The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 3

3 July, 2015 (09:40) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah

Garden of Allah

A pair of legendary Hollywood hotels have their colorful history recounted. Kirk Silsbee runs down the scandalous past of Alla Nazimova’s Garden of Allah retreat, where the parties were so constant John Barrymore used to ride between the bungalows on a bike, lest the walk take time away from his drinking. (“New York drama critic Whitney Bolton, who lived at the Garden, wrote, ‘If a stark-naked lady of acting fame, her head crowned by a chattering monkey, chose to open the door to Western Union, no one was abashed, least of all the lady and the monkey.’”) Less salacious (it is written for PBS, after all) but no less gossipy, Hadley Meares visits the Knickerbocker Hotel, home or playground for the likes of Maureen O’Sullivan and Betty Grable in its heyday, but as hard times hit the building and the town, the site of downward spirals for Frances Farmer and D. W. Griffith. (“The building itself appears tired and worn out—and really who can blame it. For the Knickerbocker’s history has been as jammed packed and traumatic as any melodrama made by the city that it calls home.”) Via Matt Fagerholm.

Hey, remember a few months back when minor outrage was savored over the revelation that George Clooney high-hatted Brokeback Mountain producer and co-writer Diana Ossana backstage at the Oscars? Here’s Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh getting the story of the movie’s making from Ang Lee, James Schamus, and nobody else.

Fritz Lang’s American architecture: “early nothing”

“[Lang] had trained to be an architect, and gave us the first city of the future. But those American films have a distinct, flat, bleak quality to their look. In The Big Heat, Gloria Graham even comes up with an aperçu to describe the decor: ‘Early nothing.’” David Cairns offers some ideas on why Lang’s American sets seem flatter and plainer than his European ones, even as all of them impress as “crime scenes in waiting.”

“Perhaps this is not so much anti-romanticism as ambivalent romanticism, love’s labour lost in a maze of qualifications and moment-by-moment hesitations. Lester’s style, with its quick changes of mood and broken connections (changes that can take place regardless of cutting speed), might almost be designed to foster ambivalence, never allowing feelings to settle long enough for characters to test whether they are genuine.” Richard Combs explores the ambivalence towards romance—and the breakdown it suggests of an even more fundamental dramatic trope, consistency of character—in the films of Richard Lester.

Also at Film Comment, Phuong Le looks back at Orson Welles’s post-Third Man cash-in, the radio show The Lives of Harry Lime; surprisingly, he doesn’t highlight one of the scripts that evolved into Mr. Arkadin, but rather an anti-imperialism farce that anticipates Wilder’s One, Two, Three.

“The computer is another tool, and in the end, it’s how you use a tool, particularly when it comes to artistic choices. What the computer did, just like what’s happened all through our industry, it has de-skilled most of the folks that now work in visual effects in the computer world. That’s why half of the movies you watch, these big ones that are effects-driven, look like cartoons.” Not that special effects supervisor Gene Warren Jr.’s words have any relevance to sequels currently in theaters, but Kenny Herzog’s oral history on the creation of Terminator 2’s T-1000 makes clear its success owed immensely to such human-scaled efforts as Stan Winston’s models, Robert Patrick’s acting, and a good script even the computer programmers could relate to.

The T-1000 of ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’

“There was something about the chords and intervals he tended to use, too. I’m not educated enough to tell you exactly what he was doing but they’re never simple. I could always tell it was him before the credit appeared, and there was this little happy moment of settling in for a well-scored movie. And now that’s gone.” Matt Zoller Seitz and S. I. Rosenbaum share a delightfully fannish conversation saluting James Horner, dredging up their favorite deep cuts and never letting mournfulness spoil their gratitude for the music he left us.

