Tuesday, March 31, 2009

California Classic Rock: Bad Noise by Greedy Bastards

California Classic Rock
Kultur // 2005 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

Opening shot…

I just finished an article for another website, a business story about Detroit automakers pulling down millions in salary, stock options and cash incentives while their car companies implode on losses totaling billions of dollars. And now we taxpayers get to bail them out. Just like the financial services companies that wrote bullshit loans and juggled them around with derivative instruments to spread the risk until it got so big that nobody saw the default train a-comin’ until it ran them down on the tracks.

None of this has much to do with the subject of today’s review, except in the most tangential sense. In a word, it involves a particularly loathsome trait that too many people rely upon as a part of their daily lives. It’s called fraud, my friends. It is pervasive and tenacious, like the stink in old tennis shoes. Whether he comes at you smiling and talking about his MBA, or wants to buy you a drink or sell you a car…or offers undying love if only…yeah…we’re getting to the point, now:

When that ol’ debbil Mr. Fraud, that sonofabitch, wants you to buy a damned-rotten DVD, you gotta beware. Today we’ll kick around one of those DVDs he’s peddling.

And so, let’s take a closer look at “California Classic Rock,” another in my occasional series of lousy concert discs. Be advised, film fans, this DVD is neither classic nor Californian.

Time to get down…and shake it around…
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good / Oh, Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.”

With that nod to Eric Burdon, let me be clear: This is a gawdawful concert DVD, easily the worst I’ve seen in a dozen years of evaluating discs, and by any measure a waste of time and money. The amateurish videography lacks basic competencies such as focus and framing. The sound may very well be lip-synched — and if it isn’t, the audio is so poorly recorded as to make lip-synching preferable. Even the crowd can’t get up enough enthusiasm for more than an occasional, half-hearted hurrah.

This is nothing more than a sloppy video document of a 1986 summer concert in San Bernardino, CA, featuring nine mediocre acts from the 1960s. A reconstituted Canned Heat opens the show, performing their two hits — “Going Up the Country” and “On the Road Again.” But who are these guys? Band leader Bob “The Bear” Hite died in 1981, and the band buried guitarist Al Wilson in 1970, so by 1986 Canned Heat had long ago lost most of its fire. Check out the director’s cut of Woodstock to see this blues-inflected group in their fleeting prime.

John Sebastian (onetime frontman and principal songwriter for The Lovin’ Spoonful) jams on a tune with New Rhythm and Blues Quartet, then vanishes like a virgin on prom night.

Buffalo Springfield (Revisited), minus Stephen Stills and Neil Young –the only members of that band who anyone still cares about – perform the classic “For What It’s Worth” and a weak cover of Young’s “Hello Mr. Soul.” They at least have enough respect for the original Springfield lineup to include the disclaimer “Revisited.”

I think it’s time we stopped, hey, what’s that sound? / Everybody look what’s going down.

It is this: Some oldies acts feature the original groups in name only; a heinous practice that borders on fraud. Fans of these old bands buy tickets to relive cherished memories. They go to the concert or purchase the DVD on faith. Instead, they might get imposters, third-string poseurs riding a money train on the glory of the original artists.

That said, yes, we eventually get to see the real Eric Burdon onstage, wailing “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” But without The Animals to back him up, especially Alan Price on keyboards — always the main component of the Animals’ sound — Burdon no longer sparks lightning in a bottle.

The Standells fare the best with their lone hit, “Dirty Water,” a snarling frat-boy ode to Boston women. When the band formed in 1966, “Dirty Water” was about the only song they could play, but they played the hell out of it, with all the horny strutting those boys could muster. It’s not necessary to agree with the song’s randy sentiment; there’s purity in the execution that makes it feel alive and urgent, unlike the other acts plucked out of formaldehyde and signed for this concert. I’ve yet to see a more peculiar mish-mash of rock, soul, blues and bubblegum pop on one concert disc.

Wait a tick; Good God, who’s this closing out the show? Why, it’s squeaky Peter Noone, minus Herman’s Hermits, mincing his way through “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and two other forgettable tunes. The crowd, thinning out at this point, greets him like a stranger, which is a bit sad, but he soldiers on bravely — perhaps thinking about that paycheck waiting backstage. Is that really his voice after all these years, or is he sucking on a helium tank?

Of the nine acts on this disc, three were British and less than half had any specific connection to California, so even the DVD title is misleading.

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
Nuthin’, I’m tellin’ ya. No extras. Zip. Allegedly there’s a choice of Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 audio, but I toggled repeatedly between surround and stereo modes, and moved around the room, checking my speaker connections. I’ll be damned if there’s any discernible difference. Doesn’t matter; the entire concert sounds as though it was recorded in a bathysphere. At a fleeting 60 minutes, the running time still feels too long.

Caveat Emptor & Listener’s Lament...
Great rock music, like most worthwhile things in life, seldom improves on dissection or even close inspection to discover how it works. When it does work, when the alchemy blends just so, the results are the stuff of magic – all the romance and warmth, that electrifying sensation that compels us to drive fast down empty streets, blaring the horn. And that’s enough. Yet even when the motive is nothing more than profit, the song remains the same — the lyrics don’t change, the familiar chord progressions proceed as they must toward the coda.

Here, something’s missing. The spell is broken. It’s a vague sense of disquiet, of unease, like the dawning realization of a con unfolding before our eyes. That feeling is palpable while suffering through this wretched, disappointing disc. If I had wasted money to see this live show two decades ago, the promoters would still be feeling the pain of my boot upside their collective arse.

This is the bad acid the P.A. announcer warned about in Woodstock.

Set List:

• Canned Heat: “Going Up the Country”
• Canned Heat: “On the Road Again”
• The Chambers Brothers: “Time Has Come Today”
• War: “Low Rider”
• Spirit: “Nature’s Way”
• The Standells: “Dirty Water”
• John Sebastian with N.R.B.Q.: “N.R.B.Q. Jam”
• Buffalo Springfield (Revisited): “Hello Mr. Soul”
• Buffalo Springfield (Revisited): “For What It’s Worth”
• Eric Burdon: “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
• Eric Burdon: “Don’t Bring Me Down”
• Peter Noone: “The End of the World”
• Peter Noone: “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”
• Peter Noone: “There’s a Kind of Hush (All Over the World)”

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Last Days of Pompeii: Great F/X, Bad History

The Last Days Of Pompeii
Warner Bros. // 1935 // 96 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

“A sky ablaze in flame and ash!” ~ From the promotional poster.

Opening shot…
The producer, director, screenwriter, and special-effects maestro who brought the original King Kong to life re-teamed two years later for this historical spectacle. This slow-moving melodrama accelerates in the final reel with a wild climax of destruction and chaos, engineered by one of the earliest — and greatest — special effects technicians in Hollywood.

A bit of plot…
In the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, peaceful blacksmith Marcus (Preston Foster, My Friend Flicka) refuses to fight as a gladiator no matter how much money he’s offered. Marcus prefers the quiet family life with his wife and infant son. But when his wife dies for lack of proper medical care, Marcus picks up a sword and begins to kill for a fistful of gold coins. Violent death and shady business deals pay well, and soon Marcus is the wealthiest man in Pompeii. His son Flavius (John Wood, Luck of the Navy) grows to manhood and chooses a different path. Having encountered Jesus on the road to Judea, Flavius turns toward Christianity and quickly discovers that his beliefs in peace and equality clash with his father’s avaricious values. Flavius vows to free the slaves of Pompeii. In Jerusalem, Marcus visits Pontius Pilate (Basil Rathbone, The Adventures of Robin Hood), who plots his political schemes and “washes his hands” of the Messiah’s fate. As Jesus faces crucifixion, Marcus barely escapes the rioting in Jerusalem with his friend Burbix (sturdy contract player Alan Hale, who would also appear in The Adventures of Robin Hood as Little John, opposite Rathbone and Errol Flynn). Returning to Pompeii, Marcus learns his son has joined the slave rebellion. As the skies darken with volcanic ash, Mt. Vesuvius rumbles ominously outside the city.

Historical significance and context…
This picture was made by famed producer Merian C. Cooper, director Ernest Schoedsack and stop-motion animation pioneer Willis O’Brien after they stunned the world with King Kong. Like the classic, giant-monkey film, this tale of the Roman Empire was penned by Ruth Rose, Schoedsack’s wife and longtime collaborator. The Last Days of Pompeii delivers solid production values (and dubious history), while serving up spectacular destruction when Vesuvius inevitably erupts as it must. Until then, there is plenty of talk to pad the running time. Even the arena battles are rather pedestrian. Schoedsack relies heavily on montage, symbolism and portentous dialogue to propel the plot. And there's the problem. The basic story of financial hardship and family values clashing in a moral conundrum is spun from thin fabric. There's just not enough narrative cloth to drape across a feature-length film, especially a picture that exists mainly as a showcase for O’Brien’s special effects genius. His talents with miniatures and optical trickery remain impressive 70 years on — if we look at the film in the context of pre-computer technology.

