Thursday, March 22, 2018

TCM TiVo Alert for March 23-31

March 23-31


FLAMINGO ROAD (March 23, 11:00 am): Joan Crawford plays a carnival dancer (who is supposed to likely be about half her real age) who stays in a small town when the show moves on. She quickly becomes the object of attraction of a number of the men, and chooses a businessman with a drinking problem (played by David Brian) to marry. They move to Flamingo Road, the richest section of the town. While Crawford is solid and her name is above the title, it is clear that Syndey Greenstreet, who plays Sheriff Titus Semple (the corrupt local political boss), is the best part of the movie. Greenstreet, who was ill when making this film and comes across as a guy who is dying, is listed not only below Crawford, but Zachary Scott, who plays a sheriff's deputy. Greenstreet is perfect as the sleazy political boss who creates and ruins careers and lives. The confrontational scenes with Crawford and Greenstreet are outstanding. This was the second to last film for Greenstreet, who died less than five years after this 1949 movie was released.

ON THE WATERFRONT (March 25, 2:00 pm): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple - the struggle facing Terry Malloy as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Marlon Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions – anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well.


BOMBSHELL (March 24, 6:15 am): A tour de force by star Jean Harlow in this no holds barred send-up of Hollywood stardom. Lee Tracy is the studio’s publicity agent who makes her life hell with his schemes and his meddling. Harlow’s character, Lola Burns, is modeled after Clara Bow, but it’s not too far removed from Harlow’s own life. Frank Morgan is superb as her father, the patriarch of her boorish family of entitled spongers. But Harlow is the reason to tune in. She shows a brilliant flair for comedy with rapid-fire delivery of lines and adds to the film’s bite. All in all, an insightful look at how both a studio and the star’s own relatives exploit and take advantage of her talent and stardom.

THE H MAN (March 26, 3:45 am): Leave it to the Japanese to bring something different to the table. A nuclear test in the Pacific has created radioactive creatures - H Men – who ooze like slime and dissolve anyone they touch. While this is going on we cut to Tokyo, where police are battling narcotics dealers. After a suspect disappears, leaving nothing but his clothes, police question his nightclub singer wife and stake out the club, A professor puts two and two together and concludes the suspect was killed by coming into contact with the H Men. The climax is a letdown, but the film itself is so bizarre it warrants a look see. The films Japanese title, Bijo to Ekitainingen, roughly translates to “Beautiful Women and the Hydrogen Men.”


ED: A. No one made Westerns like John Ford. He singlehandedly restored the genre to the A-side of the bill in 1939 withStagecoach after it had been banished to the B’s after the colossal failure of The Big Trail in 1930. She Wore a Yellow Ribboncontinues the magic. Considered the second part – and the best – of Ford “7th Calvary” trilogy, after Fort Apache and before Rio Grande, the film begins with the aftermath of Custer’s Last Stand. The subject of the film is the duty and burden of command. Captain Nathan Brittles (John Wayne), on his last mission before retirement, is a man who, unlike Custer, is worthy of command. Now in the twilight of his career, he has made peace with himself and he can now seek that peace with his foes without feeling the need to apologize for it. As with Ford’s other epic, poignant Westerns of this period it’s not a plain actioner, but rather an illustrated piece, an stylishly sentimental work focusing on the set rituals of an army post. As with many an excellent film, there are slow spots contrasted with great set pieces. As with many of Ford’s films, there is a tad too much tedious Irish comedy (think Victor McLaglen’s Sgt. Quincannon, whose “comedy” offset one of his finest performances), and the usual annoying pair of young lovers (John Agar and Joanne Dru). But the work as a whole transcends its faults; beautifully photographed in Monument Valley by Technicolor specialist Winton Hoch (who won an Academy Award for it). it evokes a Frederic Remington work in its breathtaking beauty. The performances are excellent, and Wayne has never been better. Though not the greatest actor, he rises to the occasion when guided by a strong director such as Ford or Hawks. This is an essential Western.

DAVID: C+. This Western, directed by the legendary John Ford, is beautifully filmed in Technicolor with spectacular scenery. But the plot is flimsy at best and the acting at times borders on the ridiculous. While John Wayne was largely a one-dimension actor, he was capable of some fantastic performances. Wayne had great moments in StagecoachThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance and Red River. I digress to give you some context for She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. As I previously wrote, the scenery is incredible, which counts for a lot because as far as Westerns go, this one is nearly devoid of action. Ford could be a stickler for historic accuracy, but what is shown in this film is largely a work of fiction. That's fine, but Wayne unconvincingly playing a man much older than he, and the silly love story falls miserably short in a movie with some excellent cinematography. It's pretty to see, but ugly to hear.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Glam Masters


By Ed Garea

Glam Masters (Lifetime Network, 2018) – Host: Laverne Cox. Judges: Mario Dedivanovic, Kandee Johnson, Zanna Roberts Rassi. Color, 1 hr.

For a reality series to succeed, it needs contestants who are not only passionate about what they do, but also possess the creativity to pull it off. Now add fashionable and slightly wacky and we’re moving the needle forward.

Glam Masters follows in the footsteps not only of America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway, but also Face Off on the Syfy Channel, which pits special effects artists against each other. With Glam Masters the competition revolves around fashion makeup. Hosted by Laverne Cox, it occupies a Wednesday night niche on Lifetime.     

