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.
By: Tim Cogshell – Edited and annotated by Andre Soares for Alt-Film Guide
Christian movies: Starring Nicolas Cage, the widely panned 2014 apocalyptic thriller ‘Left Behind’ was a box office bomb – unlike (relatively) recent popular ‘faith movies’ such as ‘Heaven Is for Real,’ ‘Son of God’ and ‘War Room.’
As Easter bares down – two films that might be called “Christian movies” opened last week, and I decided that I wouldn’t watch them, write about them, or review them – at least directly.
I’m not even going to mention their titles here, because I don’t promote propaganda films, and that’s what this recent advent of Christian movies has become: propaganda. After all, since nearly all American cinema is Christian cinema, the New Christian American Cinema is in fact pure propaganda – not cinema.
Worse yet, it bores me.
So, here’s the thing about what we’ve come to call “Christian movies” – among them the Left Behind series, the God’s Not Dead series (which has at least two more installments), and a dozen other recent wide releases – which I won’t discuss in detail because they are nothing more than, effective or not, propaganda: they operate under the guise of mainstream entertainment when in fact they are Christian proselytism.
That in itself is ironic and, again, here’s why: American movies writ large are almost always Judeo-Christian movies. God is such a given in American movies that a film that presents itself as a “Christian movie” can only be propaganda. Once again, that’s because all American movies are Christian movies and always have been.
Okay, this is a bit of hyperbole, but not much. Think of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation – 1915 – where he burned that cross – the Christian cross – for the first time. The Klan apparently got the idea of cross burning from that evil movie, not the other way around  The entire silent era is lousy with God; the themes of the Ten Commandments were paramount (e.g., Cecil B. DeMille‘s Don’t Change Your Husband, Why Change Your Wife? and Forbidden Fruit). God and his wrath – everywhere.
The cinema of the Depression and pre-World War II eras gave us, among others, 1938 Best Actor Oscar winner Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in Boys Town. And Frank Capra, a good Catholic Italian kid who, following the armistice, would come up with his iconic It’s a Wonderful Life, featuring an angel (Henry Travers) getting his wings – a thoroughly Christian movie.
John Ford‘s 1941 Best Picture Oscar winner How Green is Your Valley has another priest (Walter Pidgeon as Pastor Gruffydd) looming right in the middle of this Christian classic. In fact, this theme is found throughout the American cinema of the 1940s, even in the seemingly godless noir. Implied or inferred, it was God balancing the books at the end of most of those flicks.
Christian movies of years past: Charlton Heston starred as Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 blockbuster ‘The Ten Commandments.’
The 1950s made it obvious that the Christian God was what these Hollywood movies were actually about – e.g., Quo Vadis, The Ten Commandments, Ben-Hur. That includes even the Peyton Places and Douglas Sirk dramas, with their Christian consequences sometimes right in the title, as in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows.
And yes, the 1960s were full of mainstream Christian movies, too. They ranged from Nicholas Ray’s The King of Kings, with Jeffrey Hunter as Jesus, to Debbie Reynolds as the titular character in The Singing Nun. Those weren’t atheists dancing around in all those Beach Blanket Bingo movies, either… nope. That was a bunch of Christian kids.
God is in the Gidget series, too. The Gidget movies starred Sandra Dee, a bouncy blond. But, notice that for the TV show they cast the more earthy, dark haired, Sally Field. One reason for this is because the character Gidget was based on novelist and show creator Frederick Kohner’s daughter, Kathy. Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman was a dark haired bouncy young lady. As it happens, Frederick (and his brother Paul Kohner – the famous Universal Studios Producer), were Jewish, born in what’s now the Czech Republic. So Frederick’s daughter was a lovely Jewish girl who looked a lot more like Sally Field than Sandra Dee. So, Gidget is a Jew. I don’t think Americans could handle that – so Kohner turned the family into gentiles.
No matter, same God, and “it” is in the cast, whether mentioned or not.
