Michael Wilmington Captivated by “Cinderella” and Angry Cat Lucifer

Lucifer the cat from Cinderella

Film critic Michael Wilmington tells about how the first movie he ever saw, with his mother – when he was 3 or 4 years old – was “Cinderella”. “Cinderella” first came to the movie screen in 1950 from Walt Disney Pictures. Over the years many more versions of the story have been made into a movie, Cinderella II: Dreams Come True (2002), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007), Another Cinderella Story (2008), Cinderella Story: Once Upon a Time (2011), Cinderella Story: If the Shoe Fits (2016), Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish (2019), and Cinderella Story: Star Struck (2021). However, there are 500 other versions across Europe and the U.S. It is believed that the story originated in China during the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 CE). But the girl’s name was not Cinderella it was Yen-Shen, and the fairy godmother was a fish which she believes is the reincarnation of her deceased mother. Oh, there is so much magic in storytelling.

Michael tells of how when he saw Cinderella and the image of the black cat, Lucifer, he was so terrified he ran from the theater. That was the moment that Michael knew he loved the movies – as he was terrified enough to feel so scared he ran from it, but eventually he ran back because he understood the emotional connection and felt the power – and from that day forward Michael Wilmington could not get enough of the movies.

Check out the Lucifer trailer here: https://vimeo.com/962714890

“Citizen Kane” A Film Critic’s Inspiration

Citizen Kane Movie Poster

Michael Wilmington was only twelve when he first watched “Citizen Kane”, the RKO classic film made by Orson Welles in 1941.  It is the film that inspired Michael to be a film critic, and from the moment he saw those great deep focus shots by Gregg Toland, he states, “it ravished me, it always does.”

Over the years Michael wrote how he has “seen the film over 60 times and never been bored for an instant.”

“From its opening moments it keeps you in a captivated grip. Those ominous opening chords by composer Bernard Herrmann; the German expressionist nightmare episode of Kane’s death and his mysterious dying word, “Rosebud”; the “March of Time”-style newsreel of his life; the frenetic backstage glimpse of the newsreel makers and reporters deciding on a follow-up story on the meaning of “Rosebud.” – Chicago Tribune – “What’s so Great About Citizen Kane” by Michael Wilmington, July 2005

Film criticism first appeared in newspapers and magazines in he beginning of the 20th century. Although Michael was only twelve-years-old when he first saw “Citizen Kane”, it remained number one on British Film Institute’s (BFI) Sight and Sound’s list of the Greatest Movies of All Time for forty years, only to be replaced by “Vertigo” in 2012 when “Citizen Kane” slipped to number two.

Since 1952 BFI has conducted a decennial poll of the Greatest Films of All Time. At that time there were 145 critics polled, then as years passed, the pool of BFI critics increased to 846 and in 2022 BFI sent out ballots to 1,639 critics to compose a list of the top 250 Greatest Films of All Time where “Citizen Kane” still holds a spot. Orson’s masterpiece remains on the BFI list today, but “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is in the top spot this year.

The American Film Institute (AFI) also held “Citizen Kane” as one of the Greatest Movies of All Time.

It is interesting to note that while Orson Welles himself did like his groundbreaking film, he seemed to disagree that “Citizen Kane” was the greatest film of all time when he was interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970 saying , “my next one is though.”

Also where Orson Wells was born in Kenosha in 1915 and Michael Wilmington was born in Elkhorn in 1946, both men shared Wisconsin as their place of birth.

 Watch the trailer on “Citizen Kane” here! https://vimeo.com/962717900 

Michael Wilmington’s favorite fable “Bartholomew Croy and the Bubbula Bush”

Michael Wilmington was a fierce film critic during a time when some of the greatest movies ever made were produced and immortalized. Yet, for all the reviews and essays, and articles he wrote about the movies, he said that one of his favorites was a story called “Bartholomew Croy and the Bubbula Bush”. Of all the film critics who ever gave their viewpoints and reactions to new films, Michael Wilmington is one that poured out his heart and soul into every review he wrote. See the side of him that tells a fractured fable of woe about the Hollywood movie-making machine and all the toils and troubles that go with it.

