Monday, July 31, 2017

A Song and Dance from Diana Rigg

There are probably millions of millennials who totally dig Dame Diana Rigg on GAME OF THRONES.  On that hugely successful medieval fantasy series on HBO, she's Lady Olenna Tyrell.  Yes, a Dame played a Lady.  Rigg was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to the arts in 1994. Lady Olenna's verbal comebacks cut like a sword.
We baby boomers, a generation that preceded the millennials, also totally dig Dame Diana on GAME OF THRONE.  We first started diggin' Diana on a slick, smart and sophisticated secret agent British TV series that was exported to the United States.  THE AVENGERS was fabulous 1960s fun.
The secret agent team keeping society safe from villains was English gentleman John Steed -- always with a derby and umbrella -- and his stylish partner, Mrs. Emma Peel.  She was cool, confident, and could deliver some serious karate chops.  Patrick Macnee as Steed and Diana Rigg had a chemistry that made this ABC presentation must-see TV.
Hollywood didn't do as much with Diana Rigg as Great Britain did.  She had stage success here in the States as she did in England.  The same goes for TV success here and in the U.K.   As for films, she was excellent opposite George C. Scott in Sidney Lumet's 1971 satire, THE HOSPITAL.  The original screenplay was by Paddy Chayefsky before he and Lumet teamed up again for their classic NETWORK.  She's deliciously bitchy as the glamorous actress who became a star by granting horizontal favors to influential men.  This is in the 1982 all-star Agatha Christie murder mystery, EVIL UNDER THE SUN.
I still feel that 2006's THE PAINTED VEIL, a drama starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton, was one of the best films of that year.  Diana Rigg was the non-judgmental, realistic Mother Superior in China during the 1920s cholera epidemic.  THE PAINTED VEIL should have been a nominee for Best Picture and Diana Rigg should have been a nominee for Best Supporting Actress for her performance as the convent veteran.  It's a stand-out in an outstanding film.

Diana Rigg could also hit a comedy sketch assignment out of the park, plus give you a song and dance.  Morecambe & Wise (Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise) were a very famous, beloved comedy team who had a big hit, long-running sketch comedy series on British TV.

One sketch about classic British plays included guest star Diana Rigg when she was a star on THE AVENGERS.  The sketch ended with all three doing a song introduced by Fred Astaire and Jane Powell in the 1951 MGM musical comedy, ROYAL WEDDING.  Here's Morecambe & Wise...and Rigg.

Diana Rigg.  What a great Dame.




Sunday, July 30, 2017

Hollywood Directors Go To War

The restored and remastered edition of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE now gets an annual network prime time airing at Christmastime.  As well, it should.  The story of George Bailey, as played by James Stewart, is as popular and probably as beloved a yuletide tale as Charles Dickens' story of Ebenezer Scrooge in A CHRISTMAS CAROL.  Did you know that, in a big way, Frank Capra's IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was the director's response to having fought the massive Nazi horrors of World War 2?  To get the whole compelling and truly awesome story, go to Netflix and watch the documentary FIVE CAME BACK narrated by Meryl Streep.  The five are noted Hollywood directors, the makers of Hollywood movies now considered classics -- George Stevens, William Wyler, John Ford, John Huston and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE director Frank Capra.
Today, on television, we live in a 24 hour news cycle.  Back in the 1930s, there was no television.  Americans listened to the radio daily and went to the movies at least once a week.  At the movies was where folks in the U.S. got short visual reports of news in the form of newsreels that played before the movie. Today, we know the monstrous and systematic evil of Hitler's Nazi regime.  In the late 1930s, when Hitler was devouring Europe, killing Jews and setting his demonic sights on England, Americans were not seeing the whole picture of this wickedness.  There was a strong Isolationist movement in the country at the time.  Some U.S. politicians and even celebrated American aviator Charles Lindbergh felt that we shouldn't get involved.  Hollywood was not truthfully reflecting the overseas darkness from Germany and Japan.  The Isolationists criticized filmmakers who were blunt and direct in addressing the threat of Hitler.
Those five Hollywood directors knew that the darkness was spreading.  Wyler was Jewish and had relatives in Europe.  Capra, Ford, Huston, Stevens and Wyler reported for military duty and used their art and the power of film to make documentaries.  Making these documentaries was dangerous, life-threatening work.  It was work that enabled the American public to see actually the fury and carnage of war, especially after the U.S. was forced to get involved because of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  This documentary work was complicated business as Hollywood and Washington were involved in the final cut, as it were.  Capra and Wyler were fighting bigotry against Jews overseas and fighting racism at home.  The U.S. troops were segregated.  Wyler was horrified at the way black soldiers were treated down South.  He hated the way corporate Hollywood wanted to minimize the image of black soldiers in films.  If you see FIVE CAME BACK, you will have a deeper appreciation for Wyler's classic drama, THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES about three WW2 vets who return home.
George Stevens gave moviegoers fun comedies like WOMAN OF THE YEAR with Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, THE MORE THE MERRIER with Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea, and SWING TIME, an apex of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers RKO artistry in art deco elegance.

