SUPERGIRL: EXPLODING TRUMP TOON HEADS ONE SEASON AT A TIME. SEASON ONE REVIEW, PART TWO

Part one is here:

https://alfredeaker.com/2018/04/12/supergirl-exploding-trump-toon-heads-one-season-at-a-time-season-one-review-part-one/

and…

https://alfredeaker.com/2018/04/01/supergirl-the-hippest-damned-superhero-show-on-television/

Hostile Takeover

Airdate: 14 December, 2015

Written by: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Caitlin Parrish
Directed by: Karen Gaviola

There are parallel potential hostile takeovers, but the second is akin to a sketch of something that will be colored in later.

The first and more prominent attempt at a coup involves a walking personification of white male privilege attempting to oust Cat from her own company.

Winn, Olsen, Kara, and Lucy Lane join forces to protect Cat from her potential usurper and there’s a bit of cold-war type of counterinsurgency that’s bubblegum fun. Olsen has a shining 007-like moment when sabotaging by Mr. White Male Privilege. Almost caught, our intrepid CATCO photo journalist slithers his way out of that scenario with all the charm of a GQ Sneaky Snake.

Meanwhile, Aunt Astra (Laura Benanti) and hubby Non (Chris Vance) attempt to hack Earth and there’s some gladiatorial combat in the sky afoot, but as DEO Green Beret Alex (take that John Wayne) observes; Kara’s not up to par. The emerald training session, where Alex proves to be an artisan in combative encounters, renders the Kryptonian tug-of-war as comparatively tame. Of course, the key ingredient is Chyler Leigh as Alex.

However, this episode ultimately belongs to Benoist and Flockhart in their respective roles, which enjoy edifying development here. Family secrets from both ladies are revealed and those revelations inspire them towards shared intimacy that’s heroic. This climaxes in the big reveal, which takes place after the threatening crisis has been subverted. Benoist excels with such hushed vulnerability that the scene is her best since “Human for a day.”

For exposing the morally bankrupt Trump Toon mindset of winning and the hypocrisy of white male privilege, “Hostile Takeover” earns …

Blood Bonds

Airdate: 4 January, 2016

Written By:Ted Sullivan and Derek Simon
Directed By: Steve Shill

“Blood Bonds” picks up where “Hostile Takeover” left off; in a rousing battle between Kara and Non. However, this outing becomes narratively cluttered and although enjoyable, the direction is off-kilter in kinetic pacing to accommodate multifarious bullet points.

There’s an additional misstep in the writing when it segues into handicapping Astra with sentimentality. Bennati is too commanding a presence in the role(s) to be potentially diminished. Likewise, Maxwell Lord is proving to be an underwhelming adversary when he holds back after capturing Olsen in a bit of photo espionage.

Olsen and Winn are two characters who thus far are lacking the level of complex development on a par with Kara, Cat, Alex, and Henshaw. Here, the interplay between Olsen and Winn refreshingly moves past Supergirl pals, but it’s still filler.

There’s also disappointment in the back-peddling of Cat’s discovery from the previous episode. The secret identity troupe can wear thin and it’s hardly conceivable that the smartest person at CATCO is so quickly convinced that she erred while Olsen and Winn are in the know. That aside, Cat’s relating to Kara and the big discovery is whimsically prismatic and there’s fun to be had in seeing Cat humbled. Henshaw’s aiding the ruse works wonderfully even if we’re not convinced it was necessary. Taking a cue from the “Adventures of Superman,” it’s a kick to see Supergirl and Kara side-by-side.

As with the source material, J’onn J’onzz aka Martian Manhunter is proving to be the enigmatic green “illegal” with a heart of fiery gold. Harewood is drawing out the character in a gradually compelling way and although his divulging to Kara comes sooner than expected, it’s also welcome.

The strength of this episode is the fleshing out of Kara’s authentic need for life at CATCO. Benoist adds considerably to the outsider quality of her character, especially when things go south. Per the norm, Benoist nails it; continuing to add versatility and meaty dimension to a pulp hero.

For guts in tackling status quo biases across the board, “Blood Bonds” earns one exploding Trump Toon head.

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SUPERGIRL: EXPLODING TRUMP TOON HEADS ONE SEASON AT A TIME. SEASON ONE REVIEW, PART ONE

Pilot:

Airdate: 26 Oct,2015

Written by: Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler, and Andrew Kreisberg.

Directed by: Glen Winter.

