“You are in the middle of an ocean, on a jinxed ship from which there is… No escape.”
THE DRUMS OF THE FOUR AND AFT by Joseph Rudyard Kipling
ESCAPE’s ability to in a mere 30 minutes completely captivate you, in a world and a time, is second to none. As these recorded and broadcast live episodes, illustrate.
Four months into 1948, most homes still had radios. TVs then were like VR today, a costly, fringe technology, not yet broadly adopted. The 50s would bring mass adoption of television, supplanting radio as the premier broadcast medium.
But in 1948, three years after the end of World War II, radio was still king. The radio dominated the living room as families huddled in front of it, to get their news, their music, their sporting events, their comedy and their adventure. And virtually no competition, less than a handful of stations. What you were listening to likely everyone you knew, or ever would know… listened to the same program at the same time.
We have nothing like it today. In this age of thousands of channels and millions of choices, and on-demand delivery, we watch, even the most popular shows in an isolation, an individualism, not at the same time, not with the same urgency, not with the same global penetration into who we are and what we love.
Civilizations, societies are forged by common loves and common hates and common points of reference. America has largely become a nation of adrift islands. In 1948 90 million people, all huddled around their radios to hear a live broadcast, not the fake live used today, delayed by minutes, but true immediacy of performance and audience consumption, tied together by a common moment.
It is alchemy. A magic that for all our streaming and digital innovations, we have fallen away from. The ability of a true shared moment between performer and audience.
“Nasty things. Their flesh is too much like the flesh of men, Their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.”
—From Drector Howard Hawks’ noirish paradigmatic film, an essentional framework of noir, 1946’s THE BIG SLEEP starring the first pairing of the immortals, Bogart and Bacall.
It was a film that was so convoluted that not even the screenwriter or director were able to tie up all the knots. However despite this, the power of the performances, direction, and charisma of the leads carries it over any lapses of plot.
Their on screen sparks, the 20 year old Bacall and the married 45 year old Bogart [they filmed THE BIG SLEEP in 1944 but it was not released until 1946], mirrored their off-screen sparks. They would be married three months after filming wrapped, and it would cement a love affair that would transcend both their lives.
One of the must watch films of the 20th century.
Click the image below to get the Blu-ray. I generally only purchase films if they include special features and audio commentaries. But I make an exception for this film, it is worth having even with this relatively bare-bones release.
‘You think this man is the enemy? Huh? This is a worker! Any union keeps this man out ain’t a union, it’s a goddam club! They got you fightin’ white against colored, native against foreign, hollow against hollow, when you know there ain’t but two sides in this world – them that work and them that don’t. You work, they don’t. That’s all you got to know about the enemy.’
-MATEWAN [2 syllables, pronounced MATE(as in your spouse)- WAN (as in WAND)]
Click on the above image to purchase.
People use words like masterpiece and great, and sometimes the true weight of what you may be getting across may be lost.
Let me therefore explain MATEWAN to you thusly, I just finished watching the film yesterday. And I’m watching and listening to the, newly cut 2019 Criterion interviews today. (quick aside, i really appreciate that criterion went to the expense of doing new interviews and features for this film, which is something i am critical of them not doing, in other films. These 2019 featurettes are really— stunning, and on top of the greatness of the film, make the blu-ray a must own purchase.)
This morning I watched the news of Resident Trump dressing up essentially unidentified strike breakers and thugs, and letting them loose in Portland Oregon, and calling it the law.
“If you have vacation benefits, if you have unemployment benefits, worker’s compensation— these things weren’t given to you; they were fought for by people throughout this country. And i’m passionate about the fact that people have actually made an effort to fight for other people’s rights.”
—Karen VuRanch, THEM THAT WORK (2004) Documentary/featurette on the Matewan Massacre
Watching MATEWAN, a stunningly beautiful film, referencing a caustic bit of American history, from exactly 100 years ago, gives me, and I think it will give you, one of the greatest gifts art can can give— perspective. Perspective on the mistakes we have made, and the tyranny we have allowed.
And perspective helps us deal with the present, without ignorance, and if not without fear, without hopelessness. Because we can see others have seen these days of Gethsemane, and endured it, triumphed over it.
You can go many days of your life without gaining that type of perspective, that barest hint of —- grace. Looking at the world, many people go their whole life without finding the type of perspective, that glimpse of grace— that MATEWAN hints at.
