WolfmanOz at the Movies #17

The Very Voice of God

Released in 1984 and based on the play by Peter Shaffer, Miloš Forman’s magnificent film Amadeus tells the fictional stories of composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri where Salieri as an old man claims to have murdered Mozart.

During his confession to a priest in a mental asylum, Salieri recounts how he could not reconcile Mozart’s boorish behaviour with the genius that God has inexplicably bestowed upon him.


Salieri cannot believe that God would choose Mozart over him for such a gift. Salieri renounces God and vows to do everything in his power to destroy Mozart as a way of retaliating against his Creator, whilst pretending to be Mozart’s ally to his face while doing his utmost to destroy his reputation and any success his compositions may have.

Therefore the central tenet of the film is how someone can compose music that is beyond the capability of mere mortals.

The film never asserted to be an accurate biographical portrayal of these 2 men. In fact both Forman and Shaffer claimed it was a “fantasia on the theme of Mozart and Salieri”.

I have to admit to having a great love for classical music, especially the music of both Mozart and Beethoven. This passion started when I was a teenager and probably grew from my late father who was a handy amateur pianist although I can’t play or read a note of music.

Therefore, I was thrilled when I first saw the film on release 38 years ago in that finally a serious movie was trying to explore the essence of musical creativity. It certainly captures the essence and wonder of Mozart’s genius and marvellously brings his music to the screen.

At the heart of the movie is F. Murray Abraham’s glorious performance as Salieri – it’s one of my top 3 favourite performances on film. He superbly captures the jealously and bitterness of his character whilst also showing his utter frustration in that it appears that only he can really hear and appreciate the genius of Mozart’s music.

His obsession with Mozart was pathological but at the same time he seemed to have a deep, but flawed, understanding of him although he was in utter bewilderment as to how he could compose such music.

He was fully deserving of his Oscar for Best Actor.


The film also presents a number of scenes from a number of Mozart’s operas which are beautifully staged in the Count Nostitz theatre in Prague where Don Giovanni debuted nearly two centuries before. The Commendatore scene from this opera is arguably the finest depiction of an opera scene in film history.


As Mozart lies dying in his bed, he is still trying to finish his final composition, the Requiem Mass where he has Salieri taking dictation. It’s a remarkable scene as it shows where Mozart’s composition is on a different plane to that of anyone else.


Winner of eight Academy Awards including Best Film, Director, Screenaplay and, of course, Actor, it’s incredible that the film was made at all given its subject matter and the cost of producing it, but a financial success it was, as well as being an artistic and critical triumph.

The film is impeccably produced and boasts a glorious soundtrack where the music was supervised and conducted by Neville Marriner and played by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields; the film sits as one of my all-time favourites.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #16

The Holocaust

Given current events in Europe it is well worth remembering that the defining event of the last hundred years was probably the Holocaust.

Man’s inhumanity to man reached its zenith with the wholesale genocide of European Jews during World War II in which the Nazis systemically murdered some six million Jews, in addition there were probably at least another six million people murdered by the Nazis during the same period.

It would be fair to say, post World War II, cinema has struggled to come to terms in depicting the unbelievable events that occurred during this time . . .

I’ll be focusing on three films that focused on the Holocaust in differing ways.

1982’s Alan J. Pakula’s film Sophie’s Choice dealt with survivor’s guilt and had one of the most distressing scenes ever filmed as Meryl Streep starred, and was superlative in her best ever performance as a Polish immigrant with a dark secret from her past at Auschwitz.

Next was the how the Holocaust moved towards the factory style death camps that was never better dramatised in the superlative 2001 made-for-TV film Conspiracy starring Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich and Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann.

This drama is brilliantly acted by a terrific ensemble British cast which depicts the infamous 1942 Wannsee Conference which used the only surviving recorded transcript from the meeting.


And finally, to what I consider one of the best films ever made, and one of the most important in the way it brought the Holocaust into the conscious of many people in the last 30 years. Of course I am referring to Steve Spielberg’s masterpiece Schindler’s List, released in 1993.

Never has a film, IMO, dramatised so poignantly and with such ruthless detail as to what the experience of the Holocaust was in the way Spielberg achieved here in the telling of the Oskar Schindler story.

