Magic Lantern Podcast

The Magic Lantern: Episode 097 – Antonia’s Line

I purchased Antonia’s Line (Gorris, 1995) sight unseen from a bin at my local Blockbuster Video soon after it came out. My friends and I sat down to watch it, and were rewarded with a delightful experience. This film is full of joy, even though the joy comes from small pleasures rather than a larger feel-good view of life. I had been thinking about it for a long time, and wondered if it would still hold the same joy for me now. I think it does, and as with many works that chronicle the passage of time, my viewing of it benefits from my experience and living. Gorris is able to capture time in a unique way, fully capturing the sense that sometimes it speeds up and sometimes it slows down. Gorris characterized the film as a “celebration of life”, but has not shied away from incorporating cruel details and events. Some of these key events are told to us rather than shown to us, which illustrates to me that it is often their aftermath that has the most impact. Through it all, Antonia and her extended community of interesting women and men weather the years, often thriving, each in their own optimistic and pragmatic way.

What you’ll find in this episode: whether the male characters have balanced portrayals, whether negative critical assessments of the film are fair, and how we felt about the score.

– Ericca

Links and Recommendations:
Check out Antonia’s Line on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Wonder Woman.
Cole’s further viewing pick of The World According to Garp.
Why Are People from the Netherlands Called Dutch?
An interview with makeup artist Jan Sewell.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 096 – Thunder Road

It’s something that I always remind myself of anytime I begin to lament the state of the artistic landscape – there’s always someone out there, hustling, making sacrifices, trying to make that next great film. If I am not aware of it, that’s on me. I am not working hard enough to find it. Thunder Road (Cummings, 2018) was the latest discovery to remind me to keep after it, to keep chasing that feeling that I’ve been after since I was a kid, ordering records out of the back of fanzines.

Using his excellent short of the same name as a springboard, Jim Cummings vaults into a tragicomic character sketch unlike anything I have seen in a long time. It is on a wavelength all its own. Seldom has a downward spiral been so funny. Seldom has a comic masterclass been so heart-rending. If you find yourself occasionally despairing over the state of indie film, take heart. There are always folks out there doing good work. We just have to keep our ears to the ground. With any luck, Jim Cummings will be providing his fair share of those discoveries for years to come.

What you’ll find in this episode: the benefits and drawbacks of trailers and the expectations they set up, short fuses, long takes, and dancing at funerals.

– Cole

Links and Recommendations:
Check out Thunder Road on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Bottle Rocket.
Cole’s further viewing pick of The Foot Fist Way.
Jim Cummings’ original short, Thunder Road.
A great article from Jim Cummings about how to get your indie film made.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 095 – Happy-Go-Lucky

Happy-Go-Lucky (Leigh, 2008) may be a bit of a litmus test. Do you fully embrace the character of Poppy and her sensibilities. Do you gradually warm to her, or does she make you want to run for the hills? Luckily for me, because he knows me, Cole told me in advance that nothing truly terrible was going to happen to Poppy. So, going in, I could relax and find myself falling into her rhythm, and think about how she has built her world, developed and nurtured her friendships, and made her way through life in exactly the manner she intends. Above all things, she is a listener, and so I think it best to give her the same due she gives to everyone around her. Whether this is your first or tenth viewing, I hope Poppy is a beacon of gentle hope that affirms how a positive approach and outlook can be fulfilling. Not that she’s a fool. I think that’s the best part of how the character was created (credit Mike Leigh’s amazing process and how Sally Hawkins was obviously made for this role). Even when challenged with the personification of ignorant and uncontrolled rage in the form of her driving instructor Scott, played by Eddie Marsan, Poppy manages gracefully to continue to listen, and to try to help. Because, as she says, there’s no harm in trying.

What you’ll find in this episode: how this film marks a visual and technical departure for Mike Leigh, whether some critical assessments of the film are founded or unfounded, and the rare pleasure of being around someone like Poppy.

– Ericca

Links and Recommendations:
Check out Happy-Go-Lucky on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of About a Boy.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Bleak Moments.
A cringe-worthy interview with Mike Leigh about the film.
Mike Leigh visits the Criterion Closet.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 094 – Ants In Your Pants of 2018

It’s our fourth annual Ants In Your Pants episode, as we close out 2018! As always, our lists were culled with much difficulty from all the wonderful films we saw this year, and we only talk about those we saw for the first time which made the biggest impressions on each of us. We try to go around the world, and cover many different decades. We have some classics and some little-seen gems that we hope you check out. Thank you for listening to us throughout 2018 and we can’t wait to get started on the 2019 list!

