Michel Côté: 1950-May 29, 2023
One of Quebec’s most popular and loved film and television actors, Michel Côté, passed away at age 72 from bone marrow disease. Michel Côté had a golden touch when it came to box-office success, acting in some of Quebec’s most popular film and television shows, including the comedy of sexual (bad) manners, Cruising Bar (1989, and its sequel Cruising Bar 2, 2008), the Horror thriller Sur le seuil (2003), C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005), De père en flic (2009) and the television gangster series Omertà.
Kenneth Anger: 1927-May 11, 2023
It is hard to imagine an avant-garde filmmaker as being famous, but that much and more can be said of Kenneth Anger, who died at the age of 96 on May 11, 2023. Anger was at the vanguard of a group of young American filmmakers in the 1940s and 1950s (Curtis Harrington, James Broughton, Sidney Peterson, Stan Brakhage, Maya Deren, Maire Menken, Gregory Markopoulos, Jonas Mekas, Joseph Cornell) who ushered in a generation of transgressive and aesthetically rapturous avant-garde, underground films that have influenced subsequent iterations of experimental filmmaking. Although Anger made short, challenging films his cinema upbringing included a love of Hollywood glitch and glamour, which led to his seminal Hollywood expose blend of gossip, speculation and gonzo journalism, Hollywood Babylon. Although Anger’s influence is largely found in like-minded experimental cinema, his disdain for artistic meritocracy (drawing lines between high art and trash art) has seen his influence go far beyond the esoteric to narrative filmmakers as well (from David Lynch, to Martin Scorsese to Damien Chazelle, whose latest Babylon feels at times like an unofficial adaptation of Hollywood Babylon).
Helmut Berger 1944-May 18, 2023
Sad to hear of the passing of Austrian born actor Helmut Berger, whose star shone most brightly as a muse (and longtime lover, apparently) of Luchino Visconti. Berger’s best and most internationally known films were the ones he made with the Italian aristocrat director Visconti: The Damned (1969), The Garden of Finzi-Continis (1970), Ludwig (1973), and Conversation Piece (1974). My favorite of his performances was as the titular character in Massimo Dallamano’s Dorian Gray (1970). Berger also starred in Duccio Tessari’s intriguing poliziotteschi-giallo hybrid The Bloodtained Butterfly (1971) and opposite Glenda Jackson and Michael Caine in Joseph Losey’s The Romantic Englishwoman (1975).
Harry Belafonte (RIP)
One of the most handsome actors to ever grace the big screen, Harry Belafonte, passed away on April 25, 2023 at the age of 96. Belafonte was the epitome of cinema royalty, a figure of commitment and grace both on and off the screen. Although his on-screen legacy is huge, for some he will be best remembered for his political activism and dedication to social causes, long before it was common among actors. He stood against racism and racial inequalities throughout his lifetime, including refusing to perform in the South to protest racist laws and segregation. His last big screen appearance was a riveting performance in Spike Lee’s The BlackKklansman (2018), where he recounted a harrowing lynching to a rapt audience of young activists (which Lee cleverly intercut with a KKK recruitment meeting). A true screen legend.
TCM (Turner Classic Movies) Celebrates 100 Years of Warner Brothers,” with a month-long tribute
On Easter Monday morning, April 10, as part of their wonderful “100 Years of Warner Brothers,” month-long tribute, TCM (Turner Classic Movies) are showing four films “Shot at Teddington, Warner’s British Studios.”
