All posts by Alfred Eaker

Alfred Eaker is the director of Jesus and Her Gospel of Yes!, voted Best Experimental Film in the 2004 New York International Film and Video Festival (which can be downloaded from DownloadHorror.com here), and the feature W the Movie. He writes the column "Alfred Eaker's Fringe Cinema" for this site, covering the world of underground film, as well as regularly contributing essays on other subjects.

KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART TWO

Part 1 of the Bat-series.

On 30 , March 1966, ‘s Riddler returned for “Ring of Wax” (directed by James Clark, written by Jack Paritz and Bob Rodger). The local wax museum is supposed to be unveiling a wax figure of Batman. To the crowd’s horror, that loathsome lithe Riddler is on display instead, and up to his usual atrocious anarchy with a stupendous squirter, spewing crimson crud all over the Gotham gang. Of course, he leaves a pair of baffling riddles behind. In his cauldron of corruption, Riddler concocts a wax that burn its way through any vault in the world, sending him to the local library (!), where he is accompanied by a striped dayglo duo and a purple leather-clad villainess named Moth (Linda Gaye Scott). She’s one in a series of Gorshin’s increasingly bizarre disciples (in “A Riddle A Day,”  Riddler was followed by a girl who talks like a mouse and a trio of henchmen wearing a rainbow of primary colored hoodies, one of whom is the yellowed bug-eyed cheese munching stooge). The Riddler’s inexplicable entourage makes him all the more absurdly frightening. We get such a kick watching Gorshin’s bouncing, blithesome histrionics that the only disappointment is NOT getting to see him lay waste to the Dynamic Duo. However, he does get to stop them in place with “Dr. Riddler’s Instant Forever-Stick Invisible Wax Emulsion,” AKA spray-on superglue.  Escaping with a book on a lost treasure of the Incas, Riddler and his gang head back to their candle factory, where Batman and the Boy Wonder are tied up and lowered into an enormous cauldron. “Will Batman wax serious? For the sake of our heroes, let’s think positively!!! But it looks bad! Very bad! How can we wait until tomorrow night.. same bat-time… same bat-channel !!?”

Their escape in Part Two (“Give ’em the Axe”) is among the series’ most preposterous, and the battle with henchmen hits a garish high, all of which translates into camp delight. When Moth tries to flirt her way out of jail, Batman waxes chaste: “A moth that plays with fire is bound to be burned.” Needless to say, Gorshin owns both episodes.

“The Curse of Tut/Pharaoh’s in a Rut” (directed by Charles Rondeau, written by Robert Dennis and Earl Barret) aired on the 13th  and 14th of April, 1966. “A giant Sphinx is uttering demented threats in Gotham Central Park in a woman’s voice!” “Holy hieroglyphics, this might mean a battle royal” with King Tut (Victor Buono), of course. “Maybe this sphinx will give us a clue!” Tut surrounds himself with 1960s Egyptian babes (including Zoda Rodann as a coney dog eating Nefertiti) and henchmen (including busy character actor and B-Western regular Don Berry), whom Tut dismisses Continue reading KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART TWO

KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART ONE

It’s very simple: if you love “Batman” (1966-1968), starring Adam West, you’re in the cool kids club. If you don’t, you’re clueless and need to go away. Only freaks are allowed here.

“Batman” is still the yardstick by which all other live-action superheroes are to be judged. There has never been another series like it. I’ll go even further: it’s not only a genre and cult yardstick, but it’s a yardstick for television, period.

Before we catapult into the Batcave, I’ll share a few childhood memories, of which I’m damned proud. Adam West’s Batman and ‘ Superman  were the epitome of cool (I’ll never forgive for turning them into caped white trash and making them go commando). I caught Superman in syndication and already knew that Superman had blown his brains out. For me, that was part of his appeal. (I was a tad off-kilter. In my defense, Superman was a more appealing martyr than the Pentecostal Jesus). Admittedly, however, Superman had bland villains, and his second Lois Lane was too June Cleaver-Protestant boring.

Then came Adam West’ Batman. I caught the last season in its first-run, then caught up in syndication. Of course, the show was mass-marketed. Among the most cherished mementos was Batman trading cards, which I would often lose. They meant so much to me that my poor Dad would have to drive all the way downtown to buy me replacement cards from the only store that carried them. I found my true rainbow pot of batgold, however, through a wedding. My cousin was getting married and wanted me for a ring bearer. The last thing I wanted to do was climb into a tuxedo in front of a church crowd, but when she promised to buy me a Batman suit AND a Batmobile to pedal around the back porch on, I begged Dad to call the tuxedo shop immediately so I could be fitted. For Christmas, my brother asked for a children’s Bible (he was such a suck-up). In sharp contrast, I asked for, and received, a Batman View-Master set. With all those bat-toys, I was indisputably the coolest kid who ever lived.

