A City or a Labyrinth?

Whether by accident or design, French filmmaker Jacques Rivette is probably the least known member of the influential Nouvelle Vague movement of the late fifties though, like Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Claude Chabrol, he too was a former writer and film critic for Cashiers du Cinema. He even started production on his first feature length film, Paris Belongs to Us (French title: Paris Nous Appartient), in 1957, before Chabrol, Truffaut and Godard began work on what would become their universally acclaimed debuts of, respectively, Le Beau Serge (1958), The 400 Blows (1959) and Breathless (1960). Yet, despite the artistic and liberating impact the latter three films had on world cinema, Paris Belongs to Us might be the most ambitious, challenging and intellectually provocative film of the whole movement. It is also the darkest, waltzing toward an imagined or possibly real oblivion. The Homeland Security System would give it a code orange classification.       

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Second Sight

The gift of clairvoyance and the ability to predict the future is a plot device that has been well mined in the cinema from It Happened Tomorrow (1944) to Nightmare Alley (1947) to The Night My Number Came Up (1955). But one of the earliest and most intriguing presentations of this phenomenon can be found in the rarely seen 1934 release, The Clairvoyant (aka The Evil Mind). Made at an early stage in Claude Rains’ career when he was still accepting film work in both Hollywood and England and was not yet a contract player at Warner Bros., The Clairvoyant provides an excellent showcase for the actor as Maximus, the mind reader.

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No Man’s Land

The Hungarian poster for THE RED AND THE WHITE (1967).

Imagine a life during wartime where your country is invaded by foreign forces and your friends and neighbors have either joined the resistance or sided with the enemy in order to save their own skins. The lines were more clearly drawn during the American Civil War where geography, uniforms and flags were the distinguishing physical differences but in Europe, wars and revolutions were much more complicated and confusing for the opposing sides. Consider, for example, The Red and the White (Hungarian title: Csillagosok, Katonak, 1967), directed by Miklos Jancso, in which Hungary collapses into chaos in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. As depicted by Jansco, the landscape becomes a no man’s land where the roles of the oppressors and the oppressed are constantly switching and non-partisan peasants are caught in the middle with no control over their fates. The result is a visually mesmerizing, almost absurdist view of power changing hands almost as rapidly as gamers in an interactive duel.

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Michael Powell’s Penultimate Film

Peeping Tom, the 1960 psychological thriller about a homicidal cinematographer who uses his camera to capture the death throes of the models he murders, is regarded today as one of director Michael Powell’s masterpieces. At the time of its release, however, it was universally reviled by most critics and brought an abrupt halt to Powell’s career. Some even mistakenly believed it was his last film and even Powell wondered if he’d ever work again. But the celebrated director would go on to helm four more feature films, a made-for-TV production of Bela Bartok’s opera Herzog Blaubarts Burg (aka Bluebeard’s Castle, 1963) and the documentary Return to the Edge of the World (1978). Among his post-Peeping Tom work, Age of Consent (1969), his penultimate feature, is an underrated delight and features Helen Mirren in her first starring role.

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I Was a Teenage Peeping Tom

Craig Fowler (Paul Anka) is a lonely, insecure teenager who likes spying on his female neighbors in LOOK IN ANY WINDOW (1961).

Among the many teen idols of the fifties who climbed to fame with top forty hit records, only a few made the successful crossover to film acting. Pat Boone was groomed by 20th-Century-Fox as a teen matinee idol in Bernadine (1957), Tommy Sands stayed in his comfort zone playing an aspiring pop star in Sing Boy Sing (1958), Fabian made his screen debut with the family-friendly backwoods drama Hound-Dog Man (1959), and Bobby Rydell played your average boy-next-door opposite Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Paul Anka, on the other hand, appeared in the most unlikely vehicle for his first major starring role – Look in Any Window (1961).   

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High on Adrenalin

Married news reporters Bob Tur and Marika Gerrard are probably not familiar to most people but over a 15-year period from the early 1980s to the late 1990s they covered news events from their helicopter above Los Angeles. You’ve probably seen some of their televised stories since they were among the first to capture the L.A. riots of April 1992 and the violent beating of truck driver Reginald Denny as well as the O.J. Simpson freeway pursuit in June 1994. Earlier the reporting team had gained notoriety for crashing the Madonna-Sean Penn wedding of August 1985, with the bride giving them the finger. Bob and Marika have since divorced (in 2003) but their intertwined professional career and marriage is chronicled by director Matt Yoka in Whirlybird (2020), a riveting documentary that touches on enough topics from freedom of the press to gender reassignment surgery to fuel the narratives of a dozen feature films.

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These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

The William Shakespeare tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, has served as the inspiration for countless movies about star-crossed lovers such as Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953), West Side Story (1961) and the zombie comedy Warm Bodies (2013) but it has rarely been re-imagined as a spaghetti western. One of the few but notable exceptions is Dove si spara di più (1967), which is also known under the alternate release titles of Fury of Johnny Kidd, Ultimate Gunfighter and Ride for a Massacre.

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