Thursday, October 11, 2018

Behind the Mirror: The Cinematic Uncanny of Michael Curtiz

A scene from Michael Curtiz's final film The Comancheros (1961).

“Hide in the mirror. No one will look for you there.”  – Ljupka Cvetnova

“Movies are magic.”  – Van Dyke Parks

When I was coming of age in the mid-60s in the Toronto suburb of Don Mills, there wasn’t much to do apart from reading books and watching television. Well, there were some other activities, but they were illegal back then. And one of the accidental benefits of primitive television in the days, before the advent of cable, TCM and Netflix, was the ironic fact that old movie studios used to provide the bulk of late-night programming in the form of classic films from the golden age. Especially late-late-late night television, for the likes of me, for whom there was no better way to come down from the excitement of attending all-day outdoor rock festivals with ten stellar bands.

As a result I caught magical glimpses of some of the great cinematic gems and enjoyed many of my favourite flicks in a film festival occurring only in my own mind. It turned out that many of my favourites were produced and directed by the same quietly titanic but toweringly talented individual. Back then I was also able to actually rent 16-mm versions, along with the projector, from our local library (another thing of the past) and even to order the films themselves by mail order from outfits called Blackhawk and Castle Films. I used to screen these at home for friends, often with my own substituted soundtracks, in the case of some grand silent masterpieces.

Where to begin to unravel the wildly multi-phrenic universe of one of the most gifted and underrated geniuses in film history: Michael Curtiz? Perhaps by asking a basic question: what might all the following drastically divergent and highly stylized visual entertainments have in common? Just one single but remarkable thing, which was the result of the commercial ascendancy of Hollywood after both the end of the First and the Second World Wars, when a flood of talented newcomers washed up on its sunny shores from a conflict-ravaged Europe.


Monday, October 8, 2018

Modernists: Naked and Uncle Vanya

Tara Franklin and James Barry in the Berkshire Theatre Group production of Naked. (Photo: Emma Rothenberg-Ware)

Among the virtues of the Berkshire Theatre Group is its dedication to reviving forgotten plays, both American and European. The BTG summer season included The Petrified Forest, and currently you can see an excellent mounting of Luigi Pirandello’s Naked. Italy’s famous modernist playwright, who invented a new style of theatre, theatre of identity (usually known simply as Pirandellian theatre), with Six Characters in Search of an Author in 1921, wrote Naked the following year. It was a remarkably prolific time for Pirandello, who turned out fourteen plays and a novel between 1921 and 1929; Naked was one of three plays he wrote in 1922 alone, including his second masterpiece, Henry IV. But I’d never read or seen it before. It’s rarely performed, and though I have six or eight Pirandello plays on my shelves, Naked isn’t among them. BTG is using the Nicholas Wright translation, which was produced at the Almeida in London nearly twenty years ago 2000 with Juliette Binoche and then in New York with Mira Sorvino.