“Atomic batteries to power! Turbines to speed!” “Roger. Ready to move out!”

Since I’m hard pressed to come up with a single non-enjoyable episode, a “Best of Batman” list is bit of an oxymoron, although of course there are standout episodes. This is really more an exercise in cherry picking highlights, because by the time I could finish covering the entire series, we might be heading into 366 Weird Movies, the Sequel. So, without further ado, I have to start with the pilot, which features Batman dancing in a disco.

Still from Batman "Hey Diddle Riddle" (1966)On 12, January, 1966  “Batman” premiered with “Hi Diddle Riddle” (directed by Robert Butler, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr,) and, yes, that means… the Riddler () is our first dastardly criminal. He pranks the World’s Fair with an exploding cake and inspires Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) to dial the batphone. Alfred, the butler (Alan Napier) answers, and rescues Bruce Wayne Continue reading KAPOW! ZLOPP! TOUCHE! THE BEST OF “BATMAN” (1966-1968), PART ONE

INGMAR BERGMAN’S FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982)

Fanny and Alexander (1982) was ‘s final cinematic work, although he did make a handful of TV movies afterwards, ending with the poignant Saraband (2003). After decades of desolation within an agnostic cosmos, Bergman keeps Fanny and Alexander in check. Although his obsessions are present, it is sort of an autobiographical release, which results in an immensely  enjoyable, epic 1)The theatrical cut runs three hours. A 5-hour television version was simultaneously released, as Bergman was understandably reluctant to edit it down. The longer version, with stronger supernatural atmosphere, is preferable. coda to one of the most consummate cinema oeuvres, and could even be recommended as a starting point to the Bergman novice.

As with most of Bergman’s films, Fanny and Alexander was received with a degree of controversy. Some criticized Bergman’s previous work as overly pessimistic. He also was frequently accused of pretentiousness, and as is often the case, that is a lazy standby label that reveals far more about the critic than the filmmaker. With Fanny and Alexander, Bergman was criticized for catering to populism (John Simon in National Review) and for oversimplification (Dave Kehr and Pauline Kael ). Yet, even the most critical reviews conceded Fanny and Alexander was Bergman at his most accomplished.

There is a pronounced fantasy element to this period family drama, so much so it is one of the few Bergman film covered by Richard Scheib at his genre site, Moria film reviews.

Fanny and Alexander (1982)Fanny and Alexander is set at the turn of the 20th century, and immediately establishes its theme of childhood imagination. I would be hard-pressed to name another Bergman film in which children are the primary protagonists. When Bergman takes the plunge, he does so without abandon. The ghostliness of childhood saturates the narrative, the assured pacing, and the artistic design. It opens with ten-year-old Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve) preoccupied with miniature theatrical figurines and a caged rat. The scene is fittingly choreographed, in part, to Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in F Major (Schumann is possibly the apex of 19th century romantic innocence) and sets the leisurely pacing. Alexander calls out to his eight-year-old sister Fanny (Pernilla Alwin), who doesn’t answer—but like most children, Alexander is soon distracted.

Shortly before a dazzling, magically detailed Christmas feast with the Ekdhal clan, Alexander is caught up in a dreamlike state as he imagines an erotic statue suddenly motioning to him, followed by death dragging his scythe.

A Christmas play evokes Mozartian flutes, followed by the entry of uncles Gustav (an amorous Jarl Kulle with a flaming punchbowl) and Carl (Borje Ahlstedt, drunkenly farting on the stairs), and possibly the most beautiful pillow fight ever filmed.

Fanny and Alexander’s theatrical grandmother Helena (Gunn Walgren) is the matriarch of the Ekdhal clan, which is filled with irascible actors, rogues, illusionists, and a multitude of servants.   The theater life creates a community much like one would find in religion. Both Fanny and Alexander are introverted, but dazzled by the enchanted world gifted them by their theater manager father Oscar (Allan Edwall) and actress mother Emilie (Ewa Froling); but the second half of the film takes a darker turn when Oscar dies unexpectedly.  At his father’s funeral procession, led by the ultra-patristic and austere Calvinist Bishop Edvard Vergerus (Jan Malmsjo), a bitter and frightened Alexander, out of character, spews obscenities, foretelling the struggles ahead.

