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)
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | CDC
Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Awareness resources – Canada.ca
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.
Other people we lost in the year 2020…
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, lawyer and judge (1933 – 2020)
Salome Bey, singer (1939 – 2020)
Honor Blackman, actress (1925 – 2020)
Chadwick Boseman, actor (1976 – 2020)
Kobe Bryant, basketball player (1978 – 2020)
Edd Byrnes, actor (1932 – 2020)
Pierre Cardin, clothes designer (1922 – 2020)
Sean Connery, actor (1930 – 2020)
Robert Conrad, actor (1935 – 2020)
Brian Dennehy (1938 – 2020)
Kirk Douglas, actor (1916 – 2020)
Allan Fotheringham, journalist (1932 – 2020)
Bob Gibson, baseball player (1935 – 2020)
Dale Hawerchuk, hockey player (1963 – 2020)
Olivia de Havilland, actress (1916 – 2020)
Buck Henry, writer-director (1930 – 2020)
Ian Holm, actor (1931 – 2020)
Irrfan Khan, actor (1967 – 2020)
Katherine Johnson, mathematician (1918 – 2020)
John Lewis, legislator and civil rights activist (1940 -2020)
Diego Maradona, soccer player (1960 – 2020)
Terrence McNally, playwright (1938 -2020)
Neil Peart, musician (1952 – 2020)
Charley Pride, musician (1934 – 2020)
Max von Sydow, actor (1929 – 2020)
Eddie Van Halen, musician (1955 – 2020)
Bill Withers, singer-songwriter (1938 – 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.”
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
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.