Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Congrats to the Harvard Film Archive,

they have successfully "out obscured" Channel Zero in a genre we thought we had to ourselves, namely propaganda films produced under the auspices of the Italian Fascists.
In their current series build around Italian cinema depictions of "the Risorgimento", they've scored for THREE Mussolini era films, Blasetti's "1860"(1934), De Sica's "A Garibaldean in a Convent" (1942) and "Little Ancient World" once billed as Fascism's answer to "Gone with the Wind".
To think we originally cultivated an interest in Italian Fascist Cinema because the HFA already had access to a wide variety of Nazi era and classic Soviet propaganda titles!
Sheesh there is no keeping up with the Crimson.
Still Channel Zero bares them no malice, the Harvard Film Archive is well positioned with "strong brand identification" to extract the widest possible audience for the most obscure title.
Still, pride if nothing else compels us to remind our audience (all ten of you) that Channel Zero got there first! We screened Carmine Gallone's "Scipio Africanus" (1937) at the Coolidge Corner AND Rossellini's anti communist war movie "The Man with a Cross" (1942).
Now what?
Does North Korea have any good propaganda movies?
Are they willing to dicker?
Stay tuned folks...

Monday, September 19, 2011

To date I roughly calculate that Hollywood has spent

about five million dollars trying to convince the movie going public that Christina Ricci is some sort of thinking man's sex symbol.
Despite cankles, a face like a spoon and being upstaged by Lisa Kudrow in "The Opposite of Sex", now broadcast television is trying to seal the deal for Christina R.
I wish them and the cast of "Pan Am" the best of luck...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Pick of the Week...

Blasetti's Italian Fascist propaganda epic "1860" screening at the Harvard Film ARchive tonight at 9:30pm.
Nazi, Soviet even Chinese Communist film propaganda all get revived locally, but Mussolini and his blackshirts get bupkiss. This is in part due to creative shortcomings in the Italian film industry at the time (they had no Reifenstahl no Eisenstein)and the lateness by which the Fascist regime came to the making of "positive propaganda".
So tonight's show is unique, however let the record show that Channel Zero has already screened such Italian propaganda films as "Scipio Africanus" (once billed as Mussolini's answer to "Triumph of the Will") and Rossellini's "The Man from the Cross" (1942).
But then, we are never envious when some larger institution picks up one of our ideas, the Harvard Film Archive and the like are in a position to exploit more fully what are in the end worthwhile but extremely obscure films.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Summer in Shakespeare...

Alas I wasn't able to get out to see much this summer, I had to restrict myself once again to Shakespeare & Co's offerings in Lenox.
As usual Tina Packer's artistic progeny did not let me down.
Their Romeo and Juliet was a thorough production with two superlative leads, Suzanne Millonzi & David Gelles.
I have it in my head that R &J is actually one of Shakespeare's problem plays, at least as far as US productions are concerned. By this I mean there is a pronounced tendency to cast the two main leads as close to the textual age of the characters as they can get (which is I believe, 13 and 14).
Thus what they gain in credibility, they often lose in technique relying on players that might not have the necessary acting components to rise to the occasion of what amounts to a Renaissance teen suicide drama.
The other practical result is that inevitably with younger players you end up with a stellar Juliet and a Romeo that at best rises to the level of well meaning mediocrity...And if you aren't careful you leave the aud thinking "what did SHE see in HIM?" as the curtain falls.
happily, S&C "doubled up" a bit on the leads and reaped a good artistic harvest as a result. And just let me take a moment to praise Tod Randolph's scene stealing turn as Juliet's nurse/enabler and what she left untaken was scooped up by Kevin O'Donnell's Mercutio.
Oh and lets not forget Johnny Lee Davenport as Lord Montague..."Mister Thunder and Lightning" never lets us down be it tragedy, history or comedy.
The other notable performance was a small cast version of "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" one of the Bard's lesser comedies but put on with real brio in the Bernstein theater. These players are the apprentices and the trainees, but nonetheless, they were very very good and I am rotten glad I dodged a hurricane to see them.
But then this is Shakespeare & Company they get so very little wrong.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


Today marks the tenth anniversary of that terrible day.