Michael associated with plenty of fellow critics, like Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert, and knowledgeable film scholars, like Joesph McBride and David Bordwell, from both coasts and the Midwest. He taught film classes in Chicago and loved going to see the movies in the neighborhood theaters to hear the crowd’s reaction and feel the vibe. In a way he was a critic’s critic as he loved to talk about the merits of a film with fellow critics and he was always interested in conveying the essence of a film to his readers. He knew how important good criticism was and how it helped to provide new perspectives, perspectives that could otherwise have gone unnoticed and under-appreciated. Michael knew how to write film reviews that mattered. This is what we will be sharing more of as our documentary “There’s Always Another Movie” is finally completed.

Here are the opening lines of the fable and Michael’s reason for writing it. Along with a follow-up option to see the entire reading by Michael. Enjoy!


`GLAD’ TIDINGS by Film Critic Michael Wilmington – from May 05, 2000

Gladiator Mike
Oscar Contest with Michael Wilmington

‘Glad’ Tidings – By Michael Wilmington and Chicago Tribune Movie Critic

`Gladiator,” at its best, is a magnificent throwback to the epics of another day. Ridley Scott’s adventure saga about the decline of the Roman Empire — and the rise of the warrior-performers who fought to the death for its crowds’ entertainment — is a movie of almost overwhelming visual grandeur and excitement: a bloody Roman festival capable of leaving any susceptible audience breathless.

Scott, one of the great modern movie stylists, hasn’t made a movie this visually electrifying since his 1982 sci-fi noir classic, “Blade Runner,” which shares with “Gladiator” a similar bleak vision of a loner-hero battling his way though a corrupt, menacing world. Here, though, the imagined terrain is historical. We are trapped not in the grim paranoid future of “Blade Runner” but in a turbulent past: the Roman Empire, which, with all its gaudiness and corruption, has continuously fascinated moviemakers from the first great spectacle movie, Italy’s “Cabiria” (1914), right up through the ’60s, with Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” and Federico Fellini’s “Satyricon.”

Though the genre has been largely moribund since then, “Gladiator” restores its luster; it’s definitely the most visually spectacular of all Roman Empire epics. With the moody, highly physical Australian actor Russell Crowe starring as Maximus, a Roman general, who is enslaved and made a gladiator during the reign of mad emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), Scott’s film alternates scenes of exhilarating beauty with stunning, stomach-churning violence.

The movie has a bizarre patchwork screenplay — with real-life characters like Commodus and his father, Marcus Aurelius (played by Richard Harris), mingled with fictitious ones like Maximus — and, in some ways, it isn’t satisfying either dramatically or historically. But, successful script or not, this is a film that drenches you with spectacle, gorges you on excitement.

From its first scene, a hair-raising battle sequence in which Maximus routs an army of barbarians in a Germanic wood shrouded in gray mists, “Gladiator’s” images (often digitally enhanced to make them even more grandiloquent) grip and amaze. And they continue to amaze even as the story gets more melodramatic, as Commodus begins a jealous vendetta against Maximus, the man he’d like to be.

In the opening section, Scott and his writers show Harris’ Marcus Aurelius — whose famous “Meditations” are still read — as a kind of King Arthur turned King Lear, raging against the dying of the light. After deciding to name Maximus, and not his own son, Commodus, as his successor, Marcus foolishly informs demented Commodus of the plan. Commodus promptly strangles his dad, orders Maximus executed (after Maximus refuses to swear allegiance to him) and forges ahead to seduce both Rome and his sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen), a scorching beauty who is, of course, in love with Maximus.

Maximus escapes execution, but he is too late to rescue his wife and children from Commodus’ slaughtering centurions. And, after Maximus is captured by another group of soldiers who don’t know his true identity, he is made a gladiator, taught by grizzled Proximo (the late Oliver Reed) how to simultaneously fight and please a crowd.

