People On A Sunday (1929)



People on a Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag) is a 1929 German silent film, directed by Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann as adapted from a screenplay by Billy Wilder. This film became extremely influential as the first independent film ever made. Despite being made by amateurs it is a pivotal film not only in the development of the German but also of Hollywood cinema style.

In addition to the Siodmak brothers and Wilder, the film features the talents of Edgar G. Ulmer (producer), Fred Zinnemann (cinematography) and Eugen Schüfftan. They wrote the script in their spare time and filmed most of it as they partied over a succession of Sundays. People on a Sunday follows the lives of a group of residents of Berlin on a summer’s day during the interwar period. The movie is subtitled “a film without actors”, meaning that the five main characters weren’t working actors or actresses. They had other jobs and this film was their first appearance on screen. 

Ultimately what is so significant for me of this film is not specifically the script or the acting or even the actors themselves; it is just the fact that these amateur filmmakers were so intent on making a ‘montage’ of shots that they found beautiful. This method is valuable for the pure creativity and vigor which it represents. It is amazing to see what is possible when making films with little to no professional equipment.


Film Noir

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Sidney Poitier as detective Virgil Tibbs

Sidney Poitier as detective Virgil Tibbs. Photograph: Allstar

Two men, Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, changed the situation of black actors the world over when they became Hollywood stars in the 1950s, liberating African-Americans from subservient roles as Uncle Toms and comic servants. Both were tall and handsome, born in the States but raised in poverty in the British West Indies, home of their fathers. They returned to America as teenagers, emerged from wartime military service to study acting in New York, and become political activists. The more influential of the two was to be Poitier, who became a star in his first film, No Way Out (1950).

The role that truly put him on the map was that of the high-school student who rallies an unruly class to back idealistic teacher Glenn Ford in Blackboard Jungle (1955), and he got an Oscar nomination three years later as an escaped convict manacled to racist redneck Tony Curtis in the deep south in The Defiant Ones.

The 1960s, the decade of the civil-rights movement, were to be his decisive moment when he had a hit movie every year and won an Oscar (the first black actor in a leading role to do so) in the sentimental Lilies of the Field (1963) as an odd-job man assisting some East German nuns in Arizona. He peaked in 1967 with three major successes – as the idealistic teacher in a London school in To Sir With Love; as Virgil Tibbs, the proud homicide cop from Pennsylvania, treading on toes in Mississippi in the thriller In the Heat of the Night; and the brilliant doctor, brought home to meet his fiancée’s liberal parents in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Virtually all his roles were figures of reason and dignity, like his priest inCry the Beloved Country (1951), and his cameo as Simon of Cyrene inThe Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). He prepared the way for actors such as James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Morgan Freeman and Will Smith to play more varied characters and take charge of their careers.

He became the natural choice to narrate documentaries on Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King and Ralph Bunche, and to impersonate Nelson Mandela in the 1997 made-for-TV film Mandela and de Klerk. Last month, Barack Obama presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour. No doubt Obama remembered, as many others did when he received the presidential nomination at the 2008 Democratic convention, the scene in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? when Spencer Tracy raises some awkward questions with Poitier, his prospective son-in-law, who prophetically had met his fiancée in Hawaii. Of Tracy’s daughter’s attitude to their future family, Poitier remarks: “She feels all of our children will be presidents of the United States with very colourful administrations… I think your daughter’s a little over-optimistic, I’d settle for secretary of state.”

Commonwealth Honours Poitier, holder of the KBE is, as a citizen of the Bahamas, entitled to call himself Sir Sidney.

Diplomacy Poitier is the Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan and to UNESCO.

Six Degrees of Separation John Guare’s screenplay is based on the true story of a young conman who convinced wealthy New York liberals that he was Poitier’s son. Poitier has six daughters but no son.

Essential DVDs Blackboard Jungle, The Defiant Ones, Lilies of the Field, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?


The Good The Bad And Ed Wood

Screen shot 2014-07-04 at 2.36.23 PM


It seems like cult films continuously shift the borders between what is considered good or bad filmmaking, take for example Ed Wood’s case where ‘bad’ became ‘good’.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of being introduced to one of the worst directors by the means of Tim Burton’s fantastical biography, Ed Wood (1994). This comedy-drama biopic, starring Johnny Depp as Ed Wood was awarded with 19 official wins and 12 nominations (including 2 Oscars). This underlines the pure irony which epitomizes the life and times of the real Ed Wood. 