Emilie marries Edvard, and soon Fanny and Alexander are subjected to dogmatic abuses 2)Bergman’s father was a severe Calvinist. Emilie belatedly realizes that she has married a clerical beast. Oscar’s ghost rises (apparently conjured forth by Alexander) to intervene. With the aid of the Jewish eccentric Isak (Erland Josephson) and his warlock nephew Ismael (Stina Ekblad), Fanny and Alexander are smuggled out of their home. Their escape is like a fairy tale, with the children finding a new sanctuary within Isak’s surreal theatrical abode. Alexander’s ghostly visions serve as a segue into a chimerical coming of age parable, and the demonic bishop’s fiery comeuppance may be Bergman’s finest moment on celluloid.

While Fanny and Alexander is indisputably imperfect,  it is a sensuous epilogue that stands not only as essential Bergman, but essential cinema. A few weeks ago, I declared that once done with my latest round of dipping back into Bergman, I would be forced to shelve any further revisits. After my third summer with Fanny and Alexander, I can most assuredly say that I lied.

References   [ + ]

1. The theatrical cut runs three hours. A 5-hour television version was simultaneously released, as Bergman was understandably reluctant to edit it down. The longer version, with stronger supernatural atmosphere, is preferable.
2. Bergman’s father was a severe Calvinist

ALFRED EAKER VS. THE SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: LIFE OF THE PARTY, WITH BONUS AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)

The trashy frat house machismo of Animal House wasn’t my cup of tea in 1978 and, typical of ‘ work, its excesses have dated. With and hubby Ben Falcone co-writing and producing Life of the Party, I wasn’t expecting anything along the zany lines of the National Lampoon boys, but rather something akin to Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School, done via McCarthy’s typical cutsey dumb girl humor. Although McCarthy’s on-the-sleeve screen persona is not one I cozy up to, she was amiable enough in pleasantries such as Bridesmaids, The HeatSpy, and Ghostbusters (all directed by )

We’ll get back to that. Having a long day off (both a school break and a work break), I opted for a double-feature picture show. The first feature, Avengers: Infinity War, was essentially a 21st century update of Animal House, with the boys spinning their tires in school parking lots replaced with super dupers. Essentially, though, both of those movies are tailored for secular camo-wearing bucks. I’ve never quite understood extreme virile conservatism divorced from religion. Don’t the two kind of go hand-in-hand? But then, Avengers does feature an overload of costumed deities who practically all get slaughtered by a big guy with an even bigger chin. I suppose it gives fans of the funny paper bibles what they want: two-dimensional gods who die horribly. It’s not so much a movie as a collection of video game levels. All the super dudes and super gals (too many to name) are like walk-on figures who go through multiple battles before getting wasted and replaced by the next set of supers whose powers are interchangeable and vague.

Still from Avengers: Infinity War (2018)It’s so damned deafening and foul, made all the more so by “Game of Thrones”-fed audience members who acted like a rabid tribe of simians, a-gruntin’ and a-hootin’ and a-hollerin’ at each explosion. The atmosphere reminded me of a news article I had just read online with hundreds of commenters rooting for the death of John McCain because he dared to oppose torture (after being tortured) and he stood up to Lord Thanos, er, Trump. Yes, there is a political current coursing throughout Avengers. It’s the politics of monochromatic deathlust, and the bloodbath is only alleviated by ingratiating macho jokiness. Then back to more carnage for 160 endless minutes.

Of course, it’s going to make a trillion dollars and in many quarters this pedestrian mess is preposterously being hailed as something on the scale of Empire Strikes Back. If it really matters, it’s about these infinity stones, and the fate of the universe, and Tolkien-like sacrifice and… it doesn’t matter one bit. Undoubtedly, the various action figures will rise again so fans can be rest assured that there will be more. However, there was an actual death permeating the entire experience; the repugnant death of the greatest art form birthed in the 20th century.

Life of the Party (2018) posterAfter TammyThe Boss, and Life of the Party, all made with Falcone, McCarthy would be wise to work solely with Paul Feig. Her collaborations with husband are comparatively bland, never more so than here. Translation: Life of the Party is a crashing bore, which is the kiss of death for a comedy—especially one that features a star whose reputation was built on pratfalls and mugging. Almost as bad as the direction, the script, like Avengers, is utterly pedestrian non-writing, with the only surprise being how lifeless this party is. While it wasn’t soulless in the way Avengers was, Life of the Party could have used the slobishness of a John Belushi, or the madcap salty pathos of a Dangerfield. Normally, for all her obviousness, McCarthy at least delivers something in between the two; but here, she takes the worst route of all: toning down her antics, thus zapping away any personality.

