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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

On DVD - Pre-Easter special report - Ben Cho discovers Nicholas Ray's KING OF KINGS (USA, 1961)

Nicholas Ray 
The near three-hour religious epic from iconic Hollywood filmmaker Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause, In A Lonely Place, Johnny Guitar) captures Jesus’ life from birth to death but is equally attuned to the political tensions of the time.  
Throughout Nicholas Ray’s illustrious career you’ll find multiple stories of the “outsider”, the non-conformists, the rebels and the marginalised.
From travelling rodeo riders in The Lusty Men to gypsies in Hot Blood, the lovers on the run in They Live By Night to the lonely female saloonkeeper of the wild west’s Johnny Guitar, Ray had a knack for exploring the complicated emotional lives of outsiders and the subcultural context in which they inhabited. And so while he rarely tackled religion in his filmography it makes sense Ray would turn his focus in King of Kings to the Bible’s ultimate radical, Jesus, and the socio-political milieu in which he was born, lived and died.
"ultimate radical, Jesus (Jeffrey Hunter)
King of Kings may have been epic in its production in the grand tradition of Hollywood gargantuan-ism—thousands of extras, hundreds of sets, shot in 70 mm, a sweeping Miklos Rozsa score and even an Orson Welles narration—but it was a commercial failure upon release in 1961 with the New York Times lamenting, “The essential drama of the messianic issue has been missed and the central character has been left to perform quietly in a series of collateral tableaux.”
The Times has a point given Jesus’ story is not the unwavering focus of attention for Ray and screenwriter Philip Yordan but this is perhaps why Kings demands a fresh look: we have been cinematically served the spiritual life of Jesus repeatedly but few films tackle the political turbulence which engulfed the region at the time quite like King of Kings does. 
In fact, by contrasting Christ’s revolutionary acts of love and peace with the revolutionary violence of Barabbas we gain a deeper insight into just how radical Jesus’ teachings were to a people subjected to waves of foreign conquest and brutal oppression. Violent battles in Judea prefix the birth of Christ and throughout the 170 minute running-time the spectre of bloody political uprisings threaten to erupt as Jesus assembles his disciples and preaches the path of peace. 
Barabbas is positioned as the fiery “Yin” to Jesus’ calming “Yang”; Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, Barabbas is underground forging weaponry for battle. John the Baptist too is portrayed as the rebellious outsider, a rabble rouser unafraid to speak truth to Herod’s power (in one particularly engrossing sequence his fate is sealed by Salome, Herod’s stepdaughter, as she seductively convinces her stepfather to behead John). 
Herod, (Frank Thring, middle)
Theologians and historians will likely raise an eyebrow at the narrative trajectory presented but King of Kings is one of the few religious epics to truly contextualise the political environment of Jesus’ life whilst also delivering a more complex examination of Judas’ role in Christ’s betrayal. It may have been sidelined as one of the lesser religious epics of its time but it’s worth resurrecting for an alternative slice of biblical storytelling.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare rediscovers "One of the greatest works of unadulterated camp in cinema" GARDEN OF ALLAH (Richard Boleslawski, 1936)