I have a dedicated playlist from this movie on my channel which has 10 clips, from which I have selected the following two:

If you can, enjoy and discuss.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #15

Inspector Callahan

Or Dirty Harry, is one of Clint Eastwood’s most iconic film characters, along with The Man With No Name.

There were five films produced between 1971 and 1988 featuring the San Francisco Police Department Homicide Division Inspector Harry Callahan; in which the character became notorious for his unorthodox, violent and utterly ruthless actions against criminals and killers he had been assigned to apprehend.

The series also contained many scenes and lines which have become iconic film moments.

The first film was Dirty Harry, released in 1971, in which Callahan pursues a psychopath killer, clearly modelled on the Zodiac Killer.

The film caused huge controversy when it was released, inciting debate over issues ranging from police brutality, the nature of law enforcement and victims’ right.

Now it is regarded as a classic police thriller in which there is not an inch of fat in its’ depiction of Harry’s relentless pursuit of the psychotic killer.


A sequel was inevitable and in 1973

Magnum Force was released where Harry investigates a serious of murders of criminals in which it is revealed are being conducted by a renegade group of vigilante cops.


Unfortunately after the first two outstanding films, the series tended to drift off into being predictable police thrillers spiced by one or two excellent set pieces.

In The Enforcer (1976) Harry is assigned a female partner as they take on a terrorist ring. It’s mostly routine, but, there’s always at least one memorable scene to enjoy.


Then in 1983 we had Sudden Impact, which was directed by Eastwood himself. A rather nasty police thriller in which Callahan is sent to a small town to follow up a lead in a murder case which leads to a case of revenge.

But, of course the film is notable for one of cinema’s most famous catchphrases:


The final film in the series The Dead Pool was released in 1988 in which Harry finds he is among the subjects of a game betting on the deaths of celebrities. A rather lame end to a series that started off so well.

One thing is for sure today, they won’t be making films like Dirty Harry or Magnum Force anymore as the woke brigade would have nightmares about it.

Enjoy

WolfmanOz at the Movies #14

The Woke Oscars

Next Monday (Australian time) the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will “honour” the “best films” released between March 1st and December 31st, 2021.

Not that long ago, say 10-15 years ago, there was a time where you could actually enjoy watching the Oscars as the films being honoured were generally well acted, excellently crafted, told an interesting story and were invariable popular or at the very least, had an audience that actually saw them.

Not anymore . . .

With rare exceptions, actors and celebrities have always been self-involved narcissists. If you think about it, in a way, the profession demands it. But what’s changed over the last 10-15 or so years, and this has coincided directly with the death of the movie star, in that celebrities now dine out on their self-involved narcissism.

What creates a long career is holding on to the public’s goodwill. And you earn that goodwill by being likeable. In real life, you might be a bastard. Plenty of movie stars during the Golden Age were bastards. But in public, they were humble, grateful, and self-deprecating.

Not anymore . . .

So the broadcasting of the Academy Awards (Oscars) has produced a rapidly declining audience every year now. An audience who no longer care about award shows that feature movies that they have not seen or even wish to see. They simply don’t give a damn anymore.

Hollywood award shows have gone from fun showcases of talented actors and movie technicians with real star power to network televised lectures, in which the most privileged and pompous people on the planet talk down to and insult the audience who helped make them rich.

If you can bear it, catch Joaquin Phoenix’s absurdly ridiculous acceptance speech back in 2020.


The way it is going, I doubt very much if we will see Oscar celebrating 100 years. Or if we do there will be no-one left to care.

For the last few years I have no longer bothered watching the Oscars as invariably the films are often of poor quality, compared to years past, the presenters are insufferably woke and humourless and the whole show is interminable in it’s self-congratulatory tone.

In Jean Cocteau’s marvellous 1950 film Orphée the poet asks what he should do. ‘Astonish me’, he is told. Today’s movies never do that, certainly not in the sense that a great work of cinema can make you wonder how its creation was ever accomplished.

But, to end on a more positive note, here are a few clips of some of my favourite Best Picture Oscar winners when outstanding quality films were made in a much better time, one which I regret to say I don’t think we’ll ever see ever again.

