“RESISTANCE”—A Tribute to Marcel Marceau

“RESISTANCE”

A Tribute to Marcel Marceau

Amos Lassen

Writer-director Jonathan Jakubowicz’s Resistance is an old-fashioned story of brave opposition to the Nazi occupation of France. It features a sarcastically reluctant hero, a mentally unbalanced sadistic villain, and nail-biter last-minute escapes and is focused on a Nazi-fighting mime, Marcel Mangel (who later changed his surname to Marceau). Marceau is the son of a Jewish butcher living in Strasbourg, France. He tires of wearing a smock and cutting up meat in his father’s shop and prefers putting on a Chaplin mustache and greasepaint to his face in order to clown around in cabarets. His more traditionally minded father, Charles (Karl Markovics), disapproves of Marcel’s creative life and the audiences he performs for are more interested in dancing girls.

This is a light family drama despite opening scene in which Elsbeth (Bella Ramsey), a young Jewish girl in Munich, sees her parents gunned down during the Kristallnacht pogrom. But these early scenes skillfully illustrate the melancholic nature of Marcel’s clowning and also establish just how little the future superstar and his community understood the extent of the danger just a few miles away in Germany.

Marcel becomes involved with the arrival of a truckload of Jewish orphans, including Elsbeth. They were ransomed from the Nazis and the orphans are put up in a nearby castle and watched over by a troop of Jewish Boy and Girl Scouts. Marceau was made to feel guilty by his brother Sigmund (Édgar Ramirez) and begins helping out. Through his cousin, Georges (Géza Röhrig), Marcel got the opportunity to assist Jewish children who have lost their parents, keeping them laughing through miming. He has his own motive— he is anxious to impress  a girl named Emma (Clemence Poesy) and uses his clowning to keep the kids entertained.

The director’s determination to keep the story’s focus on the fight against the Nazis becomes clear once war begins and France is occupied and all Jews in the country become targets. Marcel becomes responsible for more orphans and with his compatriots relocates to Lyon and joins the resistance. The Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie (Matthias Schweighofer), a sadist who likes to play the piano while executing people in the empty pool of his fancy headquarters at the Hotel Terminus. Barbie is a sociopath who keeps the immediacy of Marcel’s mission front and center.

After the action shifts to Lyon, Marcel’s group has to balance keeping themselves and the orphans alive in France or escaping to Switzerland. Eisenberg’s Marceau shows his skill for signaling vulnerability and resolve at the same time. His theatrical exaggeration of miming allows him to express physically. While Marcel mimes, we’re able to concentrate on his eyes and face, which give both a lightness and an emotionality to his movements while at the same time silent and focused.  Marcel’s life touched many, and everyone within this film becomes a bit insignificant in his shadow. The film totally belongs to Marceau.

There are moments of emotional authenticity that make Marceau convincing and riveting. We see him not as a superhero but as an “ordinary” human being thrust into extraordinary circumstances. The fear, the confusion, the anxiety are all written on Eisenberg’s face as he feels his way into the new uncomfortable position of responsibility for others’ lives. So are the joy and the delight when his pantomime helps him chase away the ghosts that haunt him and his charges.

 

Jakubowicz sees these extraordinary circumstances that turned Marceau into the great artist he dreamed of being but feared the war would not let him become. It was the children that gave purpose to his art and taught him to use it to help those who needed it. The film is very close to Jakubowicz, a Venezuelan filmmaker of Polish Jewish descent, whose grandparents on both sides are Holocaust survivors,. He found the story of Marceau’s role in the French Jewish underground by accident. He didn’t even know Marceau was Jewish and became intrigued because it was a story of Jews rescuing Jews during the Holocaust—something only rarely seen on screen.

“THE WIND”— Staying Indoors

“THE WIND”

Staying Indoors

Amos Lassen

“The Wind” from filmmaker Nico Mastorakis is about mystery novelist Sian Anderson (Meg Foster)  who comes to the remote Greek town of Monemvasia. Elias Appleby (Robert Morley) is the pompous British landlord of the house she’s renting  and he warns her of two dangers: the wind, which gets dangerously strong at night, and Phil (Wings Hauser), his sleazy and suspicious American handyman. When night falls and the wind starts howling, Sian sees Phil burying Elias’s dead body in a shallow grave in his front garden. She is trapped indoors by the wild wind and she realizes that she must play a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with the Phil, who’ll stop at nothing to quiet her so that she will not talk about what she saw.

Sian leaves boyfriend John (David McCallum) and Los Angeles and flies to a secluded island off Greece. She needs the isolation to write her next novel. Sian is warned to stay indoors at night because of the terrible windstorms daily. While she is writing one night, Phil murders Elias, who is trying to evict him. After Sian sees Phil burying something in the garden, she calls John, who is of little help mainly because he is in America.

The film then turns into a game of cat and mouse. Phil arms himself with a sickle, and slips in and out of Elias’ house, terrorizing Sian. John finally gets in touch with the local police, and Kesner (Steve Railsback), a stranded seamen, goes to investigate the call as a favor to the constable. Phil has been hiding the evidence, and Kesner believes Sian’s imagination may have got the best of her.