One of the greatest works of unadulterated camp in cinema, the Polish emigre, Stanislavski-trained director Richard Boleslawski's 1936 early three strip Technicolor Garden of Allah, from the High Trash Exotica novel of the same name by Robert S. Hichens.
This was Dietrich's second outing after she and Jo parted company and she’s playing her part at so subdued a level she might as well be in another movie. In the first screen she's glimpsed for the first time, having returned to the Convent where she spent the last few years "recovering" from some psychic pain after the death of her father.
"uttering silent prayer" Marlene Dietrich, Garden of Allah
She appears to be uttering silent prayer in this screen above but is more than likely cursing "where are you now, Jo?" She's interrupted in her thoughts by the ever buoyant Mother Josephine and the pair recite some of the fruitiest dialogue this side of Oscar Wilde . 
Marlene: "Mother Jospehine, it's like coming home."
MJ: "You're not happy my child?:" 
Marlene: "The only time I was happy was when I was here".
MJ: "But surely after your father's death you travelled?"
Marlene: "Yes, I travelled the world. Paris, VIenna, the Riviera. But in the midst of people I was always lonely. What am I to do Mother Josephine, what I am to do?"
MJ: "Do? Life is fulll of interesting things. You must find them."
Marlene: "But how, Mother? Where?
MJ: "Perhaps, perhaps... the desert."
Marlene: "The desert, Mother, what will I find there?"
MJ: "There in the Solitudes, you may find yourself, In the face of the Infinite your grief will vanish."
"the worst rug of his career" Charles Boyer, Garden of Allah
Thus announced, Dietrich sets off (First Class this time) for Morocco where she finds, rather than the Infinite, Charles Boyer wearing the worst rug of his career (above) as Father Boris the Trappist monk, in civvies, on the lam from his order, dealing with some out-of-control horniness, and that most sublime emblem of 30s Kitsch, the Austrian born "exotic dancer" Tilly Losch, who does the hoochy cooch in the screen below to a crowd of casting call, toothless "Arabs" who wiggle their ears, do tricks with their handlebar moustaches and inflate their cheeks with their tongues, whilst leering at Tilly, all in close up.
"hoochy cooch" Tilly Losch, Garden of Allah
As a bonus Joseph Schildkraut does his peerless screaming queen impersonation playing Marlene's Arab "tour guide". The two of them look great together, in otherwise totally flatly photographed wide two shots with zero movement. At this point there is no more to say but that the movie is completely irresistible. 

Kino Lorber's new Blu-ray is taken from the same very fine source that was used ten years ago for one of the nicest 3-strip Tech transfers to DVD held by the Selznick estate. The new Blu-ray takes this very early beauty to an even higher level of gorgeousness, and it's really worth the price of admission, if not only for the batshit crazy Tilly Losch dance number, but the gorgeous Technicolor. Region Free.

Monday, 29 January 2018

On ABC Radio - Jason Di Rosso takes on an additional gig with Screen Sounds on Classic FM

Editor’s Note: Jason Di Rosso has been producing and presenting ABC Radio National’s film review program The Final Cut for several years. It’s on each Friday at 11.30 am and repeated on Saturday at 1.30 pm and Sunday at 12.30 am.

Jason has now begun an additional gig presenting Screen Sounds on ABC Classic FM each Saturday between 5pm and 7.00 pm.

In response to my query about Screen Sounds Jason writes:

Not many people know I studied to become a musician before switching to film studies at university, and so soundtracks have always remained a fascinating element of filmmaking for me. On Screen Sounds this year with me in the presenter's chair, we aim to bring more of a focus to music composed for contemporary film and television, though keeping some room for the great music composed for films from other periods. I
hope to build on the tradition of one of my favourite Classic FM shows.



Now you know…

An Invitation to All - The Fim Critics' Circle of Australia Annual Awards Night - 20 February 2018 + Full Nominations List

The world is invited to attend the best awards night for Australian film, and only Australian film. An evening of raucousness, joy rhetoric, speeches and assorted fun, including I assume the always remarkable FCCA Quiz. Here are all the details and all are welcome

THE FILM CRITICS CIRCLE OF AUSTRALIA PRESENTS
Tuesday, 20th February 2018TIME
Arrival at 5.30pm, for a 6pm start
VENUEPaddington/Woollahra RSL Club, Oxford Street, Paddington NSW
opposite Paddington Town Hall TICKETS
$25 each
cash only please, there are no credit card facilities availableNGS VIA EMAIL
filmcriticsaust@bigpond.com
please book prior to Friday, 16 FebruaryQUERIES
please check fcca.com.au  for details

And the nominations are


FCCA FOXTEL AWARD BEST FILM
ALI’S WEDDING                  PRODUCERS SHEILA JAYADEV, HELEN PANCKHURST
BERLIN SYNDROME          PRODUCER POLLY STANFORD
HOUNDS OF LOVE             PRODUCER MELISSA KELLY
JASPER JONES                  PRODUCERS VINCENT SHEEHAN, DAVID JOWSEY
LION                                    PRODUCERS IAIN CANNING, ANGIE FIELDER,
EMILE SHERMAN


FCCA UNIVERSAL PICTURES AWARD BEST DIRECTOR
GARTH DAVIS                                                         LION
RACHEL PERKINS                                                 JASPER JONES
CATE SHORTLAND                                                BERLIN SYNDROME
JEFFREY WALKER                                                 ALI’S WEDDING
BEN YOUNG                                                           HOUNDS OF LOVE


