Cagney's two love interests follow similar patterns, only Gladys George's blowsy performance as Panama Smith clearly reveals Walsh's sympathy for the spice of "naughty" girls.) Farber's convincingly weak stomach for the film's lilies of virtue can't quite digest that most of the film's wonky charm come courtesy of Cagney's schizoid impulses, never quite settling on which moral imperatives to hold onto and which to disregard (a paradox that finds its best example when the rising ganglord Cagney is approached by three previously-jailed men looking for "work," and only accepts the two that fess up to their guilt, dismissing the one who maintains that he was framed).

Walsh's swift camerawork is almost an extension of Cagney's swift gait. Both seem to be landing each step on the front side of their feet, and the effect is that the camera is anticipating the catharsis between nitroglycerine crime partners Bartlett and Hally to tip the scales of moral alignment back to zero. In the same way, Walsh's punchy interludes in which a radio announcer and cross-fading montages four images deep detail the sociological background of the era (approximating the zingers between page turns in a pulp novel) almost seem to ludicrously trivialize the same economic plight that was played for sympathy in Hellinger's opening credits scroll: "The characters are composites of people I knew, and the situations are those that actually occurred." Climaxing with a tableau that is as iconic as it is melodramatic, The Roaring Twenties revels in a relativism that keeps its momentum fresh and elusive.

 
THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT
USA  (100 mi)  1940

 

They Drive by Night   Nick Schager from Slant magazine

 

It's not clear who's to blame for the schizophrenic structure of Raoul Walsh's They Drive by Night, but there's no denying that this overlooked 1940 gem is essentially two films in one. The first half is a socially conscious depression-era film in which down-on-their-luck truckers attempt to make an honest living despite their exploitative bosses. George Raft turns in a solid (if typically one-note) performance as Joe Fabrini, an upbeat big-rig driver who dreams of becoming his own boss, and Humphrey Bogart—still a year away from High Sierra and leading-man status—as Joe's sleepy sidekick brother Paul. Walsh gives detailed attention to the particulars of the trucking industry, and his tender, empathetic portrayal of the indignities these working-class stiffs must endure makes the film's opening feel somewhat similar to a jazzed-up, wisecracking version of John Ford's The Grapes of Wrath. The brothers, fed up with their employer's refusal to pay wages, strike out on their own, but—typical of film noir-–their decision to improve their lot in life results in tragedy: a near-fatal accident destroys their truck and leaves Paul with only one arm. Yet just as things look insurmountably bleak, in steps gregarious shipping magnate Ed Carlson, who likes Joe's moxie and gives him a cushy white-collar job running his firm's trucking operations. Unbeknownst to Joe, however, he's been hired at the urging of Carlson's gold-digging wife (Ida Lupino), a sexual predator who's desperate to have Joe as a lover no matter the price. Mrs. Carlson attempts to woo Joe, who strives to stay true to his friend and his tough-talking waitress paramour Cassie (Ann Sheridan), and here the film becomes a flipside The Postman Always Rings Twice in which the plebeian man refuses to entertain the boss's sexy wife. This jarring shift in focus unfortunately relegates Bogart to the backburner, but the film continues to work thanks to Lupino's Mrs. Carlson, whose rapturous sensuality and conniving insanity turn everyone else on screen into a mere afterthought. Driven mad by the memory of killing her husband (which she accomplishes via a plan involving her newfangled electric garage door), Lupino breaks down while testifying in the climactic courtroom scene, and the performance's brazen lunacy—Lupino's eyes glazed and makeup askew, incoherent, mumbled words tumbling out of her mouth—is a testament to overacting virtuosity. They Drive by Night never coalesces into a coherent whole, but as far as sturdy '40s Hollywood melodramas go, it's a pretty sweet two-for-one movie deal.

 
WHITE HEAT                                                           B                     88
USA  (113 mi)  1949

 

They think they got Cody Jarrett…they haven’t got Cody Jarrett.

—Cody Jarrett (James Cagney), just before his inevitable demise                

 

By the late 1940’s, James Cagney was sick of making gangster movies like THE PUBLIC ENEMY (1931), ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938), and THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939), films that made him a star, but also typecast him as a tough guy, where he begged Warner Brothers to offer him more variety in his roles, the most successful of which was, of course, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942), where his range as a song and dance man and American composer was utterly remarkable.  But his career floundered after that, making only four films between 1943 and 1948, so by 1949 he had a new contract at Warners and a commitment to make yet another gangster movie, but this time he hadn’t played a gangster in over a decade and he was 50 years old.  With that in mind, they created an iconic role in WHITE HEAT that will forever be associated with him, Cody Jarrett, an outlaw every bit as ruthless as the characters he portrayed earlier, but also energetic and humorous, perhaps a bit savvier, though he’s more of a savage brute here, a seriously disturbed criminal, a deranged psychopath with a mother complex and debilitating fits from migraine headaches, the predecessor to Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960).  While poverty was the driving force behind criminal behavior during the Depression of the 1930’s, with gangleader Cody Jarrett it’s a massive ego and a feeling of invincibility.  He’s indifferent to the needs of anybody else except himself and his mother, Ma Jarrett, Margaret Wycherly, who played Gary Cooper’s saintly mother in SERGEANT YORK (1941), the only person Cody can rely upon and trust.  Loosely based on the life of Ma Barker and her boys, another outlaw gang that gripped the American public during the 30’s, Ma is hard as nails, but overly protective of her boy, basically running the gang during Cody’s absences, handling the money and giving out orders.  

 

WHITE HEAT is designed to be the last of the gangster pictures, the end of an era when career criminals could generate any public sympathy, where instead they are seen as disturbed, antisocial sociopaths living on the fringe of society, where policework was becoming more in vogue with the public, showing signs of more modern and sophisticated methods that were highly popular with the public, especially with the advent of the television series Dragnet (1951 – 59).  While the late 40’s is the height of film noir, this film is often mis-categorized as noir due to the blatant criminality on display.  Despite the eccentric psychological implications, which are never explored, and the over-the-top performance from Cagney, this is really just a formula gangster picture, where Cody Jarrett is an apocalyptic character already out of step with the times, the last of his era.  Cagney indicated he never told Margaret Wycherly how he intended to play his migraine fits, where even in the film the audience is not sure whether to laugh or cower in fear, as his onscreen behavior was just so unexpected to 1949 audiences.  A childhood friend of John Barrymore in New York City, director Raoul Walsh was probably the most competent craftsman under contract with Warner Brothers, a director who knew how to utilize outdoor locations and drive the action with an unrelentingly fast pace through editing sequences, an example of classical Hollywood filmmaking, including the musical scoring by Max Steiner that never stands out, but matches the mood onscreen.  Even the impressive opening train robbery sequence is a skilled example of setting up the tension by matching the speed of the arriving car (carrying outlaws) with the approaching train (carrying money), where the outlaws, especially Jarrett, are trigger happy, leaving no witnesses.    

 

The film spends an inordinate amount of time and effort attempting to highlight modern police methods, especially radio tracking technology, not so interesting today as it slows down the pace and removes some of the built-up tension.  Admittedly, some of the side characters never rise above type, including Virginia Mayo as Jarrett’s well dressed but perpetually complaining wife Verna, or Steve Cochrane as Big Ed, the slick haired man supposedly making a bid to take over the gang, or Edmond O’Brien, an undercover cop named Vic Pardo who becomes chummy with fellow inmate Cody Jarrett while in the slammer, trying to get him to reveal information to help build a case against him.  Next to Cagney, O’Brien is really bland and boring, of questionable moral character himself, though there are tense moments when his true police identity might be discovered, but the prison sequences really drag after Jarrett cunningly turns himself in for a lesser crime with the knowledge he’d be out in a year or so.  While there are a few moments, such as an attempt on his life and a memorable prison visit from Ma, who’s intense stubbornness seems to run in the family, it’s her later demise (happening offscreen, discovered by Jarrett through a line of convicts whispering what happened into the ear of the convict sitting next to them at dinner) that leads to a major scene of Cagney having a manic fit on the floor of the prison, taking out half a dozen guards in the process, leading to a departure from the originally planned jailbreak.  Once Jarrett is out, he has to set matters straight, especially with Big Ed and a guy that nearly kills him in prison, an inmate Cody makes sure comes along during the breakout.  As the equilibrium among criminals is being restored, the police obtain the upper hand through Pardo’s ability to tip off the cops and then place a homemade electronic honing device on the truck being used in their next big heist.  What makes this film iconic is the legendary finale, expressed with a kind of psychotic glee rarely seen elsewhere, as Cagney simply operates on another level as everyone else.  When the cops surprise his gang with numbers and chase him up the steps of a fuel refinery storage tank, hopelessly surrounded and wounded but not out of it, it’s his refusal to go out quietly that we all remember.  With flames shooting up all around him before the self-inflicted final blast that has atomic age written all over it, Cagney shouts out to the ghost of his dead mother, “Made it, Ma. Top of the world!”—a fitting epitaph for Cody Jarrett. 

 

This film may suffer from star power, much like John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS (1956), where the audience tends to over-identify with Cagney, despite his murderous, psychopathic tendencies, as they do with John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards, a known Indian hater, where it seems hard to believe that when the film was made, Warner Brothers, who produced both films, felt audiences would identify with Edmond O’Brien’s Vic Pardo, thinking he was the hero of the film.  But Pardo’s character is too morally conflicted, as the mere concept of a jailhouse spy is not anyone’s idea of a hero.  Pardo was treated well by Jarrett, and was privy to a more human side of him, as Jarrett actually opened up to him, which makes his double cross all the more demoralizing, especially his escape, where the police actually use excessive force, never even attempting to bring in any of the outlaws alive.  Instead they were all killed, the entire gang, except one fellow inmate who surrenders near the end.  This may be a case of writers and studios thinking so highly of themselves that they actually believe they know better than the public, but audiences loved Cagney and Wayne, where they have become American icons with a longstanding public adulation, where despite their association with violence in pictures, they are beloved family idols where kids at an early age actually look up to them as role models.  This is not to suggest either Cody Jarrett or Ethan Edwards are role models, but kids, especially at an early age, are conflicted over this issue, as onscreen they appear to be the heroes.  They’re the strongest characters onscreen and they always carry the action.  So for kids, if there’s any movie character to emulate, it’s the Cagney or Wayne figure.  Their hateful or murderous tendencies are secondary to the power of their performances, where even for adults, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer manic energy of Cagney’s Jarrett as he eats a chicken drumstick in one hand while shooting the rat who finked on him in prison with the other.  He’s as entertaining as they come, and his sheer willpower dominates the picture, which is what endears him to audiences even as they know he’s a loathsome psychotic killer who probably deserves the electric chair. 

 

Adrian Martin from 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE:

 

“Do you know what to do?” barks Cody (James Cagney) at his sidekick at the start of a daring train robbery; when the guy starts replying, Cody cuts him off:  “Just do it, stop gabbing!” This headlong, action-only attitude sums up the drive of Raoul Walsh’s films, which (as Peter Lloyd once remarked) “take the pulse of an individual energy” and embed it within a “demented trajectory out of which is born the construction of rhythm.” Few films are as taut, sustained, and economical in their telling as White Heat.  

 

Walsh is a relentlessly linear, forward-moving director whose work harkens back to silent cinema—as in that exciting car-meets-train opener. But he also explores the intriguing, complicated possibilities of 20th century psychology. On the job, Cody kills ruthlessly. Once holed up like a caged animal with his gang—as he will later be imprisoned—his psychopathology begins to emerge: indifference to others’ suffering, fixation on a tough mom, and searing migraines that send him beserk.

 

Cody, as immortalized in Cagney’s powerhouse performance, embodies the ultimate contradiction that brings down movie gangsters: fantastic egotism and dreams of invincibility (“Look, Ma, top of the world!”) undermined by all-too-human dependencies and vulnerabilities. 

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]  The Warner Gangster’s Collection

 

After four versions of a single story, White Heat serves as a "10 years later" epilogue. The '30s gangster pictures were stylish and set-bound, with snappy visual storytelling derived from silent-movie grammar. White Heat is more in the vein of film noir and documentary realism, as it takes to the streets of Los Angeles and the outlying California farms. The darkly funny banter remains, continuing the tradition that bridges Little Caesar and The Sopranos, but though Cagney still personifies underworld cool, with a gun in one hand and a chicken leg in the other, he's also become a little pathetic. The man on the rise has become a man out of time, his ambition accompanied by blinding headaches and a Freudian mother fixation. If the Warner Gangsters Collection traces America's perception of its place in the world, from Prohibition to the end of World War II, then White Heat completes the thought with a nuclear-era exclamation point, as Cagney shouts, "Made it, ma! Top of the world!" before the refinery he's standing on explodes into a mushroom cloud.

 

FilmsNoir.Net [Tony D'Ambra]

From the daring and brutally violent train robbery that opens the film, this gangster flick has a relentless trajectory that ends only with the incendiary finale-de-resistance. Director, Raoul Walsh, and cinematographer, Sid Hickox, have produced one of the tautest and most electric thrillers ever to emanate from Hollywood, which together with the nuanced screenplay, has the spectator strapped into an emotional strait-jacket that is released only in the final explosive frames.

Jimmy Cagney as the criminal psychotic Cody Jarrett dominates the screen in a bravura performance that is as dynamic as it is intense. Broderick Crawford as the undercover cop Fallon, is no match for Cagney, and appears flat and almost irrelevant. Cody’s razor-sharp intelligence, and unflinching decisiveness and brutality propel the action – Fallon and the other cops can only follow in his wake. Virginia Mayo is well-cast as Cody’s slatternly wife, and is as cheap and conniving as any gangster’s mole before or since. Only Ma Jarrett matches her in evil guile.

The film-making team conspires to hold you not only in awe of Cody but also to perversely empathize with him. Strange to say he is the only genuine character in the motley crew organised for the final disastrous heist. Even Fallon comes off looking lifeless and less than honorable. The mise-en-scene is calculated to subvert your moral compass. Cody is decisive and acts without hesitation or qualm, while Fallon’s actions are reactive and ponderous. When Fallon tries to sneak out of the gang’s hide-out on the eve of the heist to alert his superiors, he is way-laid and has to concoct a story about wanting to hook-up with his ‘wife’ for the night, as Cody talks intimately and almost poetically to him of his grief for his dead mother, and how he was just ‘talking’ to her when wandering in the brush outside.

In the final shoot-out Cody is pinned atop a gas storage silo at an LA refinery, while Fallon from a safe distance takes pot-shots at him with a sniper’s rifle. Cody won’t go down, and only when he wildly shoots his pistol into the silo is his fate finally sealed. Fallon looks far less heroic…

Slant Magazine [Eric Henderson]

Marlon Brando gets a lot of credit for revolutionizing screen acting with his performance as Stanley Kowalski in "actors' director" Elia Kazan's 1951 A Streetcar Named Desire. After five AFI specials, one could reasonably argue that his reputation as the lynchpin between the era of Nelson Eddy and the era of Edward Norton has been etched in stone. And so it's sort of ironic to consider the possibility that James Cagney's last truly iconic performance in the post-gangster era pastiche White Heat (directed by Raoul Walsh, not exactly the type of director whose reputation was built on a fastidious fixation on the Actors' Studio ethic) predates the stripped-down implosiveness of Brando's display of pectoral scratches and flubbed inflection by two full years.

Cagney (whose years were finally and discernibly catching up with him, and seemingly all gathering within his much more melonlike head) plays the unhinged Cody Jarrett, a mid-level criminal mastermind who's a big enough threat to have a fat FBI record, but small and fallible enough to still depend on the psychological (and suggestively sexual) support of his devoted mother. As Walsh's film opens, Jarrett is executing a train heist with a small clan of almost-inept henchmen, all of whom seem capable of sullenly reminding Jarrett of the size of their cut and inadvertently taunting his slouching sense of masculinity. Their slovenly indifference to anything but the payoff results in a sloppy heist that only goes downhill from the moment one poor stooge gets his face exfoliated by a busted steam engine. One of the mugs mentions Jarrett's name while he's holding two crusty train conductors at gunpoint, and just as soon as one of the two geezers shoots his mouth off about the slip, a two-bit holdup becomes a bloody, homicidal crime spree, forcing the clan to hole up in a remote cabin with no fire in the fireplace (the smoke will attract attention) and no shortage of sparks between Jarrett's floozy wife Verna (Virginia Mayo) and his flinty-featured Ma. At one point, Jarrett collapses in agony on the floor (he has chronic headaches that, one character later explains, were his only means of attracting his mother's attention as a kid) and is hoisted upon Ma's lap for a sinister neck massage.

Walsh's characterization of Ma as a filial lamprey, driving her son batty with the uncontrollable power of her love and her surreptitiously emasculating prods for Jarrett to make it to the "top of the world" may provide actress Margaret Wycherly with a spitfire role (check out the smug expression on her face as she evades three cop cars on her way home from buying her son strawberries), but it's also nothing more than dime novel psychological hooey, and a far too hasty peek into Jarrett's twisted mental state. The Oedipal overtones of the relationship don't pay off until Jarrett goes behind bars (surrendering to the police for a minor heist that would also conveniently provide him an alibi for the botched train robbery) and unwittingly befriends an undercover cop planted as a mole to spy on Jarrett in the hopes that he'll make some verbal slip-up that will implicate him in the murders he's committed.

Once again, the most denigrated angle of a Walsh picture is the perception of his ostensible disinterest in the motivation of his "good" characters, and Edmond O'Brien's portrayal of the undercover inmate "Vic Pardo" is no exception. Without bothering to quote Manny Farber again, I'll merely counter that O'Brien plays as crucial a role to the film's success as a cornerstone of Cagney iconography as Cagney's own bravura tantrums in the mess hall upon learning of his mother's death. To accept the film's stabs at Freudianism, take note of the transference of custodial duties between Ma and Pardo in the scene in which Jarrett collapses in the middle of the jailhouse assembly line. Pardo drags Jarrett behind a set of shelves and pulls the writhing mass of shaved nerve-endings up to his lap, urgently massaging the back of his neck in a shot that immediately recalls the earlier moment of familial lust when Ma invites Jarrett onto her lap. It's over nearly as soon as it started (I can only presume that in those days the Production Code set a strict limit to the number of seconds two males' bare skin could be in direct contact), but the psychological shift informs the crux of the final betrayal, when Jarrett learns of Pardo's true identity and nearly dissolves into bitter crying jag. White Heat's ultimate message: love's a bitch…even crypto-incestuous love.

White Heat - Film (Movie) Plot and Review ... - Film Reference  Ed Lowry from Film Reference

 

White Heat - Turner Classic Movies  Rob Nixon

 

Articles  collection of TCM essays by Rob Nixon

 

No Ripcord [Gary Collins]

 

Film Court  Lawrence Russell

 

eFilmCritic Reviews  Doug Bentin 

 

Edward Copeland on Film [Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.]

 

The Greatest Films - comprehensive analysis of classic US film  Tim Dirks

 

Prisonmovies.net [Eric Penumbra]

 

Electric Sheep Magazine [James B Evans]

 

The Films of Raoul Walsh [Michael E. Grost]  also seen here:  White Heat

 

DVD Journal  Mark Bourne

 

DVD Town [John J. Puccio]

 

American Cinematographer  DVD review by Jim Hemphill

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com  Jon Danziger

 

DVD Verdict  Steve Evans

 

DVD Talk  Matthew Millheiser

 

DVD MovieGuide  Colin Jacobson

 

DVD Savant  Glenn Erickson, the Warner Gangster Collection

 

DVD Verdict - TCM Greatest Gangster Films: James Cagney [James A. Stewart]

 

Big House Film  Roger Westcombe

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

TCM's MovieMorlocks.com  Not for Nothin’, by Richard Harland Smith

 

George Chabot's DVD Review

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

The Spinning Image  Graeme Clark)

 

Goatdog's Movies [Michael W. Phillips, Jr.]

 

Movie Vault [Vadim Rizov]

 

Brian Koller  also seen here:  Brian Koller, filmsgraded.com

 

A Film Canon [Billy Stevenson]

 

Past Picks Online [Jimmy Gillman]

 

That Cow  Andrew Bradford

 

Edwin Jahiel

 

Classic Film Guide

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide

 

Variety

 

Time Out

 

The New York Times  Bosley Crowther

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 
Walter, John
 
HOW TO DRAW A BUNNY                       B+                   90
USA  (90 mi)  2002
 
An interesting portrait of a fascinating but elusive artist that few have heard about, Ray Johnson, a prolific collage creator who kept to himself to such a degree that no one, not even another lover who lived with him for decades, really knew him.  Yet from the late 40’s to the mid 70’s, he was part of the New York bohemian art scene, exchanging letter correspondence through art, as well as developing a performance art style.  Johnson refused to go to gallery openings, or show his work in public formats, choosing instead to express himself in a more personal manner among friends or acquaintances, so he never developed the reputation or fame of his contemporaries.  A discussion of the artistic complexities of his work was absent in this film, but through multiple interviews of people who allegedly knew him and who shared artistic correspondence relationships with him, the film humorously puts into place a fascinating and humanizing portrait by connecting the dots of the man who is sometimes called “the most famous unknown artist.”  When visiting the Andy Warhol factory, seeing the Marilyn Monroe portraits stacked together, one of his companions shot a bullet through her eyes.  These works were later corrected or “fixed,” yet they now have a greater economic value than the original unaltered works.  Even in death, an alleged suicide at age 67, many think this was the ultimate in performance art, as he left clues, not answers afterwards.  Jazz legend Max Roach contributes some of the always-provocative music, which adds a raw flavor to the mix. 

 

THEATER OF WAR                                   B+                   90

USA  (95 mi)  2008 

 

“We all live off the war, whether or not we acknowledge it. She’s just more dirty and in the trenches. But we all live off the war.”

 —Meryl Streep on Mother Courage

 

This is a sprawling, multi-faceted documentary on the making of a free 2006 Shakespeare in the Park Public Theater production of Bertolt Brecht’s play MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN in Central Park, with a new translation of the play by Angels in America playwright Tony Kushner and with Meryl Streep in the role of Mother Courage.  Streep has always been hesitant in allowing herself to be seen in early production stages of any work, for it’s easy to find fault while clumsily searching for the right character, claiming:  “Process looks like bad acting. Process is not anything you should let anybody see.”  But here the cameras are rolling during the first read through, shown after a brief flurry where we see her onstage in full drunken despair.  While it’s hard to doubt Streep’s commitment and prowess, her real-life persona of being such a sweet and good hearted person, especially as seen in Robert Altman’s last film PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (2006), is at odds with the play, where she has to get lowdown and dirty, where she tells us early on, “I’m the voice of dead people.  I’m the interpreter of lost songs.”  There are surprisingly few sequences from the play itself, most of them short and still evolving, which might seem disappointing, yet this film is full of discussion about Brecht and his family, including a surviving daughter recollecting stories as well as Carl Weber, an assistant director of Brecht’s own 1949 Berliner Ensemble production of the play in Germany starring his wife Helene Weigel.  Kushner offers his own views on Brecht, recalling much of his poetry, as does director George C. Wolfe, while writer Jay Cantor places the work in a scholarly Marxist perspective, claiming Brecht discovered Marx late in his career when the only apparent hope for this war ravaged writer was discovering there were strength in numbers, as otherwise, from his disturbing view, mankind was doomed.  

 

The beauty of this film is the continual search for the meaning in Brecht’s life and works, using archival home movie footage that presents a portrait of a lost childhood, as his parents were forced to flee Germany after the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 when Hitler declared martial law and then continually remained on the move to avoid the Nazi’s, from Denmark to Stockholm (where he wrote Mother Courage) to Finland to Zurich to Moscow to Vladivostok, eventually coming to the United States where he was subject to the questioning of the post-war House Un-American Activities Committee so intent on weeding out communists from every nook and cranny of the country, in this case Hollywood artists.  Brecht’s testimony is given an amusing spin as the consensus was he was giving a performance, accentuating his supposed inability to speak English well, thereby lying through his teeth while reveling in the senseless futility of even being asked such useless questions, the committee knowing nothing whatsoever about the circumstances people were forced to endure in Europe in order to survive the war.  Brecht left America for Europe the day after his testimony, setting a pattern later followed by Roman Polanski who was similarly hounded by an overzealous press.  In between bittersweet, profoundly moving songs (newly scored by Jeanine Tesori), Streep can be seen on black and white video interviews offering her own compelling views on the play and why she chose the role, which requires an extraordinary grasp of dialogue, as she’s onstage for the entire 3 and a half hour production, while people around her drop like flies, including the loss of all of her children, the price one pays for war.  Briefly seen as an outcry to America’s occupation in Iraq, where a play is not likely to end a war, but as perhaps the greatest anti-war play ever written, a new production does have resonance placing war in a different perspective, offering the audience a sense of connection to the multitude of deaths that have come before, from the thousands and millions of people of all faiths, countries, and continents, who throughout time have anguished in despair over senseless losses they could not understand.     

 

More important, however, is the discussion by some of Brecht’s more ardent admirers, namely theater people, from the directors to the costume room to the props department to the actors themselves, we hear people speak of their roles in this upcoming production while also getting a knowledgeable discussion on the relevancy of Brecht and his works, thought of as the ultimate outsider, writing nearly all of his plays in German while exiled outside his country, knowing his style was a radical departure, but never knowing if his plays would ever be presented before a German audience in his lifetime, never knowing the impact of what he created, while continually remaining an enigma wherever he went.  Mother Courage is the ultimate nightmare on the horrible impact of war, where one never knows just how small and desperate people can feel until they are removed from any semblance of the world they once knew, or the people they once loved, where events seem to spin out of control, as if by accident where people can only sit on the sidelines and watch helplessly, seeing “Injustice everywhere, and no rebellion.”  Brecht captures loss like no other, where in his plays, characters break out into song, capturing intimate, personal, and demoralizing moments that defy human comprehension, a moral abyss where God is no longer answerable or applicable, where all that’s left in your rotten decrepit life is to be alone, engulfed in a deafening silence.      

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

Von Stauffenberg expressed his political outrage by attempting to blow up Adolf Hitler at a war summit; George C. Wolfe, Tony Kushner, and Meryl Streep express theirs by exhuming Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, adding a few anti-Bush jabs, and putting it on in Central Park. John Walter’s documentary Theater of War alternates rehearsal footage with (cleaned-up) stories of the life and times of old Bertolt. As a onetime dramaturg and Brechtian, I enjoyed the chin-wags and the glimpses of Streep in rehearsal—especially her quivering admission that she can’t bear the thought of anyone seeing her process. The movie throws in a cogent Marxist primer and reminders of all the collateral damage (economic and physical) generated by our war machine. All I missed was a hint that East Germany in the fifties didn’t bestow its bounties on all such lusty, provocative thinkers.