Our shared favorite:
The Executioner (Berlanga, 1963)

Cole’s favorites:
Lake of the Dead (Bergstrøm, 1958)
Very Nice, Very Nice (Lipsett, 1961)
A Man Vanishes (Imamura, 1967)
The Hospital (Hiller, 1971)
Manila in the Claws of Light (Brocka, 1975)
You Got to Move (Phenix, Selver, 1985)
A City of Sadness (Hou, 1989)
Madame Tutli-Putli (Lavis, Szczerbowski, 2007)
Two Years at Sea (Rivers, 2011)

Ericca’s favorites:
The Passion of Joan of Arc (Dreyer, 1928)
The Brotherhood of Satan (McEveety, 1971)
The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Zeman, 1962)
The Man in the Raincoat (Duvivier, 1957)
My Life as a Zucchini (Barras, 2016)
Cries and Whispers (Bergman, 1972)
Life is Sweet (Leigh, 1990)
Smiles of a Summer Night (Bergman, 1955)
True Stories (Byrne, 1986)

What you’ll find in this episode: our regrets, our honorable mentions, and our thanks to you, the listener.

– Cole and Ericca

Links:
Austin Film Society
The Criterion Collection
The National Film Board of Canada

The Magic Lantern: Episode 093 – Female Trouble

Female Trouble (Waters, 1974) is probably not for everyone, but I wish it was. The world would be a lot more fun if everyone could embrace their inner Divine. This towering achievement of trash cinema is my favorite of all of John Waters’ work. I think it’s the smartest, definitely the funniest, and, surprisingly, the sweetest underneath. Through sheer force of will, Waters created a universe where people on the margins could be powerful and celebrated and everyone else deservedly got taken down a peg or two. I wouldn’t blame you if you missed that the first time around, though. It can be hard to concentrate on anything else as Divine rips through this thing like a fabulous tornado – picking pockets, mugging people, breaking and entering, robbing, assaulting, and finally graduating to murder, all in pursuit of becoming the ultimate personification of the unity of beauty and crime. It truly is something to behold. And let’s not forget my favorite, Mink Stole, throwing spaghetti, dousing herself with fake blood while playing car accident, and hurling insults with incomparable élan. Oh, and did we mention it’s a Christmas film? Have some eggnog, get yourself a double egg salad on white toast, and knock the tree over on you mom. A finer yuletide tradition I can’t imagine!

What you’ll find in this episode: crime, beauty, the Balmer accent, cha-cha heels, and which sandwich is the funniest sandwich.

– Cole

Links and Recommendations:
Check out Female Trouble on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Carol.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
If you’re going to strut down the street, you must play Dig by Nervous Norvus!
Let John Waters be your guide to Baltimore.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 092 – Desk Set

Desk Set (Lang, 1957) arrived on the cusp of the information age, when the American office was poised to be transformed by room-sized machines. In this “situation comedy” is the corporation run by the women answering the phones or by the men flying off to meetings?

This question of agency and power may not seem at first glance to be one that could be handled well in a romantic comedy, especially for the film to retain any humor, but this deft maneuvering was something that Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy specialized in, and why I continue to be attracted to them and their body of work.

Desk Set was their eighth of nine pairings on film, and it is the film of theirs that lately I return to again and again. That’s not to say that I don’t also adore their earlier films, but I grow more and more fond of these characters and this pairing the more I watch, and the older I get. I edge ever closer to the age of the actors and the characters every year, of course. I also better understand and appreciate their characters’ motivations and the actors’ talents. Maybe it is because I get more sentimental as the years go on and their decades-long relationship and the mythos surrounding it allows me to imbue the film with a rosy glow.

Whether I fill in blanks that others might see as more gaping, it is true at least that the characters, because of their age and the time they live, are fighting different battles than they would have ten years before: to remain relevant, to remain employed, to choose a partner or grow older alone.

How lucky we are to watch these two play off of each other, to have found an equal in the other. And because of my specific circumstance, I know how lucky I am to be able to say the same thing of my own situation.

What you’ll find in this episode: why age matters, what a lunch at CBS cost in 1957, and some of our other favorite screen couples.

– Ericca

Links and Recommendations:
Check out Desk Set on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Adam’s Rib.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Broadcast News.
Katharine reads a letter to Spence.
A fascinating and unexpected timeline of computers.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 091 – In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood (Brooks, 1967) is one of the most aptly titled works in either cinema or literature. I think of the Clutter family basement in November at 2 a.m. and it chills me to my very marrow. It was a galvanizing experience the first time I saw it as a young man and it still retains every bit of its power to shock, repel, and provoke. Richard Brooks’ exacting attention to detail, going so far as to incorporate the actual people and places affected by this crime, achieves an honesty and authenticity not often found in the genre. It results in a film that sidesteps sensationalism, but doesn’t avoid the difficult and complicated truth that the killers, their movements, and their motivations are an undeniably compelling aspect of this story. It’s a groundbreaking work, as well, falling in that period between the classic studio system as we knew it and what would become New Hollywood. Brooks and his collaborators seized on this opportunity to experiment and were able to explore darkness, literally and figuratively, in a way that had never been done before. It’s a film that taught me a lot of hard truths about humanity and what we are capable of. It can be a difficult watch, but it’s valuable for precisely that reason. Don’t turn away from the darkness.

What you’ll find in this episode: Richard Brooks and his reputation, how geography connects us to stories, the establishment of documentary noir, the uneasy alliance of the police and the press, and how a perfectly sane man can commit an absolutely crazy act.

