Category Archives: Film

MURRAY SCHISGAL, WHO BROUGHT THE ABSURD TO THE MAINSTREAM, DIES AT 93 ·

(Will Dudding’s article appeared in The New York Times, 10/2; via Pam Green.)

With “Luv” on Broadway and “Tootsie” on the screen, he wrote with knowing, slightly askew humor about subjects like sex, family and failure.

Murray Schisgal, a playwright and screenwriter who took his offbeat brand of humor to Broadway in the Tony Award-winning comedy “Luv” and to Hollywood in the hit farce “Tootsie,” died on Thursday in Port Chester, N.Y. He was 93.

His death was announced by his son, Zach.

Over a six-decade career in theater, Mr. Schisgal employed elements from the theater of the absurd — like flooding dialogue with clichés and presenting fantastic situations as probable — to write about such domestic themes as marriage, sex, family, loneliness and failure.

His first Broadway success, “Luv,” opened in 1964, with Eli WallachAnn Jackson and Alan Arkin in the original cast. It ran for 902 performances, won three Tony Awards (including one for Mike Nichols’s direction) and earned Mr. Schisgal nominations for best play and best author of a play.

While the play was a hit, Mr. Schisgal, with characteristically self-deprecating humor, implied that during the previews the Broadway crowd questioned coming to a play that thematically seemed like more of a downtown experience. But the critics were encouraging.

“Whatever the truth of the old saw that misery loves company,” Howard Taubman wrote in his New York Times review, “the chances are excellent that you’ll love the company of the three recurrently miserable characters that make up the cast of ‘Luv.’”

Writing in New York magazine, Walter Kerr described Mr. Schisgal as “one step ahead of the avant-garde,” referring to the stagnant state of trans-Atlantic theater in the decade since Samuel Beckett addressed the meaninglessness of existence in a post-atomic age. The theater scene, in the early 1960s, was full of derivative playwrights stuck in Beckett’s philosophical purgatory, and Mr. Schisgal’s approach, to trade gloom for irreverence, provided an escape hatch.

“If the avant-garde, up to now, has successfully exploded the bright balloons of cheap optimism,” Mr. Kerr wrote, “Mr. Schisgal is ready to put a pin to the soapy bubbles of cheap pessimism. Whatever social and philosophical stalemates we have come to, wit at least need not be halted in its tracks.”

Mr. Schisgal explained his unusual title as an expression of his belief that the word “love” had become so misused that what people experienced, felt and thought could be discussed only by using a different word.

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THE NIGERIAN-BRITISH WRITER PUTTING BLACK JOY ON STAGE AND SCREEN ·

(Alison McCann’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/18; Photo from The New York Times: Theresa Ikoko; via Pam Green.)

“There’s so much more that comes with being Black apart from dealing with racism,” says Theresa Ikoko, a Londoner whose movie “Rocks” opened this week.

LONDON — The first play Theresa Ikoko wrote wasn’t necessarily meant to be a play — not yet, anyway.

At that point it was simply a story she had written for herself after years of collecting characters and scenes in her head, all of them rooted in the communities she knew as a Nigerian-British woman. When she read parts of it over the phone to a friend several years ago, he was taken by the way she had captured the experience of being Black and British.

“After I finished, he said to me, ‘Theresa, there’s no difference between this and Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned,’” Ms. Ikoko said with a laugh while sitting on a park bench in East London.

It has since been a remarkable rise for the playwright turned screenwriter, who until last year was working as a case manager at a youth violence organization, pretending to compose long emails and writing scenes instead.

Ms. Ikoko eventually submitted her writing to the Talawa Theatre Company, Britain’s renowned Black-led theater group, which jumped at the chance to produce it as a play. The work, “Normal,” ran as a stage reading in 2014, and a year later she wrote “Girls,” a play about three girls abducted by a terrorist group. That earned her the Alfred Fagon Award for Best New Play of 2015 and the George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright in 2016.

On Friday, her first movie, “Rocks,” which she wrote with Claire Wilson, opened in Britain. It centers on the joy and resilience of young women of color — a group rarely given mainstream attention in British film — and positions Ms. Ikoko as a major new voice.