Chicago Reader    Andrea Gronvall

 

A longtime admirer of Bertolt Brecht, documentary maker John Walter goes behind the scenes at the Public Theater's 2006 staging of Mother Courage and Her Children in Central Park. Meryl Streep, who starred in the production, and Tony Kushner, who supplied a new translation, discuss the play's importance and their creative processes, yet Walter (How to Draw a Bunny) reaches past these marquee names to other engaging experts: Carl Weber, a Stanford University professor who was once Brecht's assistant; novelist Jay Cantor; and Public Theater creative director Oskar Eustis. Rare home movies show Brecht and his happy family in Germany before they fled in 1933, and the end of his American sojourn is marked by archival footage of the playwright, a committed Marxist, testifying to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. Engrossing and timely, this crackles with ideas about art, politics, religion, and the terrible costs of war. In English and subtitled German. 96 min.

 

Chicago Tribune   Michael Phillips

Three years ago a heavyweight collection of theater artists, including Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, playwright Tony Kushner and director George C.Wolfe, entered the ring with Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children." Documentary filmmaker John Walter enjoyed unusual access to the preparation and rehearsal of the 2006 New York Public Theater revival. The result is fascinating: part fly-on-the-wall, part symposium on both Brecht and those who were weaned on his eternal, granitelike truths regarding the war machine.

At the time of the production, which was staged at the outdoor Central Park Delacorte Theater, America's Iraq invasion and George W. Bush's second term had a lot of Americans going slowly mad. "Injustice everywhere, and no rebellion"—that's a line from a Brecht poem quoted by Kushner. With a little help from collaborator Margarete Steffin, the German Brecht wrote "Mother Courage" in late 1939, during his Swedish exile. While the 2006 New York revival ultimately received mixed notices, it's hard not to imagine a single "Mother Courage" (outside one of its 1940s stagings, notably the one starring Brecht's wife, Helene Weigel) that wouldn't challenge and divide any audience.

The film sets up subtle connections between Brecht and Kushner, both blessed with great success at a relatively young age. Similarly, commentary on Marxian theory regarding the value and meaning of work from scholar Jay Cantor is intercut with interviews with production associates, including the prop master. Looking splendid in Walter's black-and-white interview sequences, Streep speaks eloquently of her craft. She did the play, she says, because she needed an outlet for the rage she felt every time she saw another Iraq War widow on the TV news, wailing and asking the heavens: Why?

last April  Andrew O’Hehir from Salon, April 2008

Moving from one famous playwright, and one political extreme, to another, we come to one of Tribeca's central niches: the kind of New York-centric film that's likely to play almost nowhere else, or at least that will only play to audiences who wish to bask in reflected light from the glow of New York self-approbation. That's a harsh light in which to appraise the Sunday-night premiere of "Theater of War," John Walter's graceful and often fascinating documentary about Bertolt Brecht and his influential 1939 antiwar play "Mother Courage and Her Children," which was produced by the Public Theater in 2006 in a new translation by Tony Kushner. But Brecht would appreciate the irony here, in fact: The problem with Walter's film is not Walter's film itself, but rather the fact that it will hardly be seen by anyone likely to disagree with its views about Brecht, about the importance of radical art, about the continuing validity of Marxist modes of analysis, and so on.

Actually, there's a great deal to be said about Brecht's life and work that isn't in "Theater of War," which perhaps, again, is not precisely the filmmaker's fault. How and why did Brecht's plays, so carefully constructed to combine popular forms and avant-garde techniques, become the exclusive province of the left-wing intelligentsia? Is his influence on the film world purely a question of a bagful of facile formal tricks or something more profound? (It strikes me, for instance, that Brecht's desire to divorce the audience from the action and compel rational reflection, rather than draw the audience into the story and compel catharsis, marks an unresolved division in the history of dramatic art that still troubles us today.) Given Brecht's courageous artistic defiance of Nazism and McCarthyism, how do we understand his accommodation with the postwar regime in East Germany?

Still, OK, let's be fair. For those interested in the continuing relevance of theater in a society dominated by momentary electronic impulses, in the responsibility of artists in wartime and in the greatest anti-capitalist, anti-government, antiwar and anti-romantic playwright of the 20th century, Walter's cool, capable, stimulating exploration is a must. The scenes of star Meryl Streep, director George C. Wolfe and Kushner rehearsing "Mother Courage" are tremendous, as are Walter's wry, Brechtian digressions into the backstage work of the costumers and prop-makers. None of which stops me from suspecting that if Brecht were alive today he'd be working in reality TV or producing viral video.

User comments  from imdb Author: RudolphBing from United States

I saw this on Sat., May 3, 2008, at the AMC VII as a part of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. I attended the screening because I had seen the Public Theatre's production of Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children," and because I continue to want to understand how Meryl Streep constructs her characters and how she performs. I am also ignorant of the significance of Bertold Brecht, and needed to get a fuller picture of his life and work.

So, with that rather severe academic assignment to myself, off I went on a dreary chilly late morning to see this movie.

The movie is strong, strong, good, good. It is a lesson in politics; a summary of the life of Brecht; and a wonderful behind-the-scenes look at a staged production of the play "Mother Courage and Her Children." The significance of the two world wars on Brecht's life is clearly the basis of the Play "Mother Courage," but the opportunity to understand why Meryl Streep (lead in the play), George Woolf (director), Oscar Eustis (director of the Public Theatre), and Tony Kushner (playwright and translator of the play) wanted - needed - to bring the play to the stage refreshed my memory of the cycle of horrors of war and abuse of authority that our present office holders are responsible for. The play is anti-war, even espousing a communistic view of the world, understandable for its time and for Brecht's experiences; but the play produced in 2006, in the midst of a new war is a scream for an end to war.

Best interviews are with an aging man who worked with Brecht in Germany. His experience in an allied prison camp in the UK during the war, and his experiences working with Brecht on the first production of "Mother Courage" in Berlin in 1949, help to bring the 59 years closer to our times.

The movie is standard in many ways containing interviews, images, historic footage, and moments at relevant locations, but is an excellent introduction to the huge tragedy of war and to the relevance of art in civic life.

SEE THEATRE ON THE STAGE! it is alive, as Dr. Frankenstein would say.

PS. Seeing Meryl Streep sweating it out on stage two summers ago in Central Park, and especially watching her one on one against Austin Pendleton as the priest, was marvelous. To think Streep did the show for - what - 4 weeks running - is amazing.

Mother Courage and Her Children - Review - Theater - New York Times   Ben Brantley from The New York Times, August 22, 2006

If you ever wanted to watch one willowy human being lift a 12-ton play onto her shoulders and hold it there for hours, even as her muscles buckle and breath comes short, join the line of hopefuls waiting at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park for cancellations to see Meryl Streep burning energy like a supernova in the title role of Bertolt Brecht’s “Mother Courage and Her Children.”

This production in search of a tone, which runs through Sept. 3, is not great, to put it kindly. Nor is Ms. Streep’s performance, dazzling though it is, on a par with her best work.

Yet with “Mother Courage,” which opened last night in a Public Theater production directed by George C. Wolfe, the ever-surprising Ms. Streep has achieved what, to my knowledge, is a first in her virtuosic career. Ms. Streep is that rare chameleon movie star who never just plays variations on her own personality. You don’t leave “Sophie’s Choice” or the current “Devil Wears Prada” confusing the haunted concentration camp survivor or icy fashion editor onscreen with the actress who portrays them.

But embodying a tireless entrepreneur of the Thirty Years War — determined to survive with her business and family intact, whatever the cost — Ms. Streep so blurs the lines between Meryl and Mother that for once it is hard to distinguish the dancer from the dance.

For what Ms. Streep does onstage is pretty much what Mother Courage does on the battlefield: thinking fast on her feet, moving with the quick diversionary gestures of a boxer in the ring, pulling out every art and craft at her considerable command to keep alive an enterprise — in this case, a notoriously difficult play that goes on for more than three hours — that otherwise might collapse altogether.

Ms. Streep rattles through her character’s business transactions and homespun philosophy on practical morality and economics with the souped-up patter of a Catskills stand-up artist who fears her act will go dry if she ever slows down. Mr. Wolfe’s interpretation, cued by the jocular and uneven new translation by Tony Kushner, emphasizes the gallows vaudeville of a play that has an all-too-reverberant relevance in these days of war.

Picking up on this barbed make-’em-laugh spirit, Ms. Streep’s line readings recall comics as far-flung as Lucille Ball, Sophie Tucker, Henny Youngman and — in the “heh-heh-heh” chuckles with which she fills nervous pauses — Beavis and Butthead. Heck, there are times when she appears to be channeling all the Marx Brothers at once. She even adopts, to bizarrely appropriate effect, Groucho’s bent-kneed catch-me-if-you-can walk. As for how she looks in her military cap and boots, think of Marlene Dietrich, playing down the glamour to entertain the troops.

For a connective tissue of credibility, the actress throws in vintage Streep-isms, including the folksy verbal and physical punctuations of the repeated, affirmative “yep” and frequent nose-wipings. And when the script approaches tragic terrain — when Mother Courage’s children bite the dust — Ms. Streep provides a master class in the art of electrified stillness.

Do these elements cohere into a fully integrated and affecting portrait? No. The performance becomes a seamless, astonishing whole only when Ms. Streep sings the Brechtian songs that have been newly (and effectively) scored by Jeanine Tesori.

But when a smitten army chaplain (Austin Pendleton) observes, “Often I sit back and watch you, amazed,” he is speaking for the entire audience at the Delacorte. By rights, “Mother Courage” should open for Ms. Streep the same future in advertising endorsements that awaits grand-slam sports champions. I, for one, would love to know what vitamins she takes and how to get them.

As for the rest of the production, well, you can see what the brilliant Mr. Wolfe is going for and speculate on what he might have achieved with more time. “Mother Courage,” written in 1938 and 1939 and first performed in 1941, is one of those great plays that almost never play great — at least, not in English.

The necessary combination of detachment and engagement is as hard as anything in modern theater to get right. (The National Theater’s current production in London of Brecht’s “Life of Galileo,” directed by Howard Davies and starring Simon Russell Beale, comes close.)

Mixing ingredients from the music hall, the lecture hall, the beer hall and the melodrama, Brecht’s epic theater is by design disjunctive. The design elements here — especially Riccardo Hernández’s battered wooden framework of a set and Paul Gallo’s focus-shifting lighting — establish the right come-hither, pull-away tone.

But there has to be an equal consistency of style among the cast members (who here include no less a star than Kevin Kline in a supporting role) — the feeling that they are all working toward the same end, O comrades of the arts, as they step in and out of the action, shifting among dialogue, monologue, songs and authorial annotation.

Such solidarity of spirit isn’t much in evidence at the Delacorte. Even the performers playing Mother Courage’s three grown children — Frederick Weller, Geoffrey Arend and Alexandria Wailes — appear to have emerged from different acting schools. Some of the cast members, especially those playing military figures, seem to have been inspired by the cartoonish warmongers of the film “Dr. Strangelove.” Others, like Mr. Pendleton, go for an “I’m like you” naturalism, pitched complicitly at the audience.

As the libidinous army cook, Mr. Kline, who has appeared memorably with Ms. Streep before, seems to be performing by rote, as if he were still waiting for an inspired approach to tap him on the shoulder. And Jenifer Lewis, as the wily camp follower Yvette, often plays her role as if she were doing a broad-stroke Madea movie comedy (she has appeared in one). But Ms. Lewis also provides one of the high points that reclaim your attention just when the Thirty Years War starts to seem like the Hundred Years War. Her interpretation of Yvette’s bitter song of remembered love is a stunningly calibrated blend of smoothness and harshness, of filigree irony and primal emotion, that suggests what Brecht was trying to achieve. (Ms. Tesori, the composer of Mr. Kushner’s “Caroline, or Change,” demonstrates admirable skill and confidence as a musical mix master, and the show’s band is first-rate.)

To an even greater degree, Ms. Streep finds her best Brechtian self in song. “The Song of the Great Capitulation,” which Mother Courage sings at the end of the first act, is one of the most artful and intense musical performances to be found on a New York stage, as Ms. Streep flutters, fights and wallows her way through her character’s philosophy of life.

Desperation, cynicism, passion that should have died long ago but still flickers against the odds: all this is implied in every gesture, every note. For one luminous moment, you understand what this play is meant to be. By the way, with every song she sings, Ms. Streep suggests that, in addition to endorsing vitamins, she could become a queen of the Broadway musical, should she ever choose.

Reverse Shot (Chris Wisniewski) review

 

Salon (Andrew O'Hehir) review   December 24, 2008

 

Critic's Notebook [Robert Levin]

 

The Onion A.V. Club (Noel Murray) review

 

Slant Magazine review  Eric Henderson

 

Movies into Film.com (N.P. Thompson) review

 

Meryl Streep Stands Out as Musical Theater Great in Theater of War  James C. Taylor from The Village Voice

 

Theater of War  Facets Multi Media 

 

NewCity Chicago     Ray Pride

 

Variety (Ronnie Scheib) review

 

Time Out New York (David Fear) review [3/6]

 

Boston Globe review [3/4]  Wesley Morris

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Walter Addiego) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 

Director Interview (Filmmaker)  December 24, 2008

 

Director Interview (IFC)  Interview by Steven Saito, January 2009

 

Variety news [2006-08-15]  Liz Smith

 

Theater Review: Meryl Streep Leads Mother Courage and Her Children ...   Playgoer from BlogCritics magazine, August 25, 2006

 

Steve On Broadway (SOB): Mother Courage And Her Children (The SOB ...     August 28, 2006

 

Reichstag fire - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

The Rise of Hitler - Feb. 27, 1933 The Reichstag Burns

 

The Burning of the Reichstag   Shoah Education

 

New book by Bahar and Kugel based on Gestapo archives from Moscow  The Reichstag Fire - How History is Created, (864 pages), book review by Wilhelm Klein from the World Socialist Web Site

 

Documentary about Reichstag fire and Marinus van der Lubbe  90 minute film, WATER AND FIRE (1998) may be viewed online

 

Helene Weigel | Jewish Women's Archive 

 

Mother Courage and Her Children - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

Mother Courage  Wikipedia

 

Mother Courage and Her Children Study Guide by Bertolt Brecht ... 

 

Past Productions: Mother Courage   Gideon Lester on the evolution of the play from The American Repertory Theater

 

Theatre at UBC: Mother Courage and Her Children by Bertolt Brecht ...   historical notes from The University of British Columbia

 

ArtScope.net: Mother Courage and Her Children  historical notes by Sandra Marie Lee from Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater

 

Bertolt Brecht - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

Bertolt Brecht     biography

 

Bertolt Brecht   biography

 

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956)   biography

 

HSC Online   biography and extensive analysis of his works

 

Biography of Bertolt Brecht | List of Works, Study Guides & Essays ...  

 

Brecht   study guide

 

Essay on  Brecht and Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo from Symposium, by someoneisatthedoor

 

FBI Files  on Bertolt Brecht while in the United States, 369 pages

 

Poem of Brecht on the street in Portland  General, Your Tank is a Powerful Vehicle, by Bertolt Brecht, stenciled onto the street pavement

 

Bertolt Brecht's Photo & Gravesite

 

Berliner Ensemble - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

IBS: Berliner Ensemble   history of the Berlin Ensemble

 

Berliner Ensemble - MSN Encarta  

 

THEATRE / Auf Wiedersehen Brecht?: The Berliner Ensemble has ...   Aaron Hicklin from The Independent, January 14, 1993

 

Brecht’s War Primer - 21st Century Socialism   Simon Korner from 21st Century Socialism, August 14, 2006

 

YouTube - Mother courage- meryl streep    (4:43)

 

Walters, Charles
 
SUMMER STOCK

USA  (108 mi)  1950

 

Chicago Reader  Dave Kehr

Light-headed MGM musical, with Gene Kelly as a bankrupt Broadway producer-director who brings his cast and crew to Judy Garland's farm to rehearse (1950, 109 min.). The director, Charles Walters, is a man of modest but real virtues who was generally overlooked, unfairly but understandably, in favor of Donen and Minnelli. His clean, straightforward style has its apotheosis in Garland's finale, "Get Happy." With Marjorie Main, Eddie Bracken, and Phil Silvers.

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]  also reviewing IT’S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER

The movie musical's greatest era lasted from roughly 1944 to 1958, and by the end, the genre's top directors, stars, and choreographers had figured out how to use the form to create ethereal poetry one moment and off-the-cuff social commentary the next. The five-disc box set Classic Musicals From The Dream Factory contains one of those late-period masterpieces, It's Always Fair Weather, co-directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, and starring Kelly as one of three World War II buddies who meet up again a decade after the war, only to find they have nothing in common. The song-score by Betty Comden and Adolph Green contains only one really memorable number—"Baby, You Knock Me Out," sung by Cyd Charisse with a chorus of pug-ugly boxers—but It's Always Fair Weather is an excellent showcase for dancing, marked by innovative, impressionistic routines that have Kelly tapping in roller skates, then with a trashcan lid attached to one foot, then in the middle panel of a three-way split-screen. Throughout, the movie maintains a mood of sorrowful post-war disappointment, as the men who opened the movie dancing together spend the rest of the film dancing alone.

The bulk of the Dream Factory set is taken up by lesser musical biographies: 1946's Till The Clouds Roll By and Ziegfeld Follies, and 1950's Three Little Words. Each has its highlights, but none is as consistent as It's Always Fair Weather or 1950's Summer Stock, which stars Judy Garland as a bachelorette farmer who lets Gene Kelly's theater troupe rehearse in her barn. Director Charles Walters keeps Summer Stock's singing and dancing grounded in real spaces, unlike the revue-style films of the '30s and '40s, where theater stages seemed to stretch to infinity. Here, Walters and company make magic on small, bare stages: Kelly with just a squeaky board and a piece of newspaper, and Kelly and Garland inside a tight circle of square-dancers. Summer Stock has its dry spots, but its highs rival the best of the MGM golden age, especially in the show-stopping finale "Get Happy!", where a stocky, sensual Garland single-leggedly kicks the musical into maturity.

digitallyOBSESSED.com (David Krauss)

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson)

 

MediaScreen.com   Nick Zegarac

 

Crazy for Cinema  Lisa Skrzyniarz

 

Musicals: Mass Art as Folk Art   Jane Feuer from Jump Cut

 

DVD Times  Eamonn McCusker reviews Classical Musicals from the Dream Factory

 

DVD Verdict [Bryan Pope]  reviews Classical Musicals from the Dream Factory

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther)

 
Wang Chao
 
THE ORPHAN OF ANYANG
China  (84 mi)  2001

 

User reviews imdb Author: Michael Sicinski from United States

This film as a dense, knotty little piece of poetry, clocking in at under 80 minutes with not an inch of fat on it. Wang deftly orchestrates single-take master-shots to keep our viewing at a distance. But, unlike other practitioners of the master-shot school -- filmmakers I admire in their own right, such as Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhang-ke -- Wang uses the stationary camera and long take to create slightly more obvious black comedy, like an episode of "The Carol Burnett Show" as directed by Samuel Beckett. In particular, Wang's use of the quick fade is excellent. Often, he'll go to blackout just as some funny or shocking occurrence becomes legible. I may be making this sound like "difficult viewing," but really, it struck me as a 6th-Generation Chinese stab at a Jarmusch film, and as such, it's utterly accessible. Here's hoping it gets picked up for U.S. distribution. It might prove to be a minor hit.

East Asian Films at the 26th Toronto ... - Senses of Cinema  Shelly Kraicer from Senses of Cinema, November 20, 2001 (excerpt)

 

Although TIFF 2001 didn't have the array of new Chinese masterpieces that marked TIFF 2000 (In the Mood for Love/Huayang nianhua [Wong Kar-wai, 2000], Platform/Zhantai [Jia Zhangke, 2000], Yi Yi [Edward Yang, 2000]), this year's line-up was not at all disappointing. The standout among new filmmakers was Wang Chao, from Mainland China. His independent, underground first feature The Orphan of Anyang/Anyang de guer (2001) – made without the authorisation of the Film Bureau hence unexhibitable in China – is a major new work. Orphan shows the story of a poor unemployed urban worker (Dagang), a prostitute (Yanli), her baby, and her gangster client (Boss Side). When Yanli offers Dagang a monthly stipend to take care of the baby, she can't predict that the three of them will start to construct a family of their own. This works until Boss Side, urgently in need of an heir, intervenes to reclaim "his" child. Not far from the stylistic world of Jia Zhangke's Plaform and Xiao Wu (1998), the film is shot with a rigorously controlled camera that keeps its distance, in long takes, setting off its subjects against the street noise and urban flow of a mid-sized Chinese city. Wang Chao here creates a key text of Chinese metropolitan cinema that, with exquisite care and not without a certain compassionate humour, pictures its characters trapped in a new disorienting urbanism. But the film suggests a way out, just as it seems that social pressures and structures of authority converge to seal the characters' fates. Yanli experiences an unforgettable vision: a transfiguring and virtually liberating act of self-imagination, a description which, as it happens, nicely describes Orphan of Anyang itself.

 

User reviews imdb Author: Howard Schumann from Vancouver, B.C

Orphan of Anyang, an uncompromising debut film by Wang Chao, conveys a powerful impression of a rotting urban center with its outdoor food stands, dingy industrial buildings, rancid-looking waterways, and people whose lives mirror the grimness of the physical space. Its portrayal of the struggle for survival in Anyang might seem strange to Western eyes accustomed to more glamorous Chinese films but its bleakness only reflects the daily experience of a large percentage of the world's population.

Based on a short story by the director, Orphan of Anyang focuses on the lives of three people, a criminal, a prostitute, and an unemployed industrial worker and how their lives intersect when a baby is abandoned at an outdoor food stand. The film takes up where Platform leaves off, documenting the results of the swift change from collectivization to individual enterprise in the lives of three marginal characters living in Anyang. As the film begins, Yu Dagang (Sun Guilin) has just lost his job as an industrial worker. Strapped for money he must barter with his former co-workers, exchanging meal coupons for cash.

While eating at an outdoor noodle stand, Dagang finds an abandoned baby with a note asking for the baby's care in exchange for 200 yuan each month. Desperate, Dagang takes the child home and awkwardly begins to care for him. He soon discovers that the mother Yanli (Yue Sengli) is a prostitute and the girlfriend of Boss Side, a small-time triad boss always surrounded by a gang of hoodlums. Dagang finally invites Yanli to live with him if she promises to give up her life of prostitution. When Boss Side is diagnosed with leukemia, however, he returns to Yanli's house and attempts to take back his child as his only legacy.

With little dialogue or cinematic embellishments such as background music or stylish cinematography, Wang delivers filmmaking stripped to its bare essentials with only the clatter of urban street sounds left to penetrate the dreariness. Wang uses a fixed camera and long takes as Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Unlike Hou, however, Wang's film lacks rhythm and energy and its extremely slow pace doesn't create tension or help to illuminate the characters. For example, when Yanli and Yu meet at a restaurant, both sit and eat noodles for a good two minutes until someone breaks the awkward silence. Orphan of Anyang is an important glimpse of China rarely seen and its ultra-realism is involving, but I found the film to be strangely distancing and the ambiguous ending left me unsatisfied.

The Orphan of Anyang  Shelly Kraicer from a Chinese Cinema Page

Wang Chao’s first feature, The Orphan of Anyang, is simultaneously deeply satisfying and profoundly unnerving — the unexpected result is a film that approaches the sublime. Like the films of He Jianjun, Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai and Zhang Yuan, all of whom graduated from the Beijing Film Academy after the giants of the fifth generation (Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige et al), Orphan focuses on marginal urban characters — criminals, prostitutes, unemployed workers — left behind by China’s rapid urbanization and decollectivization of the 80s and 90s. The film’s rigour, specifically, the way Wang chooses from among a small set of options, and repeats them in a resolutely controlled way, provokes a certain formal pleasure. What is unnerving is Wang’s gambit of folding the most downbeat feeling of urban anomie around a core of ironically distancing humour; his offbeat juxtapositions ask viewers to struggle with the implications of tragedy and comedy in the same scene.

Single and in his 40s, Yu Dagang is a recently unemployed worker who can’t even afford to eat. In a prologue, he listlessly wanders around devastated, postindustrial landscapes; the film’s action begins with his efforts to barter now-useless company ration coupons for cash to buy food. At a noodle stall, he finds an abandoned baby; its mother, Yanli, has left a note promising to pay for the baby’s support. Desperate, Dagang takes it home. Yanli is a prostitute and the desultory girlfriend of Boss Side, a small-time triad boss with a snazzy entourage of sharply dressed goons. After a couple of nearly silent meetings with Yanli at a noodle restaurant, Dagang, originally intending to return the baby, decides not only to keep it, but also to invite Yanli to join this impromptu family. When Boss Side is diagnosed with cancer, he returns to collect the baby, his only heir. A fight with Side leaves Dagang in prison, and Yanli alone with her child. The film ends with her arrest in an anti-prostitution raid: we see her hand the baby to a stranger just before she is arrested, and an epilogue seems to reunite the family, if only in her imagination.

Granted, this doesn’t really sound like the stuff of comedy. But Wang’s method of shooting distances the viewer from the action, lends irony to the characters’ situations and throws the events of the story into unexpected, disorienting contexts. His actors are all nonprofessionals, and, like Bresson, he seems to have coaxed most of them to be as inexpressive as possible. Orphan looks like it was shot using only natural light, completely on location, though this may not have been a choice at all. Without script approval, independent Chinese directors can’t shoot in studios, and as long as they don’t draw undue attention to themselves, they can get away with filming in apartments or on the street: Chinese official surveillance can’t be bothered to notice, much less prohibit, this kind of filmmaking. At most, it will restrict a film’s access to domestic distribution, and can make a director’s subsequent collaboration with state studios and their resources difficult or impossible. [...]

See the full review in the current issue of Cinema Scope: September 2001, issue 8, pp. 19-20

Wang, Patrick

 

IN THE FAMILY                                                       A-                    93

USA  (169 mi)  2011                  Official site

 

Just because laws have limits doesn’t mean our lives do.                   —Paul Hawks (Brian Murray)

 

This is ultimately one of the most emotionally devastating films of the year, yet also one of the most understated, where so much of the dramatic impact is built on the accumulation of small details that bear an autobiographical stamp of authenticity.  While set in Tennessee, it explores the closeness of a small town Southern community without playing on any of the usual stereotypes or prejudices, showing a more generous side of the South that feels more close-knit.  Written, directed, acted and produced by newcomer Patrick Wang, a gay Asian-American who grew up in Texas, the film was initially rejected by as many as 30 major film festivals and distributors, perhaps due to the length, until he was obliged to distribute the film himself in true indie fashion, initially starting in just one theater in Manhattan where it generated excellent reviews before slowly building a wider audience.  Still, this is the kind of film likely seen by only twenty or so people in the audience, where the experience is dramatically moving, presenting the material in a more respectful manner than what we have become accustomed to seeing on television or in movie representations, where there are push button issues that often lead to explosive fireworks in the manner of KRAMER VS. KRAMER (1979), a film that doesn’t really hold up over time, but here it’s more intimate, where much of the carefully observed narrative is quietly ushered in with artfully designed silences that carry the full weight of the material, feeling more like a theatrical experience.  This shrewdly written film has a well-designed structure that slowly unleashes its power, much of it told in flashback, where its greatest strength comes from its characters, adding layer upon layer throughout until by the end the audience is fully engaged with everything that’s happening onscreen.  Wang’s acting is key, as he’s such a good-natured and level-headed guy, nothing flashy, not without his own faults, but basically the kind of person who defines the word friend, as he’ll be there unhesitatingly and instinctually, providing the calm during the storm, having the good sense not to overreact or take things out of proportion, which is how this subject matter is usually presented. 