He would never make comedies and musicals again after he returned from the war.  Stevens was present and documented the reality of concentration camps.  The camps were extermination mills.  Jews were being exterminated as if they were insects.  These were unspeakable crimes against humanity on an enormous scale.

I watched FIVE CAME BACK three times in one week.  It fascinated me that much.  Today's big Hollywood studio scene seems dominated by comic book superhero adventures.  Look at the five famous filmmakers who gave us this solid entertainment before WW2:  IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (Capra), STAGECOACH and THE GRAPES OF WRATH (Ford), DODSWORTH, JEZEBEL and THE LETTER (Wyler),  SWING TIME, VIVACIOUS LADY, A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS with Fred Astaire plus the comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen with an original film score by George and Ira Gershwin (Stevens), and THE MALTESE FALCON (Huston).  They would make gripping and often controversial wartime documentaries in which the superheroes were ordinary, average American men fighting for democracy and freedom.  Fighting and dying.  Capra's documentary, THE NEGRO SOLDIER, presented history and respectful images of African Americans not seen in typical Hollywood films.  For one thing, it showed black women in uniform at a time when black women were still mostly seen as maids in Hollywood movies.

A chill of absolute terror went through Capra's body and soul when he saw a documentary from a German filmmaker, a woman named Leni Riefenstahl.  Her 1935 work, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, was a visually striking showcase of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party at the 1934 Nuremberg Rally.
Her documentary propaganda film gave proof to how huge and how organized Hitler's army of evil was.  Her film style was presented in what, in its way, would become a template for sports documentaries.  Hitler too realized the power of film.  When Capra (on the right in pic below) saw TRIUMPH OF THE WILL, he knew something had to be done.  He knew he had to do something.
If you appreciate classic films, you must see this documentary.  In it, you see current filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro and Francis Ford Coppola gives comments, extra history and excellent insight.  We also get generous looks at the documentary footage from the five Hollywood directors, news footage of the time and archive interviews with the directors.  It's a well-written, balanced and informative documentary.  You will appreciate these filmmakers even more.  You will be angry.  Huston's LET THERE BE LIGHT, a doc showing young black and white WW2 Army veterans dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was suppressed by the War Department for 35 years.

You will also be touched and fall deeper in love with the golden power of films.  I cried at the end which focused on Frank Capra, an immigrant who became a decorated American who served.  All five men returned from the war, they returned to film work, but the war had changed them and, in their time away, Hollywood had changed.  They had to be re-introduced all over again.

Wyler, Ford, Huston and Stevens came back and made hit films.  Capra came back and made his favorite film, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  It flopped at the box office and it flopped with critics.  Like a returning war veteran, the film became inconsequential. Overlooked in the community.  It became a public domain film.  The rights to it had not been picked up. It was "the forgotten man" like some war vets who came home to unemployment and homelessness.  For a new generation in the 1960s and 70s, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE was a movie we young baby boomers saw on local TV stations a lot during our summer vacations from school.  The prints of it were always tired and a bit tattered.  Scenes were cut out to make room for used car and kitchen product commercials.  As we grew to young adulthood, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE always made the list of films showing at revival movie theaters.  We saw it on big screens and re-appreciation began.  I am so proud of my generation for embracing George Bailey and seeing what movie critics and audiences in 1946 didn't.  We saw how special it is.  It's now restored. And redeemed.  It's no longer an inconsequential public domain feature.  It gets the love and attention it's long deserved.
 FIVE CAME BACK, an outstanding testament to the art of film and the life-risking contributions of filmmakers who saw that some of the most extraordinary superheroes the world has ever known are ordinary people who go out of their way to be of service to others.

"The greatest of all emotions that move us is love.  The world is not all evil.  Yes, we do have nightmares, but we also have dreams."  ~Director Frank Capra in FIVE CAME BACK.










Saturday, July 22, 2017

Talkin' Race with Tina Fey

She's witty. She's wonderful. She looks great when she wears glasses. And when she doesn't.
Tina Fey and I had a very honest, very interesting conservation about use of the N-word.  What I'm about the share with you is not indiscretion with a private discussion.  When had this discussion in public -- at the Directors Guild on West 57th Street in New York City.  And we had this discussion before an audience.  I was asked to interview writer/actress Tina Fey and take questions from the audience when she was promoting MEAN GIRLS, a funny and entertaining 2004 teen comedy starring Lindsay Lohan.
Tina Fey played a high school teacher in it.  She also wrote the screenplay, adapting it from part of the Rosalind Wiseman book, QUEENS BEES AND WANNABES.  Paramount Picture was campaigning to get Fey consideration for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination and that's why I was approached to be her interviewer at this event.  A great opportunity it was.

 Last weekend, I watched Tiny Fey with her former 30 ROCK sitcom co-star, Alec Baldwin, discuss WOMAN OF THE YEAR starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn as one of "The Essentials" on TCM. 
This is the Saturday show previously presented by the beloved late TCM host, Robert Osborne.  Baldwin was a popular guest co-host with Osborne and now he's become its new host.  "The Essentials" are the movies that the every classic film fan must see in order to be considered a true classic film fan.  1942's WOMAN OF THE YEAR is the romantic comedy that first teamed Tracy and Hepburn.
After it ended, Fey noted to Baldwin the politically incorrect touches that were very early 1940s.  For instance, Tracy's working class newspaper columnist goes to party thrown by the utterly upper class and sophisticated Hepburn newsmaker.  It's packed with her international friends.  Sam (Tracy) makes fun of a man who wears a turban and speaks no English.  And Sam can't stand her snobby, seemingly gay, male secretary.

Now to MEAN GIRLS, a look at the tribal behavior of girls who get competitive and bitchy in the teenage jungle known as high school.  Paramount sent me the just-released DVD of MEAN GIRLS.  Perfect. Not only could I watch it, I could watch it again while listening to the commentary from director Mark Waters and Tiny Fey.

Their commentary was constant.  Brisk and lively, informative and funny.  Of the different "types" of high school tribes in the cafeteria, there were the hot girls, the jocks, the nerds, etc.  There were a couple of Vietnamese urban girls who always chatted with each other in Vietnamese, so their dialogue was subtitled throughout the movie.

There's a section wherein the Mean Girl bitchiness reaches a critical peak.  A book of bitchy comments is deviously placed into the principal's hands.  He calls all the junior girls into the school gym for an immediate emergency meeting.  Teachers also attended.  He wants to root out the sources of this nasty behavior.  Sitting in the bleachers, the girls get catty again talking to each other after the teacher played by Tina Fey addresses them.  One of the Asian girls makes a snarky comment to her friend.  The other girl holds her hand up, rolls her eyes and turns her head away.  She responds in Vietnamese.  The subtitle said:  "Nigga, please."

As I wrote, the commentary from Mark Waters and Tiny Fey was so constant, so back and forth, that it was like listening to Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in HIS GIRL FRIDAY -- a classic film that I consider to be an "Essential."  When it came to that scene with the two Vietnamese girls, there was such a long stretch of total silence that I thought there was a glitch in my DVD.  I removed it, dusted it off, and played the scene again.  The DVD was fine.  There was just a long, very noticeable, stretch of silence.

I described the scene and asked Tina Fey about the silence in that portion of the commentary.  Tina honestly replied that, because of hearing kids speak and hearing the word used liberally in current urban music, she had a "writer's license" to use it in the screenplay.  She told me and the audience that, after a screening of MEAN GIRLS attended by one of her longtime best friends -- an accomplished Black woman -- she asked her friend if she liked the film. 

Her friend did not like the N-word use and told her why.  She'd been an over-achiever most of her life, crashing through color barriers, so she wouldn't be hearing that word anymore.  Apparently, that was the moment when Tiny Fey got "woke."  She realized that she did not have the writer's license to use the N-word casually -- and especially not to use it for comic effect.

Last month, I saw that MEAN GIRLS was on Netflix.  I watched it.  When the Vietnamese girls spoke, there were no subtitles at all.  A week later, I saw that MEAN GIRLS was on the cable channel, FreeForm.  I watched it on FreeForm.  The subtitles were present but the controversial 2-word reply had been changed to "Girlfriend, please."

One of the things I appreciated the most in that talk with Tina Fey was her honesty.  She was so quickly forthright with her answer about the short, sticky racial issue in her screenplay .

As for the film itself, I also appreciated that she took us to a Chicago suburb high school and gave us an interracial cast of high school students and teachers.  She gave us diversity.  That was like the Chicago area I know.  In the very popular John Hughes high school teen comedies of the 1980s, we were in the Chicago area but never, ever saw any African American or Latino actors as fellow high school students hanging out with Molly Ringwald or Matthew Broderick.  Ferris Bueller had no black friends.  Maybe critics didn't notice.  But I sure did.  Again, I loved talking to Tina Fey.  What a talent.




Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On BABY DRIVER

I was in the need for traditional summertime movie entertainment.  I didn't want to stay indoors and watch a movie.  I wanted to go out, be in theater and lose myself in something entertaining with a non-complicated or scholarly plot.  BABY DRIVER was just what I wanted and, man, does that picture move!  It's a crime thriller and chase movie.  The car chases in BABY DRIVER reminded me of the ones that made our family cheer when we piled into the car, went to the drive-in and saw Steve McQueen in BULLITT.  This hip caper movie has a lead character you care about and, although not a musical, it's shot with the rhythm and sensibilities of one.  In the shoot-out scenes, listen to the rhythm of the gunfire.  As for the title, the young whiz behind the wheel is called "Baby."  He's the getaway driver when a small band of criminals pulls off another robbery.  They steal the money.  Baby speeds them away.
He's constantly listening to music.  We hear what he hears.  He mixes words and music.  The gang realizes he lives to his own beat and that's cool with them.  He's the best getaway driver a crook could have.
But what's his story?  He's called into action by a mysterious boss played by Kevin Spacey.  Baby's involved in crime but doesn't seem hungry to hurt anyone and he's not greedy to take more money than he's given as a fee.
We get Baby's back story.  We watch him meet a waitress and fall in love.  Besides the different and totally cool rhythm of BABY DRIVER, director Edgar Wright employs a Vincente Minnelli-like use of red in his movie.  Minnelli was a master of musicals at MGM and he loved red.  Think of Gigi's Paris residence in his Best Picture of 1958 Oscar winner, GIGI.
Look at Minnelli's wonderful musical comedy, THE BAND WAGON, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.


I loved Wright's use of red.  And he had some other nice, original touches.  Baby needed and has a foster parent. He had a painful boyhood and white birth parents.  His foster father, whom he dearly loves, is elderly and disabled. And black.  He communicates via sign language.  Baby learned how to sign so he can communicate with his sweet African American foster father.  Taking care of him financially drives Baby to accept these robbery assignments.

Will he get out of the fast lane because he's found romantic love?  You shall see.
Oscar winner Jamie Foxx co-stars as a greedy hood.  Jon Hamm, formerly of TV's MAD MEN is also in this movie and he's very good as a bad guy.  In fact, this Edgar Wright film makes you think that if Jon Hamm was around in the Hollywood of the 1950s, 60s or even 70s, he would be a big movie star because Old Hollywood would have utilized his range.
The handsome actor could be moody, dark and intimidating on MAD MEN then, in a heartbeat, he could be hilarious and loopy on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.  Back in the day, directors like Vincente Minnelli, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Norman Jewison and Mike Nichols would've been sending Jon Hamm scripts on a regular basis.
The end of BABY DRIVER reminded me of an old Hollywood classic, one that I love watching during the Christmas season.  It stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.  It's called REMEMBER THE NIGHT (1940).

If you're familiar with this classic that has Stanwyck as a shoplifter who gets arrested during the holidays, think of it when you see BABY DRIVER conclude.  Young actor Ansel Elgort does a mighty fine job in Edgar Wright's crime thriller as he takes you on a wild ride as Baby.  This stylized movie is the perfect vehicle for him.




Monday, July 17, 2017

Gender Notes on STAGECOACH (1966)

Watching Ann-Margret in a remake of a classic western made me think of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as played by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange in Ryan Murphy's FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN.  Not that Ann-Margret was an older Hollywood actress fighting to stay employed in it.  Hardly.  In Hollywood history, folks are still stunned at the number of truly classic films that were released in 1939.  There must have been something special in the 1938 Hollywood studio water that enabled writers and actors to do such remarkable film work that came out the following year.  One of those films of 1939 was STAGECOACH.  It made a star of its young, new actor -- John Wayne.  Assorted characters travel via stagecoach in the wild west. Not everyone is what they appear to be or what society would have us think they are.  Claire Trevor is terrific in the original STAGECOACH as the frontier tart with a heart o' gold.  Wayne's character will be the first man to treat her like a lady.
 We learn what the real deal is about each character in the journey of the STAGECOACH.
Ann-Margret took on the role originated by Claire Trevor and this was just three years after movie audiences saw Ann-Margret sing and dance in the very wholesome BYE BYE BIRDIE.
She held her own dramatically in this remake opposite male actors who were making movies before she was born.  Bing Crosby, Van Heflin and Robert Cummings are in the cast.  Crosby and Cummings had lead roles in Paramount movies in the 1930s.
Van Heflin, on the right in the above pic, would win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for JOHNNY EAGER (1941).  Bing Crosby, wearing the hat, would win the Best Actor Oscar for GOING MY WAY (1944).  Red Buttons, also in the cast, would win the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for SAYONARA (1957).  Here's the three Oscar winners in one scene.
Crosby took on the role of the alcoholic doctor, originally played by Thomas Mitchell.  He's quite good in it.  The singer/actor displays some solid dramatic touches in with the light moments.
                         
This 1966 STAGECOACH role was his last film part but not the last lead role for him.  He'd be excellent in a 1971 network TV movie as a small town New England doctor with dark, secret motives in DR. COOK'S GARDEN.  This dramatic production would boast one of Bing Crosby's best performances in his entire career.
That brings me to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.  In FEUD, we see the two women -- both of whom were big box office stars in the 1930s and 40s -- pushing themselves to make an independent, low budget psychological horror story work.  And it did. Big time. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was a huge box office hit and brought Davis an Oscar nomination for Best Actress of 1962.  Davis was hungry to win, hoping this nomination would lead to her third Best Actress Oscar victory.  She didn't win.  Crawford didn't even get nominated.  In FEUD, we saw how these two women endure emotional bolts and jolts simply because they're well over 40 and no longer "babes." Hollywood is run by men executives and mature women were not treated well. Davis and Crawford, in their youth, were top moneymakers for their home studios.  Come the 1960s, good movie offers for them had pretty much dried up.  However, the guys over 40 and over 50 were still getting juicy, dignified roles.  Heck, Robert Cummings even had a kissing scene with Ann-Margret in 1966's STAGECOACH.
 Just like Bette Davis, Robert Cummings was starred in Warner Brothers films in the early 1940s.  In STAGECOACH, he's flirting with women played by Stefanie Powers (seen here) and Ann-Margret.
There's some good acting in this movie, mostly from the veterans.  It's a big 20th Century Fox production in color with lots of action and it is entertaining, but it really can't eclipse the overall quality of the 1939 original.

This remake is sort of "4 Degrees of Judy Garland."  Van Heflin was Judy's leading man in PRESENTING LILY MARS (1943).  Bing Crosby sang with Judy in radio appearances in the 1940s end early 50s.  Keenan Wynn appears as a villain.  He worked with Judy Garland at MGM in FOR ME AND MY GAL and Vincente Minnelli's THE CLOCK.
                                          
Ann-Margret's hair was done by Sydney Guilaroff who'd long been MGM's master hairstylist.  Sydney Guilaroff was to movie hairstyling was Louis Armstrong was to American jazz.  He did Judy Garland's hair for THE WIZARD OF OZ, EASTER PARADE, THE PIRATE and SUMMER STOCK.  He stayed in demand from the late 1930s up to 1994.  He died in 1997 at age 89.

Handsome, macho Alex Cord landed the top role originated by John Wayne.  He played Ringo.
The movie ends with closing credits of portraits painted of each star as his or her character in STAGECOACH.  Get this -- each portrait was painted by the famed artist and illustrator, Norman Rockwell.  Those portraits are wonderful to see.

The Norman Rockwell portrait of Alex Cord as Ringo is more animated than Alex Cord's performance.  Bless his heart.  He was no John Wayne here.  That's one big reason why this remake can't touch the original.

Speaking of John Wayne, Ann-Margret would be his leading lady in his big 1973 western, THE TRAIN ROBBERS.  You read that correctly...1973.

FEUD starring Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon racked up a record total of 18 Emmy nominations.  Both women are in the category for Best Actress in a Limited Series.







Sunday, July 16, 2017

History in 2 Films Starring Sidney Poitier

He crashed through a thick color barrier in Hollywood and his achievements continue to make a strong statement on where we are in race relations and equal opportunities.  That hit me this summer when I watched two films on TV starring Sidney Poitier in different chapters of his career.  The first was made in his early days when he was moving up the ranks of good new actors -- black or white -- to keep your eye on in Hollywood. In this deep-fried Civil War era melodrama starring Clark Gable, Poitier played a loyal house slave.
The second film was made during the turbulent Civil Rights decade of the 1960s and filmed after Poitier had secured a firm place in Hollywood history as the first black man to win the Oscar for Best Actor.  The first film is the 1957 Warner Brothers release, BAND OF ANGELS with Gable and Yvonne De Carlo.  It puts Gable back in GONE WITH THE WIND mode.

We get plantations, slaves and De Carlo as the beautiful young mixed race belle who had been passing for white and living a comfy plantation life until someone got all up in her business.  Now she's a slave. She's purchased by Gable's character and treated well in New Orleans.  Supporting actor Sidney Poitier stands out as the conflicted educated and sophisticated slave to Gable's lead character.  The other film is IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, a modern-day murder mystery and race drama set in the Deep South, directed by Norman Jewison.  Rod Steiger, as the Mississippi police chief forced to work with the black police detective visiting from Philadelphia, would win the Oscar for Best Actor.
 IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT would take the Oscar for Best Picture of 1967.
A supporting actor in both films is William Schallert, the tall and lean character actor who became nationally popular as the lovable dad on THE PATTY DUKE SHOW sitcom.  Schallert and Sidney Poitier have a scene in BAND OF ANGELS.  Both characters are in the military.  Schallert plays an officer who's basically trying to pull a fast one on the black man.  You sense a racial discomfort when he realizes that the black man has a keen brain.


Schallert has a small role in Jewison's film but it is key and he can give you a contemporary chill with a line he delivers after the iconic slap scene.
Schallert plays the mayor of the small town in Mississippi.  After he hears about the slap, the mayor remarks casually but pointedly that the previous police chief would've shot the black detective dead and claimed self-defense.  This was 1967 movie.                                   
Think of this summer's verdict in the Philando Castile case that became a network TV news headline story.  An unarmed black man, who respectfully and calmly complied with an armed and shouting cop, was shot point black seven times while seated on the passenger side in the front seat of a car in Minneapolis.  His girlfriend, the driver, was streaming the video on Facebook when the shooting occurred.  We heard Castile comply.  We heard the seven shots and the horror of the girlfriend when it happened.  When the cop was interrogated, he never mentioned that Castile complied.  He never told superiors what we heard in the video.  The cop testified that he feared for his life.  He was found not guilty.  This was just last month.

Yes..."They call me, Mister Tibbs!" said by Sidney Poitier as Detective Virgil Tibbs is the most famous line from IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  But that line from Schallert as the town mayor...man, that is deep. And scary.  Keep in mind that Poitier, who won his Oscar for 1963's LILIES OF THE FIELD, was a steely Civil Rights activist.  He and friend Harry Belafonte had been harassed by racists down South.  Poitier was reluctant to accept a film project that shot down South, but he did.  Jewison had to work out accommodations for Poitier because of racial discrimination in the deluxe hotels.

Look at the span of years in between the story lines of BAND OF ANGELS and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  A little  over100 years and the same awful racial attitudes exist.  In both films, there are people who want it known that "Black Lives Matter."  In both films, there's a black man who disrupts bigoted white male attitudes when it's realized that he's educated.

Earlier this year, the 50th anniversary of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT was celebrated with a special screening at the annual TCM Film Festival in Hollywood.  Sidney Poitier made a rare special appearance.  Director Norman Jewison was also present.
                                                             
Segments of the festival were aired on TCM.  It was great to see TCM's Ben Mankiewicz on the red carpet asking Oscar-winning IN THE HEAT OF NIGHT producer, Walter Mirisch, about the racial relevance the 1967 film still has nowadays.


Mankiewicz comes from a liberal, talented family that has addressed America's race issues in films.  One was 1950's racially frank NO WAY OUT.  Joseph L Mankiewicz wrote and directed the drama about a black doctor in a hospital assigned to treat two injured racists brothers who are robbery suspects.  When one of the white racist brothers dies, there's tension in the city.  Sidney Poitier played the doctor in the 1950 film.  Also starring were Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.
Throughout the decades of Sidney Poitier's film career up to today, the field of weekly film critics on network TV news programs and syndicated film review shows prides itself on being liberal but it's been sorely and obviously lacking in race/gender diversity.  It's been a predominantly white male dominated field.  On rare occasions, we've seen white female critics.  On even rarer occasions, we've seen black men (such as myself) review movies.  America has never seen a black woman review movies on weekly TV.  And black female film critics do exist.  I've auditioned with one for a film review show pilot.  Mia Mask became a published Professor of Film at Vassar.  From the network morning news show days of Gene Shalit and Joel Siegel, to Leonard Maltin, to the TV duos that followed Siskel & Ebert such and Ben Mankiewicz & Ben Lyons, people of color who can review new films -- domestic and foreign -- and discuss classic films have been excluded from the film conversation unless there's some special programming like a salute to Black History Month.  Other than that, we watch upscale white guys tells us why we should see THE COLOR PURPLE, DO THE RIGHT THING, GLORY, DRIVING MISS DAISY, BOYZ N THE HOOD, THE HELP, 12 YEARS A SLAVE and FENCES.  I grew up in a house a few blocks away from Compton in South Central Los Angeles.  Could I get on CBS SUNDAY and review STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON?  Not as easily as David Edelstein could.  And I'm sure he's never ridden mass transit through Compton like I have. And when I say "mass transit," I mean the bus.
It would've been even greater to see an African American contributor on the TCM Film Festival red carpet with Ben Mankiewicz adding to the conversation about the enduring racial relevance of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT -- and  to be blessed with the opportunity to see screen legend Sidney Poitier in person.  It would also be wonderful to see some black guest hosts or co-hosts on TCM.  I haven't seen any this year so far.  I've been watching TCM since 1999 and I always love seeing representations of myself.  They've been rare.  I'd love to see more.  I wonder if TCM has any black folks in upper management to work on this.



GMA Avoids the Gay

Friday, November 17th.  As usual, I was watching the network morning shows.  I wanted to catch the last half-hour of GOOD MORNING AMERICA be...