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

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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

My Swedish Education

For years I held the opinion that Swedish director Jan Troell and his films were generally overrated by movie critics and scholars until the 2008 Telluride Film Festival where a retrospective of his work proved to me that I had been sadly mistaken. The two films that changed my perspective were the American premiere of Everlasting Moments (original title: Maria Larssons eviga ogonblick, 2008), a turn-of-the-century drama about a working class mother who becomes a professional photographer, and Here’s Your Life (original title: Har har du ditt liv, 1966), which marked his feature film debut. The latter film, in particular, was a revelation and remains one of my all-time favorite movies.  Continue reading

Not Your Typical Hit Man

What other living actor has the sort of cult following that Ron Perlman does? Ever since his film debut in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s prehistoric epic Quest for Fire (1981), Perlman’s unique screen presence has been a key component in more than 200 films and TV shows. Sure, some of them are dreck or forgettable but then there are The Name of the Rose (1986), where he played the hunchback Salvatore, the critically acclaimed TV series Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990), Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children (1995) and several films by Guillermo Del Toro including the lead in Hellboy (2004) and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). In a change of pace from these often grotesque and larger-than-life anti-heroes, Perlman tries something different in Asher, which opens in theaters around the country on December 7thContinue reading

Operation Chastise: The Movie

The biggest box office hit of 1955 in England and honored with three BAFTA nominations for Best British Film, Best British Screenplay and Best Film from any Source, The Dam Busters (1955) is less well known in the U.S. but is nonetheless one of the most realistic and faithful accounts of an incident in WWII that is credited with hastening Germany’s defeat in the war. Continue reading