Even if unbeknownst you have more likely than not been exposed to the influential far-reaching comedic prose of the Marx Brothers. If you haven’t been privy to their work directly than you have experienced Marxist comedy indirectly in your comedy idols. The legendary Adam Sandler recalls being awoken at 1 a.m. by his father Stan to catch Marx films playing on the T.V. Comedic auteur Woody Allen’s most successful film “Annie Hall” quotes Groucho Marx and attributes the whole theme of the film around the late genius’s quote “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” If either of these references has had no impact on you than the most apparent cultural influence the mirror scene from Duck Soup has. Even the viewer unfamiliar with the Marx brothers will know this scene once it begins. It begins with an empty door frame where two people, dressed similarly mimic one another movement to play off the characteristics of a mirror. It is one of the comedy classics. This famous scene has been parodied by countless popular medias such as Disney and Mickey Mouse, Lucielle Ball, and Family Guy. The Marx Brother’s quick one-liners, slapstick humor, and elegant deliveries have aged like a bottle of wine with the added benefit of being able to be understood, appreciated, and enjoyed by those of all ages.

For anyone who is not familiar with the Marx brothers or political satire Duck Soup is a wonderful introduction to the genres. Even for the viewer uneasy with politics, the perspective of fascism, socialism, and the government's effects on civilian life is delivered comedically and more importantly, understandably. Where most films in the political genre would choose to focus on either government or civilian life, Duck Soup is refreshing with a splash of both. A scene that encompasses the civilian ramifications of socialism is in the third act when Cheeko Marx spots the wife of his business rival. The average viewer may see this scene as nothing more than a young man who notices a beautiful woman but this scene is tempered by the oppression of socialism on small businesses. Cheeko’s reality as a businessman in a socialist European company is lackluster. He acts out throughout the film against his rival who runs a successful business. Due to the constraints of socialism Cheeko is in a position where his hands are tied and there is not much he can do to compete with his rival. He, in turn, strikes out the only way he can arbitrary pranks and jokes. For me, Duck Soup is a clear criticism of the European fascist socialist government and its limitations on small businesses.

When asked to explain the significance behind the title Groucho had a unique explanation. “Take two turkeys, one goose, four cabbages, but no duck, and mix them together. After one taste you’ll duck soup for the rest of your life.” Ruppert. T Firefly (Groucho Marx) is given control of the fictitious European country of Fredonia. His loose and uninformed approach to running the country leads directly to war. My opinion is that the tempered scenes of Duck Soup are allegorical for the faults of a fascist socialist government, diplomacy, and war, which after you get one taste of you’ll want to duck for the rest of your life. In traditional satire fashion, the goal here is to provide commentary on the current state of world affairs. Duck Soup was banned in Italy by Musseli and released 10-months after Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany. The most obvious commentary to come out of Duck Soup is it’s Parallel to Europe at its time of release.

The most dated visual component of Duck Soup is it’s transition and establishing shots. The opening shot foreshadows the age of the film as it uses a traditional fade and noticeable linear wipe to a wide establishing shot of a random European villa which is followed by a diagonal wipe to its interior. For me, a viewer familiar with the film industry and film studies. The impact of Duck Soup is clearly not seen in its technical aspects or impressive cinematography.

