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Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Cinema of Douglas Sirk - All That Sirk was Allowed – Part 2 - Bruce Hodsdon's notes on the Weimar and Nazi years - First listing of Sirk in America

Sirk in Germany: Weimar theatre and Nazi cinema 
Born in Germany in 1897 of Danish parents Douglas Sirk (Detlef Sierck) received a classical education in Copenhagen and studied law, philosophy and the history of art in Germany after World War I. He became a theatre director in 1922 when in his mid-twenties, directing audacious modern plays  by leftist authors including Brecht, Georg Kaiser and Friedrich Wolf  but also plays by their political adversaries and plays by Shakespeare (in his own translations), Sophocles, Strindberg, Ibsen, Shaw and Goethe. After taking up a position in Leipzig Sierck encountered a more difficult political atmosphere with Nazi brown shirts outside the theatre and in the audience for the premiere of an opera by Kurt Weill and Georg Kaiser which was cancelled after the Nazis won the national elections in March 1933. He began to direct a repertoire dictated by the Nazis. In 1934 with his choice and direction of modernist plays increasingly attracting unfavourable attention, Sierck joined Ufa, Germany's largest film company, the film industry being less rigidly controlled than the theatre.

From 1935-37 Sierck directed eight features including Stutzen der Gesellschaft/Pillars Of Society (1935) based on an Ibsen play which is regarded as one of the best literary adaptations of the period in Germany. Schlussakkord/Final Chord (1936) is a melodrama Sirk regarded as important because it was the first film in which he fully engaged with cinema in realising that “motion is emotion,” casting off his literary and theatrical background in writing the screenplay and directing with stylish bravura, returning to his early impressions of cinema as a child. It includes a wealth of musical material including large sections of a concert performance of Beethoven's Ninth and won the prize for best musical film at the Venice Biennale. Zu Neuen Ufern/To New Shores and La Habanera (1937) established the Swedish actress Zarah Leander as Germany's new star to replace Garbo and Dietrich. Set in Australia with an anti-colonial theme, Ufern has been described by Jon Halliday as “stylistically one of the most extraordinary films ever – not just in the combination of music, songs and dialogue in the tradition of Brecht and Weill but in the assemblage of contrasts, of light, of class, of geography”.  It was received with great acclaim at its premiere in Berlin.

Both films, surprisingly tough politically, were shot in an 'exotic' style comparable to that of Josef von Sternberg. Like Ufern, La Habanera is a melodrama with music integrated into the narrative, set in Puerto Rico (but filmed in Spain) with an anti-capitalist theme. Sierck was not allowed to make Pylon or The Shooting Party at Ufa because they were considered too pessimistic, not what was wanted. He subsequently made both into films in America. Nevertheless Sirk said that he “learned a lot at Ufa” and always concerned himself fully with the technical aspects of the craft so that he “rarely looked through the camera” and he could tell the cameraman exactly what lens he wanted to use because he could judge exactly the distance and adjustment for movement (interview with Michael Stern).  See also Critical Backlash – Part 10 for further discussion of Sierck and Nazi cinema.

Zu Neuen Ufern
Sierck's first wife, Lydia Brinken, became a Nazi. They were divorced and Sierck lost access to his son whom he never saw again except on the screen – Klaus-Detlef Sierck became Germany's leading child actor and a member of the Hitler Youth. When Ufa came directly under state ownership in 1937 the atmosphere became increasingly repressive and Sierck left Germany in December 1938 and joined his wife, Jewish actress Hildegarde Jary, who had left earlier. He began a long search for work, initially with limited success in France and Holland, ultimately arriving in Hollywood at the end of 1939 on an invitation from Warner Bros.  The studio soon terminated his contract and for a time Sierck and his wife ran a chicken farm they established in the San Fernando Valley and later an alfalfa farm. Sierk was acquainted with the Hollywood colony of German exiles including Thomas Mann, Max Reinhardt, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch but disliked their almost obsessive contempt for most things American, preferring the company of “ordinary Americans” who treated the Siercks with “simple creative generosity.” There was also suspicion in the exile community because of the eight features he made in Nazi Germany and of his late emigration. See also Critical Backlash – Part 10.