 

What starts out as a fairly uneventful and low-key family drama eventually becomes a starkly intense testimonial on the meaning of life itself, not in any grand philosophical terms, but in everyday language that’s impossible to misunderstand, a riveting confessional with profound impact in all of our lives.  Using a spare and unpretentious film technique, a no nonsense style where no particular thing stands out, initially the focus is on a wired, energetic 6-year old named Chip (Sebastian Banes), a captivating and endlessly curious kid with two Dads (Cody, Trevor St. John, his biological father and his partner Joey, Patrick Wang), who seems perfectly content with this living arrangement, where he’s smart and obviously thriving in his home life.  The routine of their lives is captured in all its simplicity, where the morning cereal ritual becomes so familiar to the audience that we feel like uninvited guests in their kitchen after awhile, where this setting could be just about anywhere, but it just happens to be Martin, Tennessee, where a slight drawl can be detected in the voice inflections.  Only after the audience gets comfortable with the “lack” of drama in their lives does the initial drama begin, where out of nowhere, like a clap of thunder on an otherwise perfectly clear day, a life-changing event occurs offscreen where Cody gets in a terrible auto accident, where in a flash we’re transported into Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), a bare-bones, near documentary Romanian exposé on the atrocious hospital standards provided to severely ill patients and their families, where Joey is rather unceremoniously left out of the picture as he is not considered immediate family.  While the word gay is never heard, the unforgivable actions speak for themselves and are immediately offset by Joey’s own exemplary behavior, as he does a heartfelt job preparing Chip for what to expect seeing his Dad in intensive care.  Like Joey, we are denied admittance to Cody’s final hours, as he dies shortly afterwards.  With difficulty, Chip and Joey attempt to regain a balance in their lives, both reluctantly and unknowingly becoming the centerpieces of the film.  

 

As Joey is digging through all the paperwork of Cody’s bank accounts and personal statements, he shares what he finds with Cody’s sister Eileen (Kelly McAndrew), who shockingly reports that Cody left everything to his sister in a will written years before he met Joey.  When Eileen reports her intentions of raising Chip, using the will as her legal grounds, declaring her beliefs that these were Cody’s written intentions, Joey’s world literally changes, as everything he has come to know and rely upon are suddenly in jeopardy.  As the emotional bond between Joey and Chip has already been well established, Joey’s fierce insistence not to part with him does not seem unreasonable, so when Eileen literally kidnaps Chip, refusing to return him after a family overnight visit while serving an order of protection to keep Joey away from him, a multitude of harsh thoughts of retribution spring to mind as the audience is challenged to consider what they would do in similar circumstances.  Once more, Joey is locked out of the room, reinforced by his discovery that gay partners have no legal grounds, sending him into an emotional tailspin of despair, seen sitting alone in an empty kitchen.  While he is visited by various friends showing neighborly concern, some of whom bring food or drink or just sit around and commiserate with him, often shown in long takes, his solitary life is joyless and empty.  This void is interrupted by flashbacks of Joey and Cody together, like scenes of when they first met or shared family holidays, including one unforgettable sequence when they first kiss, a near 9-minute uninterrupted shot leading to the moment when Cody impulsively plays Chip Taylor’s song “Little Darts.”  Chip Taylor (Jon Voight’s brother, by the way) plays Cody’s father in the film.  But nothing is quite as haunting as having a friend secretly call him on a speaker phone so he can hear the sounds of Chip playing, where he sits transfixed, unable to utter a word, paralyzed in thought. 

 

Overheard by an elderly client whose old books he is rebinding, Joey is again speechless to discover this retired elderly lawyer (Brian Murray) will take his case, urging him to forget about the restrictions of the law, which can be so divisive, but consider how to reframe the issue in more humane terms, where he may not obtain a legal victory, but he might negotiate a better arrangement with Cody’s sister.  What follows is perhaps the most devastating and beautifully written sequence of the year, a thirty minute deposition scene taking place in real time, a soliloquy of emotional candor, using a generic setting like Conference Room B for such a confessional outpouring, a scene unlike anything else in recent recollection, easily the high point of the film.  Earlier in the film we continually see the back of Joey’s head during key dramatic moments, where it's only during the deposition that he actually faces the camera for the first time, literally exposing himself emotionally, removing the politics and the rancor, but explaining in real and heartfelt terms just what Chip and Cody mean to him, often sounding like what we might hear at a eulogy.  This might seem oddly unnecessary, having to humbly explain our feelings to precisely those people we supposedly love, but humans are fallible and often forget the deeper underlying meaning, where it helps to be reminded from time to time, much like the original practice of going to church, only removing the religious implications while retaining the moral lessons. While all drama needs conflict, this film removes much of the vitriol associated with gay political issues and instead integrates Joey into our collective understanding of what’s essential about any marriage and family. 

 

In the Family  JR Jones from The Reader (capsule), also seen here:  Chip has two daddies—for now

 

Patrick Wang's moving debut feature appropriates the story arc of a courtroom drama, but the law turns out to be less pivotal than such old-fashioned ideas as fairness and decency. Joey (Wang), an interior designer in a small Tennessee town, reels after his lover, Cody (Trevor St. John), is killed in a car accident. His greatest solace is six-year-old Chip, the boy he and Cody were raising together, but Joey discovers to his shock that Cody's will assigns custody of the boy to Cody's sister, Eileen (Kelly McAndrew). A patient and crafty storyteller, Wang establishes Joey's emotional claim to Chip long before we understand that his legal claim is groundless, and the notion that gay partners deserve family rights is developed so quietly and unobtrusively that it seems to be reinforced, rather than undermined, by the movie's staunchly conservative milieu.

 

Village Voice  Andrew Schenker

 

With an incisive understanding of character, believably naturalistic acting, and lengthy scenes that don’t feel stretched out so much as given room to breathe, In the Family proves that smart direction and an innate feeling for one’s material trumps potentially precious subject matter. Writer/director/star Patrick Wang’s film chronicles the efforts of Joey Williams (Wang) to retain custody of the 6-year-old boy he raised as a son after the boy’s father (and Joey’s romantic partner) Cody (Trevor St. John) is killed in a car accident. As homophobia rears its ugly head in ways both subtle and brutal, Joey fights the efforts of Cody’s sister and brother-in-law to take his son away. But rather than turn this into a melodramatic look at gay victimization, Wang keeps his film pitched at the same level as his mild-mannered hero’s demeanor. Using long, fixed takes, the director makes his argument about family values not through overheated dramatics but simply through observation. Whether watching Joey’s son open a beer and offer it to his dad, flashing back to the first kiss between Joey and Cody, or listening to Joey’s stirring testimony at a legal deposition, Wang evinces a keen awareness of the ways in which family members interact, grieve, and open their hearts to one another.

 

Cine-File [Kevin B. Lee]

 

With its epic three hour runtime, its no-name creator displaying Wellesian hubris as writer-producer-director-lead actor in his feature debut, and its chimeric blend of languid art house camera technique with rigorously concise stage caliber dialogue, who knows exactly why Patrick Wang's first feature was passed over by 30 major film festivals before he settled for self-distribution. Do not make the same mistake as the professionals; this is one of the most exciting and thoughtful American indies to emerge in recent years. Wang spins an ambitiously original tale of a gay Asian man in Tennessee who suffers the sudden death of his Caucasian partner, and then must battle the partner's relatives for custody of their son. The ripe-for-melodrama scenario defies expectations at several critical stages, eschewing rote exposition for long take interior scenes that pick up nuances in the spatial relations between characters, continually placing its minority protagonist on the margins of the frame or facing away from the camera, as if he were on the verge of being squeezed from his own story. Wang's signal-jamming performance combines facial inexpressiveness with a boisterous folksy drawl, an affectation ripe to be judged, as it is by those around him. Very few films have simultaneously explored race and sexuality conflicts with such nuance—setting them in motion without succumbing to moralistic conclusions—topped by a lengthy, heartfelt climax that gives a brilliant new twist on the old courtroom battle motif. A shining example of filmmaking for our times: what the new American cinema can and should be.

 

Slant Magazine  Rob Humanick

Writer/director/actor Patrick Wang's background in theater and dramaturgy is on high display in his debut feature, In the Family, an acutely felt, altogether devastating family drama as intimate and affecting as it is sprawling and untamed. Nearly three hours in length, the film is characterized by carefully blocked, deeply focused scenes that unfold naturally, if perhaps uncomfortably, beholden only to life's often overlapping, conflicting, and overwhelming emotions. The premise, concerning adoptive rights in a homophobic society, is unique for button-pushing potential, though Wang's aims here are political only inasmuch as the political intersects with the moral. With no shortage of confidence, In the Family is remarkable for sidestepping bullet-point statements altogether to instead focus on the day-to-day causes and effects of our prejudices and the regulatory systems (social contracts, employment guidelines, family bonds) we frequently submit ourselves to.

Wang plays Joey Williams, lover of Cody Hines (Trevor St. John) and surrogate father to Cody's six-year-old biological son, Chip (Sebastian Brodziak), who's never known a life outside of that with his two fathers. Although they live in conservative Tennessee, they've found mostly seamless acceptance among their hetero familial and work environments, but when Cody dies in a car accident, Joey's status as Chip's second father is called into question, sparked (and backed up in court) by a legal document as old as Chip, in which all of Cody's belongings, as well as Chip, are willed to his sister. From here, things get worse before they get better.

The leisurely yet assured pacing allows the film to make its points through acute reinforcement, delivering a fault-proof human rights debate without once being aggressively or even obviously argumentative. By showcasing its political threads as incidental, it lends them that much more gravitas. In many ways, In the Family is a commentary on hate—that against a foreigner, or a sexual other, or any kind of group—and the ways that hate legitimizes itself and hides inside accepted routines or public policies, but it's also more about love, and understanding, and putting everything aside and talking about "the big stuff" when necessary. Wang's line readings have an assured everydayness, but there's also poetry in his voice, and when he not only asks the big questions, but then proceeds to actually answer some of them, it's so morally invigorating you might just feel the world tremble.

Wang camouflages his emotional punches in the minutiae of daily life, and his uniformly excellent performers suggest a sprawling cast of players in an expansive, obsessively controlled Charlie Kaufman universe—a finely composed ecosystem in constant flux. The film waxes its every moment into a crystalline pocket of time, finding the universal in the microcosmic, and always deepening itself with flabbergasting levels of imbued details. In his exquisitely rigorous commitment to his minimalist, downplayed style, Wang reproduces the chokehold effect of the phone call/hallway sequence of Taxi Driver, and there isn't a moment that lacks that rarely touched level of cinematic intimacy or sense of happened-upon truth. Wang's behemoth creation has already enjoyed a notable impact in its limited theatrical release, which justly speaks to its honesty and universality. The film bears a unique distinctness even as Wang's creative energy parallels some of the same essences as the work of Abbas Kiarostami, John Cassavetes, and Kelly Reichardt, to name just a few major filmmakers who I suspect would appreciate what this unprecedented new talent has achieved.

Chicago Reader  J.R. Jones (long version), also seen here:  A gay dad fights to reclaim his son in Patrick Wang’s In the Family 

 

AfterElton.com [Brian Juergens]

 

Tiny Mix Tapes [Rachel Fortgang]

 

In the Family (2011) - Ferdy on Films  Marilyn Ferdinand

 

Review: 'In The Family' A Sincere, Heartbreaking Indie Drama | The ...  Christopher Bell from The indieWIRE Playlist

 

Windy City Times [Richard Knight, Jr.]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

PopcornReel.com [Omar P.L. Moore]

 

Hammer to Nail [Dave Boyle]

 

Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]

 

Film-Forward.com [Megan Fariello]

 

Hyphen Magazine [Timothy Tau]

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

IN THE FAMILY  Facets Multi Media

 

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Wang Quan An

 

TUYA’S MARRIAGE                                               B-                    81

China  (86 mi)  1986

My mother was born in inner Mongolia, not far from the film's location. This is why I've always liked Mongolians, their way of life and their music. When I learned about the extent to which massive industrial expansion is turning the steppe into a desert, and how local administrators are forcing the shepherds to leave their homelands, I decided to make a film that would record their lifestyle before it all disappears forever.     —Wang Quanan

Overly contrived Mongolian melodrama about the life of a harried mother Tuya (Yu Nan) who, like many modernized American women, is stressed out from overwork, who due to her husband’s disability of injuring a leg while attempting to dig a well, is forced to perform all the household duties.  What’s immediately apparent, despite the immense scope of the infinitely expanding mountainous horizon, is the unlikeable whining and shrill tone of the protagonist who spends much of the time bitching at everyone around her, which has a mildly amusing flavor at first, as if it’s a way of setting everyone straight, except that as time goes on, her anger at the world around her feels incompatable, as she acts as if she expects the world owes her something.  While we see multiple shots of the harsh life she is forced to endure, riding endless miles every day on her camel to the nearest water hole which is drying up, and hearding her flock of sheep, one suspects no one else’s life out there is any different.  We hear in conversation that her children attend school but not once do we ever actually see them there, nor is there any reference to explain her means of food or support, or even how she obtained her livestock, where sheep are conveniently offered back and forth to one another as local currency, yet there appears to be ample food and water throughout the film.  So despite talk of impending deprivation, what we see may be the richest woman in the vicinity for all we know.  What’s needed in this film is less a storied melodrama within this obviously unique geographical setting and a more realist, documentary oriented eye.  Though part of the film’s obvious appeal is centered in the local customs and colorful costumes, the unsentimentalized wailing music, also the accentuation of landscapes, featuring a relationship between man, animals and the natural world around them, yet by singling out exclusively one person’s home, a good deal of local flavor and simple rhythms of life aren’t explored, as her relationship to her local community is all but nonexistent.   

 

Tuya not once but twice saves the life of an irreverent young neighbor Shenge, who is friendly enough that he appears to be the favorite of her young son, but we continually hear how selfish and vicious his wife is, stealing his possessions while cavorting with other men.  Despite this supposed dark cloud hanging over his head, he is perhaps the kindest person in the film, befriending her husband and always willing to help out Tuya and her kids, yet he is also portrayed as a poor fool who never realizes his dreams, who always screws up somehow.  When she injures her back trying to help him, which could lead to paralysis if reinjured, she reassesses what she has to do with her life, which is seen in such practical terms that her husband proposes they divorce so that she can remarry simply as a means of support, where her public divorce announcement leads to the immediate arrival of various suitors, as many as 6 in one day.  Much of this ritual is seen with an amusing eye for detail, as from out of nowhere, carloads of suitors arrive, some even asking others for directions, featuring a combination of overly solemn as well as grinning men in dark glasses, all of whom bargain for her marital rights.   Her one demand is that her disabled husband continue to live with her even after marriage, which all find outrageous, so one by one she rejects them all until a rich oil capitalist turns out to be the highest bidder.  Sadly, he also refuses to keep the former husband around either and finds the nicest nursing home in the region and dumps him there – not a pretty picture, perhaps the saddest in the entire film.   

 

Despite her apparent choice, catastrophes occur causing her to continually change her mind and get sidetracked, yet there is always a fortunate solution at hand, much of which feels awkwardly idealized.  We never see the bitter effects of winter survival, for instance, which would have to extend over a long duration, challenging even the heartiest souls, yet here winter is reduced to a single one day occurrence, nor does the filmmaker introduce us to others nearby, offering viewers a chance to see how others survive living in such harsh desolation.  Instead everything is conveniently seen through the filmmaker’s lens of Tuya’s home, Tuya’s land, and Tuya’s journey (which amounts to no more than one day), all of which leads, of course, to Tuya’s marriage, which both opens and closes the film.  Always seen in a more positive light, Tuya is shown to easily rebuff stereotypes of helpless women dependent on men, but instead develops a brash stature of Mongolian Earth Mother on whom everyone else depends, showing her irritation by belittling and constantly complaining about everyone else, as if somehow they will all be shamed into finally acting right.   From what we can tell, that’s not about to happen, so complaining, and consoling one’s aches and sorrows in drink appears to be the customary way of dealing with things in Inner Mongolia—not so much different than the local corner pub.        

 

Time Out London (Geoff Andrew)

Though his film occasionally threatens to lunge into melodrama, Wang Quan’an’s blending of documentary-style realism with generic tropes – striking camerawork,  a pacy narrative, sharp editing, vivid characterisation – lends real impetus to the slight story of a Mongolian shepherdess struggling to support her kids and disabled husband. Reluctantly she agrees to his suggestion that she find a new partner; but she insists any suitor adopt the whole family, hubby included. Tuya’s attempts to achieve this make for an episodic but engrossing story. A refusal to pass judgment and a palpable chemistry between the actors ensure that the film succeeds both as a fable about the pitfalls of rapid modernisiation, and as tough, unsentimental drama.

User reviews from imdb Author: movedout

Wang Quanan's fascinating film "Tuya's Marriage" is a quietly powerful story of female reverence, shot on location against the arresting landscapes of deepest Mongolia, with its immensely graceful protagonist being the prepossessing shepherdess Tuya (Nan Yu), caught between a marital loophole and the tightening grip of subsistence when she's forced to look for a new husband willing to take care of her young children and an invalid ex-husband. Austere and gorgeous, Wang's observations on the encroaching capitalism in a rural land so entrenched in tradition and its collective, scuttles from background to foreground when Tuya explores her options and their economic viability. Wisely eschewing a formal romanticism of the arena, Wang takes us deeper into the all-encompassing humanism of the film, when he chooses a cogitative docu-drama approach to the film, a striking reminder that a film's aesthetics are part of its ethos and message. Triumphing at the 2007 Berlinale with the festival's top prize, Wang delivers a film so complex and rich that it finds its tracts in the human capacity for compassion and sorrow.

User reviews from imdb Author: N.L. from Philly

Unlike the two faux documentaries which people now associate with Mongolian films, TUYA'S MARRIAGE is a well-acted, intricate and layered story about a strong young woman trying to hold her life together. Very like Gong Li in THE STORY OF QIU JU, Yu Nan plays Tuya, a stubborn and beautiful woman faced with an impossible predicament who must find her way through an onslaught of well-meaning (mostly) but ineffectual men to keep her family together. Tuya's affection for and loyalties to her disabled husband Bater are put to the test when she is forced to find a new husband in order to survive. All along the "obvious" choice, Shenge, her foolish but adorable neighbor, keeps trying to be the hero but falling on his face. Tuya must keep saving the men in her life from near disaster: Bater, Shenge (twice), and even her young son. The film becomes the romance/triangle of one woman and two men - much like JULES AND JIM or even FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE (co-written by Wei Lu, who also co-wrote TUYA'S MARRIAGE). At the end of the film, her marriage includes both men, but immediately we see that she must continue saving them from themselves - and keeping everything and everybody together.

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

An ethnographic melodrama about the pressures facing contemporary Mongolians, Tuya's Marriage concerns the efforts of shepherd Tuya (Yu Nan) to find a new husband after she suffers a serious injury caused by labor strain that could potentially lead to paralysis. Given Tuya's beauty and impressive work ethic, she's soon inundated with suitors, yet the mother-of-two's devotion to her disabled husband, Bater (Bater), with whom she is determined to continue supporting even after finalizing their divorce, makes the process difficult. Chinese director Wang Quanan's film isn't particularly interested in surveying the historic customs and rituals of Inner Mongolians, but it does capture the backbreaking arduousness of their day-to-day life, which for Tuya involves herding her flock of sheep, lugging water 30 kilometers to her home from a half-finished well (the creation of which left Bater lame), and tending to her kids and incapacitated husband, all while contending with a friend named Senge (Senge) who's run ragged by his cheating wife and who not-so-secretly loves Tuya. In some of its characterizations and dilemmas (such as Tuya's attempt to make a go of it with a former classmate who callously ditches Bater at an urban nursing home), Tuya's Marriage can feel a tad overwritten, but in terms of its cultural and emotional portraits, the film's neo-realist authenticity is nonetheless striking. Much of this can be credited to the commanding Yu, whose wind-burned toughness and resoluteness are complemented by a burdensome combination of anger, loneliness, and sorrow. It's also, however, attributable to Wang's honest depiction of the struggles confronting Mongolians, a people who continue to survive thanks to a collective devotion to camaraderie and compassion, yet whose tradition-bound existence—slowly being suffocated into obsolescence by encroaching power lines, cities, and modern mores—is, as Tuya's exhausted marriage-day tears suggest, an increasingly grueling one to maintain.

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

From the barren yet beautiful landscape of the Inner Mongolian steppes comes this unlikely, passionate love story, and it's the best movie out this week, no matter how few of you are likely to heed my advice and check it out. Chinese director Wang Quanan's third feature (winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin last year) is a compact near-masterpiece that combines a slow-motion romantic comedy with a docudrama-style portrait of a remote, nomadic culture as it is gradually eroded by the tides of the 21st century.

At first you may fear one of those ethnography-as-fiction Asian films that are long on edifying detail but short on storytelling. Instead, Wang crafts a precise tragicomic circle that begins and ends with the same wedding scene, one whose bride, the lovely but tough-as-nails Mongolian herdswoman Tuya (Yu Nan), has fled in tears. In between those bookended scenes, we learn the complicated back story of Tuya's tears: She has divorced her disabled husband Batoer -- like most of the cast beyond Yu Nan, Batoer is a Mongolian non-actor performing under his own name -- although she still loves him, and has promised to marry the first man who will help her support him.

There's a dry, laconic vein of humor running beneath "Tuya's Marriage," alongside a current of mourning and regret. Shot by German cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier, it offers a series of haunting images that capture without commentary the slow decay of the nomadic lifestyle and the fragile quality of the Chinese state at its outermost edges. It won't precisely leave you rolling on the floor, but I found it a rich and rewarding tale on many levels. Tuya is courted by a number of unlikely suitors, arriving by camel or by tractor or by Mercedes-Benz, most of them understandably reluctant to lose face by keeping their new wife's ex around the house. This genuinely is a romantic comedy, to the extent that Tuya barely seems to notice the plucky, luckless Shenge, a dashing fellow whose own wife has run off with his new truck and a local official. Shenge is smitten with her and eager to please -- and he likes Batoer too (at least at first).

Although totally unknown in the West, Quan is one of the "Sixth Generation" Chinese filmmakers, occupying a slot on the wry-realism scale somewhere between his friend Jia Zhangke (another festival favorite with little Western audiences) and the far better-known Zhang Yimou. "Tuya's Marriage" has been criticized in some quarters because Quan shot the film in Mandarin rather than Mongolian (which the characters would more plausibly speak), but needless to say that detail didn't matter to me. Worth seeing in a theater if you get the chance, and a must for your Netflix list down the line. (Opens April 4 in New York and April 25 in Chicago, with other cities and DVD release to follow.)

Cinemattraction.com [Robert Levin]

The setting of inner Mongolia looms over Tuya’s Marriage, winner of the Golden Bear at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival. It shapes every facet of director Wang Quanan’s latest production and forcefully impacts the lives being depicted. There, a barren desert’s sand dunes stretch to the horizon, and survival remains a constant struggle. Nothing comes easy in such a harsh, sparsely populated environment. One of the great feats of Wang’s film is its evocation of just how starkly time can stop and material concerns melt away when one lives somewhere that demands a constant fear of the natural world and its wrath, in this case demonstrated by monumental sand storms and the overwhelming scarcity of water supplies.

Though the narrative advances slowly, Wang (who co-wrote the screenplay with Lu Wei) generates a real sense of the milieu’s particular rhythms. The film achieves a great deal of its impact by establishing the tumultuous, withdrawn setting and then subsequently depicting the steadfast, unavoidable encroachment of modernity and its destructive forces into the lives of the already overburdened characters. No mere cultural curiosity, the picture also tells a story rife with palpably universal emotions, and it’s anchored by what must be deemed an extraordinary lead performance.

Bookended with images of Tuya (Nan Yu) sobbing in a wedding dress, the film chronicles her struggle to support her crippled older husband Bater (the amateur actor’s real name) and young children by running their desert home. In addition to all the domestic handiwork she regularly journeys to and from the sole distant water source. When she suffers an injury and it becomes apparent that she can no longer keep up with the grueling schedule, Tuya and her husband determine it important that they divorce so that she can find someone to perform the requisite hard labor. Yet, to win her any suitor must acquiesce to her one inexorable condition: agree to house and support Bater as well.

To convey the story’s dramatic effect, Wang relies on long takes and extended moments of silence jarringly punctuated with intense bursts of emotion. There’s not a tremendous amount of dialogue, and the actors (most of whom – other than Yu – are first-timers) deliver what’s there in appropriately hushed, tired tones. Very often the filmmaker is content to let the landscape do the talking, and one shot of Tuya frantically searching for her son amidst a blinding, all-encompassing storm starkly conveys the source of the family’s desperation. Thematically, the screenplay presents a fairly devastating portrait of the physical and psychological costs of emasculation and the challenges of the forced reworking of conventional gender roles within the depicted society. It also evocatively parallels the primal nature of life in the desert with the equally insurmountable difficulties posed by the unforgiving facets of modern, bureaucratically controlled existence.

At the same time, beneath the unhurried exterior and its depictions of Tuya’s deceptively simple day-to-day routine, the movie negotiates a wealth of complex sentiments that constantly evolve in the characters. These brew so resolutely, and can be seen so clearly in the anguished faces at hand, that the periodic outbursts of feeling hold considerable power. In most movies, an extended scene in which an entire family sits and sobs would feel forced and melodramatic. Here, it organically emerges from the repressive constraints, and the profound frustrations, felt by Tuya and Bater. As the former, Nan ensures the success of Tuya’s Marriage by embracing the character’s conflicted nature and taking great pains to present as fully rounded a portrait as possible. She exudes the charisma one usually associates with a movie star. She makes the most restrained and inactive moments – the ones requiring the most patience and steadfast attentiveness – worth the effort.

Film Journal International (Maria Garcia)

 

Lucid Screening  Tram

 

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

Asia Pacific Arts [Ada Tseng]

 

BeyondHollywood.com  James Mudge

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Amber Wilkinson

 

The Village Voice [Ed Gonzalez]

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips)

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

Wang Tian-lin
 
THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH (Nan bei he)

Hong Kong  (108 mi)  1961

 

The Illuminated Lantern review [4/4]  Peter Nepstad

It's North vs. South, Mandarin vs. Cantonese. The local, Cantonese tailor Leung Sing-po suddenly finds himself in competition with a new tailor who has opened up next door and is a northerner, Liu Enjia. They immediately get off on the wrong foot. Liu entices customers in with slashed prices and higher commissions for the tour guides, crippling Leung's buisness. To make matters worse, the interloper has also rented rooms in the same flat that Leung's family lives in. Both are single fathers, raising a daughter of marriagable age and a grade school child each. The tension between the two tailors escalates until each are scheming the others downfall.

