John Waters: “Make Trouble,” remote controls, and the crazy people in his life

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JOHN WATERS: “THIS FILTHY WORLD: DIRTIER AND FILTHIER”
WHEN:
Sat. (March 18), 8 p.m.
WHERE: Joy Theater, 1200 Canal St.
TICKETS: $45-$90
MORE INFO: Visit the Joy Theater website

Truth be told, John Waters can do these phone interviews in his sleep. What more is there to say after a career like his, which, fortunately for New Orleans, includes what feels like an annual pilgrimage to brush up on his “This Filthy World Tour” as he holds forth on the many things that landed him the title “Pope of Trash” and many other witty titles.

And yet, he always surprises you with a few curveballs and changeup pitches.

Some of that is captured in the feature in this week’s New Orleans Advocate article as well as in a podcast interview for “PopSmart NOLA.” Waters’ assistant was kind enough to also provide a “John Waters through the years” set of images for a nice photo gallery, so it seemed appropriate to provide a post of his recollections of the many crazy and special people in his long and colorful life, with some photos of him and the others included.

Enjoy!

Would you be game if I threw out a few of the names of the folks you’ve worked with over time? Would you mind giving me a first impression?

Sure.

I’ll start with Johnny Depp.
At the time of Johnny Depp in “Cry Baby” (1990), he was basically Justin Bieber. (At the time, Depp was the star of the TV hit “21 Jump Street.) He was a teen idol and he hated it. I think he made a wise decision to come with us because he could make fun of the whole thing. Then he moved on and made “Edward Scissorhands” and became a serious actor.

Debbie Harry.
I always loved Debbie. (Debbie Harry appeared as Velma Von Tussley in 1998’s in “Hairspray.”) She was from the very beginning, like a goddess to me. She’s a really good actress, too. I’ve seen her lots of different movies, independent films. It was great to have her. She was so excited to have Sonny Bono play her husband.

Ricki Lake.
Well, Ricki’s still a very dear friend. (Lake starred as Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray.”) She’s had tragedy recently over her last husband. I don’t know if you know about that. I didn’t know. He committed suicide. It’s in People magazine this week. Anyway, she is a dear friend. I wrote the introduction to her autobiography (“Never Say Never: Finding a Life That Fits”). We’ve stayed in touch from the very beginning. She was even in “Hairspray,” the NBC thing, and a cameo thing. Ricki’s a dear, dear friend I’ve known forever. When she came in, she was Tracy Turnblad. She was in college, hated it, wanted to be an actress. She always told me she wanted to be a TV star and she became one.

Kathleen Turner.
Oh, she’s great. I still see her. We just went over and recorded something for the new “Serial Mom” (1994) DVD/blue-ray that came out. Kathleen is a brilliant actor and she works constantly. She does a lot of theater. I don’t know. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t suffer fools, but I love to be with her when she doesn’t suffer fools.

Traci Lords.
A good friend. (Lords starred in “Cry Baby.”) She was only a porn star for, what, a year and a half or something. She’s been doing everything else for the rest of her life. Traci and I hosted a big punk rock festival in Oakland last year, called Burger Boogaloo, and I’m hosting it again this year. She was great because she said for the first time ever, you know how to meet and greet, which for her can be not a good. All the lineup was mostly all women. She said, “I’ll sign their tits but those guys? I ain’t signing their tits.’ They all had their haircut from “Cry Baby” and Traci Lords tattoos and everything. It was great.

Tab Hunter.
Tab Hunter is a friend. I certainly saw him. I’m in the documentary about him. If it wasn’t for him, “Polyester” (1981) would have never crossed over to what it did. Tab is somebody that you never can predict. He’s a Republican. He always makes me laugh. He does it just to defy me, too.

Mink Stole.
Mink and I are great friends. She moved back to Baltimore after living in New York and L.A. for years and years and years. We’re very good friends. She came up to the big Writers Guild, Lifetime Achievement Award I got. Mink’s a very, very close friend. She’s like family.

What do you think of the music album she put out a couple of years ago?
It’s so good! She could sing. (“Do Re Mink,” 2013.) I said, “Why didn’t you tell me you could sing?” She said, “I didn’t know it, either.” She’s like Julie London. She can really sing.

Patricia Hearst.
Patricia is certainly my friend, I hope. (Hears appeared in “Cry Baby.) She’s somebody who, it’s all over. She doesn’t care about it, she doesn’t think about it. Her life has evolved so much further. She’s got great kids. She’s something, that like from a time warp that that happened in. She really has no interest, or there’s no trace of it. She survived it. She was always telling the truth and that’s why she’s alive.

Iggy Pop.
Iggy Pop! He’s a headliner at the punk rock festival, Burger Boogaloo, this year, both nights that we’re hosting in Oakland. I saw Iggy recently. I did his radio show (“Iggy Confidential”) with him. We talked about scary Halloween music together.

