Wednesday, December 13, 2017

French yuletide noir at San Francisco Roxie

By Moira Sullivan

Henry Baur as Père Noel
In Italy, December 13 is the day St. Lucia is celebrated who was murdered in 304 AD for refusing to be married. Her death on the Julian calendar was closer to the Winter Solstice on the darkest day of the year, but the Nordic countries kept the date when the Gregorian calendar was later adopted and solstice fell on the 20th of December. Lucia has long been celebrated in Sweden with a tradition of selecting a woman with candles in her hair to lead a procession of maidens, star boys and gingerbread children who bring forth the light.

In San Francisco, a French noir Yuletide double feature is being shown at the Roxie Theatre on December 13– L’ASSASSINAT DU PÈRE NOEL (Who Killed Santa Claus - 1941) by Christian-Jaque and LE MONTE-CHARGE by Marcel Bluwal (1962). Both films could hardly be claimed to be light entertainment and as crime fiction are associated with noir. The films do not evoke warm fuzzy feelings for Christmas but are dark and brooding plots involving intrigue, deception and murder. There are children in these films and Santa Claus but little joy for the them or the adults that try to make the best of the holiday.
L’ASSASSINAT DU PÈRE NOEL (Who Killed Santa Claus - 1941) has none of the stylistic of noir in terms of lighting. Most of the dark heavy gothic scenes without light are filmed indoors or are shot in the super bright snow on sunny days in the French Alps. The setting is a village near Grenoble where the town pharmacist Ricomet (Jean Brochard) goes to order medicine for the village, one of the many threads of the plot. 

Gaspard Cornusse dons his Father Christmas costume every year for the children played by Henry Baur, a rotund, jovial character with heavy drawn eyebrows in his early 60s. Gaspard makes toys such as world globes that light up. His acting style is steeped in a classical theatrical tradition. At times Gaspard's makeup seems like he will peel it off and another person will emerge. In the corner of his living room is a shrunken head of an Asian man, and as it is hanging he tells the village children the story of the bandit Fu-Xiyu who robbed for his daughter Princess Aurora. 

Henry Baur and René Faure
Meanwhile upstairs his daughter Catherine (Renée Faure) lives in a world of fantasy, raised on her father’s stories waiting for a romantic hero to carry her off on a white horse. Elsewhere in the film is a poor woman referred to as Mother Michel  (Marie-Hélène Dasté) who searches the village looking for her cat and was formerly married to Ricomet. Both of these female characters are not noir femme fatales but evocative women who are deeply disturbed because of the influence of the men in their life. Women serve the men of the village who wear large black berets and spend time drinking or gambling.  True to fairy tales, Catherine falls for a man she believes to be a prince with a hand covered by a black glove he claims has been deformed by leprosy, Baron Roland de la Faille (Raymond Rouleau). She is being courted by an annoying village teacher who threatens to punish wayward students by having them write about their grievances over and over. After meeting the Baron Catherine only has eyes for him. 

The film includes a Tiny Tim character, a young boy, who lies sickly in bed waiting for the gift he ordered from Santa Claus. There is also a thief in town who has taken St Nicolas’ ring from the village church and Santa Claus is found shot in the head in the Alps. Getting to the bottom of the mysteries in play involves calling in the territorial police and the townspeople and officials. 

Director Jaque brings out staid acting performances which border on overacting –children and adults alike, following the fiddle of Henry Baur, Father Christmas. During the time the film was made, France was under German occupation and the film was produced by the Nazi film company Continental Film. Director Christian- Jaque and screenwriter Charles Spaak were able to create a subtext to the film with subversive themes with allegories to the political realities. In real life Baur’s wife who was Jewish was taken away by the Gestapo and he was tortured and arrested the year after the film was made. After being released from prison he died in mysterious circumstances. 

LE MONTE-CHARGE by Marcel Bluwal (1962) starring Robert Hossein and Lea Massari has a noir stylistic with trains emitting billowy white smoke as they charge up a dark railway. It is set in a seedy looking Paris suburb - Courbevoie with notable signs pointing to and from Argenteuil on the other side of the Seine. Films featuring Hossein are often populated by districts of Paris, fictitious or real. On Christmas Eve, Robert Herbin (Hossein) has just gotten out of prison after seven years for murdering his boss’s wife. On his first night out, he takes notice of Marthe and her little daughter Nicole (Pascale Brouillard in a restaurant. Nearby is a movie theater and Robert follows Marthe and Nicole inside. During the screening Marthe allows him to put his hand on her shoulder and later to follow her home and come in for a drink. The apartment is big and spacious on top of her husband’s factory, nicely furnished with a sparsely decorated Christmas tree. In a series of attempts at passion followed by rejection, Marthe has the upper hand of Robert. She leaves with him to go to his apartment leaving Nicole alone, and then changes her mind and returns to her apartment again only to discover her husband dead. Robert must leave because he can’t be found anywhere near Courbevoie but is obsessed with Marthe. He follows her to Midnight mass where she faints, and then takes her home again assisted by another man who sells American cars.

