Offscreen Notes

  • Jean-Luc Godard (1930-2022)

    September 19th, 2022

    The filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard (1930 – 2022) was a great and inventive artist, a man with a curious intellect and an impudent spirit, someone whose creativity sparked that of others. His films— from Breathless (1960), Contempt (1983), Band of Outsiders (1964), Alphaville (1965), Masculine Feminine (1966) and Weekend (1967) to Every Man for Himself (1980) and Hail Mary (1985) to Notre Musique (2004), Film Socialisme (2010) and The Image Book (2018)—were provocations. “Godard, one of the original pioneers of the French New Wave, has been an international celebrity for decades, and a controversial one. He’s feuded with some of the major figures in world cinema and major film festivals, and with luminaries in the arts and politics,” wrote film critic Matt Zoller Seitz in his January 25, 2019 comment (via Roger Ebert’s website) of Jean-Luc Godard’s 2018 film The Image Book, a work of contemplation and connections, a history of images and ideas. Godard’s work, whether dramatic or documentary, was alive to the moment. Whereas the films of many directors could seem like filtered memories, Godard’s work has an expansive vision and energy that carries some of the chaos of reality: thus, his films seemed part of our world, and we seem part of his. Matt Zoller Seitz wrote of The Image Book: By the time it ends, it has ruminated on the rise of the image, the fall of the word and the pulverization of every form of information into a nonstop stream of “content;” drawn connections between the mechanization of genocide during the Holocaust and colonization; created a kind of self-contained film-within-a-film, romanticizing the Arabic-speaking world through four decades’ worth of movie clips; and handed viewers a continuous analogy for the film’s own stylistic techniques by grouping together dozens of clips from movies involving trains (“trains of thought,” perhaps?).

    Jean-Luc Godard, born in France, died in Switzerland. He had been a bourgeois boy, the son of a clinic director; and he studied ethnology at the University of Paris, and became interested in documentaries. The improvisatory Breathless (1960), about a small criminal, a variation on the American crime picture, had glamour without false romance, and was said to have invented the jump cut. Sometimes the associations in his films were created by something other than logic. He brought a revolutionary approach to cinema. He defied established methods of both craft and narrative. The American girl in Breathless is not true to the infatuated French boy—it might have been an allegory. Godard did make a contentious study of women —his female characters were difficult to manage and sometimes inspired both admiration and hostility. That occurs in Masculine Feminine (1966). His works were interventions in both domestic politics and personal psychology. Some of the best work of writers such as Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael (and many others) has been inspired by Godard, who challenged expectations of what a film might be and mean. Godard did not merely contemplate film; he interrogated cinema. He was unique and he will be missed.

    by Daniel Garrett

  • Gerard Potterton

    August 26th, 2022

    R.I.P Gerald Potterton. Important British born Canadian animator/documentarist Potterton has passed away (1931-2022). His most important works remain the 1965 short The Railrodder that brought some recognition back to the silent comedy genius Buster Keaton, and the cult 1981 animation feature Heavy Metal, which included a who’s who of Canadian comedy and acting greats doing voice work (John Candy, Eugene Levy, Joe Flaherty, Andrea Martin, Jackie Burroughs, John Vernon, Al Waxman, Harvey Atkin, and others. Some of his works can be watched online for free at the NFB website.

  • Michael Walker (1942-2022)

    July 26th, 2022

    Sad to announce the death of prolific film writer and analyst Michael Walker. Read friend Keith Withall’s excellent obit.

  • Jean-Louis Trintignant (1930-June 17, 2021)

    June 19th, 2022

    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.

  • The Orphan Film Symposium

    June 15th, 2022

    Concordia University is hosting this wonderful event which features panel talks and rare film screenings. From June 15-18, 2022.

  • Monica Vitti (1931-Feb. 2, 2022)

    February 3rd, 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, dies at age 94, on Jan. 6, 2022

    January 8th, 2022

    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

    And,

    An Attempt to Reconcile Everything: A Warm December, a film starring and directed by Sidney Poitier, and the Legacy of the Great Actor

  • RIP Peter Bogdanovich (1939-Jan 6, 2022)

    January 6th, 2022

    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.

  • bell hooks (1952-Dec 15. 2021)

    December 16th, 2021

    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)

  • Lina Wertmüller (1928-Dec. 9, 2021)

    December 10th, 2021

    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.

← Previous