Pat Moran.
Pat Moran’s my best friend in the world. She has cast everything from all my movies, then she went on to “The Wire.” She’s, I think, won an Emmy two or three times (“Veep,” “Game Change,” “Homicide: Life on the Street”). She’s been nominated (seven) times. She was also with me at the Writers Guild (ceremony). She and her husband are my closest friends.

What did you think about her as a talent? What made her special to you?
Well, because she could just recognize people that could do it, and were believable. She knew all types. You always believed the people that Pat cast. She went to different communities to get people that maybe wouldn’t have been actors and helped turn them into them.

Finally, Divine.
Divine, I miss him. Divine would have wanted to be in every single “Hairspray” that’s ever come out. He probably would have played many different roles. By the end, when Divine died, he was playing male roles. He probably would have wanted to play, I don’t know, Corny Collins.

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Remembering Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, dead at 84

robertosborne_678x230_article_page_treatment_030920111059One of my favorite assignments while A&E editor at Creative Loafing in Atlanta was taking the opportunity in 2008 to profile Turner Classic Movies’ host Robert Osborne at a time when the Turner property was undergoing a corporate sea change. It was the kind of corporate makeover that lots of people who follow the entertainment industry are all too familiar, but it was happening in Atlanta, far from the hubs of New York City and Los Angeles, and where for years TCM was allowed mostly to operate on its own and create a fun, unique, entertaining and yes, informative cable movie channel.

Robert Osborne was its public face, himself a walking library of Hollywood history. (I’ve got my copy of his “75 Years of Oscar: The Official History of the Academy Awards” coffee table book to prove it; the book is so thick it once served as my son’s booster seat at the dinner table.) Osborne is the kind of person you want to use the word “class” to describe but you know it sounds un-classy to use it. But he exuded a certain kind of sophistication that continually reminded you of his passion for culture, popular or otherwise. And he believed in the magic of movies and the importance of remembering its history.

As those who have noted Monday (March 6) on his passing, at age 84, that Robert Osborne was Turner Classic Movies. He was sophisticated, yes, but also humble about his rise in a fiercely competitive industry. He made his own curious niche and had become a survivor of sorts. As I noted in that profile:

Robert Osborne is the last of a dying breed, a once-aspiring actor who turned into a Hollywood insider and historian — an authority but a friend, a public face revered in private. He’s always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and if luck is when preparation meets opportunity, Osborne has prepared with the charm and knowledge to move up in a business swimming with sharks. He talks about his career like he does movies, never making a cinematic reference without context. He mentions his Seattle stage work after graduating from the University of Washington with a journalism degree and recalls landing a role in a 1958 production: “The actor I was doing the play with was Jane Darwell, who’d won the Academy Award for playing Henry Fonda’s mother in ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ And she said, ‘You should come to California.’ I could stay at her family’s house, and I had some friends there.’”

Toward the end of the profile, which pondered how long an evolving network obsessed with demographics would keep such an elderly public face, Osborne was philosophical — this, nine years before his passing:

Even out of makeup, he could pass for 65, lines and all. He seems to pace himself in everything he does or says. ‘I would love to keep doing it as long as it’s still viable for Turner,’ Osborne says. ‘There obviously will come an age when you’re too old to be doing it, I guess, but I’d love to keep doing it. I feel good, and I love the people I work with. And I love this product.’”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pop in a black-and-white movie.

 

“On the Map”: Basketball documentary remembers a time when miracles happened in Israel — with a little help from its friends

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Tal Brody utters his immortal words after a major upset for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“ON THE MAP” SCREENING
WHAT:
Reception/screening of sports documentary about Israel’s winning the 1977 European Championship
WHEN: Thurs. (Feb. 16), 6 p.m. (reception) and 7 p.m. (screening)
WHERE: Jewish Community Center New Orleans Uptown (5342 St Charles Ave.)
ADMISSION: Free
MORE INFO: Visit the Facebook event page

This NBA All-Star Weekend will bring out many of the familiar basketball stars of yesterday — it’s as much a family reunion as anything else. Many will be looking out for Magic, Michael and Koby.

I’ll be looking out for Brody.

Tal Brody, who led one of the greatest upsets in basketball history, will be joined by former NBA great Dave Cowens and women’s hoops legend Nancy Lieberman for a special screening of the documentary “On the Map” on Thursday (Feb. 16) at the Jewish Community Center New Orleans’ Uptown location. The legends will mingle at a reception at 6 p.m., followed by the screening at 7 p.m. and then a question-and-answer session.

Brody, a New Jersey native, was a former first-round NBA draft pick who instead chose to play for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team and, toward the end of his career, led the team on an improbable run to the 1977 European Championship. It was in an era of incredible contrasts; Israel, not yet three decades old as a national state, was still trying to heal from the successive wounds created by the massacre of its 11 athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War as well as the tense 1976 hijacking by terrorists of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv. And while the nation shared with Europe a new-found passion for basketball, teams such as Russia, Spain and Italy were the real powerhouses.

Athletically and nationally, Israel needed a win. They got it, thanks to an unlikely assemblage of players that started with Brody, an American Jew, and a handful of other, non-Israeli imports that included an African-American starting center, Aulcie Perry. (He later converted to Judaism.)

