Did You See This?

Tall Talk and a Triple Issue

Jharrel Jerome in Boots Riley’s I’m a Virgo (2023)

At the end of last week, the future of Turner Classic Movies looked worse than tentative. This week saw a turnaround. Warner Bros. Discovery reversed its decision to fire Charles Tabesh, the senior vice president of programming and production who has been with TCM for twenty-five years. The team is still considerably smaller than it was just a few weeks ago, but Paul Thomas Anderson, Martin Scorsese, and Steven Spielberg have agreed to help curate the program. While it may be hard to imagine the three high-profile directors with demanding day jobs getting into the nitty-gritty work of round-the-clock programming, their support has got to be a boost to wounded morale.

Another developing story finally saw the closure that many sensed was inevitable. English actor Julian Sands, who disappeared in January while hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, was officially pronounced dead. He was sixty-five. “Julian was basically my ensemble,” writes Mike Figgis in the Guardian. Figgis and Sands made eight films together, including Leaving Las Vegas (1995). Sands is remembered for his leading turns in Steve Miner’s Warlock (1989) and Jennifer Lynch’s Boxing Helena (1993) and for his memorable supporting performances in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991), Václav Marhoul’s The Painted Bird (2019), and Terence Davies’s Benediction (2021).

Playing Percy Bysshe Shelley, Sands was an essential addition to the outstanding ensemble cast of Ken Russell’s Gothic (1986), which included Gabriel Byrne, Natasha Richardson, and Timothy Spall. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw remembers Sands’s “extraordinarily (and to his fans, hypnotically) eccentric screen presence—distrait, elegant, deadly serious, and otherworldly—and that utterly distinctive voice: softly melodious, slightly strangulated, nasal, and decelerated; he delivered lines at about sixty to seventy percent of the speed at which other actors spoke.”

Sands first broke through playing the free-spirited George Emerson in A Room with a View, James Ivory’s 1985 adaptation of E. M. Forster’s 1908 novel. Writing in the Guardian in 2014, Laura Barton recalled taking inspiration from Sands’s performance. “There was lust in there, certainly,” she wrote, but “there was another kind of desire in me, too. Part of it lay in his approach to life, in his embracing of the ‘eternal yes’—in his fondness for painting Thoreau quotations on wardrobe doors and question marks on picture frames, as well as for climbing up into the trees and shouting at the sky, ‘Beauty! Joy!,’ until he falls from the branches.”

We also lost Frederic Forrest this week. His supporting performance as a Texas limousine driver who becomes romantically entangled with a rock star played by Bette Midler in Mark Rydell’s The Rose (1979) scored him an Oscar nomination. But Forrest, who was eighty-six, will likely be remembered first and foremost for two contrasting portrayals in films directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In The Conversation (1974), Forrest is, as Ryan Gilbey puts it in the Guardian, “bookish, furtive, and opaque” as he meanders around San Francisco’s Union Square with his lover (Cindy Williams) and utters the line that Gene Hackman’s Harry Caul, a surveillance expert, plays and replays from his tape: “He’d kill us if he got the chance.”

In Apocalypse Now (1979), Forrest plays Chef, a member of the ragtag platoon led upriver by Martin Sheen’s Willard, whose mission is to terminate Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. After a jump scare prompted by a tiger in the Vietnamese jungle, Chef screeches a lesson even Willard takes to heart: “Never get out of the boat!” Forrest’s “wide, startled eyes, soup-strainer mustache, and floppy hat with its upturned brim lent him a goofy, knockabout air,” writes Gilbey. “Even amid the film’s widespread carnage, his grisly eventual demise was strongly felt.

Early on Friday, Alan Arkin’s sons—Adam, Matthew, and Anthony—announced that their father had passed away. He was eighty-nine. Arkin was first nominated for an Oscar for his leading performance in Norman Jewison’s comedy The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming (1966), and three more nominations followed. He won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a foul-mouthed grandfather in Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’s Little Miss Sunshine (2006). Next week, we’ll take a longer look back on Arkin’s wide-ranging career as both an actor and director.

A few highlights from the past seven days:

  • Boots Riley, founder of the hip hop group the Coup, has followed up on his debut feature, Sorry to Bother You (2018), with a series for Amazon, I’m a Virgo. Jharrel Jerome plays Cootie, a thirteen-foot-tall Black teen who falls in with a band of politically engaged Oaklanders. The show “electrified me with its madcap wit, blazingly original vision, and white-hot (but also constructive!) rage against the machine,” tweets Devika Girish, flagging the latest episode of the Film Comment Podcast in which she and Clinton Krute talk with Riley about American communists, the WGA strike, working in an industry run by megacorporations, and of course, I’m a Virgo.

  • Anyone who’s experienced a film by Lucrecia Martel won’t be surprised by the way she describes her relationship to sound in her conversation with Rory O’Connor at the Film Stage. “Our entire culture has faith in vision more than the other senses,” she says. “If we had based ourselves on sound instead of image we would have wound up in a different place, especially regarding the idea of time. So imagine you’re in a cinema, that’s a volume, and then the images are running over a flat surface, but everything that surrounds you—everything that’s tactile, that touches you—is the sound.” When O’Connor asks Martel what film she’s seen that might have triggered such ideas, she names What Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Robert Aldrich’s campy thriller starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford: “It’s a spectacular movie.”

  • In the 1960s, the Gay Girls Riding Club “became a notable presence in the burgeoning lavender demimonde,” writes Ed Halter for the New York Review of Books. Metrograph is currently streaming five of the raucous, low-budget parodies made by the private Hollywood social club, all of them recently restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive and the American Genre Film Archive with the help of queer film historian Elizabeth Purchell. What Really Happened to Baby Jane (1963), a spoof of Aldrich’s movie, “was a particular hit,” notes Halter, “though it was listed sub rosa in ads as a ‘classic GGRC Gothic satire,’ perhaps to avoid lawsuits—testimony to the healthy word-of-mouth reputation the group must have had among queer audiences.”

  • A recent viewing of a worn VHS copy of Harvey Keith’s Mondo New York (1988) has prompted a breezy primer from John Menick on Kim’s Video, pre-Internet home viewing in general, and the mondo subgenre of exploitation movies, many of which were “shot through with distorted imaginings of a non-white world, a largely fictional place populated with ‘savages’ rendered inhuman and sexualized. Sometimes the whole affair was dressed up with a bogus world-weary political angle. (‘Look how awful things are in Africa!’) Sometimes, no such bad faith was needed. Mondo chased the buzz of shockumentary thrills—thrills as conceived by white people for white people. That dreary project never completely dies.”

  • Heading into the long weekend, you might want to take the new triple issue of Offscreen with you. It opens with editor Donato Totaro’s playful video incorporating clips of commentary on cinema from Alfred Hitchcock and his fleeting cameos in his own films and then buckles down with essays on architecture in the work of Fritz Lang, Andrei Tarkovsky, and David Cronenberg. A section on documentaries features fresh writing on films by Peter Watkins, Laura Poitras, Jacquelyn Mills, and Werner Herzog, and the issue wraps with new book reviews.

Subscribe to the RSS feed, and for news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

You have no items in your shopping cart