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The Possibilities and Poetry of Summer

Albert Hall and Denzel Washington in Carl Franklin’s Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)

As the week began, we were mourning Bob Rafelson, and the losses kept hitting hard. Paul Sorvino—who is both charming and intimidating opposite the late James Caan in Karel Reisz’s The Gambler (1974), and who continued to inspire a unique blend of fear and love as Sergeant Phil Cerreta on Law & Order and Paul Cicero in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (1993)—died on Monday at the age of eighty-three. Sorvino was “an opera singer who acted,” writes Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulture. “Sorvino didn’t merely play roles. He sang them, quietly or boldly.”

David Warner, who joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962 and, as Steve Rose notes in the Guardian, was regarded as “the finest Hamlet of his generation,” died on Sunday at eighty. As an in-demand character actor, he appeared in more than two hundred films and television episodes. “I had long been in awe of him as an actor,” wrote artist and filmmaker Tacita Dean on Thursday, “especially for his performance in Alain Resnais’s great film Providence (1977).” When she worked with Warner a few years ago, he “regaled me with stories about how much Providence had meant to him.”

Mary Alice, who won a Tony for her performance in the original Broadway production of August Wilson’s Fences and an Emmy for her recurring role in the drama series I’ll Fly Away, died on Wednesday. She was eighty-five. She played the matriarch of a middle-class Black family in Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger (1990) and the Oracle in the Wachowskis’ The Matrix Revolutions (2003). In the “cult favorite Sparkle (1976), the Harlem-set rags-to-riches story inspired by The Supremes, Alice was memorable as Effie, the single mom raising daughters played by Irene Cara, Lonette McKee and Dwan Smith,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes.

On to the week’s brighter highlights:

  • Light Industry cofounder Thomas Beard and Film at Lincoln Center programmer Dan Sullivan have curated a weeklong series opening today, New York, 1962–1964: Underground and Experimental Cinema. On the Film Comment Podcast, Beard talks with filmmakers Nathaniel Dorsky and Jerome Hiler about the scene in the city during those years marked by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassination of JFK, their own work, and that of such movers and shakers as Jonas Mekas, Gregory J. Markopoulos, Stan Brakhage, and Bruce Conner. “This is a very important precursor stage to the emergence of New Hollywood, which quickly started ripping them off,” Sullivan tells Billy Anania at Hyperallergic. In the New York Times, J. Hoberman recommends Adolfas Mekas’s Hallelujah the Hills (1963), which is “nothing if not exuberant.” The series runs in conjunction with an exhibition on view at the Jewish Museum through January 8 and a program at Film Forum running through August 11.

  • As Julian Kimble writes in the essay accompanying our new release, Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Carl Franklin’s adaptation of novelist Walter Mosley’s first Easy Rawlins mystery starring Denzel Washington, sends us “on a journey through [1948] Black Los Angeles and into the shadows of the city’s white aristocracy, showing how much race informs the ways the power brokers play their hands.” The film itself has had a rough journey, and Franklin has been talking about it with Mitchell Beaupre at the Film Stage, Robert Daniels at the Playlist, and Slate’s Dan Kois. “If you really want to just make money and you don’t want to check yourself in terms of what your moral compass is telling you, what your sense of humanity demands, then you can do quite well,” says Franklin, talking about the “pact with the devil” Rawlins makes when he’s tempted. “That’s America.”

  • A couple of weeks ago, the Paris Review and New York’s Metrograph launched a series of cohosted screenings, starting with of Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues (1961), which stars Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman as expatriate jazz musicians who fall for a couple of American tourists played by Diahann Carroll and Joanne Woodward. The screening was introduced by Darryl Pinckney—the Review has posted his remarks in full—and Metrograph is running an excerpt from Pinckney’s essay in the current issue. “It was 1964 and here was this film, the sound turned down way low, that showed me clearly, cross-legged on the floor in the television’s light, the white man to come, the vulnerable buddy waiting for me in Paris, the companion of feelings that had no bedtimes,” he writes. “Even the Beatles were just boys to me after seeing Paris Blues for the first time.”

  • Just when you think you’ve read more than enough about David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future, along comes the Nation with one of the most insightful pieces yet about both the film and its writer and director. “The body, that object of eternal obsession, perpetually surveilled and self-policed, is a site of great danger,” writes Beatrice Loayza. “Errant bodies, then, are as much a threat to the status quo, testing our willingness to embrace the monstrous.” If Cronenberg’s films “promiscuously stake out the possibilities of the future and the novel ways in which we might inhabit it, then the body is a testing ground where the ineffable and the unthinkable might be grasped for the first time.”

  • Let’s wrap with a breezily paced stroll through some of Sukhdev Sandhu’s favorite summer movies. For Prospect, he writes about Spike Lee’s “fever-pitch atmospherics” in Do the Right Thing (1989); Stevan Riley’s Fire in Babylon (2010), “a vivid remembrance of gladiatorial times past”; Joseph Losey’s “simple and exquisitely painful” The Go-Between (1971); Jacques Deray’s La piscine (1969), a film “opiated to the point of decadence”; and Ingmar Bergman’s Summer with Monika (1953), “the film that captures the possibilities and poetry of summer most headily.”

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