Updated: Apr 14

“Fantastic Planet,” by director René Laloux is a visually interesting sci-fi animation. The story leisures the idiosyncrasy and similarity in co-existing creatures. At times referred to by analysts as “The Wild Planet”, this film began it’s production in 1963 and finished ten years later in 1973. Written by Laloux and Roland Topor, the pair base their inspiration for this unique film on the 1957 novel "Oms en série," by French writer Stefan Wul. The film's score, a broach between strange and beautiful, was composed by Alain Goraguer. The film was released in 1973 to critical acclaim and was awarded the Grand Prix special jury prize at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival. In 2016 this film was ranked by Rolling Stones Magazine as the 36th greatest animated movie of all time. For the profound allegorical themes cohesively explored in Laloux's “Fantastic Planet” one-hour runtime, this rating seems just right. In a distant future, gargantuan blue humanoid ‘Draags’ have brought human beings (who are called Oms as a play on the French word for "man", homme) from Earth to the planet Ygam, where Draags maintain a technologically and spiritually advanced society. The Draags consider Oms animals. Some Oms are domesticated, but most live in the wilderness and seasonally slaughtered by the Draags in order to control their population. Most of the Draags fail to see the adaptive potential in the Om who are regarded as nothing more than incompetent playthings. Master Sinh, the leader of a Draag city, warns the Draags that the Oms are much more dangerous than they seem. At first, Draag culture is superfluously unfamiliar and distinct. What familiarizes the experience for the Om and the viewer is a desire to learn more about the Draag. For the Draag, learning to meditate was an essential step on the road to knowledge. Their meditation ritual paralleled the Om’s ‘glow-stone’ ritual. The similarities between the two rituals are evident in the themes of achieving higher knowledge. The Draags meditation is abstract and their essence is absorbed into a physical ball that is sent to a distant planet. On this planet, the Draag's essence performs sexual acts with other Dragg souls. The Om 'glow-stone' ritual is very similar albeit more savage. Beginning with the consumption of a stone that causes it's host to glow, hence glow-stone, a large group of men chase down a smaller group of women in order to have sex. For the Draags and the Oms sexual vitality is essential for their pursuit of higher knowledge since without it they're cultures lose a critical pillar of order. The drive to learn is evident in Terr, the Om of a Draag, Tiwa. Unbeknownst to Tiwa, Terr is also learning when she partakes in online classes. “I liked the lessons and did my best to make the most of them,” Terr spends most of his time in captivity with Tiwa studying and learning about Draag history. When Terr is caught participating in a lesson without Tiwa by Master Sinh and his wife he quickly scrambles away. Master Sinh is asked by his wife, “Do you think he understands what he is saying?” Master Sinh responds “No, I do not think so.” An allegorical depiction of bigots is evident in how Draags obtusely look down on Om as incompetent even when evidence to state the opposite is clearly presented. Another instance of obtuse behavior from the Draag is when Master Sinh warns the Draag of Oms potential and adaptiveness, ”you are wrong to consider oms are merely wild animals.” The ramifications of the council’s decision to be ignorant towards Sing and his observations is swift in the subsequent death of a Draag at Oms's hands.

A scene that cross-pollinates the biblical theme of knowledge versus ignorance is seen when Terr recognizes his nakedness. Terr’s recognization is lifted from the story of man, Adam. In the case of Terr, he does not bite an apple but he chooses to use Draag technology. In choosing to use the forbidden technology, Terr grows in intelligence. This leads directly to his recognition of nakedness and his feeling of shame. The allegory behind the statement ignorance is bliss is tempered in every frame by Terr who fights (literally, he fights to the death against another Om in order to continue spreading Draag knowledge) a destiny of ignorance in order to save the Om. The sci-fi look of “Fantastic Planet” is mesmerizing. The weird flamboyant class of the Draags against the motivated barbarism of the Om is a classic example of surface contrast with underlying, layered, similarities. The animations of the world and it’s inhabitants are textured in ways that give them a gritty hand-drawn feeling. Every animation feels purposeful with the weight and sizes of the characters having an impact on the Darwinistic world they inhabit. It’s a large and dangerous world for the Om who are pushed to either adapt or die. The purposeful movements of the animations are supported by a mesmeric soundtrack. In a review for AllMusic, radio host and experimental music enthusiast François Couture noted: The main theme is very reminiscent of Pink Floyd's "Atom Heart Mother Suite" (same half-time tempo, mellotron, harpsichord, and wah-wah guitar), and the other two are a ballad and a circus-like waltz. The music is very '70s-clichéd and will appeal to fans of French and Italian '70s soundtrack stylings. Although repetitive, the album itself creates an interesting marijuana-induced sci-fi floating mood, blending psychedelia, jazz, and funk.”