Starring: Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers AKA Supergirl

Calista Flockhart as Cat Grant
Chyler Leigh as Alex Danvers
Mehcad Brooks as Jimmy Olsen
David Harewood as Hank Henshaw
Jeremy Jordan as Winn Schott

This is one of the best pilots for any comic-based series, which is remarkable given that the origin is necessarily similar to that of Superman. Over the last few years, the Krypton saga has been taken to levels of extended banality (i.e. Man of Steel), so it’s refreshing that the writing team of Supergirl shoots through it like quicksilver and gets us to the heart of the matter : Supergirl herself. Immediately, the series establishes its brightness. Kara jumps for joy from the couch, embracing her super-ness after saving sis Alex from a potential plane disaster. Supergirl’s pilot was so pluckily modern and amusingly entertaining that sexist fanboys immediately took to social media to show us their heads exploding. Of course that reaction is so predictable as to be yawn-inducing since the genre base is often hyper-right-wing male-driven, which of course means xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynistic, Oh My! Since Supergirl is contrary to all that, that means the recent news of being renewed for a fourth season is going to inspire still more exploding heads. Bring out the cheesy popcorn.

https://alfredeaker.com/2018/04/01/supergirl-the-hippest-damned-superhero-show-on-television/

Benoist’ enthusiasm for the role and show is contagious and although the cast is uniformly excellent, she’s the constant, even when the show’s writing occasionally slips (as it inevitably will in any series). She has strength in her innocence as both Kara and Supergirl and we can readily identify with both personalities. With her bun-haired nerdy demeanor, Kara lets her golden locks flow so fancifully as Supergirl that we completely buy her peers’ cluelessness. Benoist balances hero with mild-mannered alter-ego better than anyone in the man of steel role and that includes the late, much-missed Christopher Reeve. Her nerd qualities don’t come to the surface by walking into a wall, but merely by being a twenty-something who hasn’t figured life out. What she does know is that she loves being more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, even if she is initially out of her element, hugs too hard, and screws up more than she succeeds. Being a super girl is better than pizza and this lady loves pizza (and supergirl cake!) Unlike her famous cousin, Kara has no yearning to be human. What, are you crazy? She can fly and can’t wait to try out her powers. “Are you sure you’re bullet-proof?” “Hope so.” “I can do a car chase,” she says with voguish aplomb. On the other had, she tries on-line dating and it’s a friggin disaster. To heck with this jerk, time to go save some people. She’s excited about her secret and can’t wait to share it with National City CATCO co-workers, including future Toyman antagonist Winn ( the scene of ousting herself to him is pure adrenalin charm). Naturally, protective Alex chides Kara for loose lips and later in the season Supergirl herself will slip again on TV.

Benoist as Kara personifies the best qualities of millennials, who predictably are rendered a perennial demographic target of Trump Toons. It’s not that she means to provoke the barrel-bottom dwellers, but she’s having too much fun being a heroine to tiptoe through the tulips of their incessant hangups. For her unintentional exclamation point, she’ll even trump a villain who underestimates her because she’s a girl.

James Olsen is another co-worker that Kara bonds with. Brooks is so tight-shirt sexy self-assured as the African-American Supergirl pal that he should be able to help keep Milk of Magnesia in business with the series’ white-robed haters as long as he’s on the air.

Alex, being the crackerjack ninja that she is, gives Kara’s super-moniker serious competition, especially in her fight scenes and when it comes to heavy-duty pop emoting, Leigh, being the pro that she is, hooks us from the premiere on. She’s as essential to the series as Benoist. Alex will upgrade from kicking chauvinistic ass in season one to mantling David Cronenberg and napalming homophobe heads in season 2. Leigh and Benoist are the series’ yardsticks for gauging one’s broadness. If the idea of 21st century National City Valkyries clog your bowels, then you’re probably a Trump Toon and should stick to Hack Snyder fantasies.

CATCO CEO Cat Grant steals almost ever scene she’s in, as we would expect the former Ally McBeal to do. When she gives the reason for naming Supergirl, she does it with such style and conviction that we take her side over an objecting Kara and our own reservations. Cat’s the perfect inspirational model for coffee girls, superheroes, and us. She’s only a fixture in the first season and some have lamented her departure. Yet, she can be likened to a short, but sweet visit; knowing when to exit and knowing it will benefit the show to do so.

At this point Harewood as Henshaw appears to have a mixmaster up his ass and doesn’t know it, but… (stay tuned)

Jordan as Winn is one screwed-up sweetie and invites us to sympathize with him as the perennial Charlie Brown type (a quality that Kara occasionally shares). We hope against hope that he’s not going to turn. However, if comic lore is being followed here… (stay tuned)

The series establishes its cooler-than-peanutbutter-world of aliens in the premiere. Despite reservations, Henshaw recruits Kara to work with himself and Alex at the DEO (DEPARTMENT OF EXTRANORMAL OPERATIONS. How cool is that?). After an episode chock-full of hand-wringing over delivering cold latte and a couple of failed costume attempts, Kara is literally up to her x-ray peepers in dodging glowing alien tomahawks and ends her debut up, up and away.

For a girl superhero who likes being a superhero, two-African American leads, two women who can kick bad GUY ass, an empowered businesswoman, and Winn who thinks it’s cool that Kara’s gay (even though she’s not), “Pilot” earns an exploding Trump Toon Head.

Stronger Together

Airdate: 2 November, 2015

Credits same as pilot.

Kara is still adjusting to public superdom and per Cat’s advice, Supergirl backs up a tad from trying to be the quintessential hero. Her earnestness comes to full-flower when she saves a big snake stuck in a tree after being told it was cat. Even with her super-resistance, she hates touching the icky thing. Of course, being the trooper and animal pal that she is, she saves it anyway. Benoist invites us to keep it positive with her and we do. Of course there’s a couple of monkey wrenches: a bug-like alien who does gross things with his mouth and Kara’s badass Kryptonian Aunt Astra (Laura Bennati) fresh out of the Kryptonian prison Fort Razz (and gearing up for invasion).