The ho-hum plot is a sputtering series of muddled vignettes. After her jerk hubby has left her for another woman, McCarthy enrolls in college to study archeology. Naturally, it’s the same school her daughter (Molly Gordon) goes to. No prizes will be awarded for guessing what comes next in this listless remake of Back to School. Yes, fish-outta-water, dejected McCarthy plays mom to all the students, embarrasses her daughter, hooks up with a young dumb stud, becomes a favorite of all, and everything turns out OK for those on the screen (not so much for us).

Surprisingly, McCarthy is upstaged by co-stars , Heidi Gardner, and Gillian Jacobs. While The Avengers was a bodiless set of redneck testicles, Life of the Party is spayed suburbia. The only mercy afforded was in its comparative brevity. Also, the audience was less overbearing, but then over half the seats were empty—probably not a good sign for the producers and star.

Nor is this a good sign for my upcoming summer slate. Both Avengers and Life are DOA. At this rate, perhaps 366 readers can chip in and gofundme for a couple of packs of smokes and a very large can of sugar-free Rock Star. I think I’m going to need them.

INGMAR BERGMAN’S AUTUMN SONATA (1978)

is a damned important filmmaker. As an artist and Catholic, I’ve experienced his body of work and without reserve, I rank him with the likes of , , and . Yet, I’m now in my fifties, and I’ve come to the point where I can relate to the conductor Leopold Stokowski, who—late in life—said he was done with the pessimism of composer Gustav Mahler. Likewise, I hope I’m never asked to watch a Bergman film again for the remainder of my life. Not that this site asked me to; I did it to myself.

Still, Bergman was by no means a one-note filmmaker. Like Mahler, whose 4th symphony is as sunny as Mahler can get and still be Mahler, Bergman had a more pleasing side on occasion (i.e. The Magic Flute). So, I’m glad to be ending this Bergman series with Autumn Sonata (1978) followed by Fanny and Alexander (1981) next week. As pleasurable as these examples of late Bergman are, I’ll still look forward to something a tad lighter, perhaps a camp fest or a dumb summer blockbuster.

For Autumn Sonata, Bergman cast Casablanca actress Ingrid Bergman (no relation). It proved to be her last film before succumbing to cancer. She plays the famous pianist Charlotte Andergast who has abandoned her family to pursue her career. Charlotte accepts daughter Eva’s () invitation for a visit, despite not having seen her for years. Having recently lost her longtime lover, Charlotte wants to stay at her daughter’s Norway parsonage for emotional support. Married to the reserved clergyman Viktor (Halvar Björk), Eva’s world is a far cry from the celebrity and glamour of her mother’s life. The complexities of their relationship are incandescent, and this may well be the most well-acted film of Bergman’s oeuvre.

Ingrid’s casting was poignant on numerous levels. She had longed to make a film with her namesake. Both she and Ingmar had been in exile from Sweden (the director for tax evasion—he was later found innocent). Ingrid had been harshly criticized for abandoning her family to purse an affair with the married Roberto Rossellini and, after her films were widely picketed and banned, she fled Sweden. Ingrid was initially skeptical because the parallels between actress and role were so disconcerting. She overcame her trepidation, however, to deliver a tour-de-force swan song. Ullman is, in every way, Ingrid’s equal, and although this is ultimately an ethical and psychologically healthy chamber film, it is inherently Bergmanesque.

At first, the reunion seems to be a joyful one. Charlotte has barely settled in, however, when old tensions between mother and daughter arise. Eva, a writer, is also a pianist, but she is angst-ridden with an inferiority complex that she blames on her mother. Eva’s fear of playing Chopin to her hypercritical mother is validated. Even the musically illiterate can detect the difference between Eva’s subpar performance and Charlotte’s sublime interpretation. The brilliance of Bergman lies in divided sympathies. We can identify with Eva feeling patronized and shamed, but we also acknowledge Charlotte’s valid aesthetic criticisms.

A more painful source of contention is the surprise of Eva opening her home to her sister Helena (Lena Nyman). Suffering from a degenerative disease, Helena is a provocative reminder of Charlotte’s neglect and narcissism.