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With “I Am Not Your Negro,” a look at James Baldwin looking back at us

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“I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO” (PG-13)
WHAT:
Documentary about writer and social critic James Baldwin; Raoul Peck directs, Samuel L. Jackson stars
WHEN: Opens Fri. (Feb. 3)
WHERE: Broad Theater, 636 N Broad St.
MORE INFO: Visit the Broad Theater website

“The story of the negro in America is the story of America. It is not a pretty story.”
— James Baldwin, “Remember This House”

Raoul Peck tries to frame his Academy Award-nominated documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” as essayist and culture critic James Baldwin tried to frame his (unfinished) work, “Remember This House” — as a memoir about his personal remembrances of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. (None of them survived the 1960s, and none of them, as Baldwin notes, made it to 40 years old.) While the documentary, like the manuscript, never quite gets there in terms of its structure, it gets just about everywhere else — including our current national mood.

If “I Am Not Your Negro” accomplishes anything else, it’s in showing the timelessness and relevance of Baldwin’s cutting commentary about the state of racial relations in the United States, and how the more things change, the more they stay the same. Peck (“Lumumba”) lays Baldwin’s crystal-clear observations against the backdrop of both myriad pop-culture references and juxtapositions of unforgettable imagery. One moment we could be watching fire hoses and police batons being turned on protesters from the turbulent ’60s, sure, but the next we’re watching the demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., which became a flashpoint for protesting the treatment by police officers of an under-served, and predominantly African-American, community.

Too often, he saw a white nation in denial, and one in turn that saw the legacy of slavery as a pointless burden and not a challenge to evolve as a culture. “I’m terrified at the moral apathy” of the nation, he frets at one point. “… White people don’t know our lives. It’s apathy and ignorance.”

Peck presents Baldwin in two settings: in person, in archival TV interviews and lectures, and in somber, understated voiceover by Samuel L. Jackson, reading ostensibly from “Remember This House.” Baldwin pitched the memoir to his agent as a way to frame his life through his observations and the lives of the three civil rights leaders, and at times “I Am Not Your Negro” interconnects Baldwin with the work of Evers, Malcolm X and King. It’s a complicated structure which brings its own set of truths; at one point we’re painfully reminded of how critical Malcolm X was of King — as witnessed in their joint appearance with Baldwin in the PBS special “The Negro and the American Promise” in 1963. (You can watch the Malcolm X segment here; King’s segment here; and James Baldwin’s segment here.)

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James Baldwin. (Photo by Bob Adelman, courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

The leaders’ three respective assassinations — Evers in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965, and King in 1968 — serve as almost succinct end chapters of the 95-minute film, and each time Baldwin laments the pain those deaths inflict on his soul. Baldwin died of stomach cancer in 1987 at the age of 63, and so “I Am Not Your Negro” serves as the best representation of his memoir.

There are times when you want to know even more about Baldwin and not just his words, although one could argue his words were his life. But one thing becomes clear in his reflections in “Remember This House,” and that’s his place as an outsider. Baldwin also was gay, a status his FBI was sure to point out (as well as his being a “dangerous individual”). Even as he explained his motives for his memoir, he wrote how he was neither this nor that: “The line that separates a witness from an actor is a very thin line, indeed,” Baldwin says through Jackson. “Nevertheless, the line is real.”

And so the non-joiner — who wasn’t a Muslim or a Black Panther, who wasn’t a Christian or a member of the NAACP — tries to tap into the lives of his more famous contemporaries and offer a civil rights-era history lesson along the way. Louisianians will recognize familiar imagery — including the Plaquemines Parish political boss and staunch segregationist Leander Perez, and reminders of New Orleans’ role as a center of the slave trade.

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As Bianca Del Rio’s “Not Today Satan” tour blows into town, don’t forget the awesomeness that is “Hurricane Bianca”

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INFO:
WHAT: Bianca Del Rio, Not Today Satan Tour
WHEN: Fri. (Nov. 4), 8 p.m.
WHERE: Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts
TICKETS: $37.50-$75
MORE INFO: Visit Ticketmaster

When Roy Haylock’s alter-ego Bianca Del Rio stormed through season six of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” she did so leaving a trail of withering one-liners behind her — not the least of which was the cautionary missive, “Not today, Satan!” It worked on so many levels as Haylock captured the title and has gone on to increasing fame and recognition.

So it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Haylock’s “Queen of Mean” persona blows into town on a career high with her Not Today Satan Tour that his the Mahalia Jackson Theater on Friday (Nov. 4). The tour has cut across Europe, Australia and the United States over the course of 2016, with a Nov. 9 finale set for San Antonio.

[Learn more: Read about Bianca Del Rio’s TV deal with Logo]

It’s one of the few times Texas might be better place than Haylock’s hometown of New Orleans to end the tour; his theatrical film debut, “Hurricane Bianca,” which blew onto Amazon Prime in September, is set in Texas. And, as outsized as its locale, it’s surprisingly hilarious and affecting, and shouldn’t live under the admittedly out-sized shadow of Haylock’s cutting live performances.

