Imagine growing up with a jukebox and a future music legend in your living room. That was a typical evening in the childhood of Betty Haskins, who would go on to become acclaimed rhythm-and-blues singer Bettye LaVette. Employees at a General Motors factory, her parents moonlighted in the 1950s by selling barbecue sandwiches and corn liquor at their Michigan home. This attracted touring African-American gospel groups, such as the Blind Boys of Alabama and the Soul Stirrers, featuring a then-unknown vocalist named Sam Cooke. They could eat, drink and listen to tunes there; nightclubs were off limits for them during the era of segregation.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
Stone had a huge hit with Wall Street, and not just because it neatly reflected the yuppie obsession with junk bonds and insider trading. In his previous films (and screenplays), Stone revealed a split personality. Pictures like Salvador (1986) and Platoon (1986) may have shown Stone to possess a more left-wing perspective on American foreign policy, but the guy who also wrote Midnight Express (1978) and Year of the Dragon (1985) seemed to simultaneously hold some of the same right-wing macho attitudes of John Milius. That split added tension to Salvador (still his best movie) and most of Platoon, but in Wall Street, Oliver Stone smoothed over the cracks in his polemics. He created an American fascist of the financial world in Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), an amoral predator, who wrecks companies to score millions as easily as a child dissembles building blocks. But Stone took it an extra step: He cleverly turned his adversary into an appealing character, a reflection of himself, by having his critiques of capitalism cozily couched in Gekko’s swagger. That’s why Wall Street became such a big success with Michael Douglas earning for him an Oscar.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
New Wave filmmaker Eric Rohmer, who also died this year (but from the opposite end of the emotional spectrum), Chabrol successfully carved out his own specific niche in a corner of world cinema. Whereas Rohmer, like Mike Leigh, offered up generous portraits of (mostly) middle class people he liked very much, Chabrol used his cinematic canvas to excoriate those he didn’t like at all, namely the bourgeoisie from which he sprung. His films were almost always about the evils and wickedness emanating from the monied classes but he didn’t assail them in a simplistic manner nor did he pretend that the lower classes were paragons of virtue, either. Usually, the downtrodden ‘victims’ of the rich were able to match them when it came to guile and venality, perhaps never more so than in one of his best films, La Cérémonie (1995).
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
It is no longer necessary to make the point that television is currently a lot better than film. TV series are drawing not only A-list actors (Glenn Close and William Hurt on Damages, Sally Field in Brothers and Sisters, Holly Hunter on Saving Grace, to list just a few), but also A-list directors (Agnieszka Holland has directed episodes of The Wire and Treme, and most recently, Martin Scorsese directed the pilot of the much-anticipated Boardwalk Empire, which premiered last night). Television has come a long way, and TV viewers are richer for it.
To a large degree, the increasing richness of television can be traced to its overall honesty – television’s willingness to show us things which are uncomfortable or ugly, and its ability to illuminate the details which make the lives of our favourite characters so intriguing. But there are shows with all the right ambition, shows which, despite their potential and intriguing subject matter, fail to live up to their own promise. The Big C is one of these shows.
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Many fans of the works of Jonathan Demme think he made a major mistake when he directed his Academy-Award winning film The Silence of the Lambs (1981). Although the film was a huge hit and received critical acclaim, it was a step away from the type of funky, loose, music-filled films for which he had become known: Something Wild (1986), Married To The Mob (1988) and Melvin and Howard (1980), etc. Though I'm not among the naysayers (because I've always liked the picture), I appreciate their point of view. After Lambs' success, he got trapped in the world of 'prestige' pictures that seem aimed at garnering awards and attracting acclaim. Though a picture like the overly earnest Philadelphia (1993) won Oscars and was a hit at the box office, he went on to do the disastrous Beloved (1998) and the ridiculous remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004). By embracing this type of film, he seemed to have lost that light touch (even in darker material like Something Wild) that made his earlier pictures so appealing.