God may not have directly come up in many of these films, but that’s because the biblical concept of God permeates the overwhelming majority of American movies – and it always has. A Christ-like figure can even be found at the center of Stanley Kubrick‘s Spartacus, set in the century before Jesus’ supposed birth. Jeez…
Additionally, most American horror cinema depends on the understanding that the Judeo-Christian God is real. Dracula, for instance, is only stayed by holy water and the cross. Rosemary’s Baby – spoiler alert – is an actual demon baby, which to my mind always ruined the movie. But why wouldn’t it be a real demon baby in a film directed by the part-Jewish, part-Catholic Roman Polanski, who, even if an avowed atheist, might be as afraid of going to hell as of going to an American prison? So, the devil baby – admittedly, also found in Ira Levin’s novel – was destined to be real, and Rosemary’s Baby is a true believer’s Christian movie, whether they admit it or not.
We could also add The Exorcist, The Omen, and their sequels to the long list of Christian horror movies. Big studio action movies, from Arnold Schwarzenegger in End of Days to Keanu Reeves in Constantine, are implicitly Christian movies. When the devil or one of his minions is the antagonist of a film – that film’s protagonist inevitably becomes a Christian warrior, whether they know it or not.
Gangster movies, from James Cagney (e.g., Angels with Dirty Faces) to Francis Ford Coppola (e.g., The Godfather franchise), are Christian movies. Think about it…
This is also true of American television. The Partridges and the Bradys went to church in actual episodes of the show. From Highway to Heaven and Touched by an Angel to Joan of Arcadia and Lucifer, God has always been real on American TV – thus creating the notion of “Christian television propaganda” as well.
Ever watch Supernatural or Sleepy Hollow? Angels and devils and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are central themes. These are Christian television series through-and-through.
Whether you know it or not.
Christian movies: Featuring ‘The Help’ actor Mike Vogel and ‘Parenthood’ actress Erika Christensen, plus Oscar winner Faye Dunaway (‘Network’) and Oscar nominee Robert Forster (‘Jackie Brown’), ‘The Case for Christ’ – about an atheist journalist who sets out to prove the inexistence of God after his wife becomes a Christian – has been a box office disappointment since its April 7 ’17 North American debut. ‘The Case for Christ’ & ‘God Knows Where I Am’
I lied. I am going to mention the names of the two new additions to the ranks of Christian propaganda cinema that opened earlier this spring: they are Jon Gunn’s The Case for Christ and Jeff and Todd Wider’s little-seen documentary, God Knows Where I Am, neither of which will be reviewed by me. How they fare as cinema is irrelevant, as they are propaganda for a cause I don’t want to be propagandized about any more than I already am.
Which is all the time.
As for the sinfulness of lying… I was raised Christian even though we were all Jewish – and I’m a lifelong atheist.
So, I’ll be fine.
Cross burning and ‘The Birth of a Nation’  Note from the Editor: A 1915 release, the epoch-making blockbuster The Birth of a Nation was based on Thomas Dixon Jr.’s 1905 novel The Clansman, which features a cross-burning incident. The first reported cross burning in the United States took place in the area of Stone Mountain, Georgia, on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 25, 1915. As The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation opened on Feb. 8, 1915, at Clune’s Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles.
Image of Nicolas Cage in the 2014 box office bomb Left Behind, part of the recent batch of American Christian movies: Freestyle Releasing.
Image of Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments: Paramount Pictures.
Image of Erika Christensen and Mike Vogel in one of 2017’s Christian movies, The Case for Christ: Pure Flix Entertainment.
KPCC’s FilmWeek critics and host Larry Mantle plus an audience of 1,000 gathered at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles to discuss and debate the contenders for this year’s major Oscar categories. There were vigorous deliberations over “Moonlight” and “La La Land” in the Best Picture categories and almost no agreement on the Best Documentary Feature.
Who are you favoring for this year’s Academy Awards?