Known for the poor quality of his blatantly staged special effects and lifeless actors, Wood earned a considerable cult following in the days following his death. Despite of Wood’s Golden Turkey Award for Worst Director this cult following shed new light on his film career. Edward Davis Wood Jr. (1924 − 1978) assigned himself director, producer, actor, author and editor and as if performing, Wood seamlessly waltzed through the filmmaking process, notoriously finishing a feature film in the matter of 5 days. 


La Jetée, an Imaginary Film


What a relief to watch a masterpiece. I’m referring to the 1962 French science fiction film by Chris Marker, La Jetée. Although this is only a short film, constructed almost entirely from still photos, it nevertheless tells a story with intense conviction and is in my opinion masterfully done.

The story of La Jetée is set in post- Third World War, apocalyptic Paris where survivors live underground in the Palais de Chaillot galleries. The protagonist: A post-nuclear war survivor who is the victim of an experiment in time travel. The film is constructed of black and white film images and has no dialogue aside from small sections of muttering in German. The soundtrack and voice-over of a narrator depicts the whole story.

This film is a masterful merging of the basic elements of filmmaking. As a photomontage, the film required the director to convey the feeling of each scene by varying the pace and the transitions between the images. After watching the film, you also realize how important the narration is for creating the intensity which is needed to draw the viewer into the story. The way in which you recall La Jetée isn’t different to the way in which you would recall an ordinary film, i.e. moving pictures. It is this point that stands out the most when I think about La Jetée. What I will always remember about this film is that it made me realize that the way in which films are constructed in a viewers imagination is mainly that – imagination.

It is herein that lies the strange power and beauty manifested in the creation of a film (not to only praise La Jetée and Chris Marker,  but to emphasize the fact that films are as Chris Marker has shown).  As a film’s images trigger and rearrange images from our personal memory, experiencing someone else’s film becomes an experience of our own imaginations.


Infinite Film Noir



poster The House on 92nd Street Henry Hathaway Film Noir DVD Review


“[Film Noir] is still and silent. The pure black screen has tiny pinpricks of white trying to break through. The central character is thinking. He is thinking about all the bad things that have happened to him. He is not happy. He knows that shit happens, but why did it have to happen to him? He smiles, because he is alive. If he doesn’t get killed today, he’ll consider it a lucky day.” – Paul Duncan called Film Noir; Films Of Trust And Betrayal.

 Film Noir definitely deserves its recognition. Many studies has been made on the inner workings of the Film Noir genre, characters, story structure and all the other amazingly ‘gloomy’ elements. Taking into account the influence this longstanding and still developing genre had and still have on many epic filmmakers from Alfred Hitchcock to Quentin Tarantino, like the “tiny pinpricks of white trying to break through” on the “pure black screen”, I figure that the art that was/is Film Noir can never have too many tributes.


Jim Jarmusch’s Films – A Balancing Act



“Anyone who makes a film that is the film they want to make, and it is not defined by marketing analysis or a commercial enterprise, is independent. My movies are kind of made by hand. They’re not polished — they’re sort of built in the garage. It’s more like being an artisan in some way.” – Jim Jarmusch on his apparent ‘independent’ films.

What a guy, what a vision; this sounds plain when one has witnessed the pure ‘artisan’ quality of a Jim Jarmusch film.  For me the perfection inherent in Jim Jarmusch’s films rely on the subtle yet all encompassing balance between the setting, the characters, the story and the cinematography. These all equally need each other in order to convey  such intense balance as displayed in Jarmusch’s work. While watching his films I usually experience a feeling reminiscent of a perfect state of equilibrium.

Watch Permanent Vacation (1980), Stranger than Paradise (1984), Down by Law (1986), Mystery Train (1989), Night on Earth (1991), Dead Man (1995), Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999), Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), Broken Flowers (2005) and The Limits of Control (2009) and you’ll understand the feeling.

– re-edited 3 July 2013, written by Carla Espost in 2011 

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