Halle Berry on Sidney Poitier: “A performer whose enormous talents were eclipsed only by his kindness. I will recall him as my first mirror, and the true measure of a man.”
The passing of Sidney Poitier, regal, graceful giant of American cinema, rightly sparked a great deal of focus on the powerful pair of Poitier films released in 1967, GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (which we’ll be screening in October). Greg Laemmle wanted to put in a plug for his personal Poitier favorite, the film for which he won his first Oscar, LILIES OF THE FIELD, which Greg called “a beautiful meditation on what can happen when religion moves us toward a place of love and compassion and away from division.” People everywhere, including world leaders, were moved to pay tribute to Poitier, including Oscar-winning actress-filmmaker Halle Berry. She wrote a terrific remembrance in Variety, which we’ll excerpt and link to:
“I grew up idolizing Sidney Poitier.
“I was around 9 when he flickered into my world on a television replay of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. I was a latchkey kid in Cleveland, daughter of a white, single mother and a Black father — whose union their parents had frowned upon. In the film, Sidney and his co-star, Katharine Houghton, play an interracial couple whose parents also struggle with their children’s relationship. There I sat in front of my mom’s old console, mesmerized, as I watched my family’s dynamic play out. For the first time in my childhood, I felt seen. Understood. Validated. The world already knew Sidney, who died last week at 94, as a formidable performer. But I first experienced him as a mirror.
“I watched that film over and over again, through my middle-school years and beyond. By then, my mother had moved our family from a Black enclave in Cleveland’s inner city to the suburbs, where I became one of a few Black students in a sea of Caucasian faces. I was a child who, like my parents’ interracial relationship, never quite fit in. In those years, it was rare to see Blacks in leading roles, much less have our narratives celebrated or even acknowledged. Cicely Tyson and Diana Ross were on the scene, as was the fresh memory of Dorothy Dandridge, the Black actress I idolized as much as I did Sidney. Back then, their mere presence was itself a form of protest. A challenge to the notion of whiteness as humanity’s high-water mark. Still, those images were scarce. As a child born to a white woman and a Black man, I felt alone and misunderstood. GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, as great art does, was an affirmation that I mattered. Also, it gave others a window into my reality, of what it felt like to navigate the world with both Black and white parents.
“Sidney’s impact on me did not end there. Over the years, I looked to him as a sterling example, as a template of manhood and all that is honorable. I was just 4 when my parents separated, when my father’s alcoholism upended our family. As imperfect as my dad was, as deep of a wedge as his fury drove between us, I loved him, missed him, longed to have him close. In my mind’s eye, and in my father’s absence, Sidney epitomized what a man should be: unflappable and courageous, eloquent and proud, charming and handsome. He even physically resembled my father. I wasn’t yet born in 1964 when Sidney became the first Black man to win an Academy Award for best actor for his role in “Lilies of the Field.” But years later, when I witnessed the moment in a Black History class, I could not look away. Sidney’s grace and poise, the intention with which he spoke, the dignified way he carried himself — all of it resonated with me. Though I hadn’t met him, and did not dream that I ever would, I felt strongly connected to him.”
Author and film critic Stephen Farber on Peter Bogdanovich: “Although he was a lover of old Hollywood, he saw the blemishes as well as the triumphs; he was a most clear-eyed observer.”
“All film lovers were saddened by the passing of director Peter Bogdanovich last week, but I may have felt it a bit more keenly. Peter joined us for an Anniversary Classics screening of The Last Picture Show in December of 2016 at the Fine Arts Theatre, and he shared incisive memories about the making of the movie and about many of his other encounters with Hollywood legends over the decades. We were all impressed with how well his film held up after 45 years. As many people commented, it didn’t seem dated at all. The evocation of a dying Texas town in the early 1950s remained incisive and poignant.