There are also some cross-cultural romances as well, as their daughters meet with boys and fall in love. But of course, each girl pairs off with their opposite, northern with southern, and vice versa. It's enough to drive their fathers mad.

This is a very funny movie. This kind of spiteful production often doesn't work, mainly because the characters are too cruel to each other to be very likable. Here, their conflicts are fairly mild, and played with such good humor that you can't help but laugh. Liu Enjia and Leung Sing-po, both portly gentlemen who always play father roles, steal the show and provide almost all the laughs. A priceless moment involves the two trying to drown each other out by singing Opera -- of course, Liu sings Beijing Opera while Leung sings Cantonese Opera (in a falsetto voice, no less).

The girls are charming as well, especially Christine Pai Lu-ming, falling for the shy but wealthy northerner Kelly Lei Chen. And Kitty Ting Hao plays an airline stewardess falling for a Cantonese salaryman. The younger generation doesn't find the cultural differences to be a big deal, while the older generation can't stop bickering over them.

This movie, written by Stephen Soong, is the first of a trilogy to include THE GREATEST WEDDING ON EARTH and THE GREATEST LOVE AFFAIR ON EARTH, both written by Eileen Chang. All three pit Liu Enjia and Leung Sing-po against each other, North vs. South. I'm not sure if this plot line wouldn't begin to wear thin after three movies, but it held up nicely through one. Quite popular on its first release, THE GREATEST CIVIL WAR ON EARTH should still find a receptive and delighted audience today. Change Northerner vs. Southerner to Beijing vs. Hong Kong, and it seems that nothing much has changed in the intervening years.

Romantic comedies of Cathay-MP&GI in the 1950s and 60s: language, locality, and urban character   Kenny K. K. Ng from Jump Cut, Spring 2007

 
THE GREATEST WEDDING ON EARTH (Nan bei yi jia qin)

Hong Kong  (103 mi)  1962

 

THE GREATEST LOVE AFFAIR ON EARTH (Nan bei xi xiang feng)

Hong Kong  1964

 

Romantic comedies of Cathay-MP&GI in the 1950s and 60s: language, locality, and urban character   Kenny K. K. Ng from Jump Cut, Spring 2007

 
Wang T’ung
 
THE STRAWMAN  (Dao Cao Ren)

Taiwan  (94 mi)  1987

User comments  from imdb Author: gmwhite from Brisbane, Australia

Strawman is a Taiwanese film set during the Second World War. At that time, Taiwan had been a Japanese colony for almost fifty years. Taiwanese men of fighting age had been recruited (or pressed) into the Japanese army, and as the Pacific War went the allies' way, Taiwan also became subject to bombing (albeit not as severely as Japan itself). In 'Strawman', this geopolitical situation is mediated through the lives of two brothers in the countryside, their family, and their village. The 'Strawman' of the title, an ineffective scarecrow, witnesses these changes in village life that the war brings.

- MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD - The two brothers, the main actors of the film, avoided the military draft due to eye problems provoked by their mother with this aim in mind. But even then, the family did not escape tragedy, for their sister become crazy after her husband was killed in action. Surrounded by a brood of children (one of whom is named 'Cowdung'), they attempt to feed themselves and their families, a task not helped by occasional requisitioning by Japanese overlords and collaborators.

During the course of the film, an elder brother returns to the village with his wife and two children. He has been quite successful in business in Japan, and intends to negotiate the sale of the fields he owns to a Japanese firm for use in sugar production. The contrast between these brothers and their families is skillfully shown, particularly as the poor local children are made to wait while for the leftovers from the guests' meal.

In the near vicinity there is also a bridge that is a target for American bombs, which leads to the main story in the second half of the film: what to do with an unexploded bomb? Since scrap metal was becoming a precious commodity for the war effort, the brothers decide to take it to the Japanese for a reward. The journey they make with the bomb, and with a local official in tow, is quite a humorous one, leading to a conclusion which is ultimately satisfying, though also amusing in a bittersweet way. END OF SPOILERS -

To simply call this film 'realistic' would be a little misleading. While reflecting genuine historical situations, it does so in a manner reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 'magic realism'. The performances of the actors, old and young, greatly contribute to this effect. What better mode to show the effects of a destructive war on a village so directly affected by it, yet so alien to it in spirit, than through a lens that is both compassionate, yet has such an accurate eye for irony and the sheer ridiculous? It is easy to see why this film was acclaimed when released in 1987, and I am eager to watch the two other films in the director Wang Tung's 'Banana Trilogy': Banana Paradise, and The Hill of No Return.

BANANA PARADISE (Xiang jiao tian tang)

Taiwan  (116 mi)  1989

User comments  from imdb Author: gmwhite from Brisbane, Australia

'Banana Paradise' is the second film in the director Wang Tung's 'Taiwan Trilogy'. At two and a half hours, it is much longer than the first, 'Strawman', and also spans a much longer period of time, beginning with the last stages of the war on the mainland, moving to Taiwan through the 50's, then jumping forward to the late 80's for the last half hour.

***Detailed plot description follows***

The main character of the film is a young man called 'Door Latch', who is drafted into the KMT, and works in a theatrical propaganda unit. Following the illusion of Taiwan as being a 'land of milk and honey,' he and his friend Li Desheng eagerly move to Taiwan. However, it is not long before he and his friend are accused of being spies, and are beaten during interrogation (in scenes recalling the so-called 'White Terror'). When they escape, Desheng finds a job working on a banana plantation, in spite of quite humorous mutual incomprehension between himself and the Taiwanese-speaking natives. 'Door Latch' aids a woman (Yuexiang) whose husband is dying of tuberculosis, and she and her baby remain with him after her husband dies. 'Door Latch', in fact, takes on the identity of the husband, who was both older, and had also studied English. The identity papers held him in finding work, though as work translating English documents relating to American-built aircraft. Barely literate, this situation leads to a number of humorous situations, and it is quite surprising that he is able to survive at all.

Later, Door Latch receives a letter from Desheng, and goes to the banana plantation to meet him. Desheng, however, soon loses his mind, raving about their being spies everywhere. Door Latch will spend the rest of the film caring for him. Life goes on, the 'couple' stay together through many difficulties, serious and humorous involving work and neighbours, with Door Latch somehow muddling through his job. The baby grows up and starts school.

The scene then moves forward forty years to 1987. Door Latch (now played by a different actor) has moved up in the company and drinks excessively. Desheng is still there too, still demented and listening constantly to a small radio. Yuexiang's son has now graduated. Importantly, 1987 is year people are allowed to return to visit relatives on the mainland. Yuexiang's son decides to go and look for his grandparents, promising to phone so that his parents can speak with their Door Latch fears that his deception may thus unravel, and Yuexiang also makes an unexpected confession. The film ends with an emotional phone exchange between Door Latch and the father of the man whom Door Latch has replaced. As if speaking with him own father, he accused himself of being unfilial, and receives with tears the news of the death of other relatives.

***Detailed plot description ends***

Best described as a satire, this film combines elements of humour with commentary on the conditions in Taiwan in the late forties and fifties under Chiang Kai-shek's iron hand. It is interesting that both this film and Hou Hsiao Xien's 'City of Sadness', were released in the same year, since both allude to the 'White Terror' of 1947, when the KMT viciously pursued anyone suspected of anti-KMT tendencies. Their paranoia becomes that of the traumatised Desheng.

Other, less overtly political aspects of contemporary society are the language barrier between native Taiwanese and the new arrivals, the life of the native banana growers, and the support received from USA. In the background is also the disappointment of the war veterans in finding in Taiwan less than the paradise they had been led to expect. The moments of overt humour are often 'stand-alone' sections, usually involving Door-Latch muddling his way through a variety of situations, from early romantic adventures to arguments with neighbours or even a pocketful of coins. There are many such moments, which lighten the drama considerably, though not lessening the significance of the film's dramatic aspects. If anything, they round out the characters more, especially that of the never-say-die Door-Latch. There is plenty in the plot for a teary melodrama, but I think the satiric form adopted makes the film less manipulative, and humanises the characters more than would have been the case with a straightforward tear-jerker. The humour also contributes towards an enjoyable viewing experience, which is important for a film almost 150 minutes long.

The actors all acquit themselves well, especially the actor playing the persistently youthful Door-Latch. The direction of Wang Tung is unhurried and unobtrusive, which gives time for the humanity of the characters to infuse. I quite enjoyed this second instalment of the 'Taiwan Trilogy', and am looking forward to the last one, (the even longer) 'Hills of No Return'.

HILL OF NO RETURN (Wu yan de shan qiu)

Taiwan  (165 mi)  1992

 

User comments  from imdb Author: gmwhite from Brisbane, Australia

'Hill of No Return' is the third film in Wang Tung's 'Taiwan Trilogy'. It is a fable, recounted by an old man in the framing story. Set in the late twenties, it has to do with two brothers who leave their job as hired labourers and go to Chiu-Fen, a mining town, to work for the Japanese owners. (Taiwan was a Japanese colony from 1895 to 1945).

Most of the action takes place in this mining town. The two brothers, Chu and Wei, find lodging with a widow with several young children. She is working as a prostitute to feed them all. Apart from the work of mining, there is also a brothel, through which seems to pass much gold smuggled out of the mines by the miners rather than handed over. There is a young Japanese lady, 'Fumiko', who works as a servant girl at the brothel, and with whom Wei is smitten. There is also a boy working there (a half-Japanese adopted son of the madam) who likes her, and who spends much of his time peddling pornographic puppets and cards to the miners.

Spread over three hours, various episodes, humorous and tragic take place. In contrast to the other two films in the trilogy, this one is much sadder, which is to be expected, since it is presented as a moral fable. In this tale that essentially revolves around the twin desires for fast money and instant pleasure, there are more 'downs' than 'ups'. The length of the film also allows plenty of time for the characters to emerge as fully rounded and believable people, with the nobility and weaknesses to be expected of human beings.

As with other films of Wang Tung, there is some stunning scenery. The Portuguese were right to call Taiwan 'Ilha Formosa', or 'Beautiful Isle'. The costuming was credibly done, and there was an interesting mix of languages spoken also, which must have been quite a problem historically with Japanese-speaking rulers and Chinese natives. The actors acquitted themselves well, particularly the brother madam and Chu, the elder brother.

In sum, this film brings the 'Taiwan Trilogy' of Wang Tung to a close with a long, but involving, cautionary tale which is of historical and human interest. Of the three films, it is the darkest, but not unbearably pessimistic. Life goes on. Though surrounded by greed and lust, there is still love, and hope. I'd recommend the whole trilogy to anyone interested in Taiwanese film, especially those interested in expanding their boundaries past Hou Hsiao Hsien, Edward Yang and Tsai Ming-liang. The films can be watched in any order, though I'm not sure if they are available with English subtitles (the copies I viewed contained only Chinese subtitles). These works of Wang Tung, of a consistently high quality, certainly deserve a wider audience.

Doc Films  A Time for Freedom:  Taiwanese Filmmakers in Transition, essay by Edo S. Choi and Paola Iovene, Spring (excerpt)

 

Even a brief overview of Taiwan cinema in the second half of the 20th century must take into account its multilingual context. The majority of films produced in Taiwan in the 1950s and early 1960s were in Taiwan's native Southern Min language, and represented locally popular genres such as opera films and romantic comedies. By the 1960s Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party, the sole ruling party since its ousting from the Mainland by Mao Zeodong's Communist Party, was aggressively enforcing the teaching of Mandarin in schools and the use of Mandarin in cinema and other media. Launched by the state-owned Central Motion Pictures Corporation (CMPC), so-called ``healthy realism'' became the dominant genre. Mostly set in rural Taiwan, these films imagined a harmonious agrarian society, a vision which was often well-received by local audiences, but also represented the ideological whitewash of a repressive government.

Pressured by foreign competition, mostly from the Hong Kong industry, CMPC sought to diversify their production, experimenting with costume melodramas, comedies, and musicals. Pai Ching-jui's romantic comedy The Bride and I (1968) well exemplifies this attempt to compete with glitzier foreign products by toning down ideological content. One of the highlights of this important filmmaker's career and a box office hit, this delightfully self-reflexive work calls attention to the constraints that both political and commercial demands imposed on filmmakers at the time, thus combining light comedy and veiled cultural critique.

With the death of Chiang Kai-shek and the diplomatic isolation that followed the 1971 UN decision to recognize the People's Republic of China, the 1970s marked a dim, claustrophobic period in Taiwanese history, where cookie-cutter escapism prevailed, mostly in the form of adaptations of popular romance novels. But by the 1980s, facing ever-increasing competition from Hong Kong and Hollywood, CMPC inaugurated a ``newcomer policy'' aimed at attracting new talent to the local film industry. This institutional support was crucial for the emergence of the New Taiwan Cinema, whose exponents were given carte blanche, as well as the full wealth of the company's subsidies. Economic imperatives had at last superseded political ones, as the Nationalist Party gradually lost its grip on the country's imagination.

 

Wang Tung established himself as a set designer before turning to directing in the early 1980s. Hill of No Return is the third of his ``nativist trilogy,'' which includes Strawman (1987) and Banana Paradise (1989). Telling the story of two poor men who join the gold rush at the time of Japanese colonial rule in the 1920s, the film is a bawdy working class romp, inventively mixing humorous elements into a melodramatic plot. Indeed, Wang's near burlesque use of caricature struck a compelling contrast to the reserved naturalism of most New Taiwan Cinema, and particularly to the increasing mannerism and austerity that Hou and Yang had cultivated in their historical projects.

 

When a mining town endures a gold rush at the height of the Japanese Occupation in the 1920s, two miners seek riches, only to fall in love in the process, one with a shunned widow, the other with a sick prostitute. The third installment in a trilogy of historical comedies dubbed the "Nativist Series" and directed by the important, if relatively obscure Wang Tung, Hill of No Return is a whimsical account of Taiwan's native proletariat, in contrast to Yang and Hou's more sober pictures, which concern the lives of displaced mainlanders and Taiwanese literati.

 
Wang, Wayne

 

Wayne Wang > Overview - AllMovie   bio from Hal Erickson

 

Wayne Wang - Filmbug  bio

 

The early brilliance of Wayne Wang. - By Hua Hsu - Slate Magazine  Hua Hsu from Slate, March 30, 2006

 

Wayne Wang, Bridging Generations and Hemispheres  Dennis Lim from The New York Times, September 12, 2008

 

ARTS, BRIEFLY; Wayne Wang Film to Open Online  Julie Bloom from The New York Times, September 12, 2008

A YouTube Opening for Wayne Wang’s New Film  S. James Snyder from Time magazine, September 17, 2008

"Wayne Wang's 'Princess' paves way on Internet"  G. Allen Johnson from The San Francisco Chronicle, October 18, 2008

 

"Fade to Black With Auteur Wayne Wang"  Elvis Mitchell interview from Asian Week, August 10 – 16, 2000

 

"“Wayne Wang Interview ""  Allan Tong interview from Exclaim, October 2007

Filmmaker Magazine | Director Interviews  Interview by Filmmaker magazine, September 19, 2008

10 Questions for Wayne Wang - TIME   Time magazine, October 23, 2008

 

Wayne Wang - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

CHINESE BOX                                                        C+                   77

France  Japan  USA  (99 mi)  1997

 

A little seen film, probably due to its inconsistently muddled direction, set against the historic backdrop of Hong Kong’s 1997 transition from British colonial rule before being handed back over to the Chinese government, this movie is filled with Western perceived dire predictions of gloom and doom, as if the world would collapse and freedoms would be forever wiped away by a repressive Communist regime.  With Jeremy Irons as a British exile who works as a Western journalist in Hong Kong, where he’s in love with the city and doesn’t really know why, seemingly caught up in a romantic notion of nostalgia, his self-absorbed character and cynical personal outlook couldn’t be more morose, filled with a dour tone whose negativity all but ruins this movie, as he narrates the film so his weary point of view is in nearly every shot.  The city itself looks terrific with its vibrant street life filled with hawkers and vendors, the glow of its modern night clubs and bars, and its scenic harbor teeming with activity.  What attracted me to this film were the actresses Gong Li and Maggie Cheung, a highlight to any movie, and both are fabulous.  Li is a former high class call girl now living with a successful Hong Kong entrepreneur, but due to her past, it’s unlikely he could ever marry her, as she would simply not be accepted into high society.  Irons has an eye on her as well, thinking she’s the most beautiful woman in Hong Kong, and proposes that they run away together, but she remains cool to the idea, which sends Irons into a tailspin of despair.  In a parallel story, while walking the streets filming whatever he sees on his camcorder, he discovers Maggie Cheung, whose brash sense of independence catches his eye, as she hawks bootleg videos and canned Hong Kong air before the transition for $5 dollars – a bargain.  But she also has a scar on one side of her face and he asks to interview her, but she’s not interested.  Though later she changes her mind, asking for money, and she videos her own interview, though never unearthing any real secrets about herself.  Her intrigue factor, however, remains high.

 

Wang was born in Hong Kong but has been living in the U.S since he was 17, returning briefly to Hong Kong to work in television until the late 70’s when he returned to make films in San Francisco.  His absence is noticeable, as the film has an awkward and decidedly visitor’s feel, not really in tune with the rhythm of the Chinese living there, much of which is separated by the use of English language, where one of the writers is Jean-Claude Carrière, who wrote Buñuel’s BELLE DE JOUR (1967) and THE DISCREET CHARM OF THE BOURGEOISIE (1972), yet there are distinct scenes that are obviously improvised, such as the appearance of Rubén Blades, Panamanian salsa sensation, as Irons’ photo-journalist friend who is down on his luck, also encountering some female difficulty of his own, so Blades moves in temporarily and the two commiserate about their troubles by getting drunk.  Blades does manage to sing a song while Gong Li, in perhaps the sequence of the film, mimics Marlene Dietrich singing “Black Market” while watching Billy Wilder’s A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948) on television, which is a brilliant cross cultural expression.  Li has difficulty with English and learns her lines phonetically, as she did in Michael Mann’s MIAMI VICE (2006) as well, which made it difficult for her to deal with Irons preferred mode of improvisation, so the two never develop much chemistry together.  Irons causes a horrible scene in public meant to pay back Li for the hurt she was causing him, but the viciousness of his personal attacks reveal an unseemly side to his character.  To make matters worse, just as we’re developing zero sympathy for the guy, he develops such a severe case of leukemia that he has only a few months left to live, which changes his entire outlook, as he can no longer hope for the future, but must accept conditions as they are, an obvious parallel to the British view of the governmental turnover, as it too is coming to an end.  Actually, all the characters become highly symbolic pieces of the puzzle, as Cheung’s free wheeling flexibility is a perfect match for Hong Kong’s economic future, while Li has to forget her past in order to create a new life, very emblematic of the Chinese view.   Despite having free access to Hong Kong during the last 6 months prior to the conversion, the film doesn’t really gel, but the performances of Maggie Cheung and Gong Li at the height of their dramatic appeal are definitely worth seeing, along with the documentary style footage of Hong Kong itself, including the actual ceremonies where it was officially handed back to China after 156 years of British sovereignty.    

 

Time Out review  Tony Rayns

 

Designed to reflect the 'drama' of the hand over of Hong Kong, Wang's semi-improvised movie was partly scuppered by the fact that nothing striking happened when China reclaimed its 'Special Administrative Region' on 1 July 1997. But it's hard to imagine that the film would have worked out better if there'd been riots on the streets, despite the big names (Theroux, Carrière) on the credits. Irons plays a foreign correspondent dying in synch with the British administration, obsessed with both Gong Li (manager of a chic bar/cheap hooker - evidently representing China) and Maggie Cheung (a go-getting hustler - evidently representing the confused spirit of HK). Ludicrously contrived incidents are garnished with desultory dialogue; the underlying prostitution and slaughterhouse metaphors were wrung dry last time Wang tackled the city of his birth, in Life Is Cheap. Maybe Wang has lived too long in California; the average tourist with a camcorder would see the city more clearly than this.

 

Philadelphia City Paper (Sam Adams) review  also:  See Adams' interview with Wayne Wang

 

Set in Hong Kong during the transition from British to Chinese rule, Chinese Box represents a breakthrough for director Wayne Wang. Wang's previous movies have often been stilted and distant, but the lessons he learned from the improvised, shoot-from-the-hip Blue in the Face seem to have stuck; Chinese Box has a fluid grace which belies its quasi-allegorical structure. Jeremy Irons plays a Western journalist who learns he is dying as the turnover approaches, leaving him with little time to resolve his long-standing unrequited love for Gong Li, a bar owner with a disreputable past which prevents her from marrying the man she loves (Michael Hui). Irons takes to the streets, video camera in hand, trying to document the life of a streetwise urchin (Maggie Cheung) with a heartbreak in her past as well. But although he pays her to tell her story, Cheung turns the tables, fabricating her own history, and Irons' attempts to rectify her past mistakes turn out no better than his attempt to resolve his own problems. As its title suggests, Chinese Box is a multilayered, shifting tale of marginal figures and unresolvable doubts in the "great big department store" of Hong Kong.

 

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 

Jeremy Irons plays a gaunt, seriously ailing European (again), who, in the waning days of Britain's lease on Hong Kong, is forced to confront his unresolved romantic feelings for a Chinese friend (Gong Li). Irons, however, must also deal with secrets from Li's past, as well as her current relationship with prosperous businessman Michael Hui. If you think Chinese Box sounds like a heavy-handed political allegory, you're right, but that doesn't make it a bad film. The script—by Jean-Claude Carriere (a former collaborator of Luis Buñuel and Louis Malle) and Larry Gross (48 Hours) from a story by Carriere, Paul Theroux, and director Wayne Wang (Chan Is Missing, The Joy Luck Club, Smoke)—is a nice mix of slow-paced, New Wave-inspired, metaphor-rich wandering and more conventional drama. The many documentary-like scenes of Irons wandering the streets of his adopted city with a video camera, attempting to capture the strange mix of colony and mystery he's grown to love, are often fascinating, as is a subplot involving the excellent Maggie Cheung as a badly scarred, intensely guarded, aggressively hucksterish street vendor. Though it's not incredibly engaging—it works better on a symbolic level than a dramatic one—Chinese Box does an excellent job capturing a unique, odd moment in history.

 

Dragan Antulov review [4/10]

 

In today's world filmmakers tend not to deal with important political and economic events as they happen. This is partly because those events usually catch filmmakers by surprise and by the time production starts the events cease to be that relevant. There are very few occasions when events of such nature allow filmmakers to prepare in advance. One of such golden opportunities was British handover of Hongkong to China, which is the subject of CHINESE BOX, 1997 drama directed by Wayne Wang.

 

The film starts in Hong Kong on New Years Eve of 1997. While most people celebrate, some of Hong Kong citizens are so anxious over the upcoming handover to Communists that they express their feelings by public suicide. John (played by Jeremy Irons), business reporter and British expatriate, is troubled by more prosaic things – his unrequited love towards Vivian (played by Gong Li), beautiful Chinese bar hostess and former prostitute. Vivian is supported by Chang (played by Michael Hui), her old but rich lover. As the handover approaches, John spends time wandering through the streets of Hong Kong and meets Jean (played by Maggie Cheung), street vendor with the scarred face and tragic past. While Vivian slowly realises that her boyfriend would never marry a former prostitute, John receives some really bad news - he suffers from rare form of leukaemia and has only months to live. John starts wondering whether he should be able to see the handover and whether he should confess his love to Vivian. Wayne Wang, Hollywood veteran born in Hong Kong, has returned to his home town to make a film about one of the most important events of its history. In SMOKE Wang showed how well he could bring the spirit of certain place on screen and how even seemingly banal characters and situations can provide powerful drama. In case of CHINESE BOX importance of the occasion and director's lack of objectivity proved to be counterproductive for film. The script by Larry Gross and Jean-Claude Carriere meanders between attempts to show what the handover would actually mean for people of Hong Kong, Oriental version of DEATH IN VENICE and cheap melodrama. Wang's talent with actors is of little help, because the main characters are less human beings and more a symbols in political drama - John is vanishing British Empire, Vivian is People's Republic of China while Jean is supposed to symbolise Hong Kong's vitality. This heavy symbolism sucks the drama out of CHINESE BOX and the flat performance by Jeremy Irons doesn't help either. Stunning Chinese diva Gong Li and Hong Kong action star Maggie Cheung are more than impressive in their roles, but their efforts can't make this film anything more than merely watchable. The music by Graeme Revell is often irritating and by the time handover happens, the audience would be glad it is all over. CHINESE BOX is good example how combination good talents, good intentions and golden opportunities don't always end in good films.

 

Images (Wena Poon) review

 

Film Journal International (Peter Henné) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [2.5/4]

 

Film Scouts (Jason Gorber) capsule review

 

Harvey S. Karten review

 

James Bowman review

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Dan Heaton) dvd review

 

DVD Town (Yunda Eddie Feng) dvd review  Signature Series

 

Film Freak Central dvd review [Incls. Life is Cheap...but Toilet Paper is Expensive] [Signature Series]  Walter Chaw

 

DVD Talk (Jason Bovberg) dvd review [1/5]

 

DVD Verdict (Aaron Bossig) dvd review [Signature Series]

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

SPLICEDwire (Rob Blackwelder) review [3/4]

 

Apollo Movie Guide [Rob MacDonald]

 

Movie Magazine International review  Andrea Chase

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (David Rooney) review

 

The Boston Phoenix review  Tom Meek

 

Austin Chronicle (Russell Smith) review [2.5/5]

 

San Francisco Examiner (G. Allen Johnson) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Edward Guthmann) review

 

Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3/4]

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review

 

ANYWHERE BUT HERE

USA  (114 mi)  1999

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | Anywhere But Here (1999)  Charlotte O'Sullivan from Sight and Sound, January 2000

Tired of life in Wisconsin, Adele August decides she and her 14-year-old daughter Ann should move to Los Angeles. There, Adele gets a job but doesn't earn enough for the lifestyle she covets. Ann settles into school but still misses her favourite cousin Benny, and finds her mother's mood swings difficult to cope with. Benny visits. Josh, a handsome dentist, calls for a date and he and Adele sleep together. When he fails to ring again, Adele becomes obsessed with him. Benny is killed in a car accident. After a trip home for the funeral, Adele quits her job and spirals into depression.

Shortly afterwards, Adele sneaks into an audition she has strong-armed Ann into attending, only to see Ann mimicking her. The pair row. Ann contacts her father; he's mistrustful and unenthusiastic. Despite their precarious economic situation, Ann's relationship with a boy at her school begins to flourish. In the meantime, her mother has found a new job and acquired a new suitor. Ann is accepted by a college on the East Coast but doesn't have enough money to go. Adele sells her beloved car, and gives the money to Ann.