Although computer-generated imagery may be more convincing, film connoisseurs should take time to savor the craftsmanship that went into these early spectacles at the dawn of the sound era. True, there's not much of O’Brien's signature stop-motion work in this picture. But his skill in combining miniatures, artificial lava and full-scale sets with hundreds of stampeding actors is proof that O’Brien (above, right) was expert at much more than manipulating rubber dinosaur puppets a frame at a time. In Pompeii, his effects are more convincing than Foster and especially Rathbone, whose acting in this picture makes a wooden Indian look positively dynamic.

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. DVD video and audio are as good as the 70-year-old source materials. No restoration effort appears to have been made, as the film is pocked with scratches, blemishes, and apparent flecks of dirt on a faded print. No extras on the disc; not even a trailer, which is disappointing, given the film’s pedigree.

Composer Roy Webb receives credit for the original music score, but there's more going on here than meets the ear. There’s no question that large portions of the score, particularly during the climax, were lifted directly from Max Steiner’s classic score for the original King Kong, another RKO Radio Pictures property. Such uncredited appropriations were common under the old studio system, when everyone worked under contract and the major production companies controlled everything.

This practice of musical cribbing continues today. Just for fun, listen during the trailer for the Disney picture Chicken Little (2005) and you’ll hear snippets of the 1994 score for Roland Emmerich's Stargate. Disney also got a lot of mileage out of The Rocketeer (1991) soundtrack, which was reused in dozens of trailers throughout the 1990s. James Horner’s score for Aliens (1986) would be reused countless times – most notably whole sections in the final scenes of Die Hard (1988).

But let’s return to the audio for Pompeii. Careful listeners will realize that the foley artist also reused some of the old Kong sound effects, most memorably the awful screams of sailors plunging to their doom from the log bridge and, in an earlier scene, the poor fellow picked off a tree and devoured by an Apatosaurus. Those hideous yodels and yelps are heard again and again in ancient Pompeii, as extras are pulverized under tumbling temples and crumbling statues. Obsessive film historians might wonder how long it took a studio like RKO to amortize the cost of a reel of sound effects across the budgets for half a dozen or more films.

The Last Days of Pompeii
was released on DVD the same day as a trio of Cooper’s more famous films (all featuring O’Brien’s animated apes) — King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young. Warner probably did this as a housecleaning measure — dust off and release an obscure title by one of the fathers of epic filmmaking on the same day as its more famous siblings. Good marketing ploy, since the primary audience for this picture will be O’Brien’s fans and special effects enthusiasts. Like his other, lesser-known films, such as The Black Scorpion, O’Brien’s special effects in The Last Days of Pompeii are more interesting than the actors reacting in front of them.

Inducing restlessness until the mighty Vesuvius climax, The Last Days of Pompeii only comes to life when most of the characters meet violent death. For the grimly effective climax, I applauds O’Brien’s masterful techniques as the work of a true effects innovator. Sadly, his efforts went virtually unrecognized by film lovers until long after his death in 1963. Even a 1949 special effects Oscar for Mighty Joe Young seems inadequate compensation for a man who devoted his life to conjuring non-stop wonders on a movie screen via the painstaking process of stop-motion animation.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Take the Canoli...

Today is my beloved oldest daughter’s 12th birthday, which we are celebrating con gusto. Hence, no movie scribblings today, dear readers.

However, lest my cinematic brethren go hungry, let me suggest that Accasciato cheese on crackers infused with fresh-milled pepper, topped with strips of prosicuitto and washed down with a mid-priced Chianti will always go down smooth & satisfying with The Godfather (1972), or De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves (1948), for the matter of that.

And so long as we’re thinking Italian, Monica Belluci can prop her feet on my coffee table any ol’ time she pleases.

‘Til tomorrow, film fans….



Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Children Are Watching Us

Criterion Collection// 1944 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

Opening shot…
Brace yourselves for this vivid, deeply humane portrait of a family’s disintegration.

A master of Italian neorealism, director Vittorio De Sica explores the heartbreaking consequences of a woman’s adultery on the life of her only child. In a mesmerizing performance, five-year-old actor Luciano De Ambrosis captures the wonder and pain of innocence with the most achingly expressive eyes in perhaps all cinema.

A bit of plot…
Young Prico (Luciano De Ambrosis) loves his mother and father, two deeply flawed people who nonetheless represent the center of his universe. When his mother runs off with a callow womanizer, Prico’s life—along with his father’s—unravels in confusion and sorrow. While the couple attempt to reconcile during a beach holiday, little Prico slowly, painfully comes to realize that the folly of adults will affect his life forever. And there is nothing he can do about it.

Historical context and significance
Please humor me for a bit of background: At the end of World War II, De Sica became one of the founding directors of neorealism, a cinematic style marked by a quest for truthfulness, working-class scenarios, intense emotions, and an anti-authoritarian attitude finally given free reign after the fall of Mussolini. In this film and later classics such as Shoeshine, The Bicycle Thieves, and Umberto D., the director explored social problems in post-Fascist Italy, primarily poverty. One tenet of neorealism holds that class struggles are responsible for more of the world’s problems than differences among nations, and this was a theme De Sica would return to throughout his career, starting with this film.

De Sica understood that the psychology of human motivation is always complex and open to interpretation, just as our reaction to human behavior is deeply subjective and colored by our own experiences. Seen in this light, De Sica in this gut-wrenching film argues that a woman’s desire to transcend her social status could unconsciously lead to adultery. But there’s more. People living in Nazi-occupied Italy would understand that a dominant characteristic of the Fascist state is the absolute sanctity of the family. So a husband in this situation would strive to do everything in his power to hold his family together, in spite of his own desires or reaction to his wife’s betrayal. In a Fascist regime where social expectations are paramount, appearances mean everything—and failure is not an option. To fail means to be disgraced; the consequences are tragic.

In crafting his often-sorrowful mise-en-scene, De Sica would sometimes employ a documentary approach, letting his camera linger on mundane objects until the concentrated attention began to suggest deeper meanings, giving context to social life in a country devastated by war. The Children are Watching Us (I Bambini ci Guardano) also marks his first collaboration with screenwriter Cesare Zavattini, who shared De Sica’s politics and often bleak (though some would argue pragmatic) worldview. Significantly, this picture was filmed in 1942, but not released until two years later, just as the European conflict began to turn in favor of the Allied Forces.

As a work of art, The Children are Watching Us will impress film lovers with its formal, even painterly, visual compositions. On a deeper level, it’s hard to remain unmoved while watching young Prico survey the dysfunctional world around him. Here is a world over which the child has no control and struggles to comprehend as his innocence is ripped away by the actions of petty people obsessed with their own banal existence. There are also many daring critiques of Fascism — considering the time and place the film was made—both subtle and overt.

What’s on the disc, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. The fullscreen video is razor sharp and virtually free of blemishes. One or two scratches and a lone splice mark are evident, but are strictly limitations of the source material. Criterion undertook a thorough digital restoration of the film, which was transferred from a 35mm master print. Similar care was taken to clean up the mono audio, according to the liner notes.

Extras are fewer than we’ve come to expect from Criterion, but still first-rate. The highlight is an eight-minute video interview with Luciano De Ambrosis, now in his seventies, who recalls in vivid detail his experiences playing Prico and what it was like to work with De Sica. Caution: His comments reveal significant plot points, so first-time viewers will want to watch this interview after the feature film.

Criterion also delivers a “new and improved” English subtitle translation, as well as a 24-page booklet of essays, photographs and contextual information that enhance our appreciation of the film. A brief interview with a De Sica scholar rounds out the extra content.

Caveat lector
Get out your handkerchiefs.


The Children are Watching Us is a quietly devastating film, exquisitely photographed in satin shades of black and white.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Crumb: Misanthropy in Pen & Ink

Crumb (1994)
Sony // 120 Minutes // Rated R

Reviewed by Steve Evans

Opening shot
A portrait of the artist as an insane man.

This documentary explores the tortured psyche of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose family history is gradually revealed to be more psychotic than anything he committed to paper with ink and pen. As Crumb’s sad life is revealed layer by layer, it becomes clear that art was his salvation. But only by a matter of degrees.

Crumb won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1995 Sundance Film Festival.

Our story…
Robert Crumb gained fame in the late 1960s for his hallucinatory cartoons, which were by turns satirical, misogynistic, racist, and almost always unsettling. Two concurrent factors propelled his popularity and modest financial success: Crumb discovered LSD in the late 1960s, using the drug, he says, to tap his dark subconscious; and the simultaneous rise of underground newspapers devoted to the psychedelic experience created new markets for his drawings. His most famous work from this period includes the wizened Mr. Natural (and his motto “Keep on Truckin’), Fritz the Cat (iconoclastic animator Ralph Bakshi adapted this character into the first X-rated cartoon), and the cover art for “Cheap Thrills,” Janis Joplin’s classic album with Big Brother and the Holding Company (above).

People who’ve known Crumb for 40 years discuss his art, speculate on his mental state, and ponder his hideously misogynistic depiction of women as voluptuous, often lizard-headed sex objects—when he draws a woman with any head at all.

The documentary encourages no overt conclusions about an obviously disturbed mind — Crumb is what he is — although filmmaker Terry Zwigoff (Bad Santa, Art School Confidential), who was a friend of Crumb’s for some years, clearly wants compassion to rule viewers’ reactions.