So, Maximus returns to Rome as one of Proximo’s gladiators, nicknamed “The Spaniard.” After winning massive popularity for his stylish, brave coliseum kills (fighting alongside African fighting buddy Juba, played by Djimon Hounsou of “Amistad”), he links up with Lucilla and the republican senator Gracchus (Shakespearean Derek Jacobi), both of whom want to thwart Commodus’ burgeoning mad dictatorship. And Commodus, even when he recognizes Maximus, is unable to have him killed because of the gladiator’s godlike popularity. Maximus, as idolized as a Roman Muhammad Ali, keeps fighting.

The Roman Empire has been responsible for innumerable movie spectacles and some prodigies of waste, like the near studio-busting “Cleopatra” (1963). Telling this wildly improbable story, Scott and his colleagues employ their $100 million-plus budget with an imperial prodigality. But they get munificent results: filling the screen with one jaw-dropping production triumph after another.

Huge, digitally enhanced views of the coliseum (made to look many times larger than it actually is), packed with roaring crowds, haughty nobles and a simpering announcer (David Hemmings), stretch out, with intimidating vastness and sweep, above the combatants. The palatial Roman interiors reek of decadence and secret vice. The filmmakers keep working visual wonders, while the cast all play their parts to the hilt. With all this, and a near classic outsider-hero performance by Crowe, it’s a movie capable of enthralling, if not quite winning, your heart.

That’s probably because, beneath all its gaudy spectacle, “Gladiator” is a mishmash, with scenes and characters lifted out of other big-budget Roman Empire epics from the genre’s ’50s-’60s heyday. “Gladiator” recycles elements from 1959’s “Ben-Hur” (the revenge structure and the plot of a noble hero turned slave), 1960’s “Spartacus” (about a real-life revolt of gladiators; it also had a rebellious senator named Gracchus, played by Charles Laughton) and, even more strikingly, from 1964’s “The Fall of the Roman Empire,” which covers the same time period (circa 180 A.D.) and has three of the same historical characters (Commodus, Lucilla and Marcus Aurelius).

But it’s an extraordinary mishmash all the same. And Crowe gives an extraordinary lead performance, one that seems all the more remarkable after his brutal cop in “L.A. Confidential” and his chunky scientist in “The Insider.”

Unlike the films it draws from, though, “Gladiator” has no obvious old-style leftist political agenda. It’s not about a slave revolt, like “Spartacus,” or about the decadence of empires, like “Fall.” Instead it’s a classic revenge story, thrown against a backdrop of violent sport and jaded audiences, one intended to draw modern parallels.

Some of those ideas are confused. But “Gladiator” has the kind of super-cinematic qualities and bravura acting that make up for almost anything. In this movie, the crazy emperor’s thumb may be turned down, but not those of the coliseum crowd. Nor the movie audience’s.


(star)(star)(star) 1/2

Directed by Ridley Scott; written by David Franzoni, John Logan, William Nicholson; photographed by John Mathieson; edited by Pietro Scalia; production designed by Arthur Max; music by Hans Zimmer, Lisa Gerard; produced by Douglas Wick, Franzoni, Branko Lustig. A DreamWorks Pictures and Universal Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 2:34. MPAA rating: R (intense, graphic combat).


Maximus ………….. Russell Crowe

Commodus …………. Joaquin Phoenix

Lucilla ………….. Connie Nielsen

Proximo ………….. Oliver Reed

Gracchus …………. Derek Jacobi

Marcus Aurelius …… Richard Harris


Michael Wilmington Made the Movies His Muse – A Film Critic Extraordinaire 1946 to 2022

Michael Wilmington with Studs Tekel 2006
Michael Wilmington with Studs Tekel 2006 Facets Film Festival

I thought I was going to have more time in 2022 to write this but as we all know, we always fool ourselves into thinking that we have more time. It is with much sorrow and sadness while I write this post, that today, Thursday January 6 at 1pm, Pacific time, my longtime friend and film mentor, as well as nationally known film critic, Michael Wilmington passed away. The last several years have not been kind to Michael since his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. When he broke his hip in June of 2021, he never fully recovered.

Michael was one of the first people I met in 1974 when I started as a film student at the University of WI-Madison. I know now that meeting Michael had an influence on my life and how I would think of and talk about film for the rest of my life.

