Glorified Cheer and Discarded Noir: Oscars in the ‘50s

By Juan Ramirez

Following the more economical wartime cinema of the ‘40s, the 1950s offered a chance for American filmmakers to revel in their newly self-proclaimed #1 status, ramping up production values and grandness to match their hubris and reach. The Academy followed suit, honoring films that celebrated human triumph, even if some of the best-remembered movies of the decade focused instead on the frailty of an increasingly connected world.

Though the decade’s first Best Picture statuette went to the low-key backstage drama All About Eve (1950), it was a period that rewarded large productions. Four of the decade’s winners were returns to the cinema-as-theatrical-spectacle mindset of the form’s earlier days, which would later morph into the action-thriller extravaganzas we roll our eyes at today. Of these, only two can be said to have held up over time, their monumental scope a necessity for themes of an epic nature rather than a plastic exploitation of the more-is-more mentality.

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“Targets,” Monsters, and Filmmakers

By Brandon Irvine

You might have the feeling, watching Targets, that director Peter Bogdanovich has welded together two unconnected movies. I’m not talking about the intercutting of two plots – a ubiquitous storytelling technique – but the weaving together of two narratives that feel starkly dissimilar. We begin the movie following Byron Orlok, an aging actor who resembles, in almost all ways, Boris Karloff, the actor playing him. Orlok is sick of being an actor, tired of the same-y scripts and the inanities of being a thespian in slow decline. His back-and-forth with the various facets of the Hollywood machine trying to get him into another picture is a farce, setting the tone for half the movie.

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A World of Darkness: Night of the Demon

By Michael Roberson

Dr. Julian Karswell, as embodied by Irish character actor Niall MacGinnis, is one of the great unsung villains in horror film history. A charming – if perhaps a bit smug – occult expert and cult leader, Karswell is gregarious, honest in his intentions, and at all turns pleasant. However, as another occult expert points out to the rationalist protagonist Dr. John Holden, “[the Devil] is most dangerous when he’s being pleasant.”

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I Haven’t the Humility: Groupthink, Censorship and Ken Russell’s The Devils

By Justin LaLiberty

There’s a scene in Ken Russell’s long-controversial, rarely-screened-in-its-entirety film, The Devils, wherein Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed) riotously exclaims, “Don’t look at me! Look at your city! If your city is destroyed, your freedom is destroyed also. If you would remain free men, fight. Fight them or become their slaves.” By the time this speech unfolds, we have seen Grandier become the victim of Otherness, a martyr to hypocrisy and the lies of men, and an image of what it means to push the limits of social acceptance. For a film that has been accused of various levels of indecency for over four decades – where The Devils now lacks in its ability to shock via its viscera or willingness to expose pubic hair to the masses, it manages to shock in its capacity to mirror both the ideology of the time in which it was produced, as well as our own. It’s not often that a film which takes place in the 17th century can be considered prescient.

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Film Noir and the Deception of Control: Lord of Illusions

By Greg Mucci

Lord of Illusions plays out like Clive Barker’s take on film noir, introducing us to wealthy and notorious stage illusionist Philip Swann (Kevin J. O’Conner): a Criss Angel performer who can float and juggle fire without batting an eye. Swann’s wife Dorothea (Famke Janssen), our film’s femme fatale, requests the presence of hard-boiled private eye Harry D’Amour (Scott Bakula) after a fellow illusionist is murdered by Butterfield (Barry Del Sherman), an occult-leader’s disciple. After a fatal accident involving Swann’s newest illusion, Harry and Dorothea become entangled in a case that fears the return of Swann’s supposedly dead mentor, Nix (Daniel Von Bargen), a man now known as ‘The Puritan’.

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When Evil Leaves the Castle: The Devil Rides Out (1968)

By Kerry Fristoe

1968 was a great year for demonic possession. In June, William Castle produced Rosemary’s Baby and put a hex on New York City real estate forever. A month later, in the UK, Hammer Film Productions pitted Christopher Lee against the fiendish Charles Gray in The Devil Rides Out. Both films brought the devil out of Gothic castles and into modern apartments and smart country homes, portraying the sects as more realistic and, therefore, more threatening. It’s terrifying to think that the tacky busybody next door is a witch plotting to set you up on a blind date with Beelzebub or that your neighbor might be summoning the Goat of Mendes.

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Hypnotic Seduction: The Love Witch

By Michael Roberson

We live in an era of pastiche. In the lingering aftermath of the irony-drenched 1990s, young artists and patrons alike have mined the aesthetic of films from the ‘60s and ‘70s for camp value. As more and more modern films – particularly by young filmmakers – exploit these used aesthetics for laughs, it can be hard to tell where winking irreverence ends and sincerity begins. This is just part of what makes Anna Biller’s instant cult classic The Love Witch so refreshing, for while it emulates (very successfully) the heightened anti-realism of 1960s era pop filmmaking, it does so in a way that is entirely, boldly sincere. And while the absurd situations within the film often provoke laughs, you are always laughing with the movie, never at it.

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The Many Forms of Horror: The Witch

By Shayna Murphy

Forget Black Phillip and everything supernatural that you may think makes The Witch — the powerful debut film from writer-director Robert Eggers – a remarkable piece of horror cinema. Subtitled A New England Folk-tale, the film initially beguiles as a nightmare odyssey and slice of life from a period in our historic past, but then it does something else: it peels back those layers to reveal a special horror that lies underneath, when doubts over faith, family and societal roles take hold.

The Witch opens in the 1630s, on the trial of William (Ralph Ineson) and Katherine (Kate Dickie): a grim Puritan couple who are about to be banished from their community due to religious fanaticism. Proclaiming himself and his family as among the only true believers, William accepts excommunication without hesitation. His eldest daughter, Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), watches from the pews, her eyes capturing all the doubt and fear her parents seem so eager to shirk. Continue reading

The Exploration of Cinematic Expressions in “A Field in England”

By Selin Sevinc

A field suggests possibilities; its openness welcomes any old soul to seek his treasure; its terrain allows all sorts of physical or spiritual pursuits. The title, A Field in England, immediately brings to mind a vivid image, and gives away a carefree attitude about which field is the one in question, and what happens on it. The obscurity and infinite possibilities of the film’s narrative and style are hinted at first in the title.

Director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump’s field is a simple field adjacent to a battlefield. Theirs is one of possibilities for personal battles, discoveries, treasures, friendship and mind-altering mushrooms. Unsurprisingly, A Field in England cannot be contained in a single genre category, confined by one aesthetic style or another, or limited by the use of a distinct narrative device or two. It mishmashes a number of devices and forms, as well as lenses, sound effects, visual effects and music.

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Matriarchy of War: Pan’s Labyrinth

By Greg Mucci

If you were lucky enough to catch Pan’s Labyrinth in theaters 10 years ago, then I’m sure you haven’t forgotten the fantastical cinematic experience it imparted on you and everyone you were surrounded by. Coming off his reign as the father of everyone’s favorite Baby Ruth chomping boy from hell, Guillermo Del Toro decided to take cinema back to its roots and craft a sort of spiritual successor to his 2001 gothic ghost chiller, The Devil’s Backbone. In doing so, Del Toro created not only a film rife with richly layered imagery and themes of fantasy set amidst the weening years of the Spanish War, but one that skews the coming of age story while penetrating the matriarchy of fantasy.

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