Review

In-the-name-of-the-daughter movies form a genre all of their own. From such grimly fiendish noirs as Stella Dallas (1937) and Mildred Pierce (1945) to soupy, semi-comedic dramas like Terms of Endearment and Postcards from the Edge, all have at their centre a maniacally aspirational mother whose attempts to control her daughter create an emotional competition between them. The energy it requires to manage the daughter's economic and sexual well-being invariably endows the mother with a vitality that makes her seem socially vulgar, oversexed, but most important of all, alive. However virtuous or demonic, the daughter is destined to play second fiddle. Smoke director Wayne Wang is clearly familiar with this type of woman's picture (there's a direct reference to Terms of Endearment). Keeping the novel's first-person narration - encouraging us to believe the daughter Ann's version of events is the definitive one - he seems keen to redress the balance in her favour.

This version can be reduced to a simple formula: daughter capable and desirable, mother incompetent, dishonest, superficial, jealous, hysterical and pitiful. A few scenes surprise us - such as the one where Ann's mother Adele admits she can't "cope" with going to the posh Christmas party she had previously angled an invite for. It's like a car alarm being switched off. In the horrible ensuing quiet Susan Sarandon's familiar beat-up eyes and toffee-ice-cream voice appear too vulnerable for her suddenly small body and you long for the protective high volume to be restored. Most of the time you see her being knocked back; here we discover how she behaves when she's welcomed. You don't pity her, but for the first time you understand her. Such glimpses of Adele's hidden life are all-too rare. Like the gruff, paternal traffic cop whom mother and daughter meet on Christmas Day, we're asked instead to chuckle and roll our eyes at Adele's eccentricities. There's nothing seriously wrong with her; she just needs to listen to more of the 'good' men in her life. When at the end of the film the cop tells Adele to do right by her daughter, she does.

Sarandon can't transform this kind of fluff into drama, but it's Natalie Portman you feel really sorry for. There's nothing for her to do here. Ann is your typical American success story - a naturally 'classy' individual who resists her mother's attempts to twist the truth. She also overcomes all obstacles in her path, inspiring admiration wherever she goes. Her one rejection - from her father - can be blamed on her mother. Prickly and suspicious when she rings him, dad is unable to separate the two women in his mind - something the film achieves all too easily. As the tag line says, this is a story about a mother who knows best, and a daughter who knows better.

The trouble with this kind of wish-fulfilment is that it's excluding. The film wants us to love Ann but also to envy her and the two sit together uneasily. It's impossible to take Adele seriously, but that doesn't mean you identify with Ann. In fact, by the time she's being waved off at the airport to her brilliant future ("I love you", "I love you too, sweetie"), you may, like me, be praying for a plane crash.

Adele's sacrificing of her car is the last straw. Ann mentions dreams in which she cuts off her mother's feet. In giving up her car - her mobility - it's as if Adele cuts off her own feet. In Stella Dallas we're allowed to wonder at the world Barbara Stanwyck's daughter has been fed into. This film sheds no such ambiguous light on a privileged East Coast education. Adele's self-sacrifice, in other words, gets the full thumbs-up.

Mildred Pierce and Stella Dallas' camp melodrama can of course be improved upon, but Wang and his particular brand of schmaltz prove unequal to the task. As the credits roll, Ann says of Adele, "When she dies, the world will be flat." In its eagerness to give voice to the overshadowed daughter, the film never allows the mother to live. Flat is precisely the word one would use to describe this.

THE CENTER OF THE WORLD             C                     74
USA  (88 mi)  2001

 

The Center of the World  David Denby from The New Yorker

 

Explicit, eyeglass-fogging sexual games from the director Wayne Wang. A nerdy, rich Silicon Valley computer engineer, Richard (Peter Sarsgaard), pays the beautiful freckle-faced stripper Florence (Molly Parker) to accompany him to Las Vegas for a three-day weekend. She agrees but with many conditions (no kissing on the lips, no penetration, strictly limited business hours). Richard is paying, but he wants feeling and emotion; Florence wants nothing but control. The movie, shot with a handheld digital camera, has a dreamy surface and the aura of a reverie, but there's also a bit of suspense floating in the erotic cloud: will Richard get Florence to respond to him? A friend of Florence's named Jerri (Carla Gugino), who is her opposite in every way—dark, fleshy, needy—threatens to take the movie to a dangerous place, but she storms off, leaving the two inarticulate principals to mop up. Written by Ellen Benjamin Wong, working from a story by Paul Auster, Siri Hustvedt, Miranda July, and Wang. 

 
BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE                      B+                   90
USA  (106 mi)  2005
 
What an interesting mix here, a Hong Kong-born Chinese man directs a Joan Singleton adaptation of Kate DeMillo’s Newberry award winning children’s book, and creates a surprisingly accurate look at small town life in the American South.
 
A loving, tender portrait of a lonely ten-year old girl ( AnnaSophia Robb) living in a small town in Florida with her Baptist preacher father, Jeff Daniel, always moving from town to town, inexplicably (to her) abandoned by her mother at age 3, so she feels she has no friends at all.  She finds a stray dog making a mess of things while running loose in the local Winn-Dixie supermarket, and decides to make it her own.  Despite her father’s best attempts to impound the dog, she draws a line in the sand at taking away the only friend she has.  Slowly, with the help of the eager, friendly nature of her dog, she meets some of the other lonely hearts in town, a gentle pet store clerk with a prison record, Dave Matthews, who likes to take the animals out of their cages and play them music, a spinster librarian, Eva Marie Saint, who tells stories and offers candy that contains both sweetness and sorrow at the same time, and a wise old backwoods recluse that other kids think is a witch, Cicely Tyson, who is nearly blind and shows her the tree of bottles, where she hung a bottle from a tree every time she did something wrong, so of course, she decides to throw a party and invite all her new friends, including a couple of boys who constantly pick on her, with perhaps predictable results, but the film felt very believable, and most of it was delightful. 
 
Of interest, when Eva and I were sitting in the theater, a mom and her 4 kids were sitting in front of us, and we sat behind them, no one else was in the theater.  After the trailers finished, where Eva was enchanted by the ICE PRINCESS (2005) trailer, just before the actual film started, a trail of kids started to enter the theater single file, all sitting behind us at first, but more kept coming in, and kids would get stuck in the rows with no more room, with adults yelling out for them to be quiet, but they filled every available seat in the entire theater except for the very front row – all kids on an afternoon field trip – and from what I could tell, few were disappointed.  It was amazing that all the kid’s energy, the sound of lips smacking, eating candy and popcorn, some discreet enough to whisper, but most talking outright to the screen, some obviously read the book, as they were shouting out what happened “before” it happened, all this added to the utter enjoyment of this film experience, as while the tone overall can be sad, it also contains elements of magical realism and obviously targets the lives of children, and while sweet, I found it authentic and genuine, not afraid to take on real subjects, like alcoholism, with wonderful themes of forgiveness, grace, tolerance, and hope, filmed in Thibodaux and Napoleonville, Louisiana. 
 
Note - Shortly after this movie came out, the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie filed for bankruptcy and closed most of its stores throughout the country.
 
A THOUSAND YEARS OF GOOD PRAYERS              B-                    82

USA  (83 mi)  2007

 

A quiet, unsettling film that is defined by emotional distance and detachment, that can be uncomfortable for the viewer due to what feels like an unbridgeable gulf.  Adapted from a collection of short stories by Yiyun Li, a Chinese-American who pits the two cultures against one another in a seemingly disinterested manner, where Henry O plays the Chinese father from Beijing, an old-school communist who maintains a proud and dignified air despite his limited grasp of English, continually jotting down notes in his notepad while he is visiting his daughter in America, Faye Yu, a well-educated and independent minded woman who works in the seemingly impenetrable law library at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.  While Henry O is an aging widower and his daughter recently divorced, it’s nearly impossible to pry any emotional information from his daughter who largely avoids him, refusing to confide in him or engage in any personal discussions, claiming she doesn’t have time, that she’s too busy from her job, yet we see her off to the movies alone at nights enjoying an evening away from him.   

 

A sincere film that perhaps stumbles with its overall simplicity, the film is a cinematic essay of immigrant miscommunication on both ends of the world, where during the day Henry wanders to a nearby park bench where he meets an Iranian woman.  Both speak in their primary language most of the time, wisely unsubtitled, with only occasional English words thrown in, yet they develop feelings of mutual friendship and trust simply because they have no one else who pays attention to them in their lives.  Henry prepares visual feasts for dinner at night, but they eat in total silence as his daughter barely picks at anything and is annoyed when he constantly urges her to eat more.  She remains noncommittal and appears to bear a grudge against him, as if he didn’t play a large enough part of her life growing up.  Her tone is one of hostile passivity, while the inquisitive father gently prods his daughter about one thing or another, which only increases her resentment. 

 

There are a few clever visual cues, such as the opening and closing bookend sequences.  More impressive is the father revealing a personal story about his family history, which remains ambiguous to the audience, as he and his daughter are in different rooms as he speaks, separated by a single wall, where we’re not sure if this split screen image is happening at the same time period, as at one point during his confession she gathers her coat and exits, leaving behind the image of an empty chair.  Mostly there’s an unfilled emptiness that pervades every frame of the film, where the characters, like puppets, are moving parts striving to be human.  Using extended wordless sequences and a propensity for untranslated words, we’re left with a vague impression of what it’s like getting old, feeling disconnected to your past which is long gone and unconnected to your own children, feeling useless and alone.  Henry’s attempts to connect with his daughter are fairly gentle and benign, but she shows little interest, as it turns out he spends more time talking to total strangers who will listen to him rather than to his own family who won’t.   

 

Time Out New York (Joshua Land) review [4/6]

Both culturally specific and achingly universal, Wayne Wang’s A Thousand Years of Good Prayers contemplates the ravages of time and distance—physical, emotional and cultural—on a parent-child relationship. Mr. Shi (Henry O), a retired Chinese widower, comes to visit daughter Yilan (Yu) in the U.S. following her recent divorce, only to find that she has no time for him. Left to his own devices during the days, Shi rummages through his daughter’s things, seeking clues to her new self, and strikes up a friendship with a Farsi-speaking neighbor (Ghahremani) who turns out to have family issues of her own.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers plays up the contrast between the old man’s active curiosity and his daughter’s passionless life-on-autopilot, reflected in the spare, impersonal decor of her apartment (which Shi promptly spruces up with a Chinese door hanging). When the inevitable father-daughter showdown arrives, China’s Cultural Revolution emerges as a vanishing point for the characters’ emotional inhibitions, but Wang’s film doubles as a commentary on the emptiness of the West. Far from struggling with the classic immigrant-story dilemma of assimilation, Yilan, at least until her father’s reappearance, seems to have left China behind entirely; in a sense, the spiritual aridity of her life is a sign of how thoroughly Westernized she already is.

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

After years of maneuvering the Hollywood waters with variable results, San Francisco director Wayne Wang returns to the low-budget Chinese-American subjects that initially brought him success. His new A Thousand Years of Good Prayers is a refreshingly small, delicate picture about a father, Mr. Shi (Henry O), who comes to the United States to visit his grown, divorced daughter Yilan (Faye Yu). From the moment they meet in the airport, their behavior indicates a troubled history. This leads to strained conversations in her home, or silence. (She retreats to the kitchen to cook, and seems taken aback when he joins her.) Mr. Shi takes to cooking all the meals in Yilan's apartment, but she keeps finding bigger excuses for staying away. Meanwhile, Mr. Shi explores his surroundings and befriends an Iranian woman in a local park (they converse in broken English). Shi enjoys many such conversations with several locals -- including one with a hot, blonde bikini girl -- while Yilan seems more closed-off. She only speaks honestly to her lover, a married Russian man, and even then she seems lost and frustrated. Wang presents all this with an Ozu-like intimacy and smallness, focusing on still shots held a medium distance. The point is that, despite all the newly mixed cultures of the world and all the various languages and accents, communication is never a given. But Wang never hammers anything home; he allows his story to unfold rather than forcing it. Wang has directed a second feature, also based on short stories by Yiyun Li, but The Princess of Nebraska will make its debut October 17 on -- of all places -- YouTube. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers opens this week in theaters.

Cinematical (Kim Voynar) review

Meticulously paced and beautifully shot, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers brings us into the life of Mr. Shi (Henry Q) at the moment he walks into a train station in Spokane, Washington, where he is greeted with seeming lack of affection by his adult daugher, Yilan (Faye Yu). Director Wayne Wang, getting back into indie film after making films like Maid in Manhattan and Because of Winn-Dixie, has made a lovely film here about the often complicated relationship between fathers and their adult daughters. The film, adapted by Yiyun Li for the screen from her short story of the same name, has much in it that was written specifically about this dynamic in Chinese families, but most anyone watching the film will find something to relate to in the interactions between Mr. Shi and his daughter.

Mr. Shi has come to Spokane to stay with his Yilan, to help her through the aftermath of a divorce. He is simultaneously overprotective and uncertain, and his presence in her spartan apartment very clearly makes Yilan uncomfortable. He's like a family knick-knack sent by a well-meaning great-aunt -- he's out of place in his daughter's apartment and her life, but because he's her father, she can't just toss him away. He fumbles about, trying to help his daughter in the only way he knows how, by cooking Chinese food for her. Abundantly. (Don't go see this film if you're hungry, you'll be craving the nearest Chinese buffet by the time it's over.)

Is there an adult daughter anywhere who doesn't have some unresolved issues with her father? Yilan, who was closer to her now-deceased mother throughout her childhood, is uncertain how to deal with his intrustion into her life. His close proximity and hovering over her start to bring out deeply held resentments in Yilan, who must decide whether to confront her father with truths she knows but has never spoken about.

The film moves as slowly as Mr. Shi's long days alone in his daughter's apartment while she works and stays out late. Once he's papered over the stove backsplash with newspaper to protect it from wok grease-splatter, played with Yilan's Russian matrioshka nested dolls, and rifled through her bills and bank statements, there's not much left to do besides explore the world outside Yilan's apartment. A trip down to the pool nets meeting a ditzy blond in a teeny bikini; that frightens Mr. Shi enough to keep him far away from the pool after that. At the park he meets Madam, an older Iranian lady who lives with her adult son and his wife.

There's a well-placed thread about communication woven throughout the film: Mr Shi and Madam do not share a common language -- he speaks Chinese, she speaks Farsi, they both speak a very little, very broken, English. Yet they are able to communicate and understand each other more than Mr. Shi and his own daughter. Wang underscores this point by not subtitling the scenes between Mr. Shi and Madam -- you don't need the subtitles to get the gist of what they're saying. When Mr. Shi learns about the Russian man his daughter is seeing, she reveals to him that part of what led her to have an affair with him is that she could talk to him -- really talk -- in English, whereas with her husband, with whom she spoke Chinese, she couldn't communicate. Yilan tells her father that speaking in a different language than your own allows you to become a different person.

The cinematography is as precise and spare as the communication between this father and daughter throughout the film. Cinematographer Patrick Lindenmaier has executed each moment to perfection -- every shot is lined up just so, with careful thought given to little details like the placement of a wall in a scene, a recurrent visual element that serves to underline the deep lack of communication between Mr. Shi and Yilan. The music in the film is just as decisive as the shots -- every note carefully placed to enhance the scene (the score actually reminded me a lot of the score for Tony Takatani, another lovely film that moved along at a pace all its own).

The overall effect of the film is soothing, thoughtful, and deeply introspective. The quiet moments give you plenty of time and headspace to ponder the specifics of great filmmaking that sometimes get lost -- the angle of a shot, the perfect ray of sunlight through a window, the shadow across a face, the timepiece precision of single piano notes marking the passage of time. Fast-paced action flicks keep you on the edge of your seat; Wang seats you in a comfortable chair in the perfect corner and invites you to enjoy the scenery and the carefully wrought story of the two people before you. And it's a lovely ride.

Cinemattraction.com [Maggie Glass]

 

indieWIRE review  Leo Goldsmith

 

The Onion A.V. Club review  Tasha Robinson

 

Movies into Film.com (N.P. Thompson) review

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]  which includes an interview with the director

 

Eye for Film (George Williamson) review [3.5/5]

 

The New York Sun (Meghan Keane) review

 

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers  Patrick McGavin at Toronto from Screendaily

 

The Village Voice [Aaron Hillis]

 

Variety.com [Todd McCarthy]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Reyhan Harmanci) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Kevin Thomas) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times review  Nathan Lee

 

Hong Kong-born director Wayne Wang's "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" won the best film and best actor awards at San Sebastian   Fest 21, September 30, 2007

 

Wayne Wang honored at Asian film festival  Ruthe Stein from The San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2008

 

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Wang Xiaoshuai

 

Wang Xiaoshuai | Senses of Cinema  Dror Kochan from Senses of Cinema, October 2003

 

Riding Towards the Future: Wang Xiaoshuai's Beijing Bicycle by Elizabeth Wright

 

FROZEN (Jidu hanleng)

China  (99 mi)  1997

 

Frozen  Tony Rayns from Time Out London

Shot in 1994 and reflecting the dark mood in Beijing's 'underground' art circles at that time, this was an independent production - hence illegal in the eyes of the Film Bureau. The subsequent outlawing of unauthorised film-making in China forced the director to hide behind the pseudonym 'Wu Ming' (No Name). A young performance artist decides to trump the nihilism and self-destructive theatrics prevailing among the avant-garde crowd by staging a series of four symbolic deaths for himself, each coinciding with an equinox. He appears to die during the last, frozen to death on midsummer's day. But this 'death' was as much a fake as the others. A wry, semi-detached narration expresses a precise ambivalence about the protagonist and his friends, mocking their pretensions but respecting their helpless feelings of impotence in the China of the 1990s.

Nitrate Online (Capsule)  Eddie Cockrell

Frozen is a passionate cry for artistic freedom from a culture of repression: since July 1, 1996, it has been illegal to make unauthorized independent films in China, and the rushes from this surreptitiously filmed feature (shot in 1994) were smuggled out of the country and assembled by director Wu Ming with support provided by the Hubert Bals fund in Holland. Never heard of Wu Ming? That’s according to plan; it’s a pseudonym meaning “no name” that has been adopted by the established Sixth Generation filmmaker to avoid reprisals (“I have responsibilities,” the director explained to a western critic in 1997). A brooding, handsome performance artist prominent in the avant garde scene of contemporary Beijing, Qi Lei (Jia Hongshen) decides to create four performances over the next year, symbolic suicides to mark the equinoxes. All will be faked save the final “ice burial” on the first day of summer, during which the increasingly depressed Qi Lei intends to die. Reactions vary, from the despondency of his girlfriend Shao Yun (Ma Xiaquing) to the tart disapproval of his sister (Bai Yu) and the opportunism of his wisecracking brother-in-law (Li Geng). Only Qi Leng’s mentor, the art critic Lau Ling (Zhang Yongning) -- Shao Yun’s ex-lover -- seems at peace with the decision. Frozen leavens its message with jagged flashes of social humor, often at the expense of Qui Lei’s colleagues Long Haired Guy (Wei Ye) and Bald Guy (Bai Yefu). Even the title carries a double meaning -- cultural stagnation leads to personal tragedy -- that serves to enhance the deadly serious message of this singular film.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

Made outside the official Chinese production system, where directors tend to cloak their subversive political ideas in period garments, Frozen delivers its most potent statement simply by virtue of its existence. Though unsanctioned films are strictly forbidden in China, director Wu Ming (a pseudonym that translates "no name") used guerrilla-style shooting tactics to prove that the counterculture spirit behind Tiananmen Square hasn't died out. His/her efforts are successful on that front, if only for revealing a thriving avant-garde scene in contemporary Beijing, but perhaps it's unfair to hope for a more coherent or substantive treatment of the film's provocative subject matter. Based on a true story, Frozen concerns a young artist (Jia Hongshen) who invests his despair in a series of performances that will end with his own suicide. Ignoring the pleas of family and friends, he stages an "Ice Burial" by melting huge chunks of ice against his body until he finally succumbs to hypothermia. Fascinated by death and disillusioned with life, he wants his defiant act of self-sacrifice to draw attention and controversy but, in a final irony, it may turn out to be meaningless. Like the recent Windhorse, a similarly clandestine production about Tibetan oppression, Frozen's admirable political courage tends to undermine its artistic success. A better director might have drawn more from the avant-garde community—though there's one great scene in which Jia's colleagues eat a bar of soap to signify their "revulsion"—or explored the impenetrable, glassy-eyed ennui that seems to grip most of its members. On the other hand, that kind of subtlety and depth is probably a negligible concern for a film that's about going to extremes just to get a point across.

Frozen Dan Lopez from digitallyOBSESSED

 

DVD Verdict  Dean Roddey

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Anita Gates

 
SO CLOSE TO PARADISE                       B                     89
China  (93 mi)  1999

 

So Close to Paradise Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out ...  Tony Rayns

Shot in 1995 but shelved by its producers until it could pass the censors, this was Wang's first 'legal' film after two underground features, The Days and the pseudonymous Frozen. Two country hicks in Wuhan, the notoriously sleazy city on the Yangtze, get tangled up with karaoke bar hostess Ruan (Wang), advertised as being 'from Vietnam' (that is, sexually available), but actually the mistress of a local triad boss. The elder guy, Gao Ping (Guo), becomes her lover while trying to use her to get to a triad thug who has tricked him. Their doomed relationship is seen through the eyes of the other guy Dongzi (Shi), a 'shoulder pole' labourer in the docks, who delivers a typical Wang Xiaoshuai voice-over wryly looking back on these events from some point in the future. An accomplished piece of neo-urban realism with noir inflections, but it doesn't have the resonances of Wang's earlier films.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

Produced outside the official Chinese production system, Wang Xiaoshuai's last film, 1996's Frozen, was such a subversive statement about government oppression that the director credit reads "Wu Ming," a pseudonym that translates "Nobody." In spite of the censorship controversy that kept it on the shelf for three years, So Close To Paradise comes complete with a credit for Wang, but in this case, the pseudonym seems regrettably apropos. How better to describe a neo-noir so colorless and generic that its cigarette smoke is more expressive than its characters? The censors may be to blame for eviscerating the film, which was reportedly heavily re-edited before the approved version finally premièred for Chinese audiences in 1998. There are faint traces of political unrest in Wang's depiction of late-'80s Shanghai, if only because it houses all the expected noir elements, such as a thriving criminal underworld, shadowy nightspots, amoral heroes, and pervasive corruption. But it's hard to tease out the film's intentions when these same genre tropes are linked to so much empty navel-gazing. Introduced with a deft flip of a cigarette into his mouth, Guo Tao came to Shanghai as a migrant from the countryside, but he's since abandoned his roots and embraced the life of a petty criminal. He lives in a cramped apartment with Shi Yu, a young and mentally underpowered naïf who earns an honest living as a menial dock laborer. When another hoodlum steals a bag of Guo's money, Guo interrogates a Vietnamese cabaret singer (Wang Tong) who knows the perpetrator's whereabouts and eventually kidnaps her when she won't tell him. Literally faster than you can say "Stockholm Syndrome," the two fall in love, but her connections to the criminal underworld doom their relationship. A passive observer to the action, Shi provides the obligatory voiceover narration, but it adds little dimension to the characters and offers few clues about the odd father-son dynamic he shares with Guo. Trapped in a seedy juke joint mouthing karaoke to synth versions of Sade's "No Ordinary Love," the Vietnamese singer is by far the film's most interesting character, a potent exemplar of Wang's grim, deterministic vision. But even she's relegated to the usual femme-fatale paces, defined mostly by red lipstick, heavy backlighting, and seductive curls of smoke. A skeletal noir draped thinly with attitude and style, So Close To Paradise gives the impression that its heart may have been left on the cutting-room floor.

So Close to Paradise  David Walsh from The World Socialist Web Site

 

BeyondHollywood.com  Nix

 

So Close to Paradise | review  Rachel Gordon

 

So Close to Paradise : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video  J. Doyle Wallis

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 
BEIJING BICYCLE
China  Taiwan  France  (113 mi)  2001

 

East Asian Films at the 26th Toronto ... - Senses of Cinema  Shelly Kraicer from Senses of Cinema, November 20, 2001 (excerpt)

 

Two Chinese films at Toronto suggest that the terms "independent" and "underground", used in connection with Mainland Chinese cinema are beginning to blur in quite interesting and useful ways. Beijing Bicycle/Shiqisui de danche (Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001), for example, marks long-time underground/indie stalwart Wang Xiaoshuai's smooth entry into the mainstream (his previous feature, So Close To Paradise/Biandan guniang [1996/1999] tried to straddle the divide and disappeared into censorship limbo for years, as a result). Beijing Bicycle, a relatively tame tale about the struggles between two Beijing boys, one middle class, the other a poor economic migrant, shows a new polish, a new respectability, even a new caution. What is involved is a renegotiation of the balances previously operative in Wang's (and other sixth generation directors') "unapproved" work, so that personal idiosyncrasy, opacity, and a hard-edged critical realism accompanied by a certain stylistic grittiness have yielded to a greater emphasis on craft, audience comprehension, and understated engagement with social issues. What's more, Wang has crafted a film commodity that Western investors also found to be ready-to-consume: Beijing Bicycle was rewarded with a Sony Pictures Classics distribution deal.

 

Riding Towards the Future: Wang Xiaoshuai's ... - Senses of Cinema  Elizabeth Wright, December 29, 2001

The third instalment of the 2001 ‘Silk Screen’ Collection, Wang Xiaoshuai’s Beijing Bicycle (2001), is an ode to the bicycle that has readily become a symbol of mainland China. Set in contemporary Beijing, the film traces the fortunes and misfortunes of two seventeen-year-old males, one from the city and one from the countryside. It opens with the arrival of Guei (Cui Lin) to the city of Beijing where he has secured himself employment as a courier. As Guei and the recruit of young employees stand in a uniform line, neatly dressed in their homogenous new attire, their assertive superior informs them that once they have earned six hundred yuan (based upon earnings of ten yuan per trip), they will be eligible to own the shiny silver mountain bike that they will use for deliveries. Thus, Guei advances upon the long and arduous road to success and the ownership of the mountain bike. However, just when he earns enough to complete the final payment on his now beloved set of wheels, the bike is stolen. Despite the overwhelming number of bicycles in Beijing, Guei’s determination to reclaim his (almost) prized possession leads him to Jian (Li Bin) who claims he purchased the mountain bike at the flea market. Consequently, the two protagonists are forced to engage in a struggle of strength (brute force carried out by Jian’s gang of friends) and willpower and resolve (as exhibited by Guei) to win the bike, a conflict that must eventually result in compromise.