After a humble butt-whipping, Kara is learning the ropes, gets taught by a mere mortal, and ready or not, prepares for the big interview.

For female empowerment (of course), having smart girls who refuse to be reduced to male receptacles (WHAT?!? WHAT?!? WHAT?!?), feminine wit, Peta-like BS, and girls doin’ good GUY things, “Stronger Together” earns an exploding Trump Toon head.

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INGMAR BERGMAN’S SILENCE OF GOD TRILOGY: WINTER LIGHT (1963)

Winter Light was said to be ‘s favorite of his own works, and one is tempted to concur. Having read about it for years, I was hesitant to see it after reading it described as Bergman’s bleakest film. This surprised me, because what I saw was akin to a clerical farce. Perhaps one has to have degree of experience with and appreciation for the clerical model to appreciate the humor.

It’s icily humorous, similar to the way that monk/philosopher Thomas Merton is never funnier than when he shrieks at the bad taste of his Trappist fellows in his journals, replaces their kitschy holy cards with prints of better art, or maneuvers a bush to hide a hideous statue of a long dead saint until he can convince his superior to cart off the offending cheap plaster. I can relate, but—enveloped in a parish that looks like a precursor to those ghastly Bible bookstores that every rural mall is cursed with—Winter Light‘s Rev. Ericsson wouldn’t. However, the actor () playing Ericsson would. Per the norm, this Bergman regular completely embodies his character with a wit and physicality that hearkens back to the silent film acting style.

Bishop Fulton Sheen talked about joy in repetition, and used conducting Mass as an example; he thoroughly convinced us of his joy, giving enthusiastic, occasionally brilliant and just as occasionally ultra-conservative homilies. On the other hand, I recall a parish priest who whipped out the creed and “Our Father” at breakneck speed, almost like an auctioneer, and he could get through a mass in 40 minutes, tops. Later, we discovered it was because he liked to go fishing, and he liked his beer. Still, there was a rushed enthusiasm in his delivery, even if he had more important things to do. In contrast, sickly Rev. Ericsson barely gets through his Lutheran Masses to an ever-dwindling congregation: by the film’s end, he’s left with a single parishioner. His sermons are unconvincing and uninspiring because, now a widower, he’s lost faith in God.

Among Ericsson’s congregants are suicidal fisherman Jonas () and his schoolmarm mistress Marta (), who initially looks like she stepped out of an El Greco painting of a 1960s Euro suburbanite. She’s quite the contrast to Ericsson’s detachment (it’s called Winter Light for a reason). Later, Marta graduates to an emotive Picassoesque monster intent on bagging herself the reluctant preacher man for husband, despite her own atheism and his pining for his dead wife.

Ericsson proves useless to others as he is himself when he fails to prevent Jonas, obsessed with the ills of the world, from offing himself. Nor does the parson have any effective words of comfort for fisherman’s pregnant widow, Karin (Gunnel Lindblom).

Again, we have a disciple who, like Christ in the garden of Olives, suffers at the hands of a faceless deity. The silence is catching, only broken when Ericsson displays disgust for the devastated Marta. And everyone—from the organist to parishioners and pastor—wants to get out of this absurd liturgical scenario, made all the more humorous in the way its starkly filmed.

Like , Bergman’s long-claimed atheism is suspect, because although he doesn’t subscribe to belief per se (both filmmakers are intuitive and honest enough to know that belief is ultimately an abstraction), a pulse of seeking permeates his oeuvre. Like , Bergman finds an inherent absurdity in that seeking, but never at the expense of essaying the better part of our all-too human spirit.

*REPRINTED FORM 366 WEIRD MOVIES

SUPERGIRL: THE HIPPEST DAMNED SUPERHERO SHOW ON TELEVISION

Melissa Benoist is indisputably the most perfect actor embodying the role of a comic-based character since Christopher Reeve donned the red and blue for Superman in 1978. Given all the competition since then, such a statement might prove controversial… to constipated Trump Toon comic geeks, but their opinion is as worthless as their Craven Cantaloupe Christ who currently resides at 1600 Penn Avenue (or rather, the golf course). Too, I need to alter the title a tad; it’s not only the hippest damned superhero show on TV, it’s hipper than any of the comic-inspired productions being offered in cinema and the hippest genre series since the 1960s Adam West Batman.

Yet, Supergirl is also among the favorite of alt-right fanboys; favorite targets that is, joining the esteemed company of 2017’s Star Wars; The Last Jedi (how dare Rey-a girl-earn the role of a Jedi through work as opposed to being fathered in? Kinda the antithesis of President Oompa Loompa) and 2018’s Black Panther (for obvious reasons, despite the fact that the comic book off which it’s based is over 50 years old).

Let’s first address fanboy complaints from the yawn-inducing Goebbels Operational Playbook. Why? because it’s so damned fun to out them as the 19th century bigots and Neanderthals that they are. Naturally, they’re as predictable as a paint-by-number set; amusing in their ethical timidity and the ease by which they are offended.

