Friday, July 27, 2012

Date With Destiny: Oslo, August 31st (2011) ✭✭✭✭ 1/2



Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st is the antithesis of the seasonal blockbuster, but this brooding portrait of a recovering drug addict will remain in your mind long after memories of summer’s superheroes have faded. Trier has created a simple tableau that stirs the emotions in ways that are simultaneously subtle and explosive, leaving audiences - and his battered protagonist - wrenched of feeling and robbed of all but the most basic human instincts. Fortunately Oslo, August 31st is a work of fiction. If it was the documentary it often resembles, the film would be too much to bear.


Here we experience a momentous day in the life of Anders, a 34 year old recovering heroin addict played to deeply damaged perfection by Anders Danielson Lie. Given a day pass from his treatment center for a job interview, Anders ventures out from the leafy green healing cloister and reconnects with some old friends in downtown Oslo. Through their wary - often painful - interactions, Trier builds Anders’ backstory brick by brick, and the true cost of his years of addiction is made heartbreakingly plain. While his old party buddies have moved on to careers, families and futures, Anders faces a daunting lifelong struggle to remain clean. As we learn more about the emotional wreckage caused by Anders’ years of high living, a shocking scene early in the film is given clear context. His current challenges combined with guilt from the past have drained him of hope and spirit. Anders must now decide if such a life is worth living.

Lie has mastered the agonized empathy he sought to convey in Trier’s previous feature Reprise, and here he manages to dominate scenes while appearing to mentally withdraw from them. His deep set eyes provide a direct sight line to his soul, while the dry smile he offers up to his old friends imparts the sadness of wasted years. Constructed as a series of set pieces, Oslo, August 31st offers Lie plenty of showcases, and he delivers with skill and assurance. The long awaited job interview reveals his confusion and contradictions in a harrowing display of self loathing, while his pathetic attempts to revive an old love are undone by a mixture of pride and shame.


Trier provides no easy excuses for Anders, who over the course of the film is able to forgive everyone but himself. The depth of his pain far exceeds mere drug addiction, and the world’s library of recovery psycho-babble offers him no solace. Anders eventually returns to his childhood home, where disheveled ghosts of lost happiness await him, and a dead key on an out-of-tune piano becomes a catalyst for a fateful decision. Oslo, August 31st is a film of simple, modest visuals that traffics in cold and uncompromising psychology. And, like its junkie main character, it doles out the profoundly real in ever more disturbing and dangerous doses.

Date With Destiny: Oslo, August 31st (2011) ✭✭✭✭ 1/2



Joachim Trier’s Oslo, August 31st is the antithesis of the seasonal blockbuster, but this brooding portrait of a recovering drug addict will remain in your mind long after memories of summer’s superheroes have faded. Trier has created a simple tableau that stirs the emotions in ways that are simultaneously subtle and explosive, leaving audiences - and his battered protagonist - wrenched of feeling and robbed of all but the most basic human instincts. Fortunately Oslo, August 31st is a work of fiction. If it was the documentary it often resembles, the film would be too much to bear.


Here we experience a momentous day in the life of Anders, a 34 year old recovering heroin addict played to deeply damaged perfection by Anders Danielson Lie. Given a day pass from his treatment center for a job interview, Anders ventures out from the leafy green healing cloister and reconnects with some old friends in downtown Oslo. Through their wary - often painful - interactions, Trier builds Anders’ backstory brick by brick, and the true cost of his years of addiction is made heartbreakingly plain. While his old party buddies have moved on to careers, families and futures, Anders faces a daunting lifelong struggle to remain clean. As we learn more about the emotional wreckage caused by Anders’ years of high living, a shocking scene early in the film is given clear context. His current challenges combined with guilt from the past have drained him of hope and spirit. Anders must now decide if such a life is worth living.

Lie has mastered the agonized empathy he sought to convey in Trier’s previous feature Reprise, and here he manages to dominate scenes while appearing to mentally withdraw from them. His deep set eyes provide a direct sight line to his soul, while the dry smile he offers up to his old friends imparts the sadness of wasted years. Constructed as a series of set pieces, Oslo, August 31st offers Lie plenty of showcases, and he delivers with skill and assurance. The long awaited job interview reveals his confusion and contradictions in a harrowing display of self loathing, while his pathetic attempts to revive an old love are undone by a mixture of pride and shame.