All Quiet On The Western Front (1930)


Casablanca (1943)


On The Waterfront (1954)


Lawrence Of Arabia (1962)


The Godfather (1972)


Amadeus (1984)

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #13

Music in Movies – Lalo, John and Ennio

Film is a collaborative art form, it’s not just about who is in front of the camera or the directors/screenwriters behind it but also the editing, music, makeup, cinematography, production design, sound etc.

So I was amazed, but not surprised, to read the other day that the woke Oscars (Academy Awards) have announced that at this years ceremony eight awards will not be broadcast live and will be pre-taped an hour before the start of the telecast. The reason given was to “allow more time for comedy, film clips and musical numbers”. More likely it will be more time for insufferable Z grade talented actors and actresses lecturing us with their bulltish . . . but more of that for next weeks post.

Some of cinema’s greatest moments are the combinations of images and music

Here are a few of my favourites . . .

Lalo Schifrin, who’s still with us, is an Argentine-US film composer who produced a terrific range of scores, mostly in the 60s and 70s, especially for urban police thrillers and he also composed the iconic theme for the TV series Mission: Impossible.

But the piece I always go back is his music for the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt. The set-up for the amazing car chase scene is superbly under-scored by his jazz inspired music.

Another great film composer from the 60s is John Barry, a particular favourite of mine.

Most famous for his scores for the early James Bond movies, Barry was a prolific film composer whose scores also enhanced such films as Born Free, The Ipcress File, The Lion In Winter, Somewhere In Time, Dances With Wolves, Chaplin to name just a few.

But my favourite is his lush and romantic score for Out Of Africa, which is marvellously presented here with the sweeping scenes of the bi-plane flying over the plains of Africa.

And who could not include the maestro himself in the late, and great, Ennio Morricone.

It would be tempting to include a clip from one his collaborations with Sergio Leone, but I’ve gone for the end scene from Cinema Paradiso, as Salvatore watches Alfredo’s reel and discovers it comprises all the romantic scenes that the priest had ordered Alfredo to cut from the movies.

Enjoy.

PS Following up from last weeks post and especially for jupes who first mentioned it.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #12

So who was Anthony James ?

Movies have a peculiar power to transfix and mesmerise us, planting their images in our sub-conscious that for a variety of reasons remain there in which time does not dim.

We all have movies and/or scenes that for whatever reason frightened us when we were much younger, and have ever since remained in our thoughts.

So this weeks’ focus is something a little bit different and somewhat more obscure as I look back at the 1976 supernatural horror thriller Burnt Offerings, directed by Dan Curtis and starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis and Burgess Meredith.

I first saw this on release when I was a teenager, and it has struck a cord with me ever since.

So what’s it all about . . .

A married couple (Oliver Reed and Karen Black) with their 12 year-old-son and the aunt (Bette Davis) of the husband rent a rundown large mansion and estate for the summer whilst they are also required to look after the elderly woman, named Mrs. Allardyce, who lives there. She is the mother of the siblings who rented the place to them.

As the days and weeks go by the family begins to disintegrate as there appears to be supernatural forces at play within the house. In addition, as each person is injured or suffers distress, the house mysteriously begins to restore itself.

So who was Anthony James then ?

Well one of the sub-plots running through the film is that the husband, Ben, is haunted by visions of an eerily, malevolently grinning hearse driver (played without dialogue by the actor Anthony James). It would be fair to say these short scenes scared me quite markedly whilst first seeing the film and even today they still send a chill down my spine whenever I re-watch them again.

As for Anthony James, well he was an American character actor who often played villains mostly in Westerns, in both movies and on TV. His last film role was in Clint Eastwood’s 1992 Oscar-winning Best Picture Unforgiven. He died in 2020 aged 77.


Eventually, the husband decides the family must leave the estate, but his wife says she must inform Mrs. Allardyce that they are leaving . . .


It’s one of these films that still resonates with me to this very day but which I can’t explain why.

It isn’t a masterpiece or even a great horror film but it is still very scary and quite unsettling without the need for incessant gratuitous violence that we so often seen in horror films in the last 50 years – although the climatic ending has its bloody moments.

The performances of the small cast are very effective – I always liked watching Oliver Reed. Whatever you may say about him for one thing he is never dull when on screen, and here is very good as the confused, and at times, quite weak husband.