Srill from Autumn Sonata (1978)The scene in which Eva confronts Charlotte throughout the night is lengthy, riveting, and drenched in emotion. Charlotte’s propensity for bragging and her lack of humility, her inability to listen and perhaps even to fully love, is punctuated by Eva’s demand of silence, and, ultimately by her mediocrity. Yet, we also see Eva’s strength as a giving savior/saint to both her husband and sister—a role that Charlotte is utterly incapable of. Lesser filmmakers would have taken sides and painted the scene solely in hues of pathos, but Bergman is not so monochromatic: he uses humor, awe, and sensuality. Bergman and cinematographer Sven Nyqvist opt for intense extreme closeups, filmed in gorgeous oranges and browns. It’s called Autumn Sonata for a reason, and the engrossing music (Chopin, Bach, Beethoven) is of equal importance to the theatrical-like visuals.

Björk is, as usual, superb, but ultimately it’s not his film. We go through the wringer with Eva and Charlotte, and there is no sophomoric resolution, because reconciliation sure as hell isn’t microwaved. It’s sacramentally built; and Bergman leaves us with the hope, and the feeling, that it will be built. In that, I find Autumn Sonata to be as close to Catholicism as Bergman comes.

READER POLL FOR ALFRED EAKER VS. THE 2018 SUMMER BLOCKBUSTERS: THE CANDIDATES

The poll is closed. The winners were Slender Man, The Meg, and Life of the Party. Look for reviews this summer!

Summer’s almost here, and that means it’s time for the 366 Weird Movies reader base to send me, Alfred Eaker, on my fifth masochistic field trip of blockbuster movie torture. The candidates are below. Be sure to view the entire post; you will vote at the end.

  1. Life of the Party (Opens May 11). 1 hour and 45 minutes of ‘s one-note jokes. Guess what it’s about? Melissa as the life of the party.  If I get drafted into this, I’m taking my toenail clippers and a crossword puzzles (and I guarantee that I will still be able to give a detailed review).
  2. Deadpool 2 (May 18). The first one was, I think, the most successful R-rated movie to date being about a foul mouthed superhero (OK, yeah, that’s what I want out of superheroes). I haven’t seen it. Although it has the same writer, a different director was tapped. The jokes in the trailer are of the narcissistic  macho cutesy variety, which are the absolute worst kind.
  3. Solo: A Star Wars Story (May 25). God, the trailer looks so obvious and bad. The credentials don’t help; directed by one of the most pedestrian directors of the last 50 years (Ron Howard) and written by Lawrence Kasdan who, lets be honest, managed to followup the best of the Star Wars movies (Empire Strikes Back) with one of the worst (Return of the Jedi). After the too-original-for-its-own-good The Last Jedi proved to be the Milk of Magnesia for formula-craving alt-right fanboys, this looks to settle them back into a regular bowel movement routine.
  4. Action Point (June 1) brags that it stars the cast of Jackass and Bad  Grandpa, which means a lot of predictable juvenile pratfalls to amuse rednecks. It looks to be as exciting as a mud and tractor pull.
  5. Incredibles 2 (June 15). Again, I missed out on the original, but the trailer looks like a commercial for a line of toys.
  6. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (June 22). Geez, the last one actually made dinosaurs boring. I miss seeing a guy in a wrinkled lizard suit stomping on toy tanks.
  7. Ant-Man and the Wasp (July 6). Helmed by the director of the original, this promises to be… more of the same, and that wasn’t very good to begin with. I received a lot of hate for my lukewarm review  of its predecessor. Heads were exploding all over fanboy forums. I think I’ve been far more offensive since then, so perhaps this will restore me to some kind of previous glory.
  8. Skyscraper (July 13). Towering Inferno meets Die Hard. How original. At least Steve McQueen and Paul Newman were actual actors and could form syllables. Of course, they’re dead. The trailer gets philosophical, announcing: “Courage has no limits.” Hmph! Smell likes Old Spice. Director Thurber’s resume is that of an assembly line hack.
  9. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (July 20). The first one was unbearably phony, with people in scuba flippers dancing to ABBA and waxing schmaltzy. Despite the presence of Meryl Streep (who embarrassed herself enough in the original) and Cher, even the title tells you it’s a fatigued rehash. To get us excited, they add an exclamation point. This  actually looked like the worst of the lot, until I saw the trailer for Life of the Party.
  10. Mission Impossible: Fallout (July 27). How much longer are we going to have to watch take off his shirt and run?  Even less exciting is the co-star casting of the worst Superman actor in history.
  11. The Meg (Aug 10). Jaws meets Godzilla? Might have some kind of potential if it was directed by someone so inept that they could produce an unintentional masterpiece. Instead, it has director Jon Turtletaub, who has been consistent in producing one film after another that is a hodgepodge of stale, leftover scraps.
  12. The Happy Time Murders (August 17). On paper, a muppet movie about a serial killer offing the entire cast of a children’s TV show sounds amazing. However, director Brian Henson (who’s no chip off the old block) and writer Todd Berger (The Smurfs and Kung Fu Panda) don’t leave a lot of room for optimism.
  13. Slender Man (Aug 24). When the haunted house attraction I work for sent an actor dressed as “Slender Man” to pass out street fliers, people freaked out and it made national news. I’m so out of the loop, I didn’t even know Slender Man was a preexisting character until today when I received the list of summer movies. When original ideas for a horror flicker run short, throw in images of maggots. That’ll gross ’em out! The trailer was a mere 2 minutes and within that time frame my mind started wandering toward my chemistry assignment (and I HATE chemistry).