“That was not my first encounter with Bogdanovich. I first met him when I was a graduate student at UCLA film school in the late 1960s and he taught a class on Howard Hawks, one of his friends and idols. I remember we got into a bit of an argument when I suggested that Hawks’ To Have and Have Not was not quite as original as he claimed but might have owed something to Casablanca, which came out a couple of years earlier and was directed by non-auteur Michael Curtiz. Anyway, Peter cheerfully dismissed my criticisms. Around the same time, I saw his first film, Targets, which impressed me greatly. Its portrayal of a mass shooter was way ahead of its time, and this story was welded skillfully to an inside-Hollywood tale starring the legendary Boris Karloff in one of his last screen performances. After that came The Last Picture Show and two other huge hits, What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. We are hoping to pay tribute to Peter with a 50th Anniversary screening of Doc this year.
“Not all of his later movies were as successful, but he continued working productively, and he also scored successes as an actor and as a film historian. His books of interviews with directors and actors were enormously valuable to all film students and film lovers.
“In the 50 years between that UCLA class and the screening of The Last Picture Show, I encountered Peter on several occasions, and he was always warm and engaging. When I was writing a story about Cher in the 1990s, he shared some incisive memories of directing her in Mask, even though he spoke quite candidly about the tensions between them. Although he was a lover of old Hollywood, he saw the blemishes as well as the triumphs; he was a most clear-eyed observer. Hollywood did not always treat him any better than it treated some of his idols, like his good friend Orson Welles, but he survived to tell the tales, and he never surrendered to bitterness. I feel fortunate to have known him and to have shared a stage with him at that memorable anniversary screening five years ago.”
~ Stephen Farber was president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association from 2012-2016. He is currently a critic for The Hollywood Reporter, a curator of Laemmle’s Anniversary Classics series and co-author of Cinema ’62: The Greatest Year at the Movies.
On the Passing of Robert Forster.
Laemmle Theatres Owner-President Greg Laemmle on the passing of actor Robert Forster:
“From the moment I saw JACKIE BROWN, Robert Forster seemed like someone I wanted to meet. I admired how effortlessly his portrayal of bail bondsman Max Cherry commanded our attention. With a quiet, naturalistic performance, he managed to play off the other actors, allowing them to go a little further afield in creating their characters. Cherry was the quiet center of it all. Here was someone who was honest, decent, and comfortable in his skin and it felt like Forster was bringing those personal qualities to the man he was portraying on screen.
“It wasn’t till 2018 that I actually had the opportunity to meet Robert. My wife and I were at an Academy screening of WHAT THEY HAD. He was part of the post-screening Q&A and the reception that followed. I tend to be shy about introducing myself to people, but my wife is not quite as shy, and knowing how much I have admired his work, she made a point of introducing herself.
“The next thing I knew, Robert was making a beeline to my seat and expressed his thanks for all the films he had seen over the years at Laemmle Theatres. He remembered meeting my grandfather, Max Laemmle, at our Los Feliz Theater when he first came to Hollywood and went on to talk about many other films that had struck a chord with him over the years. Robert Forster never stopped working, but even more than that, he never stopped being a lover of film.
“It was only a few months after this first meeting that I ran into him again. He had come to the Fine Arts on Christmas Eve to enjoy our annual FIDDLER ON THE ROOF Sing-Along and once again with his comments I saw that he was both a professional, appreciating the work of the actors in the film, but also a movie lover, simply enjoying the experience of being in a theater with an audience. And I sensed it again, his clear honesty, decency, and comfort in his own skin.
“I last saw him in March at our 50th anniversary screening of his landmark 1969 film MEDIUM COOL. He came straight to the theater from the airport, and was a little under the weather, but still engaged in a terrific discussion with host Stephen Farber and the audience. His shared stories about his first roles on stage, and then getting a huge break with a role opposite Marlon Brando in John Huston’s REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE. Naturally, he also talked about working with Haskell Wexler on the groundbreaking MEDIUM COOL, which famously shot in and around the actual events of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago. He did not shy away from discussing the next 28 years, when he worked mostly on TV or in mostly forgettable films. Those years did not seem to be any more or less valuable than the 20+ years after he returned to a greater degree of prominence following his role in JACKIE BROWN. The films may have gotten better and the paychecks may have gotten a little bigger but Robert was the same person through it all. Honest, decent, and comfortable in his skin.