In the premiere, we meet four makeup artists: Robin Shanael, Argenis Pinal, Taylor Steingold and Solange Nicole. Over the course of the episode they will face with three makeup challenges with one contestant eliminated after every challenge. The final contestant left will advance to the semifinals, with the ultimate prize being a collaboration with Kim Kardashian West on a makeup collection and a booth at BeautyCon.

In addition to hosting, Cox is one of the judges, along with Mario Dedivanovic (makeup artist to Kim Kardashian West), Kandee Johnson (a major makeup influence on YouTube) and Zanna Roberts Rassi (senior fashion editor at Marie Claire.) The stakes are high, as the contestants mention their number of Instagram followers. Some also discuss what makeup has meant to them – for instance, Shanael tells the judges that makeup saved her life.

In the first challenge the contestants are taken with creating a dramatic metallic drip look in one hour. Then they must take an Instagram-worthy selfie and have their makeup judged in-person by the judges.

In the second challenge they have and hour to create a look inspired by one of the seven deadly sins – the one they most identify with – on a model.

The final challenge, where the final two contestants go head to head, asks them to create makeup looks that turns their model into a living doll. a trends big on the internet.

During each challenge, drama unfolds as an artist can’t get the right lipgloss consistency to get a good drip or another sees the gold leaf applied continuing to fall off. And this is what makes the show so interesting: the level of unpredictability in their challenges draws us in and makes us feel as if they’re entirely worthy of our interest.

The judges provide technical critique along with snarky commentary. Dedivanovic is more or less the Simon Cowell of the group; Johnson and Cox play it nice and offer support.

Wearing both hats of host and judge Cox handles it superbly. She’s great at teasers such as the one after the drip challenge, when she asks,“Which of our contestants is dripping with talent, and who should be melted out of the competition?” But lest we write her off she also provides some spot-on insight. Seeing one look, Cox compares it to an Edvard Munch painting.

In the final analysis, Glam Masters entertains us with its bizarre challenges and provides the one thing a reality show needs to succeed: likable contestants and judges. I’m not a Kim Kardashian West fan, but I can’t help rooting for this show to succeed. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Meshes of the Afternoon

The Auteurs

By Jonathon Saia

Meshes of the Afternoon (Deren, 1943) – Directors: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. Writer: Maya Deren. Stars: Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid. B&W, 14 minutes.

My purpose is neither to instruct or entertain, but to be that experience which is poetry.” – Maya Deren

Maya Deren – ethnographer, photographer, film theorist, and Mother of the American Avant-Garde Film Movement – is possibly the most revered “amateur” filmmaker of all time. Like Cassavetes, Deren was committed to making the films she wanted to make regardless of any outside forces. While not the inventor of experimental or the avant-garde in film (those labels had been in vogue 20 years prior in Soviet and European film and even in America), what Deren did was elevate the amateur to artist and celebrated the art of making a film with one goal: the exploration and journey of the work and the discovery of the medium, uninterested in financial or fame related goals.

In typical auteur tradition, Deren was her own writer. Making only silent films, she created elaborate Chinese style scrolls in three parallel columned “screenplays”: one containing the action, another the camera moves and technical details, and storyboards on the third; cataloguing additional ideas on 3x5 index cards that she carried around with her. She was her own producer; funding her films at first with photography work; later with the monies from her lectures. She was her own cinematographer, except for the scenes she were in, of course; those duties taken over by then husband and collaborator Alexander Hammid and Hella Heyman. She was her own editor; assisted by close friend and future editor Miriam Arsham. She was her own exhibitor; screening her films for influential people like critic James Agee on her living room wall and booking them in various film societies throughout the US, Canada, and Cuba. 

She was her own occasional star, featured prominently in Meshes of the Afternoon (1943) and At Land (1946), while using the favors of friends (including composer John Cage, artist and chess champion Marcel Duchamp, and legendary author Anaïs Nin) and lovers (Hammid was an established filmmaker in his own right and served as her mentor; her third husband, Teiji Ito, composed the scores) to fulfill any roles or jobs she herself could not do. 

Highly educated and an accomplished dabbler in many art forms, including Journalism, Poetry, Photography, and Dance, Maya Deren, while acknowledging the place of the other arts within filmmaking, sought to create something that only cinema could create. 

The idea of “completion” did not interest her; to Maya Deren, films were never finished, just abandoned. In some cases, this was literal: she quit production on Witch’s Cradle (begun in 1943), Medusa (begun in 1949), Ensemble for Somnambulists (begun in 1951, a precursor in form and content to the completed The Very Eye of Night, 1958), Season of Strangers (begun in 1959), and other projects about Egyptian culture and the circus for a variety of reasons, mostly financial and/or artistic frustration. She most famously abandoned her ethnographic film project on Voudoun culture in Haiti; in 1985, Ito and his new wife edited Deren’s footage to complete the documentary, Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti

In some cases, this abandonment was metaphorical or tongue-in-cheek: she called her first showcase, “Three Abandoned Films,” featuring Meshes of the Afternoon (her first and arguably her most accessible and “complete” film), At Land, and A Study in Choreography for the Camera (1946). Deren also thrived on the circuitous and circular nature of film. In Meditation on Violence (1949), the film plays forwards then backwards; in the unfinished Witch’s Cradle, one of the actors has the words “The End is the Beginning is the End” written on her forehead in a circle. 