Since the year 2000, I have been working on a film about Michael’s life and career as a film critic at the Chicago Tribune. In the middle of making this film, Michael wrote a film script, Night of the Shrieking Dead (NoTSD), that he wanted to act in as well. I was the director on this short film that is now the film within the documentary film about him, There’s Always Another Movie. The film is scheduled to be finished in 2022. I’m posting the Vimeo link for NOTSD here that showcases Michael’s writing and acting…


I know that I will be writing more about the life of Michael Wilmington in the days and months ahead. I think Michael was a cinema savant because of his encyclopedic knowledge of film. His love of film was infectious and I’m a better, and smarter person for having spent time watching films with him as well as the honor of making a film about him.

  • Tribute by Michael Reano, January 6, 2022 – Director of “There’s Always Another Movie”



For Pure Movie Excitement Nothing Pays Off Like the Long Shot

Michael Wilmington, Tribune Movie Critic – Chicago Tribune

When shooting a movie, taking the long way may be the best.

A complex, long-take, moving-camera shot – like the 20-minute Steadicam marvel that kicks off Brian De Palma‘s new film, “Snake Eyes” – can be to a movie what a virtuoso dance sequence is to a ballet, or a star-turn aria to an opera. If done beautifully, it increases our joy in the sheer mechanics and possibilities of the art. Meaning aside, we can take pleasure in intricate choreography and brilliant execution, virtuosity and razzle-dazzle, in all the ways a master of moving-camera work – like Orson Welles, Max Ophuls or De Palma – makes something technically prodigious look effortless.

Take Welles’ spectacular opening crane shot in “Touch of Evil.” When it wends its serpentine way through the start of that legendary thriller –

– in an unbroken single take that lasts from the moment a bomb is planted in a car trunk to its explosion blocks later at the border – movie lovers can be thrilled by the story, the fabulous technique and the cheeky bravura of the filmmakers in attempting the shot. There are similar frissons in long-take scenes by directors as various as Alfred Hitchcock (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman’s long kiss in “Notorious”), Stanley Kubrick (Danny’s toy car riding through Overlook in “The Shining”) and Andrei Tarkovsky (the mesmerizing opening shot of child and tree in “The Sacrifice”).

What makes a superb long-take scene so fascinating? For one thing, it’s often breathtakingly difficult to achieve. Breaking up a scene into dozens or hundreds of shots – standard operating procedure for most big-studio action movies – allows the director to change, retake or reshuffle those shots at will. In a long take, there’s more aesthetic exposure and risk. Everything in the shot (performances, background, action, lighting) has to flow perfectly, because only one element (beyond added visual effects) can be significantly improved in the editing: the sound, through redubbing.

Of course it can be argued that, in a movie, story is more important than shot duration; Robert Altman playfully sent up the whole notion of “great shots” with his tongue-in-cheek eight-minute opening studio scene in “The Player.” But Altman’s irreverence was also part homage to cinema’s past glories. Indeed, the elegance of a moving long take makes it almost an anachronism; these days, Hollywood action scenes are edited with such frenzy (as in the jackhammer-paced “Armageddon”) that there may be dozens of cuts a minute.

A moving-camera long take is more spacious. It gives the scene, and the actors, time to breathe, to grow and to suggest an entire world – as in the memorable ballroom scene in Welles’ “The Magnificent Ambersons” (a long scene that, before the movie’s mutilation, was originally filmed in one take). It creates almost palpable tension and emotion, as in Jack Nicholson‘s furious tantrum scenes in “Carnal Knowledge.”

Long takes can show us grand ballrooms or bloody battlefields (“Paths of Glory,” “Henry V”). Or they can be intimate and interior. What viewer can forget Bibi Andersson’s erotic bedroom confession in Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona,” or potter Masayuki Mori’s return to his ghostly wife in Kenji Mizoguchi’s “Ugetsu”?