Lea Massari, Pascale Brouillard and Robert Hossein
Christmas eve is robustly celebrated with last minute Christmas shopping, family get togethers in restaurants, fights in bars and a packed church of worshippers. Le Monte is a somber thriller involving murder, deception and a little girl dressed in a white fur parka whose step father hates her. Marthe’s attempt to leave a loveless marriage is well-planned where she uses men to help free her from her entrapment. Everything about the set design conveys this feeling of confinement from dark, shabby apartment houses to desolate streets of loneliness. Robert and Marthe cling to each other to free themselves from their circumstances yet wind up creating a complicated relationship that frightens them both.

Robert Hossein
© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 12/13/17
Movie Magazine International
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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Romance in the Cold War, against insurmountable odds - The Shape of Water

By Moira Sullivan

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is not one of his best films but it is a story that includes many of his themes. Tyranny over nature , inventions and technology that represent the future of man, and mutants that defy these standards. The Shape of Water is a time capsule from the American/Russian Cold War set in a US government laboratory much like the setting of Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy:The Golden Army (2008). The sadistic, predatory, misogynist and racist head of operations at the facility, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), has control of a mutant that he captured in South America, resembling The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). He is called “Amphibian Man” (Doug Jones) and is not able to speak nor is as benevolent as Abe Sapien in both 'Hellboys' (played also by Doug Jones) and attacks in self-defense. The Russian scientist Dimitri is the only official at the plant looking out for Amphibian man. Later one of the cleaning ladies at the lab takes an interest.

Del Toro has written and directed several magical films besides the two 'Hellboys' including Pan Labyrinth (2006) and the bizarre television production The Strain. The largesse of the budget for The Shape of Water went to set design, which consists of a laboratory and an apartment over a movie theater and parts of the town that surround the government complex.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute cleaning woman and the victim of an unknown criminal assault that left her scarred. She works together with Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spenser) at the government lab. Elisa lives alone and has an interesting gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is a commercial artist out of regular work. In their adjoining apartments, she looks out for him while Zelda looks out for her. Zelda’s commitment to Elisa is stronger than to her lazy ungrateful husband.

'Amphibian Man' is kept in one of the laboratory tanks and Elisa entices him out with eggs and music. The interiors of the lab are exceptionally created as well as Elisa and Giles’ apartments, a diner with a homophobic and racist owner, and Richard’s home with his dutiful high-heeled hairsprayed wife. All environments are filled with artefacts from the 1960’s – finned Cadillacs, trinkets and bric a brac, and clothing and vintage furniture. Television programs and film excerpts are displayed on TV consoles: a variety of Hollywood musicals, newsreel footage of police brutality against blacks, Henry Koster’s The Story of Ruth, Shirley Temple, Mr Ed - the talking horse and speeches by JFK. At Venice, the film received the Golden Lion for best film, and its visual effects, mise en scène and stunning cinematography have been praised ever since.

'Amphibian Man' is worshipped in the Amazons just as The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Both humanoids are of interest to science and more importantly form an attachment to a woman. In The Shape of Water, the romance accompanied to French love songs eventually consumes the narrative. Elisa is crazy about Amphibian man who does not see her imperfection, whereas the perfect Julie Adams as Kay Lawrence in The Creature from the Black Lagoon was horrified at the prospect of the match.

Richard Strickland is antagonistic and cruel towards the creature who is in the care of the military. The employees of the lab are harassed with racist, misogynist and xenophobic comments. Strickland knows how to badger Eliza and her past as a survivor and makes references to 'Samson and Delilah' to humiliate Zelda.

The weakness and strength of The Shape of Water is its narrative evolution through the magic of discovery of this new environment, this time period, and the characters that live during this time. "The Creature"and Elisa and their passion ultimately guide the film towards its end . Romance and dance numbers from Golden age Hollywood movies eclipse the misogyny, homosexuality, racial discrimination , the brutality of the military industrial complex, the space race, class differences, and the vapid consumerism. Brushing this all aside for romance is not unique to film, since there is nothing new about 'Amphibian Man' since "The Creature in the Black Lagoon" other than a woman who is willing to follow him. However, in such a dark period of history, romantic love is a potent force, and as intoxicating as the dreams of Hollywood.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 12/05/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

'I Love You Daddy' will not be released in a theater near you

China (Chloe Grace Moretz) sits on 'Daddy's ( Louis CK)  lap. 
By Moira Sullivan

I Love You Daddy is a film by Louis CK that unless you saw it in Toronto at the festival in September or are traveling to Denmark in January, you probably won’t see it. The film’s popularity has plummeted in a downward spinning spiral since allegations were waged by actresses against Louis CK for sexual harassment and distribution has been scrapped.