Unlike Cassavetes or Chaplin or even von Stroheim, Deren’s focus was not performance nor an emotional truth that “rest upon the capacity of the actor to simulate an emotion,” deriving it instead “from the sum total of the visual image.” 

Nor was it story. Her films were fluid, like poetry, and thought movies should be “an exploration of the medium of film rather than the fulfillment of a perceived goal.”

Nor was it technical perfection. “Cameras do not make films; filmmakers make films...the most important part of your equipment is yourself: your mobile body, your imaginative mind, and your freedom to use both.” She eschewed tripods and fancy lens and thought that trying to compete with large Hollywood films “without access to their specialized resources ends only in a disastrously amateur result.”

Nor was it even being a “professional,” an idea she found anathema to artistic freedom. “The only critical requirement is the determination to make a film.”

For Maya Deren, what made cinema its own art form and not an amalgam of other disciplines was the ability to manipulate the elements of Time and Space through film speeds and creative montage; the ways in which Rhythm and Movement can create a singular experience for an audience.

Films [as opposed to still photographs] are concerned with the way in which the moment passes and becomes the next one. This metamorphosis cannot be composed within a frame, but only through frames, from one frame to the next. Such movement concerns itself not with details of space, but with details of movement in time.” 

In her lectures and op-eds, she encouraged budding filmmakers not to study photography, but music and dance instead. These elements were prominent in her life and her filmmaking and the key to her aesthetic. Ironically, the original versions of her earliest films – MeshesAt LandChoreography, and The Private Life of a Cat (1947) – contained no music or sound of any kind. Partially this was functional; Deren did not own a camera that allowed for sync sound. But she decided against adding music intentionally so as not to distract the audience from “the enormous vocabulary of the film medium itself”; namely the way it can “move”. Her later films – Meditation on Violence and The Very Eye of Night – incorporated Haitian drums (inspired by, recorded, and performed by Deren during one of the many trips to Haiti that consumed her later life and career) and an Oriental score, respectively; the latter written by her soon-to-be third husband, Ito. [Deren later commissioned Ito to write official scores for Meshes and Violence].

Even more than the idea of Rhythm or Music Through Rhythm in her films is the element of Dance. She studied with, toured, and served as the secretary for the Katherine Dunham Company before meeting second-husband-filmmaker Hammid and switching her artistic focus from poetry and dance to filmmaking; a medium through which she felt she could “make the world dance.”

Most explicitly, Dance is prevalent in her films Choreography (where she collaborated with Talley Beatty, a contemporary during her days with Dunham), Ritual (featuring Rita Christiani, another Dunham contact, with choreography by Broadway dancer, Frank Westbrook), and The Very Eye of Night (a collaboration with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School and famed dancer/ choreographer Antony Tudor). But all of her films explore the movement of the body and its relation to the movement of the camera as her main storytelling technique, particularly the way in which film specifically and singularly can move someone through various moments in Time and Space. 

In Choreography, through editing and the position of the body through multiple frames, a dancer’s developé moves him from the woods to a living room to a museum, making “neighbors of distant places”; in At Land, a woman (played by Deren) crawls atop a tree trunk which becomes a dining room table which becomes a bush; in Ritual, the characters move from one disparate location to the other with the turn of a corner; in Violence, a jump takes the viewer from one nondescript interior to a nondescript exterior, while a turn brings us back again as the film plays out in reverse; and in her most experimental film, The Very Eye of Night, Deren uses dance not to transport us to various locations, but to create a completely new location, void of horizons.

Her first foray in exploring the role of movement to combine a variety of locations into one appears 10 minutes and 15 seconds into her first and most famous film, Meshes of the Afternoon, but unlike her other works, it is not the film’s raison d’être nor even crucial to its style; though for Deren this brief 10-second sequence is what inspired the rest of her career and for which she is the most proud in the film because it was an idea in form and content that was completely new and completely hers. 

According to Deren, Meshes of the Afternoon objective was to make “a symbolic statement of the vast psychological distances that lie between people who may be in close physical proximity”; from the beginning, the idea of Space takes center stage. Deren fought the notion that it had any kind of Freudian symbolism or a feminine agenda or was in anyway autobiographical, despite the fact it featured a married couple played by her and her husband (in their own home, no less). Deren was so adamant in counteracting the presumption of meaning the film had inherited through the years she eventually had a score commissioned for it to “underscore and illuminate the original intent of the film.” Deren summed this up years later as an intention “to create mythological experience,” apparently forgetting or ignoring her original objective. How the score does that or achieves anything specific other than mood (the only thing a score can really do….) is as open to as many interpretations as the images. 

Despite her consistent protestations, it seems that if Deren and Hammid’s intention was not to comment on Freudian psychology, gender dynamics, and psychosexual turmoil, this is one of the greatest subconscious accidents on film. 

We begin with a woman’s arms entering from above. The arm is clearly fake, that of a mannequin. It places a large, fake flower on the concrete, and disappears. The shadow of a woman’s arm enters frame, followed by the real arm, and picks up the flower. A large shadow of her body is projected on to the wall. We follow her feet as she walks up the stairs to her apartment. 

The Woman knocks on a door. No one answers. She checks to see if it is locked. It is. (Though it seems as if the door were actually unlocked and Deren as Actress was faking this; mistake?)