Complaint One: “GASP! Jimmy Olsen is black! That’s PC BS! “

Never mind that to complain about political correctness is politically correct in itself. In some of the complaints seen on various social media outlets, the mentally and ethically challenged alt-right don’t often come right out and say it’s because he’s “black.”  Rather, they say “Olsen is supposed to be a geeky redhead with freckles and Mehcad Brooks plays Olsen like a GQ model!”

Let’s call this lame BS spin-doctoring for what it is. No one complained when a freckle-less Olsen had black hair in “Lois and Clark.” They didn’t complain when Hack Snyder killed Olsen off in a war zone. No, this is just a smokescreen to mask the inherent bigotry of Trump Toons.

Why? Because these are comic book fundamentalists. They have the same mindset as religious fundamentalists. Comic book characters are essentially gods to Trump Toons and even though the fanboys know the characters to be fictional (we hope), they still edify literal portrayals of deities who wear underwear outside of their pants-WHEN it’s convenient for them to do so (like bible fundies-they pick and choose).

In the comics, Superman doesn’t kill. Trump Toons didn’t protest one bit that this long-held tradition was deviated from in the execrable Man of Steel (2013). Superman had a curl hairdo. Henry Cavill doesn’t have a curl. Superman had red briefs. Not anymore. And so on. Thus, these complaints being spewed by funny paper-reading Trump Toons are rendered as cartoonish and hypocritical as they are.

Complaint Two:” It has lesbian sex!!! This is political propaganda! with a pro-gay agenda!”

Uh, no it doesn’t have lesbian sex. It depicts a couple who happen to be in a same-sex relationship and they did kiss a couple of times, but essentially we can translate this as: IF Hollywood happens to show any characters that are not hetero WASP males, then it’s … “POLITICAL!” Never mind that the Trump Toon geeks’ Kool-aid serving savior has a much put-upon wife who did a same-sex photo shoot ( a few years earlier these same politicos were outraged that Michelle Obama wore a sleeveless dress). This is also telling because homophobes only associate same-sex unions with sex. Of course we knows that gays are subhuman, they don’t have feelings and don’t do things like take out the trash, fold laundry, or go to church together, etc. Perhaps even worse, Supergirl’s big gay sis Alex (the too-hip-for-words Chyler Leigh) can kick male butt.

Of course, Hollywood is the great evil empire; the whore of Babylon; the secret illuminati trying to brainwash us by sending subliminal pro-gay agenda messages. Oh wait; Mango Messiah Trump was a Hollywood trash TV host? Throw a blanket over that inconvenient fact and scream “FAKE NEWS!”

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INGMAR BERGMAN’S SILENCE OF GOD TRILOGY: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961)

The first of ‘s scorching “Silence of God” chamber trilogy, Through A Glass Darkly (1961) takes its title from one of St. Paul’s most famous passages: “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.” The key to Bergman’s film, and indeed to the trilogy, lies in this passage that is as much about alienation as faith. In some quarters, Bergman’s triptych has been inadequately referred to as a “Trilogy of Faith,” but faith is not tangible. One cannot see, touch, or smell belief, and the Pauline passage resonates with such widespread interior force for honest reasons. We may liken it to the Gospel’s passion drama: the eventual arrest and crucifixion of Christ is almost anti-climatic after the visceral anguish of the Gethsemane garden—the figure engulfed in oppressive silence after communication withdrawn. Paul identifies with the language of a vast chasm.

Through a Glass Darkly felicitously opens with Bach’s second violoncello suite, as Sven Nyqvist’s camera glides over a pearl-like body of water. Soon, a trio of figures emerge from the beach of the desolate Faro island. These are the witnesses: the glacially successful patriarch David (), the empathetic doctor and chaste husband Martin (), and the libidinous brother Minus (Lars Password). We then meet Karin (Harriet Andersson), and although the film becomes about her hour and her face, these men are no mere ciphers. Over the next 24 hours of family vacation, they express dread, lamentation, and pathos as they venerate Karin’s descent.

Karin has been recently released from a mental hospital. She finds a report diagnosing her as schizophrenic among David’s papers, and her dissipation intensifies upon finding herself utilized as a model for daddy’s new novel. The perennial voices in head further impede her mental health. Bergman takes a cue from in consistently choreographing her closeups to those of her witnesses; looking, but not at each other. She’s too caught up. Her obsessions locate God behind the wallpaper and then, tragically, in the attic, where the divine one is revealed to be a big black spider. Meltdown complete, but it’s not that simplistic. Bergman’s portraits are refreshingly mosaic, reminding us that even when he falters, as he occasionally does throughout his oeuvre, he presses on, gifting us well past the point where other filmmakers throw in the proverbial towel.

David’s narcissism is like Martin’s introspection gone fishing, while Minus absorbs Karin’s secrets and veers close to incest. When God is addressed and obsessed over, moral conflicts inevitably rear up.  The search for God is rendered akin to a shipwreck of futility. Casting herself upon an intimate sacrificial altar, Karin (the name was chosen after Bergman’s mother) will prefer the sanctuary of a cell as opposed to facing the silence of God.