BEST ACTOR
BRYAN BROWN                                                     AUSTRALIA DAY
STEPHEN CURRY                                                 HOUNDS OF LOVE
LEVI MILLER                                                          JASPER JONES
DEV PATEL                                                             LION
OSAMAH SAMI                                                      ALI’S WEDDING



FCCA MB FILMS AWARD BEST ACTRESS
EMMA BOOTH                                                       HOUNDS OF LOVE
TERESA PALMER                                                 BERLIN SYNDROME
HELANA SAWIRES                                               ALI’S WEDDING
SAMARA WEAVING                                              BAD GIRL
SARA WEST                                                          DON’T TELL



FCCA ACS AWARD BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
STEFAN DUSCIO                                                JUNGLE
GREIG FRASER ACS ASC                                 LION
MICHAEL McDERMOTT                                     HOUNDS OF LOVE
GERMAIN McMICKING                                      BERLIN SYNDROME
MARK WAREHAM                                              JASPER JONES

BEST ACTRESS SUPPORTING ROLE
FRANCES DUCA                                                ALI’S WEDDING
NICOLE KIDMAN                                                LION
JACQUELINE MCKENZIE                                  DON’T TELL
SUSIE PORTER                                                 HOUNDS OF LOVE


BEST ACTOR SUPPORTING ROLE
DON HANY                                                         ALI’S WEDDING
ED OXENBOULD                                               THE BUTTERFLY TREE
JACK THOMPSON                                             DON’T TELL
HUGO WEAVING                                               JASPER JONES
ADEN YOUNG                                                   DON’T TELL



FCCA AGSC AWARD BEST MUSIC SCORE
VOLKER BERTELMANN (Hauschka)
DUSTIN O’HALLORAN                                       LION
DAVID HIRSCHFELDER                                     DANCE ACADEMY: THE MOVIE
BRYONY MARKS                                               BERLIN SYNDROME
ANTONY PARTOS                                             JASPER JONES
NIGEL WESTLAKE                                            ALI’S WEDDING

BEST SCREENPLAY
ANDREW KNIGHT, OSAMAH SAMI                    ALI’S WEDDING

ANNE BROOKSBANK,
URSULA CLEARY, JAMES GREVILLE               DON’T TELL
LUKE DAVIES                                                      LION
CRIS JONES                                                       THE DEATH AND LIFE OF OTTO
 BLOOM
BEN YOUNG                                                       HOUNDS OF LOVE

                       

BEST EDITING
ALEXANDRE de FRANCESCHI                         LION
MERLIN EDEN                                                   HOUNDS OF LOVE
JACK HUTCHINGS                                            BERLIN SYNDROME
KATIE FLAXMAN                                               KILLING GROUND
NICK MEYERS                                                  AUSTRALIA DAY

We Don't Need a Map

BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY
Presented in Partnership with the National Film & Sound Archive
WE DON’T NEED A MAP                                       DIRECTOR WARWICK THORNTON
                                                                                PRODUCER BRENDAN FLETCHER

THE SONG KEEPERS                                            DIRECTOR NAINA SEN
                                                                                 PRODUCERS RACHEL ELEMENTS, 
                                                                                 TRISHA MORTON-THOMAS, NAINA   
                                                                                 SEN          
JILL BILCOCK: DANCING THE INVISIBLE             DIRECTOR AXEL GRIGOR
                                                                                  PRODUCER AXEL GRIGOR
WHITELEY                                                                DIRECTOR JAMES BOGLE
                                                                                  PRODUCER SUE CLOTHIER
PACmen                                                                    DIRECTOR LUKE WALKER
                                                                                  PRODUCER LUKE WALKER
BLUE                                                                         DIRECTOR KARINA HOLDEN
                                                                                  PRODUCER SARAH BEARD


THE FCCA AWARDS WILL BE HELD ON TUESDAY 20TH FEBRUARY 2018
AT
PADDINGTON/WOOLLAHRA RSL
5.30 FOR 6 PM START.
Check website for details
WEBSITE : Fcca.com.au

Email: filmcriticsaust@bigpond.com