Clutching the large flower in front of her, the Woman takes her own key out of her purse. Why knock before entering your own home? Perhaps this is a statement about how one does not feel at home in their own home. One further, made in 1943, perhaps this is a statement about how a woman could feel like a guest in her own home when her husband paid all of the bills; while both man and wife worked in the Deren/Hammid household, many women of the period did not and were at the mercy of their husbands’ means. 

She drops the key and it bounces in slow motion down the stairs, perhaps as accentuation to the theme of displacement. The Woman collects her key, puts it in the lock, opens the door, and enters. 

She surveys the apartment. It is empty and disheveled. In the kitchen, a knife falls out of a loaf of bread; in the stairwell, a phone sits off the hook. She climbs the stairs to find an open window and a record playing. She turns it off and goes back downstairs. 

She sits in an arm chair, covered in flowered upholstery, and places the flower in her lap before running her hand, slowly, sensually up her side and grazing her breast. This is the first indication that the large flower, covering her vagina, will be a stand in for her sex and more broadly for her person. The flower – her sex, herself – is for now hers. Safe and sound.

The Woman, known here forward as Deren #1, falls asleep in the chair. We are now entering her dream. 

We pull back to see a large figure cloaked in black walking down the path where we began. It appears to be a nun or the Grim Reaper. The Figure is now carrying the flower. It turns back to reveal it has a large mirror for its face. A woman, Deren #2 – evidenced by the same silhouette and shoes – runs after it. 

She gives up and climbs the same outside steps Deren #1 did. Only this time we finally see her face. Up until now (04:08), we have seen only pieces of a woman: her arms, her hands, her feet, her shadow; she is not whole, only pieces. Now, she takes full form. But only in dream. 

Deren #2 enters the house. We find some things have been rearranged. The knife, which was first at the kitchen table – the stereotypical center of a woman’s life and the nucleus of the home – now finds itself at the bottom of the stairs, supplanting the position of the phone. We sense that at first what may have been a symbol for a lack of communication between two people (an off-the-hook phone) at the entry to the seclusion of the home’s second story (the insularity of a marriage), now has taken on an ominous tone: privacy as danger. Marriage as danger.

Deren #2 runs up the stairs, only this time in slow motion. Instead of finding a record playing (the beautiful music of a harmonious relationship), the record player has disappeared. In its place, we find the phone (again off-the-hook) and the knife: both in the bed, bringing the lack of communication and the danger not only to “the house,” the marriage, but to the marriage bed. This is the first time the knife can be read as a phallic symbol. 

Deren #2 hangs up the phone and runs back down the stairs, again in slow motion, only this time she is completely discombobulated. She falls backwards and the frame spins. Deren and Hammid are erasing the horizon and skewing the audience’s perspective of equilibrium; something Deren brought to completion in The Very Eye of Night

Back downstairs, Deren #2 spots Deren #1 asleep in the chair. The record player now next to her sleeping body. She has found harmony in sleep; isolation. Deren #2 removes the needle and glances out the nearby window where she spots The Figure again walking down the same pathway, carrying the same flower, chased by the same woman: Deren #3. Deren #3 turns up the same outside stairs to approach the home. 

Deren #2 pulls a key out of her mouth as Deren #3 pushes open the door. 

This cycle, The Figure is now inside the house. It ascends the stairs as Deren #3 struggles even more to climb the stairs after it. Once she reaches the top, she sees that The Figure has placed the flower, the symbol of her sex, prominently on the bed. It looks back at her and disappears. Deren #3 then moves up and down the stairs in a series of jump cuts with a panic stricken look upon her face, perhaps a reaction to the sexual congress that presumes will come. 

As Deren #2 before her, #3 approaches #1. This time, the record player is gone and has been replaced with the knife. Now even being alone, even her dreams, is dangerous. Deren #3 looks out the window to begin yet another cycle of The Figure with the flower being chased by a woman: Deren #4. 

Deren #3 pulls the key out of her mouth and the key becomes the knife. #4 enters with the knife to find #2 and #3 seated at the breakfast table. She places the knife on the table, and it changes back into the key. If we are drawing the conclusion that the knife is a phallic symbol and the knife has been changed back into a key, we may draw the (Freudian) conclusion that the lock on the door, the guard to the home, could also be a vagina substitute. Sex can be as painless as turning the lock of a door for which you have the key. Or as obtrusive as being stabbed.

Deren #2 and Deren #3 both reach for the key in the center of the table; it remains a key. Deren #4 reaches for her key and it turns back into a knife. The doppelgängers seem to have been drawing lots to see whom would have to kill Deren #1. If the various versions of Deren and their intensifying interactions with The Figure and the knife are an indication of her mental states and her feelings toward marriage, it makes the most sense that Deren #4 – the woman who entered with the knife, the most dangerous – would have to be the one to kill the most naive and least formed (evidenced by the audience never seeing her face and only catching her in pieces, fragments, like the shards of a broken mirror) of them. Besides the psychosexual reading of the film, Meshes could also be an exploration of a woman discovering her strength and the need to kill the weaker versions of herself to survive within a man’s world.     

Deren #4, now wearing goggles (an aid to help her see the world and herself more clearly?), stands and turns to #1. As she stands, the room becomes a field of tall grass; the aforementioned first example of the beginning of Deren’s style (10:15). Deren #4 takes five steps, each changing, from sand, to mud, to grass, to concrete, and back to carpet, where she approaches to kill Deren #1.