Through a Glass Darkly belongs as much to Nyqvist and its cast as it does Bergman (who is hyper-controlled here). Nyqvist composes an encompassing world (magnificently realized by art director P.A. Lindgren) that should be a Promised Land. But familial reconciliation is ultimately defeated by Martin’s understated shoulder sag; Minus’ creativity is hindered by awkward impetuousness; David’s echoing of that Father who knows best but turns his face away; and, above all, Karin’s provocative and frightening rapture. Andersson delivers a performance for the ages, and although she might equal it for Bergman in Cries and Whispers, she would not surpass it.

*reprinted from 366 Weird Movies

ORSON WELLES’ CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1966)

For fifty years, Orson Welles’ Chimes at Midnight (1966) was locked in various disputes over ownership, and was only sporadically seen in wretched prints. It was talked and written about so much that inevitably seeing it (as I did in Chicago in the 90s) amounted to an ordeal. With both poor visual and audio, it was unquestionably a disappointment. Thankfully, Janus Films came to a long overdue rescue in 2015.

The restoration (available on the Criterion Collection) is miraculous, revealing one of Welles’ most astonishing, loving creations. While F for Fake was Welles’ final finished film, Chimes at Midnight is his final completed narrative feature—one that he never could have topped. The character of Falstaff inspired Welles to heights previously unreached (as it did Giuseppe Verdi). Chimes is his most personal and finest foray into Shakespearean terrain. While you’re watching it, you feel he’s peerless. Despite an epic struggle to finish the production, Welles’ direction is assured, but it’s as an actor that he soars in a tour de force performance. Welles himself cited as his best work, fulfilling a lifelong ambition to play Falstaff on film. One is inclined to agree. Welles had first played the part in a high school play that was ambitiously intended to be three hours long. Predictably, the school demanded cuts, forcing him to compromise (it wouldn’t be the last time). He played the part again in the late 1930s and in 1960, although both productions were short-lived financial failures.

Welles’ The Chimes at Midnight screenplay draws a linear chronological portrait of John Falstaff from the plays “Henry IV,” “Henry V,” “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” and “Richard III,” with Ralph Richardson’s narration taken from Raphael Holinshed’s “Chronicles.”

Like almost all of Welles’ later films, it was made under ragged conditions. The director was able to obtain meager financing by telling a bold faced lie (see F For Fake) to producer Emiliano Piedra, promising to direct and act in a version of “Treasure Island” in exchange. Welles had no intention of keeping that promise,  which Piedra eventually discovered, complicating the production (it took two years to complete). Despite budgetary struggles, Welles produced a final masterpiece. Only Welles could do so much with so little, crafting a chiaroscuro landscape with an epic ferociously bleak battle scene that can rank with the likes of Kurosawa.

With his girth and advanced age now a plus, Welles is physically perfect for the role, but the character of a lush, rogue anecdotist on the verge of become a train wreck parody is also close to the actor’s heart.  He doesn’t play Falstaff too broadly (comedy was never Welles’ medium), and there is a touch of smallness in the distended knight living beyond his means. Art imitating life, as far as Welles was concerned. Almost equally fine is ‘s performance as the draconian Henry and (most disturbingly) as the prostitute Doll Tearsheet.

As fine as Laurence Olivier was as Hamlet, Henry, and Richard, there was always a feeling of Shakespeare being too easy for him. The (considerably budgeted) productions went smoothly. One never comes away from Olivier’s Shakespeare with a sense of the artist and the production having grappled with the literary source.  Quintessentially professional, Olivier, like the Berlin Philharmonic conductor , is well-rehearsed in the art of reinterpretation. What makes Chimes at Midnight unique among the great cinematic Shakespeares is that which some critics initially complained of in it. Welles, like Leonard Bernstein, transforms interpretation into a sweaty brawl. In doing so, the director’s idiosyncrasies, or rather personality, is so imposed that it transforms  the work into a bona fide personal manifesto: lusty, often approaching a bacchanal.  It speaks volumes that Olivier, unlike Welles, was an Academy favorite. Yet Welles is as fearless and assured with the text as the more acclaimed examples of Olivier and Kenneth Branagh.

Put Chimes at Midnight at the top of your Shakespeare to do list. You won’t even have to wait a half century to see it as it should be seen.

*Reprinted from 366 Weird Movies

ORSON WELLES’ F FOR FAKE (1973)

In hindsight, F For Fake (1973) might be seen as inevitable. In an interview with Jean Clay from almost a decade before the film’s release, Welles warned: “If you try to probe, I’ll lie to you.” Admitting that most what he says is fabricated, Welles astutely advised: “Destroy all biographies. Only art can explain the life of a man.”

Yet, there is something of a gimmick even in that statement. It was through the medium of radio that Welles delivered his first hurrah of trickery, at the ripe old age of 23 on October 30, 1938. The reaction to Welles’ sharply directed radio dramatization of  H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds” is impossible to fathom now; in the era before internet, cable, and television, Welles broadcast of a faked Martian invasion of New Jersey caused a nationwide panic. Believing it was the end of the world as we know it, the masses rioted and looted. In the resulting exodus, traffic was jammed in neighboring cities. Hundreds—if not thousands—died. Those of weak hearts dropped dead. The rivers beneath bridges were flowing with the bodies of suicides. Orson Welles immediately became a household name.