Trier provides no easy excuses for Anders, who over the course of the film is able to forgive everyone but himself. The depth of his pain far exceeds mere drug addiction, and the world’s library of recovery psycho-babble offers him no solace. Anders eventually returns to his childhood home, where disheveled ghosts of lost happiness await him, and a dead key on an out-of-tune piano becomes a catalyst for a fateful decision. Oslo, August 31st is a film of simple, modest visuals that traffics in cold and uncompromising psychology. And, like its junkie main character, it doles out the profoundly real in ever more disturbing and dangerous doses.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hi-Def Nightmare: The Last of England (1980) ✭✭✭


Derek Jarman's The Last of England is being released today in blu-ray from Lorber. Here's my review of the standard def version, originally posted December 9, 2009


A naked man eats cauliflower from the garbage, a distraught bride attempts to rend her garment, and masked thugs with high-powered rifles patrol a burned out city in Derek Jarman’s hellish vision of the anxiety-ridden 1980s. Constructed as an abstract poem, both sonically and visually, “The Last of England” is a challenging, and at times virtually unwatchable film, that repulses and hypnotically seduces in equal measure.


The result is an audience kept perpetually off balance. Jarman unloads vast stores of bile on Britain’s Tory government, while reveling in poignant sentimentality for his own childhood as well as a lost generation of young men ravaged by alienation, war and disease. Repeated images of heroin addicts evoke both disgust and sympathy for those who “seek amusement within England’s many walls”; meanwhile the middle-class is brought to the verge of destruction by “radioactive ice cubes”.


While many of the flashier editing techniques seem quite dated and clichéd, it is important to remember that this film is over 20 years old, and is reflective of a time when civilization seemed to be evolving backwards, and an era in which political power came to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. This was especially true in Britain, always a very class-conscious nation, and Jarman intensely explores the contradiction of rigid social stratification in a supposedly free and open society.


Through frequent allusions to Nazi Germany and the Blitzkrieg, Jarman draws stark contrasts between the steely, optimistic Britain of the 1940s and what he believed to be a nation of numbing conformity in the 80s. The changes in the political landscape during that decade have never been universally accepted, and are the true antecedents of today’s “culture wars”.


While Jarman’s film is at times too creative for its own good, underneath the baffling arty glitz is a clear and damning condemnation: Governments are quick to celebrate their successes, but never concede their failures.


More Info

Hi-Def Nightmare: The Last of England (1980) ✭✭✭


Derek Jarman's The Last of England is being released today in blu-ray from Lorber. Here's my review of the standard def version, originally posted December 9, 2009


A naked man eats cauliflower from the garbage, a distraught bride attempts to rend her garment, and masked thugs with high-powered rifles patrol a burned out city in Derek Jarman’s hellish vision of the anxiety-ridden 1980s. Constructed as an abstract poem, both sonically and visually, “The Last of England” is a challenging, and at times virtually unwatchable film, that repulses and hypnotically seduces in equal measure.


The result is an audience kept perpetually off balance. Jarman unloads vast stores of bile on Britain’s Tory government, while reveling in poignant sentimentality for his own childhood as well as a lost generation of young men ravaged by alienation, war and disease. Repeated images of heroin addicts evoke both disgust and sympathy for those who “seek amusement within England’s many walls”; meanwhile the middle-class is brought to the verge of destruction by “radioactive ice cubes”.


While many of the flashier editing techniques seem quite dated and clichéd, it is important to remember that this film is over 20 years old, and is reflective of a time when civilization seemed to be evolving backwards, and an era in which political power came to be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. This was especially true in Britain, always a very class-conscious nation, and Jarman intensely explores the contradiction of rigid social stratification in a supposedly free and open society.


Through frequent allusions to Nazi Germany and the Blitzkrieg, Jarman draws stark contrasts between the steely, optimistic Britain of the 1940s and what he believed to be a nation of numbing conformity in the 80s. The changes in the political landscape during that decade have never been universally accepted, and are the true antecedents of today’s “culture wars”.


While Jarman’s film is at times too creative for its own good, underneath the baffling arty glitz is a clear and damning condemnation: Governments are quick to celebrate their successes, but never concede their failures.


More Info

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Two by Götz Spielmann

With two excellent feature films, talented Austrian writer/director Götz Spielmann made the world sit up and take notice in the 2000's. He established himself as a filmmaker unafraid of life's downbeat rhythms and the power struggles unleashed by human sexual desire. Despite unconfirmed rumors of various projects in the works, Spielmann has not made a new film in four years. While we eagerly await a new production - with no indication of when that will be - it's clear it will be quite awhile before another Spielmann film makes it to North American audiences. Fortunately, his two previous successes are readily available on home video, and any fan of reality-driven dramas would do well to check them out.