(Poll is open for 1 week only. You may vote once per day).

Direct voting link in case your browser blocks the poll.

INGMAR BERGMAN’S SHAME (1968)

I only vaguely recall 1968. What I do vividly remember was both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy being assassinated within the space of a few months. Even the majority of the bigots at mother’s church (not all, by any means) were horrified, and during those moments, at least, practiced an extremely rare shut-mouth spirituality. It was surreal as hell. Things only became more nightmarish in the years immediately following, with the escalation of Vietnam and Watergate.

A continent or so away, produced what most of us felt: Shame. Bergman was normally not an outright political filmmaker. The extremists certainly sniffed out the moderate artist within him. Not that they would watch his films anyway, being put off by subtitles (I don’t know how many times I’ve had to bite my lower lip after hearing camo-clad bumpkins proudly proclaim that they didn’t want to read a movie).

The focus of Bergman’s anger is war, but reeling from the criticisms he had received from utilizing the infamous footage of a Vietnamese monk’s immolation in 1966’s Persona, Bergman is more ambiguous here. He doesn’t state that his subject is Vietnam per se, which is why Shame is not as well-known as that previous film. Bergman’s ambiguity in a way neuters his own work, preventing it from becoming an equivalent to Picasso’s “Guernica,” which still provokes war-minded leaders (George W. Bush’s lackeys had a replica of  that famous painting covered up with a black curtain at the United Nations). We could see Shame one way: like , Bergman is a consummate artist lacking the courage of his ethical and social convictions (which were hinted at in Persona, although that film did not overtly subscribe to any specific ideology). In the case of both artists, their aesthetics are undermined by fear of being labeled political. In the case of Keaton, it took an artist of more elementary aesthetics (Charles Chaplin) to call out racism, sexism, and eventually Fascism. Likewise, Bergman’s Shame is rendered less impactful compared to his earlier opus and to the wave of anti-Vietnam films to come. Bergman plays it safe, indirectly shifting blame to a God in the sky instead of any persons or factions. Of course, we could also look at Shame as a desolate parable that transcends a specific time and place. It’s not an either/or assessment as much as it’s both/and.

In his later 1990 biography, “My Life in Films,” Bergman writes that he had previously been very proud of Shame, feeling that it exposed the personal violence of war, but added that he had come to be disappointed in it after realizing the his intentions were self-defeating.

Regardless of one’s view, Shame is aptly not a comfortable experience. The story centers around a musical couple, Jan () and Eva () Rosenberg. Although loving, they are tormented by Eva’s barrenness, poverty, and the civil war surrounding their dilapidated home on an unnamed island.

Despite its enigmatic qualities, Shame is still superlative Bergman and startling. Having fled larger society, the Rosenbergs have become recluses, but their imperfect and monotonous  tranquility is consumed by warfare.

The killing of a parachuter, arriving militias, arrests, incarceration, and torture are not typical Bergman themes, yet all are prevalent here. Smartly, Bergman’s focus is indeed a personal one.  When Jan witnesses his wife flirting with another man, he is aroused; probably for the first time in a long time. Later, after she has sex with an interrogator, Jan becomes jealous and exacts revenge. In the beginning of the film, it is he who is weak. However, after being engulfed in despair from the barbarism that has engulfed them, he mantles fierceness. In contrast, Eva, once the romantic, is utterly crushed.

There are no battlefield scenes typically associated with war films, and that’s refreshing. The path of Shame is highly idiosyncratic; paradoxically pragmatic in its psychology and yet, pensive.

By the time we become desultory refugees with the Roenbergs, we are as drained as they are. Although Shame avoids direct political commentary of the era, it oddly become more poignant today because the one pointed portrayal of Bergman’s that is relevant today lies in that of the shameless authoritarian and his knee-bound sycophants, along with the effect of that demagoguery on ordinary lives.