There is an ongoing discussion about if it is possible to separate the artist from the art, the filmmaker from the film, as in the case of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, two directors criticized for sexual misconduct. How to enjoy the art, not the artist predator? Is all that art lost, tainted? Ironically, it is Woody Allen, Ronan Farrow's father and Roman Polanski, the director of his mother Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby that have dodged accountability for the questions that are now acutely relevant  Ronan Farrow’s exposé in the New Yorker on November 6, compels us to put the artist in front of the "art", art which in many cases is riddled with obvious themes of sexual harassment and violence.

I Love You Daddy's film style is a refurbished Manhattan, a black and white film set in New York City only the young 17 year old Tracy is not Mariel Hemingway but Chloe Grace Moretz as China. Hemingway has since gone public that Woody Allen tried to seduce her when she was a teenager after making Manhattan.

I Love You Daddy has a cast of strong women that all bow to the award winning character of the film, Glen Topher, played by Louis CK. China, his daughter,  comes to live with him after living with her mother and Glen’s exwife played by Helen Hunt. "Daddy" fails to provide substantial guidance for his daughter, letting her go on vacations after spring break, and eventually to Paris with the 70 year film director Lewis Goodwin who Glen reveres. The well dressed Lewis is played by John Malkovich and is alleged to have molested children.

Glen's comedy writer Ralph (Charlie Day) feigns playing with himself when Glen is about to cast Grace Cullen (Rose Byrne) in his film, regarded as a sex goddess. (Louis CK's specific sexual misconduct reported by five women is evident in Ralph's masturbatory ritual). Glen’s ex-girlfriend played by Pamela Adlon, and his production assistant played by Edie Falco try to whip Glen into a state of moral panic about his sophomoric judgment. All mistakes and improprieties fall on "poor Glen", who is characterized by self-loathing and insecurity, just like Woody Allen's characters in his early films. Glen is propped up by smart, talented women and his daughter China who eventually stops calling him "Daddy" when she grows up, somewhere between the age of 17 and 18 in the film. (The ensemble cast is excellent, especially Grace Moretz in a short shelf life production riddled with recurrent sexual innuendos)

When I Love You Daddy was shown in Toronto,  the news about Louis CK had not broke, but now that it has, here is a clear case of a film where it is impossible to separate the art from the artist. I Love You Daddy will never be released in a theater near you or any time streaming. Its virtue was based on a transparent imitation of Manhattan, but now we know that Woody Allen isn’t really anyone worth imitating.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/29/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Grass: Untold Stories -- the background to 1926 Iranian documentary



By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou, an Iranian American who is a film scholar film critic and filmmaker wrote Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison in Iran in 1924. The documentary is about the Bakhtiari migration in search of grass from Angora to their lands in Persia. The Bakhtiari migration in search of Grass is an arduous trek that took place in Persia. The filmmakers followed the trip in particular the young Lufta and his father Haidar Khan – with 50,000 of his people and animals that crossed the Karun River – some on blown up goatskins, others on rafts, particularly the goats

Grass: Untold Stories
is an extraordinary document about Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison and how their lives intersect. Cooper was a combat pilot in France who was shot down and captured in a Russian prison. He reached out for help to a woman he had briefly danced with before in Poland, Marguerite Harrison who sent him food, and supplies and helped him to get out of prison. Harrison enlisted in intelligence service operations and lived in Russia

Cooper and Schoedsack, an army cameraman had previously made a film on Ras Tafari (also known as Haile Selassie) and “Grass” became their next project which was in part funded by Harrison. Shoedsack did not like that Cooper allowed Harrison on the trip but Bahman Maghsoudlou finds her an extraordinary person, a woman who inspired the character of Anne Darrow in King Kong from 1933 played by Faye Wray.  Harrison is often seen mounted on a donkey being led by a Persian, dressed in Western clothing and often posing for the camera. Cooper and Shoedsack remained behind the scenes in film that was physically exhausting and moved through difficult terrain.

The biography of the making of the film and its makers goes into great detail about each of these historical figures and is based largely on the writings of Harrison, the only one to keep an extensive written record of the film which she chronicles in There’s Always Tomorrow from 1938. Segments of Maghsoudlou's book is based on her memoirs.