Context and Significance
If Hell is other people, as Jean Paul Sartre said, Crumb was immersed in the madness, domestic violence, and psychic torments of his own family almost from birth. His father was a brutal, sadistic man. Crumb’s mother almost defies description (she bears some similarities to Edith Massey, the egg woman in John Waters’ repellent Pink Flamingoes). Crumb the cartoonist and his two brothers speak candidly of their childhood years with an ironic detachment that is both devastating and almost always appalling (Crumb’s two sisters declined to participate in this documentary). His brother Max talks about his youth while sitting Lotus-style on a bed of nails. In-between comments, Max Crumb slowly swallows a great length of white cloth cut into a thin strip, washing down the material a few inches at a time with a glass of water. He says he does this to “cleanse my colon.” Crumb’s older brother Charles lives as a recluse in their mother’s house. His back story will stun and sadden the most jaded curiosity seekers. Perhaps that’s the thin line that separates the artist from his horrid family life. Crumb’s brothers are emotional train wrecks, hollow men who seem to be passively jaded observers to their own lives.

But this documentary is not just a freak show to gratify prurient curiosity. Director Zwigoff brings a gentle humanity to the project, helping us understand the demons rumbling around in Crumb’s mind — his formative years as an abused child in a hideously dysfunctional family — without once encouraging our pity. Following in brother Charles’s footsteps, R. Crumb starts drawing comics. This obsession with illustrations would seem to become purgation for his soul.

Presented by David Lynch, which should be a sufficient caveat to the hesitant viewer, the film opens with an enthusiastic look at Crumb’s radical, satirical, and hugely influential work in his late-1960s heyday, gradually peeling apart like an artichoke to reveal the mind behind the acid-drenched imagery. We see that Crumb is a twitchy nebbish of a man, laughing nervously at odd moments while condemning strangers he observes on the streets of San Francisco — people who are no better or worse than this caustic artist drawing degenerate caricatures of anyone who irritates him in the slightest. Crumb ultimately comes across as a bitter man, less deserving of our pity than vague sadness.

What really makes this worth watching, at least once, is Zwigoff’s careful organization of his footage. R. Crumb’s life and worldview unfold gradually so that his importance as an artist is established early. His rather unpleasant outlook on life comes later, but by then the audience harbors at least a small measure of respect for his talent. He’s not a likeable guy; definitely not someone you’d want to be alone with (which would probably suit Crumb just fine). Zwigoff wisely concentrates on Crumb’s influence as an artist for the first part of the film before he corkscrews into the dark abyss. Tellingly, Crumb would later tell the director that he hated the picture.

What’s on the DVD, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. Film critic Roger Ebert, who joins the director in a commentary track for this disc, clearly remains in awe of the picture years later. His observations are worth a listen. Beyond that, extra content is limited to an assortment of trailers for other Sony Pictures Classics.

My review disc of this special edition DVD came in a full-screen version (1.33:1), although cursory research reveals the film was originally presented in a 1.66:1 aspect ratio. Because this is a documentary with images dwelling mainly on individual interviews in medium and close-up shots, the full screen version is sufficient. Crumb and his odd banter occupy front and center stage. Video is clean and free of annoying pixilation. The mono soundtrack is unremarkable, but adequate for this material.

Fans of the artist have probably seen this film in the 15 years since its original theatrical release. They will glean insight from the commentary track with Zwigoff and Ebert, who heralds Crumb as one of the great modern documentaries.

For those who know in advance what they’re in for, this would make a fascinating double-bill with Titicutt Follies (1967). Crumb, truly, is one who flew over the cuckoo’s nest.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Little Caesar: the Original Gangsta

Warner Bros. // 1931 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated

By Steve Evans

“Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico?” ~ Eddie Robinson, oozing marinara sauce.

You’ll never think of pizza again when this classic noir is mentioned. Edward G. Robinson defined the gangster genre and became a star in this trend-setting 1931 gem from Warner Bros.

A bit of plot…
Petty hoodlum Cesare Enrico Bandello (Robinson) vows to take over a Chicago mob by killing anyone in his path. With attitude and aggression that belies his small stature, “Rico” defies his mafia bosses, murders the Chicago crime commissioner during a New Year's Eve ball, and double-crosses any associate foolish enough to question his grab for power.

Rico barks and snarls his way to the top, snapping off invective with the staccato clip of a Tommy gun.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. costars as Joe Massara, Rico’s longtime associate who is trying desperately to go straight. Rico’s relentless climb to the top threatens to drag Joe down, but when Little Caesar makes a play for Joe’s mistress as well, all bets are off and the bullets begin to fly.

Despite sharing his famous father’s name, Fairbanks Jr. commands minimal screen time and displays little of the charisma he would bring to later projects like Gunga Din (1939). We learn on the commentary track that Clark Gable was originally considered for the part of Joe. Though it seems unlikely that an established star like Gable would have wanted such a small role, the benefit of hindsight suggests he might have stolen the film—taking the focus off Robinson's menacing, mesmerizing performance.

Historical Context and Significance
Adapted from a novel by W.R. Burnett, the innovative screenplay by Francis Edwards Faragoh unfolds from the perspective of the gangsters who populate the plot. Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo would take a similar approach 40 years later in their script for The Godfather. Notice the frame (above, right) and you will discover that one of the assassinations during the famous Baptism massacre that climaxes Coppola’s masterpiece is an obvious homage to a virtually identical murder in Little Caesar.

In both films, the effect immerses viewers in the underworld, as we are forced to identify with the killers and thieves who inhabit this substratum of society. No civilians get caught in the gangsters’ crossfire. In the cinema world of the mafioso, only the bad guys eat lead. This must have been a vicarious thrill for Depression-era audiences stricken by poverty. For the price of a movie ticket, they could watch the diminutive Rico “Little Caesar” Bandello rob and kill in order to rise above his station, yet be safe in the knowledge that comeuppance would be waiting in the final reel. During the 1930s and well into the ‘40s, Warner Bros. specialized in these vicious social commentaries thinly disguised as pulp fiction. In a time of hopelessness and despair, the characters in Little Caesar define their self-worth in terms of wealth and influence — both fleeting in a world of duplicity and sudden death.

As Rico, Robinson’s acting remains a miracle of the cinema nearly 80 years later. The camera captures Rico’s observant nature as he gazes in envy at a mob leader’s jeweled cravat, diamond pinky ring, and stock of fine cigars. He visibly twitches at the sight of bundled cash piled high on a gangster’s desk. Rico salivates at the thought of wealth, but a lust for power is his real obsession.

The role launched Robinson into superstardom just as he was typecast for years as a pugnacious gangster and ornery little SOB. His performance as Rico has been imitated and parodied so often that it can be hard to understand what a breakthrough role this was for the Romanian-born Robinson. He raises the performance almost to the level of Greek tragedy, as Rico kills and connives inexorably to his destiny. Little Caesar may be Robinson’s best-known work, followed by no-nonsense insurance investigator Barton Keyes in Billy Wilder’s classic noir, Double Indemnity. A quiet collector of art, Robinson always seemed bemused in interviews that his fortune came from playing vicious thugs in the movies.

Setting becomes another character in Little Caesar, as we gain entrance to places with florid names like The Bronze Peacock and The Palermo Club, where back-room schemes take life and a man’s fate might literally be sealed in cement.

So pervasive was the impact of this violent movie that the federal Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 — or RICO — probably owes its acronym to Robinson’s character. Who says the fed doesn’t have a sense of humor?

What’s on the DVD, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. Warner Bros. includes a generous package of extras on this disc, which is part of the studio’s gangster collection available as individual titles or in boxed sets. Goodies include “Warner Night at the Movies 1930,” hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin, featuring a trailer for Five Star Final starring Robinson, a newsreel, a short film starring a young Spencer Tracy, a cartoon, and the feature attraction. Each program can be played in succession or individually. Warner Bros. includes the original theatrical trailer for Little Caesar, as well as a curious foreword that accompanied the 1954 re-release. Rounding out the extra features, University of Southern California film historian Richard Jewell supplies an insightful commentary track, and a 16-minute feature chronicles the cinematic evolution of the antihero.

Caveat lector…
Like most films of its day, Little Caesar reflects the awkward transition from the era of silent film to the new age of talkies. While director Mervyn LeRoy (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Mr. Roberts) shows a remarkable facility for voiceover and layered dialogue, the technical limitations of early sound recording required the camera to be bolted down during dialogue-intensive scenes. Cinematically, the results are often static, though compensated by Robinson’s electrifying performance. LeRoy also relies on intertitles like the old silent films to confer information quickly and convey the passage of time.

Little Caesar would have also benefitted from a musical score to offset lengthy silent passages. Audio is presented in the original mono.

The film transfer suffers for lack of adequate restoration, as nearly 80 years of accumulated scratches mar the print for much of its 78-minute running time. Still, Warner Bros. is commended for keeping the film alive and commercially available in an affordable edition. A multimillion-dollar restoration might push the retail price of the DVD beyond the interest of some collectors.