INGMAR BERGMAN’S CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972)

The iris of ‘s Cries and Whispers (1972) is a red deathbed of intense and frightening passion unequaled in the whole of cinema. As the filmmaker himself indicated, Cries and Whispers is a film predominantly told by color. I first encountered Cries and Whispers in the early 1980s and it lingered: an unforgettable, altering experience. The only thing I can compare it to is the first time I stood before one of Pablo Picasso’s rose period paintings of a maternal subject. It stirs you in a way that makes you feel simultaneously alive and small, and glad to be small before an authentic artist whose mastery is so expressively humane as to be hypnotic and humbling. As filtered through the abdominal lensing of Sven Nykvist, Cries and Whispers imparts a vision of infinite beauty.

This is a female world, taking place over a period of two days in the life of four women. Yes, it is also about the dying process and death, but accompanied by resurrection and endowment.

At her English manor, the 40-ish, matronly Agnes () is dying, and this is not a stylish, incandescent death. She is in unspeakable agony amidst her kitsch surroundings. Watching this film again recently, it gripped me personally, having spent two days with my father dying of the cancer that brutally and unmercifully took away his life; quickly, but not quickly enough. And that’s why Cries and Whispers is intimately affecting.

Surrounding Agnes are her sisters, Karin () and Maria (), along with her loyal peasant servant, Anna (Kari Sylvan), who maternally responds to Agnes’ needs. She cradles Agnes and attempts to comfort her. Yet, this is also a film about pain; like a late Edvard Munch painting of feverish icy dreams. As a motherly figure, Anna cannot ease Agnes’ suffering. Like Anna’s biological daughter, Agnes will die.

Still from Cries and Whispers (1972)The sexual symbology is as vivid as those various shades of (red). Agnes, never knowing intimacy (white) is dying of ovarian cancer. Maria’s adulteries drove her husband to suicide. Karin performed a bloody self-mutilation in revenge against her husband. All this segues into the pain of distance, of touching and withdrawing from touch; neither Maria nor Karin can look upon Agnes as she gasps for life. Familial emotional distance parallels the impotence of religious comfort (black). The cleric, there to give extreme unction, utters a prayer that betrays his faithlessness and cluelessness, because before him is the Pieta to which he is blind. Agnes attempts repeatedly to vomit in a basin, but it is to no avail. She parallels the Corpus Christi, cradled by Anna’s Madonna: the sole beacon of faith and the sole embrace who draws her lifeless charge to dry breasts. Yet, Anna gifts a renewal from cancer of the womb.

Although faithless herself, Agnes receives absolution, and we hear her alive again in the startling finale. Her voice rises from her journal, and we see the sisters together again in a paradisaical setting: “I wanted to hold the moment fast, and thought, Come what may, this is happiness. I cannot wish for anything better. Now, for a few minutes, I can experience perfection.”

SUPERGIRL: THE HIPPEST DAMNED SUPERHERO SHOW ON TELEVISION

Melissa Benoist is indisputably the most perfect actor embodying the role of a comic-based character since Christopher Reeve donned the red and blue for Superman in 1978. Given all the competition since then, such a statement might prove controversial… to constipated Trump Toon comic geeks. But their opinion is as worthless as their Craven Cantaloupe Christ who currently resides at 1600 Penn Avenue (or rather, the golf course). Too, I need to alter the title a tad; it’s not only the hippest damned superhero show on TV, it’s hipper than any of the comic-inspired productions being offered in cinema, and the hippest genre series since the 1960s Adam West “Batman.”

Yet, Supergirl is also among the favorites of alt-right fanboys—favorite targets that is, joining the esteemed company of 2017’s Star Wars, The Last Jedi (how dare Rey—a girl–earn the role of a Jedi through work as opposed to being fathered in? Kinda the antithesis of President Oompa Loompa) and 2018’s Black Panther (for obvious reasons, despite the fact that the comic book on which it’s based is over 50 years old).

Let’s first address fanboy complaints from the yawn-inducing Goebbels Operational Playbook. Why? because it’s so damned fun to out them as the 19th century bigots and Neanderthals that they are. Naturally, they’re as predictable as a paint-by-number set; amusing in their ethical timidity and in the ease by which they are offended.