Justin Chang, film critic for KPCC and the Los Angeles Times
Barry Obama (Devon Terrell) reads Ralph Ellison’s 1952 socio-political novel ‘Invisible Man’ – not to be confused with H.G. Wells’ 1897 sci-fi novel ‘The Invisible Man.’
While thinking about Barry, Vikram Gandhi’s 1981-set film about a young Barack Obama as he arrived in New York City to attend Columbia University, I found myself thinking about me in 1981, as I arrived in New York City to attend Columbia University.
To be frank, I’ve been thinking about President Obama in juxtaposition to myself for years, ever since his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Like many Black folks that evening, I looked up the tall, handsome, well-spoken brotha from Chi-town. Tall and handsome notwithstanding, I found that I had a lot in common with the biracial son of a Kenyan scholar and an American white lady from Kansas. None of those things – but a lot.
An evening in 2004
That evening in 2004, with elegance and verve, Barry, long since Barack, stirred the democratic heart of our nation with talk of hope, change, and one America, built by people like him – literally, a little bit of everyone.
Every word from Obama’s mouth that evening lived in an idea or concept for the kind of world that I wanted for my countrymen, my family, and me. Beyond our politics, there was a deeper identification with the young senator from Illinois – a state in the American Midwest; the Midwest where I was from and knew quite well.
St. Louis, Missouri, my hometown, is much like Chicago with an inferiority complex. Much the same in every way – history and culture and ethnic divides – though St. Louis is less obnoxious regarding its achievements. The Cardinals didn’t need over 100 years to get to several World Series, let alone to win (a few). Still, the cities themselves are much the same.
Mixed genealogical histories adding up to ‘Black’
In 2004, all black Americans watching Barack Obama give that keynote address instantly understood that he was what we called “mixed” – and what white folks called “biracial.” I knew I wasn’t biracial in the terms by which we assess such things in America; terms that are strict and that over the years have often been written into law. However, I also knew that my genealogical history was no less mixed than Barack’s – or that of most black Americans, for that matter.
It’s understood by African Americans that part of our lineage generally runs to white folks. In my family, it accrues to Jewish and Irish bloodlines mostly; some Native American and, obviously, African. I also knew that in America all of that adds up to Black. Full stop.
‘Barry’ movie: Devon Terrell as a young Barack Obama: The ‘brotha’ who could be president.
Unable to fit into race-based identity politics
Here is the place where Barry and I part, at least according to director Vikram Gandhi and screenwriter Adam Mansbach. Barry was unclear about his place in the world of race-based identity politics. He wanted to claim all his bloodlines at once – or none at all – which left both him and most of his acquaintances confused about who or what he was in terms of race.
In the film, Barry Obama is played (quite well) by Devon Terrell, employing just of hint of the president’s very particular accent and halting speech pattern. At one point early on, Barry says to his roommate (laconically played by Boyhood actor Ellar Coltrane), “I don’t fit in anywhere.”
That’s not an original thought for a youth from any background, but Obama ’81 had a pretty good reason for thinking so. It would take some time for Barry to settle into the fact of his “blackness” by American standards – understandable given his specific upbringing, which was hardly typical for American Black folks of our generation.
As a young man Barry Obama hardly knew his Kenyan father or his siblings from his father’s other relationships. When he wasn’t living with his elderly white grandparents in Kansas, he spent time with his scholarly white mother in Hawaii or Indonesia, alongside his half-Indonesian half-sister from his mother’s second marriage.
It’s no surprise it took Barry a bit longer to sort through his understanding of how things work in America before landing on the only race he’d ever be: Black.
The ‘brotha’ who could be president
Black folks watching Barack Obama in 2004 knew then – no matter the mix – he was a brotha. By then, of course, he knew it too. Black folks in ’04 also knew that the brotha with the funny name could be president one day.
We understood it in the same way we understood that Jesse Jackson, for instance, was never going to be president of the United States. Ever. We understood it in the same way we understood Donald Trump could be elected president – even after Barack Obama was elected – twice.