Shoedsack left no memoirs but Cooper was working on his autobiography I’m King Kong, which is now part of the DVD box set of the King Kong films released in 2005. It is co-directed by Kevin Brownlow with archival footage of Cooper, Shoedsack and Harrison.

Merian Cooper has said that he wanted to make a film like Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty) though was unaware of that film until after he returned from Persia, which was what Iran was called until 1938 when Reza Shah Pahlavi changed the name. Pahlavi was a progressive head of state that allowed women to act in films and lifted restrictions on wearing the hijab.

The film premiered in March 1925 and the wording of the advertisement in New York World sounds like some of the dialogue in Kong for example the buildup of the area in Persia where the film is set : "the blood red sun withered the grass – seared the souls of 50,000 people and half a million beasts and –we started our epic".

Here now is Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou speaking about his book Grass: Untold Stories (interview follows the report).

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 11/07/17
Movie Magazine International

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"The French Had a Name for It" celebrates 4th edition in San Francisco

By Moira Sullivan



Beginning right after Halloween is the continuation of the by now legendary series in San Francisco
at the Roxie Theatre: The French Had a Name for It - 4,  with 13 examples of film noir from France.The series is presented by Midcentury Productions and curated by programmer Don Malcolm. That is 4 days of Noir from November 3-6, 2017.

Malcolm is interviewed later in the show for the noir series he has brought to life lauding the laurels of forgotten French films – films that were absorbed and cast aside when the French new wave came along with film critics turned filmmakers, such as Jean Luc Godard and François Truffaut.

Malcolm tells us about how this was a hybrid period where the noir predecessors influenced the new wave who used some of their style – their mise en scène – lighting, setting, characters, sound and camera angles. France did not have a blacklist period as in America so a director like Joseph Losey associated with the American film noir made films on the seedy side of life. In his remake of M (1951) a lunatic played by David Wayne preys on young girls because he was made to feel rotten and was punished as a child. An organized crime syndicate led by Luther Adler, Martin Gabel and Raymond Burr becomes a vigilante groups to stamp out the vermin that preys on society without giving them a fair trial - a film whose seediness emanates from the treachery of the blacklist inquiries. But  French Noir had its own dark side.

The centerpiece program poster of the The French Had a Name for It - 4, the fourth year of programs at the Roxie. features the beloved Jeanne Moreau who died July 31. She stars in Mademoiselle in a role that was one of her darker portraits, directed by Tony Richardson after a play by Jean Genet, made in 1966. The British director, father of Joely Richardson and the late Natasha Richardson fell in love with Moreau while still married to Vanessa Redgrave a year before they divorced. The film is a salty tale of a sultry seductress who sets fires in a little French village. Suspicions are cast on a few Italian guest workers who come to cut timber. Mademoiselle is a school teacher from Paris and the young son of one of the workers is her student who she chastises for wearing short pants to school. She humiliates him mercilessly and at the same time has the little village in her grasp – educating the young, the femme fatale of the town setting fires with black lace gloves, ringing the fire bell, and all because of her repressed passion. It’s a project that Tony Richardson felt suiting for his mistress that never married him. 

A second film paying tribute to Jeanne Moreau is The Strange Mister Steve / L'étrange Monsieur Steve from 1957 who play the mistress of a gangster. Another impossible couple up to no good is Jean Gabin featured as a truck driver in Hi-Jack Highway / Gas-Oil Oil from 1955 with Jeanne Moreau as his girlfriend directed by Gilles Grangier. Gabin returns with, Danielle Darrieux, who lived to be 100 and just passed away October 17 in a film  made in 1958, The Night Affair / Le Désordre Et La Nuit also directed by Grangier.

Stéphane Audran and Bernadette Lafont in Les Bonnes Femmes


Veteran film director Claude Chabrol is featured in the program with Les Bonnes Femmes/ The Good Time Girls, starring the late Bernadette La Font from 1960. Together with Stéphane Audran, Clotilde Joana, and Lucile Saint-Simon, the women work in an appliance shop with a lecherous boss by day and take to the streets of Paris for good times after hours at night clubs. They are rey for the men at the clubs and somehow manage to get to work on time at 9am in the morning. The film shows that women are stuck in meaningless jobs and becomes a morality lesson on their loose morals at night. The predatory males are not held accountable in the male gaze of the film.

Bernadette La Font is also featured in Le Beau Serge ("Handsome Serge") directed by Claude Chabrol. One again La Font plays a go between for two young men in a small French town. François (Jean-Claude Brialy) has returned home after an absence and resumes his friendship with his friend who hates his wife and has become an alcoholic. These two films can be said to be clear predecessors of the New Wave. 