The juxtaposition of Guei and Jian, and in particular their contrasting relation to the bicycle, highlights their differences in social standing and status. Guei is a humble migrant who has travelled to the city with dreams of gaining stability and a regular income. He finds himself struggling to survive in a foreign and chaotic environment in which traditional architecture and customs collide with an industrious and materialistic outlook. Alternatively, Jian comes from a hard-working and upwardly motivated city family who are concerned with providing Jian and his sister with a good education. Jian attends a co-educational school and joins his friends at video game outlets for after school entertainment. He is not extremely wealthy but as an urban dweller he enjoys an education, which is enough to clearly set him apart from Guei. Significantly, not only do Guei and Jian originate from very different backgrounds but the bicycle represents something very different and very unique to each of them. The mountain bike grants Jian status amongst his peers and impresses his girlfriend, Qin (Zhou Xun). He relishes the popularity, honour and independence that it provides, and is therefore unwilling to relinquish such an object. At the other extreme, Guei’s relation to the bike is one of practical need: he is reliant upon it for his new employment. But et this is not Guei’s only reason for needing the bike. Just as it represents status and pride to Jian, so it does for Guei. It symbolises his participation and success in the city of Beijing and makes him less of an outsider. In addition, ownership of the bike signifies Guei’s possession of a material object and partly meets his avid desire to attain material possessions in the fast-paced metropolis. The bike assists in shaping both Guei and Jian’s identity and is therefore a precious commodity for each.

Wang explores the changing dynamics of contemporary Beijing life through examining the experiences and needs of two young males from very different social backgrounds. In the first part of the film, the viewer witnesses Guei’s acclimatisation to his new environment as the camera documents the various problems he encounters whilst delivering packages and engaging in city life. Beijing is depicted as an urban metropolis, comprising McDonalds restaurants, modern high-rise buildings and traditional Chinese architecture. The streets are chaotic with cars and bicycles vying for position on the road and Guei must negotiate his way through the terrain of everyday activity. Significantly, Wang does not characterise Guei’s naiveté as a product of stupidity or mediocrity. Guei’s silence when he is confronted by new or unknown conduct (such as the bathhouse scene) simply acknowledges his difference and wonderment at the city. Wang’s subtle engagement with social issues via his protagonists illuminates the changing face of Beijing. Unlike his 1993 film, The Days that was blacklisted by the China Film Bureau and his other films such as A Vietnamese Girl (later titled So Close to Paradise, [1995]) that had difficulties passing the censors, Beijing Bicycle provides a more simple and understated exposition of the Chinese urban lifestyle. Nevertheless, Wang adroitly examines the experiences that the modernisation of China has generated for many of its citizens. Jian provides an apt example of a modern Chinese teenager who is trapped in an oscillating space between his submergence within popular culture and his appreciation of consumerism, and his connection to tradition via his family. Jian rejects his father’s values and traditions when he steals the family’s savings to purchase the mountain bike. His father’s enraged reaction is part anger and part disbelief that his son lacks any filial duty or obedience.

A very special component of Beijing Bicycle is Wang’s evocation of Beijing’s lanes and ancient alleys known as hutongs. Many were built during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Traditionally, thousands of lanes, alleys and quadrangles became residential areas for the people living in the capital. In the burgeoning metropolis that is contemporary Beijing, these alleys and laneways occupy approximately one third of the city and still exist as dwellings for many Chinese city residents (despite their ‘disappearing’ status and gradual replacement by high-rise buildings). Beijing Bicycle contains some artful chase scenes throughout these ancient lanes and alleys. And Wang’s penchant for the cobbled lane ways and alleys alludes to the fact that Beijing is both an ancient and modern city. He highlights the degree of this difference within the city, which is partly what makes Beijing such a fascinating destination. The visual crossover between hutongs and modern high-rise architecture throughout the film is also symbolic of the bicycle, which has been forced to address an old versus new dichotomy. Traditionally, the purchase of a new bicycle was an important decision involving the entire family. Jian’s family still retain this belief and consider the bicycle an important family asset. Jian’s rejection of this attitude is indicative of his generation’s growing exposure to materialism and popular culture. However, Wang does not reduce Jian’s motivations simply to the selfishness of the younger generation but attempts to sympathise with Jian via his father’s empty promises of a bike. Inevitably, the bicycle’s status throughout Chinese history means that it takes on new dimensions in the contemporary setting. The inclusion of cars and public transport has assisted in changing the bicycle’s pertinence and glory. It is no longer the only form of transportation available to residents and therefore not the feted possession it once was. Nevertheless, the bicycle is still a crucial mode of transportation within Beijing, even if it is no longer the object to which most individuals aspire to own.

Wang’s exploration of a city divided between modernity and tradition is effective without offering jarring juxtapositions of old versus new. The camera’s smooth transition between different parts (old and new) of Beijing reflects the city’s interchangeable flavour. In the beginning, Guei and Jian appear very different individuals, but their love and desire for the bicycle (and what it represents) ultimately brings them together. Wang does not delve into the personal lives and motivations of the characters but focuses on the effect of their social environment and their place within this sphere. He depicts the new face of Beijing’s youth through Jian and alludes to the disillusion of immigrants from the country, such as Guei, who are strongly influenced by the allure of glamour and material wealth that the city offers. A secondary plot in which Guei and his only city friend observe an attractive young woman from afar, under the impression that she is an extremely wealthy city dweller exemplifies this notion. Later, they find that she was in fact a maid who liked to dress up in her employer’s clothes whilst left alone. Guei and his friend’s misconception of the woman’s social status is an obvious indictment on the beguiling nature of surface images and material possessions. Wang takes every opportunity to highlight the negative aspects of city life and comment on the remoteness of urban dwellers.

Beijing Bicycle marks his transition from a cinema of social realism to a more commercial realm. This less critical approach may not push the same boundaries as his other films, yet Beijing Bicycle still retains a preoccupation with relevant social issues. Wang’s ode to the Beijing bicycle is nostalgic (via his concentration on Beijing’s hutongs) without being overly sentimental. He willingly embraces the future and recognises the problems associated with change and a newly consumer oriented society. Ultimately, Beijing Bicycle proves an enjoyable film that oscillates between social melodrama and popular entertainment. Wang is a thoughtful and resourceful filmmaker that makes ample use of his chosen setting. Furthermore, the thematic concerns that emerge from this environment and the iconic bicycle are successfully intertwined with the protagonist’s personal motivations.

Wang’s Beijing Bicycle, which was winner of the Berlin Film Festival Silver Bears Award, is also a component of producers Peggy Chiao and Hsu Hsaio-ming’s ‘Tales of Three Cities’ series. Consisting of six films set in mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, the series is designed to offer glimpses into the different urban Chinese social and political environments. Similar in theme to Vittorio De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief (1948), Sixth Generation Chinese filmmaker Wang’s rendition of the stolen bicycle premise is uncomplicated yet compelling and stirring. Wang effectively aligns the bicycle with certain experiences and stages in Guei and Jian’s life, such as the blossoming love for a girl and the gaining of independence and self-sufficiency. Beijing Bicycle offers a meditation on a contemporary Chinese city but is also an ode to the bicycle that is an integral component of Beijing life. The millions of bicycles that traverse the city today are testament to the significance and longevity of the bicycle. Wang does not offer a prognosis on the future of two wheeling Beijing but depicts the current bicycle climate. Indeed, it appears the bicycle will remain a symbol of Beijing and mainland China for generations to come.

SHANGHAI DREAMS
China  (123 mi)  2005

 

Cannes film festival: Reviews roundup | Film | The Guardian Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from the Guardian, May 18, 2005

Nothing could be more different than Shanghai Dreams by Chinese writer-director Wang Xiaoshuai, who made the genial Beijing Bicycle. This is much more austere: a semi-autobiographical study of the way families were uprooted from their homes in the cities and forcibly relocated to the countryside in the 1960s. After 10 years of desperate unhappiness and homesickness, one man plots to move back, despite the fact that his wife has settled in perfectly well and his daughter has fallen in love with a local boy. Wang's movie upends the usual cliches about the younger generation yearning for the bright lights of the big city and the film has a granite severity and sombre force.

Shanghai Dreams [Qinghong]  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

There's a sequence about one-third of the way through Shanghai Dreams in which 19-year-old Qinghong (Gao Yuanyuan) hears her would-be suitor Honggen (Li Bin) playing harmonica in the distance. This sequence begins with a close-up on Qinghong walking outside her home as we hear the music, and the camera slowly pans out to the street where we see Honggen hanging out with Qinghong's little brother and playing his serenade. It's clear from the design of this brief passage that Wang intends for the audience to mistakenly assume the music is non-diegetic. We're then supposed to be surprised when we see Honggen, its diegetic source. Only there's a problem. Honggen's harmonica playing is only slightly less accomplished than Stevie Wonder's, and his "spontaneous" tune is a professionally composed theme. I've addressed this minor element in Shanghai Dreams at some length because in some ways it exemplifies my problems with Wang's directorial style. There's no question that by any reasonable measure, Shanghai Dreams is a highly accomplished piece of cinema. But there is a stylistic schizophrenia just below its surface. Shanghai Dreams adopts the master-shot approach, although Wang articulates these long shots with more traditional decoupage. His use of landscape, the darkened alleyways between homes, or the use of a single outdoor light source to organize space and architecture within the frame, all serve to lend the film a deeply etched sense of place, and Wang's use of deep focus gives these images a heightened solidity. His deliberate pacing only enhances this effect. But at the same time, Wang seems oddly beholden to classical narrative forms. What starts out as a quiet observational piece eventually swerves into melodrama. There's something unconvincing about the way Wang accomplishes this, and I think it has a lot to do with his handling of incident. Where do the major third-act complications come from? How do they arise? Like the secret factory workers' ball (with Travolta-esque disco dancing to Boney M), these disruptive events seem to be dropped in from some other, less rigorous movie. This leads me to wonder whether Wang is underestimating his audience, or perhaps overestimating the value of making "stuff happen" in films. Beijing Bicycle (the last film of Wang's I saw) sidestepped this problem by reducing action to its most basic. Here, I detect an attempt to go epic, and it ends up hobbling Shanghai Dreams' most accomplished aspects.

 

Shanghai Dreams | Review | Screen  Dan Fainaru in Cannes from Screendaily

Once a rebel now working in the mainstream, Wang Xiaoshuai draws on his own reminiscences as an adolescent for Cannes competition entry Shanghai Dreams.

Wang’s family was relocated from Shanghai to the poor, mountainous province of Guiyang, all part of the Chinese authorities’ decision to install fortified industrial cities near the border with the Soviet Union, just in case the differences of opinion might erupt into more than diplomatic skirmishes.

Wang translates this experience into the coming-of-age story of Qinghong, the daughter of a displaced family, to show how Shanghai’s displaced despaired of returning home after 10 years in the boondocks, where they are in constant confrontation with the locals whom they hold to be inferior.

Though the plot’s personal aspect is only too familiar and easily adaptable to any geographical location, the social context adds a new facet to the filmed history of modern China.

However, the whole package is tied together rather slackly, making it more of a trip down memory lane than a distinct dramatic statement. Festivals may not mind, but distributors should consider some serious tightening of loose ends necessary before it ventures into commercial distribution.

Qinghong (Gao Yuanyuan), though a serious and hard working 19-year-old, is constantly goaded by her tyrannical father (Yan Anlian) to invest every moment of her day into preparing for university. Such an option, he believes, is the only way in which she can prepare for the big city, to which she eventually has to return.

For his part her father still resents how his wife (Tang Yang) persuaded him to leave Shanghai and accept work in a relocated factory for what was meant to be brief respite - but which turned into an indefinite stay.

As a result he never stops terrorising his family, regularly – and unsuccessfully - pestering his superiors for permission to return home, seeking hope in rumours of political change and plotting with friends.

But Qinghong, whether her father likes it or not, is at an age when she can not be indifferent to the low key advances of factory hand (Li Bin), who offers her a pair of shining high heeled red shoes. Nor can she resist the temptation to join her friend Xiao Zhen (Wang Xueyang) for some timid partying, where one of the "cool" guys (Qin Hao) launches into a close dancing parody of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.

When Xiao Zhen's affair with the dancer goes too far, and Qinghong's rejection of her suitor is received badly, events spiral out of control and lead towards a rather forced and melodramatic climax.

Wang Xiaoshuai draws several parallels throughout Shanghai Dreams. There is the generational confrontation between daughter and father, contrasted with the exasperation of parents who see hopes of repatriation being constantly thwarted.

On a wider scale there is also the parallel process of disciplinary relaxation in the country itself. Parents gradually lose their iron grip on their children and the government closes its eyes to the temporary insubordination of one family who break the rules in the final sequence.

But the film’s final shot resounds to the crack of a firing squad, executing prisoners. The rules of the game have not changed that much after all.

Told at a leisurely, unhurried pace, Wang's elegy works better as an album of souvenirs, lavishing attention on many of the details he knew personally and that were specific to that period, from morning callisthenics to strict codes of dressing. It all offers a pertinent image of communal life that successfully contrasts with private aspirations.

Once he resorts to the personal stories of Qinghong, her family and her friend, however, the piece loses some of its interest and originality.

Though Gao Yuanyuan, as Qinghong, is blessed with a handsome film presence, her bland performance fails to imply the depth of her crisis. Yan Anlian, as her angry father, and Tang Yang, as her long suffering mother, have a much better grip on their roles, with Wang Xueyang, as the vivacious friend, the most memorable of all.

Spotlight | Shanghai Dreams  Shanghai Dreams, by Jason Anderson from Cinema Scope, also seen here:  by Jason Anderson   (link lost)

The parallels between Jia Zhangke’s The World (2004) and Wang Xiaoshuai’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning Shanghai Dreams are patent, and not only because Wang memorably appeared as a sleazy, karaoke-loving businessman in Jia’s latest. Both movies seem to reflect the loosening of the government restrictions that have hampered Sixth Generation filmmakers—this marks the first time the Film Bureau has given Wang free rein, his previous aboveground features So Close to Paradise (1998) and Beijing Bicycle (2001) having provoked censorship battles—and the adopting of more polished, arguably more conventional approaches by the filmmakers themselves.

Whereas in The World Jia amplified his visual panache and tightened up his narrative skills, Wang leaves behind the mixed-up youngsters of Frozen (1996) and Drifters (2003) in order to make a stately stab at family melodrama. Though not as audacious as Jia’s films, Shanghai Dreams is remarkable not only for its precision and slow-building emotional power, but the way it extends its teenaged characters’ feelings of confusion and hopelessness to the community around them. As is so often the case in a Sixth Generation movie, the kids aren’t all right. Yet their middle-aged parents are no better equipped to handle the crises depicted here.

In the mid-60s, the Chinese government formed a “Third Line of Defense” against potential Soviet incursions by relocating urban factory workers inland. Like Wang’s own family, his film’s central characters were sent from Shanghai to a backwater town in the rural province of Guizhou . Two decades later, the death of Mao and the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping raised these families’ hopes that they could return. In the intervening years, the film’s patriarch, Wu Zemin (played by Yan Anlian in a wrenching performance), has grown embittered and argumentative. Convinced that their stay was always meant to be temporary, he has never allowed his family to consider Guizhou their home.

Naturally, his teenaged daughter, Wu Qinghong (Gao Yuanyuan), is more uncertain about her proper place. Badgered by her father to study hard so that she can go away to university, she feels the pull to create some kind of life for herself there. Even so, she has broken off a relationship with a local boy to appease Wu Zemin. Qinghong’s best friend Xiao Zhen (Wang Xueyang) is more brazen about defying the older generation, wondering, “What’s so great about Shanghai ?” Unbeknownst to her own transplanted parents (who are far less strict than Wu Zemin), she has a romance with Lu Jun (Qin Hao), a would-be tough who favours the era’s provincial-Chinese-badass look: wide-collared shirts, big sunglasses, and plaid bellbottoms. The scene in which the ghetto-fabulous Lu Jun makes like Travolta to Boney M’s “Gotta Go Home” during a clandestine dance party is the cheeriest moment in a movie otherwise dominated by rainy gloom.

Yet Shanghai Dreams is more eventful than Drifters, Wang’s previous feature about young people torn between two places (there, the contemporary story of a man who returns to China after being deported from the US ). One reason for that is Wang is more interested in the fates of the families rather than the individuals. Though much of the first hour is devoted to Qinghong and Xiao Zhen, Wu Zemin eventually emerges as the most fascinating character and the film’s most deeply tragic figure. He begins as a stern taskmaster, but as a potential move to Shanghai coincides with unforeseen tragedy, this persona slips away to reveal his own feelings of fear and desperation. Since he’s worked so hard to protect his daughter, it’s deeply affecting to see him realize that he’s failed her.

This fraught father-daughter dynamic has always been a potent engine for melodrama. No wonder Shanghai Dreams’ final scenes are reminiscent of those moments in Visconti’s movies when neo-realism gives way to bold operatic grandeur (the whiff of Rigoletto is hard to miss). Until then, Wang plays it relatively subtle—his patient, nuanced evocation of the mundanity and sudden revelations that define teenage existence recalls Edward Yang’s A Brighter Summer Day (1991). There’s arguably a link to Jia’s Platform (2000), too, but Shanghai Dreams is more boldly emotional than any of Jia’s cooler-tempered films. Though some may castigate Wang for his tearjerking tendencies, he creates a satisfying balance of melodrama and stylistic austerity. With Shanghai Dreams, Wang clearly allowed himself to dream a little bigger. Unlike that of the family he portrays, one modelled after his own, Wang’s fate is far from disastrous.

Shanghai Dreams | Film | The Guardian  Xan Brooks

 

CHONGQING BLUES

China (110 mi)  2010

 

Chongqing Blues (Rizhao Chongqing)  Lee Marshall at Cannes

Not so much a whodunnit as a whathappened, the tenth feature by mainland Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle Shanghai Dreams) traces an absent father’s attempt to discover the circumstances behind the police shooting of a son he abandoned fifteen years previously.

A strong performance by Wang Xueqi as the father provides emotional ballast but fails to make up for the glacial pacing of the drama; and although there are some effective emotional tugs and an evocative use of the film’s dirty industrial city setting, the audience’s investment in the slowbuild structure is never paid back in full.

Wang’s films are virtually invisible in China, and while there is little except its portrayal of disaffected youth to trouble the censors in Chongqing Blues, its resolutely arthouse target means it is unlikely to be an exception. Elsewhere in the world continued festival action is likely after the film’s Cannes competition berth, and theatrically it may just add a territory or two to the pair (France and Greece) notched up by the director’s previous, the high-concept but low-tension leukaemia drama In Love We Trust.

Chongqing is a big, ugly river-port city in Sichuan province. Dop Wu Di’s atmospheric camerawork presents it as a reticent, unromantic place, offering grey skies and walls of dirty concrete (in the city) or rusting metal (in the shipyards) to the inquiring eye.

And reticence, not to say downright hostility, is what weathered ship’s captain Lin Quanhai (Wang Xueqi) encounters at every turn as he tries to find out what happened to his 25-year-old son Lin Bo (Zi Yi), news of whose death reached him six months after the fact, on his return from a long sea voyage.

His former wife Yuying (Li Lingyu) refuses to let him in, but from some old newspapers she throws at him, Quanhai discovers that Bo was shot by police after stabbing two people in a supermarket and taking a woman doctor (Li Feier) hostage.

Bo’s best friend, Xiao Hao (Qin Hao) initially refuses to tell Quanhai anything, but agrees to enlarge and print the only photo the father can find of his dead son - a still from the CCTV camera footage of the supermarket incident. There’s a poignancy here as Quanhai contemplates the blurred and pixellated face of the 25-year-old Bo, who he last saw when he was 10; the not-so-hidden subtext is that the father’s investigation is actually an attempt to build some kind of rapport with a son he never knew, and assuage the demons of guilt.

But although all this is there for the reading in the twitches of Wang Xuegi’s impassive face the director never quite seems confident that we’ve got the message, repeatedly flogging the delicacy out of the pixellated-portrait metaphor.

And although some of the meetings the stubborn father forces on friends and witnesses in the course of his quest are affecting, they also have a plodding inevitability about them: it comes as something of a relief to finally meet the policeman who shot the fatal bullet after ticking off the supermarket guard, the girl who was stabbed, the doctor who was taken hostage and the girlfriend whose dumping of Bo triggered his cry for help.

Emotionally, the film is no less linear, moving from tight-lipped closure to something very close to sentimentality (underlined by sparse string melodies that become more insistent and weepy towards the end) as the father discovers that his lost son was obsessed with him, and the sea.

As a film about fathers and sons, Chongqing Blues has some resonance. The film is also chock-full of images of passage and change: the river that flows down to the sea where two key scenes are set; the rusty cable car that connects port and town; shopping mall escalators, monorails, motorway ramps and bridges: all connect with the constant movement that is Quanhai’s career, and also, until he begins questioning it, his life strategy. But the slight, mushy story, and the overly pretty actors cast in the three main youth roles, are not really up to the task of carrying what would otherwise be a stimulating symbolic load.

Cannes Film Festival 2010: Day Two  Matt Noller from The House Next Door, May 14, 2010

Wargnier, Régis
 
INDOCHINE

France  (159 mi)  1992

 

Time Out review

 

Before Vietnam, there was Indochina; before the Americans, the French. The languorous first half of Wargnier's epic historical romance is pretty much as you'd expect: plantation-owner Deneuve in impeccably starched jodhpurs, coolies in their place, civilisation transplanted to a hothouse. She begins a passionate affair with a young naval officer (Perez), but he falls in love with her adopted Vietnamese daughter (Linh Dan Pham). When he is sent to a remote outpost on the Gulf of Tonkin, the girl takes after him. And Wargnier follows. Midway through, having involved us so deeply in colonial enterprise, he abruptly cuts our cultural ties and plunges into sweeping revolutionary myth: the lovers go on the run, the girl discovers her people, their struggle, what her role must be. If Bertolucci tried his hand at a mini-series, it would probably look something like this. The allegorical intimations may not be entirely credible, given the piece's lush romanticism; it's rather enervatingly composed; and the pacing could certainly be tighter. But such grand old-fashioned melodrama is almost as exotic as the stunning Vietnamese landscape; it's easy to be seduced by it.

 

Washington Post (Rita Kempley) review

A lethargic opium dream of colonial Vietnam, "Indochine" looks back on French imperialism with a dramatically deadening spiritual fatigue. But, unlike similarly sprawling British mea culpas, this movie makes no apologies for those who usurp a country's culture. The world-weary protagonists of this historical melodrama don't see themselves as oppressing the Indochinese, but as nurturing them on the cream of European civilization.

This presumptuous if not altogether indefensible notion is spelled out in the tight relationship between Eliane (Catherine Deneuve), a rubber-plantation owner, and Camille (Linh Dan Pham), her adopted Indochinese daughter. An Annam princess educated in French schools, Camille breaks the tie when she and her beloved mother become rivals for the love of a fickle young naval officer, Jean-Baptiste (Vincent Perez).

Thinking she is doing what's best for her daughter, Eliane arranges to have Jean-Baptiste reassigned to the remote and scenic Tonkin Islands. But Eliane has underestimated Camille, who flees the comfort and privilege of Saigon to find the man she loves. During her hazardous journey, Camille discovers a new passion for her homeland and her people. And when finally reunited with Jean-Baptiste, she is well on her way to becoming a revolutionary.

Her transformation from Mademoiselle Butterfly to Communist leader becomes complete when she is torn from her lover and their infant son and thrown into prison for crimes against the state. The trouble is we never see the fragile teenager undergo this surprising metamorphosis. Director Regis Wargnier seems far more interested in what the white folks are doing back on the plantation. As with other potentially enlivening events, we hear about it from the coolly aristocratic Eliane. A form of cinematic colonialism, "Indochine" commits dramatic suicide by Eurocentrism.

Clearly Wargnier, who also co-wrote the script, has a fondness for extended metaphors, preferring intellectual artifice over character development. None of his characters is particularly complex or consistent, but Jean-Baptiste is virtually put out to stud as a sexual cynic turned romance-novel-cover boy overnight. Perhaps it was the MSG that tenderized this beefcake. Deneuve's Eliane is more interesting, but she is, after all, playing France.

Wargnier, who learned his craft at the elbow of Claude Chabrol, does expose the geographic splendors of Southeast Asia as well as the common sense of its people, whose sly observations lend "Indochine" both energy and levity. Madame Tam (Thi Hoe Tranh Huu Trieu), a businesswoman whose son is engaged to Camille, speaks for all of us when she hears of the girl's interest in her mother's paramour. "I'll never understand French people's love stories, they're nothing but folly and suffering." Our beret's off to Madame Tam.

THE LOVER and RETURN TO INDOCHINE  Returning to Indochina, by Sylvie Blum from Jump Cut, May 1997

 

Dragan Antulov retrospective [4/10]

 

Nick's Flick Picks (Nick Davis) review [C]

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Ross Johnson) dvd review

 

DVD Talk (Chuck Arrington) dvd review [2/5]

 

DVD Review e-zine dvd recommendation  Guido Henkel

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Frank R.A.J. Maloney review

 

Pedro Sena retrospective [4.5/5]

 

Variety (Lee Lourdeaux) review

 

Austin Chronicle (Pamela Bruce) review [3/5]

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [2.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Vincent Canby) review

 

EAST-WEST (Est-Ouest)                                      A-                    93

France  Russia  Ukraine  Bulgaria  Spain  (124 mi)  1999
 

The second half of the 20th century saw unprecedented horror from the Nazi propagated Holocaust during World War II, one of the worst atrocities in history by attempting to eradicate an entire people on racial grounds, systematically singling out only Jewish people to exterminate.  But most historians agree that Josef Stalin likely killed more people than Hitler, where tens of millions were sent to the endless wastes of the Siberian Gulag.  But even Stalin doesn’t hold the distinction of being the most genocidal leader of the 20th century, as that would be Mao Zedong of China, who is thought to be responsible for the deaths of over 40 million people, most attributable to famine, forced labor, starvation, and execution.  Having said that, what’s unique to this film is tackling a subject rarely dealt with in the history books, namely the fate of thousands of Russians who fled the Soviet Union after the Russian Revolution, who were lured back in the summer of 1946 by Stalin’s offer of an amnesty where they were supposedly needed in the reconstruction of a nation decimated by war.  Returning émigrés Alexei (Oleg Menchikov), a Russian trained doctor who had been living in France decides to return to help his homeland accompanied by his French wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) and their 7-year old son.  Far from the glorious return to a welcoming country they expected, they were instead greeted by a harsh military force and separated into two lines, death or imprisonment, where most were executed as “imperialist spies.”  Only the professionals, whose skills are needed, are allowed to remain alive, where the Soviets are suspicious of all these new arrivals, treating them with open suspicion and hostility, stripping Marie of her French passport, where their activities are carefully monitored by the KGB and local communist citizens who threaten at any time to turn them in to authorities.  Wargnier, a French screenwriter and filmmaker, Louis Gardel, a French novelist and screenwriter born in Algiers, Sergei Bodrov, a Russian screenwriter and director (who son plays a major role in the film), and Rustam Ibragimbekov, a Russian, Azerbaijani screenwriter and playwright, go to considerable lengths to recreate the realities for ordinary people in the post-war Stalinist system. 