“Every day from when I was 22 to 32, I deliberately and consciously did things to fight fear. Things I was afraid of, like guns, sharks, heights, success, intimacy? I’ve checked those off the list. Even in the beginning of my career, my confidence always came from being fearless. I always went in to auditions with the attitude “I dare you not to cast me.” I went in and did what I thought was honest, truthful and just different. Maybe it was wrong. I didn’t care.” Interviewed by Stephen Rebello, Jeremy Renner passes on the chance to apologize for supposed recent faux pas, instead doubling down on his admirable assertion that what you think of him doesn’t matter so long as he knows he’s in a good place.

“I struggle to slot material into a formula that requires a certain level of salacious content. Nothing that comes out of my little work tunnel seems to fit that quotient. I have a lot of trouble factoring the things I care about, and the subject matter I like to make films about, into anything that appeals to people who are looking for commercial success, or to make money from it. I am in a conundrum.” Uncommercial it may be, but from her discussion with Tasha Robinson it’s clear that Stray Dog director Debrah Granik has invested the documentary with the intelligence and emotional honesty of her previous features, at least.

“Films picture the world. My images of the world are impossible so you have to be alert. Hollywood makes films to conform a complete delusion. This is ideology. With Seeking the Monkey King (2011), for example, I want to bring people to the point of questioning what they see. You have the obligation to protect your individual perception. Think about it! I was talking about delusions, which is when you believe. I don’t want the audience to believe, I want them to be entertained by illusions that they recognize as illusions. That is the fun of it.” Victor Paz Morandeira talks with Ken Jacobs about 3D, the need to treat audiences as individuals, and America’s current (dismal, to their lights) politics; Jacobs, as is his wont, takes the opportunity to settle some old scores.

A German poster by Hans Otto Wend

“I was trying to do a couple of movies a year around the band schedule ’cause I wanted to learn. So with Tim, Pee-wee was my first score, Beetlejuice was my fifth and Batman was my 10th. And at a certain point he asked me, ‘How are you doing four movies between my movies?’ And I go, ‘If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to step up to your films. I gotta learn how to do this.’ So I was champing really hard to fit a couple of films into my schedule for each year.” In the middle of prepping for a concert series celebrating his scores for Tim Burton, Danny Elfman talks with Kory Grow about one of the great composer-director collaborations.

Adrian Curry gathers a terrific collection of international posters for The Third Man, many images predating the filmmakers’ realization what a sure thing they had on their hands in playing up zithers, Ferris wheels, and Harry’s slinking back into the shadows with a smile.

“How many lines?” “No lines, I’m afraid. You will be put in a headlock.” Peter Strickland, whose films are deservedly renowned for their detailed, surreal soundtracks, does away with the visuals altogether, writing and directing a darkly comic play for BBC Radio. The Len Continuum stars Berberian Sound Studio’s Toby Jones as a struggling actor who can’t keep his foot out of his mouth, fills his prayers to God beseeching ill fortune to those around him, and generally comes off as an ass. Strickland’s acknowledged the character is as close to himself as any he’s written: “I like the idea that a lead character who is flagged up to be autobiographical is a complete prick.” (Don’t just bookmark for later; it’s only up for two more weeks.) Via Movie City News.

Sergio Sollima

Sergio Sollima

Obituary

Sergio Sollima was the third great Sergio of Italian Spaghetti Westerns (along with Leone and Corbucci), and the most political, though he only contributed three films to the genre. After directing a trio of Eurospy films, he had his first hit with The Big Gundown (1966) with Lee Van Cleef and Tomas Milian, and followed it up with Face to Face (1976) and Run, Man, Run! (1968), both with Milian. He also made his mark in the poliziotteschi genre (the violent Italian crime thriller) with Violent City (1970) and Revolver (1973) and directed the horror film Devil in the Brain (1972), and then spent the next couple of decades working largely in television, where he made the hit mini-series Sandokan (1976). He passed away this week at the age of 94. Dennis Cozzalio revisits his career and legacy at Indiewire.

Seattle Screens

The new 4K digital restoration of Carol Reed’s The Third Man (1949), featuring Orson Welles in his iconic role of American black marketer Harry Lime, plays for a week at Sundance Cinemas.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

The weekly links page is compiled and curated by Bruce Reid, with obituaries curated by Sean Axmaker, and other contributions from friends of Parallax View.