And I suppose for history's sake I should set down my end of the whole catastrophe.

Hell, everyone else is....

As I recall, it was a beautiful mild day in East Cambridge where I was working running a mailroom for a big name software company that was truth be told, very much on the skids even before the coming recession.
I had a raving antisemite for an assistant and was working for a frankly piratical crew of office services contractors, but in those days, I had debts to pay.
I went down to the loading dock to pick up the day's mail, and everyone was gathered around the communal TV, the first tower was already burning.
I think until the second plane hit I was naive enough to believe that it was all a terrible aviation accident of some type. Well soon enough I and the rest of the Western World were disabused of that notion. Having no other thoughts at the moment, I actually brought the mail back upstairs where we sorted it all out and prepped it for distribution.
All the while we watched as clusters of the client company's employees kept slinking out the door.
So it goes without saying that when the Towers both disintegrated, we saw it on Yahoo.com.
By noon the building was deserted except for the aforementioned piratical crew who'd received no instructions to adjourn in the face of national catastrophe.
So as fatuous as it may sound, with death and terrorism and war threatening the Republic, rest assured the mail went out that day.
Eventually our Account Manager crept in and told us both to "haul ass".
I went home, East Cambridge was empty already rumors were rife of new terrorist attacks, weaponized viruses, bombs and hijackings.
And for the rest of the day, I watched the towers disintegrated over and over and over again.
If I retain one vivid impression from that clear mild morning a decade ago, is the sheer horror I felt derived from the thought "That all over the country, people are watching their loved ones die live on national television!"
Something about that aspect of it all would appall me, but then that is the core goal of all terrorism when it's practiced on this scale.
My other great impression of that time is the essential decency of the American People. When leader's fail and a vacuum is created, the nation itself steps into the gap, burying the dead, clearing the rubble, comforting the bereaved, compensating the surviving victims.
There would be an almost endless series of mistakes made by the country's leaders in the weeks and months and years after 9-11, but the citizenry's "will to democracy" remained unbroken. That is the wellspring of that aforementioned decency, a dictatorship could never survive such a public disaster.
A functioning democracy can survive famine, national catastrophe and humiliation, but even the best and most ruthless dictatorships typically fly to pieces given a hard enough shove.
Recall please, Chernobyl, which more than anything else was a huge rebuke to the myth of Soviet totalitarian super statism.
The best thing I can say about 9-11, is that the USA survived it, democracy survived it, the citizenry and their "will to democracy" survived it.
But then we are supposed to survive these things, to remember, take counsel and pass along that will to democracy to our progeny.
And just as a final personal note, I"ll just recall that the infamous Bad Poets Society went off on 9-14 2001 at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, we never had a bigger more appreciative crowd, the will to democracy indeed.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Steve Soderbergh's "Contagion" (2011)

Is a film for all those old fashioned movie fans out there who long to see Gwyneth Paltrow undergo a cranial autopsy.

And of that isn't enough, Kate WInslet gets zipped into a body bag and neatly dumped into a quicklime pit, truly this is a new Golden Age in Hollywood!


Otherwise "Contagion" is a well paced, believable, pathogen thriller with very good acting and the sappiest ending I"ve seen in years.

And no, Ms. Paltrow doesn't git all country on us neither.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Wonder Woman's Obit...

NO it isn't Lynda Carter, I mean Betty Skelton, the daredevil distaff pilot.

I'm impressed with the fact she set a world altitude record in a Piper Cub in her bare feet...
But what really amazes me is that she somehow earned the respect of the original Mercury Seven astronauts who were notably famous for their oinkerish tendencies.
Ah well, in a well run republic she'd a definitely been the First Woman in Orbit, alas that honor had to go to Valentina Tereshkova, a skydiver and a bit of daredevil herself.

G'bye Betty, say howdy to Gus Grissom for us.