In order to take advantage of the British Cinematographic Films Act, which came into effect in 1927, initiating a percentage quota of all films showing in United Kingdom cinemas to have been made in Britain, Warner Brothers (WB) rented a studio in Teddington, Midlesex County, on the banks of the River Thames in 1931. Through Jack L. Warner’s leadership, they hired Irving Lerner as production head. WB bought the studio in 1934, and continued to produce between 15 and 20 films a year until the advent of World War II. Production dropped considerably for various reasons, and operations ceased after the studio was hit by a bomb (V1 rocket) in July 1944. In total, 144 WB and First National feature films had been made, most of them “quota quickies,” which were produced cheaply and ran at 70 minutes in length, or less. Although it was initially intended for most cast and crew members to be British, gradually more Hollywood stars (e.g., Laura LaPlante) and directors (e.g., Ralph Ince, William Beaudine) were brought over.*
The four films showing on the cable channel are Something Always Happens (dir., Michael Powell, 1934), Crime Unlimited (dir., Ralph Ince, 1935), Mr. Cohen Takes a Walk (dir., William Beaudine, 1935), and Crown vs Stephens (dir., Powell, 1936). Interestingly, according to IMDb, they are four of the five most popular WB, Teddington films; the other being The Peterville Diamond (dir., Walter Forde, 1943), which has shown previously on TCM. Tragically, the vast majority of the 144 films have not survived. Indeed, when the British Film Institute initiated “The Great British Film Search,” they published a book, Missing Believed Lost in 1992 which provided details on 92 key films made between 1914 and 1945. Of these, no fewer than 59 were Warner Bros. – First National productions. Since then, nine films, in full-length prints, and seven in fragmented or truncated versions have been found, but only one of the former— The Hundred Pound Window (dir., Brian Desmond Hurst, 1943), on a 16mm print belonging to a good friend of mine—and a 100-foot fragment of the latter— Thank Evans (dir., Roy William Neill, 1938)—are WB titles.
After the book was published, the great Film historian and collector, William K. Everson told me that the BFI/National Film Archive was mainly responsible for such a huge loss because Warner’s had offered their materials to the archive, but were told that they didn’t have a high enough need in order to obtain the prints and/or negatives from them to store and perhaps restore. Subsequently, WB destroyed most of their British prints and negatives (probably to reclaim the silver content). Perhaps, it is not so surprising that when in 2020, the BFI compiled a new list of the “75 Most Wanted” lost British films, only seven of the 57 still missing WB titles from the original list were included, while a greater number—10 of 33—of the non-WB titles remained on the new list. To be sure, the BFI wanted to expand the scope of their search, and they cited 23 films made from 1945 to 1983. Happily, all but six of these have been found in some form or another. Unhappily, it is possible that only 20 of the 70 “most popular” WB British titles listed on IMDb have survived in some form, and only two or three of the rest, suggesting their survival rate is surely less than 20%. The BFI would only have listed the “most” wanted of the missing WB films, and chances are that double the number that were recognized are lost. Let’s hope that private collectors come forward to retrieve more of these “quota quickies,” some of which might be gems.
*See, Steve Chibnall, “Hollywood-on-Thames: The British productions of Warner Bros. – First National, 1931–1945,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 39, Issue 4 (2019), 687–724.
Ryuichi Sakamoto (1952-March 28, 2023) R.I.P.
One of Japan’s most internationally celebrated artists, Ryuichi Sakamoto, passed away from cancer on March 28, 2023. Sakamoto first had a bout with throat cancer in 2015 and managed to overcome it before the disease returned in a renewed form (rectal I believe). Sakamoto broke onto the music scene with the hip 1970s pop band Yellow Magic Orchestra, who lost another band member just a few months ago, Takahashi Yukihiro (January 11, 2023, at age 70). Sakamoto was a wonderful pianist whose musical styles covered everything from pop, to classical, to jazz, to experimental music. His ethereal soundscapes graced many important Japanese and International films, the best known being Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (in which he also acted playing Japanese Captain Yunoi, involved in a bizarre game of psycho-sexual temptations with a British prisoner Maj. Jack “Strafer” Celliers played by David Bowie). He scored several films for Bernardo Bertolucci (Sheltering Sky, The Last Emperor, and The Little Buddha) and The Revenant. Sakamoto was a constant collaborator and friend with some of his generations greatest musical artists, including Kraftwerk, Brian Eno, Bill Nelson, David Sylvian, Youssou N’Dour and Thomas Dolby. He starred in a documentary about his life in 2018, Coda. One of my favorite Sakamoto projects was his 2017 album async, which was inspired by the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky. His genius will be missed.