Indeed, some directors – among them Welles, Mizoguchi, Jim Jarmusch, Greece’s Theo Angelopoulos and Hungary’s Miklos Jansco – make a whole film style out of extremely long takes. But the man many regard as the all-time master of the unbroken, moving-camera shot was Viennese-American-French filmmaker Max Ophuls. “A shot that does not call for tracks,” his friend, the actor James Mason, once mused, “is agony for poor, dear Max.” For Ophuls, the moving shot – whether his camera followed doomed lovers in “Letter from an Unknown Woman” and “The Earrings of Madame De . . . ” or grand courtesans in “Lola Montes” – captured bittersweet romance and false freedom.

For others the shot means flamboyance, dazzlement, even entry into another world – as in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Either way, a beautiful long take is a cinematic coup that, in the right hands, stops the show.


Despite mixed reviews, Brian De Palma’s “Snake Eyes” is a feast of virtuoso camerawork, with a Steadicam shot that is one of the most remarkable “single take” scenes ever. It begins with the video image of a TV reporter outside an Atlantic City casino, as Defense Secretary Charles Kirkland arrives. The camera tracks across two other monitors in the TV control booth to an image of Detective Rick Santoro (Nicolas Cage) hamming it up with reporter Lou Logan, then to Santoro and Logan in the flesh. After the scene’s only apparent cut (purists will start the shot here), Santoro lopes downstairs while chatting on a cell phone with his girlfriend. He sees boxer Lincoln Tyler, collars a bookie, and tries and fails to place a bet on credit. He then spots sleazo Cyrus, chases him down an escalator, beats him up and lifts several grand so he can get in his bet. Trailing Tyler’s entourage, he chats with a showgirl, (2) takes another call, then reaches ringside and buddy-turned-Navy-security-chief Kevin Dunne (Gary Sinise). Santoro and Dunne’s gabfest takes them all around the ring before thousands of boisterous fans and to ringside seats in front of Kirkland. The fight starts. (3) Two swish pans move to (4) a mysterious redhead and back. Dunne goes to question her, she bolts, and he follows. A swish pan moves back to Santoro, whooping it up. Blond-wigged Julia Costello takes Dunne’s seat and, after Santoro flirts with her, leans in to talk to Kirkland. A tussle starts in the audience. As Tyler is apparently knocked out, Santoro gets another call. As his eyes rise warily, De Palma finally cuts to what he sees: a sniper’s hiding place. It is the first obvious edit in 20 minutes.


  1. “Touch of Evil” (Orson Welles, 1958). See sequence above.
  2. “Rope” (Alfred Hitchcock, 1948). Legendary as Hitchcock’s “single-shot movie,” Patrick Hamilton’s play about Loeb-and-Leopold-style thrill-killers was made in 10-minute takes with cleverly disguised cuts. (The “Snake Eyes” shot has hidden cuts – in the wipes and swish pans – as well.)
  3. “GoodFellas” (Martin Scorsese, 1990). See sequence below.
  4. “Sunrise” (F.W. Murnau, 1927). A legendary silent movie scene: Guilt-ridden farmer George O’Brien leaves wife Janet Gaynor and trudges through a moonlit swamp to a meeting with evil city woman Margaret Livingston.
  5. “The Player” (Robert Altman, 1992). The camera descends on Tim Robbins’ studio and wanders around for eight minutes, picking up multiple conversations inside and outside the office bungalows. Among them: a Fred Ward-Buck Henry dialogue about virtuoso long takes in “Rope,” “Touch of Evil” and “Absolute Beginners.”
  6. “Absolute Beginners” (Julien Temple, 1986). Broken by black-and-white snapshot freeze frames, the shot follows a young London photographer (Eddie O’Connell) through wildly colorful 1958 Soho at night.
  7. “The Travelling Players” (Theo Angelopoulos, 1975). A rowdy horde of right-wing Greek bullies leaves a political meeting and walks from 1952 back to 1939, where Joseph Goebbels is set to speak in the town square.
  8. “Le Plaisir” (Max Ophuls, 1952). In the opening of this multi-part Guy de Maupassant film, we follow a masked reveler down a dark Paris street, into a bustling cabaret, then whirl around with him as he dances madly and collapses.
  9. “Paths of Glory” (Stanley Kubrick, 1957). Kirk Douglas as Colonel Dax runs across a hellish WWI battlefield.
  10. “Boogie Nights” (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997). Porn superstar-to-be Mark Wahlberg gets an eyeful in a ’70s Southern California disco bar.