La Habanera

 Sirk in America ((key films in italics))                                                                                 
'The independent years 1943-50: 6 indie features plus 2 features assigned under contract at Columbia
Assignments at Universal  1951-2: 7 features
The Universal years 1953-9 with Ross Hunter and Albert Zugsmith: 14 features (10 produced by RH, 2 by AZ)
The 'European' films: Summer Storm, A Scandal in Paris, Lured, A Time to Love and a Time to Die
Religious themes: The First Legion, Thunder on the Hill, Sign of the Pagan, Battle Hymn
The 'uncomfortable comedies' at Universal:  The Lady Pays Off, Weekend with Father, No Room for the Groom
Americana: Meet Me at the Fair, Take Me to Town,
The 'melodramas': All I Desire, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, There's Always Tomorrow, Written on the Wind, Interlude, The Tarnished Angels, Imitation of Life

Other: Hitler's Madman, Sleep My Love, Slightly French, Shockproof, Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, Mystery Submarine, Taza Son of Cochise, Captain Lightfoot.

Spanish Film Festival (6) - Barrie Pattison finds more good stuff in David Canovas' debut THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

Over the years a few events stand out - the Paris Cinematheque's George Eastman House tribute in the sixties, the London NFT Viennese season, the 2000 Italian Film Week and the Tomu Uchida retro that the Melbourne Film Festival played. The 2017 Spanish Film festival is getting up there with those.  By way of normal film going David Cánovas first feature La punta del iceberg/The Tip of the Iceberg would be a welcome outing but here anything less than brilliant is a disappointment

This gleaming Spanish corporate drama starts with a body dropping onto a car in a busy street to the consternation of passers-by, soon evoking parallels with the high suicide rate scandals at Orange France. Executive Maribel Verdú in business suit and six inch heels is flown in for a day to explore this third fatality in one of her communications company's regional facilities, though she says her area is balance sheets not human relations.

Security cameras scan all the public areas and a reporter keeps on trying to contact her. The branch has cut staff and increased output, putting out a record number of new prototypes, making its manager Fernando Cayo a valuable commodity and he puts the deaths down to personal faults in the late employees.

She talks to the latest victim's secretary, union organiser and old flame Carmello Gómez, the dead man’s replacement and the company coffee bar manager and puts together details of fifty two year old executives with children at university who would never find another job or one who had two women pregnant simultaneously. Rather confusingy she has visions of the victims dropping out of windows or one slicing his throat with a box cutter, along with seeing her sister in law whom she had had fired to win the approval of the board.

Finally Maribel's passed a computer stick by the neurotic secretary who takes her breaks on the roof, looking down the mesmerising drop to the court yard. 

This all plays quite well but we might have hoped for a more inventive ending. Do all Spanish movie characters have relatives in intensive care? The final falling scarf image we saw in a Mrinal Sen drama.  

Nice to find Verdu and Gómez still plausible star material sixteen years after their great appearance in Gonzalo Suarez’ El Portero/The  Goalkeeper. The pair joke about his expanding girth and, with her features having a hint of gaunt, Maribel has become a striking, mature beauty.

Vale Chris Bearde - International funny man. Graham Shirley and others remember

Editor’s Note: Chris Bearde was a major contributor in the early days of Australian television. Chair of the Australian Media Oral History Group Graham Shirley has sent in these notes: Wendy Borchers has let me know about the death on Sunday of long-term Australian and US comedy writer, Chris Bearde.  After local fame as a writer for Digby Wolfe and others, Chris Bearde moved to the USA, where his credits as a comedy writer and producer included Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In, The Gong Show, The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and The Andy Williams Show.

I also remember the impact of the Digby Wolfe shows, specifically Revue 61 and Revue 62, which had a modernist ‘white look’ (in terms of production design) as part of their appeal.  Jim Murphy wrote in the Light Entertainment chapter of Australian TV: The first 25 Years (ed. Peter Beilby, Thomas Nelson Australia, Melbourne, 1981): 

“A landmark in variety occurred in 1961 when ATN-7 did a deal with the American talent agency MCA to put together a Sunday night variety show under the direction of Canadian Peter MacFarlane: Revue ’61 was compered by the urbane English actor and comedian, Digby Wolfe, who also had a hand in writing the show with Alan Kitson and Chris Bearde. Wolfe and Bearde later went to the US and were involved with the creation of Laugh-In.  A splendid chorus, the Revue 20, was recruited, members of which were spotlighted for solos in the show. Ted Hamilton sang, Carlu Carter and Bill McGrath danced, and there were guest stars from overseas, organised by MCA. Digby Wolfe was a smooth and professional host, and in production values the whole show was streets ahead of anything else on the air. A key reason for this was that ATN-7 was the first station in Australia equipped with videotape, which allowed the programme to be taped in segments and assembled later.”