Thoughts on The Sight & Sound Decennial 2022 Best Films Poll
Peter Rist offers his thoughts on the lack of real diversity when it comes to voting critics in the Sight & Sound 2022 Decennial Best Films Poll:
I can’t help noticing that there is a huge disparity between the way non-anglophone directors and U.S.-based directors have voted. I count 45 of the former and 44 of the latter. If we discount [Stanley] Kubrick films that are more UK than US and [Sergio] Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, then the “international” directors made 124 mentions of U.S. films, an average of only 2.8 films per participant. In fact, if we discount the experimental films mentioned by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Radu Jude, and Gaspar Noé, and other non-Hollywood films, then the average is only 2.5. (If we include the Kubricks and Once Upon a Time in America, there are 138 mentions, an average of 3.1 films per director.) By contrast, only seven of the U.S.-based directors have voted for fewer than three U.S. films: Wes Anderson, the Brothers Quay, Isabel Sandoval and Kogonda – 0 – Kirsten Johnson – 1 – Lulu Wang and Nina Menkes – 2 each. Shockingly, seven participants voted for 9 or 10 U.S. films, and many more claimed that seven or eight U.S. films were among the 10 best ever made. Of the “internationals” only three participants (two Asian, and Guillermo del Toro) picked more than six U.S. films. Hopefully, a similar disparity doesn’t inform the “critics” poll…”
In that Winter 2023 issue, they published 89 lists from the directors’ poll. Now they have made available online all of the 1,944 polls (by my count). They claim that they received more than 2,000 ballots, so there may have been more that they were not authorized to publish.
I noticed that there were about 30 submissions from my Facebook and other ‘friends,” all of which I looked at, and all of which are really interesting. But I am very concerned about some of the numbers. If we add the UK, USA, Australia/New Zealand, and Canadian resident “critics” and “directors, we have 1091 participants, while Europe (including Ireland) accounts for 472, leaving only 347 from the rest of the world. (34 pollsters did not list their home country.) Of the African respondents, I count only 43, many of whom list another country where they currently work (mostly in the UK and the U.S.), while quite a few gave “South Africa” as their nationality, most of whom would be working in English. Even worse, is the fact that only 15 Japanese critics and directors participated in the poll, for a country whose national cinema, historically has been amongst the three or four most significant in the world. The rest of Asia—East, West and South—had 164 submissions; better, but still not good enough compared to the English-speaking world and Europe. Latin America, along with the English and French-speaking Caribbean, accounted for 125 participants, although this fairly reasonable quota did not enable any of the continent’s films to place in the top-100!
As a Quebec resident, my biggest concern is that of the 54 Canadian resident “critics” who participated, only three are Québécois: Marcel Jean, the director of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, Robert Daudelin, the former director of the CQ, and Marco De Blois, the curatorial head of Animation at the CQ. Two other Quebec residents participated: my celebrated professorial colleague in the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Catherine Russell, and one of our former students, the terrific, bilingual freelance critic, Justine Peres Smith. (She is also fluent in Portuguese.) I suspect that all three of the francophones had participated before, and I believe that any newcomer would have to be nominated by somebody trusted by Sight and Sound. Clearly, there is nobody supporting additional French-speaking Quebec film scholars, historians, critics, programmers, etc. The current president of our local film critics group, Association Québécoise des critiques de cinéma (AQCC), Claire Valade seems not been invited, nor any other of its members, apart from Daudelin and Smith. Also, Montreal-based film journal editors of Hors Champ, André Habib, its sister English publication, Offscreen, Donato Totaro, 24 images, Bruno Dequen, Séquences, Jason Béliveau, and many other notable journalists and film programmers, such as Roxanne Sayegh, seem not to have been invited.’
There is clearly a problem in this oversight, especially because more than 28 of the 54 Canadian poll participants are based in Toronto. I note at least eight TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) programmers including the festival head, Cameron Bailey and Jason Anderson, as well as the great former head of the Ontario Cinematheque, James Quant, and eight current and former members of the TFC (Toronto Film Critics) group. There is a University of Toronto professor, James Leo Cahill, a York University professor, Mike Zryd, the film programmer at the Japan Foundation, Jesse Cumming, while most of the others are freelance, usually online film critics. Outside of Toronto, in Ontario, I noticed three Carleton University professors—Laura Horak, Malini Guha, and Aboubakar Sanogo—the head of the Canadian Film Institute (CFI) in Ottawa, Tom McSorley, and the artistic director of the Media City Film Festival in Windsor, Oosna Mosna, who have participated. Unfortunately, the rest of Canada is not well represented, with Tom Charity of the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) and Christina Stojanova at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan being the only clear examples, apart from a few freelancers. I am fine with the inclusion of everyone here that I have mentioned but I am not happy with the addition this year of so many, mostly online, freelance critics—I count 19—especially because only one, Justine Smith, is working out of Quebec. I understand that all through last year, there were articles published in Sight and Sound arguing for diversity and the need for fresh, new, younger voices to be included in the poll, but it appears that in the Canadian example, too many expert (and diverse) film historians, programmers, and critics, especially those working in French, have been excluded.
