Karl Loves His Work

Popular Czech actor Rudolf Hruskinsky is the demonic central character in Juraj Herz’s The Cremator (1969).

One of my favorite movements of the 20th century in cinema was the emergence of the Czech New Wave. Out of this creative period, which lasted from roughly 1962 through 1970, the film world was introduced to such innovative filmmakers as Milos Forman (Loves of a Blonde, 1964), Ivan Passer (Intimate Lighting, 1965), Jiri Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, 1966), Vera Chytilova (Daisies, 1966) and Jan Nemec (A Report on the Party and the Guests, 1966). In recent years, other Czech directors have been reappraised and elevated in stature thanks to the proliferation of DVD and Blu-ray restorations of such movies as The Sun in a Net (1961) by Stefan Uher, Pavel Juracek’s Case for a Rookie Hangman (1970) and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders from Jaromil Jires (1970). We can now add to that list The Cremator (1969), Juraj Herz’s macabre fable, which is finally being recognized as one of the key films from the Czech New Wave.   Continue reading

Woody Allen’s Comedy Experiment

By today’s standards, it doesn’t seem like such a novel movie concept — take a low-budget film, re-dub the soundtrack adding new dialogue, music and sound effects, and create an entirely new experience. You can trace pioneers in this technique back to the syndicated TV series Fractured Flickers hosted by Hans Conried in the early sixties and maybe even before that (Fractured Flickers took silent movies and gave them new soundtracks with voices, sound effects and music). Certainly one of the more famous practitioners of this idea is Woody Allen, who explored the possibilities of redubbing found footage – in his case, a Japanese spy movie – with What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1966).  Continue reading

Ned Kelly Rides Again

In 2011, Justin Kurzel, an Australian director, first attracted attention for his feature film debut, The Smalltown Murders, which was based on the crimes of serial killer John Bunting in South Australia. For his follow-up film, he went to Scotland and made a savage, stylized interpretation of MacBeth (2015) starring Michael Fassbinder, which was nominated for the Palme d’Oro at the Cannes Film Festival. Then Kurzel graduated to the major leagues for Assassin’s Creed (2016), a big budget fantasy adventure filmed in Malta, Spain and the UK and based on the popular video game series. The critics savaged it, moviegoers were indifferent, and it was considered one of the biggest bombs of 2016. After that, Kurzel returned to his homeland and decided to focus on a folk hero who is still a polarizing figure in his country’s history – Ned Kelly. The subsequent film, True History of the Kelly Gang (2019), is a visually dynamic and emotionally chaotic biopic which might be the most unusual interpretation yet of Australia’s infamous outlaw.   Continue reading

The Prince and the Peasant

Will there be a happy ending for Prince Rodrigo (Omar Sharif) and Isabella Candeloro (Sophia Loren) in More Than a Miracle (1967), directed by Francesco Rosi.

Imagine, if you can, a rustic Neapolitan fairy tale directed by Francesco Rosi in the docudrama style of his post-neorealism films of the early sixties like The Moment of Truth (1965), shoot it in Technicolor and Techniscope, add a lush musical score by Piero Piccioni and you get More Than a Miracle (1967), a zesty Southern Italian fantasy-romance that was more appropriately titled Cinderella, Italian Style in Europe.   Continue reading

Climb Every Mountain

Luis Trenker – Alpinist, film director, architect, actor. photographer: Atelier Binder – property of Ullstein Bild – Atelier Binder/Everett Collection

Rarely seen in the U.S. and not one of the better known films about a famous mountain-climbing expedition, The Challenge (1938) is an intriguing bridge between the German mountain films of Arnold Fanck (White Hell of Pitz Palu, 1929) and contemporary man-against-nature survival tales such as Philipp Stozl’s Northface (2008), where two Germans and two Austrians try to scale the Eiger in Switzerland, and Kevin Macdonald’s documentary reenactment Touching the Void (2003), the ill-fated trek by Joe Simpson and Simon Yates up the face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. Luis Trenker, one of the stars of The Challenge, was honored in person at the Telluride Film Festival in 1983 at age 90 and Turner Classic Movies aired the film in one of their Telluride programming tributes in 2010. The Challenge was also offered on The Criterion Channel.   Continue reading

Al Adamson’s Kiddie Flick

He was the man behind such softcore sleazefests as Girls for Rent (1974), The Naughty Stewardesses (1975) and Cinderella 2000 (1977). He was also the schlockmeister responsible for exploitation classics such as Satan’s Sadists (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1970) and the seriously deranged Dracula vs. Frankenstein (1971). He would be the last person you’d expect to make a child-friendly movie but that’s exactly what he attempted with Carnival Magic, which was completed in 1981 but not released until 1983. The film is almost tame enough for a six year old kid but also a terrifically weird and strange experience for older audiences who have seen any of Adamson’s previous work. He’s marching to the beat of a different drummer here and that drummer just happens to be a talking chimpaneze named Alexander the Great. Continue reading

All of Them Witches

Lisbeth Movin stars as Anne Pedersdotter, a young widow accused of witchcraft in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Day of Wrath (1943).

When social order breaks down, rational thought or common sense do not always follow. The result could be the kind of mass paranoia and hysteria that created the persecution of people as witches in Europe during the 13th to 15th century as well as in America (the Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692). That shameful chapter in history has been the subject of numerous books and literary works such as Arthur Miller’s 1953 play The Crucible.  As for the cinema, most movie critics seem to agree that the finest film to ever address this kind of aberrant phenomenon is Carl Theodore Dreyer’s Vredens dag (1943, English title: Day of Wrath).   Continue reading