Graham has also forwarded an email from Allan Black and this link to a Deadline Hollywood article.

Alan writes


This was on the Radio Memories Facebook site and as he was a 2UE panel operator at the start of his career I thought I would pass it on to you ...

"There would be many of you from the tv and radio fraternity who would remember the talented and very funny Chris Bearde. Chris began his career in Sydney, then found success in Canada and America as a comedy writer and producer. He worked on Laugh In, The Gong Show, The Andy Williams Show, An Elvis Special, Sonny and Cher Show and so many more. Sadly Chris passed away in California last night. 
RIP Chris, you were one in a million."

 "When Chris lived in Sydney, he began as a panel operator at 2UE, then at 2UW he panelled for 'Birdbrain'. Bert Robinson on breakfast. This madness was way ahead of its time.

Chris worked at Channel 10 for a while. Then had his own Children's show on 7. I think it was there that he met Digby Wolf and began writing for Revue 61. Left Australia for Canada and worked for CBCTV in Toronto. From there to The States ..and the rest is history. I went out with Chris a few times but could never eat anything because I couldn't stop laughing. Happy memories of an amazing talent but a sad, sad day for those of us who knew him"

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Colonel Panics - Ben Cho reports on a screening of his Australia-Japan co-production at the Yubari Film Festival

Go! Go! Yubari film festival

About two hours east of Sapporo lies the small town of Yubari, a former mining town now converted into a village for ski tourists. For most of the year it remains in a state of slumber but come March Yubari transforms into a blood-soaked mecca for sleaze, violence and the downright outrageous as the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival kicks off.

If Yubari sounds vaguely familiar then it might be because you know the name from Kill Bill: Tarantino named his Meteor-hammer wielding psychopathic schoolgirl Gogo Yubari allegedly in tribute to the town and its festival. You might also know it by sight if you’ve seen Hou Hsiao-hsien’s druggy masterpiece Millennium Mambo: it’s the snow-capped village with the main street decked out with old movie posters Shu Qi visits at the film’s close.

During the winter months the town is blanketed in snow, and with its dilapidated buildings and eerie quiet (save for the wind howls) you almost feel like you’re in the final shootout of McCabe and Mrs. Miller. The famous movie posters seen in Millennium Mambo are still there and I spotted one French film critic in attendance eagerly getting snaps of them. Restaurants in the town are limited and prepare for very cold conditions (a foolish person would brave the sidewalks and roads without some kind of good gripping snow boots) but the town does have its own decaying beauty and the mountainous landscapes surrounding the area are certainly captivating.

One thing Yubari did very well this year was to assemble a fine array of guests to the town; no small feat considering its location. Na Hong-jin, who directed the closing film The Wailing, showed up with star Kunimura Jun; Tokyo Gore Police director and FX wizard Nishimura Yoshihiro was there to join in the fun; and many filmmakers from Japan, Korea and Malaysia also made the trip.

This year I made the trek with our cast and crew to represent Colonel Panics, a Japanese-Australian co-production which is in some senses a “genre” film but not really; I don’t think it provides the giddy pleasures of say, a Nishimura Yoshihiro gore-soaker, or the sexual thrills of a Flower and Snake title. But it does have a fair serving of sex, violence and sci-fi elements so I didn’t feel it was totally out of company in a festival featuring In Search of the U
ltra-Sex, Outdoor Begins or Mr. Taxi: Happy Rising.

We had a few screenings; the response was not wildly enthusiastic but this isn’t an easy film in many ways - the political dimensions are sure to alienate anyone slightly right-of-centre on the Japanese political spectrum and there aren’t any easy answers to the questions it poses about the political death awaiting the neo-nationalist brigade. Add to that, it’s a film that we wanted to take a few risks when it came to its form so it was never destined to be a crowd-pleaser. Having said that, we had some positive responses from audience members who seemed to want to grapple with the provocations within the film and it was a welcome opportunity to unveil it to Japanese audiences. Later I checked the Asia-Times which kindly mentioned us as a festival highlight and commented that the film was a “cyber giallo-infused ode to legendary Japanese Nagisa Oshima” which is a pretty fair description. Tokyo Weekender magazine declared it controversial and thought-provoking.

The town put on an incredible welcome for guests and as we rode into town in a bus people stood on the side of the road to wave at us with genial smiles. The same was true of the festival staff who took great care of us and were on hand to help with the language barriers.

Colonel Panics will be released on Blu-ray in France later this year and in a deluxe boxset in Germany next year. Please like our Facebook page for more updates: