Category Archives: FILM

RICHARD WRIGHT IN NATIVE SON

I wrote the dialog. The producers and director gave me carte blanche in whatever concerned my role as actor. — Richard Wright, 1950

Authors have taken bit parts in the film adaptations of their novels and plays—John Irving as a wrestling referee in The World According to Garp, Stephen King in Pet Sematary, Gore Vidal in The Best Man come to mind—and F. Scott Fitzgerald was offered an acting contract during his first trip to Hollywood in the 1920s.

But only Richard Wright (in the first cinematic adaptation of his 1940 novel NATIVE SON*) and Mickey Spillane (in The Girl Hunters, 1963) got the chance to take leading roles and embody their own well-known protagonists. Spillane’s turn was perhaps the more plausible of the two—the problematic Mike Hammer and his pulp fiction creator were approximately the same age. But the 1951 film noir version of NATIVE SON—directed by Pierre Chenal in an Argentine studio—offers a richer experience. As J. Hoberman observed after a MoMA screening in 2016, the performance of this author—twice the age of the character he’s playing, quoting his own lines—takes on an avant-garde, Brechtian quality.

Bigger Thomas is a petty hood in his twenties, residing in a tenement in Chicago’s South Side “Black Belt” and hustling a living in the commercial district under the 63rd Street El (recreated in the Buenos Aires studio). A few blocks away but a world apart sit the University of Chicago and the adjacent mansions of Kenwood-Hyde Park. Bigger lands a job in one of these houses as the family chauffeur for the Daltons—rich, white liberals—and on his first night of work, the college-age daughter invites Bigger to join her and her boyfriend for an evening at a local jazz club. Desperate to prove their progressive bonafides—the boyfriend is a political activist—the couple pile in the front seat with Bigger and insist he join them at their table in the club. Toasting friendship, racial equality, and—in the words of the activist—”the world we’re going to win,” the evening spirals downward as Bigger’s employer goes overboard with alcohol consumption and cringe-making attempts at solidarity. Following a performance by the club’s singer (who happens to be Bigger’s girlfriend Bessie), Mary Dalton says, “All colored people are so gifted. Don’t you think so, Bigger?” A reaction of dread is the only thought Bigger can summon, and his fears are confirmed once he’s obliged to bring an intoxicated Mary back home and up to her room.

Presented by Kino Lorber Repertory with the Library of Congress, Fernando Martin Peña, and Argentina Sono Film, the restored, uncut, definitive version of NATIVE SON is now available for viewing on Kino Marquee. See links below for details.

NATIVE SON

Now streaming.

Laemmle

An introduction to NATIVE SON is provided by University of Chicago film professor Jacqueline Najuma Stewart (co-curator of Kino Lorber‘s Pioneers of African American Cinema) and film historian Eddie Muller (of the Film Noir Foundation), courtesy of Turner Classic Movies.

*The two subsequent film version’s of Wright’s novel were made in 1986 (directed by Jerrold Freedman) and 2019 (directed by Rashid Johnson).

Pierre Chenal, Native Son (1951), from top: Richard Wright and Willa Pearl Curtis; Wright (foreground left); Gloria Madison and Wright; Jean Wallace and Wright (2); U.S. poster; Wright and Madison; Don Dean (right) and Wright; Wright. Images courtesy and © Kino Lorber.

MIRANDA JULY AND SPIKE JONZE IN CONVERSATION

My feeling is that, regardless of how we grew up socioeconomically, most of us grew up sort of siloed. We grew up within these constructions that we couldn’t really see were constructions—they seemed like the whole world. I guess I leaned into the righteousness that arises when we’re siloed in that way. There’s a nasty, villainous, slightly evil righteousness to this particular family [in KAJILLIONAIRE], but I think even the most well-meaning righteousness ultimately fails children. I mean, your parents will have misinformed you because they can only speak about life as they knew it, and you will betray them because you will not continue to live the way that you once lived as a child in that family. The inherent betrayal in that, and the resulting heartbreak, is what I was writing from. I tore through the first draft of the script never once thinking about my own family. They’re not literal, but for me they’re more resonant because of that. There’s this kind of ache. — Miranda July*

Join Miranda July and Spike Jonze in virtual conversation as they discuss July’s new film KAJILLIONAIRE.

To r.s.v.p. for this event—presented by the American Cinematheque—see link below.

MIRANDA JULY and SPIKE JONZE IN CONVERSATION

Monday, September 28.

7:30 pm on the West Coast; 10:30 East Coast.

KAJILLIONAIRE

Now playing in select cinemas.

*Miranda July, interview by Nick Haramis, Interview, September 18, 2020.

Miranda July, Kajillionaire (2020), from top: Evan Rachel Wood; Gina Rodriguez (left) and Wood; Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger (center), and Wood; Wood; Rodriguez; Kajillionaire U. S. poster; Wood; Rodriguez and Wood; Jenkins, Winger, and Wood; Miranda July. Images courtesy and © the filmmaker, the actors, and Focus Features.

MOU TUN-FEI — THE END OF THE TRACK

LACMA, the Taiwan Academy in Los Angeles, and the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute present a rare virtual screening of THE END OF THE TRACK, the second feature by Mou Tun-fei.

Unreleased in its day and unseen for decades, The End of the Track now takes its rightful place as an early landmark of Taiwanese queer and independent cinema.*

The film will be preceded by Mou’s I Didn’t Dare Tell You. A post-screening conversation will include Ryan Pin-Hung Cheng and LACMA film curator Adam Piron.

THE END OF THE TRACK*

Friday, September 25, from 10 am to 10 pm, PDT.

Mou Tun-Fei, The End of the Track (1970), images courtesy and © the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute.

ULRIKE OTTINGER IN CONVERSATION

REDCAT presents a virtual screening of the documentary EXILE SHANGHAI, followed by a Q & A with its director Ulrike Ottinger.

Shot by Ottinger herself, the film conjures memories of Jewish immigrant lives in Shanghai—from Sephardim in the mid-19th century, to Russian emigrés escaping pogroms, to Europeans fleeing the Shoah. Unexpected versions of utopias emerged—such as the existence of a queer scene or the opening of Viennese-style pastry shops in the ghetto where the community was confined during the Japanese occupation.*

This event is curated by Bérénice Reynaud. See link below for details.

ULRIKE OTTINGER—EXILE SHANGHAI*

Saturday, September 19.

4:30 pm on the West Coast; 7:30 East Coast.

Intermission: 7 pm on the West Coast; 10 pm East Coast.

Screening resumes at 7:30 pm PDT, followed by the Q & A.

From September 19 at 4:30 pm PDT, EXILE SHANGHAI will be available to stream for 72 hours

Ulrike Ottinger, Exile Shanghai (1997). Film images (8) and Ottinger portrait (2010) courtesy and © Ulrike Ottinger Filmproduktion.

CHARLIE KAUFMAN IN CONVERSATION

The American Cinematheque celebrates I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGSCharlie Kaufman’s wonderfully destabilizing meditation on memory and aging—with a director’s virtual Q & A, moderated by Tony Gilroy.

The film—now screening on Netflix—stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis.

See link below to register for details.

CHARLIE KAUFMAN Q & A

American Cinematheque

Saturday, September 12.

5 pm on the West Coast; 8 pm East Coast.

I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS

Now streaming on Netflix.

Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (2020), from top: Jessie Buckley (left) and Jesse Plemons; Plemons (left), Buckley, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis; I’m Thinking of Ending Things poster; Plemons and Buckley; Buckley (left). Images courtesy and © Netflix.