In 2004's Antares, set during a cold, overcast weekend in Vienna, we peer through the drab concrete walls of a high rise apartment building and into the complicated lives its residents in three lightly interwoven tales of domestic strife. The first story concerns an attractive middle class couple (Petra Morze and Hary Prinz) whose opposing work schedules have caused their lives to become a grinding routine, and their marriage to slowly erode.


Next, we learn about a young grocery cashier (Suzanne Wuest) who is desperately trying to get pregnant for all the wrong reasons. Lastly, we meet a sociopathic realtor (well played by Alex Kiendl) whose emotions can range from smoothly charming to violently abusive in mere seconds, and we become involved in his pathetic attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife (Martina Zinner), who is trying to rebuild her life.


The first narrative is the strongest, featuring a compelling performance by Morze (who is sort of the Catherine Deneuve of Austria) as well as some surprisingly graphic sexuality. Viewers may even feel a bit of a let down when the second story commences, but stick with it, as the momentum is soon restored and we are treated to an ending that ties up all the loose threads in a believable and satisfying way.


Here the director is clearly influenced by the work of his fellow Austrian Michael Haneke, but Spielmann’s filmic stylings are more traditional, and, while there are moments here that will make you gasp, he wisely never delves full-out into Haneke’s brand of drastic, intentionally disturbing realism. Antares is reminiscent of an edition of well crafted short stories and if, for instance, John Cheever or Raymond Carver were from Eastern Europe, the results would look something like this.






2008's Revanche is an extraordinary film all about the symbiotic relationship between opposites and how they not only attract, but actually need each other to survive. Fittingly enough, the film feels at times like two completely different tales rolled into one. Yet this polarity is neither confusing nor intimidating, and in fact adds an enticing flavor to the narrative.


The first half of the film takes place in a Viennese sex club where a recent Ukrainian immigrant named Tamara (Irina Potapenko) uses her willowy allure to build a steady clientele of middle-class Austrian businessmen. She also maintains a romantic relationship with strong and silent Alex (Johannes Kirsh), the club’s bouncer and handyman, who dreams of settling down with Tamara for a better, and more conventional, future. As life at the club becomes more and more dangerous, Alex hatches a hastily conceived scheme to finance their escape, but a series of missteps, and just plain bad timing, reveal the fatal flaws in his plan.


The scene then shifts to a nearby rural community, where Alex reconnects with his elderly grandfather (Johannes Tannheiser, whose character takes stubbornness to amusing new levels) and generally keeps a low profile. But there are two other characters waiting to round out our scenario; a frustrated hausfrau named Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and her policeman husband Robert (Andreas Lust) who, each in their own way, either use Alex or are used by him to attain a deeply personal solace.


The film showcases Spielmann's marvelous gift for recreating the light, space and rhythms of reality.  Within his airy dramatic pauses and leisurely vistas of rolling farmland, we are allowed the time to absorb and contemplate the deep-rooted fears and emotions that have driven all of these characters to the edge of a bleak desperation.


While Robert and Alex have clear cause to develop into mortal enemies, Spielmann craftily elects to show us that the men share a secret tragic history; a history that affects each of them in equal, but ironic, ways. For its type, Revanche is a nearly perfect film: full of earthy beauty, impeccable pacing, stark authenticity and masterful direction.

Two by Götz Spielmann

With two excellent feature films, talented Austrian writer/director Götz Spielmann made the world sit up and take notice in the 2000's. He established himself as a filmmaker unafraid of life's downbeat rhythms and the power struggles unleashed by human sexual desire. Despite unconfirmed rumors of various projects in the works, Spielmann has not made a new film in four years. While we eagerly await a new production - with no indication of when that will be - it's clear it will be quite awhile before another Spielmann film makes it to North American audiences. Fortunately, his two previous successes are readily available on home video, and any fan of reality-driven dramas would do well to check them out.


In 2004's Antares, set during a cold, overcast weekend in Vienna, we peer through the drab concrete walls of a high rise apartment building and into the complicated lives its residents in three lightly interwoven tales of domestic strife. The first story concerns an attractive middle class couple (Petra Morze and Hary Prinz) whose opposing work schedules have caused their lives to become a grinding routine, and their marriage to slowly erode.


Next, we learn about a young grocery cashier (Suzanne Wuest) who is desperately trying to get pregnant for all the wrong reasons. Lastly, we meet a sociopathic realtor (well played by Alex Kiendl) whose emotions can range from smoothly charming to violently abusive in mere seconds, and we become involved in his pathetic attempts to reconcile with his estranged wife (Martina Zinner), who is trying to rebuild her life.