Written and directed by Matt Kugelman, “Hurricane Bianca” tells the story of Richard Martinez (Haylock), a likeable but harried New York City high school science teacher looking for a better teaching situation and thinks he’s found it thanks to a program that lands him in a small Texas town. His homosexuality quickly exposed, Richard is fired, only to come back with a vengeance in the form of (you guessed it), Bianca Del Rio, who takes the school by storm, improves her students’ classroom performance, inspires a bullied gay student, reunites the football coach with an alienated sibling, and wins the Teacher of the Year award in the process. (To say these are spoiler alerts would be an insult to Kugelman’s script, which telegraphs every possible happy ending in the sweetest possible way.)

[Buzzfeed: How the success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is a double-edged sword]

It’s a fairly conventional inspirational education story that basically puts a drag-queen, lightly satirical spin on such familiar works as “To Sir, With Love,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Dangerous Minds,” “Summer School” and “Up the Down Staircase.” But it should come as no coincidence that Kugelman and Haylock have chosen the trope as the setting for Bianca’s first movie comedy vehicle. After all, the teachers in these movies are all outsiders, fish out of water who learn to earn the trust of their students — many of whom are alienated themselves. The students of this particular high school are generally popular and snarky, but they’re uninspired academic under-achievers, and Bianca fights fire with a fire that Richard couldn’t muster in the few days he had in the classroom.

Where Richard easily let them roll over him, Bianca fires away the kind of digs that only a drag queen could summon:

“I know what we’re going to call you: White trash that won’t burn!”
“You’re the prettiest girl on the planet … of the apes!”
“Shut up! Your parents are siblings!”

Got a problem with the way she’s running things? “I’m fucking this cat. You just hold the legs!”

There’s definitely a tradeoff in Haylock’s departure from the stage to the screen. Bianca’s rapid-fire, caustic, voluble delivery needs a live setting, if for no other reason the way her insults tear from the speakers and bounce off the wall, and an audience that practically begs to be a target. So there’s an energy gap in her “Hurricane Bianca” performance that Kugelman has difficulty in filling. But what’s lost in energy, Haylock fills in with intimacy and charm, and this comes in unlikely moments. It gets particularly, surprisingly sweet when Bianca initially tries to fend off the football coach, Chuck (Denton Blane Everett), but then befriends him when he learns that he has been estranged from his gay brother — now a transgendered radio host, Karma Johnstone (Bianca Leigh).

“Hurricane Bianca” also provides a steady stream of familiar and often iconic faces in cameos roles once you get past the hilarious casting of Rachel Dratch as the lip-gloss-addicted assistant principal, Deborah Ward. From there we have fun appearances by stars such as Alan Cumming as a school administrator, RuPaul (sans drag) as a meteorologist and Margaret Cho as a wig-shop owner, and supporting appearances by gay, transgender and drag queen performers: Markus Kelle and a bunch of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumni including William Belli, Alyssa Edwards, Joslyn Fox and Shangela Laquifa Wadley. (There is even an appearance by New Orleans theater veteran Brooklyn Shaffer!)

But the most affecting performance comes from Bianca Leigh, arguably the hardest-working transgender actor (“Transamerica”) before Laverne Cox burst onto the scene in “Orange Is the New Black.” As Coach Chuck’s long-lost brother who’d left the family to transition to female, Karma is a believable character at a time when transgender issues have jumped to the foreground of discussion in American culture.

Kugelman deftly dances in and out of and around such issues, starting with Richard’s being legally fired for simply being gay — one of the many charms of Texas’ homophobic laws. More than a fun gay-movie indie romp, “Hurricane Bianca” comes off more as a cheeky but endearing parable about acceptance and tolerance. And as New Orleans will learn yet again on Friday night, if you mess with Roy Haylock, well, you had it coming.

With “The Innocents,” feminism, and a faith compromised

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Lou de Laage and Agata Buzek in “The Innocents”

“The Innocents” (“Les Innocentes”)
WHEN: Monday (July 11), 12 p.m.
WHERE: Prytania Theatre, 5339 Prytania St.
TICKETS: $12
MORE INFO: Visit Prytania website

In powerful moment in the 2016 French film “Les Innocentes,” Sister Maria, a Polish nun, is explaining her crisis of faith to a Mathilde, a French doctor whom she’s convinced to help her convent sisters:

At first you’re like a child holding your father’s hand, feeling safe. Then a time comes — and I think it always comes — when your father lets go. You’re lost, alone in the dark. You cry out, but no one answers. Even if you prepare for it, you’re caught unawares. It hits you right in the heart.”

It says something about the power of “Les Innocentes” (or “The Innocents”) — which will receive an encore screening by the French Film Festival at noon Monday (July 11) at the Prytania — that the most sharply observed scenes occur among women. Indeed, there are long stretches where men are absent, a rarity for a movie set in the aftermath of World War II. The film, directed by Anne Fontaine, was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival, and the critical response has been favorable; it garnered a healthy 88 percent on the film-critic aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes.