Kesner is killed and Sian stabs Phil and flees to freedom. Two newlyweds stop by the house and find no one home. Sian keeps falling into holes in the ground, and cannot get to the couple in time before they drive off. Phil magically comes back to life and the two have a final showdown on a cliff (where a very unconvincing mannequin is thrown into the ocean in the process). Mastorakis had a neat film going but he stretched it out much. We have eighty minutes of solid suspense but then he betrays his audience with a laughable climax. Spoilers ahead…

Bonus Materials

  • New restoration by Arrow Films from a 4K scan of the original negative, approved by writer-director Nico Mastorakis
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Optional Greek subtitles
  • Original DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround and LPCM Stereo 2.0 Audio
  • Blowing The Wind – Brand new interview with Director Nico Mastorakis
  • The Sound of The Wind – The complete soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer and Stanley Myers
  • A collection of trailers for the films of Nico Mastorakis
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Graham Humphreys
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic and author Kat Ellinger

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!”  (‘Papa, sdokhni’)— Once Upon a Time in Moscow

“WHY DON’T YOU JUST DIE!”  (‘Papa, sdokhni’)

Once Upon a Time in Moscow

Amos Lassen 

 “Why Don’t You Just Die!” is an entertaining look at family life, Moscow style. Matvey (Aleksandr Kuznetsov) has just one objective: to gain entry to his girlfriend’s parents’ apartment and kill her father Andrey (Vitaliy Khaev) with a hammer to restore her honor. But all is not as it initially seems, and Matvey’s attempts to kill the family patriarch don’t quite go to plan. Andrey is a formidable and ruthless opponent who is unwilling to die. Writer/director Kirill Sokolov explores family, modern relationships and the dark places they can take you to when things turn sour. “Why Don’t You Just Die!” is filled with laughs, twists and a lot of blood and gore and is an absurdly funny action-packed allegory. The non-linear pic is also a nasty take on Putin’s corrupt Russia. It’s a nihilistic film, one that turns things over and shocks.  

The film takes in Andrey’s small Moscow hi-rise apartment where he lives with his obedient wife Tasha (Elena Shevchenko). Matvei dressed in a Batman t-shirt, rings the bell while concealing a hammer with which he plans to use to kill the father of his actress girlfriend Olya (Evgeniya Kregzhde) for sexually abusing her as a child. He’s doing this as a favor for Olya, who requested it. She also told him dad keeps a large stash of money in the apartment and this awakens her boyfriend’s criminal impulses. When invited in, he drops the hammer and accepts the offer of a cup of tea. But soon the father and the boyfriend are fighting, as dad doesn’t like the idea of him having sex with his daughter.

Flashbacks give the backstories involving Matvei, Olya and Andrei’s police partner Evgenie (Mikhail Gorevoy). We learn of an earlier blackmail pact between the crooked cops allowing a deranged sex killer to escape jail, an incident that turned tragic. We arrival of Olya and Evgenie, the mayhem intensifies until the brutal conclusion at the apartment’s elevator entrance.
The film is a smartly constructed and blisteringly paced piece of chaos. Twists and turns are everywhere and by the end of the film, no one is exactly who they seemed to be at first. Surprise after surprise play with our minds.

Bonus Materials:

  • High Definition Blu-ray™ (1080p) presentation
  • Original lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and PCM 2.0 stereo soundtracks
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Brand new interview with author and critic Kim Newman, exploring Why Don’t You Just Die! within the context of the long-standing tradition of single location cinema
  • Exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from rehearsals and the film set
  • Four short films by Kirill Sokolov: Could Be Worse, The Outcome, The Flame and the award-winning Sisyphus is Happy (Best Director and Gold Frame awards, 2013 Unprecedented Cinema International Festival of Short Film)
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Kirill Sokolov’s complete original storyboard for the film (BD-ROM content)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two choices of artwork
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Neil Mitchell

“ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK”— At Home in Massachusetts

“ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK”

At Home in Massachusetts

Amos Lassen

Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) is horror’s hostess with the mostest and now we have her on a Blu-ray special edition. Elvira just quit her job as a Los Angeles TV horror hostess when received the unexpected news that she’s set to inherit part of her great aunt Morgana’s estate. Arriving in the small town of Fallwell, Massachusetts to claim her inheritance, Elvira meets her sinister uncle Vincent, who, unbeknownst to Elvira, is an evil warlock secretly scheming to steal the old family spell book for his own evil ends. The camp begins and we are in for quite a ride and more double entendres than you would think possible. Made in 1988, “Elvira: Mistress of the Dark” helped solidify the horror hostess as a major pop culture icon. She owns the screen with her quick wit, sass, and of course, cleaving-enhancing gown.

What is so immediately captivating about Elvira is the total disconnect between her physical appearance (including makeup and costuming) and her personality. She is a kind of combo of Valley Girl inanities and Mae West double entendres. Elvira became an instant sensation.  

Elvira quits her tv gig in what might be called a #Metoo reaction, even if Elvira’s blatant sexuality and frequent jokes about her own “attributes” might make that seem completely and unavoidably ironic. She seems to strike instant gold anyway when she finds out she’s inherited Fallwell.  