The first narrative is the strongest, featuring a compelling performance by Morze (who is sort of the Catherine Deneuve of Austria) as well as some surprisingly graphic sexuality. Viewers may even feel a bit of a let down when the second story commences, but stick with it, as the momentum is soon restored and we are treated to an ending that ties up all the loose threads in a believable and satisfying way.


Here the director is clearly influenced by the work of his fellow Austrian Michael Haneke, but Spielmann’s filmic stylings are more traditional, and, while there are moments here that will make you gasp, he wisely never delves full-out into Haneke’s brand of drastic, intentionally disturbing realism. Antares is reminiscent of an edition of well crafted short stories and if, for instance, John Cheever or Raymond Carver were from Eastern Europe, the results would look something like this.






2008's Revanche is an extraordinary film all about the symbiotic relationship between opposites and how they not only attract, but actually need each other to survive. Fittingly enough, the film feels at times like two completely different tales rolled into one. Yet this polarity is neither confusing nor intimidating, and in fact adds an enticing flavor to the narrative.


The first half of the film takes place in a Viennese sex club where a recent Ukrainian immigrant named Tamara (Irina Potapenko) uses her willowy allure to build a steady clientele of middle-class Austrian businessmen. She also maintains a romantic relationship with strong and silent Alex (Johannes Kirsh), the club’s bouncer and handyman, who dreams of settling down with Tamara for a better, and more conventional, future. As life at the club becomes more and more dangerous, Alex hatches a hastily conceived scheme to finance their escape, but a series of missteps, and just plain bad timing, reveal the fatal flaws in his plan.


The scene then shifts to a nearby rural community, where Alex reconnects with his elderly grandfather (Johannes Tannheiser, whose character takes stubbornness to amusing new levels) and generally keeps a low profile. But there are two other characters waiting to round out our scenario; a frustrated hausfrau named Susanne (Ursula Strauss) and her policeman husband Robert (Andreas Lust) who, each in their own way, either use Alex or are used by him to attain a deeply personal solace.


The film showcases Spielmann's marvelous gift for recreating the light, space and rhythms of reality.  Within his airy dramatic pauses and leisurely vistas of rolling farmland, we are allowed the time to absorb and contemplate the deep-rooted fears and emotions that have driven all of these characters to the edge of a bleak desperation.


While Robert and Alex have clear cause to develop into mortal enemies, Spielmann craftily elects to show us that the men share a secret tragic history; a history that affects each of them in equal, but ironic, ways. For its type, Revanche is a nearly perfect film: full of earthy beauty, impeccable pacing, stark authenticity and masterful direction.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Metrosexuals of Steel and Panic in the Sky




A few snippets of the new Superman film Man of Steel surfaced last week at Comic-Con, and it appears the iconic superhero has been given the full Chris Nolan nocturnal Goth treatment. Superman is impervious to everything but kryptonite and, apparently, the capricious whims of popular culture. And like pop culture, the last 20 years have been difficult ones for ol’ Supes, as countless traumatic efforts have been made to hip-hop him into relevancy. During this period he has died, been reborn as four different characters, mucked about in alternate universes and, worst of all, sported a mullet. Most recently, Superman renounced his American citizenship in favor of an Internationalist lifestyle. So much for truth, justice and the American way.



2006’s Superman Returns was widely regarded a failure, although I loved it and gave it 4.5 stars. It managed an entertaining story that didn’t destroy the traditional legend entirely, provided you overlook the strong implication that Superman was a baby diddy. Superman Returns was a love letter to the character, particularly all of his on screen manifestations, but its oblique references were lost on the Playstation crowd. Jack Larson and Noel Neill, stalwarts from the 1950’s TV show, appeared in bit parts, while the film’s music featured direct quotations from John Williams’ score composed for the Chris Reeve franchise of the 1970’s. And there was even a connection to the Kirk Alyn serials of the 1940’s, as star Brandon Routh’s lanky build was reminiscent of Alyn’s dancer physique. But Superman Returns was marred by hokey religious analogies and a surprisingly uncathartic ending; an ending that screamed for a sequel that will never be made. Superman has moved on to Henry Cavill in murky colored tights with weird art deco piping. The Man of Steel is now a throughly modern Metropolis metrosexual.