A gangster classic, Little Caesar became a virtual blueprint for the genre. The film’s influence and Robinson’s star-making performance transcend time, becoming manifest in pictures as different in tone and texture as The Godfather, Miller's Crossing, Goodfellas, and Reservoir Dogs.

For sheer cockiness alone, Rico should be set free if only he could get up and walk away. Warner Bros. receives praise for releasing a decent, if not spectacular, print of a classic film with a handsome package of extras. Little Caesar remains an essential bookend in the film collection of any gangster-movie fan or serious student of the cinema.

Copyright © 2009 by Steve Evans // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Warner Bros. Launches DVD on Demand

By Steve Evans

Home Theatre took an evolutionary leap forward this week with the announcement that Warner Bros. will launch “on demand DVD,” allowing collectors to buy any of the studio’s 6,800 theatrical features not available on disc. A custom-made DVD with artwork would be mailed in about a week for $20.

Warner already offers thousands of films for viewing on demand via streaming video through the studio’s website to a movie fan’s computer, at prices starting under $2 per title. The studio since 2006 has offered View-On-Demand at $1.79 to $2.99 per title for a 24-hour rental. Download-To-Own services cost $10-$20 for newer films. Downloading allows unlimited viewing on two computers and one portable device, with a single DVD burn for backup.

The expansion of this concept to DVD product suggests Warner has found a way to compete with Netflix and other streaming services by selling film treasures directly to the public while booking all the profits. Custom-made discs also allow the studio to satisfy consumer demand for more obscure titles without the risks associated with mass-produced DVDs and competition for limited shelf space at retail stores. Only about 1,200 films in the Warner library (less than 20 percent of the movies in their vault) have been released on disc since the studio entered the DVD business in 1997.

“This news is going to make a lot of people really happy,” George Feltenstein, senior vice president of theatrical catalog marketing at Warner Home Video, said this week.

The studio plans to release at least 20 classic films and TV shows each month, Feltenstein says. Collectors go to the Warner website, select titles and place orders. Digital downloads will also be available for $15 per title.

This brave new world of home entertainment represents the next logical step for the movie industry as it struggles to retain more revenue, cut down on piracy and compete more effectively.

Within five years, I believe film lovers will be able to buy a download of any film in existence and import the files for viewing directly into their high-def television sets, computers and personal digital devices. As digital storage becomes ever more affordable, collectors will be able to hold thousands of titles in a hard-drive component no bigger than a 7.1 amplifier.

While this would drastically reduce the amount of space needed to house the 3,000 films in my personal library, I would lament losing the aesthetic pleasure of taking a DVD off the shelf, reading the booklet of historical and contextual information about the film and placing the disc in the DVD tray – the little rituals that enhance my satisfaction when watching cinema. I harbor similar feelings about audio CDs and I especially miss vinyl records. The album sleeves included liner notes in readable type. There was the pleasant routine of using a DiscWasher brush to remove dust from the magical grooves on the vinyl, placing the tonearm over the platter and gently lowering it to produce that wonderful, warm sound. Yeah.

All of this is a roundabout way of posing the question: does life in the digital age create more convenience at the expense of causing us to lose some of the tactile pleasures associated with touching a DVD, a CD, or a vinyl record album?

There is a unique sensory pleasure in going to the video store or record shop and flipping through racks of music CDs, film DVDs, even musty, old LPs. This is why I do not own an iPod or MP3. I don’t like to think of my music – or my movies – as an assemblage of 1’s and 0’s.

On a darker note, I wonder if digital movies stored on a hard drive are just one more way for film studios to sell the same motion pictures over and over again. Some 20 years ago, I wore out two VHS copies of my favorite film, North by Northwest. A decade ago, I acquired the title on DVD. Now I am confronted with the opportnity to buy this Hitchcock classic again, on a Blu-Ray disc. In time, will I feel equal pressure to purchase a digital download just so I can see Eva Marie Saint charm & seduce Cary Grant on the train to Chicago one more time after my videotape and DVD collections have mouldered into dust? Sure, technological improvments bring incremental advances in picture and sound quality, but at what point can we say, definitively, that image and audio are good enough? How many times are consumers willing to buy the same film?

While I fancy the convenience of having 1,000 classic films in a storage device the size of a shoebox, I also really dig going into my home theater and seeing all those DVDs lined up and waiting on the shelves, organized by director and genre, in all their multi-colored glory. I will miss that at least as much as I will mourn the inevitable transition in movie theaters from celluloid-film to digital-video projectors. Yes, movie lovers can discern the difference.

Sometimes we might be wise to leave well enough alone.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Exploitation Sleaze: The Pyjama Girl Case

Blue Underground Presents The Pyjama Girl Case // 1977 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

“Based on the infamous real-life murder case that shocked the world!”
~ From the promotional poster.

Well, maybe it shocked the world in the 1930s when the killing occurred in Australia. Today, The Pyjama Girl Case is just another perverse Giallo (pronounced Jah-low) flick of sex and murder, resurrected by the cult-minded folks at DVD distributor Blue Underground. Beautiful starlet Dalila Di Lazzaro (Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein) spends most of her time prancing around nekkid, which is a glorious sight to behold. As a homicide detective, aging Oscar-winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) wanders the back streets of Sydney and mutters in a slurred voice as though drunk, while Mel Ferrer (Nightmare City) exudes the sort of slippery charm that was his specialty. Still, despite all the kinky shenanigans and violent death, the 102-minute running time feels twice as long.

The Pyjama Girl Case is a representative example of the Giallo, or “yellow film” in Italian – so named for the distinctive yellow covers of the pulp fiction paperbacks first published in the 1930s when the genre came into vogue. Giallo films are preoccupied with savagely violent murder, flavored with a syrupy erotica that can be off-putting to viewers who don’t know what they’re getting into. Lurid and over-the-top, these films were hugely popular from the late 1960s through the 1970s in European cinemas and the grindhouses of major U.S. cities. Like most entries in this odd genre, The Pyjama Girl Case is gorgeously photographed, which is a polite way of saying Giallo films are trash polished to a high lustre.

A bit of plot…
The badly burned body of a young woman is discovered on a beach in Sydney, her face battered beyond recognition. The police find a few grains of rice on the body, which is dressed only in yellow pyjamas embroidered in an Oriental motif. Retired homicide detective Timpson (Milland) is called in to help crack the case. He suggests a novel solution: preserve the corpse in a glass case and put it on public display (?!) to see if anyone can identify the victim.

The detective’s investigations are intercut with the lusty adventures of Linda (Di Lazzaro), who divides her time between a sugar-daddy doctor (Ferrer); a German émigré who works in a glass factory; and her Italian husband, a simple man who waits on tables for a living. Nymphomaniacs would be embarrassed by Linda’s nocturnal exertions. With three men on the hook and as many more leering on the sidelines, Linda seems oblivious to the fact that she’s stirring up a cauldron of resentment, testosterone and wounded male pride.

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. Filmed on location in Sydney and New South Wales, this Italian-made thriller is based on a horrific 1934 murder in Australia. Author and historian Robert Evans, who wrote a book on the case, is featured in a 30-minute documentary included as an extra on this disc. It is easily more interesting than the movie. The documentary includes some genuinely gruesome photographs of the real crime scene and the victim’s body, as well as film footage from the 1930s and a discussion of several esoteric theories on whodunit before settling on a likely culprit — or at least the guy the Sydney police finally busted for the crime a decade after it occurred. For those who are game, this is fascinating stuff. I was reminded of crime novelist James Ellroy’s grim memoir, “My Dark Places.”

As for the feature film, writer-director Flavio Mogherini (Lunatics and Lovers) demonstrates a talent for composing beautiful shots with fluid camerawork. The cinematography by Carlo Carlini underscores the isolation of key characters — the detective, as he goes about his solitary work; the men in Linda’s life for whom she seems to be the sole reason for their existence; and Linda herself, who remains an enigma. Loneliness is a major theme in this picture. Too bad it falls apart at the script level.

Structurally, the narrative is ludicrous and the acting is across-the-board lazy — especially by the normally reliable Milland, who seems to be slumming for a paycheck. This is still a step up from some of his previous B-movie work, especially the aptly-named Frogs from 1972. (Tagline: Cold green skin against soft warm flesh...a croak...a scream!) Aye, Milland followed a curious career trajectory.

I can’t find fault with Di Lazzaro, since accusing her of any acting ability would just be silly. She looks good in or out of her clothes, though, and that is clearly one of the film’s key selling points.

This is a film undone by a bad script. The awkwardly structured narrative is a cheat, revealing clues that come out of nowhere at the climax and would be virtually impossible for viewers to have guessed during the film. This does not make the movie clever, merely tricky. Worse, a key plot thread that appears to run concurrently with the main action is actually revealed late in the game to be a flashback. And like many exploitation films of the Giallo genre, there are flashbacks within flashbacks; a loony technique that compounds the confusion. It takes a real pro to dance on the edge of reality and manipulate the medium to suit a densely plotted story like The Pyjama Girl Case. Mogherini is no pro.