Of course, Fallwell turns out to be an ultraconservative town that has never seen anything quite like Elvira, and Elvira pretty much immediately invites the local busy body and moral custodian Chastity Pariah (Edie McClurg) to a meeting. The rest of the film is kind of vignette driven, with Elvira encountering both disparagement and acceptance in the little town, while also coming to the realization that her inheritance might be more than she bargained for. There are scenes that are quite funny, but there probably aren’t enough of them to sustain a feature film.  
Basically, the entire formula for comedy is comprised of a steady delivery of “sex joke, double entendre, joke about Elvira’s breasts, sex joke, double entendre, joke about Elvira’s breasts, sex joke, double entendre, joke about Elvira’s breasts.” It’s not a bad formula, but after an hour, it becomes so predictable, you can see when a joke is about to fly at the audience, and it doesn’t really land all the time. But then again, Cassandra Peterson makes even the most clunky one-liner land, thanks to her unabashed goofiness, and her ability to use her chest as a sight gag more times than not.

 “Mistress of the Dark” has a lot going for it. It never tries too hard and actually has fun with the premise. Cassandra Peterson uses the popularity of her character while also giving her something to do. She provides the audience with her origin, a back story about her family, and she never hesitates to flirt with men around her in spite of the disgust of the puritanical town she ends up in.

After moving into her dark mansion and adopting a dog, Elvira discovers she comes from a long line of witches. Meanwhile, her evil long lost uncle wants the sacred book of “recipes” Elvira’s aunt has left behind, while Elvira battles the town’s puritanical government, all of whom will do whatever it takes to run her out of town. Elvira runs amok garnering the love of the town’s teens, and even turns a small picnic into an orgy.

Elvira sticks closely to the horror genre, providing a fish out of water comedy. Elvira herself is a likable character filled with movie references and shameless homages, while also never afraid to flaunt her assets to everyone she meets. This may not be the comedy that re-invented horror comedies, but Elvira’s feature film debut is an entertaining and raunchy foray with the always sexy and unique Cassandra Peterson keeping it together.

Bonus Materials

  • Brand new restoration from a 4K scan of original film elements
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed stereo 2.0 audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Introduction to the film by director James Signorelli
  • 2017 Audio Commentary with director James Signorelli, hosted by Fangoria editor emeritus Tony Timpone
  • 2017 Audio Commentary with Patterson Lundquist, www.elviramistressofthedark.com webmaster and judge of US TV show The Search for the Next Elvira
  • Archival Audio Commentary with actors Cassandra Peterson, Edie McClurg and writer John Paragon
  • Too Macabre – The Making of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark – newly-revised 2018 version of this feature-length documentary on the making of the film, including interviews with various cast and crew and rare never-before-seen archival material
  • Recipe for Terror: The Creation of the Pot Monster – newly-revised 2018 version of this featurette on the concept and design of the pot monster, as well as the film’s other SFX
  • Original storyboards
  • Extensive image galleries
  • Original US theatrical and teaser trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring writing by Kat Ellinger and Patterson Lundquist

“BEYOND THE DOOR”— Demonic Possession LIVES and GROWS

“BEYOND THE DOOR”

Demonic Possession LIVES and GROWS

Amos Lassen

Filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis brings us a gloriously wild take on “The Exorcist” with “Beyond the Door” starring Juliet Mills as Jessica Barrett, a young mother who starts to develop strange behaviors whilst pregnant with her third child. Jessica shows signs of full-blown demonic possession (complete with projectile vomiting and fully-rotating head). Film critic Robert Hebert described this film as “disgusting”, “scary trash” and “maddeningly inappropriate”. Arrow Video now brings us the Blu ray and it is quite a film.

Jessica is married to a record producer (Gabriele Lavia) and is mother of two foul-mouthed children. She is pregnant but senses something strange about the baby brought on by the reappearance in her life of an old lover Dmitri (Richard Johnson).  The devil has promised to extend Dmitri’s life if he makes sure Jessica delivers her devil spawn. As her behavior goes from bizarre mood swings and foul language to speaking in a male voice along with the head-spinning and telekinetic phenomena, her husband tries to figure out what is happening and Dmitri pretends to share his concern in order to get close to Jessica and the baby.

The film takes elements from both “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist”. The actors approach their roles with conviction; especially Mills even when her bizarre behavior seems more ridiculous and ominous.

Over the years “Beyond the Door” has been released under a variety of titles like “The Devil within Her” in the UK, “Diabolica” in Japan and its Italian title was originally Chi sei?, which translates into Who Are You? The plot revolves around a woman named Jessica Barrett who is forced to deal with demonic possession while the son of Satan is growing inside of her. One of the subplots involves Dimitri whose motivations are never fully explained and his existence is ambiguous. Visually the San Francisco and Italian locations lend greatly to the films atmosphere. The specials effects scenes involving Jessica Barrett’s demonic possession are all extremely well done as they never come off looking cheap or tacky.

 

Where’s Jessica?” asks her worried husband, when she disappears during a birthday party for the children. He finds her in the bathroom, vomiting blood. She tells him that she feels a little weak and they agree she ought to get more rest. Parts of the movie play almost as comedy and unfortunately for the film, the laughs seem almost appropriate.

In the earlier parts of the movie, mysterious hands reach out to touch shoulders in darkened rooms, and it turns out it’s just the husband patting his wife. In the later stages, though, when Jessica begins to turn green and talk wildly, the movie becomes disgusting. There is green vomit, brown vomit, blood, levitations and other manifestations of the devil.

Jessica’s short order pregnancy that proceeds so rapidly that she’s three months pregnant within a week. The mysterious stranger seems to have the answer, and after saving her husband from being run over by a truck we see that “it is all trash, but it’s scary trash”. It is entertainment if this is your thing.