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Film Review: ‘When Marnie Was There’

2 July, 2015 (04:01) | Animation, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘When Marnie Was There’

Although it tells a mildly fantastical tale of ghosts and a magical mansion, When Marnie Was There is best at capturing authentic childhood experience. Even the sound is right. Maybe it stands out because we’re watching an animated movie, but the ambient noise is uncannily good. When the heroine arrives at her new home for the summer, every creaky floorboard and tinkling wind-chime gives a feeling of “Yes, that’s exactly how that sounds.” Those things are felt more keenly when experienced in a new place, which is the situation for Anna. She’s been sent to the seaside by her frustrated adoptive mother, who suspects a change of scenery would benefit the shy girl. Anna stays with a kindly older couple, but her imagination is captured by the moody house across a tidal flat, where ethereal blonde Marnie offers friendship. (SIFF will screen both the original Japanese-language version, with subtitles, and the dubbed version, with Hailee Steinfeld as Anna and Kieran Shipka as Marnie.)

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Aloft’

2 July, 2015 (03:55) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Jennifer Connelly

Aloft opens in a desolate desert of ice and snow where caravans of pilgrims, traveling in big rigs and camper vans, converge at the end of the world as if it’s the promised land. One of those desperate souls is Jennifer Connelly, cinema’s contemporary face of the female and almost holy capacity for sacrificing, suffering, and enduring. This seeker has two young sons: Gully, dying from a fatal (and pointedly unnamed) condition, is a sweet kid who adores his big brother; and budding falconer Ivan, resenting being dragged along on his mother’s obdurate odyssey to find a faith healer. She doesn’t believe; she just doesn’t have any better options at this point.

Years later, she’s become a guru healer in her own right, an Earth mother in the Arctic Circle who hasn’t seen Ivan in two decades. Meanwhile the estranged Ivan has grown into Cillian Murphy, he of the gentle blue-eyed countenance that suggests both fragile soul and budding serial killer.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘One Cut, One Life’

2 July, 2015 (03:51) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Lucia Small and Ed Pincus

Back in the ’60s Ed Pincus made some key social-issue documentaries and wrote a how-to book that became a bible for low-budget filmmaking. If he’d kept on that track, he would have remained a respectable figure in the world of nonfiction film. Instead, Pincus rejected the idea that a camera could record something without changing it, and made a first-person documentary about his own life, Diaries (1971–76), released in 1982. That 200-minute epic was scorned as Me Generation navel-gazing by The New York Times, but also widely acclaimed. Pincus’ work was influential (his former Harvard student Ross McElwee clearly aped the Pincus style in his classic Sherman’s March), but the man himself dropped out of filmmaking for 30 years to raise flowers and family in Vermont.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Viridiana

30 June, 2015 (15:37) | by Peter Hogue, Essays | By: Peter Hogue

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Buñuel doesn’t try very hard to allay suspicions that the visible fetishistic oddments so abundant in his films are simply the byproducts of any number of peculiar fantasies and “private” obsessions in which the director is indulging himself to the exclusion of almost everyone else. But however much he may be indulging his own peculiarities, his films tend to absorb this “private” imagery in ways which hint at the liberating power of obsession itself. Buñuel’s famous foot fetishism, abundantly evoked in Viridiana, is an unusually good example. To insist on seeing people in terms of their feet is rather like insisting on showing that they have sexual organs, yet without limiting the recognitions to the specific contexts of sexual desire and sexual satisfaction. A foot, as an image, is more neutral than a penis, yet it has the advantage of being the most completely terrestrial part of the body, and a part that has an odd (literally plodding) beauty of its own, unencumbered by any exalted artistic tradition. Most picture-takers concentrate on people’s heads; after all, that is the end of the body that “identifies” a person and contains his “intelligence.” The feet, by contrast, are mute, dumb, and anonymous. A very large part of human experience partakes of these same qualities—something Buñuel not only recognizes but pays tribute as well, by watching quietly and by directing us to watch too.