Black folks understand these things about the nature of America – because we do. Admittedly, we weren’t sure Obama would survive being president, indeed we worried that he might not because we really do understand America.
Still, we always knew he could do it. And he did it – twice.
But I digress. The things I have in common with our 44th president are in every way mundane. Indicators of absolutely nothing, either on a practical or a spiritual level. Nevertheless, they resonate, at least with me. After watching Barry they resonated all the more, but are no more meaningful in the larger world, except by way of offering me a window into the way the president interprets it. He sees it the way I do.
Indeed, over the past 7-plus years, I’ve often found myself listening to President Obama speak as I mouthed the very words that would come out of his mouth. Not because he’d said them before, as they were often novel, but because I actually knew what he thought about the subject at hand – because I knew what I thought about the subject at hand. Disappointing for my fans – such as you are – who opposed the president on most issues.
Like Obama, I’m inclined to attempt to bring you around on the subject, to find common ground, because like both Barry and Barack, I too am an optimist. But then again, unlike Barry or Barack, I’m pretty sure it ultimately won’t work.
In truth, my optimism has waned over the years. For Barry, that optimism, backed up by a fearlessness regarding his own physical safety (partially driven by nicotine, as Barry smoked a lot), is what the film Barry is all about. My waning optimism notwithstanding, this too is something we have in common. (Although I never smoked. Well, not cigarettes.)
According to Barry, it was in the fall of 1981 that optimism was solidified in the young Barry Obama. It’s also definitely about the time it was forged in me. These were our foundational moments. The moments in life that establish all of us within ourselves.
They were for Barry the experiences that made him Barack, that made him The President, even before that evening in 2004. They didn’t have that exact effect on me, obviously. I’ve never been the president of anything, though I was a sergeant in the United States Air Force, which, believe it or not, requires a similar set of leadership skills. They are both forms of community organizing, only with the authority to make people do things. Something that, to my mind, good presidents (and sergeants) almost never need to do.
If you’re good at leading people, they follow because they’re with you – not because you give them an order. I never ordered anybody to do anything when I was in the military because I never needed to; I’d just ask and they’d do it. This was something that Barry came to understand in the early 1980s, too. I count it among the things we have in common.
Indeed, in 1981, Barry Obama, as conceived by Gandhi and Mansbach, saw the world much like me. I claim the elder perspective as I’m one month older than the President. We were born in July and August of 1961, respectively. It’s just a coincidence. Not at all important or meaningful in any way.
Nevertheless, in 1981, Barry and me were at that forging age, 20 or 21, experiencing the moments that would make us us. I had been in the United States Air Force since 1979, the year both Barry and I graduated from high school. I went to basic training, he went off to college; our boyhoods ended, ready or not.
Barry was a young man on his own in the world when he headed to Columbia after having spent time at Occidental College in Pasadena. As it happens, I live in Pasadena and taught at Occidental College, though not in association with President Obama, in any way. It’s irrelevant, and means nothing to anyone – except me.
In the film, Barry arrives in New York City to attend Columbia University in August of 1981. As it happens, I was a young airman in New York City in the summer of 1981, attending Columbia while on temporary duty assignment from the 42nd Air Division, 97th Bombardment Division. Point is we both happened to be in New York City in the fall of 1981, studying at Columbia.
We did not meet. This is not important.
Sorting out the ‘why’
The city that both Barry and I were roaming around in 1981 was still wobbling from the bankruptcy of 1975. It was steeped in violence and racial unrest, among other problems, but it was also vibrant with punk and a burgeoning art form called rap that would shape America over the next three decades – and it shaped us a bit, too.
Barry was a young man already formed, yet still evolving – as was I. Already who we would become while still sorting out the “why” of everything. “Why,” in fact, was a central question of 1981 for many people including Barry and me.