Complaint One: “GASP! Jimmy Olsen is black! That’s PC BS! “

Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen SupergirlNever mind that to complain about political correctness is politically correct in itself. In some of the complaints seen on various social media outlets, the mentally and ethically challenged alt-right don’t often come right out and say it’s because he’s “black.”  Rather, they say “Olsen is supposed to be a geeky redhead with freckles and Mehcad Brooks plays Olsen like a GQ model!”

Let’s call this lame BS spin-doctoring for what it is. No one complained when a freckle-less Olsen had black hair in “Lois and Clark.” They didn’t complain when Hack Snyder killed Olsen off in a war zone. No, this is just a smokescreen to mask the inherent bigotry of the Trump Toons.

Why? Because these are comic book fundamentalists. They have the same mindset as religious fundamentalists. Comic book characters are essentially gods to Trump Toons, and even though the fanboys know the characters to be fictional (we hope), they still attack literal portrayals of deities who wear underwear outside of their pants-WHEN it’s convenient for them to do so (like bible fundies, they pick and choose).

In the comics, Superman doesn’t kill. Trump Toons didn’t protest one bit about that deviation from this long-held tradition in the execrable Man of Steel (2013). Superman had a curl in his hairdo. Henry Continue reading SUPERGIRL: THE HIPPEST DAMNED SUPERHERO SHOW ON TELEVISION

GEORGES MELIES TRIP TO THE MOON (1902) FLICKER ALLEY BLU-RAY REVIEW

‘ “Trip To The Moon,” made in 1902, is, I believe, the oldest film covered on 366 Weird Movies. Yet, in many ways Melies was not only ahead of his time, he is still ahead of his time. Many have called this director “the first true artist of cinema,” and indeed his influence on the most significant art form of the 20th century cannot be overestimated. As a fantasist, he saw himself become unfashionable, and his descent into  poverty and bankruptcy is well-known. Although, Melies considered 1908’s “Humanity Through The Ages” (1908) to be his most ambitious and favorite film (unfortunately, it’s lost), it is “Trip To The Moon” that is his most iconic.

Given its age, this film has been consigned to subpar home video releases over the last two decades. That has changed with Flicker Alley’s new Blu-ray release.

For years, there was no known copy of Melies’ hand-colored “Trip,” until a nitrate print was discovered in Spain in 1993. Its condition was so deteriorated that it was believed to be unworkable. However, in 2010, 108 years after its release, Lobster Films undertook one of its most ambitious film restorations to date. Working with 13,000 frames, they premiered their digitized reconstruction a year later at the Cannes Film Festival with a new soundtrack by Nicolas Godin and Jean Dunckel.

The Flicker release also features “The Extraordinary Voyage,” an informative and dramatic 65 minute documentary about the film’s labor-heavy restoration. It’s so well-constructed as to be almost mandatory after seeing the film.

Also included is:

  • The black and white version (the only one I saw in my youth) is well-restored, but surprisingly not quite to the level of the preferred (and much more surreal) hand-colored edition. The biggest attraction in this version is the alternative piano score by Frederick Hodges and a voice-over narration by Melies himself; oddly, neither are available in the color print.
  • A twelve-minute interview with the band AIR who provided a new musical score. It’s surprisingly effective in not being overcooked (as is often the case with restoring silent films). While the music is certainly postmodern, the band is sensitive and erudite in paying homage to Melies’ film.
  • Two Melies’ shorts: “The Astronomer’s Dream” (1898) and the surreally erotic “Eclipse: The Courtship of the Sun and the Moon” (1907). Neither film attains “Trip”‘s level of wonder, but both are recommendable in their own right. However, the latter does gives credence to period criticism that by this time Melies was repeating himself and a certain sense of fatigue was setting in.

Still from restored A Trip to the Moon (1902)The Flicker release comes with a gorgeous scholarly 25 page book that includes an essay, drawings, and stills.

New viewers may be surprised at the level of wit in “A Trip To the Moon.” The plot (based on elements of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne) is simple: European scientists (all dressed in wizard robes), aided by the army (all women in tight short shorts) shoot a rocket to the moon, land in its eye (the most famous image), and due to a storm on the surface, are forced underground where they encounter a crazed crab king and his bug-like subjects. The scientists fight off their attackers, the king gets whacked (by an umbrella/mushroom, which causes him to vanish in a puff of smoke), make it back to the rocket, and become heroes to their naysayers.

At roughly 15 minutes, it’s remarkable not for its plot (although it is one of the earliest  narrative films), but for its aesthetics, made all the more stunning in color. The rapid editing is a marvel, as are the hand-painted sets and the optical illusions typically found in Melies’ oeuvre.

Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray is essential.