Folks my age - that nebulous demographic wedged between the Boomers and GenX - usually think of the late, lamented Christopher Reeve as the essential Superman. But my preferred embodiment of the character runs a few years earlier to The Adventures of Superman TV show, and the heroic stylings of the equally late and lamented George Reeves. No one milked the takeoffs and landings for dramatic effect better than Reeves’ Man of Steel. Then, once Metropolis had been restored to order, he’d suddenly reappear as boring, buttoned down Clark Kent, often while making a final adjustment on his newly tied Windsor knot. And with a well timed witticism and a wink to camera, both the city and Superman’s secret were safe for another week.



The Adventures of Superman was an extension of the radio dramas and B-grade detective movies that preceded it. Thus George Reeves’ Metropolis was a city of small time hoods; chain smoking knuckle-crackers in big hats with names like Blackie and Mumbles. These unkempt thugs might manage a temporary tactical advantage over Superman in the early going, but there was never any doubt that Reeves would eventually take flight out of a broom closet window and make short work of the miscreants.



But in an episode from Season 2 entitled Panic in the Sky, Superman comes very close to meeting his super-maker, not to mention spilling the beans on his secret identity. In fact, this lowly TV episode comprises the most exciting 30 minutes of Superman narrative ever photographed. No subsequent big budget CGI-laced extravaganza has surpassed it, although the surprise ending of Superman II (1979) comes slightly close.



In Panic in the Sky, Earth faces destruction from an approaching meteor. Superman, advised by a kindly scientist (Jonathan Hale), flys up to the meteor in an attempt to destroy it, but encounters an unknown type of radiation that nearly destroys him. His mission a failure, Superman shakily returns to Earth, drained of strength and his memory a misty haze. Meanwhile, the meteor’s gravitational pull plays havoc with Earth’s weather patterns, unleashing violent storms and earthquakes all over the globe. As the planet becomes engulfed in its death rattles, the only being who can save the world lies sleeping in a Metropolis sickbed, sapped of his superpowers and unable to remember his heroic history. Humanity must face its darkest hour alone while its Kryptonian champion grapples with amnesia.



Panic in the Sky is a triumph of mood and suggestion. Its few attempts at special effects are laughable by today’s standards, yet the dire situational dramatics cut through with conviction and clarity. The terrifying destruction ravaged by the asteroid is never shown, but only mentioned as news reports “off the wire”, read aloud by Perry White, his head engulfed by smoke from a nervously puffed cigar. Tension and suspense builds through every scene, greatly enhanced by the use of some well selected stock music (that’s right, stock music. The only original music in the series was the opening theme).



The episode shifts from macro to micro scales. As Earth prepares for a mysterious armageddon, Clark Kent is absorbed with his own strange mysteries, including some odd garments hanging from a secret compartment in his closet. But this closet has no window through which he can heroically take flight, only a hidden sliding door that leads to more questions than answers. Ultimately, like Superman Returns, the episode takes on its own messianic overtones, as the approaching meteor becomes a symbol of a world without Superman; a dark hellfire no longer held at bay by bright and righteous counterbalances.

Produced for peanuts and beset with cheesy visuals, Panic in the Sky remains an exciting and entertaining chunk of Superman’s filmic legacy. Nearly 60 years later, the installment continues to fascinate and engross, and I’d wager it did more to popularize the Man of Steel than all the subsequent reboots and super-facelifts combined. Sometimes a concept should be left alone, immune to the shifting breezes of fashion. Hollywood and DC Comics have a huge investment in the new Superman movie, and hopefully it will revitalize this splendid character for a new generation. But I’d be stunned if its entertainment value is any greater than 1953’s Panic in the Sky.









Metrosexuals of Steel and Panic in the Sky




A few snippets of the new Superman film Man of Steel surfaced last week at Comic-Con, and it appears the iconic superhero has been given the full Chris Nolan nocturnal Goth treatment. Superman is impervious to everything but kryptonite and, apparently, the capricious whims of popular culture. And like pop culture, the last 20 years have been difficult ones for ol’ Supes, as countless traumatic efforts have been made to hip-hop him into relevancy. During this period he has died, been reborn as four different characters, mucked about in alternate universes and, worst of all, sported a mullet. Most recently, Superman renounced his American citizenship in favor of an Internationalist lifestyle. So much for truth, justice and the American way.