In 1981, Barry Obama was in his pre-Michelle Robinson period. Their getting together is all captured in a different 2016 movie called Southside with You, which is also quite good. For my part, by then I’d already met and married my Michelle, so to speak. I’d been in love with her since we were kids and we got married in the summer of 1981 just before I was sent TDY to New York. As noted, that’s all a different movie. Barry and I also have this in common – we are both crazy in love with our one and only wives – and always will be.
Barack Obama movie ‘Barry’ and racial identity: Devon Terrell as the young Obama and Anya Taylor-Joy as his girlfriend.
life in 1981
In 1981, Barry was captivated by but cynical about politics. He argued Plato with the reasoning of Socrates and debated political philosophies with his fellow students on the Right and the Left, while defending the concerns of the minority from the tyranny of the majority under all circumstances. All the while having no idea how or if he would be able to make a difference in any of it.
In 1981, Barry already knew that, unlike most of his classmates and friends from the street, he would not be going for the money. One way or another, everybody in 1981 was going for the money. Some sold junk bonds, others cocaine – and often to each other. Either way, in the 1980s it was all about making a million dollars before you were twenty-five.
Barry knew that there had to be more to life than making money; he knew this from the perch of a poor person, one who could easily go for the money like everybody else and leave all his financial cares behind, forever. But like me, Barry was raised better than that. Score one for the scholarly white lady from Kansas.
In 1981, Barry was going for white girls. These were the ones he dated at the time. Really cute white girls who looked a lot like his mother – because sometimes Freud is right. Not one of the women Barry Obama actually dated is in Gandhi’s movie; instead, one character represents several of them.
Played by Anya Taylor-Joy, she’s called Charlotte in the film; while she’s not given credit for enlightening the still evolving Barry Obama regarding his race, his politics, or even his name (it’s not clear she even knew his real name), she’s not played as irrelevant either. Neither she, nor the women she represents, are essential to Barry’s transformation into Barack, but they did influence him greatly, as girlfriends often do. They were not his Michelle, but they mattered.
Other characters in Barry are also composites of people the president knew during his time at Columbia. They are the result of the filmmakers’ interviews with people he dated and learned from, hung out with and even fought with, during his time in New York. They provide context both for the film’s subtle biographical tributes to the young Barry Obama, and for the more didactic political pitches of the man who would eventually become President Barack Obama. They are not props per se, but they do serve a similar purpose.
Thugs & basketball
When Barry wasn’t smoking and having sex with smart, artsy white girls, he studied hard, partied a little, and played basketball a lot, often with thugs who argued as much as they played ball in raucous neighborhood parks. He almost got himself shanked more than once while acting as the voice of reason, literally standing between angry young men ready to come to blows over a perceived slight during a basketball game.
He lived in an ethnically diverse, low-income community where he was tested by the guys on the block on a daily basis. He made friends – some lifelong – from whom he seeks counsel to this day. Minus the cigs and the artsy white girls, I was doing most of that too back in 1981.
‘Barry’ movie trailer with Devon Terrell and Anya Taylor-Joy.
Among the other features of the president’s time in New York City that Barry highlights are his experiences being “the only.” The only black person in most of his classes. The only poor person in a room full of rich people. The only rational person in a room full of irrational people. The only student to be asked for an ID on a campus full of students with IDs – but who did not look like him.
I deeply identify with being “the only,” as do many others, in one context or another. Perhaps, you…
Indeed, by my measure, if one has never been “the only something” in their life, they likely didn’t vote for Barack Obama to become president of these United States. They probably wouldn’t have liked him much during his college days at Columbia. Nor would they care for this movie about his life in the early 1980s, or my thoughts about the film, particularly as related to me.
Of course those people probably would not be reading this long, overly personal essay on Barry and me, anyway.
But you have been, so you probably get him. And you probably get me.
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 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.
Larry Mantle and KPCC film critics Andy Klein and Tim Cogshell review this week’s new movie releases including: the dramatic portrayal of the 2010 man-made disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, “Deepwater Horizon,” plus the new Tim Burton fantasy, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children;” an action funny starring the biggest names in comedy these days including Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Zach Galifianakis; and more.