What other films did Cats find scary or unnerving that they first saw many years ago and which still gives them uncomfortable chills today.

Enjoy.

WolfmanOz at the Movies #10

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Up and until yesterday I was half way through writing my weekly post when with current events rapidly escalating I decided to change the topic.

What could be more appropriate now then to take a look at Dr. Strangelove or: I How Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.

Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 nightmare black comedy concerns a totally psychotic US Air Force general (Jack D. Ripper) who orders a pre-emptive nuclear first strike attack on the Soviet Union. At the same time the US President and his Joint Chief of Staff advisors debate as to how they can prevent the attack, whilst we also follow the activities of one of the B-52 bombers ordered to attack the Soviet Union.


Initially Kubrick conceived the film as a straight thriller drama but he soon began to see the comedy inherent in the absurd idea of mutually assured destruction:

“My idea of doing it as a nightmare comedy came in the early weeks of working on the screenplay. I found that in trying to put meat on the bones and to imagine the scenes fully, one had to keep leaving out of it things which were either absurd or paradoxical, in order to keep it from being funny; and these things seemed to be close to the heart of the scenes in question.”

When Terry Southern came on board to assist with the screenplay the comedic element flowed and with Peter Sellers playing three roles – Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Strangelove – a comedy movie masterpiece was taking place.

In addition to Sellers, Kubrick also had George C. Scott in an absolutely wonderful over-the-top performance as the ridiculous and hawkish General Buck Turgidson. The characters names in this movie are just priceless – Major T.J. “King” Kong, Colonel Bat Guano and so on.

Scott was apparently tricked by Kubrick into doing the OTT scenes as practice takes and during filming they often played chess where Kubrick repeatedly beat him, which although Scott did not see eye to eye with Kubrick, he respected him immeasurably for his skill at chess.

Eventually, President Muffley has to contact the Soviet Premier to tell him that his country is about to be attacked and the following is just pure comic gold, where we learn that the Russians have built a Doomsday machine.

If this was filmed today you could have a field day with Putin and Biden but I’d have Putin ringing Biden !

The Americans then assist the Russians in shooting down their planes whilst Group Captain Mandrake manages to figure out the CRM code to recall the planes; but one plane still manages to get through and drop its’ bomb.


With the world facing total nuclear destruction, Dr. Strangelove then proposes to the President and his staff that several hundred thousand people live in deep underground mines with a 10:1 female-to-male ratio for a breeding program to repopulate the Earth !

Announcing he has a plan, Strangelove suddenly rises from his wheelchair and exclaims: “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk !” as the Doomsday machine is triggered.

The film then amazingly ends with a serious of nuclear explosions all to the accompaniment of We’ll Meet Again by Vera Lynn. The sheer audaciousness of this ending and the imagination that was behind it is simply breath-taking.

All this in a film with a running time of just 94 minutes.

What make the film so successful and compelling is that it is totally played straight despite the absurd characters and the inherent comedy of it all whilst the design and the sets look totally authentic. Ronald Reagan is supposed to have asked as to where the War Room was when he became US President.

Dr. Strangelove is one of my favourite top 5 films of all time !

Enjoy

WolfmanOz at the Movies #9

This is The End

Jim Morrison’s lyrics are the first words you hear in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 seminal and epic psychological Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now as US helicopters strike in the jungle with a napalm attack whilst Captain Willard hallucinates in a drunken haze in his Saigon hotel.

Willard is then dragged from his drunken stupor to a briefing at headquarters in Nha Trang where he is ordered on a mission to assassinate one of his own officers, Colonel Kurtz, who he is told has gone renegade with his own local army and is presumed to be insane. The briefing climaxes with one of the most chilling lines in movie history “Terminate with extreme prejudice”.

And now the film has been set for one of the most mesmerising journeys into a modern day hell ever committed on film as Willard joins a US navy river patrol boat which is to navigate up the Nung River to Kurtz’s outpost.

The movie is loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart Of Darkness written back in 1899 and despite, or because of, the many difficulties experienced during the filming, it has entered into movie folk-lore with original leading man Harvey Keitel being replaced by Martin Sheen who then had a breakdown and a heart attack on location; Marlon Brando turning up on the set grossly over-weight; severe weather destroying sets and numerous postponements of the film’s release.