Also noteworthy in the program is the brilliant Maria Casares, who plays the immortal figure of death in Jean Cocteau’s Orpheus (1951) is featured in The Ladies Of Boulogne Wood / Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne (1945)  directed by Robert Bresson.

Maria Casares in Les Dames Du Bois De Boulogne

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 11/01/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses at Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco



By Moira Sullivan

Dr Bahman Maghsoudlou is an Iranian historian, filmmaker, scholar film critic and producer. His most recent film Razor’s Edge: the Legacy of Iranian Actresses, (2016) is about the role of women in the Iranian film industry before the Islamic revolution (1979) The film was shown at the recent Iranian Film Festival in San Francisco in September ( Bahman, who lives in New York,  was able to take questions from the public via Skype.)

Magsoudlou's films have been selected for more than 100 major film festivals. The documentary begins with information about the history of the Iranian film industry which employed 10, 000 workers including 100 actresses before the revolution. After this, the government banned 90% of pre-revolutionary actors – especially women. The devastation to the film industry and to the actors was far-reaching including loss of employment benefits and housing. Were it not for this important film by Bahman Maghsoudlou, these actresses would vanish into obscurity and it is the strongest point of his film to remember them and pay tribute to their achievements.

Interviews with Iranian actress were conducted between 2002-2015 in Iran, Europe and the US and they are a strong testimony to the accomplishments of women in film. Maghsoudlou’s focus is on 21 actresses who had leading roles in more than 463 films.

The film begins with the History of Iranian Cinema from 1900 – 1979.  We learn that in the first feature length films of the 1930’s it was hard to recruit Muslim women. The first silent Iranian film and the first sound film,  Lor Girl, by Abdol Hossein Sepanta (1932), brought attention to the problems of Muslim women. In this film Sedigheh Saminejad (1916-1997) - screen name Rouhangiz Kermani - plays a gypsy girl in a film that was a box office success.

Kermani, who was the first Muslim woman to act in a film, was ostracized for not wearing her veil in public, for entertaining ‘strangers’ and she finally quit the acting business. Her family, friends and the Iranian public insulted her and she died in obscurity.  In a rare interview shown in the documentary Rouhangiz Kermani says she had to have three bodyguards because she was in pictures. 

Lor Girl was a film for Iranians made in India. Encouraged by the success of Lor Girl, the producer "Imperial Film, Bombay India" advertised for more Iranian actresses to act in India.  Silent film star Fakhr-ol-Zaman Jabbar Viziri (Fakhri Viziri) is the first woman shown in Razors Edge who starred in three of the first five talkies. She answered the flyer from "Imperial Film" and went to India.

Not until the 1960s did Iranian actresses made their presence known on screen. Even then their presence was met with hostility from friends, relatives and the public. The women in this documentary film speak about death threats, isolation, and ostracization. Most Iranian actors and actresses fled Iran after the 1979 revolution, especially if they had acted in sexy films before the revolution. The interviews in this film are rich documents of historical as well as contemporary actresses still working in films, some living in other countries like Susan Taslimi who lives in Sweden.

In November, Bahman will be back with us at MMI speaking about his latest book, Grass: Untold Stories published in 2008 on the making of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life, a silent documentary filmed by Merian Cooper, Ernest Schoedsack and Marguerite Harrison made in Iran in 1924. Marguerite Harrison was the inspiration to Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933) made by Cooper and Shoedsack.



© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 10/25/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

'Swept Away' and other films by Lina Wertmüller at the Castro Sept 23

By Moira Sullivan
Mariangela Melato and Giancarlo Giannini

In the annals of women and film history, Italian director Lina Wertmüller was the first woman to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Seven Beauties made in 1975. Four of her films and a documentary made about her will be screened at the Castro Theater on Sept 23, sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute– in a tribute to this prolific director who made over 20 feature films. The films to be screened are the ones most known outside of Italy - “Love and Anarchy” (1973), “Swept Away” (1974) "Seven Beauties” (1975) and "The Seduction of Mimi” (1972).

All feature Giancarlo Giannini who today appears in the James Bond films Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace as a rogue cop –and as Inspector Pazzi in Hannibal.

“Behind the White Glasses”, made in 2015, will also be screened in the program, a documentary by Valerio Ruiz featuring interviews on Wertmüller with Martin Scorsese, Sophia Loren, Nastassja Kinski, Rutger Hauer, and Harvey Keitel.