But before she does, Deren #1 awakens to see it is not a doppelgänger bent over to stab her, but her husband coming up from a kiss to wake her, further solidifying the knife as phallus, as man, as danger, as death. 

The Man (played by Hammid) helps her up. Now holding the flower, her flower, he places the receiver back on the phone and leads her up to bed; his attempt to communicate. He lays the flower on the pillow as The Figure had; on the bedside table, his face appears in a mirror, telling the viewer that he is the shadowy figure; the reflection of the shimmer in a knife; and the reflection you see of yourself in a spouse.

The Woman lies down on the bed as instructed. The Man comes down to stroke her. Suddenly, the flower becomes the knife. She picks it up and throws it at his face (flower power, girl power?) and his face shatters like a mirror. Within the mirror, his shattered face, is an ocean. We cut to the shards falling into the sea, washed away in the tide. Man has been defeated by Woman. Sex has been postponed. 

But in, as Deren called it, “the double ending,” the message is reversed. And muddied. 

Back on the door step, The Man is now reentering the house; outside the door lies the flower. He does not pick it up. He puts his key in the lock and opens the door to discover broken glass and his wife’s dead body, throat slashed, wrapped in seaweed.

Could this be a continuation of The Woman’s dream cycle? Was she never awoken by The Man? Or could this be the beginning of The Man’s dream cycle? An unseen, unexplored series of how he sees the marriage and his place within?

True to its title and the ambiguity of the avant-garde, Meshes of the Afternoon explores both definitions of the word. As a noun, “an interlaced structure,” the viewer gets a complex portrait of the many versions of Deren: absent, confused, curious, and violent; as a verb, “to lock together or be engaged with another gearwheel,” Deren and Hammid exploring the fears of marriage and losing your identity in another. The film’s most famous image, Deren hands on glass with the reflection of the outside world framing her, looking out toward a path untaken at another version of herself chasing an illusive figure, could be seen (and has) as the defining image of a Woman Trapped in Domesticity.

In true “amateur” fashion, Meshes of the Afternoon was a literal home movie, shot in Deren and Hammid’s home, by them, featuring them. It took two weeks and cost $260. 

Deren saw Meshes as an outlier in her career. And there are some, like Deren protégé Stan Brakhage, who see Meshes as more Hammid’s film than Deren’s. Even Deren would agree with this.Meshes for Deren was heavily indebted to Hammid’s technical skill and know how of the “vocabulary”: “It is because of him that an O sounds like an O instead of an A, that the sibilants hiss when they should, that the word emerges in a single whole and does not stutter.” In fact, when George Eastman House reached out to her in 1955 for copies of her films for a retrospective, she wrote a long impassioned letter that instead of focusing the attention on Meshes, she would prefer it if they focused on Ritual and Choreography; films that she thought more fairly represented her talent and vision as a filmmaker. However much of the film may not be “hers,” Meshes does show the beginnings of Deren’s fascination with using filmmaking as a “vertical” medium, thwarting the limitations of traditional forms of presenting a “story” like a filmed play with the edges of the frame no more than a new proscenium. 


In all, Maya Deren’s “completed” oeuvre totals a mere 76 minutes, yet she has inspired the likes of David Lynch, Jonas Mekes, Kenneth Anger, and most especially Barbara Hammer.

In 1947, Deren won a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Amateur Filmmaking. That same year, Deren also received a Guggenheim Fellowship, the first for any filmmaker. She used her grant to travel to Haiti and study Voudoun rituals, specifically “possession” and the role of dance within the ceremonies. Over the next eight years, she traveled to Haiti four times, spending roughly two years in total. In 1953, temporarily “abandoning” her plans for an ethnography, she released the book Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, consulting famed ethnographers/ historians Margaret Mead and Joseph Campbell for the project, and recorded two albums of Voudoun music. Strapped for cash and denied extensions on her grant since no film had materialized, Deren raised capital by continuing to lecture and write about film theory and by using the advances from her book.

There are some who believe that Deren’s inability to finish her Haitian film, as well as a number of other projects through this latter period of her life, is because she was cursed by dealing in Voudou, of which she had become a priestess. Some also believed this contributed to her death in 1961 at the very early age of 44; however, the more plausible cause was a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by a lifetime of malnutrition and a propensity for speed.

Her ashes were scattered across Mt. Fuji. Her then husband, Teriji Ito thought “this was the perfect resting place for a woman energized in life by ritual, dance, Voudou, music, poetry, writing, and of course, experimental film.”

Deren disliked the label of “experimental” filmmaker and found “avant-garde,” “poetic,” or even “choreographic” too limiting. She liked to think of her films as “metaphysical, mythological experiences...concerned with meanings – ideas and concepts – not with matter….exploring the inner experiences of a human being.”

It is possible that people may take exception to the basic premise of my work. They may feel it is the function of the photographer, or of any artist, to reproduce life as we see it. My opinion is that there is no particular value in duplicating something which already exists...I am bored frankly and I believe most persons are with repetitions and reiterations. And I am immensely grateful when someone creates, out of his talent and effort, something which I never could have experienced except through his creation of it.”
- Maya Deren


Sources include the books Essential Deren: Collected Writings on Film by Maya Deren (ed. 2005) and Maya Deren: Incomplete Control by Sarah Keller (2015). While the documentary film In the Mirror of Maya Deren by Martina Kudlacek (2002) is extremely slow and made for the super fan, it interviews a lot of the people crucial to her life and career so is a great resource if your interest is piqued. I would also recommend the short film, Maya Deren’s Sink (2011) by Barbara Hammer, a filmmaker I will be covering later in the year. 