For $30 to $40, Criterion’s MATEWAN blu-ray is one of the best purchases you can make. And ultimately, what it has left me with, like the best of true art, is priceless.
” The way she poured herself into her song— it can make a doubting man religious.”
—James Earl Jones on Hazel Dickens’ song in the film
There are a lot of GREAT film Noirs. From John Huston’s anointed ground zero of Film noir, 1941’s MALTESE FALCON to the works of Billy Wilder (1944’s DoUBLE INDEMNITY), Edward Dmytryk (1944’s MURDER MY SWEET). Howard Hawks (1946’s BIG SLEEP), Orson Welles (1947’s THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI), Anthony Mann/John Alton (1948’s RAW Deal), Joseph H. Lewis (1950’s GUN CRAZY), Jules Dassin (1950’s NIGHT AND THE CITY), Richard Fleisher (1952’s THE NARROW MARGIN) to name just a few, There is perhaps no genre to in so brief a time, create such a wealth of iconic films, and galvanizing films.
Going on 80 years after some of these films were made, they are as crowd pleasing and watchable as ever. You can’t say the same for many of the A films, or serious films of the time, that tend to creak under the manners and etiquette and issues of the day—of a passed time. Whereas the genre films, particularly film noir, lived in this short-hand, heightened Americana of Extremes; of lust and betrayals and passions, that remain timeless and relatable and incendiary. Film Noirs, though of their time, lived in a world of light and shadows, that felt always ever present, and indeed almost prophetic… almost ahead of its time.
And perhaps no Film Noir highlights this as much, as Robert Aldrich’s 1955 masterpiece… KISS ME DEADLY. From the opening sequence, which remains one of the best opening sequences of any film, to the last scene of a world put on notice, Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY, in a genre that is style codified, stands out as the most stylish, and yet does so while also being one of the most substantive Film Noirs.
There is so much in this film, from how it is shot, to its location, to its soundtrack by the great Nat King Cole, to its performances led by the great Ralph Meeker, to its wealth of diversity, showcasing a city peopled with a diverse range of colors, and nationalities and ethnicity. People of color, with speaking parts, not shown as stereotypes but just as intriguing people, to the wealth of memorable female roles, to its brutality, to its depiction of its protagonist— that continues to make KISS ME DEADLY, unique.
Even in a genre of morally ambiguous anti-heroes that people Film Noir, Ralph Meeker’s Mike Hammer takes the cake. He is mercenary, brutal, sadistic, a user of women, he is a thug and a cad, but despite that, there is also something still magnetic about him, Ralph Meeker plays him in a way that I’m not sure any other actor could have quite pulled off, that makes you see him, as reflected nin the great performances of the four women that pine for his attention throughout the movie: a cad yes, but a cad with something Quixote like somewhere beneath the smirk. That here at the end of the day, is a man who would if he could, fight dragons. This realization that despite MIke hammer’s failings, the things he fights against— are worse.
And something that is lost, even to ardent fans of this film, and because of just how much happens in every moment of this film, is everything that happens from the protagonist’s release from the hospital till the conclusion, happens in just four days. The amount of horror and blood and beatings and ultimately loss that happens, is a whirlwind, and becomes even more impressive when you take the time to realize this is a 96 hour period, from him getting out of the hospital till the end of the film.
Robert Aldrich made a lot of acclaimed films, this is without doubt my personal favorite of all his films. It is a masterpiece, full stop, owing its revolutionary plotline less to the source novel by Mickey Spillane, and by all reports (including the included 2011 alex Cox featurette) almost entirely to the groundbreaking changes and innovations introduced by screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides.
And Criterion has released this game changing film, in a definitive Blu-Ray presentation, from the mastering, to the extras, to the packaging and art design, it is a work of art, worthy of the film.
Yes you can purchase it on streaming. But for a few dollars more you can own it in a format, that does honor to your book shelf or media center, or living room.
Grade: A+. Highest Recommendation, for the movie and for the Blu-Ray.
And no, I won’t be upgrading this to 4K, or 8K, or 16K. I’ve got an up-scaling multi-region Blu-ray player, 20-20 vision, on a less than 65″ screen, this Blu-ray satisfies the needs of my TV, and of my eyesight. Beyond a certain point the search for more is a game of pixels and real estate, and moving the newest shiny model (to use car talk), and not quality.