“Thank you, Robert Forster. The world of cinema is richer for your contribution, and the world in general is a better place for you having been a part of it.”
Greg’s wife Nancy highlights the conclusion of the Hollywood Reporter obituary:
Forster said that when his career was at its lowest ebb, he had what he called an “epiphany.”
“It was the simple one,” he said, “when you realize, ‘You know what? You’re not dead yet, Bob. You can win it in the late innings. You’ve still got the late innings, but you can’t quit. Never quit.'”
EASY RIDER 50th Anniversary Screening and Tribute to Peter Fonda
Laemmle Theatres and the Anniversary Classics Series present a tribute to the late Peter Fonda with a screening of his landmark movie, EASY RIDER on Saturday, September 7th at the Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills.
When the movie opened to huge grosses in the summer of 1969, it changed the course of Hollywood, setting the entire industry on a quest for films that would appeal to the same younger generation that had embraced the ultimate motorcycle movie made by Fonda and director Dennis Hopper. It is a film that many have cited as their inspiration for getting their own motorbike, some going as far as to get it transported to them across the country with CarsArrive Auto Relocation and similar services. That’s the sway that the movie has. Easy Rider, produced and co-written by Fonda, was made for less than $400,000 and grossed $60 million, a feat that no other youth movie was ever able to match. It also earned two Academy Award nominations, for the original screenplay by Fonda, Hopper, and Terry Southern, and a best supporting actor nod for Jack Nicholson, an actor in B-movies who was propelled to the A-list as a result of Easy Rider.
Fonda, Hopper, and Nicholson knew each other from the low-budget movies made by Roger Corman and American International Pictures in the late 1960s. Hopper co-starred with Fonda in Corman’s The Trip, a movie about an LSD trip which was written by Nicholson. Peter had the idea of taking the character of the motorcycle-driving outlaw that he had played in Corman’s The Wild Angels and inserting him into a major studio film. Nevertheless, Columbia Pictures was nervous about financing Easy Rider and only got fully behind the film after it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and began to generate box office heat.
The picture is essentially a road trip movie, in which Hopper’s Billy and Fonda’s Wyatt (also known as Captain America) ride their motorcycles from California to New Orleans, where they hope to celebrate Mardi Gras. They finance the trip by selling cocaine, a detail that suggests the film was far from an idealized portrayal of rebellious American youth. On their travels they spend time on a Southwestern farm as well as a hippie commune. They meet a young lawyer played by Nicholson when they are all jailed in a Southern town. He agrees to join them on their motorcycle journey, which takes a darker turn as they encounter Southern bigots who disapprove of the young heroes’ freewheeling style.
The supporting cast includes Karen Black, Toni Basil, Luke Askew, and Robert Walker Jr. Up-and-coming cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs helped to create the vivid images of rural Americana, and the groundbreaking rock score incorporated songs by The Band, the Byrds, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix. Editor Donn Cambern had put together the rough cut of the film to many of those songs, and the filmmakers retained many of them in the final cut.
Although the film enshrines the young heroes, it is not uncritical. Their use of marijuana and LSD is honestly depicted, and when Fonda’s Wyatt sums up their journey near the end of the film, he offers a memorably hard-edged judgment: “We blew it.” Nevertheless, the darkest forces in the film are the rednecks who resent the freedom of these easy riders. Writing at the time, John Mahoney of The Hollywood Reporter said, “Easy Rider is very likely the clearest and most disturbing presentation of the angry estrangement of American youth to be brought to the screen.” Writing several decades later, Chuck Bowen of Slant drew a connection to the present: “This legendary tale of a motorcycle odyssey gone wrong remains timeless for its diagnosis of the early stages of a social ennui that has now fully bloomed.”
Most reviews in 1969 were enthusiastic. Life magazine’s Richard Schickel called the film “a loose, lovely-to-look-at, often laughing, often lyric epic.” Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times added, “Fonda and Hopper give immense performances.” The film was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1998.
Join us for our 50th anniversary screening and tribute to Peter Fonda at 7:30pm on Saturday, September 7th at the Ahrya Fine Arts in Beverly Hills. Special guests to be announced. Tickets are available here.