Swept Away - its original title Swept away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August was a controversial film when it was released in the early 70s at the beginning of the second wave of the women’s movement. It is the story of a boat trip with upper-class Italians who are serviced by a crew of Southern Italian proletariats. Looking back at the film today many of the beliefs of the lead character Raffaella (played by the late Mariangela Melato) are important today – free abortion, divorce sanctioned by the Catholic Church and concern for overpopulation and pollution. However, in her frequent and chaotic outbursts she makes fun of working class Italians. In particular, she stirs up the wrath of Gennarino (Giancarlo Giannini) who bides his time and endures her insults since the boating party will pay him and his colleagues a good wage when the yacht trip is over.

During the journey, Rafaella and Gennarino set out in a small dinghy at dusk so that she can find the rest of her party, but the boat breaks down and her friends do not look for them. They manage to get to a deserted island. Despite being marooned, Rafaella continues to lash out at Gennarino who finally snaps and refuses to share food with her that he catches from the sea. In order to "housetrain" Rafaella he has her wash his dirty underwear. The entire time on the island is a lesson in Italian Communism. He teaches her that many Italians are on a"strict diet called poverty". In between political lessons, he hits her. Eventually his domination results in her becoming so dependent on him that she eventually falls in love with him. The circumstances are typical of the "Stockholm Syndrome" where the abducted find alliances with their captors. When the marooned couple finally see a ship, they are reluctant to be rescued but eventually resume their places in the class society of Italy. For Gennarino he must resume his life as a poor fisherman in a loveless marriage; Rafaella returns to her privilege.

The screening in San Francisco when the film was first released was met by protests from feminist groups reacting to the treatment of Rafaella. Wertmüller's  preoccupation in the film is with class differences but it was a miss on her part to not understand the inequality of gender. It is for this reason that her films have not been popular with women.

Wertmüller's  style is audacious and colorful. Her characters are emboldened caricatures of Italian society that tradeoff between sexual politics and political engagement. In The Seduction of Mimi, a Sicilian miner loses his job because he refuses to back a Mafia politician. He leaves his wife to start a new life in Turin and abandons his political beliefs in the Communist Party much to the chagrin of his colleagues who despise him for being a coward. In Seven Beauties, Giancarlo Giannini plays a soldier who deserts the army and is sent to prison, a man with seven unattractive sisters who are forced into prostitution while he is incarcerated. To save himself he provides sexual favors to the female prison camp director. In Love and Anarchy Giancarlo Giannini plays an anarchist who lives in a brothel as he plans to assassinate Benito Mussolini.

Wertmüller's films are interesting today because of the political themes raised at the time, but also for her interesting and provocative film style.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 09/20/17
Movie Magazine International

Sunday, September 3, 2017

“Dead on Arrival” - modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

By Moira Sullivan
Billy Flynn as Sam Collins 

“Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.

“Dead on Arrival” (US 2017)  is a neo-noir thriller by Stephen C. Sepher. The opening scene is ripe with irritating events you should never have to experience– listening to bad news on your cell phone voice mail on a deserted Louisiana road, crippling stomach pains, and a “by the book” local sheriff that arrives on the scene who would rather see proof of identity than call an ambulance. Traveling sales executive Sam Collins (Billy Flynn) may have to wait before he makes it to the ER,  however, there are degrees of local law enforcement incompetence as is later shown with wayward cop Deputy Walker, played by Tyson Sullivan.

After this intriguing introduction, director Stephen C. Sepher launches into a “12-hour earlier”  flashback, the scene of a lavish New Year’s Eve party at a private mansion with single white women hired for the event to fraternize with the guests. We learn a couple of details in the flashback. The party bottoms out with a murder, and Sam is mysteriously poisoned.

Earlier that evening Sam meets the party host, Dr. Richard Alexander (Billy Slaughter), 30-ish with dyed white hair who works in the pharmaceuticals industry.  Party waiter Thomas (Travis Farris), later referred to as a “sexual weasel” and Richard have an obvious erotic connection. Bonnie, the party fixer (Scottie Thompson) and Richard note the bottle of champagne Sam brings to the event, certainly welcome at a small dinner party but not one with a local African-American brass band, black jack table and expensive cigars. Despite excessive spending, the interior of Richard’s house has a cheapness to it like the collection of unimpressive vases of various colors and size on a book shelf.  Richard freely dispenses alcohol to his high class low life guests including perv swinger and insurance agent Hans Dunkel (Chris Mulky). Almost everyone in the film seems to be unhappily married with lovers on the side. The 'party girls' work at a place called “The Fun House” as erotic dancers. 

Richard is harshly reprimand by one of his investors Vince (played by director Sepher) because of his slow turnout of cash return, and Sam Collins is signed to change his luck. Vince's home is better decorated apart from the hand sewn pillows with Santa and his reindeer.