Click the image below to get your copy, while still in stock.
A lot of eloquent people have already weighed in on the passing of one of cinema’s most galvanizing actors.
I will to this only add, the measure of a great actor is his ability to elevate everything he is in.
And while I saw only a smattering of the 163 films and TV shows he was involved in, of the two dozen or so things I saw him in, I always enjoyed his performance, what he brought to the audience.
And the one that comes to mind first for me, before the masterpiece that is the SEVENTH SEAL or NEEDFUL THINGS or DUNE or STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS or CONAN THE BARBARIAN or EXORCIST or THE MAGICIAN, etc… before all these, the performance of Max Von Sydow that comes to mind first, when I think of him, is his performance in an oft decried movie… the Slyvester Stallone starring and Danny Cannon directed JUDGE DREDD from 1995.
JUDGE DREDD was supposed to be a huge Box Office success, Danny Cannon coming off of critical praise for YOUNG AMERICANS, and with a star in Sylvester Stallone that was coming off three films, that while they didn’t light the world on fire, were good popcorn movies that audiences enjoyed, and managed to make back their investment; JUDGE DREDD was looked at, as a rising tide, that would lift all boats.
In reality it was a raging storm, that almost sunk all involved, a disaster at the box office, and damaged careers left and right.
That said, horrendous Ja-Ja Binks level of non-comedy relief in Rob Schneider aside, the good in this movie far outweighs the bad.
I actually really like this movie. Especially when compared to the 2012 Pete Travis directed DREDD, which a lot of people love; I can not stand that movie. I see it as an inept RAID ripoff, that is just mean-spirited and unlikeable and unenjoyable throughout. Compared to DREDD, I’ll take JUDGE DREDD any day.
And one of the main reasons is Max Von Sydow, he is the main reason. That scene where his character takes the long walk into the Cursed Earth to ‘bring the law to those who have it not’ is not just one of the finest scenes in that movie, it is one of the finest scenes in any movie. I love that one scene, that much. It is more heart and humanity and hope in that one scene than in the entirety of many more acclaimed films.
And it is great direction that makes that scene, but it is also the great gravitas that very few actors can bring to a role, or to a scene, with just their presence and face. Max Von Sydow was, and because film is forever, is that actor.
For me I will always see him as Judge Fargo, meeting his end… by showing us how to meet ours.
That’s all I wanted to share.
If I can find that scene, or part of it, I’ll link it below. But the film is worth revisiting, if for nothing more, Max Von Sydow’s long and last walk, into the Cursed Earth.
If my house, god forbid, was being evacuated, and after family, pets and other essentials, they told me “here is a box you have room to bring 15 of your artbooks” ; REBUS by James Jean, would be one of those books.
Now to clarify, I have a lot of artbooks, and if I do say so myself I only own what I consider GREAT and ESSENTIAL artbooks, so to narrow that down to 15… is difficult.
But here for your list reading pleasure, is one of those 15!
REBUS by James Jean
I actually love the design and construction of this book, more than the actual content. Don’t get me wrong, the artwork is great, very beautiful, and I like it quite a bit, but I do not love it. It is not quite my style, but the stunning construction of the book, with the red gilded pages, makes it such an art object in and of itself. It is the only James Jean book I own, and it is because of the beatiful construction and design of the book itself.
I’m not crazy about the poster tag-line, a ‘true legend’, while many true things with time become the stuff of legend, and many legends are stories that have outlived and outlasted the crumbling and burying into dust of all things, even concrete evidence, the putting together of those two words… ‘true legend’ , if not exactly an oxymoron, is just slightly inept marketing. You want to put those two together, try this… ‘in a time of imposed truths, he became in his own lifetime… a galvanizing legend’ .
Took me two seconds to come up with that, and I think it shows more thought than what their marketing department did. Call me guys if you need to fire them and get a better marketing presence, we’ll talk. 🙂 .
But that aside, a very good poster and a GREAT Trailer! If the movie lives up to it, it will be a blast.