Carlos Saura (1932-2023)
If there were a Mount Rushmore of Spanish filmmakers, there is a good chance that Carlos Saura would on it. One of Spain’s longest serving directors with over 50 films and countless Spanish and International film awards. Saura died at the age of 91 on February 10, 2023. RIP Carlos Saura.
Agustí Villaronga (1953-January 22, 2023)
Spanish director dies at age 69. Villaronga broke onto the International scene with his soul-shattering debut feature In a Glass Cage, a twisted tale about the seductive power of evil. An ex-Nazi doctor named Klaus with a history of violent acts of sadomasochism and murder against children lives in relative anonymity in post-War Spain, continuing his acts of cruelty against children. A former now teenage aged victim named Angelo catches up to Klaus, who is left paralyzed and on a life support system after a failed suicide attempt. Angelo is hired as his live-in nurse, and is drawn to both enacting revenge on Klaus but also assuming his role as torturer. Villaronga never quite scaled the heights of his debut, but made many solid films, often dealing with the Spanish Civil War or psychic and supernatural phenomena, such as 99.99 (1997), El Mar (2000), Black Bread (2010), poverty in 1990s Havana (The King of Havana, 2015). His last film was the 2021 shipwreck adventure In The Belly of the Sea, loosely based on the historical tragedy of the French frigate Méduse, which became grounded on the Bank of Arguin on July 2, 1816.
Some Who Left Us in 2022
Postscript: Sometimes, sadly, death notices are the first things to alert us to the existence and accomplishments of some people; and here, below, are a list of some of the distinguished people lost in the last year or so —their end may be a beginning of our new knowledge…
Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister (September 21.1954 – July 8, 2022)
Madeleine Albright, U.S. Secretary of State (May 15, 1937 – March 23, 2022)
Jeff Barnaby, filmmaker (1976 – October 13. 2022)
Jeff (Geoffrey) Beck, guitarist (June 24, 1944 – January 10, 2023)
Jean-Jacques Beineix, filmmaker (October 8, 1946 – January 13. 2022)
Peter Bogdanovich, historian, writer, filmmaker (July 30, 1939 – January 6, 2022)
Calvin Otis Butts III, minister, administrator, and activist(July 19, 1949 – October 28, 2022)
James Caan, actor (March 26, 1940 – July 6, 2022)
Barbara Ehrenreich, writer and activist (August 26, 1941 – September 1, 2022)
Todd Gitlin, teacher and writer (January 6, 1943 – February 5, 2022)
Sam Gilliam, abstract painter (November 30, 1933 – June 25, 2022)
Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet Union President (March 2. 1931 – August 30, 2022)
Lani Guinier, attorney and educator (April 19, 1950 – January 7, 2022)
Dorothy Pitman Hughes, feminist activist and business woman (October 2, 1938 – December 1, 2022)
Kamoya Kimeu, paleontologist and curator, (1938 – July 20, 2022)
William Klein, photographer and filmmaker (April 19, 1926 – September 10, 2022)
Guy Lafleur, hockey player (September 20, 1951 – April 22, 2022),
George Lamming, writer (June 8, 1927 – June 4, 2022)
Richard Leakey, paleoanthropologist (December 19, 1944 – January 2, 2022)
Irene Papas, actress and singer (September 3, 1929 – September 14, 2022)
Wolfgang Petersen, writer and filmmaker (March 14, 1941 – August 12, 2022)
Anita Pointer, singer and songwriter (January 23, 1948 – December 31, 2022)
Sidney Poitier, writer, director, actor (February 20, 1927 – January 6, 2022)
Lisa Marie Presley, singer (February 1, 1968 – January 12, 2023)
Bob Rafelson, filmmaker (February 21, 1933 – July 23, 2022)
Arthur Dale Riggs, geneticist (August 8, 1939 – March 23, 2022)
Andre Leon Talley, fashion journalist and editor (October 16, 1948 – January 18, 2022)
Jean-Louis Trintignant, actor (December 11, 1930 – June 17, 2022)
Barbara Walters, journalist and media producer (September 25, 1929 – December 30, 2022)
Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and philanthropist (21 April 1926 – 8 September 2022)
Compiled by Daniel Garrett