As is the nature of experimental films, interpretation is myriad; therefore, the above is mine, based in part on the opinions of scholars and on my own reading of the material. I’m sure Maya would disagree. Do you? Let’s discuss. Feel free to leave comments below.

Visit my website at and check out my “experimental” films. I’m cool with the label. 

Friday, March 16, 2018

Cinéma Inhabituel for March 16-31

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


TCM BIG SCREEN CLASSICS is featuring the 60th anniversary of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 suspense (and psychotronic) classic, Vertigo, on March 18 and 21 at selected theaters. James Stewart stars as John "Scottie" Ferguson in Hitchcock's thriller, about a detective with a crippling fear of heights who's hired to trail the mysterious Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak). Remember, no big-screen TV can match the thrill of actually seeing a classic where it was meant to be seen – in the theater. 


March 18: A double feature from Japanese director Keisuke Kinoshita begins at 2:00 am with his 1960 offbeat comedy, Spring Dreams. Owing a debt to Jean Renoir’s 1932 comedy, Boudu Saved From Drowning, it is the tale of a sweet-potato vendor  named Atsumi (Chishu Ryu) who suffers a stroke in the living room of a nouveau riche family. The family physician (Shûji Sano) insists that the stricken man not be moved for at least a week, during which time various other residents of the apartment building where he resides make an appearance in the hope of inheriting his secreted assets. The family he is forced to stay withers their share of problems. The tyrannical tyrannical patriarch, Shôbei (Eitarô Ozawa), is revealed to be quite ineffectual as the movie progresses. The plant the has inherited from his late father-in-law is beset with labor problems and strikes because of his penny pinching ways towards his workers. His mother-in-law (Chieko Higashiyama) is concerned with making good matches for her granddaughters when not pointing out her son-in-law’s ineptitude. It seems that everyone in the family is either driven by greed or self-centeredness. In this convoluted household, Atsumi comes to be looked upon as a redeemer, a role he’s not crazy about assuming. Kinoshita’s film is a deft satire of affluent Japanese now caught between the old ways and the new capitalism brought in from the West. This was also a frequent theme of his countryman Yasujiro Ozu, but where Ozu is gentle, Kinoshita uses a hammer to get his point across. It’s a film well worth watching.

Following at 4:00 am is Kinoshita’s Farewell to Spring. This 1959 drama concerns a group of five young men who return to their hometown several years after graduation. They discover that not only have their lives changed in the interim, but the friendships they forged during their youth may not be strong enough to withstand this change. The film is a perfect example of Kinoshita’s philosophy, as he specialized in films (again, much like Ozu) that dealt with the drama to be found in the lives of ordinary people, rather than in grand or heroic figures of history. Some have seen Farewell to Spring as Japan’s first “gay” film, as Kinoshita himself was admittedly gay. Aside from some homoeroticism in two of the first meetings, however, the erotic connections between the men are weak, as the adolescent homosocial bonds they formed have withered away with the passage of time and the breadth of the wider world. However, judge for yourself. Like Spring Dreams, this is a film to see.


March 25: Jean Gabin, perhaps France’s most vibrant leading man, stars in two later films, beginning at 2:00 am (When Else?) with his 1949 opus, The Walls of Malapaga. Gabin plays Pierre Arrignon, a man wanted in France for killing his wife. He flees to Genoa, where he meets 12-year old Cecchina (Vera Talchi) and  comes to alleviate the loneliness she feels from the absence of her father, who is estranged from her mother, Marta (Isa Miranda), because of his brutal treatment. With good reason, Cecchina’s hardworking mother, Marta, is estranged from her husband, who stalks and intimidates her. As time passes, Marta and Pierre become a couple. At first Cecchina is jealous, but her loyalty and love come to the fore when the police begin closing in on Pierre.

Following at 4:00 am is Jean Renoir’s French Cancan, his beautifully realized tale about then opening of the famous Moulin Rouge. Set in the 1890s, Jean Gabin stars as Henri Danglard, the owner of a Paris cafe featuring his mistress, Lola (Maria Felix), as a belly dancer. Trying to stop his cafe from hemorrhaging money, Henri is in Montmartre, where he discovers that the old-fashioned dance known as the cancan is still being performed there. Inspired,  Henri decides to revive the dance and christens it the “French cancan.” He hopes the new appellation will make it sound vaguely “foreign” and “naughty,” and entice British and American tourists to his club. He features a new dancer, Nini (Françoise Arnoul), a laundress he met by chance. Not everything goes smoothly, however, as Henri not only has problems with his backers but also with his mistresses as he is competing for their affections with the backers. This competition culminates in a catfight between Lola and Nini that nearly sinks Henri’s plans, but eventually things work out and the French cancan is launched at the newly restored Moulin Rouge, all filmed by Renoir in sumptuous Technicolor. Francois Truffaut called the film a milestone in the history of color of cinema in his review for the May 1955 edition of Arts magazine.