Only, those reports were predominantly fake as well. The station did not have a sizable audience. Few were actually listening to the broadcast, let alone fooled by it. There were a scant number of purported deaths, with the highest estimates ranging from five to twenty. However, that was enough for Welles and company to shrewdly feed the press until it escalated into a glorious myth. Thank God we’ve evolved past that now… well, until a certain political faker last year spewed, without a shred of evidence, “I saw thousands of Muslims [replacing Martians] cheering in New Jersey on 911” and his sycophants went “ooh” and “ahh” to the cheap parlor trick.

Unlike politicians, Welles called himself out in F For Fake, as he did thirty-five years prior when he manufactured a public apology for the unintentional catastrophe caused by manufactured Martians. To the world at large, Welles’ apology only confirmed the epic scale of that 1938 disaster.

Although Welles was nearly fired from RKO over the radio broadcast, such trickery deserved a reward. Welles eventually got it when the studio gave him carte blanche for the production of Citizen Kane(1941). If you haven’t heard of it, it’s this little movie about a newspaper magnate and charlatan that caused an epic backlash, but a few critics seemed to like it somewhat.

Like that infamous Martian debacle, a baroque cult grew around  F For Fake and for years, but with poor distribution, it was more discussed than seen. Fortunately, the 2005 Criterion Collection release remedied that. Welles himself guides us through an innovative and entertaining mirrored labyrinth of forgeries. Despite the hearty laugh and kaleidoscopic mischief, like all of Welles, there is an inherent sense of loneliness peeking through the facade.

Of course, documentaries (Welles referred to F for Fake as a theatrical essay) are supposed to be factual. Who but Welles would render the medium as surrealistic taffy, focusing on a trilogy of frauds, including himself?  With a wave of his thick magician’s hand, Welles breathlessly narrates the viewer through 90 minutes of punchily paced, whirlwind intercutting and briskly edited farce. The editing process, however, was anything but brisk, taking an entire year. It shows. In one compelling sequence, Welles, a painter himself, compares film editing to painting, paralleling composition in the two mediums.

Welles’ oeuvre belongs to that category of complexities that require repeated viewing. This, his last completed film, is no exception. It’s as cheeky and mosaic a swan song as could be hoped for from American cinema’s ace oversized sorcerer.

While The Lady from Shanghai (1947) is famous for its climatic hall of mirrors sequence, F For Fake is more mirror than celluloid. Picasso once said that all art, regardless of subject matter, is self-portrait. Welles, whose own self-portraits are among his most successful canvases, confirms this by assuring us that he is not much different from Elmyr de Hory, a true Paganini of the palette and one of the world’s most foremost talented art forgers who replicated Manet, Renoir, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, and Matisse with startling ease. So successful a forger was Elmyr that when he committed suicide just three years after being featured in F for Fake(French authorities had just successfully secured permission to extradite him), many initially assumed that he had faked his death.

Elmyr’s biographer Clifford Irving was far more infamous for his forged “authorized” autobiography of billionaire . Irving had claimed that Hughes, admiring his Elmyr biography “Fake!” agreed to a series of interviews. After McGraw-Hill paid him a six figure advance, Irving never expected recluse Hughes to publicly denounce the book, but the aviator did just that in 1972, which resulted in the forger serving over a year in prison. For those of us old enough to remember, it was the biggest hoax of the decade. Welles is impressed enough to award Irving the coveted number one faker honor (Elmyr comes in second) introducing him as: “The author of ‘Fake!,’ a book about a faker who was himself a faker and the author of a fake to end all fakes.” Welles proudly concludes that Irving “must have been cooking it up when we were filming him. If you can buy the notion that Irving turned to forgery before he turned to Elmyr, then I guess you can keep right on through the looking glass and believe that his book about Elmyr is a pack of lies. ‘Fake!’ is a fake and Elmyr himself is a fake faker.”

In the selfie portion of the film, Welles brags how he lied his way into his first acting gig at the age of 16 when he told Dublin casting directors that he was a famous star in New York and, somehow, got them to believe him. What he says next could be a summation for the director of Citizen Kane who failed to top himself with his follow-up films: “I began at the top and have been working my way down ever since. If acting is an art, cooking up a bogus Broadway career was a fine case of art forgery.” Of course, there is also… Mars: “In my past, there aren’t any Picassos. No, my next flight into fakery was by flying saucer.”

Oddly, that flight is brief, and after an even quicker traversal through the life of mystery man Hughes and his litany of doubles, Welles utilizes his longtime mistress Oja Kodar (whose father was an also an art forger) as eroticized bait for Pablo Picasso, who solicits a series of portraits. It’s an unexpected and extended sequence… that is entirely faked.

Perhaps sensing that F For Fake might be his epithet, Welles dons cape and glove, waxes about mortality and art, and leaves us a film with one final mystery: rumor has it that most of the footage was actually directed  by Francois Reichenbach.

