Offscreen Notes

  • Contemporary Crises and Cinema

    October 12th, 2020

    Will we see new love stories on large screens in closed theaters, the characters hugging and kissing? Or will they speak their passionate lines six-feet apart, through masks? Or will theaters and screens remain dark?

    The coronavirus, or Covid-19, since early 2020, has changed life around the world. Cultures and economies have been transformed – reduced, slowed, and in some instances stilled. Yet, in August 2020, there was hope that a corner had been turned, that some aspects of our cultural lives were returning to normal. The Washington Post‘s Steven Zeitchik reported that film productions were commencing again: “Across the entertainment industry, casts and crew are beginning to return to work after a five-month hiatus. In states with loosened restrictions, such as Georgia and New York, production is starting to crank up under tight controls that alter how sets operate. Instead of crew members freely mingling, they’re being divided into ‘pods’ that limit how production departments such as wardrobe or lighting can associate. Covid-19 officers monitor the health of the cast and crew to determine who is allowed on set. ‘Zones’ dictate where those cast and crew can go” (WP, August 12). Yet, even Zeitzchik’s good news was threaded with sobering information: some major actors, fearing contagion, did not want to appear in love scenes, and even small acting parts might have trouble being filled by those who did not think the little money was worth the big risk; and some independent productions apprehended trouble getting insurance during the crisis. What of the work completed? Will that be presented in traditional theaters, or in different forums – online; or at refurbished or improvised (parking lot?) drive-in theaters.

    I, Daniel Garrett, essayed catastrophe and crisis as represented in cinema some many months ago, when I realized I had been hearing the news of terrible events, augmented by the shocked commentary of participants and witnesses who said those events were like something seen in a movie: the article Catastrophe (It Was Like a Movie): On The China Syndrome, Twister, The Perfect Storm, Titanic, Deep Impact, World Trade Center, and Contagion has been posted by Offscreen editor Donato Totaro this month. Despite the passage of time from conception to presentation, appearing October 2020, the article I suspect has not lost much, if any, relevance. The coronavirus has been an international tragedy, with so many good citizens, so many significant workers, so many beloved people, being lost. Catastrophe. It is an agon—an agon: a challenge to body and spirit—with a destructive force beyond ordinary anticipation or immediate ease: accident, calamity, blight, disease, plague, suffering, trouble. Human beings used to have to struggle through shock, pain, and misunderstandings to arrive at a sense of order and insight regarding difficult and overwhelming experience—but after a century of mass culture, in which the imagination of disaster is brought to us again and again, when a catastrophe occurs for the first time in our lives we have a sense of déjà vu. The force of accident or nature or terror in our lives is, at once, both predicted and stunning. The terrible is something we feel we know from memory—thanks to film and television and the internet—even as what is terrible erupts around us, breaking our lives into before and after. There is an intellectual mastery that is paired with an emotional dislocation: our personal experience seems somewhat impersonal.

    Tenet signifies belief. For those of us who love cinema, who believe in it as beauty, as pleasure, as knowledge of the world, whether art film or pure entertainment or both, we miss the large screens, the crowds, the shared pleasures. There was a great deal of hope that certain films might return us to an important feature of our common lives—but the premieres of many films have been postponed. Christopher Nolan’s imaginative, time-traveling Tenet, starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, has been a troubling test case, giving us both hope and warning: it made “$20.2 million over its first four days in North American theaters — a mere $9.4 million in the U.S. if you subtract Canadian grosses, it was later revealed,” according to Chris Lee’s September 22, 2020 online (Vulture) report for New York magazine. As of early October, the film seems to have made about $45 million in the United States, and about $307 million worldwide (per Box Office Mojo). Apparently, in light of the financial investment in the movie, the film has to make $400 million to break even. As well, Mission Impossible sequels have been postponed—as has the opening of the new James Bond film (Daniel Craig had begun promoting it when the news was announced). Some theater owners have said they may not be able to continue in business. What will tomorrow bring? We do not know—but cinema has prepared us for dreams and disasters.

    Daniel Garrett


  • Diahann Carroll (1935 – 2019)

    October 14th, 2019

    Diahann Carroll was alluring, intriguing, a fulfillment of what one hopes for in an entertainer. Consider her work: Claudine (John Berry, 1974) – the story of a single mother in Harlem, a working maid, Claudine (Diahann Carroll), struggling to keep her children Charlene and Charles, played by Tamu and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, on a straight path. Paris Blues (Martin Ritt, 1974), centered on two musicians (Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman) and their romances in Paris with American tourists (Diahann Carroll, Joanne Woodward). Actor-director Robert Townsend’s treatment of music and the carnivorous industry surrounding it in The Five Heartbeats (1991) featured Diahann Carroll and Henry Lennix, Lamont Johnson, Harold Nicholas, Theresa Randle, Leon Robinson, Tressa Thompson, and Michael Wright. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1998), a story of youth, family, transgression, and punishment, set in Louisiana, mixing realism and magic, featuring Diahann Carroll as a spiritualist who may have access to powerful curses. If Diahann Carroll had appeared in only one of these films, she would have been a memorable presence in cinema; but she appeared in all of them and more; and yet, for her charisma, intelligence, and skill, Carroll might have been an even greater and more popular star in a more just world —something that can be said of many African-American artists, but of her most of all. Diahann Carroll (1935 – 2019) was born in New York, and went to the School of Performing Arts in Manhattan, debuted in House of Flowers (1954) on Broadway and in Carmen Jones (1954) in film. Carroll won a Tony award for the theatrical musical No Strings in 1962, and a Golden Globe for her work on television’s Julia (1969); and received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in the gritty (and funny) melodrama Claudine, but may be best known for her work as Dominique Deveraux on television in Dynasty in the 1980s. Many regretted that she was not able to star in an announced stage production with Denzel Washington in a 2014 revival of A Raisin in the Sun. She was wonderful.