– Cole

Links and Recommendations:
Check out In Cold Blood on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of La Cérémonie.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Tower.
Dick Hickock and Perry Smith’s complete inmate case files.
The Clutter family home on Atlas Obscura.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 090 – One Man Force

One Man Force (Trevillion, 1989) takes all the rogue cop movie tropes we have ever seen, turns them up to 11, blows out their back windows, shoots them in the face, ties a rope to them, throws them off a cliff, jumps off the cliff after them, douses them in kerosene, and lights a cigarette over their smoldering ashes. Yes, it is that insane.

You might be inclined to think that it must also be terrible. You would be wrong. The writer and director Dale Trevillion clearly had a cockeyed vision. And in star John Matuszak he had a man-mountain able enough to achieve that vision. In a world awash in drugs and money, one man stands alone against these evil forces. Who cares if he doesn’t have probable cause, or a search warrant, or proof, or backup, or a safety on his gun? (We all should care.) Give yourself over to the movie’s pleasures and go with it. You’re welcome!

What you’ll find in this episode: observations on art versus entertainment, whether Lyle Alzado and John Matuszak were the same person, and why it is so fun to cruise with the Tooz.

– Ericca

Links and Recommendations:
Check out One Man Force on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Chuck Norris vs. Communism.
Cole’s further viewing pick of Fateful Findings.
Herbie Hancock demonstrates the Fairlight CMI to some special audiences.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s 1989 Annual Report.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 089 – The Magic Jack O’Lantern 2018

It’s that time again! In this episode, The Magic Jack O’Lantern 2018, we once again bring you our list of viewing tricks and treats to celebrate the season. We watched one Halloween inspired title every day in October and now pass the list and our impressions on to you in hopes that you might find some new scares for your regular viewing rotation or revisit some old spooky favorites. This year, our goal was to only watch films we had not yet seen: so Cole picked films that were new to him, and Ericca did the same. Here’s the full list!

Day 1: Opera (Argento, 1987)
Day 2: Hotel (Hausner, 2004)
Day 3: Kuroneko (Shindô, 1968)
Day 4: Demon (Wrona, 2015)
Day 5: God Told Me To (Cohen, 1976)
Day 6: Suspiria (Argento, 1977)
Day 7: The Vampire Doll (Yamamoto, 1970)
Day 8: Get Out (Peele, 2017)
Day 9: The Nun (Hardy, 2018)
Day 10: Poison for the Fairies (Taboada, 1985)
Day 11: The Beyond (Fulci, 1981)
Day 12: The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here! (Milligan, 1972)
Day 13: Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (Christensen, 1922)
Day 14: Maniac (Lustig, 1980)
Day 15: Maniac (Khalfoun, 2012)
Day 16: Eraserhead (Lynch, 1977)
Day 17: The Fall of the House of Usher (Epstein, 1928)
Day 18: Tenebre (Argento, 1982)
Day 19: Lake of Dracula (Yamamoto, 1971)
Day 20: Black Sunday (Bava, 1960)
Day 21: The Devils (Russell, 1971)
Day 22: The Wicker Man (Hardy, 1973)
Day 23: Razorback (Mulcahy, 1984)
Day 24: Deep Red (Argento, 1975)
Day 25: Halloween (Green, 2018)
Day 26: The Exorcist III (Blatty, 1990)
Day 27: The Autopsy of Jane Doe (Øvredal, 2016)
Day 28: Livide (Bustillo, Maury, 2011)
Day 29: Kill List (Wheatley, 2011)
Day 30: Evil of Dracula (Yamamoto, 1974)
Day 31: Kwaidan (Kobayashi, 1964)

What you’ll find in this episode: lots of giallo, filling in major gaps in our horror firmament, and many new and old favorites from the 1920’s up through the last few years.

– Cole and Ericca

Links:
The history of the Jack O’Lantern.
Dario Argento talks about the giallo.
Japanese horror in print.

The Magic Lantern: Episode 088 – The Wicker Man

The Wicker Man (1973) is an undisputed classic of folk horror, though some of its principals would dispute that. Director Robin Hardy thought he was making a musical as much as anything else and star Christopher Lee has emphatically said he does not consider it a horror film. Well, gentlemen, I respectfully take issue with that. It embodies everything that defines folk horror – the clash of rural and urban, old ways and new, faith and reason. The creeping dread that we feel as it hurtles toward its fiery conclusion is real and the cruelty and glee of the villagers of Summerisle as they toy with their prey is disturbing long after the lights come up. The question at the heart of the story is something that practically everyone can relate to – how far are you willing to go for what you believe in? What despicable acts are you prepared to commit? What are you willing to endure in the name of proving your ideology as superior? Whether the gods are old, new, false or true, the things people do in the name of religion frequently expose the animal within. No mask required.

What you’ll find in this episode: randy villagers, uptight coppers, May Day festivities, pagans, Puritans, and a frog in the throat.

– Cole

Links and Recommendations:
Check out The Wicker Man on IMDB.
Ericca’s further viewing pick of Robin Redbreast.
Cole’s further viewing pick of The Dark Secret of Harvest Home.
A look at the pagan origins of May Day.
Accounts of the use of the Wicker Man throughout history.
The history of Christianity’s early martyrs.