The obvious standard for comparison is Hitchcock, who was a master at misdirection and fooling the audience. But he always played by the rules and supplied all the evidence needed to solve a mystery. Need proof? Just watch Psycho a few times. Or Frenzy. The clues are hidden in plain sight. Not so with The Pyjama Girl Case. A viewer would have to be almost clairvoyant to understand the plot, which twists around like a corkscrew without going anywhere (the lousy dubbing certainly doesn’t help, although subtitles would). Perhaps that’s beside the point, as Giallo films are not known for realistic plot developments.

Only masochists will be able to tolerate the movie’s two cringe-inducing songs, performed by some tiresome broad named Amanda Lear. She sounds like Marlene Dietrich, or maybe Madeline Kahn, about to succumb from an overdose of sleeping pills. This is gawdawful noise, punctuated by a pulsing synthesizer score by composer Riz Ortolani (Mondo Cane). There may be some consumer benefit, as you need only crank up the soundtrack on this sucker to get rid of unwelcome house guests — they'll bug out like cockroaches with the lights coming on.

Besides the short documentary, extras include a trailer and The Pyjama Girl, an eight-page graphic novel by Eddie Campbell, the creator of From Hell. I glanced at the thin comic book and concluded it wasn’t worth close inspection.

There are technical issues with the disc, including occasional pixilation, noticeable edge enhancement, and an undernourished audio track. Especially annoying is the lack of subtitles which would help viewers muddle through the dialogue, much of it badly dubbed from Italian. Even Milland’s dialogue appears to have been dubbed, or at least looped. I’m virtually positive that’s not his voice on the soundtrack half the time.

Fans of Giallo horror-crime thrillers might argue that the journey through the plot is more important than the destination. While that may be true of life, when it comes to cinema I disagree. Any screenwriter who goes to this much trouble to jerk an audience around with plot twists and bizarre characters ought to deliver a mind-blowing climax. Instead, this picture flames out in a sputter of unanswered questions and confusing character motivations. Writer-director Mogherini may harbor grand ambitions for the material but he cannot conceal the trashiness of his execution.

Guilty pleasures abound, but viewers may feel abused by the outrageously clumsy plot twist behind this tiresome murder mystery. The Pyjama Girl Case might be worth a look just to see Di Lazzaro nude, except that she’s also on full display in the Warhol-produced Frankenstein flick from 1973, mentioned earlier. That’s a helluva lot more entertaining than this Neapolitan mess filmed Down Under.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Great (But Forgotten) Documentaries: White Thunder

White Thunder
Image Entertainment // 52 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

Opening shot:
Here is the amazing true story of fearless filmmaker Varick Frissell and the SS Viking disaster, presented here in a fascinating documentary. You should know about it.

Frissell was a wealthy New Yorker who abandoned a life of privilege during the Roaring Twenties in Manhattan to record the dangerous adventures of Newfoundland seal hunters with his 16mm camera — and met death in a horrific boat explosion.

Our Story…
The SS Viking steamed out of port from St. John's, Newfoundland, on March 9, 1931. On board were Frissell and his small crew. Their mission was to finish location shooting on their first feature film for Paramount, which had the working title The Viking. They would never be seen again.

Frissell's team joined 52 sailors aboard the ice-breaking ship to capture the concluding scenes for an adventure film on the hardships facing seal hunters and the even harsher plight of their prey. Although he had begun his career filming short documentaries about life on the North Atlantic, Frissell's test footage convinced studio heads at Paramount to finance a feature film. The idea was to incorporate documentary techniques into the picture, as test audiences had responded positively to the young man's earlier work, which remains astonishing today. One remarkable sequence features hundreds of hunters wrapped in parkas hopscotching across ice floes in the middle of the North Atlantic, carrying spears and clubs in their quest for seal pelts. The ice floes rise and fall to the arbitrary rhythms of the ocean as the men weave and bob in a surreal ballet across the surface of the frigid waters. Their movements could induce seasickness. Lethal cold surrounds these men, and the threat of imminent peril is obvious. One misstep could kill. Here, truly, is a desolate, godforsaken corner of the world.

Six days after leaving port, on March 15, 1931, an apparently accidental dynamite explosion aboard the Viking killed Frissell, his cameraman, and 25 other men. The pioneering director was 27.

Context, Historical Significance
White Thunder, directed by Newfoundland native Victoria King, recounts Frissell’s formative years as a documentary filmmaker as well as his adventures aboard the Viking. Born into a wealthy New York family, whose money enabled him to indulge in the pricey 1920s novelty of home movies, Frissell was seduced by the lure of the ocean and a thirst for adventure. He began financing and shooting his own short films in the 1920s.

His 1928 documentary, The Great Arctic Seal Hunt, had won critical acclaim from the New York Times and Variety. That was enough for Paramount to greenlight a feature film using the footage. Frissell was tapped to produce his first major Hollywood production. So he partnered with silent-film maestro George Melford (who had directed Rudolph Valentino in The Sheik and helmed the Spanish version of Dracula, shot on the same Universal sets as the more famous version starring Bela Lugosi). Melford was a busy man: The Viking, which is included on this DVD, was released the same year as his version of Dracula.

Melford shot dramatic sequences for The Viking in Newfoundland, while Frissell prepared for another voyage aboard the ship itself, where he proposed to capture another seal hunt on film. After his death, Paramount used his earlier footage and rushed The Viking into theaters with a tacky promotional campaign emphasizing that Frissell and his crew lost their lives trying to complete the picture. As drama, The Viking suffers from a weak script and mediocre acting by long-forgotten players. The film comes alive only while Frissell's footage unspools. The Viking is not without interest, although the real talent behind the camera was not Melford but Frissell, who had fought Paramount to eliminate a silly love story that stops the picture cold. He lost his battle with the studio and did not live to see the finished film.

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. The film elements show their age, although it’s a miracle that prints still exist, especially considering that Frissell was shooting on volatile nitrate film stock in subzero temperatures. The Dolby mono track sounds fine. DVD features include Frissell’s original 39-minute documentary of the seal hunt (not for the squeamish or members of PETA), and The Lure of the Viking, a 14-minute peek at the vessel’s various ports of call in the North Atlantic. These are silent documentaries with intertitles, accompanied by a pleasing piano score. Rounding out the extra features, Image Entertainment also includes a digital press kit with extensive production notes and photographs, accessible via computer with a DVD-ROM drive. The press kit requires Adobe’s free software, Acrobat Reader®. Overall, this is a nice package of documentaries and added-value content for a suggested retail price of about $30. That's not a bad deal, as I can almost guarantee you've never seen anything like White Thunder.

In this fascinating footage of a forgotten era, White Thunder presents compelling evidence that Frissell was developing into a sophisticated documentarian before his life was cut short by a bizarre and still-unexplained nautical disaster. The Viking feature film is an interesting companion piece to the documentaries, mainly by demonstrating how much stronger Frissell’s material would have been without the imposition of an unnecessary love story and studio interference. His documentaries are admirable and often awe-inspiring, considering the all-but-impossible conditions Frissell toiled under to capture film footage that no one had ever seen.

Documentary enthusiasts will enjoy this compulsively watchable disc. Recommended.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday's Cinematic Quickie: Vampires, Italian Style!

Slaughter of The Vampires
Image Entertainment // 1962 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

What’s unspooling at ol’ Cteve’s home theatre on this particular Saturday night? Why, it's Vampires, Italian style!

Here's a real pain in the neck for the bad-movie gang: a badly dubbed Neapolitan horror flick replete with gorgeous female vampires, their heaving bosoms not quite spilling out of their nightgowns. Every aspect of the production screams overwrought melodrama. Yes, this picture has it all: babes with come-hither gazes, Eurotrash vampires, fey aristocrats, and spooky cemeteries – all lifted straight from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the scores of vampire films that preceded this little ditty. But “gothic horror to make your hair stand on end,” as the trailer claims? Nonsense. This is one of the funniest movies ever made. Now inflate a bag of microwaveable popcorn and fetch me a cold, dark beer while I cue this sucker up.

A bit of plot…
An unnamed vampire hides in the wine cellar of an Italian mansion while the nondescript residents enjoy their luxurious lifestyle upstairs. But it’s not the well-stocked selection of vintage clarets that this old Nosferatu is interested in. Oh, no. He's got the hots for the bored babes hanging out at the mansion, especially Louise. She's looking at a life sentence, I mean, marriage, to a nobleman who's about as exciting as a dog’s hind end. It's a sad situation all around. The gals yearn for distraction, some action, just a little satisfaction — anything to take their minds off the dull society dudes with names like Wolfgang and constipated expressions to go with their boring balls (dance parties, that is). Day and night, the guys parade around in evening clothes with puffy shirts, yammering all serious in monotone. No wonder the women are ready to scream — and wrap their ankles around the ass of a randy vampire, if need be.

A solid opening gives us angry villagers with torches and pitchforks, sprinting after a vampire babe in a flowing white gown. They dispatch her within seconds and just as quickly the highlight of the film has passed. From here on, it's all talk, talk, talk, with the occasional vampire seduction (rather chaste, I would add) to enliven the proceedings. A chirpy Theremin (an early type of synthesizer) rises on the soundtrack to mark each of these liaisons, adding unintentional hilarity to all the solemn necking. Movies just don't get much better than this.