  • Obituary on the great writer Toni Morrison

    August 10th, 2019

    The great writer Toni Morrison, born in 1931 as Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, educated at Lorain High School, Howard University, and Cornell University, an editor at Random House, a professor at Texas Southern University, Howard University, the State University of New York, and Princeton, and, most importantly, the author of The Bluest Eye, Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and Paradise, and other books, has died in New York, August 5, 2019. She published the essay collection The Source of Self-Regard earlier in 2019. Her book Beloved was made into a 1998 film by director Jonathan Demme, starring Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover. Toni Morrison herself has appeared in several documentaries, including The Foreigner’s Home (2018) by Rian Brown and Geoff Pingree, inspired by an interdisciplinary exhibit Morrison curated at Louvre, focused on the idea of the stranger, the foreigner, the immigrant and featuring screening of Charles Burnett films, literary discussions, and musical performances; and the audio-visual life and career retrospective, The Pieces I Am (2019) by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, featuring Morrison and several of her friends and colleagues. (Morrison participated as well in the 2005 Cannes film festival as a juror, along with Javier Bardem, Agnes Varda, John Woo and others.) Toni Morrison is known for her editing and writing, and for being the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved, and for being the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize.

  • John Singleton (1968-April 29, 2019)

    April 30th, 2019

    One of the most important Africa American directors of recent years, John Singleton has died at the young age of 51. Singleton came to prominence with his striking debut about LA street gangs Boyz N the Hood (1991) and followed that with Poetic Justice (1993), Higher Learning (1995), Rosewood (1997), Shaft (2000) and many other films, often featuring strong black characters and urban social issues. Along with Spike Lee Singleton was a powerful voice of creative expression for the experiences of Black Americans in the 1990s and 2000s.

  • Larry Cohen

    March 24th, 2019

    The generation of great American horror auteurs of the 1970s, when horror was wedded to social unrest without sacrificing scares, is slowly leaving us with the most recent to fall, Larry Cohen (1941-March 23, 2019). Cohen was 77. Cohen started as a scriptwriter and always hung on to his ability to write great eccentric characters and stories on the pulse of the underdog. Cohen spared no punches with his social criticism and was less concerned with visual style as he was with critical subtext (consumerism in Stuff, political paranoia in The Invaders TV show, religion and cult indoctrination in God Told Me To, greed and opportunism in Q, vigilantism in Maniac Cop, class in Bone, etc.). He was outspoken, brash, funny and a bit of an iconoclast. His wry social satire and gritty style will be missed.

  • Diversity Calendar for 2019

    February 8th, 2019

    This link of a wonderful idea was sent to me by an Offscreen contributor, a diversity calendar that will hopefully get people thinking inclusively.

  • Dick Miller: RIP, 1928-Jan. 30, 2019

    January 31st, 2019

    Somehow I thought Dick Miller would just never die. Small people seem to just live longer. Miller was in too many Corman films to remember, pretty much all the good ones, and was a good luck charm for many other directors, who loved to have him on their set. Like Joe Dante. No role was too small for Dick. And no role was too small for Dick to not leave a mark on. A sixty plus year career that finally comes to a stop.

  • Dusan Makavejev R.I.P (1932-January 25, 2019)

    January 27th, 2019

    Great Serbian director Dušan Makavejev has passed away at the age of 86, leaving behind a unique body of political and radical work:

  • Richard Marks dies at age 75

    January 5th, 2019

    Great Hollywood editor Richard Marks passes away at age 75, leaving behind an impressive body of work that includes editing The Godfather 2 and Apocalypse Now.

  • Sondra Locke Dies (1944-Nov. 3, 2018)

    December 13th, 2018

    Actress Sondra Locke died Nov. 3, 2018 at the age of 74. Locke will be most likely remembered as the long-time former girlfriend of Clint Eastwood, acting in six of his seminal films during his heyday of the 1970s, 1980s. I will remember her for her turn in a little seen and practically forgotten chiller from 1972 A Reflection of Fear, where she plays a young mentally disturbed woman named Marguerite who suffers from serious Daddy (played by a pre-Jaws Robert Shaw) issues, that come to the fore when estranged father returns to Marguerite’s coastal town in the company of a sexy girlfriend, played by Sally Kellerman. It is a creepy, get-under-your skin film brimming with sexual tension and one heck of a knock-down twist ending.

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