Sepher packs noir ingredients with fall guy Sam Collins, and femme fatale Bonnie. New York mobster Zancer dressed in plaid (Soprano regular Lillo Brancato) and Conte (Anthony Sinopoli) sporting a heavy gold chain around his knit sweaters provide comic relief but the power structure that hires them to be "cleaners" keep them in check.  The momentum of the film is relentless and Sepher serves up one atrocity after another, particularly to women who have little agency and ability to influence the narrative. The entire spectacle transpires under the watchful blue eyes of Sam who is like a rag doll in the rough, a lost soul off his grid, far from his wife and children.

Denise Milfort and Christa B Allen

Part of the underbelly of the intricate crime tale is cryptically revealed by Jessy (Christa B Allen) , one of the hired party girls” – referred to as “a stripper with a heart of gold”: “Everyone’s got a transgender story around these parts”.  It is also true that some of the sex workers are bisexual or lesbian. Jessy offers to help Sam by bringing him to a Vodou priestess Agrona (played by Haitian born Denise Milfort, former vocalist for “The Fragile” written and produced in New Orleans in 1999 by Trent Reznor of “Nine Inch Nails”). Both Jessy and Agrona are given limited agency to work through the excesses of the men they serve but like Thomas and others at the "Fun House" their existence is brutal.

“Dead on Arrival” is inspired by the 1950's classic film "D.O.A". starring Edmond O'Brien and stars Edmond’s daughter Maria in a bit part as a suspicious neighbor who lives in Dr. Richard Alexander’s neighborhood. Maria's character has good reason to be on the lookout.  In his weakened physically deteriorating condition, Sam scuffles through the village in a blood stained white shirt looking like the undead.

Cinematographer John Garrett (Man of Steel, Thor, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) captures the decadent night life and beautiful shots of Blood River east of the Mississippi in New Orleans. His color palette includes striking dominant colors for interiors contrasted with boat life and water routes. Creole and multicultural roots – including a lesson on famous Armenians, blend with local mobsters, hangouts, decadent clubs and shady characters – a modern noir set in the Bayou to the tune of Bach.

© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/06/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Ruben Östlund's problematic "The Square" awarded Palme d'Or at Cannes

By Moira Sullivan

Terry Notary's problematic ape mimicry 
The Square by Ruben Östlund from Sweden won the Palme d'Or at the 2017 Cannes film festival. It is a film that will work best in Sweden since its provincialism will be better understood. Outside of Sweden it may seem like it is a provocative film because when the dialogue is translated it might make it seem better than it actually is. But I speak Swedish and was disappointed with the film for many reasons.

Let's start with the roles for women. Most of the women wear extremely high heeled shoes, even middle age women, and have minor roles as secretaries or assistants. The female executive director of the museum is ridiculed and called crazy. The major female role of the film, Anne, played by Elisabeth Moss is so ridiculous that it is hard to believe that she agreed to it. She plays a foreign journalist who lives with a chimpanzee shown in one scene applying lipstick to its nose, peripherally reinforcing Östlunds preoccupation with apes elsewhere in the film. Anne interviews the curator of a Swedish art museum, Christian (Claes Bang) and has only one question about the inherent contradictions of the current exhibition. Christian’s answer is over simplified and the example used to illustrate it condescending. Moss is briefly in the film for an acrobatic one night stand and forgotten about after than – an empty sign in a communication system composed of male artists. There is nothing innovative about the male gaze of this scene.

The actual goings on at the museum includes a character with Tourette syndrome who interrupts the face to face with the public and Julian, a visiting artist played by Dominic West, also briefly on screen. The cinematography is theatrical meant for the stage. The current museum run by Christian, called the "X Museum" is actually the Royal Castle of the Kingdom of Sweden. Some of the rooms are used for a heavy drinking party where Christian and Ann hook up, and also for a posh dinner. The second instance of the use of women as exchange objects occurs with the character of Oleg, played by Terry Notary who has done chimpanzee characters in blue screen for films such as Rise of the Planet of the Apes. You can clearly see Bright Eyes and Rocket in his role as a disturber at the dinner. Oleg hassles the guests such as Julian, but in particular a woman who is dragged by the hair across the floor in neanderthal fashion demonstrating his mastery over the female body, and is then attacked by the men in the room defending the white woman. (Oleg's ape mimicry is part of a video installation at the museum, not unlike the historic collections of apes and gorillas in collections).

