Sad to announce the death of prolific film writer and analyst Michael Walker. Read friend Keith Withall’s excellent obit.
Cinema lost one of its most versatile actors today, the great French performer Jean-Louis Trintignant. Trintignant could be smooth, sexy, funny, cool, and charming. He played in arthouse and genre films and approached both with the same dedication and commitment. He starred in two of my drop dead favorite films of all-time. Films that I never tire of watching. Sergio Corbucci’s nihilistic spaghetti western The Great Silence, where he gave his own stamp to a particular type of ‘silent’ type with no name. A film that influenced a whole generation of 1970s American filmmakers, Il Conformista, where he played a sexually confused petite bourgeois who climbs the Fascist corporate ladder by staging a Shakespearean assassination of an anti-Fascist intellectual. And many other (mainly) French and Italian films with some of the greatest directors of his time.
Concordia University is hosting this wonderful event which features panel talks and rare film screenings. From June 15-18, 2022.
The great actress Monica Vitti died at the age of 90 on Feb 2, 2022 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Vitti burst onto the International film scene as the muse of one of Italy’s greatest ever filmmakers Michelangelo Antonioni, as Claudia in L’Avventura. While Antonioni’s radical approach to narrative structure, temporality and use of architecture and landscape in several seismic films of the 1960s helped shape a new ‘modernist’ approach to narrative, the striking beauty and bodily intelligence of Monica Vitti was the face behind Antonioni’s modernism. Vitti will always be remembered for those first four thematically linked films she made with Antonioni, L’Avventura, La Notte, L’eclisse and Deserto Rosso, playing the archetypical modern woman navigating the post-WW2 Economic Miracle Italy. An Italy defined by Antonioni as a nation whose social and moral attitudes lagged behind the nation’s rapid economic growth. And Vitti, most powerfully in L’eclisse, where she begins the film by ending a stilted relationship with a man who represents the ‘old Italy’ Riccardo (Francisco Rabal) and begins seeing a man who represents the ‘new Italy’ Piero (Alain Delon), but is none the happier, and Deserto Rosso, was the emotional heartbeat of this existentially bared open new citizen. Vitti was called back into Antonioni’s universe when he experimented with the then new medium of video, and cast Vitti as “the Queen” in the 1980 Jean Cocteau story The Mystery of Oberwald. Fittingly to commemorate her death Italy’s culture minister Dario Franceschini wrote, “Goodbye to the queen of Italian cinema.” Indeed.
Sidney Poiter stood tall amongst his acting peers, not only for his immeasurable talents but, as noted by Wesley Morris in his excellent NYT obit, his talents up against the stresses and roadblocks of race during his lifetime. Poiter’s greatest roles were undoubtedly in late 1950s and 1960s, with The Blackboard Jungle, The Defiant Ones, A Raisin in the Sun, Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night and its sequel They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, and of course Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. But often forgotten is his run as a director, with the excellent western Buck and the Preacher (1972) and the hilarious Stir Crazy and less funny but still interesting, Let’s Do It Again. Above all Poiter gave an aura of class, sophistication and virtue. What a great run.
Offscreen contributor Daniel Garrett wrote several pieces celebrating Poitier’s significant character and creative abilities…
On Mia Mask’s Poitier Revisited and Contemporary Black American Cinema
I heard of his death from a student today right at the start of the class, and my first image was of a forever young Peter Bogdanovich. For some reason I could not think of him as an old man, only as a young, exuberant member of the Hollywood Renaissance, part of the younger generation of Post-Hollywood directors who were not out to destroy Hollywood but change it from within, by making spunkier, more personal genre films. Bogdanovich started off as a film critic, the sort that gave you the impression of hanging around trying to pester his idols like Ford, Walsh and Lang, until they would respond to his queries. His love of John Ford led to a book on him and a documentary in 1971. Prior to that was his meta-sniper film Targets, which starred an aging Boris Karloff playing himself, an old Monster icon who is no longer scary in a world where boy next door types are picking innocent people off with a shotgun from the top of a water tower. Bogdanovich may have reached his peak early with his next film The Last Picture Show, and his other very fine film Paper Moon. By the 1990s however, after a few box-office duds (Daisy Miller, Nickelodeon, Saint Jack) Bogdanovich saw himself an outlier in an industry he never fell out of love with. Somehow it fell out of love with him, and Bogdanovich saw himself working more and more in Television and taking up roles much like Sam Fuller in an earlier generation did at the end of his career. No doubt he lived a fruitful live. Heck he had a longish fling with one of the most beautiful women of her time, Cybill Sheppard (which ruined his relationship with his then wife, and foreshadowed other failed or troubled relationships later in his life.
