Be Careful What You Wish For

Horror films based on Jewish folklore and Talmudic literature are not that commonplace but one of the early classics of silent cinema was based on a 16th century tale of a rabbi, Judah Low ben Bezulel, who brought a hulking clay figure to life to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic forces. German director/actor Paul Wegener was so taken with the legend that he made three films based on it, a 1915 version, which only exists in fragments, a 1917 parody entitled The Golem and the Dancing Girl (now considered a lost film) and the 1920 version, which is the most famous. There were other remakes in later years, including Julien Duvivier’s 1936 sound version, but a new variation on the menacing title creature from the Israeli filmmaking team of Doron Paz and his brother Yoav, takes a decidedly different approach to the famous legend, courtesy of Ariel Cohen’s screenplay. Continue reading

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Paul Mazursky’s Sophomore Slump?

What do you do for an encore when your directorial film debut becomes a critical and commercial hit? That was the problem Paul Mazursky was facing in 1969 after Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice became the talk of the New York Film Festival where it was the opening night feature. His follow-up film, Alex in Wonderland (1970), expresses this dilemma but, if critics attacked the film for being an overt homage to Federico Fellini, Mazursky took the Italian maestro’s original concept and made it his own in an often absurdist portrait of Hollywood in the late sixties-early seventies and his own role in – and out – of it. Continue reading

Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff: A Lifetime Love Affair with Jazz

There have been many outstanding and critically acclaimed documentaries on the subject of jazz and jazz musicians over the years from Aram Avakian & Bert Stern’s Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959) to Bruce Weber’s Let’s Get Lost (1988) and Jean Bach’s A Great Day in Harlem (1994). But what is surprising is the fact that until recently no filmmaker has attempted to document the importance of Blue Note Records and its importance in the advancement of this uniquely American, home grown music. Suddenly, we have two documentaries on the subject, Eric Friedler’s It Must Schwing! The Blue Note Story (2018) and Sophie Huber’s Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018), both of which are currently on the film festival circuit.  Continue reading

The Crime Astrologer

Every amateur detective has his own approach to crime solving but Mary Lee Ling consults the stars and birth dates to narrow down the list of suspects. When Were You Born? (1938) has a terrific premise for a detective thriller and was quite unusual in its day. Its offbeat approach to the genre is further enhanced by the casting of Anna May Wong in the central role of an astrologist whose connection to a murder victim implicates her in the police investigation.      Continue reading

Soulmates in Hell

In June 1973 the democratic government of Uruguay was overthrown by a military dictatorship that lasted until February 28,1985 and was responsible for the incarceration of more than 5000 people and the systematic torture and human rights abuse of prisoners. Among the prisoners were members of the left-wing guerrilla organization known as the Tupamaros (aka the National Liberation Movement), and included activist Jose Mujica, the poet and playwright Mauricio Rosencof and journalist Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro. A Twelve-Year Night (La Noche de 12 Anos), which premiered on Netflix in late December and is currently available on the service, depicts the plight of these three men in a powerful true-life drama directed by Alvaro Brechner. Continue reading

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

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