It’s a well-deserved response; Fontaine uses a somber, meditative approach to tell a story of survival and compromised faith. She works with a history that’s been well covered in cinema, especially if you include its references to the Holocaust, and avoids familiar by bringing a fresh feminist perspective to a time and place dominated by patriarchy.

The heroine, Mathilde (Lou de Laâge), is based on the real-life Madeleine Pauliac, a French doctor who works with other French Red Cross medical personnel in a Polish hospital still tending to the wounded months after the official close of World War II but in the early days of the Soviet occupation. While making her rounds, she meets Maria, a Polish nun who pleads for her to come with her to the nearby convent. After she arrives, Mathilde learns that Soviet soldiers have raped many of the sisters, with several in the final trimester of pregnancy.

Mathilde ignores orders to focus strictly on French soldiers and overcomes opposition from the convent’s leader to help guide the nuns through the delivery, one after another, setting up a series of conflicts. It’s within those sometimes-muddled conflicts that “The Innocents” finds its female empowerment. Part of that is because the most dominant male character, Samuel, her superior and casual lover, knows she’s up to something but seems almost powerless to stop her. Maybe it’s because he has stronger feelings for her than he’s willing to admit, or maybe he trusts her instincts more than someone in his position otherwise might.

But as “The Innocents” unfolds, this clearly becomes a World War II movie about women who fight to be survivors and not victims of man’s inhumanity toward man. For the nuns, that means grappling with their faith, which has been compromised by the brutality suffered at the hands of their supposed liberators. They also have an unlikely foe in their mother superior, Ida (Agata Kulesza), whose unwavering allegiance to church doctrine includes keeping the convent free from scandal by any means necessary. She initially resists the help available from Mathilde, even excoriating Maria for summoning the doctor.

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While she’s also defending an ancient patriarchy, it’s interesting that we never see any male presence at the convent. This isn’t historically inaccurate, but it’s clear that Fontaine wants this battle over whether the nuns should receive outside medical attention (with its potential risk of exposure) to play out among women only.

Even when discussing sex and religion, “The Innocents” offers a modern take, and again, through the women’s eyes. While all of the nuns have taken a vow of celibacy, not all of them were virgins when they entered the convent. One of them even had fallen in love with one of the Soviet solders, and noted how he’d tried to protect the women from his comrades’ repeated assaults. Despite those attacks, the women who’d had some kind of sexual life before the convent reflect fondly of those pre-convent days. Even Mathilde notes she’d had lovers before her arrival, and at no point are we led to suspect that she’s falling in love with Samuel. She sees their relationship for what it is, and not much more.

Indeed, Mathilde seems a bit of a closed book emotionally, and it’s only when she develops a bond with Sister Maria that we start to see her vulnerability. It’s Maria, not Samuel, who successfully draws Mathilde out in their quiet moments together, suggesting an intimacy far stronger than two lovers sharing pillow talk in their off-work hours.

Religion plays a part in this; Samuel is a French Jew who seems indifferent to everyone, including the Poles he believe let themselves be dominated by the Germans and then the Russians. Mathilde is a Communist, which is code for atheist, and it takes personal, reflective discussions with Maria to understand the concept of faith that has become so compromised by the nuns’ circumstances.

Mathilde slowly becomes more involved in helping tend to the nuns as their due dates start to arrive, and she only turns to Samuel when she realizes she can’t handle multiple deliveries. After a harrowing visit to the convent, Samuel finally sees how emotionally invested she’s become, and seeks to console her.

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“The Innocents” was a group effort but with a strong female presence; Fontaine recruited Caroline Champetier for the cinematography, which is a study in gray sobriety. While Lou de Laâge might be considered one of France’s rising stars, and an attractive one at that, there’s a resistance to exploit her beauty. Fontaine collaborated with filmmaker Pascal Bonitzer on the adaptation, with writing contributions from Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial. This shows in the storyline, which gets a little bogged down in the middle section and creates some inconsistent character motivations.

It’s also curious that the real-life figure, Madeleine Pauliac, was actually the chief doctor at the hospital in Warsaw; perhaps the screenwriters believed it would seem more dramatic to have her rise from a more subordinate position at the hospital to help the nuns. At least one review criticized the ending — which I won’t give away here, but one that fits nicely into the feminist, even maternal instincts of the filmmaker.

No matter what challenges the convent will face — whether they be literal or spiritual — it will be the women and not the men who will find a way to face them. At least in spiritual matters, Fontaine refuses to play it safe. She refuses to turn “The Innocents” into an indictment of the Catholic church in particular or organized religion in general, but more to show how women can, when given the opportunity, put their faith into action.

(Note: When I started thinking about writing about the film from a more feminist, I’d Googled around to see what if any female film critics (or any, really) had shared this feeling, or least on a slightly deeper level — and came up pretty dry. Then after I’d started writing, I found this great essay by Teo Bugbee on MTV.com. Enjoy.)