Dialogue is absolutely precious, straight from the pages of a paperback romance. Here’s a sample:

“Who can you be that you have this mysterious power over me? Who can you be that you poisoned all the love I bore my husband and made me become your slave?”

Even though the players act with conviction and the gals are red-hot, Slaughter of the Vampires doesn't add up to doodly-squat. While causing convulsive laughter, it slays us with humorous yakety-yak in place of action—typical of inept, pseudo-erotic horror films that cheat an audience by poking around the obvious without working up the courage to stick it in.

Though you've never heard of him, I feel professionally obligated to note that German actor Dieter Eppler (1927-2008) plays the vampire. With his overwrought acting and exaggerated expressions, Dieter comes off like a silent film star stuck in a talkie vampire flick. Regardless, it’s hard to take him too seriously when he's holding a bunch of flowers and acting romantic, or seducing a room full of swooning bachelorettes. Compare his relatively benign makeup in the black & white stills from the picture with the garish, snarling freak featured in the cover art for the DVD release (shown at top). Here, truly, is a marketing campaign that got lost in translation.

The print, like the plot, is all over the place: all scratchy and jumpy one moment, then almost pristine the next. Rice Krispies may have been used to augment the soundtrack, full of snaps, crackles, and pops. Then again, that might be part of the movie’s charm. Who’s gonna invest green money to restore this silly flick?

What’s on the Disc, Steve?
Not much, I’m tellin’ ya. The lone extra is a trailer for the film, presented here under its alternative title Curse of the Blood Ghouls. But a goofy film by any other name…

If you’re looking for quality horror from this period – rich color cinematography, first rate talent and production design, and sexual shenanigans to annoy the censors at that time, pick up something from the Hammer Studios collection. Almost anything with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and their busty coed costars will do. If you need an obscure bit of rubbish for non-stop laughter on bad-movie night, Slaughter of the Vampires is better than a tank of nitrous. Bring it on home.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Vidas Secas: Brazil’s Grapes of Wrath

Vidas Secas
New Yorker Films // 1963 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

The pitch:
A poor Brazilian family staggers across the South American wasteland in this Cinema Novo variation on The Grapes of Wrath.

Nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes in 1964, this bleak yet visually stunning film is notable for razor-sharp black-and-white cinematography. Vidas Secas (from the Portuguese, “barren lives” ) presents the utter hopelessness of starving people too weak and unfocused even to consider revolting against a government that has ignored and abandoned them.

A bit of plot…
Title card: 1940. Fabiano (Átila Iório) and his destitute family roam the desert in Northeast Brazil, scratching for food as they search for a better life in the city, though what they seek seems forever on the horizon. Their pet dog Baleia hops along at the edge of the trail. Fabiano carries a water sack, black-powder rifle, and the family’s few meager possessions. His wife Sinhá (Maria Ribeiro), holds a parrot tethered to a cage slung over her shoulder. The bird squawks relentlessly in the blistering sun. Their children stagger along like zombies, staring ahead, seldom talking.

Needing food for their children's empty bellies, Sinhá declares the parrot to be “good for nothing” and swiftly snaps its neck. The tiny fowl makes a pitiful morsel roasting over a brush fire. Sinhá dreams of finding a home, a sense of place and purpose, but mostly she talks of owning a leather bed, which would satisfy a desire for her family to become “real people.”

One of their little boys collapses from sun stroke. Ever stoic, Fabiano pokes the child with his rifle barrel to get him moving.

The father finds work as a farmhand, but a misunderstanding leads to a beating and a jail cell, where a fellow prisoner encourages Fabiano to join a guerilla movement that will fight the oppressive government. Instead, Fabiano, knowing no other way of life, rejoins his family and together they continue their trek across the desert, where more suffering awaits.

Historical Significance, Context
This film plays like an endless walk across Hell, through a desolate land where the poverty is so absolute that mustering any hope seems like a ludicrously naïve waste of time.

Students of Italian neorealism (Bicycle Thieves, Pickpocket, The Children are Watching Us) will marvel at its influence in Vidas Secas, filmed a continent away in the wastelands of Brazil, where the documentary style focuses on miserable wretches trying to eke out an existence on a desert land of rock, desiccated earth, and petrified forests.

Written and directed by Nelson Pereira dos Santos (Tent of Miracles), who was active in Brazilian cinema well into his seventies, this picture was adapted from the novel by Graciliano Ramos and set the standards for the Cinema Novo movement of the late 1950s-early 1960s. In Cinema Novo, Brazilian filmmakers relentlessly critiqued their society with the aim of transforming it into something better. Actively political, they turned their cameras on poverty and social struggle in an understated, matter-of-fact way that belies the essential propaganda at the heart of these films. The results were, by turns, breathtakingly beautiful, heartbreaking, intellectually provocative, and, yes, about as far removed from commercial Hollywood product as any film in Portuguese would necessarily be.

Like director John Ford’s filmed version of John Steinbeck’s most famous novel, The Grapes of Wrath, every frame of Vidas Secas burns with socialist politics and a simmering anger. But there is an important difference between a classic American film designed as dramatic entertainment, and a message movie made on a different continent. Steinbeck’s (and Ford’s) Tom Joad learns to fight back and vows to do just that at the conclusion of Ford’s film. Henry Fonda, as Joad, declares his allegiance to the working man in that famous climactic speech: “Wherever you can look — wherever there's a fight, so hungry people can eat, I'll be there…”

No such optimism exists in Vidas Secas. While the audience may yearn for Fabiano to rebel, to fight back like Tom Joad, he comprehends only the most basic needs: providing for family, survival, living through another day. Political consciousness still hibernates. And so, in Vidas Secas the call to action is directed at the audience — and that is the essence of propaganda. The call is subtle, but far more effective than the bludgeoning tactics of crusading directors like Oliver Stone (Salvador, JFK). When delivering a message, often less is more, even though it may not deliver satisfying drama — such as Henry Fonda’s stirring speech.

What's on the Disc, Steve?
I'll tell ya. Extras include a brief analysis of the film by New York University Professor Robert Stam, an expert on Brazilian cinema, who discusses the “Aesthetics of Hunger.” The disc also contains a short film, Baleia the Dog, which is a retrospective on Vidas Secas, featuring recent interviews with the director and Maria Ribeiro. This is a bizarre short with wildly incongruous comedy, featuring a talking parrot that reminisces about his days working on Vidas Secas before he flew off when the crew attempted to roast him for a key scene. The short includes some interesting documentary footage at Cannes, where the film screened in competition, but as a supplement to Vidas Secas the tone is all wrong. Such a strained effort at humor is jarring after screening the main feature. A tri-fold inside the DVD keepcase includes an interview with the director.

The Contrarian View
Some chroma-crawl is evident in the digital transfer, which struggles to keep up with the harsh lighting in this deliberately overexposed film. The mono audio is clean, but be forewarned: the incessant sound effect of squealing wagon wheels may set your teeth on edge. It is infinitely more jangling than the industrial tone compositions that Stanley Kubrick used at the climax of Full Metal Jacket, which is the closest aural comparison I can offer.

This is a hard-core arthouse film, as arid and bleak as Bergman, so know what you're in for before parting with a suggested retail price of $30. Vidas Secas delivers a draining, depressing, and yet visually stunning cinematic experience.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Songs of Madness: The Ballad of The Sad Café

The Ballad of The Sad Café
Home Vision Entertainment // 1991 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated

Reviewed by Steve Evans

This exercise in Southern gothic excess left me singing the blues.

Directed by British actor Simon Callow (A Room with a View), The Ballad of the Sad Café churns like Tennessee Williams boiling with yellow fever; never mind that this material is based on an Edward Albee play, itself adapted from a novel by Carson McCullers.

A bit of plot…
Vanessa Redgrave (Julia) plays Miss Amelia, the androgynous outcast of a dirt-poor Texas town. She brews moonshine and sells it to her white-trash neighbors with nary a nod of acknowledgement, plunking their coins in an old coffee can and waiting for the next customer while she stares at the space between them. She sings old cracker songs and occasionally talks to herself. Her bleached hair cropped short in a pageboy cut, Amelia in her workshirt and bib overalls looks like any of the sunken-eyed farmers who toil on the scorched Texas earth.

She was once married, briefly, to Marvin Macy (Keith Carradine, Nashville), who she rejected on their wedding night. They were married by the Reverend Willin (Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night), whose cameo brings the total of former Oscar winners in this cast to three). In flashback, Marvin pleads for a space in the marital bed, gradually growing angry and vindictive before he leaves town, disgraced. He eventually lands in prison.

While Amelia harbors in her heart a failed marriage and other mysteries, a hunchbacked dwarf named Lymon hobbles into town, claiming he is her kin. Believing the little man to be her half-sister’s son, Amelia takes in Lymon. They develop an unusual relationship, this withdrawn woman and uncouth dwarf. A boisterous buffoon, Lymon (Cork Hubbert, Legend) urges Amelia to reopen the café on the main floor of her enormous farmhouse, which gives the locals a venue for something sorely lacking in their lives: fun.