Brilliant French Filmmaker and Honorary L.A. Woman Agnès Varda, 1928-2019.
French film pioneer Agnès Varda, who died last week in Paris, was a kind, funny and brilliant person beloved by cinephiles around the world and by the patrons and workers of Laemmle Theatres. Over her decades-long career we screened many of her films, including 2000’s The Gleaners and I and 2017’s Oscar-nominated Faces Places. She loved and had many connections to Los Angeles — her funeral yesterday in Montparnasse ended with a performance of the Doors’ L.A. Woman — making several films here, including Uncle Yanco (1967), Black Panthers (1968), Lions Love (… and Lies) (1969), Murs Murs (1980) and Documenteur (1980). She moved here in the spring of 1968 with her equally-legendary husband Jacques Demy, who was filming Model Shop, and then again with her son Mathieu in 1981. Fellow Los Angeles cultural institutions LACMA, the American Cinematheque, and the Academy also exhibited, screened and honored her and her oeuvre over the years and she has many close friends here.
In the L.A. Times, film critic Justin Chang wrote beautifully of Varda as “a pioneering woman of cinema, a pillar of the French New Wave, an experimenter, a master, a spiritual mentor, a bestower of joy: The miracle of Agnès Varda lay not merely in all that she accomplished, which was enormous, but also all that she succeeded in meaning to those who knew her.” Variety published a terrific appreciation by Peter Debruge about her career and vast influence which began: “Until today, if you had asked me to name the greatest living filmmaker, I would have answered Agnès Varda. What a loss that the 90-year-old director — who died Friday, leaving behind such intimate masterpieces as “Cléo from 5 to 7,” “Vagabond,” and “The Gleaners and I” — will create no more.’
“Her passing is a chance for the world of cinema to come together and recognize the achievements of an outsider artist who lived long enough to appreciate the impact her work has had on both audiences and multiple generations of younger directors. Before the French New Wave took form in the late 1950s, it was Varda who paddled out from shore and shouted, “Hey boys, come on in! The water’s fine!” And in recent years, with a series of increasingly personal documentaries — including two, “The Beaches of Agnès” and “Faces Places,” that the Los Angeles Film Critics awarded along the way — Varda reiterated the liberating message of her 65-year career: Cinema is about sharing one’s point of view.”
In Indiewire, Judy Dry posted a piece headlined “Miranda July, Greta Gerwig, and 15 Women Filmmakers on What Agnès Varda Meant to Them,” with July describing her as “the filmmaker of my life” and Ava DuVernay writing “Merci, Agnès. For your films. For your passion. For your light. It shines on.”
At her funeral yesterday, her daughter Rosalie delivered a powerful eulogy, sharing with the gathered mourners that she use to call her mum “ma douce” and “ma petite patate” (my little potato). If you’ve seen Gleaners, you’ll know why. Her son Mathieu’s speech made the mourners laugh and several of her grandsons spoke as well and did an art installation on a street next to the cemetery by painting the tops of the street posts as an homage to Agnes’ distinctive hairstyle. (Le Monde included a photo of the posts in their coverage.) At the French Cinematheque tribute afterward, Sandrine Bonnaire spoke, saying that she was a flower when she and Agnès began filming Vagabond (1980) and became a tree thanks to Agnès. Jane Birkin sang a song a capella and Catherine Deneuve read this beautiful poem from 1870 by Arthur Rimbaud as an homage to Agnès:
Par les soirs bleus d’été, j’irai dans les sentiers,
Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue :
Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.
Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien :
Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’âme,
Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,
Par la Nature, – heureux comme avec une femme.
On the blue summer evenings, I shall go down the paths,
Getting pricked by the corn, crushing the short grass:
In a dream I shall feel its coolness on my feet.
I shall let the wind bathe my bare head.
I shall not speak, I shall think about nothing:
But endless love will mount in my soul;
And I shall travel far, very far, like a gypsy,
Through the countryside – as happy as if I were with a woman.
Agnès finished one more film after Faces Places. It’s called Varda by Agnès and it screened at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and will probably make its way to the U.S., hopefully on Laemmle screens. Merci pour tout, Agnès.