*reprinted from 366 Weird Movies

ANDREI TARKOVSKY’S THE SACRIFICE (1986)

was dying as he made his final film, The Sacrifice(1986). It can be likened to the epic last testaments of Ludwig van Beethoven, Paul Gauguin, Gustav Mahler, Luigi Nono, John Huston, and . Tarkovsky dedicated the film to his son, Andrejusja, “with hope and confidence.” Like Mahler, Tarkovsky exits in a universal communication: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Despite the milieu of finality that permeates The Sacrifice, it was a narrative that had long been percolating with Tarkovsky, who referred to it as a parable, open to multifarious interpretations. It should be noted it wasn’t intended as a coda, as he was planning a film version of “The Flying Dutchman.” The Sacrifice literally owes itself to , whose company financed it. Aesthetically,  Tarkovsky also dips into Bergman’s landscape, shooting on the island of Faro, where the Swede—possibly Tarkovsky’s only peer—lived and shot several films.

The Sacrifice stars Erland Josephson (from Bergman’s Autumn Sonata and Fanny and Alexander) as Alexander. It is a kind of extension of his role of the self-immolating Domenico in Tarkovsky’s previous film, Nostalghia. Dreaming of a birthday apocalypse, Alexander, the aged atheist professor, offers himself up to God as The Sacrifice so that his family be will spared. The film ends in another form of madness and  immolation, the burning of Alexander’s house. Unfortunately, the first take was ruined, necessitating a costly rebuilding of the house and a second shoot.

Despite such dark themes and the tumor that was killing him, Tarkovsky’s wit is in full force. It is a testament to the filmmaker’s spirit and, yes, his defiance remains wet. He dares to bravely state his spiritual beliefs in a spiritually bankrupt, materialistic era. Penance in isolation and self-martyrdom are prevailing themes; and, despite the inherent humor, it is a magnificently difficult viewing, as Tarkovsky intended.

It’s doubtful that much of the contemporary movie audience, spoon-fed on the fallacy that film is merely entertainment, will mantle the patience required here, but that is a considerable loss of the rich rewards offered. The Sacrifice revels in its quaint magical mysticism, amiably weaving Tarkovsky’s personal Catholicism with a Kierkegaardian existentialism.

This is not an apocalypse born of mushroom clouds and bomb shelters, but rather of a small family on a Swedish island replete with Shakespeare, Ibsen, Leonardo’s unfinished “Adoration of the Magi,” and Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion,” along with a host of irregulars including an unfaithful wife, the pompous doctor she’s carrying on with, a daughter, a son (referred to as “Little Man”), an amusing necromantic bicycling mailman named Otto who loves his ghost stories, and a maid as sexual sacrifice for an Icelandic pagan fertility cult (echoing Andrei Rublev).

The dialogue is sparse and the camera work (by Sven Nykvist, Bergman’s cinematographer for The Magic Flute, Autumn Sonata, and Fanny and Alexander, among others) glides ponderously and memorably across the island terrain in stunning tracking shots; among the most memorable is the tree planting scene. At times, the film is almost inert and undeniably austere (the burning of that gorgeous house lasts almost seven minutes). Aptly, it’s one of the most challenging  and poignant of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre; a private annihilation.

*reprinted from 366 weird movies

ANDREI TARKOVSKY’S THE MIRROR (1975)

is a staple at 366 Weird movies, so it’s only apt that we get around to what many believe to be his most personal film: The Mirror (1975). The title alone indicates as much. According to Tarkovsky’s memoir “Sculpting in Time” (an essential read), The Mirror began as a novella, reflecting on the artist’s years during the Second World War. He started the first of many script drafts a decade before filming commences, and with its pointed criticism of the Soviet Union, it’s remarkable that it was even produced, let alone distributed. Tarkovsky predictably found himself embroiled in intensive conflict with the Goskino film committee in pre-production, in production itself, and in post-production. The Mirror was given limited release in Moscow; Tarkovsky’s inevitable exile was a mere few years away. Post-production was reportedly a laborious process, going through approximately twenty extensive edits. Upon its release, both critical and audience assessments were sharply divided, with many finding it incomprehensible. Provoking much heated debate, The Mirror didn’t initially have the impact of Andrei Rublev(1966), Solaris (1972), or Stalker (1979). Yet, it has since become one of  the most referenced Tarkovsky works among cineastes, and made Sight and Sound’s list of the top fifty films of all time.

Originally titled both ‘Confession” and  “A White, White Day,”  that changed when Tarkovsky brought his (divorced) parents and wife into the project. Arseny Tarkovsky (the father) reads from his own established poetry. Maria Vishnyakova (Tarkovsky’s tenderhearted mother) lends her visual presence to the film.

Although The Mirror vaguely covers bullet points from Tarkovsky’s childhood (the evacuation, Arseny’s abandonment of family, Maria’s influence on her son), it is a motion biography that metaphorically weaves through pasts that are past only compared to the more recent. Heightening the dissonance, actors are perpetually in motion, shifting roles: i.e. Margarita Terekhova plays both Tarkovsky’s mother and his wife Natalya. Her vanity is not blanketed, but it is as a maternal influence, educating her son in the arts and sheltering him from the threat of military service, that her portrayal becomes resplendently Orphic. The terminally ill narrator Alex (Innokenty Smoktunovsky)—never seen—is the film’s protagonist.