Beyond the Door is one of the Top Grossing Movies in the country right now. Why? Maybe because at some dumb, fundamental level, it really does live it up to, or down to, its promise. It’s all trash, but it’s scary trash.

     —Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

Many of the special effect scenes do hold most of what they set out to do…frighten and impact the viewer. Beyond the Door certainly doesn’t disappoint with the specialized subject matter.

     —Wee Willie Wicked, HorrorNews.net

Bonus Materials

  • Limited to 3,000 units
  • Brand new 2K restoration of the extended Uncut English Export Version
  • Exclusive bonus disc containing the alternate US Theatrical Version and Italy Possessed, a brand-new feature-length documentary on Italian exorcism movies!
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Marc Schoenbach
  • Reversible fold-out poster
  • Perfect-bound collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by John Martin and Alessio di Rocco
  • Brand new 2K restoration of the Uncut English Export Version, released as Devil Within Her (108 mins)
  • High Definition Blu-rayTM (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • The Devil and I – a newly-filmed interview with director/producer Ovidio G. Assonitis
  • Barrett’s Hell – a newly-filmed interview with cinematographer Roberto D’Ettorre Piazzoli
  • Beyond the Music – a newly-filmed interview with composer Franco Micalizzi
  • The Devil’s Face – a newly-filmed interview with camera operator Maurizio Maggi
  • Motel and Devils – a newly-conducted audio interview with actor Gabriele Lavia
  • Alternate Italian Chi Sei? opening titles
  • Alternate Behind the Door VHS opening titles
  • Alternate Japanese Diabolica opening and ending sequence
  • Trailers, TV and Radio Spots
  • Image Gallery
  • Brand new 2K restoration of the US Theatrical Version, released as Beyond the Door (99 mins)
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Italy Possessed – a brand new feature-length documentary on the history of Italian Exorcist rip-offs, including interviews with key filmmakers such as Sergio Martino, Alberto De Martino, Pupi Avati, Marcello Avallone, Ovidio G. Assonitis and many more!

“SIXTEEN CANDLES”— Teens in the 80s

“SIXTEEN CANDLES”

Teens in the 80s

Amos Lassen

Writer-director John Hughes in his first film became the king of teen cinema with “Sixteen Candles”, and in the process he gave us one of the most iconic faces of ’80s Americana: Molly Ringwald. As high schooler Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald), her 16th birthday could just be the worst day of her life. Her entire family has forgotten about it because her older sister’s impending wedding; her biggest crush, high school hunk Jake Ryan (Michael Schoeffling) has found an embarrassing “sex quiz” filled out by Sam in which she details how she is saving herself for him; and she is hounded by a relentless nerd, Farmer Ted AKA The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) who won’t take no for an answer. Before the end of the night of her birthday she still hope and believes that all her birthday wishes could still come true. “Sixteen Candles” is a film that is thoughtful and funny at the same time, and still holds up very well today. 

Things really get crazy when Samantha’s grandparents invade the house for the wedding, bringing along an exchange student named Long Duk Dong (Gedde Watanabe). To escape the insanity of her home, Samantha goes to a school dance, where she is accosted by The Geek. All the while, Jake has noticed Samantha, as he’s grown tired of his stuck-up girlfriend, Caroline (Haviland Morris). As the night progresses, all of these characters intermingle with one another, and many bizarre things occur.  “Sixteen Candles” does the nearly impossible by presenting the kind of realistic diversity which one sees in a real high-school and balances this with a handful of very serious moments and many funny ones.

Granted, many of the characters in the film are exaggerations and the big party is too over the top, but there is enough genuine emotion in the film to overcome this. Anyone whose family forgot their birthday would be devastated and it is this clever and simple premise gives the film a great hook, and allows the audience to buy into Samantha’s longing for attention from anyone, especially Jake. Jake is a refreshingly original character, a rich boy who is willing to settle for what others consider to be less. But it’s Anthony Michael Hall’s geeky character that steals the film and gets in some of the best lines. “Sixteen Candles” may sound like a chick-flick, but it has something to offer anyone who’s ever felt awkward and left-out.

Samantha has a crush on her school’s most popular boy (Michael Schoeffling) but school geek (Anthony Michael Hall) has a crush on her. However, just when things look grim for Samantha, with embarrassments such as her grandparents and a foreign exchange student, it turns out her dream boy is looking at her too.

Some of the good jokes and perceptive thoughts about teenage crises are slightly marred by some crowd-pleasing easy laughs but overlook those and sit back and enjoy the affecting performances of Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall.

