Beyond the Pale

When you think of British film comedies, titles like Whiskey Galore (1949), The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953), and other popular Ealing releases, many with Alec Guinness, probably spring to mind. Or maybe something starring Peter Sellers or any comedies featuring graduates of the Goon Show, Beyond the Fringe or Monty Python TV shows that mix black comedy with Theatre of the Absurd antics. But few people, outside of the U.K., are unlikely to recall One Way Pendulum (1964) with fondness and there are obvious reasons for that. It is the sort of surreal farce that is so deeply rooted in its own culture, setting and time – the sixties – that audiences of today might not get the jokes at all. Even the average Englishman might have sat dumbfounded at the film before him in 1964.

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Christmas Lockdown in the Eternal City

An alternate release poster for the Roberto Rossellini film ERA NOTTE A ROMA (1960)

Available for years in inferior public domain prints and poor video transfers, Robert Rossellini’s influential WW2 trilogy [Rome Open City (1945), Paisan (1946) and German Year Zero (1949)], which firmly established him as the “father of Neorealism”, finally received 4K high-definition digital transfers from The Criterion Collection in 2017. Linked thematically to this trilogy, however, is a latter Rossellini film, Era Notte a Roma [English title, Escape by Night aka Blackout in Rome,1960), which, unfortunately, has never enjoyed the reputation or respect of this seminal trilogy. I first saw a 16mm print of the film from Films Inc. years ago when it still licensed title from The Audio Brandon Collection. I had a chance to revisit Era Notte a Roma again recently on DVD and am still baffled by the movie’s low profile since its original release.

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Subterranean Homesick Blues

The Japanese film poster for Yatsuhaka-mura aka VILLAGE OF EIGHT GRAVESTONES (1977)

Not all homecomings are happy affairs and, if you want to experience one that makes a good argument against family reunions, consider Yatsuhaka-mura (Japanese title, Village of Eight Gravestones, 1977), which presents the ancestral homestead as a cursed place with a dark history. Tatsuya (played by former pop singer Ken’ichi Hagiwara), the film’s protagonist, was taken away from his mountain village by his mother when he was just a child but when he returns after many years, he feels like the ultimate outsider as he reconnects with family he never really knew. Not only is his village isolated and mired in the past but it sits upon a network of underground caves and tunnels, which hold the key to a family secret.

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