On the Road with Robert Kramer

Route One is a historic American highway with a rich history spanning three centuries. It starts in Key West, Florida and ends in Fort Kent, Maine and some of the cities along the way include Miami, Washington, New York City and Boston. Filmmaker Robert Kramer decided to travel the entire route in 1988 with his friend Paul McIsaac and make a film about the journey. Part of his intent was to explore and document the lives and mind set of the people he met along the way but also to come to terms with his own feelings about America after living abroad for almost a decade. The completed film, Route One USA (1989), is a fascinating mosaic of American culture and much more than just a time capsule since it reveals the roots of the polarization and fragmentation that is affecting our country today.   Continue reading

Balm for the Soul

The Japanese poster for The Burmese Harp (1956)

In 1955 Kon Ichikawa was a well established filmmaker in Japan who was mostly known for satiric comedies like Mr. Pu (1953) and A Billionaire (1954) and the occasional literary adaptation like Young People (1952). His work was still unknown outside of his own country but that would change with his 27th film, The Burmese Harp (Japanese title: Biruma no tategoto, 1956). It would prove to be his first major critical and box office success in Japan but also one that would bring him international acclaim. “That was the first film I really felt I had to make,” Ichikawa later admitted to author and film scholar Donald Richie.   Continue reading

Down the Noir Highway

What could make a reputable insurance instigator go bad? A beautiful woman? Lots of loot? A sense of empowerment? For Joe Peters (Charles McGraw), it’s all of these things but it’s definitely a femme fatale named Diane (Joan Dixon) who first ignites the copper’s lust and then his greed. Roadblock (1951) is a cleverly plotted, terse little film noir that has more twists and hairpin turns than a winding mountain road. What makes it stand out from other low-budget noirs produced at RKO is Charles McGraw’s compelling performance as an easily seduced sucker unlike his usual tough guy roles and Joan Dixon’s sultry presence.  Continue reading

Toxic Love

Giuliano Gemma and Stefania Sandrelli play factory workers in Milan who become lovers in the tragic love story, Delitto D’amore (aka Crime of Love, 1974), directed by Luigi Comencini.

Milan, Italy is world famous as a mecca for high fashion, design and the AC Milan football club but the statistics also reveal that it is still one of Europe’s most polluted cities due to smoke spewing factories and auto emissions. Against this gray, industrial backdrop, Luigi Comencini has set his rarely seen but moving 1974 drama, Delitto D’amore (aka Crime of Love).    Continue reading

The Burden of Brilliance

Who was Nikola Tesla? Some people know him as the scientific genius who created the alternating current (AC) electrical system which became the industry standard instead of Thomas Edison’s direct current (DC) electrical system. Tesla is also credited with developing the first X-ray films known as shadowgraphs, inventing the Tesla coil which became the basis of modern radio technology, designing the first neon sign and holding the patents for more than 250 inventions which have improved the quality of human life. Such brilliance comes with a price and the Croatian-born immigrant was also an eccentric with no talent for profitable self-promotion or successful business ventures which often affected his career adversely. Sounds like a fascinating subject for a film, right? Director/screenwriter Michael Almereyda thought so too and his 2020 movie Tesla featuring Ethan Hawke in the title role, is currently in release but be forewarned, this is NOT a conventional biopic by any stretch of the imagination.    Continue reading