Marvin returns from prison, slide guitar in hand, hell-bent on resuming his psychological warfare with the woman who spurned him. The dwarf loves Amelia and possibly Marvin as well, though Miss Amelia seems to appraise love as a foreign concept. All three are clearly insane — perhaps with hatred or maybe from the heat. It could also be due to the cruel vagaries of life or, in Lymon’s case, just because.

As Amelia, Marvin, and Lymon collide in circumstance and fate, it's painfully obvious that only two points in this po’ white trash triangle can survive.

This all plays better on paper than film, where the literary qualities of nuance, detail, and character translate here into an Old South gallery of grotesques writ large in a turgid Technicolor melodrama. The thematic concerns — namely, madness and brutality — invite parallels to A Streetcar Named Desire, but the actual execution is more David Lynch than Elia Kazan. Director Callow likes to wallow in bizarre detail, as though he pored over McCullers’ novel with a yellow highlighter, resolving to underline every instance of insanity, debauchery, villainy, and vice. What he delivers, though, is a sumptuously photographed landscape of the Depression-era South, with the primary highlight being Redgrave’s inscrutable performance. Is she playing this material straight or aiming for satire? Evidence to support both arguments is on display in her performance, yet she never betrays her intent.

With ripe dialogue and viscous scenarios, the screenplay was clearly a powerful draw for the three Academy Award winners in the cast. The script requires these actors to deliver such flamboyant lines that they arrive triumphantly at the end of sentences, yet we wonder if scenery chewing might be next on the menu. Steiger was particularly susceptible to gnawing on hambones; witness his Oscar-winning performance in the 1967 Best Picture winner, In the Heat of the Night. Carradine fares best in a controlled performance that simmers with frustration, ultimately exploding into rage.

A first-time director, Callow clearly did not rein in his performers when he should have, yet he held too tightly to the leash when other scenes warrant reckless abandon. So we lurch back and forth in tone and feeling. The resulting uncertainty elicits an odd sensation from material that is already, at best, peculiar. Perhaps a swig from a Mason jar of Miss Amelia's home-brewed hooch would produce a greater appreciation of this esoteric nonsense.

Let me be clear. The director was obviously going for an exaggerated, operatic style to spotlight the tragic lives of sad characters. Yet these are people who are not much worth caring about. And that is the fatal flaw.

Visually, the film emulates the celebrated photography of Walker Evans, whose stunning black-and-white images of Depression-era folk open the literary-documentary experiment Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, by the brilliant author and screenwriter James Agee (Night of the Hunter). Agee’s incredible book is an essential contribution to 20th-century culture. The Ballad of the Sad Café is not.

Presented in association with the Criterion Collection, this is a well-produced DVD of a mediocre film. Audio and video are above average, while special features—limited to a director's commentary — are subpar. Callow dishes on his methods and inspirations, although he ultimately tries to imbue the film — his lone directorial effort — with a degree of importance that clashes with the evidence onscreen.

The Contrarian View
Despite a uniquely American literary pedigree, Callow's film is closer to Shakespeare in its tragic scope and grand ambition. But like one of the Bard's best-known titles, Ballad of the Sad Café is really much ado about nothing. All tone and texture and pretty pictures, the film is maddeningly frustrating for raising narrative expectations yet failing to deliver a satisfying story. Were it not for Redgrave's remarkable performance, the film would probably be forgotten today.

This is billed as part of the Merchant Ivory collection, but the film is a curious misfire in an otherwise sterling body of work. Truth be told, producer James Ivory was not involved with the production (this was an Ismail Merchant effort), so it is misleading to include this title in a collection of their joint ventures.

Like a fever dream, this surreal film fades quickly when the lights come up. Sad Café is remarkable, in fits and starts, only while it lasts – drowning substance in florid style.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Gregory Peck is The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

By Steve Evans

“The Motion Picture That May Very Well Be THE VERY GREATEST!” ~ From the promotional poster.

Studio hyperbole aside, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit remains a powerful film of post-World War II hopes and dreams when Americans started chasing elusive promises of the good life engineered by cynics on Madison Avenue.

Although the film may not be "THE VERY GREATEST," it certainly feels like one of the longest. Another entry in the Fox Studio Classics series, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is available in a newly restored and digitally remastered print originally screened in Cinemascope. The images are stunning; the story, less so.

Self-indulgent preamble…
My interest in writing about this film stems from a midnight conversation with my brilliant wife about the myriad ways society attempts to control, cajole and coerce people into conformity. From the moment we are old enough to attend preschool, perhaps even earlier through exposure to television, the conditioning begins. We learn to be good citizens, become educated, find jobs and spouses, get mortgaged for 30 years and keep the system operational by working jobs we hate for bosses we despise in order to buy things we don’t need. And to pay taxes.

Some of us wonder why. Most of us don’t. We just do it.

There is subtle regimentation: Stay in line. Move along. Remain orderly. Consume. Abide. These are powerful forces that can compel us to make decisions we might later regret. I think occasionally about the jobs I have held for too long, knowing that it was time to move on, yet needing a paycheck and kidding myself into thinking that security is more important than happiness. The same can be said for relationships that have run their course. Anyone who ever toiled too long in a bad marriage with a coarse, manipulative spouse can certainly relate.

Speaking of fools, I have spent some time in the proximity of MBA students, whose obsession with money is both appalling and amusing, considering that they appear to have little else to fulfill their lives. Contrary to their shrill insistence and arm-flapping histrionics, I have seen firsthand that MBAs create nothing and merely extract the value produced by other individuals. They do this through clever accounting, seductive marketing and shell games that involve moving money, debt, contracts and risk instruments of tangible value around and around in a circle, peeling off pieces of that value with each rotation until there is nothing left. They are proud of this behavior. And yes, it is meaningless. We need only to trace the origins of the current economic crisis to see that MBAs and people of their mindset are the greatest threat to society in the world today. Occasional acts of terrorism pale in comparison to the harm that greed-fueled individuals can and do cause in their quest for wealth.

And even if they achieve their goals, what then? I've heard people say with complete candor, “You've gotta play the game,” as if that was reason enough to play it. As musician Alan Price sang on the unforgettable soundtrack to O Lucky Man!, they smile while they're faking it, laugh while they're taking it, as if nobody's gonna know. And when they are inevitably wheeled to the cemetery, what have these self-absorbed fools really accomplished?

We don’t have long to enjoy this world, as I was reminded last month with the sudden death of an old college friend, who sustained a massive stroke and died at the age of 45, reportedly leaving behind a slate of unfinished projects and unfulfilled dreams.

Perhaps some perspective is needed as we race headlong toward death.

The California Redwood, or Sequoia, can grow to heights in excess of 350 feet. Some are more than 1,500 years old. That’s more than 20 generations of people. Entire dynasties have come and gone during the life of a Sequoia, as it reaches inexorably toward the heavens.

Time means different things, depending on your lifespan. As an aside, there is a thought-provoking scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo set in a redwood forest near San Francisco, where Kim Novak ponders the fleeting nature of her existence to a puzzled Jimmy Stewart. That scene encapsulates precisely what I mean.

Since this is a site devoted to cinema, let’s bring it on home with a closer look at a little parable made half a century ago, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956).

And now for a bit of plot…
Gregory Peck (Spellbound, To Kill a Mockingbird) stars as World War II veteran and New York executive Tom Rath, a man in conflict. He struggles with a natural desire to provide the best for his wife and children against the dawning realization that grabbing for the brass ring of corporate success is not only less important than his family — the two objectives may be mutually exclusive. Adjusting to civilian life hasn't been easy. As he makes his way through each difficult day, Rath often finds his mind wandering back to the war (presented in lengthy flashbacks). Troubled by his gnawing conscience over a secret, wartime affair, Rath tries to placate his nagging and status-obsessed, but ultimately loving wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones, who had starred with Peck a decade earlier in Duel in the Sun). Betsy wants to keep up with the Joneses and pushes Rath to take a better job with a Madison Avenue advertising agency (where he can make a whopping $10,000 per year; how times have changed). But the new position working for an obsessive executive (Frederic March, A Star is Born) throws Rath’s delicate family life out of balance, adding office politics and backstabbing to the daily barrage of aggravations. As the pressure mounts, a revelation from his former lover in Italy plunges Rath into a moral crisis.

Context, Historical Significance
Based on a novel by Sloan Wilson, the film was written and directed by Nunnally Johnson (The Three Faces of Eve), who has a flair for character-driven drama. So it’s disappointing to report that good performances and outstanding action sequences in the war flashbacks are punctuated by long stretches of turgid melodrama. This is a rewarding film experience, but viewers may wish they could spend an afternoon in an editing suite with the original negative, which would benefit from judicious tightening. Seldom have I seen this many plot points competing for dominance in one movie. Let me be clear: This is a very good picture, just not the masterpiece it was advertised to be and that I had hoped for.

The intriguing narrative structure may throw off some viewers. Peck’s character immerses himself in wartime flashbacks that last unusually long, leaving the contemporary story of family and responsibility marooned, yet never completely forgotten. The long-flashback technique enriches our understanding of Peck’s tortured executive, but gives short shrift to other characters when the story switches back to the present. At 2½ hours, the film covers plenty of turf, though not at a pace calculated to induce edge-of-your-seat anticipation.