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LINN ULLMANN ON HER FATHER, INGMAR BERGMAN: ‘IT WAS AS IF ALL THE WINDOWS OF HIS MIND HAD OPENED’ ·

(Alex Clark’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/29; Ingmar Bergman with his daughter Linn Ullmann during the filming of Autumn Sonata (1978). Photograph: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri.)

When Linn Ullmann’s father was well into his 80s, he began to refer to the life that he was now experiencing as “the epilogue”. Lying in bed in the mornings, he would tot up his ailments, allowing himself one per decade: if there were fewer than eight, he would get up; if there were more, he would stay put. But these strategies denoted realism rather than appeasement, and his determination to continue work remained largely unshaken.

Ullmann’s father was the great Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, and the work that he fixed on in his last years was a collaboration with his daughter, a book that would capture something of his life and thoughts as he approached the end. Recalling the beginnings of the project as she talks to me from Oslo, Ullmann emphasises the centrality of the creative process to Bergman’s life. “When it’s work, you know, then we know what we do. We’re working: good. We had so much fun discussing when we were going to write the book, how, what form it would take.” His preferred title, he joked, was “Laid & Slayed in Eldorado Valley”, a phrase that he’d always hoped to use for the name of a film.

Instead, what emerged, over a decade after his death in 2007, was Ullmann’s sixth novel, Unquiet, a powerful and unsettling hybrid of memoir, fiction and meditation, braided together in a fragmentary structure that reflects, among other things, Bergman’s love of Bach’s Cello Suites.

It is, she tells me, a work built on “the ruins of a book that I didn’t write”. As father and daughter delightedly planned their project in numerous letters, phone calls and meetings, Bergman “kept getting older”. By the time work began in earnest, in the spring and summer before his death, physical frailty had been joined by something else: “Things had changed very much; just in a few months, his language had changed, the memory loss was now very obvious to him and to me. It was as if all the windows of his mind had opened up so that things that were real and things that were imaginary or dreamlike – he didn’t always have the capacity to see the difference.”

The six conversations between them, recorded at Hammars, Bergman’s home on the Swedish island of Fårö, form a vital strand of Unquiet but for many years Ullmann didn’t even listen to them, believing them to be part of the “huge fiasco” that the unfinished project had become: “It was physically painful, almost, to listen to those tapes. So I just put away the tape recorder … I mean, I should have started earlier, I should have insisted that we do it earlier, I should have asked different questions when we sat there, I should have had a better tape recorder because the tape recorder was lousy. I shouldn’t have been so high pitched.” It was her husband, the writer Niels Fredrik Dahl, who prodded her into retrieving the recorder from the attic: “Don’t you want to just listen to it now that you’re writing this book? And then I listened to it. And I transcribed it. And I translated it from Swedish to Norwegian. And it was just delightful.”

These initial feelings, of course, are an acute form of the regrets that so often accompany death; the conviction that had we acted differently, we might somehow have mitigated our bereavement, or preserved something more tangible of our loved one. But in Ullmann’s case, there is a sense of something particularly heightened – almost primal – about the experience.

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Read the Stage Voices review of the book, 2/20/19

 

HAMILTON REVIEW – BROADWAY HIT IS NOW A BREATHTAKING SCREEN SENSATION ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/30; photo: The Guardian.)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical is smart, witty, funky and leaves us reflecting on America’s past and future

Hamilton was hailed as revolutionary theatre in 2015, with its rapping 18th-century statesmen, its funky, feelgood hip-hop and a cast predominantly comprising actors of colour. It went on to conquer Broadway and West End audiences. How does that original Broadway staging fare on the flat screen, streamed by Disney+ in the midst of lockdown?

It spoke to the moment then, and it speaks to us now, say director Thomas Kail and Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star, in their short, socially distanced preamble to this highly anticipated film of the show. “We are all thinking about what it means to be American,” they add. Even if these words are not in direct reference to the America of the past few weeks, with its upsurge of anti-racist protest, their story of the Caribbean-born immigrant hero and founding father of the US, Alexander Hamilton, speaks to us obliquely of all that remains neglected in America’s history while shifting the parameters at the same time.

