Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff: A Lifetime Love Affair with Jazz

There have been many outstanding and critically acclaimed documentaries on the subject of jazz and jazz musicians over the years from Aram Avakian & Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) to Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost (1988) and Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem (1994). But what is surprising is the fact that until recently no filmmaker has attempted to document the importance of Blue Note Records and its importance in the advancement of this uniquely American, home grown music. Suddenly, we have two documentaries on the subject, Eric Friedler’s It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story (2018) and Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018), both of which are currently on the film festival circuit.  Continue reading

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The Crime Astrologer

Every amateur detective has his own approach to crime solving but Mary Lee Ling consults the stars and birth dates to narrow down the list of suspects. When Were You Born? (1938) has a terrific premise for a detective thriller and was quite unusual in its day. Its offbeat approach to the genre is further enhanced by the casting of Anna May Wong in the central role of an astrologist whose connection to a murder victim implicates her in the police investigation.      Continue reading

Soulmates in Hell

In June 1973 the democratic government of Uruguay was overthrown by a military dictatorship that lasted until February 28,1985 and was responsible for the incarceration of more than 5000 people and the systematic torture and human rights abuse of prisoners. Among the prisoners were members of the left-wing guerrilla organization known as the Tupamaros (aka the National Liberation Movement), and included activist Jose Mujica, the poet and playwright Mauricio Rosencof and journalist Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro. A Twelve-Year Night (La Noche de 12 Anos), which premiered on Netflix in late December and is currently available on the service, depicts the plight of these three men in a powerful true-life drama directed by Alvaro Brechner. Continue reading

Gone Missing: Bas Jan Ader

I had never heard of Bas Jan Ader, the Netherlands artist (1942-1975), until I saw Rene Daalder’s fascinating documentary, Here is Always Somewhere Else (2007). Even though Ader has attained a huge – and still growing – cult following since the early 1990s when his work began to enjoy a major reappraisal in art circles, one has to wonder if the rising popularity of his work as a conceptual/performance artist, photographer and filmmaker is partly due to his mysterious disappearance and not necessarily his surviving accomplishments. To die for your art is one thing but to vanish without a trace while you are beginning to receive critical and public recognition almost guarantees than an artist who is young, handsome and enigmatic will achieve some degree of deification. Continue reading

Anita Ekberg is a Screaming Mimi

Anita Ekberg screams as a crazed maniac (offscreen) approaches her with a knife as she showers outside in Screaming Mimi (1958), directed by Gerd Oswald.

Every once in a while a psychological thriller comes along that is every bit as delusional and confused as its most disturbed character and that is certainly the case with Screaming Mimi (1958). Whether intentional or not, the movie abandons logic and the intricately plotted pleasure of a good whodunit to run amok in a nocturnal fantasy world populated by bohemians, strippers, sexual deviants and psychopaths. Continue reading

The Ambrose Bierce Civil War Trilogy

A Union soldier prepares a noose for an accused saboteur in An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, an episode in the three part film, Au Coeur de la vie (In the Midst of Life, 1963).

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Jessamyn West’s The Friendly Persuasion, Walt Whitman’s collection of poems Drum-Taps and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind are among some of the most famous examples of historical fiction and literature about the American Civil War. More recent works would have to include Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Michael Shaara’s trilogy (Gods and Generals, The Killer Angels and The Last Full Measure) but some of the most evocative and unsentimental writing about the War Between the States can be found in the Civil War short stories of Ambrose Bierce, who served in the Union Army’s 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. I find it surprising that no major American feature films have been based on his work yet several of his short stories have been adapted for the screen in Poland, England and France. And the most memorable one of all remains Robert Enrico’s Au Coeur de la Vie (In the Midst of Life, 1963).  Continue reading

Kill or Cure?

Most filmgoers who were born before 1965 know Paddy Chayefsky as the playwright who penned the teleplay Marty and later won an Oscar for the 1955 screenplay adaptation. Contemporary movie fans, however, remember him as the creator behind the 1976 media satire Network, which was nominated for 10 Oscars and won four including Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight) and a posthumous Best Actor Academy Award for Peter Finch as unhinged news anchor Howard Beale. (Bryan Cranston is currently playing Beale in a Broadway stage production based on Chayefsky’s film). What tends to get overlooked in Chayefsky’s filmography is The Hospital (1971), an equally audacious movie that prefigured Network’s outrageous blend of black comedy and social commentary and appeared five years earlier.  Continue reading