Gregory Peck in action at war reminded me of no one more than Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan (1998). Both are essentially decent men prepared to do whatever is necessary to get home, although Peck’s soldier creates an unforeseeable dilemma when he falls in love and begins an affair with an Italian woman, Maria (a gorgeous 24-year-old Marisa Pavan, The Rose Tattoo).

The war sequences are harrowing and expertly staged for maximum emotional impact and spectacle. Famed Fox producer Daryl F. Zanuck pumped money into his productions, but more importantly, at least in this picture, every dollar is on screen.

Those who enjoy star gazing will see Lee J. Cobb (Call Northside 777, The Exorcist) as a gruff judge, but look fast for an uncredited DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy of “Star Trek” fame) as an Army medic in one of the flashback sequences. The picture features starkly realistic war scenes and may be among the first movies to explore post-traumatic stress disorder before there was a name for the condition.

Back home, the film also offers some pretty potent observations on marriage and parenthood in an era when coping with a troubled career and family responsibility often meant finishing the day with a stiff jolt of gin and a splash of vermouth. As a message movie with a dire warning, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit remains as relevant today as half a century ago.

What’s on the disc, Steve?
I’ll tell ya. Fox presents a gorgeous restoration of the film in the original Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 in warm, glowing Technicolor. The restoration comparison on the extras menu provides compelling proof that the cost of film restoration and preservation is a vital, worthwhile investment. Fox treats the cinematic legacies in its vaults with as much care as discriminating film collectors have come to expect from boutique companies like Criterion. Truly, this is a sharp restoration job by technicians and film historians who know what they’re doing. Audio is crisp in digital stereo.

Disc extras are generous and include a MovieTone news reel of the film's premiere, five trailers of classic Fox pictures, a stills gallery, and a commentary track by James Monaco, author of How to Read a Film, a landmark 1977 text on understanding motion pictures. With a suggested retail price of about $15 this DVD offers tremendous value to the collector.

Caveat lector…
This is a tale that did not require 152 minutes to tell. The picture drags for long stretches in New York, as Peck's character grapples with the stress and strain of modern (mid-1950s) life. These sluggish sequences are almost offset by the gripping flashbacks to World War II, as intense as anything to come out of American cinema in the 1950s.

If Arthur Miller posed a question about the human condition and tried to supply an answer in his 1949 play Death of a Salesman, then The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit could serve as a rebuttal. The film would make an excellent tonic to Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) on a double feature, which is highly recommended.

Though occasionally tedious (ironically, like much of modern life), the film ultimately transcends its own excessive length to deliver an enduring message about the importance of living an examined life.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Begorrah! Ah Watch The Quiet Man This Day

By Steve Evans

The Quiet Man
(1952) is the greatest film John Wayne ever made. This is neither conjecture nor is it mere opinion. It is fact.

Working with his close friend, the great director John Ford, The Duke turned in his finest performance as retired boxer Sean Thornton. Haunted by his past (he accidentally killed a man in the ring), Thornton retreats from America to his native Ireland and a quest for a quiet life in his hometown, the village of Innisfree. There, he finds a captivating crowd of eccentrics and happy Irishmen with a powerful thirst for porter and stout, telling tall tales, and living a simple existence off the land.

But Thornton’s dreams of a peaceful life unravel when he spies fiery redhead Mary Kate Danaher (the stunning Maureen O’Hara), who ignites a flame in his heart. Mary Kate is a pistol of a gal who cannot be tamed by just any man. And Sean, ever determined, cannot understand why he can’t simply take this spitfire on a date. Ah, but the proprieties must be observed at all times (this is the early 1900s after all), so the couple must be chaperoned by the town matchmaker, wee Michaleen Flynn (that great character actor Barry Fitzgerald, with Wayne, below right; whose thespian brilliance makes me think of a leprechaun come to life).

Complications rain on Innisfree when Mary Kate’s oafish brother, “Red” Will Danaher, who is the local bully and wealthiest man in town, resolves to block the courtship between his sister and Sean simply because he doesn’t like the Yank (but mainly because Sean refuses to be bullied and that galls Danaher). The tremendous Victor McLaglen plays Will Danaher to perfection with a semi-bright bluster and swagger that creates a living, breathing, utterly believable character. Will refuses to give his sister her dowry after he is tricked by some of the villagers and Parish Priest Father Peter Lonergan (Ward Bond) into courting the widow Tillane. It was all a set-up to secure Will’s permission for Sean to court Mary Kate. In the Thornton household, Mary Kate refuses to sleep with her new husband until Sean takes the dowry from her brother. Unschooled in Irish ways, Sean cannot understand why Mary Kate rebuffs him. The money means nothing to the Yank, who finds himself in a bind because he has vowed never to fight again – and his brother-in-law can hardly wait to throw a punch.

Tensions and resentment fester until the greatest fistfight in the history of cinema erupts with a donnybrook of Homeric proportions. Sean, Will, and half the townsfolk of Innisfree duke it out across the entire county, stopping only for a glass of stout to refresh the heart and awaken their spirits before the brawl begins again.

Improbably, love and friendship prevail at the end of a happy day.

(McLaglen was a magnificent actor who died four years before I was born. In the 30 years since I first experienced The Quiet Man, I have often wished that McLaglen (at right) might still be alive so I could buy the man a beer. I imagine we would talk about the joys and mysteries of women late into the night. We would hoist another black beer, shaking hands and toasting our good health, and laughing at the ridiculous magic of being alive, telling raw jokes until our stomachs hurt, yes, and laughing some more until hot, stinging tears welled up in our eyes.)

Since it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it appropriate to devote this space to a genuine Irish classic.

John Ford may be known for his influential westerns. His star, big John Wayne, will always be remembered as a cowboy. So it’s ironic that both of them produced career-best work with this gently amusing love story set more than a century ago in Celtic lands far from the parched earth of the American southwest where Ford and Wayne made most of their pictures.

Some say the Irish milieu of The Quiet Man never existed. I say, to hell with them. The Quiet Man presents a vision of Ireland as I shall always see it in my mind’s eye: a bedazzling emerald countryside in luminous Technicolor.

The scenery, the script, the situations, the stars – everything in this film is spot-on perfect. What enthralls me the most, though, is the love story between Sean and Mary-Kate. This is the essence of what a glorious romance should be, but so sadly seldom is.

Wayne and O’Hara made their second appearance together in this film, following the contractual obligations of Rio Grande (1950), the film Ford had agreed to direct for Republic Pictures in exchange for financing The Quiet Man. Had Rio Grande been anything less than a hit, The Quiet Man might never have been made.

The Wayne-O’Hara chemistry transformed The Quiet Man into a classic. Yes, the cinematography is exquisite, the screenplay deliriously charming, and the actors – many of them Dubliners and village locals – bring an authentic texture to the film. But when we watch this great picture more than half a century later, it is the tender love story between Sean and Mary Kate that stirs our souls. Everything in the film is structured to reinforce our hope for these characters and to advance their love for each other.

From the moment Sean spies Mary-Kate in a cloverfield, it’s love at first sight. I can’t blame him. With her fiery hair and snow-white complexion, Technicolor was made for a woman like Maureen O’Hara.

The Quiet Man stands above other romance films – ’tis immortal, in fact – because the screenplay never sounds less than authentic and because director John Ford, a driven artist, insisted on shooting as much of the picture as possible on location in Ireland. This was no mere quest for authenticity, although the devoted viewer can almost smell the corned beef, red potatoes and cabbages. Fact is, Ireland could serve as another character in the film, for it is the scenery and the romanticized notion of Irish culture that informs every frame of this classic. We might smile in amusement at the sight of Irish Protestants and Catholics living together in harmony, but the movie does not pretend to show us the way life really was, but the way we long for it to be.

With its story of a great romance and the sometimes brutal obstacles that must be overcome to earn that love (what could be worse than a noxious in-law with a wicked left hook and a jaw of granite?) The Quiet Man transcends period and place to present a timeless story of romance, redemption and gently humorous revenge.

The closing scenes (with the cast enjoying a curtain call and waving farewell) make me weep with joy every time I view this film, thinking, if only life could be this way. Aye, The Quiet Man makes a man believe in hope and dreams, and to trust in the essential goodness of humanity, which is tough to come by in an age of self-absorption, avarice, greed and hate. I’ve unspooled this film faithfully on St. Patrick’s Day for 30 years. Begorrah, and I’ll watch it for another 30 years or until the day I die.

No better picture about a man’s love for a woman has been made in the 57 years since The Quiet Man offered unforgettable images of a simple life, of bonny lasses, emerald fields and ruddy-brown forests, the reassuring honesty of plain–speaking people and the enduring message of what a man can accomplish when he sticks to his principles and pursues his passion. Perhaps the secret to its success lies in the fact that this was a labor of love for director John Ford, who assembled a team of filmmakers working at the height of their creative powers.

Nearly 60 years later, The Quiet Man still has the power to sear itself into the hearts of eternal romantics and film lovers everywhere.

Count me a member of both camps.

Copyright © 2009 by Cinematic Cteve // dba Cinema Uprising. All rights reserved.