Its rousing opening scenes remind us of that great American ideal of equality and speaks of slavery and civil rights in the 18th century. “I never thought I’d live past 20. Where I come from, some get half as many,” sings Hamilton at the start, and his words echo the dangerous fate that awaits so many of America’s black or immigrant underclass now, as debate around Black Lives Matter protests has highlighted.

Even more remarkably, it keeps all the power of a live performance while simultaneously adding a filmic pizzazz including some breathtaking aerial shots. There is extraordinary direction – again under Kail – so that the cameras capture the mise en scène of theatre without losing any of the closeup intimacy of film.

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MICHEL PICCOLI (1925-2020), STALWART OF FRENCH CINEMA WHOSE PROLIFIC CAREER INCLUDED FILMS WITH LUIS BUÑUEL, JEAN-LUC GODARD AND CLAUDE CHABROL ·

(Ronald Bergan’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/18; Photo: The Guardian; via Adam Sullivan)

For more than half a century, there seemed to be one constant in French cinema – the actor Michel Piccoli. With his death at the age of 94 something vital has disappeared from the screen.

Never young looking – he was prematurely bald – Piccoli grew in maturity and power over the years, with directors such as Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc GodardClaude ChabrolMarco Ferreri and Claude Sautet seeking his services more than once. He also worked for directors of the stature of Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jacques Rivette, Costa-Gavras and Louis Malle.

Even when he was a big name, Piccoli was never too proud to play small supporting roles or even bit parts if he liked the screenplay. But whatever the size of the role, whether playing a goody or a baddie, Piccoli would bring to the character a gravitas (with a tinge of humour) and an ironic detachment, simultaneously revealing a real, recognisable human being beneath the surface.

Piccoli was born in Paris to a French mother and an Italian father, both of them musicians – his mother was a pianist; his father a violinist. At 19, he made his screen debut in a walk-on part in Sortilèges (1945), directed by Christian-Jaque.

After several roles in the cinema and theatre, he met Buñuel. “I wrote to this famous director asking him to come and see me in a play. Me, an obscure actor! It was the cheek of a young man. He came and we became friends.” Piccoli appeared in six of Buñuel’s films, usually cast as a silky, authoritarian figure.

His first performance for Buñuel was as a weak, compromised priest trekking through the Brazilian jungle in La Mort en Ce Jardin (Death in the Garden/Evil Eden, 1956). In Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), he was the idle and lecherous Monsieur Monteil, sexually obsessed with Jeanne Moreau as the maid Célestine.

Just as louche was his smooth bourgeois gentleman who persuades a respectable doctor’s wife (Catherine Deneuve) to spend her afternoons working in a high-class brothel with kinky clients in Belle de Jour (1967). Piccoli reprised the role charmingly almost 40 years later in Manoel de Oliveira’s Belle Toujours (2006).

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Khaled Nabawy writes: “What a sad day, Michel Piccoli dies, for the industry and the audience he is a great actor; for me, he is my greatest father ever on screen in The Immigrant!  Through you I learned early how a great human being can be. . . . RIP MY greatest father on screen.”  

CANCELLED: FREE SHAKESPEARE IN THE PARK ·

Dear Friends,

Of all of New York City’s traditions, our favorite is this: every summer, we gather under the stars at the magical Delacorte Theater for Free Shakespeare in the Park.  We come together as strangers, visitors and fellow New Yorkers, as audiences and artists, and we get a glimpse of what a unified city could look like.

But this year is different. This year, we must stand together in keeping our city and each other safe. This means our summer season of Free Shakespeare in the Park will not be possible, and we must cancel our planned productions of RICHARD II and Public Works’ AS YOU LIKE IT.  We must also suspend our remaining season of programs and events at our flagship home at Astor Place through August 31.

This is a time of immense shared loss, throughout our city and throughout the world. The Public will bear financial losses, reductions in our staffing, and most heartbreakingly, the loss of our ability to gather and share stories together.  