The film The Shape of Water (2017), a fantasy directed by Guillermo del Toro, was embraced by many people, but not by me—and not by Bell Hooks (1952 – 2021), who said, “Given the cultural focus on male sexual predation and violence it is strange that audiences are so enumerate of The Shape of Water – a film that embodies every aspect of dominator culture, imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy,” posted on her Twitter account The Real bell books (@bellhooks) on February 18, 2018. I thought the minority figures in the film (Eliza, as played by the lead actress Sally Hawkins, as well as the characters played by Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins) were walking clichés. Hooks often went against the predictable—and inspired the courage and honesty of others. Hooks wrote about history and theory, about the social structures of patriarchy and white supremacy, as well as the arts and culture, including film and photography, literature, and music in her books, from Ain’t I A Woman (1981), Black Looks: Race and Representation (1992), Reel to Real: Race, Sex, and Class at the Movies (1996) to Writing Beyond Race (2012). She, in Writing Beyond Race, saw the Paul Haggis’s movie Crash (2004) for the false liberalism it was, in which a black woman is harassed, two charming and witty young black men are shown to be criminals, and a racist white man becomes a savior. Bell Hooks was a contrarian, an iconoclast. Yet, Hooks championed collaboration and discourse, and affirmed friendship and love. She was an activist and a poet. She became one of the most significant thinkers of her generation. She was surrounded by her family at the time of her death from kidney failure, a death that came as a shock to those awaiting her illuminating words. Hooks, who was born in Kentucky, and educated at Stanford, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of California-Santa Cruz, taught at Yale, Oberlin, City College of New York, and the University of Southern California, before returning to Kentucky, where she taught at Berea College, and established the Bell Hooks Institute. (Daniel Garrett)
One of Italy’s most notorious, famous and greatest filmmakers of the modern era, Lina Wertmüller, died on Dec. 9 at the ripe age of 93. Wertmüller started her film career in the 1960s working as an assistant to Federico Fellini before cutting out her own unique style that married Fellini’s broad surrealist touches with her training of many years touring with an Italian avant-garde puppet troupe. After studying drama Wertmüller toured Europe with Maria Signorelli’s controversial puppet troupe where they did macabre, Kafkesque shows with Picassoesque puppets than featured violent and ritualistic murders. It is here, along with Fellini’s influence, that she developed a film style that continued the tradition of the Italian grotesque and carnivalesque comedy, a form that is seen most commonly in Italian commedia dell’arte, opera buffa and Italian puppet theatre. Wertmüller’s films were never afraid to challenge and marry issues of gender with politics –her views often times heavy-handed, but consistent within the tradition of the grotesque and carnivalesque she grew out of. In 1976 her outspoken and decidedly messy brand of feminism became known outside her Native Italy when she became the first woman to be nominated in the Best Director category for Seven Beauties. By far her peak period was the 1970s, where she struck a wonderful working relationship with the charismatic pairing of Giancarlo Giannini and Mariangela Melato across several of these films (The Seduction of Mimi (1972), Love and Anarchy (1973), All Screwed Up (1974), Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August (1974), Seven Beauties (1975), A Night Full of Rain (1978), and Blood Feud (1978). It is fair to say that they broke the mould with Lina Wertmüller and that we’ll never see the likes of her again.
Saddened to hear of the passing of Clarence Williams III on June 4, 2021 at age 81. My lasting memory of him was in the popular TV cop show The Mod Squad, where he formed one-third of the super cool cop trio, Linc, Pete (Michael Cole) and Julie (Peggy Lipton). I always thought he was the coolest of the cool and likened his striking good looks to Jimi Hendrix, another cat that was on another level when it came to oozing cool. Williams remained in my consciousness thanks to his choice but impressive roles in a series of horror films, including Maniac Cop 2, Sugar Hill, Tales From the Hood, American Nightmares. One of my most pleasurable recent surprises was seeing him appear in a small role in Sean Baker’s short film, Snowbird (2016).
COVID-19 claims another high profile victim with the death at age 59 of South Korea’s enfant terrible, Kim Ki-Duk. Another reminder that this virus is not only a danger for the old and sick. Kim Ki-Duk was still in the prime of his career. Kim Ki-Duk burst on the scene in 1996 but made his international mark with the formally and thematically bold The Isle in 2000. Many festival hits followed which marked him as a director not averse to controversial subjects (usually relating to sexuality, gender or religion. R.I.P. Kim Ki-Duk, taken far too early.
Jade Tsui-yu Lee: The critically-acclaimed Korean director Kim Ki-duk 2018 film Human, Space, Time and Human raises a fundamental and philosophical question: what is the meaning of human life at the end of the world?
Human, Space, Time and Human —Apocalypse and Life’s (im)possibility – Offscreen
Daniel Garrett: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring, by Korean director Kim Ki-Duk, is a lovely, moving, and wise film, possibly one of the best films I have ever seen. The first time I saw it, I felt serene; and the second time I was thrilled—more than thrilled, I was happy. It is a film that allows us to see beauty—form that appeals to the senses, form that satisfies the mind’s hope for perfection, form that gratifies the spirit—and it allows us to witness spiritual presence.
Everything Must Change: the films Father and Son (Alexander Sokurov) and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring (Kim Ki-Duk) – Offscreen
Kim K-Duk: The reason that in my movies there are people who do not talk is because something deeply wounded them. They had their trust in other human beings destroyed because of promises that were not kept. They were told things like “I love you”, and the person who said it did not really mean it. Because of these disappointments they lost their faith and trust and stopped talking altogether.
Interview with Kim Ki-Duk – Senses of Cinema
Max Kyburz: Kim Ki-duk is a director infatuated, if not obsessed, with the dynamics of human relationships under extreme circumstances. Their boundaries, dimensions, progressions, and compromises (or lack thereof) compose the many fragmented wholes in his work.
Review: Pieta (filmcomment.com)
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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Awareness resources – Canada.ca