Crane shot: Any moving shot in which the camera rides on a vehicle called a crane, mounted on an electronically controlled arm called a boom. (Also called a “boom shot.”)

Dolly shot: A shot in which the camera moves in to or out from part of a scene.

Long take: A single scene, or part of a scene, filmed without cuts as a continuous unbroken shot. (Also: “single take.”)

Pan: Horizontal camera movement across a scene. A rapid pan is called a “swish-pan.”

Steadicam: A lightweight, portable, motion-picture camera mount, notable for producing unusually steady hand-held shots.

Tracking shot: A shot in which the camera, on a mount, moves through a scene, generally following a character from in front or behind. (Also: “trucking shot.”)

Definitions adapted from Frank Beaver’s “Dictionary of Film Terms.”

Godard’s “Breathless” A Film Legacy for the Ages


Breathless (A Bout de Souffle) (Four Stars)
France; Jean-Luc Godard, 1959 (Criterion)

Godard.  A Bout de Souffle. A film. Out of breath. Breathless.

What’s it about? A guy named Michel Poiccard steals a car, drives from Marseilles to Paris, ecstatically sings of a girl named Patricia (Pa-Pa-Pa-Patricia!), finds a gun, shoots and kills a cop on the road, tries to cash an uncashable check, stares at and mimics a Bogart still in front of a cinema, finds Patricia hawking New York Herald Tribunes on the street, goes to her room, bandies with her about love, art, philosophy and William Faulkner (Between grief and nothing I will take grief, she quotes from The Wild Palms)…


…He smokes endless cigarettes, gets betrayed, runs, gets shot, dies. Deguelasse, Michel mutters with his last breath, staring and making faces at Patricia. I don’t know what it means,’ says Patricia. She turns away from the camera. Finis.


That’s Breathless, the 1959 black-and-white Jean-Luc Godard French film classic that, like Orson Welles’ 1941 Citizen Kane  — another masterpiece by a revolutionary cineaste still in his 20s — forever changed the ways we look at film. It changed also the way moviemakers shot movies and critics wrote about them, and perhaps changed a bit the ways we all look at life too.

There’s a key difference though. Welles made us all believe that, if you could get all the tools of the movie industry at your disposal, you could tell stories so magical and deep, dense and rich and multi-leveled, that they’d open up a whole new world. Godard made us believe that, if you’d seen enough movies and were passionate about what you liked, you could grab a camera, find some friends, walk out on the street, and just start shooting. You could ignore much of the old studio apparatus and routine — and  make a movie not according to the industry rules and protocols, but right out of your own life and thoughts, tastes and feelings.

Welles was a greater artist than Godard, and Kane the greater movie, still the best of all time in my opinion. But Godard’s feat was probably the more revolutionary: the more empowering, liberating. Citizen Kane, as Godard’s friend (later sometime antagonist, and McCartney to his Lennon), François Truffaut once said, probably started more (studio) movie directors on their vocation than any other. But Breathless probably made more people everywhere actually believe they could make movies themselves, whether they worked in a  studio or not. There were decades of independent and experimental films before Breathless. But this was the one that, like Kane for the studio movie, made it all look so easy, so effortless. Just walk down a street with a camera. With a gun. With a girl. Just shoot.

Of course it’s not true. Breathless is a very artful piece, and a product of the French film industry. It was made by a director deeply schooled in film history and tradition and technique, even if its celebrated jump cuts –jagged editing leaps within a continuous scene, a technique which prompted the Time reviewer to call Breathless a cubistic thriller — made Godard’s movie look deliberately ragged and choppy. (Actually, the jump cuts were accidental, providential, and not something Godard used all that much in his later films. Here, there was a reason. Godard had shot Breathless too long, needed to cut half an hour or more, and allegedly took his mentor/Breathless cast member Jean-Pierre Melville‘s advice not to cut whole scenes to shave off the extra time, but to cut within scenes. Thence: the jumps.)