As someone who just picked up the 2 season set of UNDERGROUND (almost sold out, so you may want to pick it up while you can, use the attached link) and who is a huge fan of the best in Pan African cinema such as SANKOFA, DARESALAM, HYENAS, GENESIS, I AM CUBA, CAMP DE THIAROYE (also available courtesy of the attached links) this film definitely goes on my must check out list. Probably along with the WITCH:SUBVERSION one of the best trailers for the Month of February.
SANKOFA – arguably one of the finest, and both savage and beautiful films made, of a true Holocaust. Haile Gerima’s masterpiece. and the fact that this film is out of print, and does not have a Criterion or similar high-scale Blu-ray or DVD release, is only proof that we have a long way yet to go. Get a copy, you will thank me later.
DARESALAM – This is simply put, cinema at its finest. Get your copy, while you can.
I AM CUBA – For years this film was not available in the west, and then when I finally saw it, I think at a film festival, yeas ago, the camera work, in a time way before CGI, blew my mind. As a fan of David Lean, and Hitchcock and Welles and Fritz Lang, geniuses with the camera, this film was like a generational evolution. In an age before Steadicam adoption, the shots were absolutely mind blowing. When it finally was released on a quality DVD boxset, I rushed out and picked it up, and I told all of you to pick it up. For those new to this blog, back in the day, those who listened to me picked it up for $40. It is decidedly more than that, but still worth picking up, if you have the funds. A Masterpiece.
Quick rant, feel free to bypass this. 🙂
Here’s a tip you should know. Quality non-hollywood films about and by people of color, especially politically provocative films, have a tendency of not staying in print. And either dry up entirely on the secondary market, or explode in price before disappearing into private collections rarely to see the light of day.
I am never in a rush to pick up KNIVES OUT or 1917 or AVENGERS ENDGAME, because that is going to be there for decades to come. But when I hear about a THE GREAT WAR or EMPEROR or a DARESALAM or a BROTHER JOHN on dvd or Blu-ray, I can not race fast enough to purchase these movies. Haile Gerima, who I had the pleasure to interview back in the day, understood the importance of retaining positive images, and words, and movies, and music. That is culture.
And when the ability to view or hear or see these sounds and images, is at the mercy and whims of multinationals… culture itself is held hostage. And the people who depend on the reflective power of culture, to help define the width and the breadth of their aspirations, are likewise diminished.
And particularly today when so many are weaned on streaming, physical media is ironically both scarcer and yet more important and arguably esteemed and sought after, than ever before.
Because those in the know, understand streaming giveth and streaming taketh away, based on the uninformed whims of the lynchmob. You want your favorite film, available to watch when you want, and in the cut of the film you remember, there is no replacement for physical media. There just is not.
Here endeth the soap-box interlude. 🙂
You can take it, or you can leave it alone. 🙂
Either way, be well.
MANDY (2018)– Finally catching this 2018 released film courtesy of SHUDDER. And I have to say… stunning. A lurid and at times lucid nightmarish primary color tinged, cosmic fueled descent into the Maelstrom; a revenge flick that goes to damnation and beyond. Panos Cosmatos has created a singular vision of the places that wait beyond our reason, places horrid , and awe-inspiring, and unrelenting. And all we must offer up… is everything.
A stunning film by Cosmatos, fueled by a great score by (I have just found out) the late and uber talented Johann Johannsson (composer of one of the best scores of recent memory, SICARIO… he will be missed), and powered by transformative performances by all; but particularly by Nicholas Cage, who takes us into the maelstrom with him, into hearts of darkness.
Nicolas Cage has really been taking some rough roles, brutal roles recently. That will take much out of any actor, and he does it again here, but going further than anyone should have to, into places dark and demanding. And it is so great to see the legendary Bill Duke in a film, he just raises the bar of everything he is in, and does so here. Panos Cosmatos (the son of George Cosmatos who directed one of my favorite films, TOMBSTONE, also an iconic film, with revenge, pushing the wrong man too far, at its core conceit) with only his second film, the first the equally magical realism imbued BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, has cemented himself for me, as a director to seek out, and to purchase his films when available.
And Kudos to producers Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah for helping champion these criminally underused (and in one case, seemingly blacklisted) visionaries, and working with them to get their films out to a wider audience again. MANDY is very much a gift, from a filmmaker who we have not heard from since 2010. Also very much looking forward to their collaboration with Richard Stanley.