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Tristana

30 June, 2015 (08:55) | by David Willingham, Essays | By: David Willingham

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

The camera trucks slowly left, unobtrusively, almost cautiously, as if to move out of Tristana’s way as she and Saturna approach the group of boys. It cranes above the soccer skirmish to view the scene from a dominating remove, observing the ritual conflict—a game like any other, designed to formalize the release of aggressions. Handheld, the camera mingles abruptly with running feet, tangles with the action. Then it isolates the spontaneous but intentional violation of the rules and its unregenerate perpetrator. And finally, the camera seeks out and frames Tristana and Saturno as they share a wordless but evocative moment of mutual appreciation.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 26

26 June, 2015 (09:54) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

Bruce Chatwin

When he first suggested I come to Ghana, I was too weak to climb stairs and said, ‘Do you want a corpse on your hands?’ Later I decided I’d be fit to travel, with one proviso: if I brought a wheelchair, someone would push me around. The answer came back: ‘A wheelchair will get you nowhere in terrain where I am shooting. I will give you four hammockeers and a sunshade bearer.’ Now that invitation, even if one had been dying, was irresistible.” Interview reprints one of the best portraits of Werner Herzog ever written, Bruce Chatwin’s visit to the set of Cobra Verde, based on Chatwin’s novel The Viceroy of Ouidah, a murderously hot Ghana shoot beset with rioting Amazons, Klaus Kinski at his most troublesome, and Herzog overseeing and somehow corralling the madness.

Ecstasy is the sort of movie that you have to give yourself over to wholeheartedly or not at all. You can cut yourself off and laugh at all of its obvious visual symbolism (all those phallic symbols!) or embrace its trailblazing reaching for healing sexual congress. There are many different versions of Ecstasy, which caused a scandal wherever it was shown for many years, usually to men in raincoats who were somewhat disappointed by its earnestness, though surely not by the nude scenes of Lamarr skinny dipping and running bare ass through the woods….” Dan Callahan recounts the career of Gustav Machatý, which was obsessed with the pleasures and unwanted costs of sex before and long after he filmed Hedy Lamarr in writhing, delirious close-up.

“Production manager Dennis Jones filled out a report on each shooting day with codes listed to represent how each actor’s time was spent on that particular day and whether or not he or she was needed back at a subsequent time. On January 10, in the column for Stoltz, Jones wrote the letter F in black ballpoint. In this case, it stood for finished, but a number of other words could certainly have stood in its place, fired among the most gentle.” In an excerpt from his new book on the Back to the Future trilogy, Caseen Gaines details the production meetings that led to the replacement of Eric Stoltz in the film’s lead, and the not exactly displeased reactions of most of the cast.

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Videophiled: Neil Marshall’s ‘Dog Soldiers: Collector’s Edition’

25 June, 2015 (20:28) | Blu-ray, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Editor

Dog Soldiers

Scream Factory

Dog Soldiers: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD) – “If we engage the enemy, I expect nothing less than gratuitous violence from the lot of you.” Neil Marshall ransacks and revitalizes every cliché in the book in this howling good reworking of the werewolf tale.

Borrowing liberally from the “survivors under siege” classics Aliens and Night of the Living Dead, Marshall drops his full moon boogie in the deep misty forests of the Scottish Highlands, pits platoon versus wolf pack, and watches the fur fly. Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd are the career soldiers on a weekend war game turned into a primal bloodbath, Emma Cleasby the backwoods naturalist who knows more than she’s saying, and Liam Cunningham the ruthless Special Forces officer with a conspiratorial streak. “There was only supposed to be one…” Cunningham moans when his troops find him at the otherwise deserted base camp, wounded and dazed and surrounded by spots of blood and bits of human organs. Their retreat is only marginally more successful and before you can say “Lucky you came along on this lonely dirt road in the nick of time,” they hitch a ride and hole up in the only house for miles around.

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Film Review: ‘Güeros’

25 June, 2015 (04:32) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Ilse Salas

My heart sank a little when Alonso Ruiz Palacios, the director of Güeros, showed up onscreen halfway through this movie, asking the actors what they think of the screenplay. Oh, boy—that breaking-the-fourth-wall gag is the kind of thing you’re supposed to get out of your system in film school. In retrospect, though, the intrusion actually kind of works for this loosey-goosey Mexican film. Güeros begins with a prank—undersized teen Tomás (Sebastián Aguirre) drops a water balloon on a neighbor—and the film that follows is full of tricks. It’s shot in black-and-white and an antique aspect ratio (boxy rather than widescreen), it’s full of storytelling threads that never pay off, and its characters idolize a musician whose music we can’t hear—the movie goes silent whenever they listen to a cassette tape.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Sunshine Superman’

25 June, 2015 (04:28) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Carl and Jean Boenish

The film was apparently eight years in the making, but Sunshine Superman happens to open just after the death of Dean Potter, which might color its rainbow feel-good spirit just a tad. Potter was the superstar climber and BASE jumper who fell to earth in May after he illegally leaped off a very high place in Yosemite (another jumper died with him). That event kindled some much-needed discussion about whether BASE jumpers are romantic daredevils or irresponsible adrenaline junkies who endanger themselves and others. Potter is not mentioned in this documentary, but his spirit—whichever side of the argument you fall on—is much in play.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Subida al cielo (Mexican Busride)

24 June, 2015 (15:46) | by Peter Hogue, Essays | By: Peter Hogue

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Even though it may initially seem one of the least impressive of Buñuel’s works, Subida al cielo (American title: Mexican Busride) is more than a footnote to his career. The story itself is simple and obvious enough. Oliviero, a young man in a relatively primitive village which has no church, gets married, but his honeymoon is interrupted when he must travel to a distant town to arrange his dying mother’s financial affairs for her. The journey itself has frequent interruptions, including the seduction of Oliviero by the flamboyantly sexual Raquel—who is not his new bride—but he eventually saves his mother’s money from his conniving brothers and returns to begin his honeymoon voyage once again.

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Blu-ray / DVD: ‘The Bridge’ – Germany confronts the legacy of World War II

23 June, 2015 (22:44) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

The Bridge (1959) (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) is a landmark film of post-war German cinema. Filmmakers (and perhaps audiences as well) were reluctant to confront World War II and its legacy in the years after the surrender to the Allies. Bernhard Wicki’s 1959 film, adapted from the semi-autobiographical novel by Manfred Gregor (the pen name of journalist Gregor Dorfmeister), was the first major German film to take on the subject directly, and it did so with a searing portrait of young soldiers unprepared for the realities of war thanks to the fantasies of Nazi propaganda.

Set in a rural German town in 1945, in the final days of the war as the Allies were converging on Berlin, it follows the story of seven high school boys who still believe in the German propaganda of duty and sacrifice to the Fatherland. They can’t wait until they are called up and they get their wish and undergo a single day of basic training before the company is called to the front. The boys are Volkststurm, not regular army but a kind of Hitler Youth militia created in the last gasps of German defense, a Hail Mary pass that basically throws unprepared kids into the jaws of war. Utterly unprepared for battle, their commander orders them to “guard” a bridge that is slated to be blown up in the German retreat. It’s an assignment meant to keep them out of combat but they turn into patriotic zealots guided by the “wisdom” gleaned from propaganda films and rousing speeches and dismissive of the experience of veterans who attempt to offer advice.

