Offscreen Notes

  • Daria Nicolodi: 1950-2020

    November 27th, 2020

    Hard to believe. Women usually don’t die that young, 70. When I look at Daria as an older lady, and hear her speak in her gruff voice, it reminds me a some of my Italian aunts. Full of life, wisdom, charm, humor, and class. Daria was also one who spoke her mind. A muse to her ex-husband Dario Argento and one of the creative forces behind the greatest horror film to ever blast its luminous aura onto a screen, Suspiria. Her role in Deep Red, the giallo masterpiece, touched that perfect balance between feminism and vulnerability. Her scenes with David Hemmings are to be treasured. As as her turns in lesser films such as Paginini Horror, where she adds a measure of sanity in an otherwise wildly eccentric film. One of her biggest and defining roles came in Mario Bava’s last film, Shock, where she set the template for the emotionally unstable woman who may or may not be going crazy, or just possessed by a malevolent spirit. Rest in peace Daria.

  • Electing Democrats or Demagogues

    November 9th, 2020

    “Mankind have in all ages attached themselves to a few persons who either by the quality of that idea they embodied or by the largeness of their reception were entitled to the position of leaders and law-givers.”

    —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Uses of Great Men”

    What makes a great leader? People used to speak of world conquerors such as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte as great men, and, of course, many books and films have celebrated them: among the films, Alexander the Great (Robert Rossen,1956); Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004); and, Caesar and Cleopatra (Gabriel Pascal, 1945), Julius Caesar (Joseph Mankiewicz, 1953), Julius Caesar (Stuart Burge, 1970); and Bonaparte’s tale is presented in Napoleon (Abel Gance, 1927), Waterloo (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1970), and Monsieur N. (Antoine de Caunes, 2003). Were those men world builders, world conquerors, or world smashers? Some critical views sometimes describe them as world destroyers: Alexander (356 BC – 323 BC) conquered Greece, Egypt, and India, but when he invaded Persia, burned Persepolis, and insulted the local religion; Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC), a hero of the people, was a breaker of tradition, defying Rome’s senate, initiating civil war, and courting foreign personal allies, and Caesar, known to be vain, was ostentatious and debt-ridden—and he embraced the title of dictator, compelling the senate to declare him dictator for life; and Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821), a skilled soldier, spoke of French honor and human rights, and defended the French revolution, but Napoleon ignored treaties and invaded other countries (which his armies plundered), and he affirmed slavery in French colonies. What makes a great leader? Ralph Waldo Emerson—who named Plato, Swendenborg, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Napoleon, and Goethe as Representative Men (1850)—affirmed purpose and use above happiness, and Emerson wrote in “Uses of Great Men” of a subversive heroism:

    “I admire great men of all classes, those who stand for facts, and for thoughts; I like rough and smooth, “Scourges of God,” and “Darlings of the human race.” I like the first Caesar; and Charles V, of Spain; and Charles XII, of Sweden; Richard Plantagenet; and Bonaparte, in France. I applaud a sufficient man, an officer equal to his office; captains, ministers, senators. I like a master standing firm on legs of iron, wellborn, rich, handsome, eloquent, loaded with advantages, drawing all men by fascination into tributaries and supporters of his power. Sword and staff, or talents sword-like or staff-like, carry on the work of the world. But I find him greater when he can abolish himself and all heroes, by letting in this element of reason, irrespective of persons, this subtilizer and irresistible upward force, into our thought, destroying individualism; the power so great that the potentate is nothing. Then he is a monarch who gives a constitution to his people; a pontiff who preaches the equality of souls and releases his servants from their barbarous homages; an emperor who can spare his empire.”

    Often instead of world conquerors, we think of national leaders in times of trouble as great men—Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Charles de Gaulle. Or people such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Joan of Arc, Florence Nightingale, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, John Lewis, Oprah Winfrey, and Malala Yousafzai as being among the best of us. What makes a great leader? Despite the rise and fall of despots in the twentieth century, inspiring grief and outrage, in our own time we have seen new demagogues seek and win power: in South America, in Europe, and—in America. However, we can recognize that conservative concerns for morality, tradition, and property are just as important as liberal concerns for liberty, equality, progress, and pluralism. Public discourse helps us evaluate proposals articulated on behalf of different principles; and there are leaders who seem to defend democratic principles and practices: among them, Jacinda Ardern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Emmanuel Macron, the President of France, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada. I admired Barack Obama, and as he left office as President of the United States, I contemplated the subject of leadership; and, among other things, I, Daniel Garrett, wrote, “Remember This House” about Obama and 2016’s Southside with You (Offscreen, June 2017); and “First Tragedy, Now Farce” about Richard Nixon and subsequent Republican presidents, considering Spielberg’s 2017 The Post (Offscreen, July 2018); and my essay “American Masters and Monsters” allowed me to consider leadership in both history and in culture through examining Thomas Jefferson and the 1995 Merchant-Ivory film Jefferson in Paris (Offscreen, November 2020). In that last article, I state, “What makes a great leader? Who can bring the citizens of a nation together? The subject is one we consider in grade school and during election periods, and sometimes as we try to work with others or take on important tasks ourselves—but the answer, no matter which faculties and forces and values and virtues are named, must be lived with efficiency and conviction: courage and creativity, and honesty and intelligence, and charisma, commitment, confidence, eloquence, energy, fellowship, knowledge, judgement, method, nurturing, responsibility, self-awareness, sense, spirit, trust, and vision.”

    Daniel Garrett

    American Masters and Monsters: Jefferson in Paris and The Golden Bowl, two films of love and power by James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, and Ismail Merchant

    https://offscreen.com/view/american-masters-and-monsters-jefferson-in-paris-and-the-golden-bowl

  • 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

    Catastrophe

  • 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:

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