 

Told with a Spielberg, Hollywood epic sweep, France's entry for this year's Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film, you’d think this would fall into the melodramatic, over-the-top category, seemingly modeled on the war-time romance of DR. ZHIVAGO (1965), and while there are a bit too many Russians who also conveniently happen to speak French, the romance is actually submerged into the historical reality, as the film doesn’t overplay the emotions and takes a surprising interest in the individual lives affected and in developing character, where the acting throughout is superb, as is the production design, where the choice of locations can be stunning, contrasting the immense grandiosity of the architecture in the spacious government buildings against the tiny, claustrophobic rooms allotted to citizens.  Shot on location in Kiev, in the Ukraine, and Sofia, Bulgaria, the director captures a real sense of desperation and futility, where the bleakness of this family’s trapped existence is really no different than that of other ordinary citizens, as all suffer during Stalin’s reign.  Transported to Kiev, Alexei is employed as a medical officer in a large textile factory, where everyday existence in the Soviet Union is permeated with the presence of the secret police, in particular the heightened xenophobia that runs rampant from ordinary citizens to the ruling apparatus, where everyone falls under suspicion.  The family is consigned to a small, cramped room in a squalid communal house of drunken unemployed men, where one of the lodgers possesses keys to all the mail boxes and has the task of checking everyone’s letters on a regular basis.  Marie is horrified and immediately vows to find a way back to France, but without a passport, they are trapped behind the Iron Curtain and imprisoned to involuntary servitude, where she is contemptuously treated like a foreign spy, and the only reason they remain alive is Alexei’s considerable medical skills.  When the elderly Russian landlady of the house is caught singing a French song with Marie, she is rounded up by the KGB agents and imprisoned for consorting with a foreign spy, dying shortly afterwards, where her son Sasha (Sergei Bodrov Jr.) is about be thrown out into the streets.  Without a word of discussion, Marie insists they can make room for him, where Sasha becomes like an older brother to their own son, but Alexei is disturbed by the continual lack of privacy at home and how he’s continually hounded at work to prove his Soviet credibility. 

 

The film consistently supports multiple storylines that occasionally interconnect, extended through time, given a near historic reach, where a traveling French theatrical troupe happens to be visiting Kiev and Marie desperately bursts into the dressing room of the star, Catherine Deneuve as Gabrielle Develay, known for her leftist political leanings, and hands her a letter to give to the French Consulate in France, an act Gabrielle can’t ignore.  With the KGB agents literally at her door, this turns into a tricky situation, as it puts Marie’s husband in a vulnerable position, as he can’t afford to offend the Communist regime.  He’s fraught with his own personal travails, as due to his wife’s inattention, he sleeps with the Soviet landlady in the building, immediately kicked out by Marie, so instead he moves in across the hall with his mistress,  When the Communists hear about this, it all sounds so French to them, urging him to divorce his wife and receive a large apartment as compensation.  Sasha figures into his own storyline, as he’s a world class swimmer that falls for Marie, dropped from the swim team due to his lethargy after his grandmother’s death, where Marie revives his training regimen swimming in the Dnieper River, where he rubs his body with lard to protect him from the cold.  Eventually he is welcomed back to the team where his skills may allow him to defect to the West, and perhaps free Marie from France.  The splendid cinematography from Laurent Dailland is impressive, while the soundtrack by Patrick Doyle is equally enthralling at times, powerful and dramatic, feeling much like a rhapsodic Rachmaninov piano concerto, where the intensity rises at times to the level of a thriller.  As the film leaps forward in large blocks of time, their initial hopes are continually thwarted and slowly dissipate, while their weary lives seem to move at a glacier pace, where the bleakness of the Stalinist state retains the upper hand, where it’s in the Russian blood to endure hardships, characterized by long suffering.  Except for a few brief scenes, the film unwinds entirely in the Soviet Union, advancing into an era when Stalin actually increased his nationalist fervor, including his anti-Semitic belligerence by rounding up the remaining Jews and sending them to Gulags, while also renewing show trials, intensifying the purges, pogroms, mass enslavement, and murder.  Yet throughout it all, this is an emotionally compelling story of would-be survivors with differing cultural instincts in play, where Alexei and Marie are two extremely resourceful and complex individuals whose enduring relationship evolves into larger-than-life feelings, where the Soviet Army Choir echoes thunderously throughout the journey.  

 

East-West | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes ... - Time Out

In 1946 Russian emigrants flock back to the USSR, answering Stalin's invitation to help rebuild the ravaged motherland. Docking at Odessa, Dr Alexei (Menchikov) and his French wife Marie (Bonnaire) find, however, that many fellow returnees are sent to labour camps. Alexei's professional status wins the couple and their son a room in a Kiev apartment, but as the grimness of their new lives sinks in, the confiscation of their passports makes return to the West an apparent impossibility. Then a chance encounter with a touring French actress (Deneuve) offers a chink of hope. After the colonial gloss of Indochine and Une Femme Française, it's a surprise to find director Wargnier shivering under the grey skies of the former Soviet Union; but with this tale of love and betrayal offset by a dark political backdrop, accompanied by Patrick Doyle's grandiose score, it's evident he's taking Doctor Zhivago as his new model. If you expect a credible historical drama, this falls short, but as an old-fashioned Hollywood wallow it works rather well.

BFI | Sight & Sound | East-West (1999)  Michael Witt from Sight and Sound, December 2000              

The USSR, 1946. Responding to Stalin's attempts to lure back Russian emigrants to their homeland, young doctor Alexeï Golovin, his French wife Marie and their son Sérioja arrive in Odessa from France. Many of their fellow returnees are tortured, executed or deported to forced labour camps. Alexeï is allocated a room in a communal apartment in Kiev and made responsible for the health of the workforce in a local factory. He considers any form of resistance dangerous, while Marie remains fixated on escape. At a performance given by a visiting French theatre troupe, Alexeï is paraded by the authorities as a returnee from the west who has turned into a model Soviet citizen. Marie tells celebrated actress Gabrielle Develay of her unhappiness.

The family drifts apart: Alexeï embarks on an affair and Marie takes a lover, teenager Sacha. Implicated in Sacha's escape to the west, Marie is sent to the Gulag. After Stalin's death six years later, she is released. A further two years on, Alexeï and Gabrielle orchestrate Marie and Sérioja's escape to the west via the French embassy in Bulgaria. Alexeï is sent to a labour camp to work as a doctor. He has to wait until the dawn of the Gorbachev era 30 years later before rejoining his family in France.

Review

Following the only modest success of his 1994 study of an army marriage Une femme française, director Régis Wargnier returns in East-West to the slick wide-angle historical melodrama of his earlier hugely popular Indochine (1991). In East-West he sets himself the daunting task of grappling with four decades of Soviet history and east-west relations through the vehicle of a simple love story. At the heart of the film is the relationship between Oleg Menchikov's Russian doctor Alexeï, who settles in the USSR just after World War II, and his French wife Marie, the superb Sandrine Bonnaire here making a rare but welcome foray into mainstream cinema.

Wargnier is at his most comfortable exploring marital love in its various guises: young passion, physical desire, the onset of antagonism and a mature sense of mutual support and self-sacrifice. The pent-up energy and erotic charge of the human body (in particular, the muscular physique of Sacha, the young swimming champion with whom Marie has an affair) provide a counterpoint to the monotony of the Soviet regime, conveyed by the blue-grey hue that pervades the imagery. Wargnier uses water motifs in a similar way: a constant reminder of loss and separation (Marie and Alexeï arrive in the USSR by boat from France), the swimming scenes at the pool and lake offer visual relief from the drab Kiev backdrop and cumulative sense of claustrophobia and surveillance in the couple's cramped apartment. This symbolic treatment of water and of the human body culminates in the beautifully shot and edited central escape sequence in which Sacha braves the dangerous seas in his bid for freedom.

East-West is pitched unashamedly as a broad-brushstroke historical melodrama. But the historical part of the equation is underdeveloped. Wargnier pays lip service to key dates and introduces a sprinkling of stock figures from Cold War mythology, but these aren't enough to provide any credible sense of the reality of daily life in the USSR in the late 40s. The Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian cast members lend a superficial air of authenticity to the film's unabashedly cartoonish sensibility (Alexeï doesn't work in any old factory; he works in one which produces red flags!). But it doesn't help that Wargnier recycles familiar images of heel-clicking leather-coated KGB baddies shouting "don't let them escape".

Wargnier's attempt to portray this relatively uncharted slice of recent history is, of course, inherently presumptuous; but faced with the task, his film is low on humility. It deploys stylistic grandiosity - as in the irritating recurrent use of unmotivated slow camera tracks - that speaks more of an aimless and distasteful display of manufactured gravitas than of a sensitive approach to historical realities.

ReelViews [James Berardinelli]

It is an established historical fact that, although Adolf Hitler was the most infamous mass-murderer of the 20th century, he may not have been the most prolific. By many accounts, that title belongs to Josef Stalin. The only real differences between the two is that Stalin did not target one particular religious or ethnic group (he was an equal opportunity killer) and his activities were done behind the Iron Curtain, hidden from the eyes of the rest of the world. Yet the more one studies the magnitude of the human rights atrocities committed under Stalin, the more horrified one becomes.

Following the end of World War II, the Soviet Union "welcomed home" anyone who had previously fled their borders. For most who accepted this offer, death or imprisonment awaited. Many of those returning were executed as "imperialist spies." Only the intellectuals, whose skills were needed, were allowed to remain alive, but their activities were carefully monitored and their families were used as collateral to ensure their good behavior. This is the climate of East-West, director Regis Wargnier's dramatic thriller about life in the Soviet Union for a trapped French woman.

Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) is happily married to Alexei (Oleg Menshikov), a Russian immigrant to France. They have a seven-year old son, Seryozha (Ruben Tupiero). When the USSR announces that it is welcoming back all Russian-born citizens and Alexei wants to go, Marie agrees to accompany him, with the understanding that if things don't work, they'll return to Paris. So the three of them board a ship bound for Odessa. When they arrive, they stumble into a nightmare. Alexei is allowed to live because he's a doctor - a profession whose practitioners the Soviet Union is in desperate need of - but almost everyone else on the boat is killed. Marie, Alexei, and Seryozha are given a small, cramped apartment to live in. But, while Alexei gradually adapts to circumstances, Marie plots ways to escape the East. Her best chance comes through Sacha (Sergei Bodrov Jr.), a young swimmer who falls for her and whose skills may allow him to defect to the West and work to free her from the other side. Meanwhile, a famous French stage actress, Gabrielle Develay (Catherine Deneuve), takes an interest in Marie's situation.

East-West suffers from a bit of a split personality. The first half is devoted to the day-to-day grind of Marie's new existence, showing how, almost against her will, she adapts to a joyless life as Alexei gains a measure of influence at his job. When he has an affair with another woman, she throws him out, but his devotion to her eventually wins her back. This part of the film develops slowly, and is predominantly a straight drama. However, shortly past the midway point, East-West turns into a Cold War thriller, as different parties struggle to get Marie out of the country. The extreme difference in tone between the two halves is not unpleasant, but it makes the film seem less like one continuous story.

Two things are consistently good throughout this film: acting and production design. Filming was done on location in Sofia, Bulgaria and Kiev, and it looks and feels like the '40s and '50s. There's a real sense of the desperation and uncertainty suffered by the common people during Stalin's reign, and the bleakness of the situation is brought out through the choice of locations and the way in which the scenes are shot. The work of the leads, Sandrine Bonnaire (La Ceremonie) and Oleg Menshikov (Burnt By the Sun), is virtually flawless - they essay complex characters with seeming ease, displaying the frailties and strengths that characterize a human portrayal. Catherine Deneuve, who headlined Wargnier's Indochine, plays a small but important part, and Sergei Bodrov Jr. (who previously starred opposite Menshikov in Prisoner of the Mountains) proves to be more than a pretty face on a well-sculpted body.

The score, by veteran composer Patrick Doyle, is both a positive and a negative. The music is extremely powerful and emotive, but there are occasions when it calls attention to itself, in effect overshadowing what's transpiring on-screen. Doyle's work is rarely subdued - he is a frequent collaborator with Kenneth Branagh (having scored all of his films except two) and wrote the music for Indochine - and there is nothing low-key about what he has done for East-West.

In texture, if not in plotting, East-West reminds me of Claude Berri's 1997 feature, Lucie Aubrac. Both are the work of respected directors and feature relatively straightforward narratives set in the recent past (although Berri's movie is based on an historical figure while Wargnier's is not). And, also like Lucie Aubrac, East-West has received lukewarm critical reaction (perhaps because the expectation with films like this is that they're supposed to be slow-moving and thematically rich). However, in terms of presenting the travails of two well-developed characters trapped in a difficult situation, and the way in which their relationship is transformed over a ten-year period, East-West is a strong effort. It tells a solid story that involves us in the plight of its characters.

World Socialist Web Site  Stefan Steinberg

 

PopMatters J. Serpico

 

Families Endure Stalinism While the West Keeps Quiet | Observer  Andrew Sarris

 

JamesBowman.net | Est-Ouest (East-West)

 

dOc DVD Review: East/West (Est/Ouest) (1999) - digitallyOBSESSED!  Jeff Fulmer

 

East West : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video  Jeremy Kleinman

 

DVD Times  Mark Boydell

 

East-West (France-Russia, 1999) . Movie reviews by Dr. Edwin Jahiel.

 

culturevulture.net  Arthur Lazere

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson)

 

kamera.co.uk - film review - East-West (Est-Ouest) - Paul Clarke


David Perry's Xiibaro Reviews: East-West

 

east west - review at videovista.net  Debbie Moon

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Film Threat  Joel Maendel

 

Rambles [Elizabeth Badurina]

 

FilmHead.com  Matt Hefernan

 

eFilmCritic Reviews  iF Magazine

 

BBCi - Films  Michael Thomson

 

Boston Phoenix [Peter Keough]

 

Baltimore City Paper: East-West | Movie Review  Luisa F. Ribeiro

 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

 

San Francisco Chronicle [Bob Graham]

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

New York Times  A.O. Scott

 

Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Killed More? - The New York Review of Books  Timothy Snyder, March 10, 2011

 

How many people did Stalin kill? – History of Russia

           
Warhol, Andy

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | The Innovators 1960-1970: The big wig  Mike O'Pray from Sight and Sound, October 1999

When Andy Warhol turned film-maker, he cocked a snook at Hollywood and the avant-garde, changing both forever

In Harmony Korine's recent no-budget, quasi-documentary feature film Gummo there is a memorable head-and-shoulder shot - slowed down and fairly long-held - of 90s chic icon Chloë Sevigny with her breasts black-taped, gazing into the camera. It is pure Warhol. Her narcissism, knowing sexiness and acknowledgement of the camera's gaze are all characteristic of a type of film-making first practised in early 60s New York, film-making of a shocking audacity that attracted the fashionable yet repelled much of the art world.

Pop artist Andy Warhol's films are important because they influenced two kinds of cinema: Hollywood absorbed their gritty street-life realism, their sexual explicitness and on-the-edge performances; the avant-garde reworked his long-take, fixed-camera aesthetic into what came to be known as structural film - an austere, formalist project.

When he started making films in 1963, however, Warhol knew nothing about the mechanics of film. Whatever he had gleaned about the contemporary underground film scene came from his friendship with Gerard Malanga, who introduced him to the veteran film-maker Marie Menken (one of the 'stars' of The Chelsea Girls, 1966) and took him to screenings at Jonas Mekas' Film-makers' Co-op. However, like any American of his generation he was brought up on classic Hollywood, and he was also familiar with gay porn films of the 50s.

At that moment in the early 60s, Warhol was on the crest of a wave as one of the most important artists on the New York scene, famous for his silk-screen paintings of iconic American figures (Marilyn Monroe), consumer objects (Campbell's soup cans) and dramatic images of death (lurid car accidents, the electric chair). He was an uncomfortable ally of fellow pop artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns in their overthrowing of the abstract expressionist school of Pollock, De Kooning and co., who had dominated the art world throughout the 50s. Like Rauschenberg and Johns, Warhol was gay, but unlike them he embraced the swish, camp images and attitudes of the gay world, especially when he turned to film. His stance would come to dominate 60s popular culture. Cultivated camp soon became fashionable, notably in the theatricals of rock groups like the Rolling Stones - in many ways Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's use of Stones' singer Mick Jagger in Performance (1970) is a codicil to the Warholian moment.

Alone among major artists of the twentieth century Warhol committed himself seriously to film, so much so that in 1965 he stated that he was giving up painting. Warhol's prolific output, which ran to many hundreds of films, some only discovered after his death, was all produced between 1963 and 1968. These half-dozen years can be loosely divided into three phases. First, from 1963 to late 1964 there was a plethora of slow-projected (16 fps), silent, shortish black-and-white films shot on a Bolex - the favourite lightweight camera of avant-garde and documentary film-makers. The camera was static and the shooting unedited, the film's length determined by the length of the reel. Second, from 1964 Warhol used the Auricon camera with its built-in sound system (perversely, it was first used for the silent epic Empire). This was an intense, fertile period in which the slow-motion aesthetic gave way to a form of modernist 'theatre' aided and abetted by 'scriptwriter-collaborators' Chuck Wein and Ronald Tavel, the latter a dramatist associated with the Theatre of the Ridiculous. It was then that Warhol launched his 'superstars', including Edie Sedgwick, Gerard Malanga, Viva and the drag artist Mario Montez. These films were often around 70 minutes in length, consisting of two single-take reels, each just over 30 minutes long - for instance, Wein's Beauty #2 (1965) or Tavel's Kitchen (1966), both 'starring' Edie Sedgwick. Warhol told Tavel that he didn't want plot, only 'incident'. The high point was probably reached with the commercially and critically successful The Chelsea Girls. The third phase is brief and not so distinctive, but it expresses a wider ambition and a realist clarity of narrative. In many ways it was an attempt to build on the commercial success of The Chelsea Girls under the driving force of the young Paul Morrissey, who disparaged the early 'art' films. The first step in this direction was My Hustler (1965); notable films of the period include Nude Restaurant and Lonesome Cowboys (both 1967). But after Valerie Solanas' bullets ripped into his body on 3 June 1968, Warhol's film involvement was much more at arm's length, though he continued to lend his imprimatur to films directed by Morrissey, such as Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972).

As a film-maker, Warhol achieved international fame without showing many of his films more than once or twice to small arthouse audiences in New York. Their word-of-mouth reputations sufficed. Sleep and Empire, both made in the early 60s, were more talked about than seen. The regular description of them - a single image shown for hours on end (only really true of Empire) - was enough to evoke awe and disbelief. But these images of extreme passivity (a building, an unconscious man), made with extreme passivity, were unique in Warhol's oeuvre. Most of Warhol's films were of people, often doing very little - or a lot - ineptly. His reputation as an innovator rests in this fascinating combination of a simple shooting style with the 'performances' he elicited.

So what was so new and fresh about these early films? It has been argued that they resemble and were inspired by the early single-reel films of the Lumières and others, but they are quite different. For one thing Warhol's films are genuinely silent, unlike the so-called silent cinema which always had a musical accompaniment. For another their subject matter is not banal. To see Sleep (1963), Eat (1963), Henry Geldzahler (1964) or any of the hundreds of 'screen tests' Warhol shot is to experience something utterly different to anything offered by the early film pioneers. Lastly, in their provocative amateurishness, lack of skill and seeming effortlessness, they were an audacious challenge (and, for many, an insult) to both Hollywood and the avant-garde. Warhol seemed to switch on the camera and walk away. This was film's own Duchampian moment and film has never recovered from it.

The films were also made in a unique context: the Factory, a huge fifth-floor loft (about 100 feet by 40 feet) on East 47th Street. Billy Name had decorated it in silver foil, and opera played incessantly in the background. It became a parody of a Hollywood studio. According to Stephen Koch, Warhol, through Name, Malanga and the brilliant Ondine, gathered "a-heads, street geniuses, poor little rich girls, the very chic, the desperately unknown, hustlers and call boys, prostitutes, museum curators, art dealers, rich collectors". The Factory was classy and glamorous, chic and dangerous, and the door was always open. Drugs, sex and the pale presence of the ultra-hip Warhol provided the nexus for this volatile group, which seemed democratic, but was intensely not so. The sexuality was gay and the drugs were largely amphetamines.

As far as the films themselves were concerned, authorship was an anachronism. The camera was permanently placed ready for action in front of a large couch. Whoever visited the Factory, and was accepted into the circle, could perform on the couch for the 100-foot reel, while Warhol, Malanga, Name or whoever was available operated the camera. As Warhol confessed, film-making was so easy. A selection of these endless rolls of film was put together in 1964, entitled Couch. It showed various people, some famous, some not, doing this or that: hanging out, sleeping, hoovering, eating bananas, sucking cocks, fucking each other, cleaning a motorbike and so on. Silent, slowed down and shot in high-contrast black-and-white chiaroscuro, the work at times had a classic sculptural look - especially the sex scenes. Such narcissism and passivity were utterly new, and created a cinema of fantasies acted out, uncluttered by dialogue, storylines, stars, even - in its dreamlike movement - time itself.

With the Bolex camera using 100-foot rolls of black-and-white film, Warhol also made portraits or what he called 'screen tests' of the New York literati, many of which were not seen until after his death. Almost in a Bazinian fashion, Warhol was interested in the surface of things. Art lies in the there-ness of things. They are fairly orthodox portraits: either head-and-shoulders or tight head shots with a single light, using chiaroscuro effects in the traditional photographic manner. The fame of his subjects - Allen Ginsberg, et al - give them an additional curiosity value. In his more elaborate, Hollywood-mimicking 'scripted' films, Warhol used such strong filmic personalities or physiognomies as Sedgwick, Malanga and Marie Menken. Never banal in the everyday sense of realism, these films are fantasy projections depicting a world both glamorous and dangerous.

Warhol's decision to allow the length of reel itself to be the unifying factor was made in the face of the sophistication of post-Golden Age Hollywood. It was also a gob-smacking stance to take against the American avant-garde film tradition of Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, Kenneth Anger and Jack Smith, who all clung with varying degrees of enthusiasm to editing as a shaping tool. In his bleak, relentless single takes, Warhol became, in an odd way, the ultimate Bazinian in an Eisensteinian montage-based film culture. His work was not simply a development in avant-garde tradition or a marginal snook at the mainstream, but a seismic shift not only of form but of subject matter. Warhol's intense and austere gaze on the supposedly obscene, the sexual and the perverse is now a cornerstone of our visual culture. On the surface he is not as outlandish as other film artists such as Brakhage. His films are not abstract, out of focus, or experimentally disorganised. But they are often very long - a celebration and exploration of boredom, as some have argued.

The later sound camera allowed Warhol to develop a more theatrical style of film-making using the exhibitionists and friends who gathered in the Factory - gays, druggies, transvestites, beautiful men and women, dangerous personalities. The 'superstar' was born: Edie Sedgwick, Mario Montez, Gerard Malanga, Ondine, and later Ingrid Superstar, Viva, Candy Darling - a move, however bizarre, towards Warhol's ambition to make 'real' films. Malanga and others have stated that Warhol always wanted to make such films. On the evidence of the years from 1963 until the Morrissey films, this intention seems ambiguous. To think that a film like Eat - artist Robert Indiana languorously eating a mushroom and playing with a cat for 30 minutes - had anything much to do with Hollywood, you must believe either that Warhol was stupid or that he had some rather obscure game plan. Equally, the two-long-takes film Beauty #2, in which a half-naked Edie Sedgwick is on a bed being encouraged off-screen by Malanga and ex-boyfriend Chuck Wein to indulge in sex with a rather superfluous young man, hardly seems aimed at establishing a Hollywood career - except perhaps for its doomed 'star' with her easy upper-class ways and charismatic screen presence.

Beauty #2 was typical of many of the black-and-white sound films in its focus on sexuality, the ambiguities of 'performance' (people playing themselves) and the disjunction between image and sound. An early sound film was Harlot, shot in December 1964 and 'starring' transvestite Mario Montez in full drag, sprawled on the couch eating a banana with Carol Koshinskie. Behind them stood Malanga and Philip Fagan, Warhol's lover at the time. The sound comprises an off-shot discussion between Tavel and others about female movie stars. Characteristically, it is both a homage to Hollywood and a critique.

It was The Chelsea Girls that reached beyond the small New York scene to a wider international public. Seen by Hollywood directors and moguls, influential European art directors and movie stars, it had an impact rivalled in the same period only by Godard. Comprising 12 single-take reels, The Chelsea Girls was a novelty as a double-screen film, with sound only on one screen so that audiences never knew what was going on soundwise on the other screen. It ran for over three hours. Unlike Empire and Sleep, which were first shown in an installation context with people wandering in and out of the screening space, The Chelsea Girls played in a proper auditorium with big audiences soaking up the antics of Warhol's superstars.

The runaway success of The Chelsea Girls had a discernible effect on Hollywood, resulting in John Schlesinger's Midnight Cowboy (1969), which features a Factory party at which arty pretentiousness and decadence highlight the poverty of the two leads, Jon Voight's Joe Buck and Dustin Hoffman's Ratso Rizzo. Schlesinger's movie humanism owes little to Warhol's amoralism. With its sentimentality, facile social conscience and deep cynicism about what Schlesinger saw as the self-indulgent elitism of the Warholian project, Midnight Cowboy can be seen as the establishment signposting the end of the 60s and of the Warholian project.

The art critic Barbara Rose claims that Warhol was "the inventor of the lifestyle of the 60s". He did encapsulate all its idealism, experimentalism, arrogance (even, at times, its silliness) and most of what was understood as cool. Cool is precisely the hijacking of low and marginal culture into the mainstream - borrowing from the black ghettos, from the drug world of the streets, from gay clubs, from S&M dress. Warhol was an artist operating in a tiny elite avant-garde in New York, but only Picasso in the modern period has had such universal recognition.

In the late 60s and 70s, Warhol's innovatory approach to sex, drugs and marginal lifestyles helped turn topics previously repressed by the Hollywood dream machine into commonplace subject matter for movies, formulating a new kind of gritty realism tinged by amoralism. For the avant-garde, meanwhile, Warhol's process and formal concerns were what mattered - in Britain, for instance, in the work of structural film-makers such as Peter Gidal and Malcolm Le Grice, and, more recently, Young British Artists such as Sam Taylor Wood, Douglas Gordon and Gillian Wearing.