New Orleans actress Kerry Cahill on her own loss, following Pulse Orlando shooting

Editor’s Note: New Orleanian Kerry Cahill is an educator and professional actress whose life in public was completely transformed when her father, 62-year-old physician’s assistant Michael Cahill, was the only civilian among the 13 murdered in the Fort Hood mass shooting back in 2009. Cahill, whose screen credits include such films as “Now You See Me,” “Oldboy,” TV’s “Common Law” and the upcoming “Free State of Jones,” was featured in Greg Barker’s documentary “Homegrown: The Counter-Terror Dilemma” — which began airing on HBO this past February. In the aftermath of the Pulse Orlando shooting, I asked Cahill if she would reflect on her experiences and how if at all these recent shooting resonates with her.

I will introduce myself. My name is Kerry Cahill, I’m an actress and a teacher and a 16-year resident of New Orleans. My father was murdered at Fort Hood Army Base on Nov. 5, 2009. It was a domestic terrorist attack. “Domestic terrorism” means activities that A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (B) appear to be intended — to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion. Also: It means it’s at home, and the attack comes from home; meaning the terrorist is from your country. It also means the attack may not always be violent.

So this definition includes the Westboro Baptist Church, the Charleston, S.C. shooter, the Oak Creek shooter, the Orlando shooter, and the Lafayette shooter. I make sure we realize this because I’m pointing out that we have a very large problem in America that is beyond Islamic extremism. Domestic terrorism doesn’t discriminate; domestic terrorists will target any group they don’t like: soldiers, homosexuals, women, religious groups and African Americans.

Now that the definition of domestic terrorism is clear, let’s move on. We are a country in grief and we have been in grief for a very long time. I don’t know anyone that has not been affected by gun violence, and I know quite a few people all across the nation. I travel a lot, and I moved a lot as a child. I’m willing to bet you, the reader, know at least five people affected by gun violence. So it is safe to say that we have a violence problem in America and people are using guns most of the time to enact this violence.

I’m not sure how to say this next part without it sounding mean, but it’s important that you realize this. You are probably not going to be a hero if this ever happens to you. I say this because I think the human condition requires us to have a sense of certainty and control over our lives to feel safe. Mass shootings and gun violence are obviously uncertain. No one I have ever met runs faster than a bullet. There is no negotiating. So if you are in a movie theater, club or a well-lit mall, and you have a gun and you are not a special forces or SWAT-team-trained individual, the first thing you will do when the shooting starts is freeze for about three seconds. Three short seconds. About five bullets. It’s not on purpose, it’s not because you don’t care; it’s because your body is in shock. If you have not already been shot now you are catching up and there is chaos, people are running, screaming, the gunman is still shooting, and you are shaking. Now pick that gun up and miss all the other people and make a kill shot in three seconds while the shooter is moving around. Do it! Come on! What’s wrong with you?

(Learn more: Read CNN article on Michael Cahill)

At the Soldier Readiness Processing Center on Fort Hood Army Base there were many heroes; charging the shooter, warning people and saving lives. Most of the people there that day were trained soldiers and first responders; uniquely able to respond to an attack. My father was one of the people who charged the shooter. Let’s explain him a bit: 62 years old, more than 20 years in the Army, and grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Spokane, Wash.. He was also in a cubicle when it started, so frankly that gave him two or three split seconds to start running. He was a hero everyday, too. He stood up for people all the time, fought for his patients, and never backed down. It was a habit with him to fight; to charge the bad guy was an extension of that. I urge you to look at your daily habits, because that’s what comes out when a trauma happens.

I still miss my dad, I fight for veterans to further his mission, I tell stories about him, I emulate him, and I …. I cry, more often than I will admit. I cry when something great happens, when something bad happens, I pick up my phone and call his voicemail; we still have his phone on. I’m missing a piece of me. I’m never getting it back, and I am just one of the thousands upon thousands affected. I can tell you there are wounded from the Fort Hood shooting still getting treatment from their wounds, bullets lodged in their bodies, severed nerves, brain surgery after brain surgery, and more.

Brody's 1st Christmas

Michael Cahill with family

I can tell you that the phrase “That must have been hard.” is haunting. Why is it past tense? Do people think that mass shootings, trauma, terrorist attacks suddenly go away? I’m getting better at moving through life with this suitcase of trauma, but movie theaters make me nervous, as do buildings with one exit, and lone men who look a little too quiet or angry because 99 percent of mass shooters are lone men who are a little too quiet or angry.

I say all this because you might think about this when a mass shooting is near your home or your city, but for me it’s a computer tab in my brain that is always open. I am not saying I never laugh or smile or feel joy. I do. I just need you, the reader, to understand that I’m laughing through some pretty thick scar tissue, and, unfortunately, there are more and more people like me every day. That is the bigger problem. I wish I was unique. I don’t want you or my future children to feel this way.

Thank you for reading this. I know this isn’t easy. This does not mean I don’t think you should have a gun. I know people who evacuated to safety during Katrina because they had guns to keep them safe. I own a gun, as do most of my friends, and guns are what eventually took down my father’s shooter. Let me be clear: I do not think all guns should be banned. I’m just pointing out that in a couple weeks before the next shooting, we will sit back down and forget that we still need to fix this problem. We will sit back down into our “It would be different for me” world. Because we have to. We have to so we can leave the house and smile.