Tarkovsky’s childhood is represented as a bucolic pastoral disrupted by his father’s abandonment, symbolized in a building aflame. Tellingly, and with aching honesty, it is this betrayal, more than the war, that shatters and decimates Tarkovsky’s childhood. Abandonment by a loved one is the proverbial expulsion from a spiritual paradise. Yet, an undeniable supplemental element, born from the loss of innocence, is the latent political rage directed at a monstrously inhuman war.

The film imprints startlingly incandescent, fervent images that remain long after: Natalya washing her hair in a basin as a building collapses; the Soviet army crossing Lake Sivash; the juxtaposition of black and white with sepia and color imagery along with newsreel footage; the palm print of child dissipating into a lustrous surface; repeated mirror imagery; the arcane return of the prodigal father; a hot air balloon; the absurd training of cadets in a snowy (emotionally bankrupt) horizon; the loneliness of a dejected wife; an apparently arid day revealed in a window to be a transcendental monsoon. The personal and intimate are juxtaposed with a collective people. Time is indeed pliably sculpted.

The Mirror is possibly the closest cinema has come to evoking modernist poetry.

ANDREI RUBLEV (1966)

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (originally titled The Passion According to Andrei ) is a 1966 film about a painter whom we never see painting. Furthermore, it’s about a 15th century artist who we know very little about, not even the exact years of his birth and death. Only one existing painting, “The Trinity,” can be authenticated as being entirely painted by Rublev. Yes, Rublev is one of those uncouth religious painters: an iconographer. This is anathema here today—and, when it was made, most especially in his Russian homeland. Despite all that, Rublev is a painter of legendary status. As enigmatic as he is, a film about such a figure would seem to be a recipe for disaster. Someone forgot to advise Tarkovsky, because he not only produced the most substantive film to date about a historical painter, but also one of the most astonishing and vexing accomplishments in cinema.

Rublev, scripted by Andrey Konchalovskiy and Tarkovsky, had a “sky’s the limit” budget (the biggest Soviet budget since ). Its production swallowed up two years. Distribution proved to be an ideological purgatory, however, a politically complex and arduous endeavor. Along the way, it dawned on atheistic Soviet authorities that, as a film about a deeply religious painter directed by the starkly spiritual Tarkovsky, Rublev was an embarrassing reminder of Russia’s faith-contaminated past.

At a private screening, Moscow critics were incensed and demanded cuts. Tarkovsky conceded and trimmed the film from its original three-and-a-half hours to 186 minutes. Not satisfied, authorities demanded additional cuts, which Tarkovsky then refused. The film was cut without him, resulting in various running times, including  an 81 minute travesty. Still, not satisfied, producers sat on Rublev until 1969, when the Cannes Film Festival requested a screening. The USSR submitted the 186 minute cut and Rublev won the International Critics award, despite being pulled from the competition. Soviet authorities were enraged; Leonid Brezhnev stormed out of the showing. Unmoved by its critical accolades, bureaucrats kept Rublev shelved until 1971, when it became a critical and box office success in its homeland.

Andrei Rublev is more of an iconographic than a biographical essay, focusing on a spiritual and artistic struggle, which might be seen as an icon of  sorts for Tarkovsky himself. One is unlikely to encounter a more idiosyncratic and desultory odyssey in cinema. There is a quality about it that could be likened to the inflamed mysticism of Antonin Artaud. Tarkovsky’s mastery is in ample evidence from the enigmatic, tenebrous prologue; attempting to mount a hot-air balloon, a medieval daredevil provokes peasants who woozily chase after him, only to see his endeavor utterly fail when it crashes to the earth below. Cinematographer Vadim Yusov had his work cut out for him. He unquestionably triumphs when his cherubic camera pursues Heaven’s would-be gate crasher in a serpentine take.

The remainder of the film is grounded; and oh, is it grounded. Tarkovsky himself referred to it as a “film of the earth.” Unflinchingly brutal and oppressive, disheartening, experimental, bleak, saturated with nudity and bloodshed, it’s paradoxically intimate and epic; feverish and spiritually crepuscular; chaotic, and austere in its expansive silences; sublime in its depiction of sensual elements (mists, panoramic landscapes, rivers, the fire of candles, torches, and Rublev’s smoldering robe) and factitious symbols (bells, a white church, ladders, crucifixes). The film is equally haunting in its chimerical potpourri of beasts (the decaying corpse of a swan, snakes, birds, cats, geese, a herd of reindeer, and a striking black mare) and visually distressing sights (the pleating of a dead woman’s hair, unfathomable carnage, and extreme closeups of weathered Slavic faces).

When the ethereal Andrei Rublev () remains true to the purity of his art by rejecting a commissioned “Last Judgment,” he virtually dismantles his career and embarks upon a haphazard journey, accompanied by two monks. Along the way, we see the sufferings of peasants (in a memorable scene, a jester is manhandled) and exotic, undiluted paganism (the queerly ritualistic Saint John’s Eve) met with startling, heart-breaking violence.

Rublev’s journey is authentic, deprived of a destination, and largely plays out under an umbrella of the artist’s vow of silence, rendering Tarkovsky’s opus not so much a film as a poem scrawled through the ashes of a dilapidated fresco.

*reprinted from 366 Weird Movies