March 28: Three seldom seen films from England are being aired in the morning and afternoon. First up at 10:45 is 2,000 Women. Phyllis Calvert, Flora Robson and Patricia Roc star in this 1944 production about a group of English women during World War II being held by the Germans at a former spa turned POW camp in France. When several British airmen accidentally parachute in the women are faced with the task of hiding the men from the Germans and figuring out how to smuggle them out to freedom. Directed by Frank Launder, this is one of the hidden gems of English cinema.

At 12:30 pm comes Great Day (1945), starring Eric Portman, Flora Robson, Sheila Sim and Isobel Jeans. The small English village of Denley is abuzz over a pending visit by Eleanor Roosevelt. As the village women work to get ready while bursting with the great secret, we glimpse their home lives in subplots, notably the problematic love life of young Margaret Ellis (Sim) and the travails of her proud but impoverished father (Portman). How will their problems affect the Great Day? A true curio of English village life.

Finally, at 2:00 pm comes the 1947 comedy, Holiday Camp. Directed by Ken Annakin, the film centers on the fortunes of the Huggett family (Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison, Hazel Court and Peter Hammond) as they go to a Butlin’s holiday camp (which was a rite of passage for the average British family). There they  encounter other people, such as a young, unmarried couple who are about to become parents; a sadist on the lam from Scotland Yard and seeking further sadistic activities; a husband-seeking spinster; two would-be gamblers looking just to make expenses; and a middle-aged matron on her first holiday after years of taking care of her invalid mother. It was the first film to feature the Huggett family, and resonated so well with post-war audiences that two sequels followed. Look for Diana Dors in a small role as a dancer.


March 30: Speaking of Diana Dors, TCM is devoting an evening to the British bombshell with three of her films. 

Born Diana Mary Fluck on October 23, 1931, in Swindon, Wiltshire, England, she and her mother both nearly died from the traumatic birth. Because of this, her mother gave Diana anything and everything she wanted, whether clothes, toys or dance lessons. When her mother took her to the local movies theaters, Diana caught the acting bug. Physically, Diana matured early, and at age 12, looked and acted much older than she was. Much of this was attributed to her study of the actresses she saw on the silver screen; she wanted nothing more than to go to the United States and Hollywood to make her fame and fortune. At age 14 Diana enrolled at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA), the youngest in her class. Her film debut came with a small, uncredited role in Code of Scotland Yard (1947). Displaying a natural affinity with the screen, she was kept busy not merely as a minor presence in an assortment of frequently indifferent films, but as an off-screen personality, thrust into the public eye, and into the tabloid press, at every opportunity. Throughout the 1950s, she appeared in more films and became more popular in Britain, as her first husband, Dennis Hamilton (who she married after meeting him five weeks earlier), promoted her as an English version of Marilyn Monroe. Hollywood beckoned, but there she appeared only in a handful of pictures. She was more famous for her off-stage antics, which reportedly included wild parties that degenerated into sex orgies. RKO eventually fired her for violating the morals clause in her contract.

She divorced Hamilton in January 1959 and in April married comedian Richard Dawson (Hogan’s HeroesFamily Feud).  Their marriage lasted until 1966, spawning two children. After Dors divorced Dawson, she worked the club circuit and appeared in B movies before marrying her last husband, Alan Lake, in 1968. After collapsing during a hotel opening in 1982, she underwent an operation, where doctors discovered ovarian cancer. The cancer finally claimed her on May 4, 1984. On October 10, 1984, Lake killed himself with a shotgun.

The great mystery about Dors centers around a large fortune she supposedly accumulated, as she claimed to have stashed more than 2 million pounds in banks all over Europe. In 1982, she gave her son Mark Dawson a sheet of paper on which, she told him, was a code that would reveal the whereabouts of the money. The key to the code was in the hands of her husband Lake, but with his suicide Dawson was left with an unsolvable puzzle. It’s been speculated that one of the reasons Lake killed himself was because he cleaned out the accounts before Diana’s death and was afraid of discovery and prosecution.

The Films: The evening begins at 8:00 pm with what is regarded not only as her best film but also her best performance. In Yield to the Night (aka Blonde Sinner, Allied Artists, 1956), Dors plays Mary Hilton, a young woman who has been abused as a child and  locked into a loveless marriage with neglectful hubby Fred (Harry Locke). When she meets embittered and insecure nightclub piano player Jim Lancaster (Michael Craig), she falls in love, seeing him as the answer to her problems. Believing that Jim returns the affection she leaves Fred, but when she learns Jim is seeing socialite Lucy Carpenter (Mercia Shaw), Mary cracks and guns down Lucy as she unloads packages from her car in London. This earns Mary a ticket to Death Row. Based on a novel of the same title by Joan Henry, the character of Mary is loosely based on the real life murderess Ruth Ellis, the last female prisoner executed in England. Dors gives a strong and sensitive performance and makes the film well with the investment of time.

At 10:00 pm Dors co-stars with Victor Mature in The Long Haul (Columbia, 1957), a British noir with Mature as Harry Miller, a veteran who takes a long-haul truck driving job in Britain, where he runs afoul of an organized-crime syndicate that controls the trucking industry. Dors is Lynn, the girlfriend of big-wheel shipper/racketeer Joe Easy (Patrick Allen). When Harry’s English wife, Connie (Gene Anderson) stubbornly refuses to emigrate with him to America, Harry takes up with Lynn. Familiar, but enjoyable thanks to Dors.

Finally, at Midnight, comes the 1951 comedy from London Film, Lady Godiva Rides Again (aka Bikini Baby). Boasting a cast that includes Dennis Price, Stanley Holloway, Kay Kendall, Dora Bryan, Sidney James, Alastair Sim and Googie Withers, it features Pauline Stroud as Marjorie Clark, an innocent girl who wins an English Midland town’s provincial glamour contest and is asked to play Lady Godiva in the town’s Festival of Britain pageant. Dors has a small role as Dolores August, a fellow contestant. Look for Joan Collins in a small role – her film debut. And here’s a real bit of trivia: also in the film appearing uncredited as a contestant is Ruth Ellis (see Yield to the Night).


Recommended Pre-Code films:

March 17: Peg O’ My Heart (6:30 am). Marion Davies stars as a spunky Irish girl who is separated from her father (J. Farrell MacDonald) and brought to a lavish English estate to fulfill the terms of her inheritance. As Leonard Maltin says, “Corny but fun.”

March 23: Neil Hamilton opens a can of worms when he brings home girlfriend Joan Crawford to meet the folks in This Modern Age (6 am). Why are all the Must Sees on in the wee hours of the morning?

March 24: Jean Harlow gives one of her best performances as a stressed out film star in the hilarious comedy, Bombshell (8 am). She has to put up with her sponging family and wacky studio publicist Lee Tracy. To paraphrase Leonard Maltin, there are no holds barred in this devastating satire of Hollywood.

March 26: Lionel Barrymore is an idealistic physician who chooses ethics over money in One Man’s Journey (9 am). But his physician son, Joel Mccrea, can only see dollar signs, hence the drama in this excellent film that still holds its own today.

March 28: Elizabeth Bergner turns in a stunning performance as Catherine the Great in the aptly named The Rise of Catherine the Great (7 am). The film looks at the early life of a shy young princess forced to marry the reckless and mad Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. When he eventually becomes Tsar Peter III, he is murdered and Catherine assumes the throne, ruling Russia for 34 years as Catherine the Great. The film brilliantly compares her personal transformation from timid to powerful with the expansion of Russia from a backwater land to a world power in this seldom seen classic.


March 17: Tarzan and His Mate (10 am) - The wonderful follow-up to the 1932 blockbuster finds Tarzan fighting unscrupulous ivory hunters. Pre-Code cinema at its best, if you know what we mean.

March 19: Boris Karloff is a surgeon unjustly sentenced to Devil’s Island (6 am), where he is mistreated by supervisor James Stephenson.

Strange Cargo (10:45 am) - Clark Gable and his trollop girlfriend Joan Crawford are among a group of prisoners on the lam from Devil’s Island in director Frank Borzage’s strange mixture of adventure and religious allegory. With Paul Lukas, Ian Hunter as a strange Christ figure, and Peter Lorre stealing the film as M'sieu Pig.

Easy Rider (1:45 am) - The ultimate psychotronic road film with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper as drug dealers on a cross-country trip.

March 22: John Barrymore is a wonderfully deranged clubfooted ballet teacher with Donald Cook as his protege and Marian Marsh as the woman who he fears will be Cook’s ruin in 1931’s The Mad Genius (10 am).

March 24: John Wayne takes on bad guys and a ghost over an abandoned gold mine in Haunted Gold (8 am). At 10 am, Jane’s greedy cousins kidnap Tarzan to get their grubby hands on her inheritance in Tarzan Escapes.

March 26: On and evening dedicated to “radioactive” films, revel in The Incredible Shrinking Man (8 pm), The underrated The Magnetic Monster (11:15 pm), The Giant Behemoth (2:15 am - read our essay on it here), and the strange and entertaining psychotronic noir from Japan, The H Men (3:45 am). When stranger films are made the Japanese will make them.

March 31: Tarzan and Jane adopt Boy (Johnny Sheffield) in Tarzan Finds a Son (10 am).


We were remiss last issue in not informing you that serials have returned to TCM on Saturdays. Red Barry, a 1938 serial from Universal, stars Buster Crabbe in the title role as an ace detective after 2 million dollars in stolen bonds. Who took them and why is at the heart of the plot as Buster gets into numerous fist fights and cliff-hanging situations. Buster recovers the bonds and loses them again during the course of this delightful 13-chapter serial that is  just so much fun to watch. We hope this is only the start for TCM to bring back those wonderful serials that entertained us on television as children.


March 31: Hollywood’s biblical epics are pretty bad on average, but The Silver Chalice (5 am) is easily one of the worst of the lot. Paul Newman made his screen debut as Basil, the sculptor who designs  the framework for the cup used at The Last Supper. The film was so bad that Newman took out a trade ad in Variety apologizing for being in this mess. And he had every reason to beg our forgiveness, for his “performance” was as stiff as the cardboard sets used in the film. (Check out there “stone” walls and you’ll see they’re cardboard.) However, Newman wasn’t the only one in the cast to deliver a lousy performance. Jack Palance as Simon, the false prophet,gives new meaning to the term “ham actor.” Virginia Mayo as his seductive assistant is anything but, while Pier Angeli as Deborah, who marries Basil and coverts him to Christianity, could cure insomnia with her acting. And for a final word on Newman, we only have to look at the memoirs of producer/director Victor Saville, who ruefully noted in his memoirs that “method acting does not go well with a toga.”