Godard’s youthful stars Jean Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg (Michel and Patricia) were not nonentities. Belmondo had made ten films before Breathless, including A Double Tour for Godard‘s buddy (and a Breathless technical advisor) Claude  Chabrol. He‘d even starred as D‘Artagnan on a TV version of The Three MusketeersJean Seberg, while still in her teens, fresh out of Marshalltown Iowa, had made two big Hollywood movies for one of Godard’s favorite directors, Otto (Where the Sidewalk Ends) Preminger, starring in Preminger‘s versions of George Bernard Shaw’s play Saint Joan and Francois Sagan‘s novel “Bonjour Tristesse.” Even if they were both flops back then (and they look much better today) they were well-known, world famous flops.

So Godard wasn’t just walking out on the street with his Cahier du Cinema pals when he made Breathless. But there are as lot of his buddies and Cahier-ites involved in it — including not just Truffaut, Chabrol and Melville, and the brilliant young cinematographer Raoul Coutard, but future directors like Philippe De Broca, Jean-Louis Richard, Jean Douchet, Richard Balducci and Daniel Boulanger, who co-wrote De Broca’s King of Hearts and plays the dour cop chasing Michel, Inspector Vital.

Still,  on screen Michel and Patricia do look like two good-looking kids who just wandered into the movie off the street. They’re perfect movie lovers, blasé on the surface, dark or heart-broken underneath. They don’t talk the old familiar movie talk. They talk about life and art and politics. They josh and joust with each other. Coutard’s camera drifts around them. They smoke. We never see them screw, but we know they have.

One of the most often-cited, often discussed scenes in Breathless simply shows them lazing around Patricia’s room, staring or jabbering away, under prints of works by Renoir and Picasso. They don’t seem like a crook/killer and his trollop. They seem like a couple of intellectuals or semi-intellectuals, or a small-time hustler and a rich girl slumming. They’re involved in a thriller plot, taken by Truffaut from a real-life crime story. But it’s as if they just wandered into the thriller, just as they wandered into Pa-Pa-Patricia’s apartment.

Existentialism and Monogram Pictures (the low-budget studio to which Godard dedicated Breathless) embrace in Breathless. It’s a movie fed by many other movies, even if it suggests something off the cuff, unwinding before us, caught in the machinery of chance. The presence of a gun in the glove compartment of the car Michel steals is utterly fortuitous, the murder (for all we can tell) almost an accident, something that just happened between two kids. Part of the love affair of a Bogie “Harder They Fall” guy and a Fallen Angel out of Where the Sidewalk Ends.

That’s the key to most of Godard’s films of the 60s, which is still regarded (rightly) as his greatest period. It’s a movie-lovers anti-movie, or counter-movie, a defiant act of rebellion by a director who knows the score and deliberately breaks the rules. Breathless came out shortly after Truffaut had revolutionized French film ina different way with his own great feature debut, The 400 Blows, the semi-autobiographical tale of a runaway movie-loving delinquent, named Antoine Doinel. And in a way, Breathless, made from the story Truffaut found, is Godard’s 400 Blows, his semi-autobiographical fantasy about a runaway movie-loving delinquent named Michel. It was also a huge hit, the biggest critical and commercial success of Godard’s career. He never had another smash like Breathless, though, by now, he‘s made almost a hundred films, including, among them, a dozen or so inarguable classics, films like Vivre sa Vie, Pierrot le Fou and Contempt.

He became a Marxist for a while, and a lot of cine-academics in the ‘70s argued that his (then) politics were a major part of what made him great — though Godard’s most blatantly political films, his essays and documentaries from the ’70s, are among his least effective, least memorable. Later, he got more rigorous, more poetic, better again. Breathless is still easily the most powerful political movie he ever made, the most heart-wrenching romance. It’s had thousands of children. But it still looks as fresh as it did in 1959, though now, new black-and-white film and film-making are almost gone. We look at Breathless today and we think: Anybody can do this. I can do this. Just find some friends. Find your heart. Find a camera.  Just shoot.  (In French, with English subtitles.)

