On this CinemaInmind Podcast – Tim talks with veteran filmmakers Neil Cohen and Zack Norman, whose debut film, Chief Zabuwas produced – for the most part – some 30 plus years ago in 1986 – but will be released for the first time this year.
Chief Zabuwas written by Cohen and co-stars Norman – a veteran character actor who you’ve seen in films ranging from Ragtime and Romancing the Stone, to a number of Henry Jaglom productions, including Venice, Venice,Baby Fever andIrene in Time. Interestingly, Zack is also known as film producer Howard Zuker – with over 40 producer credits, including the 1974 Academy Award winning documentary Hearts and Minds.
Chief Zabu also stars the great character actors Allen Garfield, and Allan Arbus among a number of other 70’s and 80’s notables, from Ed Lauter and Shirley Stoler to former Mrs. America contestant and harpist Lucianne Buchanan.
I am not fucking with you – she’s hot and plays the harp.
Chief Zabu is a funny, pointed and suddenly socially relevant film that will be making it’s way to a screening at comedy club year you – which is also a funny story – you can get the gist of it from this great talk with a couple hollywood veterans making their first movie for the second time.
Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC’s FilmWeek and Alt Film Guide, and who blogs at CinemaInMind, has another film festival you can put on yourself, in the comfort of your own home.
Lots of filmmakers direct only one movie. Far fewer of them direct a movie that’s in any way notable. And, by notable we mean good, if not very good or better, iconic.
1. Marlon Brando / “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961)
Actors make up most, but not all of this DIY One and Done Film Festival, and first on our list is Marlon Brando, who directed just one movie and was done with the director’s chair. “One-Eyed Jacks” (1961) is more or less a spaghetti western with no Italians. Brando and Karl Malden play bank robbers. Dad Longworth (Malden) leaves Rio (Brando) to rot in prison for 11 years. Bad blood builds.
Stanley Kubrick was set to direct but he and Brando had issues so Brando took over. Yeah, Marlon Brando fired Stanley Kubrick. Crazy.
A number of sources report that Brando was an indecisive and demanding director. His first cut was five hours long. Paramount cut it in half and it did good business, with better than decent reviews. Brando didn’t like it, but Martin Scorsese often calls “One-Eyed Jacks” one of his favorite westerns, and James Caan, who would go on to work with Brando in “The Godfather,” is a particularly big fan.
2. James Caan / “Hide in Plain Sight” (1980)
The second film in our One and Done DIY Film Festival – James Caan’s one and only directorial effort – “Hide in Plain Sight” (1980). Loosely based on a true story, the movie is about a blue collar Caan, who is kept from his children when his ex-wife’s mob-connected new husband is taken into federal protection.
“Hide in Plain Sight” has the tone and timber of a Martin Ritt film – it’s “Hud” meets “Norma Rae.” One person standing up against an unjust system. Critics were mixed: praising the performances but generally suggesting that Caan’s direction was slavish to the true story. But I like it.
3. Dustin Hoffman / “Quartet” (2012)
Most people think Dustin Hoffman directed the 1978 drama “Straight Time,” in which he stars. True, he began the film as director, but soon handed the directing duties over to veteran filmmaker Ulu Grosbard. Hoffman would wait 34 years before giving it another go. His one and only directorial effort is the 2012 film “Quartet,” starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly among others.
And it is notably lovely in just about every way.
4. Theodore Witcher / “Love Jones” (1997)
Last in our DIY one and done film festival: Theodore Witcher. I know, you’ve never heard of him. But he did write and direct one iconic film that’s 20 years old this year. “Love Jones” stars Larenz Tate and Nia Long.
The film is about a poet name Darius, played by Tate, and a talented young photographer called Nina, played by Nia Long. Mostly the film is this couple and their friends. They talk about is love and sex and friendship and if all can ever be had together. They do while being black, which was still a big deal in 1997.
I have no idea why a guy who wrote and directed a film as notable as “Love Jones” didn’t take or get another shot at the director’s chair. A buddy was in a Denny’s spot Teddy Witcher directed some years ago. Who knows, maybe there was just more money in commercials.
But if “Love Jones” is the only movie I ever get from One and Done director Theodore Witcher, it will definitely do.
Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Claudia Puig and Tim Cogshell review this weekend’s new movie releases including: the fantastical legend of “Kong: Skull Island” starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson; Julia Ducournau’s cannibalistic-thriller “Raw;” “Personal Shopper” starring Kristen Stewart in the underground fashion world of Paris; and more.
I’m a sucker for girl talk movies, true love stories, and movies where a lady rides into the sunset after she shoots the bastard who killed her daddy – in the head. This DIY Film Festival is for films that I love, about women that I love, in movies that should have got a lot more love.