While our stages will remain dark, our commitment to our mission will burn brighter than ever. Our promise to you is that we will keep working tirelessly to bring you glorious work by our incredible artists. Our promise to you is that we will continue to find safe ways to connect with each other until we can be together again.  And our promise to you is that by standing side-by-side, we will find our way through this moment. In the meantime, please take care of yourselves and each other.

We thank you for being united with us. Together We Power The Public.

With gratitude,

 

Artistic Director … Oskar Eustis

Executive Director … Patrick Willingham

Visit the Public online

 

ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON WINS BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE FROM INTERNATIONAL INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS 2020 ·

ROGER HENDRICKS SIMON has just won the BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE award from INTERNATIONAL INDEPENDENT FILM AWARDS 2020 for DANIEL KEITH’s multi award winning feature film LOVE IN KILNERRY.

https://www.loveinkilnerry.com

to see trailer and production photos, etc.

Mr. Simon next appears in Daniel Simon’s ANOTHER YEAR TOGETHER at the Greenwich Film Festival and in the soon to be released CUPID’S CUPCAKES. 

FILM ACADEMY MIGHT CHANGE OSCAR RULES DUE TO CORONAVIRUS ·

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 04: Oscar statue at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on February 04, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

(Brandon Katz’s article appeared in the Observer, 3/20;  via Pam Green.)

We’re such Oscar fanatics that mere days after this year’s ceremony we began predicting the nominees and winners of the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards. But with major theater chains closing its doors for weeks on end due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unclear how the 2021 Oscars will proceed. Films both major and independent are cancelling or delaying their debuts left and right. To compete in the prestigious ceremony, a movie actually needs to be, you know, released.

In response to the Hollywood downturn, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) is considering rule changes for qualification. Typically, a film must have a minimum seven-day theatrical run in a Los Angeles theater to qualify for the Oscars. But with hordes of films being re-routed to video-on-demand and other at-home platforms, that may need to change temporarily.

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A FIRST LOOK AT STEVEN SPIELBERG’S WEST SIDE STORY ·

(Anthony Breznican’s article appeared in Vanity Fair, 3/16; photo: Vanity Fair; via the Drudge Report.)

The director talks about reimagining the musical that riveted him as a child.H 16, 2020

Steven Spielberg has been making West Side Story in his head for a very long time. As a boy in Phoenix in the late 1950s, he had only the soundtrack, and he tried to picture the action and dancing that might accompany it. “My mom was a classical pianist,” says the filmmaker. “Our entire home was festooned with classical musical albums, and I grew up surrounded by classical music. West Side Story was actually the first piece of popular music our family ever allowed into the home. I absconded with it—this was the cast album from the 1957 Broadway musical—and just fell completely in love with it as a kid. West Side Story has been that one haunting temptation that I have finally given in to.”

The film, out December 18, is both a romance and a crime story. It’s about dreams crashing into reality, young people singing about the promise of their lives ahead—then cutting each other down in bursts of violence. It’s about hope and desperation, pride and actual prejudice, and a star-crossed couple who find love amid it all on the streets of New York.

West Side Story became a global sensation when it hit Broadway in 1957, with a book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim that made generations swoon, snap, and gasp. The show was both dazzling and gritty, layering a Romeo and Juliet romance between Tony and Maria over a contemporary story of street gangs, racism, and violence in the shadows of rising skyscrapers. When director Robert Wise and choreographer Jerome Robbins adapted it into a film in 1961, West Side Story broke the box office record for musicals and dominated the Oscars, winning 10 awards, including best picture. Six decades later, the stage show has toured the world and been revived repeatedly. (A new production, directed by Ivo van Hove, opened on Broadway in February.) Of course, it’s also so commonly performed at high schools and community theaters that if you haven’t seen it, it’s probably because you were in it.

Threaded throughout the story is the question of who has the right to call a place home and why people who are struggling look for reasons to turn on each other. “This story is not only a product of its time, but that time has returned, and it’s returned with a kind of social fury,” Spielberg says. “I really wanted to tell that Puerto Rican, Nuyorican experience of basically the migration to this country and the struggle to make a living, and to have children, and to battle against the obstacles of xenophobia and racial prejudice.”

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