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    Mirror Images of Fatherland / Memories of Maureen

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Directed by Ken Loach (Land and Freedom, Jimmy’s Hall) and written by Trevor Griffiths (Comedians, Reds), Fatherland (1986), shown in the U.S. as Singing the Blues in Red, is a cinematic hall of mirrors with artistic transition and cultural commoditization as key themes. Dissident East German protest singer Klaus Dittemann (Gerulf Pannach), a thorn in the side of his would-be censors and repressors, is exiled to West Germany, where the waiting arms of capitalism, i.e. media and marketing, lie in wait to turn his anti-authoritarian radicalism into currency. In his only film appearance, singer/songwriter Pannach was a natural, playing a mirror-image of himself and his time as a “Liedermacher” who was expelled from his home country, here seeing himself strategically branded on comp album cover designs and wondering what’s being sold. For Loach, the reflection in the glass was of the artist at his own filmmaking crossroads; in the unfriendly mid-1980s climate for film funding in England, he had to seek co-financing for the project from French and German sources to augment the merely partial backing he could obtain from Britain’s Film 4. Griffiths’ Reds screenplay, written with Warren Beatty, depicted a version of journalist/activist John Reed’s journey from political idealism to disillusionment with Communism; he saw something similar in Dittemann’s/Pannach’s odyssey, exploring the dissident artist’s place in a world where there’s no escape from the external forces of “packaging” and “compromise,” whatever side of a Berlin Wall you’re on. In a kind of Astaire/Rogers parallel (“He gave her class.” “She gave him sex appeal.”), Griffiths gave the film’s themes a heightened, literary form of expression and Loach gave those themes a searing visual reality (with an excellent assist from Chris Menges, the Oscar®-winning cinematographer of The Killing Fields and The Mission). Loach and Griffiths were in transition at this point in their careers, and that’s always a great time to check out artists’ work for signs of breakthroughs – and future greatness to come. Fatherland debuts on hi-def Blu-ray November 10; pre-orders open on October 28. Loach’s latest film Jimmy’s Hall (2014) debuts on Blu-ray from our friends at Sony one week later.

    During her 60-year film career, the radiant Maureen O’Hara, who died Saturday at age 95, brought her spirit, beauty and grace to dozens of movies opposite many of Hollywood’s top leading men. “Her crisp and somehow innocent competence,” film historian David Shipman wrote in The Great Movie Stars: The International Years, “has combined with that beauty to make her one of the most eternally welcome of leading ladies.” Five-time co-star John Wayne was preeminent in the many tributes paid to her (and in life as well), and she shared the screen more than once with mentor Charles Laughton as well as Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, John Payne and Brian Keith. Alongside the romances, Westerns, period adventures and biopics that line her resume, she demonstrated a marvelous affinity for comedy, with such gems as Miracle on 34th Street, Sitting Pretty, Our Man in Havana and The Parent Trap as prime examples. In the 1960s, she coupled with another icon, the equally singular James Stewart, on one more comic delight, the nimble audience pleaser Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation, available on a sparkling Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray. As the stalwart wife of constantly befuddled paterfamilias Stewart and the ever-wise, ever-patient mother of a brood of rambunctious kids all packed into a ramshackle seaside house, she brings the flint and charm of all her previous roles to bear and makes it appear effortless. The result is that she and Stewart transform a slight dysfunctional family comedy into a knowing entertainment that imprints itself on our memories and hearts. Thanks to her movies, there she will remain.