The Andy Warhol Foundation

The Andy Warhol Homepage

The Andy Warhol Museum

 

Andy Warhol | Senses of Cinema  Constantine Verevis from Senses of Cinema, December 2002

Warholstars
Dedicated to the Warhol Superstars, plus much more

 

More Photos »

 

Andy Warhol's Index (Book)  1967

 

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol  Andy Warhol, April 6, 1977

 

FILM; A Pioneering Dialogue Between Actress and Image  J. Hoberman from The New York Times, November 22, 1998

 

The '60s Without Compromise: Warhol's Films  Watching Warhol’s Films, by Thom Anderson from Rouge (2006)

 

FILM; Ciao, Edie: Warhol Girl Gets 15 More Minutes  Christian Moerk from The New York Times, February 19, 2006

 

UbuWeb Sound - Andy Warhol  Accompanying Cronenberg recordings about Warhol from the exhibition Andy Warhol/Supernova: Stars Death and Disasters, 1962-1964, commentary by David Cronenberg, Mary-Lou Green, Dennis Hopper, David Moos, James Rosenquist and Amy Taubin, recorded at The Art Gallery of Ontario, May 19. 2006

 

FILM REVIEW; A 4-Hour Portrait of the Artist as a Visionary, a Voyeur and a Brand-Name Star  Stephen Holden reviews Andy Warhol, a Documentary, a 4-hour documentary film by Ric Burns, from The New York Times, September 1, 2006

 

POPism, The Warhol Sixties by Andy Warhol and Pat Hackett, September 5, 2006

 

David Cronenberg: on Andy Warhol | Film | The Guardian   He created his own universe and became its star, by David Cronenberg from The Guardian, September 11, 2006

 

FILM; For Edie Sedgwick, a Belated 16th Minute   Caryn James from The New York Times, February 4, 2007

 

FILM; The Poor Little Rich Girl in Leopard Skin Who Was Warhol's Muse  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, March 31, 2007

 

A Film Rushes to the Screen, Then Stumbles  Charles Taylor reviews George Hickenlooper’s FACTORY GIRL from The New York Times, July 8, 2007

 

Art world bristles at legal war over Warhol   Ed Pilkington from The Guardian, July 17, 2007

 

Andy Warhol at the National Gallery of Scotland  13 Gallery Images, July 31, 2007

 

Roll Forever  Amy Taubin interviews Gus van Sant about Warhol’s legacy from Sight and Sound (August 2007)

             

Unblinking Eye, Visual Diary: Warhol’s Films   Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, October 21, 2007

 

Pop art exhibition is a reminder of today's obsession with copyright   Warhol Is Turning in His Grave, by Cory Doctorow from The Guardian, November 13, 2007

 

Warhol's weird world  Ed Pilkington from The Guardian, December 5, 2007

 

Much more than soup cans: welcome to Warhol according to Warhol   Charlotte Higgins from The Guardian, July 26, 2008

 

22 years after his death, Warhol's junk lends insight   365gay, August 19, 2009

 

Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures”  Museum of Modern Art, December 19, 2010March 21, 2011

 

Haber's Art Reviews: "Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures" and "T  December 2010

 

MoMA blog post  Klaus Biesenbach, December 17, 2010

 

Ken Johnson’s New York Times review of Andy Warhol's Films  December 23, 2010, also seen here:  'Andy Warhol - Motion Pictures' at MoMA - Review - NYTimes.co

 

Left Bank Art Blog: Andy Warhol's Silent Film Portraits: a Revie  Charles Kessler from Left Bank Art Blog, January 5, 2011

 

Is kissing an art? - Andy Warhol's 'Kiss' | Intimacy  Demi Morrison from Intimacy, November 14, 2012

 

The Best Way to Celebrate Andy Warhol’s Birthday? Watch His Grave.  J. Bryan Lowder from Slate, August 6, 2013

 

Bizarre Magazine interview  Billy Chainsaw interview with Mary Woronov, August 2004

 

Jonas Mekas: the man who inspired Andy Warhol to make films   Sean O’Hagan interviews Jonas Mekas from The Observer, December 1, 2012 

 

Andy Warhol in UbuWeb Film   Warhol’s Cinema – a Mirror for the Sixties, a 64 minute documentary film seen in its entirety (1989)

 

KISS

USA  (55 mi)  1963

 

Kiss | Chicago Reader

 

One of Andy Warhol's first films, and the first to be screened publicly, this 1963 film collects 18 three-minute kisses, with such Warhol regulars as Baby Jane Holzer, Gerard Malanga, Marisol, Ed Sanders, and Naomi Levine.

 

Dangerous Minds | Andy Warhol's 'Kiss'  Richard Metzger

Andy Warhol’s Kiss is probably the artist’s earliest film work that was screened in public. Harkening back to the time when Hayes Office censors would not allow lips to touch and linger for more than three seconds in Hollywood films, with Kiss, Warhol decided to shoot male/female, female/female and male/male snogs that went on for three minutes. The concept was likely also influenced by a 1929 Greta Garbo film called The Kiss which apparently was screened at Amos Vogel’s influential Cinema 16 experimental film society right around the time that Warhol bought his first Bolex film camera.

The Kiss films were started in 1963 and shown in installments during weekly underground film screenings organized by Jonas Mekas. Eventually a 55-minute long version of Kiss was assembled. Among the participants were Ed Sanders of The Fugs, actor Rufus Collins from the Living Theatre, sculptor Marisol, artist Robert Indiana, as well as several of the outcasts and doomed beauties who would come to comprise the Factory’s “superstars.” The woman who you see kissing several guys, is Naomi Levine, who probably also came up with the concept (many of the kisses were also shot in her apartment). Andy Warhol referred to Levine as “my first female superstar.”

c. August 1963:Andy Warhol shoots Kiss  Andy Warhol Site

Some Warhol scholars date the Kiss films from November/December 1963. However, Warhol probably started shooting them much earlier - around August 1963 and continued to shoot them through the end of 1964, if not beyond. According to Warhol in Popism, they were still doing KISS movies in the summer of 1964 when Gerard Malanga and Mark Lancaster did one - in August 1964. Malanga and Lancaster were not the only male/male couple in Kiss.

Callie Angell:

... there is a Freddy Herko/Johnny Dodd Kiss film, but it's not in the preserved version that MoMA distributes. (There are quite a few Kiss rolls not in that MoMA version, by the way -- they were found in their individual 100-ft. boxes). The first Kiss films (mostly with Naomi Levine) were shot prob. in August of 1963, but the series continued to be shot through at the least the end of 1964.

But there are other male-to-male Kisses in the MoMA version of Kiss, aren't there... Andrew Meyer and John Palmer (on the couch in front of the Jackie paintings), and also Steve Holden and somebody..."

According to Bob Colacello, the idea for KISS - close-ups of couples kissing each other for three minutes each - came from the old Hayes Office regulation forbidding actors in movies from touching lips for more than three seconds.

Warhol also produced a silkscreen called The Kiss, based on a film still from the Hollywood horror classic Dracula (1931) of Bela Lugosi biting the neck of his co-star, Helen Chandler. The silkscreen was done on November 22, 1963.

Amy Taubin, who would later become the film critic for the Village Voice, first saw some of the KISS films in 1963 at the Grammercy Arts Theater on West 27th Street. At this time the KISS series of films was called The Andy Warhol Serial "because it was shown in weekly four minute installments."

CINE-FILE: Cine-List - Cine-File.info  Kian Bergstrom

Warhol moved into filmmaking with a torrent of extraordinary work in 1963, including SLEEP, EAT, HAIRCUT, and BLOW JOB, four movies that perhaps best defined the vulgar conceptions of his early work. The genesis of KISS also dates from this year, though it wasn't completed until the end of 1964, and while it has been somewhat occluded by the others, it is as important and devastating a piece of work, and indeed ranks among the best of Warhol's films of any period. Like many early Warhols, KISS is deceptively easy to describe: twelve static shots, running until the reel in the camera is exhausted, are arranged in succession; each pictures two people who kiss for the duration of their shot. The movie is silent and black-and-white, shot at 24 frames-per-second and projected at 16. Irving Blum, the gallerist who gave Warhol his first one-man show, remembered one of the segments of KISS as the first of Warhol's films he watched, recalling that in its opening moments the audience, overcome by the stasis of the images, momentarily forgot it was a motion picture. And then 'the shocked response of everybody in the audience' when one of the men blinked. In its style, KISS recalls, then, one of the central myths of early cinema: that of the astonished spectator lurching with fright when a projected image ceases its inactivity and springs seemingly to life. But in its structure it is nothing less than a confrontation with another foundational moment in early movie history: the Irwin-Rice Kiss, which famously provoked the artist John Sloan to condemn it as vulgar and disgusting not because of its kissing per se but specifically because Irwin and Rice locked lips in a projected, magnified image, and did so three times in succession. Warhol's KISS takes seriously, with brutal candor and the precision of a zoologist in an anthill, the unblinking stare of the camera eye, harnessing early cinema's myths in a circumvention of the medium's own history, in essence erasing the whole of the talkies and their fantasies of finally removing that aural barrier mediating between us and the theatrical world on screen. Warhol will have none of that. For KISS shows us the human animal as fundamentally unknowable, distant, impervious to our attentions and our investigations. Warhol would go on to make greater works (LUPE), and crueler as well (SCREEN TEST #2), but KISS is that skeleton key that allows us entry to his cinematic aesthetic: conflicted and opaque, sinister and aroused, captivated and deliriously distracted. And like nearly all Warhol films, to view it is to experience a world of bewildering transcendence, of bodies metamorphosed into machines of mysterious purpose and unknown origin, and of such overwhelming eroticism and melancholy that every facet of the human form becomes an object of delight.

Left Bank Art Blog: Andy Warhol's Silent Film Portraits: a Revie  Charles Kessler from Left Bank Art Blog, January 5, 2011

 

Film Review: The Kiss by Andy Warhol | Gather  John McIntyre from The Age of Stupid

 

Haber's Art Reviews: "Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures" and "T  December 2010

 

Is kissing an art? - Andy Warhol's 'Kiss' | Intimacy  Demi Morrison from Intimacy, November 14, 2012

 

Kiss (1963 film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

BLOW JOB

USA  (35 mi)  1963

 

Chicago Reader [Jonathan Rosenbaum] (capsule review)

Andy Warhol's 35-minute film from 1963 is a slow-motion sequence of a person's face in close-up as he experiences fellatio. Like all Warhol work from this period, it's well worth seeing.

All Movie Guide [Tom Vick]

Probably the most notorious of Andy Warhol's films, Blow Job has been called, jokingly, the longest reaction shot in the history of cinema. In it, an anonymous young man's face is seen in close-up while he receives fellatio from an unseen partner. The serene voyeurism that runs through Warhols '60s films reaches a kind of apotheosis in Blow Job. Sexuality, which is a distinct subtext in a number of his films, becomes the subject of this one but, in a typically Warholian joke on pornography, all the "action" occurs off-screen.

not coming to a theater near you [Matt Bailey]

The films of Andy Warhol (those that he actually had a hand in making between 1963 and 1968, not those to which he merely lent dollars and a name) are legendary, even beyond the art world in which they originated, and “legendary” is an appropriate term for them. For example, among those who know that Empire lasts about eight hours, few can claim actually to have seen it (or even a part of it). Among those who can drop the phrase “Chelsea girls” with an air of intimate familiarity, few could identify one of the actual girls in Chelsea Girls if she walked up and shook their hand.

Blow Job, no doubt because of its salacious title, is one of Warhol’s most notorious works. This notoriety is based purely on the appeal of its title, however, as the film itself is no more or less sensational than Warhol’s other early films such as Sleep, Kiss, or Eat, all films that deliver exactly what they promise. Blow Job is ostensibly a film of aspiring actor DeVerne Bookwalter receiving fellatio from Willard Maas. Those looking for pornographic thrills will be disappointed to know that the film is framed in a static close-up of Bookwalter’s face; the viewer never sees the titular act.

Like all of the films mentioned above excepting Chelsea Girls, Blow Job exhibits Warhol’s early film aesthetic where the artistic act is simply the switching on and off of the camera. All of Warhol’s early films consist of a chosen act or subject—from the Empire State Building to a person eating a banana—framed and filmed. The act is carried out from its logical beginning to its logical conclusion (or, in the case of Empire, the building is filmed from dusk to late night) and the camera does not move. Within these minimal parameters, the smallest details become epic events. The change of film reels every few minutes results in a rhythmic flow of action and non-action. At the same time, the artistry of Warhol’s early films is that he does not always indulge in what is anticipated. In the case of Blow Job’s thirty-five minutes, we expect that the climactic event of the film to be the same as the climactic event of the act, yet the film goes on for another reel after Bookwalter reaches orgasm. He looks at the camera uncomfortably, adjusts his posture as he leans against a brick wall, and smokes a cigarette. Is Warhol making a statement that the act of a blow job includes afterglow, awkward aftermath, and a cigarette? Is he forcing his subject to acknowledge his own exhibitionism? Is he forcing his audience to acknowledge the humanity of his subject? He could be doing all of these things and more. The ambiguity and unanswered questions are what make Warhol’s films so intriguing and interesting beyond facile reactions to their titles, length, and subject matter. That Blow Job is quite a bit less than an actual blow job, yet infinitely more, is what makes it art.

White gay male identity and Warhol  Margo Miller reviews Roy Grundmann’s book and the film from Jump Cut, Winter 2006

 

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

Andy Warhol's Blow Job  Gerald Peary’s review of a book by Roy Grundmann

 
VINYL

USA  (70 mi)  1965

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List - CINE-FILE Chicago   Ben Sachs

Employing one set, a few props, and only two different camera positions in the course of 63 minutes, Andy Warhol's very loose adaptation of A Clockwork Orange is nonetheless a work of intense formal precision; those susceptible to it will find the film a spellbinding experience. Anthony Burgess' novel is reduced to just a handful of scenes: a young thug's sadistic assault on some innocent people, his arrest, and his subsequent torture/S&M seduction by state officials. The rest of the film consists of failed gestures of some sort, such as tripped-up proclamations or actors dancing by themselves. As in his later NUDE RESTAURANT (1967), Warhol creates something like euphoria within an apathetic void. Clockwork may not seem like the most obvious choice for Warhol's sole literary adaption (One of Richard Brautigan's quasi-novels would have seemed more a propos); but on further reflection Warhol's aesthetic mingles quite provocatively with Burgess' parable of free choice amidst social oppression. In spite of the restrictions both formal and ideological, Warhol displays a gifted pictorial sense throughout the film. He arranges his actors like a skilled portraitist (No one ever moves more than a couple feet in any direction), with superstar Edie Sedgwick sitting placidly on the right side of the frame for almost the entire duration. Her feminine beauty stands out like stark, contrasting brushstroke against the surrounding canvas of male homoeroticism. (1965, 70 min, 16mm)

CHELSEA GIRLS
USA  (210 mi)  1966

 

Classic Films  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

Several people who are greater Warhol aficionados than I am have argued that CHELSEA GIRLS is a film of diminishing returns.  Seen in light of his other work, and in light of repeat viewings, it becomes a meaner, nastier, uglier film than Warhol fans seem to want.  But as someone who has often found the Factory material rather insular and a bit alienating, I think this one may be a summary work.  CHELSEA GIRLS doesn’t give an inch.  It is long, rambling, self-involved, drug-addled, but it is also so confident in its own fabulousness that it may be the closest thing to a queer equivalent of present-day hip-hop culture.  Its unbridled bitchiness is infectious. Pope Ondine, who steals the show, is not a nice person.

 

Chelsea Girls - Film and Video Center at UCI  UC Irvine Film and Video center

Warhol’s two-screen, 12-reel extravaganza marks the height of his creative involvement in filmmaking. One of the last films completed before Valerie Solanas shot Warhol in 1967, Chelsea Girls is both a technical triumph and a showcase for Warhol’s Superstars. Starring Mary Woronov, Warhol’s experimental film masterpiece performs a series of anti-aesthetic gestures: each reel unfolds a mini-narrative bounded by the temporal limits of the film reel and challenged by the spatial distractions of double screen projection. The order and arrangement of Chelsea Girls was at first improvised (to an original score by Velvet Underground); a set sequence for the film only developed over the course of screenings. According to Warhol, “Chelsea Girls was the movie that made everyone sit up and notice what we were doing in films (and a lot of times that meant sit up, stand up, and walk out).”

Girish

 

When I was a kid, I used to think that Ben-Hur was an epic film. No, this is an epic film. I'd propose that what makes an epic film is not just its length or its large cast of characters but how vast and challenging it can be to fully apprehend on one viewing. The Chelsea Girls is composed of twelve little mini-films (or sequences), each running about a half-hour. At any time, two of these films are projected simultaneously on the screen, with the sound of only one being heard. Each of the individual films comprises one shot with no edits. The Chelsea Girls runs three-and-a-half hours, without intermission. The film opens and closes with Nico and in between is a set of mostly improvised performances by Factory regulars. It’s thrilling, funny, boring, creepy, gross, wicked, laughable, disturbing, sadistic—epic stuff. (More reading on the film here.)

 

The Chelsea Girls (Andy Warhol) Reviews  Jonas Mekas from the Village Voice, chosen from a selection of Chelsea Girls reviews, September 29, 1966

The Chelsea Girls has a classical grandeur about it, something from Victor Hugo. Its grandeur is the grandeur of its subject, the human scope of its subject. And it is a tragic film. The lives that we see in this film are full of desperation, hardness, and terror. It's there for everybody to see and to think about. Every work of art helps us to understand ourselves by describing to us those aspects of our lives, which we either know little of or fear. It's there in black on white before our eyes, this collection of desperate creatures, the desperate part of our being, the avant-garde of our being. And one of the amazing things about this film is that the people in it are not really actors; or if they are acting, their acting becomes unimportant. It becomes part of their personalities, and there they are, totally real, with their transformed, intensified selves. The screen acting is expanded by an ambiguity between real and unreal. This is part of Warhol's filming technique, and very often it is a painful technique. There is the girl who walks from scene to scene crying, real tears, really hurt; a girl, under LSD probably, who isn't even aware, or only half aware, that she is being filmed; the "priest" who gives into a fit of rage (a real rage) and the slaps the girl right and left (a real slap, not the actors slap) when she begins to talk about God-in probably the most dramatic religious sequence ever filmed. Toward the end, the film bursts into color-not the usual color-movie color but a dramatized exalted, screaming red color of terror.

Chelsea Girls  Omar Diop from Rouge

 

Dangerous Minds | Andy Warhol's 'Chelsea Girls': Watch the entire 3 ...   Richard Metzger, full length film can be viewed at Dangerous Minds, April 4, 2012

 

VINYL
USA  (70 mi)  1965 

 

Classic Films  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

I'd only seen brief clips of VINYL on video before this. Andy's CLOCKWORK ORANGE is one of the most overworked surfaces in cinema, as crammed with incident and layering as the original TOM TOM THE PIPER'S SON. Some people are just sitting there to fill out the frame, one dude is getting tortured with a candle in the background right, and anchoring the right foreground is our detached internal spectator, Edie Sedgwick. She drops her purse, bends over and picks it up. The sum total of her involvement.

 
Warner, Sam – Producer

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | The Innovators 1920-1930: Now You Has Jazz  Laura Mulvey from Sight and Sound, May 1999

In the 20s Hollywood was not interested in the talkies. Then Sam Warner saw the potential for "canned vaudeville", and made it happen.

The brothers Warner as innovators? Jack - no. Harry - yes. But Sam...?

The brothers Warner who became Warner Bros. were four of a large family whose parents, along with many other Eastern European Jews, arrived in the United States in the 1880s. Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack turned separately and collectively to any entrepreneurial activity that came their way until they got into the nickelodeon business. Nowadays Jack, who is identified with Warners in its heyday, is the only brother still commonly remembered. But without Harry and Sam's different but complementary talents the studio would never have reached the big league. They did it by gambling on a new technology: synchronised sound for motion pictures. Here Harry's careful but inspired business management put the company in a position to capitalise on Sam's big idea.

A technological revolution of the kind that swept through the film industry with the arrival of synchronised sound recording is necessarily the product of cultural and economic factors and the culmination of many experiments over an extended period of time. But there are three reasons to celebrate Sam Warner's individual contribution to the advent of talking pictures in Hollywood. First, there should be a place for acknowledging the contingent, almost accidental factors which affect history such as personal obsession or subjective choice, chance elements which may provide the push that sets a historical drama in motion. Second, The Jazz Singer (1927), the best-known Warner sound vehicle, represents a key moment in the history of the US entertainment industry and records the tensions in US popular culture at a transitional moment. And third is the way the personal contribution Sam made to the coming of synch sound was dramatically realised.

Sam was a believer. He threw himself, in the words of a contemporary Warner Bros. technician, "hook, line and sinker" into sound cinema, taking responsibility for producing all the studio's early programmes, culminating in his tireless supervision of the production of The Jazz Singer. Its opening, in Warners' New York theatre, was timed to coincide with the Day of Atonement, which forms the backdrop to the story's narrative climax. Harry and Jack were in New York, expecting Sam and Abe to join them from Los Angeles. But Sam was in hospital after an operation on his chronic sinus condition revealed a serious mastoid infection. He died, aged 42, only hours before his brothers managed to reach the West Coast. It was generally believed that the gruelling task - from June 1925 to October 1927 - of launching Warners' first sound pictures had literally killed him.

But before Sam could inflect the Warner Bros. story Harry had to establish a solid economic base for expansion. In the mid 20s the US economy was booming, with confidence high as the boom had been gathering momentum since the Depression of the 1890s. The film industry had grown up within these conditions, had become 'Hollywood', and had by and large consolidated into an oligopoly of five major studios with vertically integrated control of production, distribution and exhibition, whose products also dominated foreign markets. These studios had no interest in rocking their successful industry by fooling around with new technologies and had turned their backs on the idea of talking pictures. So it was the hungry outsiders - the brothers Warner and William Fox - who were prepared to take chances in the hope of breaking into the closed circle of the 'majors'.

At the beginning of 1925 Warner Bros. had no first-run theatres and no international distribution, both necessities for 'major' profits and status. Harry, who had run the brothers' finances since Sam acquired their first projector to exhibit The Great Train Robbery in 1903, was on the look out for a large amount of outside investment to fund his expansion plans. At the same time Waddill Catchings, an investment banker with Goldman, Sachs, was on the look out for another suitable business to launch into a major national enterprise. (He had already masterminded the growth of Woolworths and Sears Roebuck.) He approved of the way Harry ran Warner Bros. and agreed to raise bank credit to finance a "master plan" of expansion and to join the board of directors. Catchings' Wall Street credibility opened the doors of banks that would never otherwise have considered lending to the film industry. During 1925 Warner Bros. acquired the old Vitagraph Company, including its Brooklyn studio, its distribution structure and ten major theatres. In this phase of the expansion the question of sound never arose, but sound was the basis for what was to become the second phase.

Despite the major studios' complacency, it was inevitable by the mid 20s that sound film would become a reality. On the one hand, by 1924 the basic technology was in place, developed in Bell Labs., the research wing of Western Electric. On the other, the entertainment industry was becoming increasingly dominated by new sound technologies. Radio and the record companies had opened up a mass market for popular music, while dancehalls and vaudeville were booming. After all, this was the jazz age - and the movies were getting left behind, out of synch with the music-suffused atmosphere of the times.

As part of its first expansion plan Warner Bros. acquired a radio station, the first Hollywood studio to do so. KWBC marked the transition to phase two. The station gave Sam, who ran it, the opportunity to develop his interest in electronics. He became personal friends with the Western Electric representative in Los Angeles, Nathan Levinson, who invited him to a demonstration in New York of the results of the company's research and development into sound synchronisation for film. Sam saw immediately that sound could offer the competitive edge that would take Warner Bros. beyond Harry's safe course of expanded vertical integration into all the pitfalls and possibilities of a major financial gamble. His problem would be to convince Harry there was a future in synchronised sound.

The various stories of how Sam tricked Harry into attending a demonstration at Bell Labs. in May 1925 are now part of movie legend. Harry shared the rest of the movie industry's opinion of talking pictures; both his and Sam's accounts of what happened confirm that any idea of "talking" was avoided. Sam persuaded Harry to attend a demonstration of "an instrument that would bring the best music, the best voices and the best instrumentation to the smallest places in the world." The demonstration film included a small band playing jazz. Sam recalls: "He fell harder than I did."

For the Warners synchronised sound did not mean the talkies; it simply meant the addition of song and music to motion pictures. Harry, who with his sister Rose had won dance championships in his youth, is said to have remarked revealingly to Catchings: "If it can talk, then it can sing." This sentiment was certainly in keeping with the live performance/screen crossover spirit of an era when it was customary for exhibitors to put on vaudeville acts as prologues to a main feature. At the same time Broadway was witnessing a series of smash-hit variety shows, and to film their popular song-and-dance numbers would be to extend these live acts into mechanical reproduction and mass distribution. The first intended use of sound cinema, therefore, was for "canned vaudeville".

After Warners' and Western Electric's first agreement in June 1925 Sam devoted himself to the process of learning about sound recording and to making short films as prologues. Warner Bros. and Western Electric formed the Vitaphone Corporation in April 1926, giving Warners the exclusive licence to record and reproduce sound films on Western Electric equipment. Sound technology evolved out of electronics, and one of its key elements was the audion vacuum tube (originally developed by Lee de Forest) for amplifying sound in cinemas. For recording, Western Electric concentrated on the sound-on-disc method.

Western Electric was owned by AT&T, which by the mid 20s was one of the largest companies in the world. Not only had it been able to fund research and development at Bell Labs., but it could buy up patents, fight off challenges from other patent holders and most importantly activate the conversion of theatres to sound, providing skilled technicians and where necessary subsidising exhibitors who could not afford to have their theatres wired. Ultimately it would prove impossible for Warner Bros. to maintain an exclusive licence on the production of Western Electric sound films, but by that time the studio had reached equal status with the big five and moved its sound operations from New York to Hollywood.

Warren, Harold P.

 

MANOS:  THE HANDS OF FATE

USA  (74 mi)  1966

 

Manos: The Hands of Fate | HORRORPEDIA

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) is an American horror film written, directed, produced by, and starring Harold P. Warren. It is widely recognized to be one of the worst films ever made. The film is infamous for its technical deficiencies, especially its significant editing and continuity flaws; its soundtrack and visuals not being synchronized; tedious pacing; abysmal acting; and several scenes that are inexplicable or disconnected from the overall plot, such as a couple making out in a car or The Master’s wives (clad in oversized girdles) breaking out in catfights.

The plot of the film revolves primarily around a vacationing family who lose their way on a road trip. After a long drive in the Texas desert, the family is trapped at a lodge maintained by a polygamous pagan cult, and they attempt to escape as the cult’s members decide what to do with them…

Wikipedia | IMDb

“The 16mm camerawork (some money shots are actually out of focus) in this un-artistic instance makes the entire show look like someone’s static 1960s home movies with footage from a dull Halloween party thrown in. When the ridiculous dialog is spoken, it’s obviously dubbed in, meaning that there was hardly any (if any) real sound during the shooting, cheapening the surreal viewing experience even more. The film has no sense of pacing (it’s incredible how just under 70 minutes can be stretched), the editing includes a number of jump cuts (hence the “home movies” look), with technique and lighting also being the absolute pits.”  DVD Drive-In