A prevalent theme in this film is race discrimination. The Draags look down on the Om with who they share more similarities than differences. The only real difference that they share is in their appearances. This idea is alluded to when Tiwa draws eyelids on her face. She might have been oblivious to it at the time but the two were able to communicate and understand each other on a level much higher than owner and pet. “Fantastic Planet” is the closet thing a film can have to an epiphany. Apart from getting under your skin with its profound allegories, quirky characters, and psychic soundtrack, this film will give you an appreciation for education and ignorance in ways, you either know all about or have been selectively oblivious to.

Stream “Fantastic Planet," on Amazon Prime for $2.99.

When it comes to the disenfranchisement of gender and identity groups the entertainment industry wins double-jeopardy. The issue of homosexuality representation in the entertainment industry has been pertinently ignored and subsequently, in response to the growing outcries of ostracization from the various letters (LGBTQIA), there has been a steady increase in film and television representatives. Letter representation in recent years has triumphed for the T’s “Transparent,” A’s “Bojack Horseman,” B’s “My Beautiful Laundrette,” and G’s “Call me by your Name," and for all the LGBTQIA in Robert Epstein's "The Celluloid Closet." None of these voices would have reached the global and mainstream attention they have today if it weren't for Epstein's "Celluloid Closet." An American classic, it covers the history of how motion pictures, especially Hollywood films, had portrayed gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters. "Celluloid" pioneered in the portrayal of homosexuality during a time when many would have never broached the subject. Ironically, the entertainment industry is where symbolic representations of gender are created so naturally, it is also where they evolve. Flash forward. Awarded Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival, French minimalist Céline Sciamma has created a voice of hope for L’s in her direction of a love story between a young painter who falls for her mysterious muse. Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel star in “Portrait of a Lady on Fire.”

"Portrait of a Lady on Fire," takes place in France, 1760. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a young woman who has just left the French convent. Because she is a reluctant bride-to-be, Marianne arrives under the guise of companionship, observing Héloïse by day and secretly painting her by firelight at night. The electricity in the air is felt with each cautious conversation between Marianne and Heloise. As the two women orbit one another, intimacy and attraction grow as they share Héloïse's first moments of freedom. Héloïse's portrait soon becomes a collaborative act of and a testament to their love and a maternalized confrontation of their internal demons. Gag. I really wanted to stop watching this film. It is completely the opposite of what I have expected from two women sharing the screen. Do NOT watch this film if you are expecting to see action. Much of what goes on between the characters is internalized and left up to the viewer's interpretation. In doing this, Schiamma describes the feeling of love as an uncharted, unknown force that compels us to act questionably. Albeit, they are in love, Celine Sciamma writes her characters as people first not as lovers. Heloise is careful and calculated in her actions and words to Marianne who is much more brass and outgoing. I will chalk it up to my lack of life experience but I expected the characters to be more physical. In lieu of glib characters and it’s passing of the Bechdel test, Sciamma arouses mysterious energy that oozes out of each of her frames.

The cinematography in Portrait is tantalizing. Director of Photography Claire Mathon (Atlantics) depicts the raw sensual nature of lust and human desire through her use of point of view. This camera technique works in tangent with a compelling screenplay and the mise-en-scene of a grand French villa to propel the story forward. The most memorable use of point of view is the opening shot: Marianne is revealed riding bow; cut to her pov which reveals her company on a small raft; Closing shot: Marianne is facing away from the rest of the crew; Her point of view is used to establish where she is going. In the case of this scene, the point of view is used to internalize Marianne's destination and force the viewer, in turn, to question her motives (she clutches her cargo tightly to her body). Every frame looks like a painting. This is achieved by excellent coordination between the lighting, set, and production crews. The dietetic (pouring of wine, brush strokes), non-diegetic sound (waves, sand shifting), editing, and genre also help create a mood of high-class excellency. The notion of high brow art and emotion is further reinforced in the color theory inspired costuming. Marianne is dressed in red, a symbol of youth and excitement; Héloïse is draped in blue a sign of sadness and depression; Sophie (Luàna Bajrami) wears white, a sign of rebirth. Like a painting, everything about this film seems intentional.

“Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” is a film you shouldn’t miss.

© 2023 by Giorgio Citarella II