So here is what I’m asking you to do: Acknowledge some facts, be honest with yourself, be honest about our current politicians and continue to argue, debate and struggle through to find some solutions. I for one tend to wonder why we don’t treat guns like cars. The bigger the car the more you have to do to get a license. I don’t see this as a major issue. Terrorists and future mass shooters are buying the same guns you are, training with the same people. (My father’s shooter trained with good old-fashioned Texas gun lovers.)

Nader and Kerry Waiting to speak

Nader Hasan and Kerry Cahill prepare to speak at event

But my real point here is that we can’t stop in two weeks; we have to focus on multiple policies at a time as well. If you think one sweeping policy will fix this — like banning immigration or banning assault rifles — you’re wrong. There are more guns in America than people, and almost all the mass shooters over the past 20 years were born and raised in the USA. These are facts. I don’t like them either, but they are true. Google them. Most mass shootings are domestic violence, as well. So we, including our congressional members and U.S. senators, have to now use the same tactic the founding forefathers used when they wrote the Constitution. We have to sit in rooms and argue, debate, listen, yell, state facts and believe the facts, and come up with policies for background checks that can help, as well as access to mental health, domestic-violence policy changes, funding for metal detectors possibly, hotlines for people worried that they know someone who needs a mental-health assessment, more training required if you want to own a certain type of gun that can kill 50 people in a short amount of time, etc., etc. … I put the “etcetera” there on purpose because I don’t know the answer, either.

I do know that I will probably not make it out of a mass shooting alive. I won’t win against an AR-15 or a Glock 45. I won’t, and that’s OK. I never want to have to fight one again, I already got lucky once: I was robbed at gunpoint and made it out alive. And if you think you’re tired of the violence, imagine how the 13-year-old in my school who lost her 3-year-old sister to a drive-by shooting feels. Imagine how I feel, imagine how a 9/11 survivor feels, imagine how a president who has had to hug more than 100 victims’ family members feels. So don’t get tired — get mad, get energetic, and don’t stop because I’m never moving out of the USA. I will stay and make it better. I hope you do, too.

On “Spotlight,” newspapers, the church, and institutional control

spotlight

The cast of “Spotlight.” (Photo by Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films)

In hindsight it felt like I’d been sitting by the phone and waiting for my former colleague Dave Gladow to call and invite me to join him on his new pop-culture podcast, “The Pursuit of Crappiness,” to discuss the recent Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight.” After all, because both of us are newsroom veterans, and “Spotlight” focused on the Boston Globe’s award-winning investigation of the local archdiocese, it seemed like a natural fit.

Just as Hollywood loves making movies about Hollywood, journalists love discussing movies about journalism. Although I conceded rather late in the podcast that the deck might have been stacked in the favor of “Spotlight” to win Best Picture, as, Hollywood also loves making movies about most forms of media, and when you add its social relevance, the win probably was a slam dunk.

But the desire to discuss “Spotlight” had extra meaning for me. As soon as I left the theater after a screening, I could only think of one other thing besides the even-then-tenuous status of newspapers. (The movie is set way back in 2001, long before I’d been laid off, twice — three, counting the immediate aftermath Hurricane Katrina — by newspapers. What also struck me was the unspoken theme of institutional control, and how institutions wrestle with their role in the community and their responsibility to the people they serve.

At its core, “Spotlight” is about a newspaper trying to rise above the incremental reporting it had done on the pedophile priests — and, possibly, the extensive work already done by the rival alt-weekly the Boston Phoenix — and expose the conspiracy to cover up the priests’ illegal and immoral behavior being executed at the top levels of the archdiocese and possibly even the Vatican. As the new executive editor challenges them, why haven’t they “gotten” the big guy?

But “Spotlight” — a procedural on many levels — investigates the process of news gathering at a fragile time for a newspaper is doubly challenged to maintain its relationship with its ever-fickle readership as well as its seemingly cozy relationship with the archdiocese. There’s an early scene in which the new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) — not just a non-Bostonian but also, a Jew — meets with the archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law. It’s a formality, really, a ceremony, in which preaches to Baron of the need for the two institutions to work together to better serve the community. Baron politely and respectfully disagrees, arguing that a newspaper is at its best when serving independently of the church. Law smiles a tight smile, hands him a copy of the Catholic Catechism (another tradition!) and sends him on his way.

From there we see the Boston Globe wrestle with how to cover an institution deeply ingrained in the community, but one that clearly has lost its way in serving it. And we see a Boston Globe already suffering from ever-shrinking ad revenue, and with staffers who have their own relative relationships with the church. (Some are still devout, others not so much.) It’s also wrestling with how deep it needs to dig before getting the story to press before the competition does. (See above clip.)

I’ve probably already given away too much of the podcast, so I’ll stop here. As is once again evident, I could go on all day. I’ll just end by saying that, from this current perch, the institution of newspapers, 15 years since the setting of this movie, is more challenged and compromised than ever.