1. “Live Nude Girls” (1995)
“Live Nude Girls” was directed by Julianna Lavin, who directed this film, one episode of Party of Five in 1998, and nothing else. This happens in Hollywood more often than you’d think, but it happens to female filmmakers even more often than that. It stars Dana Delany, Laila Robins, Lora Zane, Cynthia Stevenson and, ironically, Kim Cattrall as the over or under sexed member of the foursome – depending on your point of view.
“Live Nude Girls” is a wonderfully funny and intimate movie about four lifelong friends at an all night bachelorette party for one of them who is getting married for the 3rd time. This film is practically a blueprint for “Sex and the City” which started three years later. It’s frank and funny and sexy and filled with a female energy that reminded me of my very cool big sister and her amazing girlfriends, lounging in conversation, as I loitered near, always at the ready to fetch cigarettes and Fresca. It was the 70s.
2. “Living Out Loud” (1998)
“Living Out Loud,” directed by Richard LaGravenese, stars Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito, Queen Latifah and ecstasy – both the emotion and the drug. In the movie, Holly Hunter’s husband abandons her for a younger woman.
Sure, it’s a well worn premise, but it’s considered thru a wide range of emotions, spoken out loud, sung out loud, and even fantasized out loud. Hunter confronts her circumstances with philosophical introspection about the choices she’s made; with direct confrontation of those who’ve done her wrong … and with the occasional hit of ecstasy.
The highlight is this amazing dance sequence that I still find myself fantasizing about from time to time. Occasionally, I’m even in it.
3. “Besieged” (1998)
“Besieged” is a Bernardo Bertolucci film starring Thandie Newton and David Thewlis. This is a love story about truest love. Although, at first glance it might seem like a movie about stalker who plays the piano really well, David Thewlis portrays a man – a passionate composer and pianist – who falls in love with his African housekeeper on first sight. And why the hell wouldn’t he – she’s Thandie Newton – but his adoration is about much more than her beauty.
In her he sees pure intention, resilience, and a strength that his privileged existence could never know. Out of that comes a kind of love that leads him to sell everything he owns, including his beloved grand piano, to give her the one thing she truly wants.
4. “The Quick and The Dead” (1995)
Last in my DIY film festival about women that I love, in films that I love, that need a little more love is “The Quick and The Dead.” This is Sam Raimi post-“Evil Dead” and pre-“Spiderman” directing a wicked Cowgirl movie. It stars Sharon Stone, Gene Hackman and Russell Crowe star alongside a young Leonardo DiCaprio, with Gary Sinise, Keith David, Lance Henriksen, Olivia Burnette, the great Pat Hingle, and the late Tobin Bell of the Saw films.
If you missed this wicked gunslinger revenge flick because you believed the middlin’ reviews from back in the day – you got suckered. It was accused of being too campy. Like that’s a thing.
In “The Quick and the Dead,” the Lady slaps leather with a bunch dastardly bastards, including the one that killed her daddy. Like I said – I’m a sucker for girl talk movies, true love stories and movies where a lady rides into the sunset after she shoots the bastard who killed her daddy – in the head.
Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Wade Major, Tim Cogshell and Charles Solomon review this weekend’s new movie releases including: in wide release, Kate Beckinsale taking another turn as vampire warrior Selene in “Underworld: Blood Wars;” Jackie Chan in the Mandarin-language feature “Railroad Tigers;” the thriller “Arsenal” starring Nicolas Cage and John Cusack; and more.
Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Tim Cogshell, Andy Klein and Charles Solomon review this weekend’s new movie releases. It’s a big one for notable releases including the “Harry Potter” spinoff from J.K. Rowling, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them;” a critically acclaimed drama with Oscar buzz, “Manchester by the Sea;” a significant animated feature from Studio Ghibli, “The Red Turtle;” plus what Rotten Tomatoes calls more than just another coming-of-age dramedy, “The Edge of Seventeen;” a very promising documentary about an eccentric farmer, “Peter and the Farm” and more! TGI-FilmWeek!
BY CALLING A FILM A BLACK FILM, DOES THAT CONFINE IT?
You know, it depends. If we say ‘French film,’ we understand that we’re probably talking about a film that is in the French language, but we’re probably also talking about a film that references French culture. I could say ‘a French film,’ and it might be made by an Algerian or a Moroccan, and it will be in the French language but it will very much not be about the French culture.
I think that what we have to do is to allow the notion of black film to evolve just like we have every other genre of film: German film, Japanese film, all those films can carry those monikers, but they’re all just films. They’re all cinema.
WHAT IF THE MOVIE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BLACK EXPERIENCE? SAY A BLACK FILMMAKER IS HIRED TO DIRECT A FILM ABOUT UNICORNS AND RAINBOWS?
Then you’re going to have yourself a film about unicorns and rainbows that is a black film. It’s gonna be a black film about unicorns and rainbows. And by the way, if it were a woman directing that film, then it would be a film about unicorns and rainbows that’s very female.