“Superheros Rescue Hollywood” – by Michael Wilmington

A Summer Blockbuster Editorial from 2008

Let’s ask the obvious psycho-question first: Is the real reason we’re getting so many superhero big bucks spectaculars this summer (2008) — Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Hancock, Hellboy 2 and now the all-conquering The Dark Knight, (and also, if you want to stretch a point, Indiana Jones and the super-heroine of Wall-E) — is the real engine behind all this super-ness, the fact that we feel weaker or more vulnerable or put-upon? A tanking economy, a messed up foreign policy, failing old media and a planet in peril — don’t they all nudge us into wanting to imagine ourselves as super-powered (if sometimes tormented) heroes and heroines? Of course. Batman and Superman themselves were born out of the Depression and thrived during WW2; all their antecedent-heroes just spin out the fantasy further. If you’re feeling weak, you dream you’re a titan. If you‘re down and maybe out, you dream of spectacular victories. And maybe you get them. The really unusual coup for The Dark Knight, though, is its critical grand slam. I haven’t read all the reviews, 95% on Rotten Tomatoes last I looked. But this movie seems to be getting all the near-unanimous plaudits that The Rules of the Game, to name one initially neglected classic, didn’t (at first) or that Rio Bravo, Vertigo or Singin‘ in the Rain to name three genre masterpieces, didn’t either. Not that it doesn‘t deserve its good press. Not that Chris Nolan isn’t something of a wizard. Not that The Dark Knight isn’t personal art as well as mass commerce. But critics used to try to be seekers and arbiters of the great and unusual, as well as affirmers of public taste when it‘s right on — as with the triumphs of the great popular movie artists like Chaplin, Spielberg and Hitchcock. I don’t have any trouble enjoying The Dark Knight. Or finding it. But I hope we’re all just as alert and celebratory when the next under-appreciated “Rules of the Game“ or well-appreciated Citizen Kane comes along.

And for his 2012 review of one of the biggest of all superhero blockbusters, click on this link below.

Wilmington on Movies: The Dark Knight Rises – Movie City News Movie City News


Has the Art of Great Film Criticism Been Lost?

Michael Wilmington worked alongside Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert for many years. While Wilmington and Siskel worked at the Chicago Tribune, Ebert worked across the street at the Chicago Sun Times. As film critics they would always see each other at the screening room on Lake St. Now, There’s Always Another Movie: The Michael Wilmington Story, a new documentary is in the works to share some insights into the life of Michael Wilmington, a cinema savant who excited a generation of movie-lovers everywhere.

 Has the art of great film criticism been lost, thanks to a public that only wants a dumbed-down 30-second, popcorn-sized sound bite? We’re confident that that it’s still worthwhile to celebrate the life of a great critic, and that there’s an audience for such a celebration. Our documentary is finally coming together after more than 20 years—in fact, we are hoping it will come to a film festival or a theater near you in the future..

Some films in production never achieve completion, and our movie about Michael Wilmington was making slow progress until recently. Our new team has been going through 80-plus hours of footage to weave together Michael Wilmington’s unforgettable story as a man who made writing about movies his life’s work and love for over 50 years. Come on a trip through the Golden Age of film criticism–a time when people couldn’t wait to read a review or see a movie debate on TV–and see how Michael enriched the lives of a movie-going public. However, to complete this project we will need funds, and we hope you will help us make it happen. Stay tuned to our page for news of our upcoming crowd-funding drive.

Michael Wilmington’s Favorite Piece

Michael Wilmington’s Favorite Piece

When asked by a moderator at the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Festival one year “What is your favorite piece ever written?” Michael Wilmington replied, “It is the piece I wrote about my mother, Edna.” 

Edna Wilmington (1915-2009).
By Michael Wilmington

Last Wednesday night, September 30, my mother, Edna Wilmington, died at the age of 94, several hours after being discharged from Northwestern Memorial Hospital after repeated hospital stays there, and at St. Joseph’s, for a variety of health problems. She had requested me never to send her to a nursing home, but instead let her remain at home, and I honored that request. I wish now I hadn’t. I desperately want her still alive. If a nursing home could have given her even a few weeks or months more, it would have done us all a great service.

Me most of all.
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Wilmington on Movies: Edna Wilmington 1915-2009 – Movie City News Movie City News