The Square is part of an exhibition plan gone wrong where everything is allowed within the parameters of a "square" with "trust and care". The young media technicians hired to promote the exhibition decide to put a blonde child in the square and blow her up on YouTube. It  receives mega hits and causes a public outcry. This way of addressing the internal issues of Sweden by using indigenous Swedes (the young blonde child) to drive home the problems with immigrants is both shoddy and ostentatious. Östlund makes ample use of Rumanian gypsies in Stockholm as minor characters as well.

When Christian’s phone is stolen it is located in a suburb through a trite plot device - a "find my phone" app. To find the actual thief, he puts an accusatory and reprimanding letter in every person’s mailbox in the building demanding it be returned to a "7-11" near the central train station in Stockholm. A young immigrant boy shows up to demand an apology for the letter.

It turns out that The Square is far from the subject of trust and care and is more concerned with breaking boundaries and abuse within a trendy, clichéd art world told through the megamania of modern gadgets such as cell phones apps and YouTube. Östlund's problematic "imperial gazing"  of a culture ("white, Western, male, and heterosexual, privileging the gaze of the 'master subject' over others") looking at its own subcultures, his representation of women and his fascination with apes - Ann's pet, and Terry Notary's ape mimicry - the film's poster icon - is disturbing dramatic filler for a film awarded a Palme d'Or.

Östlund, Bang, Notary and Moss at Cannes in May.

When accepting his award at Cannes on May 28,  Östlund demanded that the cameras be directed toward the audience who he instructed to give a loud cheer.  Neither the cameras nor the audience did as he requested, at which point he announced, "I am the director, you have to do what I say".  They complied, however reluctantly, but it was an uncomfortable moment for many at the final ceremony of the 70th Anniversary of the Cannes Film Festival.

Östlund has been incorrectly compared to Bergman by critics who have not done their research,  for the only thing the two have in common is that they are directors from Sweden. However,  a Swedish director that comes to mind is Roy Andersson with his tableaux arrangement of vivid and unique scenes with organic unity. Andersson's  award winning films (Songs from the Second Floor, 2000) come from years of making television commercials. Alas, The Square is an attempt to refine staged scenes within a hubristic facade of thematic development.

Ruben Östlund's fascination with apes
© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 08/16/17
Movie Magazine International

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Hired Gun- new documentary by Fran Strine opens in San Francisco June 29



By Moira Sullivan

Fran Strine worked on his documentary “Hired Gun” for three years, where he interviewed 55 backup musicians to major artists such such as Alice Cooper Metallica and Pink. They are referred to as "Hired Guns" - assassins - and are the best around that go on music tours with major artists. According to one artist there are about 20 musicians - hired guns - on every single record that everyone ones. The reality of their lives and the ups and downs of their careers are captured by the filmmaker. It was Strine’s ambition to make a different documentary with profiles of the inner lives of these excellent musicians. Two of the interviewees are the drummer Liberty DeVitto and guitarist Russell Javors. Both of them worked for and were replaced by other musicians by Billy Joel –De Vitto had worked for him for 30 years. Nita Strauss, one of the hired Guns featured in the film, has played for Alice Cooper, Jermaine Jackson, Femme Fatale Critical Hit and the The Iron Maidens. She reports that you have to be "on point all of the time".

A hired gun is usually hired at the last minute and so Fran STrine emphasizes that these have to be the best - not only a great musician but someone with a personality that helps to make a great gig. And that means being great every time to keep getting gigs.

The documentary is unique in giving us a backstage view of "Hired Guns" -the unsung heroes who make major artists sound great. There has not been such a focus yet and Fran Strine hits a home run in his assemblage of these musicians that make rock gigs rock.

The film will be shown as special one day event on Thursday June 20 produced by FATHOM EVENTS in theaters across the US and her in the Bay Area it will be at AMC Van Ness in San Francisco and theaters in Daly City 20 and Century at Tanforan in San Bruno. But it is going to be an exceptional one day screening with the best sound theaters, with sound mixing by Lucas Skywalker Ranch.

Fran Strine was overjoyed when Lucas actually asked to mix the sound for the film and it was one of many aspects of this riveting rock spectacle that fell into place. Originally a photographer, Strine is an excellent videographer and was on tour with the heavy metal band "Five Finger Death Punch". That includes their extensive tours national and internationally.

The crystal clear image of "Hired Gun" on widescreen projection with photography by Gavin Fisher with super sound mixed by Skywalker Ranch is sure to be one of this year major rock music video events.

Here now is San Francisco local Fran Strine in an exclusive interview for Movie Magazine International. (interview follows).




Directed by: Fran Strine
Release Date: June 29, 2017
Run Time: 90 Minutes
Rated: RG
Country: USA
Distributor: Voltage Productions



© 2017 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 06/28/17
Movie Magazine International

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