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Antonioni, Fellini, DeMille, Ray, Mackendrick — and Juliano Mer-Khamis

"Antonioni's career can be divided into the periods before and after L'Avventura (1960)," writes Dennis Lim in the Los Angeles Times. "By the time that film was booed and championed at Cannes, putting him on the global map, he had been active for well more than a decade — though his formative work always has remained in the shadows of his more influential later films, which essentially invented a cinematic vocabulary for alienation. Now thanks to Raro Video, Antonioni's second feature from 1953, I Vinti (The Vanquished), a muddled triptych of stories that nonetheless anticipates the themes and methods of his better-known films, is finally available for the first time on DVD here. An Italian label that recently launched an American division, Raro also has just released Federico Fellini's pseudo-documentary The Clowns (1970) and a boxed set devoted to the genre auteur Fernando Di Leo." Update: "In spite of some promising and fun nourish tropes, I Vinti is for Antonioni completists only," advises Simon Abrams at Slant. Update, 4/6: "Unlike the Westerns, the best Italian crime movies came packed with insider detail, since they originated in the home of the mafia," writes Noel Murray at the AV Club. "Di Leo's gangster films, especially, had a leftist bent, taking on political corruption while standing up for the low-level grunts in the organization. And of course they were heavy on the exploitation elements, with lots of punch-ups and gyrating strippers."

The Clowns "never accumulated much of a profile," writes Michael Atkinson for Cinema Scope, "and was usually dismissed as a navel-absorbed trinket Fellini fashioned for Italian TV in the wake of Fellini Satyricon (1969), exploiting the filmmaker's lifelong but uninterrogated interest in the 'half magic, half slaughterhouse' paradigm of the circus. Which it absolutely is, but it's also more interesting, ambivalent, and mysterious than most of Fellini's once-celebrated blockbusters, perhaps despite his intentions."

"The most disappointing part about plowing through Raro Video's Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection is knowing that once you've seen Caliber 9, the oldest film in the box set, it's all downhill from there," writes Simon Abrams for Slant. "Thankfully, the descent in quality that ensues is fairly mild and, if nothing else, cheapy mob films like The Boss and The Italian Connection provide a number of embellishing details on Di Leo's most singularly sleazy gangster pic." Earlier: Sean Axmaker and Dave Kehr.

At PopMatters, Michael Barrett reviews The Clowns and the Di Leo set, wishes Raro Video well and writes up a list of Italian films he hopes to eventually see on DVD.

 





"The simultaneous appearance of Scott Eyman's fine new biography of Cecil B DeMille, Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B DeMille, and Paramount Home Video's lush new Blu-ray edition of DeMille's 1956 The Ten Commandments provide an opportunity to return to this often maligned, frequently caricatured filmmaker (not least by himself), whose best work continues to provide waves of pleasure," writes Dave Kehr at his site, adding that "DeMille never seemed to catch the interest of the Cahiers boys, perhaps because his career was coming to an end just as theirs were beginning, but he was a great favorite of renegades like Luc Moullet, Michel Mourlet and the MacMahonists." And of course, he points us to his review of the new Blu-ray for the New York Times.

Glenn Heath Jr in Slant: "Nicholas Ray's King of Kings unfolds like religious Cliffs Notes for the Biblically impaired, a bloated Sunday-school lesson blasting Jesus's greatest hits on a monotone jukebox stuck in repeat mode. Anchored by Orson Welles's omniscient voiceover, Ray's sandbox of artifice streamlines the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (Jeffrey Hunter) into an easy linear timeline, framing each major event and turning point with a flair for bombastic staging and maximum ideological impact."

"Nobody had seen or heard anything like the first half of [Alexander Mackendrick's] Sweet Smell of Success in 1957," writes David Thomson in the New Republic. "It wasn't just the way the picture went out onto the streets and into the bars of Manhattan, letting cameraman James Wong Howe get his best stuff at dawn and twilight. Film noir had made hay with darkness for ten years, but still, you didn't get a lot of real night in American pictures. Here it was, and here were the nocturnal creatures who thrived on it: Sidney and JJ, a new kind of double act in an age famous for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis."

Second Run has released a restored, digitally remastered version of Milos Forman's A Blonde in Love (1965) and, writing for Sight & Sound, Geoffrey Macnab finds that it "plays like a cross between a 1960s New Wave film and an Ealing comedy."

DVD roundups. Ed Gonzalez (House Next Door), Mark Kermode (Observer), Harley W Lond and Peter Martin (Cinematical), Paul Matwychuk and Heather Noel, Noel Murray (LAT) and Stephen Saito (IFC).

 

IN OTHER NEWS


"Israeli (and Palestinian) actors, directors, and artists all mourn today the assassination of actor, director, and peace activist Juliano Mer-Khamis," writes Eithan Weitz at Ioncinema. "Born in 1958 in the Arab city of Nazareth (North of Israel) to a Jewish mother and an Arab father, Mer-Khamis embodied in his life, as well as in his death, the division and the conflict between the two people sharing this bloody land." Mer-Khamis appeared in Amos Gitai's Kippur, Esther and Kedma and directed a documentary, Arna's Children, about a theater for children that his late mother managed in Jenin. Recently, he'd been running a theater there himself. Weitz: "In his life he received a lot of death-threats from both sides of the political map: from Jewish Israelis who couldn't cope with the sympathy he felt for the other side (i.e. the enemy in their eyes), and from Palestinian extremists, who felt he is weakening the Palestinian resistance. Tonight, in his Theater of Freedom parking lot, a group of five masked men, Palestinian extremists, assassinated him, bringing the turbulent life of an actor-director-humanist to a sad and violent ending. Juliano Mer-Khamis was just one month shy of his 53rd birthday."

"The Belcourt Theatre's exceptional Visions of the South series concludes in spectacular fashion 7 pm Wednesday, April 6, with Oscar Micheaux's intense, bleak and powerful 1925 silent epic Body and Soul," notes Ron Wynn in the Nashville Scene. "The screening would be noteworthy just for the element of its original score — composed by Roy 'Futureman' Wooten and arranger Gil Fray, to be performed live by Futureman & the Black Mozart Ensemble. But it also gives viewers a rare big-screen encounter with two controversial and much-discussed figures whose stature has grown over the decades."

Passengers, an exhibition of photographs Chris Marker's taken on the Paris Métro, is on view at both Peter Blum Soho and Peter Blum Chelsea through June 4. Via Ray Pride.

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