Bonus Materials

  • New restoration by Arrow Films from a 4K scan of the original negative
  • High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ presentation of the Theatrical Version of the film (92 mins), plus Blu-ray™ premiere Extended Version (94 mins), featuring the additional “cafeteria” scene newly remastered in high definition
  • Original lossless mono audio, plus 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround option
  • Original English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Alternate “home video” soundtrack prepared for VHS and laserdisc releases
  • Option to watch additional scene from the Extended Version separately
  • Casting ‘Sixteen Candles’, an all-new audio interview with casting director Jackie Burch
  • When Gedde Met Deborah, a newly filmed conversation between actors Gedde Watanabe and Deborah Pollack
  • Rudy the Bohunk, a newly filmed interview with supporting actor John Kapelos
  • The In-Between, a newly filmed interview with camera operator Gary Kibbe
  • The New Wave Nerd, a newly filmed interview with filmmaker Adam Rifkin, who shadowed John Hughes while working as an extra on set
  • Music for Geeks, a newly filmed interview with composer Ira Newborn
  • A Very Eighties Fairytale, an all-new video essay written and narrated by writer Soraya Roberts, looking at the film from a contemporary feminist perspective
  • Celebrating Sixteen Candles, an archive documentary featuring interviews with cast, crew and admirers, including stars Anthony Michael Hall, Paul Dooley, Justin Henry, Haviland Morris and Gedde Watanabe
  • Theatrical trailers, TV spots and radio spots
  • Image galleries
  • BD-ROM: PDF of the original shooting script
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Sara Deck
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collectors’ booklet featuring new writing on the film by Nikki Baughan and Bryan Reesman

“GOLDIE”— An Urban Coming-of-Age Story

 

“GOLDIE”

An Urban Coming-of-Age Story

Amos Lassen

In the eyes of her little sisters Sherrie and Supreme, Goldie (Slick Woods) is a star. Her big break awaits and she’s just got to pick up that golden fur coat she wants. She needs to land a role as a dancer in a hip-hop video and keep child welfare services from separating her from Sherrie and Supreme, now that their mother is locked up. But holding onto those dreams isn’t easy when there are so many obstacles in her path. Dutch director Sam de Jong brings us a very real New York film that is both raw and glamorous, realistic and relentlessly optimistic. It is also filled with heart and attitude. 

Instagirl fashion model Slick Woods plays Goldie, a streetwise Bronx teenager whose dream of making it big seems to be derailed by her mother’s arrest. Goldie has been promised a featured role as a dancer in a music video for local rapper Tiny (A$AP Ferg). She needs to send in an audition tape first, so she shoplifts a skimpy yellow onesie and uses her preteen half-sisters Supreme (Jazmyn C. Dorsey) and Sherrie (Alanna Renee Tyler-Tompkins) to be her fangirl camera crew. However, problems begin almost immediately. Goldie gets fired from her discount department store job, has a fight with her mother’s drug-dealer boyfriend Frank (Danny Hoch) after pocketing his cash. Her mom, Carol (Marsha Stephanie Blake), is arrested on unspecified felony charges. Goldie is then forced to grab Supreme and Sherrie and flee the shelter where they’ve been staying since losing their home. She tries to prevent child services from taking her sisters and put into the system.

Goldie fights for her dreams. She lives on pizza slices and takes her sisters from one friend or family member to the next so they will have a sense of home. When she sees a yellow faux fur coat in a local store window, she fixates on it and becomes convinced that it will seal her stardom. She sells her mother’s stash of Oxycodone to smack-talking fly girl Princess (Angela Griszell),  to be able to buy the coat and then steals her blonde wig. Obstacles for Goldie appear everywhere including Frank trying to get his cash back and sleazy sexual opportunist Jose (Jose Fernandez) who tries to stiff her on a deal. Her father Richard (Gbenga Akinnagbe) is not the only one telling her that calling child services is her best option.

It’s easy to go along with her belief that she will make everything work and keep what remains of the family intact (at least for a while). It’s predictable, however, that reality affects Goldie’s plans, especially when the music video turns out to be an amateurish enterprise that looks like it is nothing more than a lousy payment.

As coming-of-age lessons go, there is not much new here. The writer-director is more interested in examining how self-motivation can create a force field of invincibility, even if there’s always someone waiting to step on and destroy it. That process takes on an almost mythical dimension when Goldie finally gets her version of a magic cloak, only to discover  that its powers are limited. When Goldie drops her bravado and reveals her vulnerability, the story becomes more than a reckless adventure. It segues in the moving final scenes into a sensitive depiction of a young woman’s first experience of the world of making adult decisions. There are flaws in the film but by mixing professionals with non-actors in a milieu that is grounded in street life but with the alternate reality of fabulousness and fame that Goldie struggles to keep alive in her head, we see that the film’s charms outweighs what is lacking.                                

Slick Woods brings out the vulnerability and transforms Goldie’s story into a poignant coming of age drama. Director De Jong brings energy to a social realist scenario  but this is Slick Woods’ film. She has the looks, the moves and is filled with self-confidence.  Goldie is no saint. She shoplifts, deceives, steals money and does whatever necessary to survive. It is her unwavering determination and concern for her sisters that make her such an engaging figure. The strength of Slick Woods’ performance is in the way she finds plaintive grace beneath the brash, sassy confidence of her exterior. She brings out the vulnerability in Goldie’s tireless spirit and transforming Goldie’s story into a poignant look at coming of age.

BONUS PROGRAMMING

  • Bonus Short Film– We Love Moses (Directed by Dionne Edwards | United Kingdom | 15 minutes ) — When Ella was twelve, she discovered sex. Now eighteen, Ella reflects on how her obsession with her older brother’s best friend, Moses, left her with a secret she still carries.

 About Film Movement

Founded in 2002, Film Movement is a North American distributor of award-winning independent and foreign films based in New York City. It has released more than 250 feature films and shorts culled from prestigious film festivals worldwide including the Oscar-nominated films Theeb (2016) and Corpus Christi (2020). Film Movement’s theatrical releases include American independent films, documentaries, and foreign art house titles. Its catalog includes titles by directors such as Hirokazu Kore-eda, Maren Ade, Jessica Hausner, Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrzej Wajda, Diane Kurys, Ciro Guerra and Melanie Laurent. In 2015, Film Movement launched its reissue label Film Movement Classics, featuring new restorations released theatrically as well as on Blu-ray and DVD, including films by such noted directors as Eric Rohmer, Peter Greenaway, Bille August, Marleen Gorris, Takeshi Kitano, Arturo Ripstein, King Hu, Sergio Corbucci, Ettore Scola and Luchino Visconti. For more information, please visit www.filmmovement.com. Visit www.filmmovementplus.com for more information about Film Movement Plus, the new subscription streaming service from Film Movement.

“OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE”— A Misunderstood and Likeable Guy

“OLIVER SACKS: HIS OWN LIFE”

A Misunderstood and Likeable Guy

Amos Lassen

Ric Burns’ documentary “Oliver Sachs: His Own Life” is filled with interesting bits and pieces many of which could easily provide enough material for a film in their own right. It is a treasure. Sacks understood, perhaps better than most, how little things can make a person happy. Filmed in the period leading up to his death, this documentary reflects on his work as a doctor and a writer  and on a life that was often lonely, one that he survived partly through his ability to find joy in unexpected places.

Director Burns brings us the story of a boy born into a respectable home, both his parents were doctors, who had the opportunity to match his intelligence, yet nevertheless found himself an outsider and who championed the cause of outsiders throughout his life. Sacks was misunderstood and sidelined for a long time by the medical establishment but he managed to achieve widespread public acclaim. Perhaps this came out of his, his willingness to make the field of neurology accessible and his assertion that what a doctor needs most is empathy.

 

Sacks was empathetic and was likeable, something he did not use for many years because he was shy yet once he mastered it, it was an integral part of who he was. Burns does not ignore the criticism Sacks faced, especially the claims that he put personal glory ahead of ethics and that he exploited his patients. However, it is hard to think ill of a man who seems so open, warm and engaging. Sacks was a man who was shaped by the times through which he lived, the treatment of his schizophrenic brother Michael convinced him that there had to be a kinder way to deal with mentally ill people. His experience of being gay in a profoundly homophobic society led him to take refuge first in bodybuilding and later in recreational drugs, pushing his body and mind to the edge again and again. When he eventually realized he had to get help, he started psychoanalysis and became fascinated by the brain and began to exert his own influence on the world. Up to this point in the film, all was seen through  still photographs. Now we move on to Sacks’ life on film and we see his  famous awakenings that would later be dramatized in a film with Robin Williams, whom we see briefly talking with Sacks in another piece of archive footage.

Sacks’ most passionate contention was that helping people had to begin with trying to understand the whole of who they were, not just what was different about them. He had been forewarned of his death from malignant melanoma but he still worked hard to sum up his own life in words during his final few months. We meet some of the people who knew Sacks, and from those who drew inspiration from his work; but it’s Sacks himself, reflecting on an injured leg, apologizing for his “multisyllabic swearing” or, in his seventies, falling in love for the first time, who is what shines in this lovely film.

“Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” closely follows the autobiography that Sacks published shortly before his death in 2015. Burns conducted several interviews with Sacks in the months before his death, and he also included interviews with celebrated writers, physicians, friends and family members.

Sacks is probably known to most audiences from the movie Awakenings, a best picture Oscar nominee from 1990 that starred Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. It pic was based on Sacks’ book about his work with comatose patients back in 1969, when an experimental drug treatment led to these patients coming back to life after years or even decades asleep. Williams in effect played Sacks in the film and there are scenes in the documentary showing Sacks on the set with Williams. But of course there was much more to Sacks than that movie.

He grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family in England. Both of his parents were physicians, but one of his brothers was schizophrenic. Some  of the people that we hear from speculate that this family experience might have created Oliver’s interest in understanding emotionally troubled people.

His family life was painful in other ways as well. When he told his mother that he was gay, she replied, “You are an abomination.” Sacks ran from England for America and rebelled as a motorcycle rider and a bodybuilder. Eventually he moved to New York to focus on his medical career, and although his work with psychotic patients was initially controversial, he was eventually admired by his peers.

Many prominent people pay tribute to Sacks in the film, including a number of fellow writers like Jonathan Miller (his classmate at Oxford) and Paul Theroux, “New York Review of Books” editor Robert Silvers, members of the medical establishment and Temple Grandin, who was part of a study on autism that radically changed popular understanding of this condition.

Sacks’ personal life was as interesting as his professional achievements, perhaps partly because of his mother’s disapproval. In his autobiography and here in this film, Sacks says that he was celibate for 35 years. He was in his 70s when he established a loving relationship with photographer Billy Hayes, another person that we hear from in this documentary.

The real heart of the film are the interviews that Burns conducted with Sacks himself, some in private and some with his friends and colleagues in attendance. When Sacks realizes his death is imminent and says his goodbyes to these long-term associates, the scenes are emotionally moving. The film is a tribute to Burns’ discretion as well as his filmmaking skill. He earned the trust not just of Sacks but of so many others who played an important role in his life. 

One of the surprising and moving lessons of the documentary is how often the most gifted people are unappreciated. Late in life, Sacks earned many honorary degrees and awards from the medical establishment, but he spent a far longer period of his life as an outsider and often miserably unhappy, even suicidal man. It could be that his own torments helped to create the sympathy for society’s outsiders that led to his amazing discoveries. This is the most provocative insight in the film.

Sacks wrote about people in extreme states — of sensory and neurological damage, of awareness and sheer being. “Oliver Sacks: His Own Life” is a tender and thrilling portrait of a man who led an eccentrically defiant, at times reckless existence that was the furthest thing from being planned. He was a wanderer and  a scientific navigator of the soul.

“HEIMAT IN SPACE AND TIME”— Balancing the Historical and the Personal

“HEIMAT IN SPACE AND TIME”

Balancing the Historical and the Personal

Amos Lassen

In “Heimat Is a Space in Time”, filmmaker Thomas Heise’s photographic material creeps across the screen, indifferent to the camera documenting it, which often only catches human faces for a brief moment before staying in negative space. The film is a survey of 20th-century German history through the lens of Heise’s own genealogy. The emphasis on the micro over the macro extends to every facet of this sprawling four-hour work, which attempts to excavate real human thought and feeling beneath the haze of larger political structures.

The film is made up of a series of documents—snail-mail correspondence between family members, letters to and from government offices, transcripts of recordings, personal diaries, school papers, and more that are read aloud one after another by Heise in a soothing baritone. The narration is a near-constant stream of family lore. Every once in a while we’ll hear a date at the end of a letter or a reference to a historical event, but otherwise we’re left to piece together the timeline and relations of family members through context clues.

To encourage close listening, Heise slows the visual track and shows archival material and original footage with scrutiny. Mostly static monochrome shots, some animated by slow lateral movement occupies the screen for up to minutes at a time, sometimes with a subtle parallel to the spoken word, other times a counterpoint, and in certain instances acting as a riddle.

Heise begins at the dawn of World War I with an academic essay by his grandfather, Wilhelm, whose writing shows his contempt for war and its societal cost. This establishes the film’s overarching tone of resistance. At the end of this, there’s a juxtaposition of shots—first a shadowy image of a cargo train moving into or out of a station and then a slow pan of enjoying a party in Berlin and the implications of this weigh over the following=g sequence of exchanges between Wilhelm and his lover, Edith Hirschhorn, a Jewish woman who was studying sculpture in Vienna. The strange and macabre significance of trains in German history needs no explication, and Heise has shots of them throughout the film while periodically layering the soundtrack of muted field recordings with distant locomotive rumbles to underscore this tragic past.

The legacy of WWII is the film’s most harrowing chapter, a nearly half-hour sequence where Heise scrolls an extremely long Third Reich document listing the names of Viennese Jews shipped by train to labor camps in the early ‘40s. As we’re subjected to this evil banality, Heise narrates the dozens of letters sent between Wilhelm and Edith as she becomes gradually aware of the awful reality behind the Nazi party’s presence in Vienna. It’s one of the few sections in the film in which dates are cited, and as the time between dates increasingly widens with each letter received. Edith’s anxiety grows and the acknowledgment of time passing becomes heavy with pathos. The sequence’s conclusion coincides with Heise’s camera reaching the end of the Nazi’s list, at which point there’s a black screen. The implication is clear.

If the film had ended there, at the close of the first of four chapters, “Heimat Is a Space in Time” would be quite a formidable addition to the canon of Holocaust films, one that gains ts power largely through inference and indirection. Where it goes from this point is more demanding, less immediately emotional, and less compelling to a non-German-language viewer because of the specificity of the historical incidents covered and having to read the large amount of subtitles. Broadening in scope, the film follows a path from Wilhelm’s experiences in a mixed-race work camp to his son Wolfgang’s coming of age in the German Democratic Republic, where in the peak of his professional life as a dean of philosophy, he was victim to the Stasi’s control, ultimately ending in a self-imposed exile.

This section of the film is filled with correspondences between Wolfgang and Heise’s mother, Rosemarie, as well as between Wolfgang and his various colleagues. Many of these exchanges are heady and discursive, with analyses of Brecht and Borges rather than emotional addresses. In fact, the film shows that in times of repression, this kind of discussion becomes an alternative to personal expression.

As we watch, Heise serves up visual evidence of the decay of the same institutions and structures that, in the readings, are so oppresive. The point isn’t to draw a false sense of triumph from their defeat so much as it is to lament the idea that all this suffering may have yet to lead to any better future. The film calls on the viewer, through duration and framing, to contemplate landscapes where terrible events occurred not that long ago and to think about how history still imprints itself on these spaces.

Even with their ambiguities, the films ultimately bring about a righteous fury about the histories they depict. Heise’s build-up of facts, records, details and dates leaves only clarity in its wake and a conviction that so many lives were painfully changed by state harassment, and that any modern attempt to rebuild atop sites of atrocities must start with a collective recognition and understanding of this. In looking at his own family tree, Heise is really appealing to an entire nation.

The film opens with a verdant color sequence (with references to the beloved folk story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf) and then shifts to stark black-and-white visuals. This works well with Heise’s own narration, which is flat and unaffected, even when he’s speaking as different characters. Heise moves through history like a dispassionate archivist, voicing both facts and feelings with little-to-no emotional inflection.

“Heimat” touches on such macro events as World War I, the rise and fall of Nazism and German discontent, economic and otherwise, before, during and after the Berlin Wall. In micro counterpoint, Heise tells the story of his own family.

“Heimat” means ‘home’ or ‘homeland’ in German. The roots of the word go back to the 11th century and has no exact English translation. The word has taken on many different and conflicting connotations over the years. Most damagingly, it was promulgated during WWII by the Nazis, who transposed its core tenets – based around a love and attachment to one’s native land – into an evil, nationalistic belief system that called for the persecution, and eventually extermination, of all those who posed a threat to the ‘purity’ of Germany’s ethnic identity.

With his latest feature, Heimat Is a Space in Time, veteran documentarian Thomas Heisetaps the term’s more metaphoric dimensions, while situating it within a highly personal survey of the Federal Republic’s chequered past. Stretching over four generations, from the years just before WWI to the present day, this at once epic and intimate essay film charts Heise’s family history against the backdrop of the larger cultural and political events that have shaped both the country’s legacy and its collective sense of self. Utilising letters, photographs, drawings and various other archival materials to trace these entwined histories, Heise narrates the trials and tribulations of 20th-century Germany in a rich and engrossing voiceover that imbues the words and experiences of his relatives with an urgency undimmed by the passage of time.

Running 218 minutes, the film unfolds in sprawling yet largely chronological fashion, beginning with the story of Heise’s greatgrandparents, Wilhelm and Edith (a German and a Viennese Jew, respectively), whose courtship as young adults studying between Berlin and Vienna in the 1920s was soon threatened by the Nazis. As Heise reads from their handwritten letters, we see corresponding images of presentday Mitteleuropa. These passages, shot in high-contrast black-and-white, link past and present through tranquil landscape imagery and numerous shots of trains crisscrossing the countryside, a motif that grows increasingly troubling as the story dovetails with the rise of the Third Reich. In one extended and harrowing sequence, Heise reads a series of distressed letters from Edith’s parents as page upon page of Nazi documents scroll vertically down the screen, listing the names of thousands of Viennese Jews who were sent to the death camps.

After the war, Heise’s ‘mixed-race’ family was displaced across a newly divided Germany. During the Cold War, in the decades leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, successive generations attempted to rebuild and reconcile this lineage in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

Heise’s father, a philosophy professor named Wolfgang, becomes a prominent figure in Heimat’s second half. At one point we hear an audio recording of him and East German playwright Heiner Müller discussing Bertolt Brecht and the intersection of art and politics in contemporary Europe; a later epistolary correspondence between Wolfgang and Heise’s mother Rosi, a well-regarded author, fills in details about their relationship after the former is forced to flee Berlin for refusing to condemn anti-communist ideology and sign a document protesting a controversial news article about the inner workings of the GDR. As he does throughout this quietly remarkable film, Heise offers up these humble acts of humanity as a simultaneous testament to faith and perseverance, traits that will remain necessary as long as history insists on repeating itself.

“House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family” by Hadley Freeman— A Family’s History

Freeman, Hadley. “House of Glass: The Story and Secrets of a Twentieth-Century Jewish Family” ,  Simon & Schuster, 2020

A Family’s History

Amos Lassen

Hadley Freeman’s “House of Glass” is a story that spans a century, two World Wars and three generations. Freeman knew that her grandmother Sara lived in France just as Hitler began his rise power, but no one in her family spoke about it. After her grandmother’s death, she found a shoebox tucked in the closet with photographs of her grandmother and a mysterious stranger, a strange telegram from the Red Cross and a drawing signed by Picasso.

Her curiosity got the best of her and she began a ten year journey to try to found out what the contents of the shoebox meant. She went to the Picasso archives in Paris, to a secret room in a farmhouse in Auvergne, to Long Island and to Auschwitz piecing together family’s past and learning more about the lives of her grandmother and her three brothers, Jacques, Henri, and Alex. Their stories  were sometimes typical and sometimes surprising as they revealed the spectrum  of experiences of Eastern European Jews during Holocaust.

The stories were filled with twists and turns and fascinating characters that shed light on the Jewish experience during World War II. We read about assimilation, identity, and the meaning of home in a saga about the past that is still relevant today. We read about the experience of a Jewish family through a Polish shtetl, Parisian haute couture, the Résistance and Auschwitz. We examine the roots persistence of anti-Semitism. Freeman presents the many different responses of her family members to the anti-Semitism that sent many to their deaths yet spared others and we must consider them. Love and redemption are the themes of a book that will not be easily forgotten.

This is an intimate family history as well as the history of the world during the shocking period when ruled. It reads like a mystery, a memoir and a gripping history of the last century. Hadley Freeman reconstructs the story of a family that the Holocaust tried to destroy and she doesn’t hide anything.  She shows us the terrifying parallels to today’s anti-Semitism.  The story of the Glass family is a look at the Jewish experience. The research here is amazing and accompanied by a thoughtful analysis of what it means to be Jewish today. We see in the extremist politics of today in light of where they come out of the past.

Here is the author’s family, including the good, the bad, and the ugly and never-ending conflicts, some of which are never resolved. It tells the history of the times and locations in which the family lived. It tells of the successes in fashion, in engineering, in business and the failures and of those family members who survived the Holocaust and those who didn’t. which fell by the wayside and those which were regained. Secrets are revealed as her stories that took years to learn of.