Thanks again to Dave Gladow for the invite, and I look forward to future chats. And for an early perspective, check out New Orleans author Jason Berry’s 1992 work, “Lead Us Not Into Temptation.”

Oscar-nominated shorts to play at Prytania Theatre (Jan. 29-Feb. 4)

World of Tomorrow

“World of Tomorrow” by Don Hertzfeldt

One of the annual viewing traditions leading up to the Academy Awards is the touring collection of Oscar-nominated short films in the animated, live-action and documentary categories. The Prytania Theatre will continue that tradition by hosting the screening of the films Jan. 29-Feb. 4, the theater announced Thursday (Jan. 14).

The announcement comes on the heals of the announcement of all of the Academy Award nominations, with the ceremony televised Feb. 28 by ABC.

(Read more: Check out the complete list of nominees here.)

Details of the Prytania screening series are sketchy and should be coming soon. Until then, here are the nominated films and their directors:

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
“Body Team 12,” David Darg and Bryn Mooser; “Chau, beyond the Lines,” Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck; “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” Adam Benzine; “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; “Last Day of Freedom,” Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Bear Story,” Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala; “Prologue,” Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton; “Sanjay’s Super Team,” Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle; “We Can’t Live without Cosmos,” Konstantin Bronzit; “World of Tomorrow,” Don Hertzfeldt.

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM
“Ave Maria,” Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont; “Day One,” Henry Hughes; “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut),” Patrick Vollrath; “Shok,” Jamie Donoughue; “Stutterer,” Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage

Check for updates here and on their Facebook event page. The tour is sponsored by Shorts International.

 

 

How would I explain racist elements of movies to my son?

Noble savage: African-American actor Noble Johnson as the

Noble savage: African-American actor Noble Johnson as the “Native Chief” in the 1933 version of “King Kong.” (YouTube)

It was a coin toss on whether to bring along my son, Elijah, for a Sunday morning screening at the Prytania Theatre of the 1933 classic, “King Kong,” along with a good friend of mine. Eli, all 4 years of him, is a coin toss in general when it comes to watching movies in a theater; depending on the movie, its length and his mood, he can be transfixed or restless. I loved the idea of him tagging along — I’m hoping movie moments are among our best father-son moments — but as my friend noted, the movie’s run time, and the long wind-up to the King Kong scenes suggested this might not be the best decision.

When we arrived inside the theater to the sight of other sons with their dads, I cringed. Had I made a mistake? I hate missing opportunities to do fun stuff with Eli, who’s such a gamer it warms my heart. But I rationalized it by reminding myself the juicier parts of the movie would take too long for Eli’s patience.

It wasn’t until later I was reminded of the “other” parts of the movie that makes watching “King Kong” such a problematic endeavor. It’s the jungle scenes, complete with tens of African-American actors in full-on jungle attire, that made me cringe, and wonder: How the hell would I explain this to my African-American son? The natives are indeed restless in these scenes on Skull Island — hopping up and down like madmen, bug-eyed to an extreme, speaking in a foreign gibberish, and serving as the butt of several racist comments by the white characters.

Some critics have suggested that the racism in “King Kong” transcends mere black stereotypes, and that the movie itself has racist allegories — that the taking of a dark creature from the jungle to America is an allusion to the slave trade, and that the relationship between Kong and the Fay Wray character underscored fears of the black male as sexual predator that were rampant in the 1930s (and in some ways persist even today). Check out this description from the website Atlanta Blackstar, which named “King Kong” one of the 11 most racist films of all time:

In “King Kong” movies, especially the 1933 version, Blacks are depicted as subhuman, or primate. In this film, Blacks didn’t even have a distinct way of communicating, only grunting and growling. There are also underlying racist comparisons between King Kong and Black men. King Kong was forcibly taken from his land and brought to the United States in chains. He breaks free then meets his demise due to his insatiable desire for a white woman.

(Also, check out this blog post about all three versions.)

Eli is as curious as the next 4-year-old, maybe more so. The kid is ALWAYS asking questions. I wondered what he might have thought about those jungle sequences, and what he thought about those “savages.” And, how I would have explained those images to him. One thing I did do, after checking out the credits, was look up Noble Johnson, the African-American actor cast as the “Native Chief.” Johnson led an impressive double life in Hollywood as an actor and producer for the company he oversaw: the Lincoln Motion Picture Company, which made “race” films of the era. (Johnson must have had Hollywood in his blood; he knew future silent film star Lon Chaney while growing up in Colorado.)

We’re constantly having to explain some of the edgier stuff that Eli sees on the screen — stuff that’s a little violent, stuff that’s a little scary, etc. And we almost always end it with the explanation, “It’s only make-believe. It’s not real.” Maybe the best thing I could say to Eli was this racist imagery depicted in “King Kong” isn’t real, but that the actor who played the “Native Chief” had a real, commendable and impressive impact on other artists of color. But regardless, it would prove a tough conversation.

So what would you say? How would you explain racist imagery to your young child? I’m all ears.