Final thoughts on MANDY… Hypnotic and an experience, that is… compellingly watchable and re-watchable. It is a rabbit hole, and will suck you in. Highly recommended!
When you have viewed it courtesy of streaming, ‘tried before you buy’ so to speak, and are as impressed as I am, then I suggest buying on Bluray. However I would hold out until they release a steel-book or digi-book with special features to include commentary. The Bluray on the market now lacks any commentary or really notable special features, which I think is a big misstep, to release a bare-bones disc. These days I do not buy a disc, unless it is loaded with special feature to include a commentary track.
In the age of streaming you really need to step up your game with the special features to make the Bluray worth it. Here’s hoping a full fledged disk will be released soon, this film deserves it.
THRILLER is a tv series hosted by the late, great Boris Karloff, that even for fans and students of cinema and television, is more rumored of than actually seen. So imagine my happy surprise to come home from a hard day of work and find the first season of this perennially hard to find show, available on the Roku Streaming Channel for free.
Very much an attempt to ride the popularity of Rod Serling’s TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-1964), THRILLER ran only two seasons, starting out as a crime/thriller series before drifting into pure horror. The show never truly finding its footing or audience, but is remembered fondly by fans of classic television.
After watching the first episode “Twisted Image” I can see why. WoW! As someone watching this episode for the first time, 59 years after it was first aired, I was absolutely riveted. Everything here, works, the cinematography, the direction, the performances, the writing, the undercurrent of sex, dread and desperation… I mean we have seen variations on this theme, in the decades since, and yet this episode still manages to own every single minute of its 48 minute run-time.
I can only imagine how powerful this episode must have seem in 1960. To a generation just coming off of shows like LEAVE IT TO BEAVER it must have felt nearly X-rated. And yet 60 years removed from that relatively simpler America, the show somehow magically still has power, and is still oddly relevant to our world now. A world of desperate people, doing desperate things, in an attempt to find someone to hold them through the night.
Directed by the esteemed Arthur Hiller, from a teleplay by James Cavanagh, from a novel by William O’Farrell, this is as good a 48 minutes of television as you will find.
And a quick aside about Arthur Hiller, while his cinematic filmography is impressive (see some of his movies below) it is filled mostly with comedies.
It is his little seen early television work that is imbued with this seedy, nightmarish intensity.
Liam Nielsen, long before becoming known to a younger generation as a comedic lead, cut his teeth doing serious, often mirthless roles. And this episode of THRILLER is one such role. He is great here, as is the rest of the cast, but the real draw for me is actress Natalie Trundy, her beauty and fragile madness is the spark, that burns the whole world down.
Just a phenomenal episode. I would buy the boxset of THRILLER on Dvd/BLU-RAY just to own this episode. It is that good. I put it right up there with the first episode of the original ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. Now as I mentioned not every episode is a hit. Every great episode seems to be followed up with two mediocre ones, but the series is worth having for the great ones. Try it for free courtesy of Roku, and if as impressed as I, use the link below to get the box-set, while you can.
Thanks and Happy Holidays to the followers and supporters and visitors of this oft different blog on our pop culture and our times as seen thru an admitedly biased lens.
To paraphrase the great conversation between Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles characters in CITIZEN KANE (the product of 27yo wunderkind Orson Welles) :
Cotton: You know your problem, you want love on your own terms.
Welles: In the end those are the only terms anyone ever knows, their own.
This blog at its best is about things worth loving, on their own terms.
Thank you for a fantastic year of likes, comments, emails and suggestions, and of your own excellent content.
I am going to be shouting out all my followers (probably starting at the end of the day), from WAYLAND PROD of the excellent, and award winning podcast WE”RE ALIVE (https://www.werealive.com/) to one of the most talented people, writer, podcaster, reviewer DERRICK FERGUSON of the brilliant and must visit FERGUSON THEATER (https://derricklferguson.com) to THE GODLY CHIC of the always uplifting and rewarding GODLY CHICK DIARIES (https://gcdiaries.wordpress.com/) and every follower inbetween.
I’m going to try and space it out and do maybe 25 to an update so as to not inundate you guys, and keep my overview on their site very brief.
But I do want you guys to patronize some of the wonderful people who have patronized me over the years. Giving back and paying forward, I would like that to be how I end this two thousand and eighteenth year of a crucified lord, and begin the two thousand and nineteenth.