SO THE IDENTITY WILL ALWAYS BE THERE. MOONLIGHT DIRECTOR BARRY JENKINS WAS ASKED WHETHER HE SAW HIMSELF AS A BLACK FILMMAKER OR JUST A FILMMAKER. HIS RESPONSE WAS THAT THERE’S NO TIME WHEN BLACK CEASES TO BE A DEFINING CHARACTERISTIC.
This is absolutely true. It’s true of us. Me, I’m a film critic, but I’m unequivocally a black film critic. My thoughts about film are filtered through my blackness because I’m black all day, every day.
ARE WE GOING TO START CLASSIFYING MOVIES DIFFERENTLY GOING FORWARD OR WILL THEY ALWAYS GO BACK TO THOSE LABELS?
You know, I think that they will always sort of go back to those same categories. What we need to expand is our understanding of what those categories mean. ‘Black film’ don’t necessarily mean Tyler Perry and Kevin Hart and “Boys in the Hood.” It can also mean Daughters of the Dust, wonderful Julie Dash’s movie. “Killer of Sheep,” by Charles Burnett. It might even mean a film that stars a white kid doing things in a white neighborhood that some black guy thought of.
Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview.
(Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.)
You don’t need to wait for the local art house to put on a themed film festival. Tim Cogshell, film critic for KPCC’s Filmweek and Alt Film Guide, and who blogs at CinemaInMind, is producing a series of DIY Film Festivals for Off-Ramp listeners to throw in the comfort of their own homes.
This DIY film festival is about miscegenation. Don’t know or remember what it means? Good.
Miscegenation is sex or marriage between people of different races — usually whites and blacks. It was illegal in much of the U.S. until the 60s, and was also either taboo or forbidden in cinema. This DIY festival, including a documentary, a short silent film, and even a few TV episodes, is inspired by Jeff Nichols’ new film “Loving,” which is about the 1967 miscegenation case that changed the law and the movies.
1. “The Loving Story” 2011
“Loving” was inspired by the HBO documentary, “The Loving Story,” which is the first film of our festival. Mildred and Richard Loving were an interracial couple who married in 1958, despite Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws.
As good as the new narrative film is, the 2011 doc is better.
The Hays Code, the rules the movies were governed by, stated explicitly: “Miscegenation (sex-relationships between the white and black races) is forbidden.” When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings, the 1930 Hays Code was replaced by the Classification and Rating System Administration. But before that, miscegenation was still fodder for Hollywood.
2. “What Happened in the Tunnel” (1903)
The earliest film to take on miscegenation may have been Edwin S. Porter’s very short 1903 film “What Happened in the Tunnel.” It was considered funny in 1903, but the film probably contributed to the earliest rules on the miscegenation.
3. “Imitation of Life” (1934)
In the first “Imitation of Life,” Fredi Washington plays Louise Beavers’ fair-skinned daughter who rejects her black heritage — and her mother — in favor of passing into the white world and landing a white husband. It barely made it past the censors, but today it’s in the National Film Registry, and Time called it one of “The 25 Most Important Films on Race.”
You might also want to check out Douglas Sirk’s 1959 “Imitation of Life,” which is still popular among African American women of a certain age.
4. “Pinky” (1949)
In “Pinky,” Jeanne Crain is a young woman who slips into passing as white almost by accident when she goes away to nursing school. She feels guilty, but yet so aware of what being white could mean to her life. Pinky doesn’t hate being black, she just wants what life being white could offer … including the white man who wants to marry her.
5. “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” (1967)
Next on our list, Stanley Kramer’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” from 1967, in which a white girl falls in love with a black man, played by Sidney Poitier, and when the families meet for dinner, they hash it out earnestly. This film took a beating from the left and the right from the day it was released, as we saw in “The Butler,” when David Oyelowo’s young Black Panther disparages Sidney Poitier. It’s problematic for any number of reasons, but I defend its intention — fervently. Before the change in the movie code or the Loving decision, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” faced down the nations’ bigots.
6. “Movin’ with Nancy” (1967)
After the Loving case, the notion of miscegenation in film and television evolved. Soon we saw the first kiss on American prime time network TV when Kirk and Uhura kissed in a 1968 episode of “Star Trek.” The suits from the network resisted the interracial kiss — but the tepid peck made it to air and is said to be the first such kiss on network TV.
Or maybe it wasn’t:
The December 1967 episode of “Movin’ with Nancy” features a kiss between Nancy Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. more than a year before that “Star Trek” episode. The easy, friendly kiss comes at the very end of the photo session scene. A few years later, in February of 1972, Sammy would go on plant the kiss that sealed the deal for anti-miscegenation attitudes in America once and for all.
When Sammy kisses Archie Bunker, it was effectively the first kiss between a Protestant-white-male-bigot and a black-male-converted-Jew on American television.
It was on the cheek, and in many ways is reminiscent of that original kiss in Edwin S. Porter’s short silent film. Only this time it’s not racist and is actually funny. It left the nation a little stunned and ended the issue of miscegenation in American media — forever — although the state of Alabama would not repeal its miscegenation laws until the year 2000.