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Un Chien andalou, L’Age d’or, Las Hurdes, Los olvidados

23 June, 2015 (10:57) | by RC Dale, Essays | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Paris, 1929: the height of the surrealist and the Dada boom. Two young Spaniards decide to submit a film to the reigning lions of the movement, who had their doubts about the viability of cinema to their poetics. Others had already worked in the vein—notably Jean Epstein and René Clair in his amiable mystification Entr’acte—but no one had yet created a serious masterpiece, major or minor. The Spaniards, in order to gain the approval of their masters, wanted to make an incomprehensible film, one that would carry out the surrealist precepts of “poetry freed from the ballast of reason and tradition,” as Buñuel himself put it. Down the drain with centuries of rational and logical notions of narrative order; to become free, cinema must purify itself of the past. To accomplish that goal, Buñuel and Dalí shot the film together, then Buñuel took over and began the laborious cutting process. They showed the workprint over and over, trying to exorcise any intrusion of narrative coherence or conventional sense. Whenever somebody would say to them, “Oh yeah, I get it,” they would whip out their cutting shears until eventually they satisfied themselves, as they said at the time, that “NOTHING in this film means ANYTHING.” The first public showing was a tumultuous one, accompanied by a destroyed screen and a smelly battle in the theater between partisans and vegetable-throwing detractors.

Un Chien andalou

One could call the result the first great anti-narrative film in the history of cinema. Clair’s Entr’acte of five years earlier doesn’t qualify because it is a non-narrative picture, one that doesn’t care very much about the Western narrative tradition and the expectations it creates in audiences. It takes a goodnatured spoofing attitude toward storytelling, but does not mount a compulsive reactionary rejection of traditional narrative methods. Un Chien andalou, on the other hand, is militantly, vehemently, and very consciously directed against received ideas of storytelling, and its very anti-narrative attitude is surely the most important component of its lasting fame and continuing success with film audiences around the world.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot more to the film than its narrative distinction. That extra something, however, is available almost exclusively to Buñuel fans, the people who have seen enough of his films to know what his interests and preoccupations are. Only they can really see this film not so much as a shocker that succeeds principally on its narrative mechanics, but rather as a perverse sort of preview trailer for all of Buñuel’s subsequent creative corpus—a trailer not in narrative terms, but rather in imagistic ones; in the terms that set Buñuel so far and so distinctly apart from every other director in the world.

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Buñuel scenes

22 June, 2015 (11:57) | by Ken Eisler, Essays | By: Movietone News contributor

By Carlos Fuentes, selected and translated by Ken Eisler

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

In Mexico

…Buñuel is of medium height, round-shouldered, powerful (an amateur boxer, military service in Spain; he also enjoys disguising himself as Guardia Civil, but with Garcia Lorca he used to disguise himself as a nun, both of them shaved very close, very powdered, and mount the Madrid trams at their busiest hours, jostling coquettishly with the male passengers, flirting with grimaces, winking at them, collective panic). Winking? Buñuel? No. A gaze unfathomable, fixed, infinitely remote, transformed only by the big infant’s grin and robust guffaw of a perpetually youthful man. He knows how to laugh until the tears come. An ingenuous-appearing humor, a series of practical jokes and remembered gags, put into action or previsualized. Spain, Mexico, and surrealism, a triple-whammy black humor.

I completely lack a conceptual memory. For me, only visual memory exists. For Simon of the Desert I settled myself into the National Library of Paris for several months, I read everything that had been written on the life of the medieval anchorites, including Latin folios. I looked into what the stylites ate, prayed, wore, everything. Useless. Culture contributed nothing. The movie is a series of visual and verbal gags.

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Review: ‘Gold’

21 June, 2015 (10:16) | by Robert C. Cumbow, Film Reviews | By: Robert C. Cumbow

[Originally published in Movietone News 39, February 1975]

Gold is a big potboiler of a movie, filled with action, violence, gore, and adultery. It’s a genre piece, fraught with convention and predictability. It has no characters, only cartoon people whose actions are as unsurprising as their motivations are unlikely. And I enjoyed the hell out of it. The credit is due largely to Peter Hunt who, on the basis of only two films, may already lay claim to being one of the finest action directors around. Hunt had his apprenticeship as editor of several of the James Bond movies, and he has brought a skilled action-editor’s grasp of pace to the director’s chair. During the whole of Gold he gave me one minute out of 115 to sit back, temporarily bored, and say to myself, “This really isn’t very good.” And I’m not one to argue with 99.13 percent success.

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