The patrol boat rendezvous with a helicopter air assault unit commanded by Colonel Kilgore (memorably played by Robert Duvall) which then escorts the patrol boat through a Viet Cong held coastal mouth attacking the Viet Cong at dawn whilst memorably playing Ride Of The Valkyries on loudspeakers.

It is all totally appalling but it is also utterly compelling cinema at it’s most majestic and operatic.

There are numerous adventures the river boat experiences on the way up the Nung River but the sense of foreboding of approaching Kurtz (Brando) hangs over the journey.

Willard finally reaches Kurtz’s compound and he is bound and bought before Kurtz where he tells Willard about his theories of war and life. He then implies to Willard that he will accept his death at the hands of him.

There are 3 versions of Apocalypse Now – Theatrical, Redux and Final Cut; of which I have always preferred the theatrical cut version as IMO the longer versions simply add more padding to a film that is already at the right length at 147 minutes in it’s original release length.

Today, a film like Apocalypse Now would never get made where the artistic vision of an obsessive film-maker would never get financed in the woke-drenched excuse that was once a great movie-making industry.

It’s now generally acclaimed as one of the greatest films of all-time and is one of my top 20 favourite films.

Enjoy

WolfmanOz at the Movies #8

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some java beans and a nice Chianti”

Born on December 31st, 1937, Anthony Hopkins is now 84 years old but he is still going strong and has arguably been the finest actor of the last 50 years.

He is, of course, most well-known for portraying Hannibal Lecter in 3 films but his range and achievements have been far broader than just that one role.

His first film role was as Richard the Lionheart in The Lion In Winter (1968) but the first time I really became aware of him was when he starred in the BBC TV adaption of War And Peace as Pierre Bezukhov in which he was outstanding.

I always recall a documentary about the making of the TV series and the cast were asked about their thoughts about it and, of course, the performers were mostly pretentious in their responses, but not Hopkins. He replied “It paid the rent” – which kind of sums him up in that he has never been one for believing the opinions of an actor were anything more special than anyone else.

During the 1970s most of his film roles were mainly supporting roles but he did have a main lead role in Richard Attenborough’s Magic (1978) where he played a ventriloquist whose foul-mouthed dummy begins to take control of him. For students of film history it’s a variation of the segment The Ventriloquist’s Dummy from Dead Of Night (1945).

Hopkins is superb in the role where he actually performed all the scenes as a ventriloquist himself.



His ability to mimic was also utilised in the restored 1991 version of Spartacus (1960) where he voiced Laurence Olivier’s dialogue in the famous Oysters & Snails scene as Olivier had died a few years previously.

In the 1980s he was a sympathetic doctor in The Elephant Man, a complex Captain Bligh in The Bounty and was also quite appealing in the charming 84 Charing Cross Road (1987). But despite his talents in other movies at the time it appeared he was destined never to hit the heights his abilities aspired too . . . and then came the offer to play Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence Of The Lambs (1991).

Incredibly his screen time was just under 25 minutes in a film that ran for just under 2 hours but he was absolutely mesmerising as the chilling, incisive and thoroughly evil Dr. Lecter.


One also should never underestimate the impact Jodie Foster’s superb performance had in contributing immeasurably into elevating the film into an instant classic.

Now the great performances were coming thick and fast . . .

He was terrific in both Howard’s End and Shadowlands but it was his under-stated performance as the butler Stevens in The Remains Of The Day (1993) which still haunts today

As the repressed butler, Hopkins was never better in a role so far removed than that of Dr. Lecter.

In Nixon (1995) he was an unusual choice to play the disgraced former US President but he seemed to pull it off; and in 2005 was very enjoyable as the motorcycle racer Burt Munro in The World’s Fastest Indian.

In 2012 he played Alfred Hitchcock in Hitchcock, where, although the make-up wasn’t totally convincing, he used his mimicry skills to sound very convincing as the Master of Suspense.

And of course last year he won his second Best Actor Oscar for The Father, although I found the film rather ponderous despite his presence.

He’s still making films and maintaining his acting skills at an age where most of us would be in nursing homes – long may it continue !

Enjoy.