2006’s Superman Returns was widely regarded a failure, although I loved it and gave it 4.5 stars. It managed an entertaining story that didn’t destroy the traditional legend entirely, provided you overlook the strong implication that Superman was a baby diddy. Superman Returns was a love letter to the character, particularly all of his on screen manifestations, but its oblique references were lost on the Playstation crowd. Jack Larson and Noel Neill, stalwarts from the 1950’s TV show, appeared in bit parts, while the film’s music featured direct quotations from John Williams’ score composed for the Chris Reeve franchise of the 1970’s. And there was even a connection to the Kirk Alyn serials of the 1940’s, as star Brandon Routh’s lanky build was reminiscent of Alyn’s dancer physique. But Superman Returns was marred by hokey religious analogies and a surprisingly uncathartic ending; an ending that screamed for a sequel that will never be made. Superman has moved on to Henry Cavill in murky colored tights with weird art deco piping. The Man of Steel is now a throughly modern Metropolis metrosexual.

Folks my age - that nebulous demographic wedged between the Boomers and GenX - usually think of the late, lamented Christopher Reeve as the essential Superman. But my preferred embodiment of the character runs a few years earlier to The Adventures of Superman TV show, and the heroic stylings of the equally late and lamented George Reeves. No one milked the takeoffs and landings for dramatic effect better than Reeves’ Man of Steel. Then, once Metropolis had been restored to order, he’d suddenly reappear as boring, buttoned down Clark Kent, often while making a final adjustment on his newly tied Windsor knot. And with a well timed witticism and a wink to camera, both the city and Superman’s secret were safe for another week.



The Adventures of Superman was an extension of the radio dramas and B-grade detective movies that preceded it. Thus George Reeves’ Metropolis was a city of small time hoods; chain smoking knuckle-crackers in big hats with names like Blackie and Mumbles. These unkempt thugs might manage a temporary tactical advantage over Superman in the early going, but there was never any doubt that Reeves would eventually take flight out of a broom closet window and make short work of the miscreants.



But in an episode from Season 2 entitled Panic in the Sky, Superman comes very close to meeting his super-maker, not to mention spilling the beans on his secret identity. In fact, this lowly TV episode comprises the most exciting 30 minutes of Superman narrative ever photographed. No subsequent big budget CGI-laced extravaganza has surpassed it, although the surprise ending of Superman II (1979) comes slightly close.



In Panic in the Sky, Earth faces destruction from an approaching meteor. Superman, advised by a kindly scientist (Jonathan Hale), flys up to the meteor in an attempt to destroy it, but encounters an unknown type of radiation that nearly destroys him. His mission a failure, Superman shakily returns to Earth, drained of strength and his memory a misty haze. Meanwhile, the meteor’s gravitational pull plays havoc with Earth’s weather patterns, unleashing violent storms and earthquakes all over the globe. As the planet becomes engulfed in its death rattles, the only being who can save the world lies sleeping in a Metropolis sickbed, sapped of his superpowers and unable to remember his heroic history. Humanity must face its darkest hour alone while its Kryptonian champion grapples with amnesia.



Panic in the Sky is a triumph of mood and suggestion. Its few attempts at special effects are laughable by today’s standards, yet the dire situational dramatics cut through with conviction and clarity. The terrifying destruction ravaged by the asteroid is never shown, but only mentioned as news reports “off the wire”, read aloud by Perry White, his head engulfed by smoke from a nervously puffed cigar. Tension and suspense builds through every scene, greatly enhanced by the use of some well selected stock music (that’s right, stock music. The only original music in the series was the opening theme).



The episode shifts from macro to micro scales. As Earth prepares for a mysterious armageddon, Clark Kent is absorbed with his own strange mysteries, including some odd garments hanging from a secret compartment in his closet. But this closet has no window through which he can heroically take flight, only a hidden sliding door that leads to more questions than answers. Ultimately, like Superman Returns, the episode takes on its own messianic overtones, as the approaching meteor becomes a symbol of a world without Superman; a dark hellfire no longer held at bay by bright and righteous counterbalances.

Produced for peanuts and beset with cheesy visuals, Panic in the Sky remains an exciting and entertaining chunk of Superman’s filmic legacy. Nearly 60 years later, the installment continues to fascinate and engross, and I’d wager it did more to popularize the Man of Steel than all the subsequent reboots and super-facelifts combined. Sometimes a concept should be left alone, immune to the shifting breezes of fashion. Hollywood and DC Comics have a huge investment in the new Superman movie, and hopefully it will revitalize this splendid character for a new generation. But I’d be stunned if its entertainment value is any greater than 1953’s Panic in the Sky.









10 Years of The Savages

The Savages struck a vibrant chord with me when it was first released 10 years ago. It’s all about a pair of 40-ish siblings...