Discover more from 812: Film Reviews and Other Musings
October 2022: Interviews, Twitter, and Black Silent Films
Monthly Roundup Post
Welcome to my newsletter! Every month you’ll receive this update featuring all of my writing, and my favorite film and television watches.
October proved to be a month of upheaval. Let’s start with the small: I didn’t manage to write many film reviews, which wasn’t by design! Instead, I did a lot more interviews, and, in the process, I remembered how much I enjoy doing them. I talked with so many smart, passionate Black directors and creators, and not all of it has been published (primarily a conversation with Anna Diop of Nanny and with Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman, the filmmakers behind Neptune Frost, both of which will be coming soon). I suspect, this major increase in interviews will remain the same in November and December. I already have a couple conversations scheduled for the upcoming Virginia Film Festival, and with awards season upon us, the possibilities are really exponential (I might be talking with a proverbial white whale that I’m hoping to confirm soon. Stay tuned!!).
The big change, of course, is the change in ownership of Twitter instigated by Elon Musk’s purchase of the social media platform. As of the moment, I’m not going anywhere. I will remain on Twitter. I still believe the platform has the capabilities of reaching a wide audience, and I want the films I cover to gain some additional attention by me sharing my work there. It’s important for me to be in a place where I believe I can do the most good. I’ve been fumbling around with places like Discord and Mastodon, and have found little luck (please don’t send me how-to articles on either platform. I’ve read more than my share), to the point that I don’t think I will be adopting either of them as my primary platform anytime soon. And while I despise everything Musk represents, and am extremely concerned about the right-wing element growing on Twitter, until it’s a wholly unusable platform, I will probably continue using it, if only because it’s where my primary audience exists. I do understand, however, if others search for safe havens away from the toxicity of Twitter. If you wish to keep up with my work through these monthly newsletters rather than awaiting my tweet(s) (and my dozens of boosting retweets), then I highly suggest you subscribe to this newsletter (which is always free). I do believe in the power of the internet to be an unifying, social tool. And I’m glad you’ve stopped by here, if only for a few seconds. Thank you.
The big news: This edition of my newsletter is obsolete. For the time being, I’ve decided to deactivate my Twitter.
Now to the business of the newsletter, here’s my work from this past month: A batch of pieces whose unifying theme, I’ve noticed, is representation and memory, and how we choose to honor those who came before us.
We’re still in festival season, so of course I attended Chicago International Film Festival where I watched a couple of the more ballyhooed fall prestige films (hated The Whale; enjoyed Women Talking; loved The Banshees of Inisherin). I was also very fortunate (and honored) to serve on the Gotham Awards committee for Best Film Performance, Best Supporting Film Performance, and Best Breakthrough Performance. I served on a wonderful jury of critics I admire and try to emulate on daily basis with regards to their attention to detail, curiosity, and openness. I truly have to pinch myself that I get to do projects like this.
Also, I’ve been making my way through Jacqueline Stewart’s indispensable survey of early-Black moviegoing: Migrating to the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity. I initially bought the book to write a long-gestating piece that I still plan to write (once I’m finished reading her book and another piece of literature entitled Flickering Empire by Michael Glover Smith and Adam Selzer). To accompany my readings of Stewart’s words, I’ve found myself watching the short silent Black films (one reels and travelogues) she references. The learning experience has been invaluable. Her observations about the politics of the camera and the politics of spectatorship has seriously altered how I view movies, especially contemporary pictures.
As a result, I watched 92 movies in October. Here are some of my highlights (by the way, you can keep up with all of the films I log by following me on Letterboxd).
A Fool and His Money - This short from the pioneering French director Alice Guy-Blaché was re-watch for me that came about due to Stewart’s aforementioned book. This historically significant picture, the first to feature an all-Black cast, is a tightly constructed, well-acted romp about a man who discovers sudden wealth through unscrupulous means.
The Banshees of Inisherin - I hated Three Billboards. But I loved In Bruges. With Martin McDonagh re-teaming Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two country men whose friendship mysteriously collapses as the Irish Civil War rages around them, I was immediately hooked. And for good reason. This melancholic, yet hilarious story is buoyed by a full cast of tremendous performances with Farrell being the primary highlight.
Friday Foster - This might be my biggest Pam Grier blindspot. Here, she portrays a photographer who becomes the target of murderers after she witnesses an assassination. A young Carl Weathers (pre-Rocky) features prominently here. As does Godfrey Cambridge in his final film role. Oh, and Grier certainly kicks ass too in a film where her screen presence, per usual, is off the charts.
Häxan - It only took me 100 years to get to Benjamin Christensen’s 1922 silent horror classic, but this evocatively horny dismantling of the religious hysteria that led to patriarchal religious leaders to persecute women as witches was worth the wait.
Near Dark - Before this month, there were two Kathryn Bigelow films I’d not watched: The Weight of Water and Near Dark. October is as good a time as any to watch this gritty and grimy, plains state vampire movie featuring a killer Bill Paxton performance where he goes full, blood-thirsty gonzo with zero inhibitions. I highly recommend reading Angelica Jade Bastién’s vivid thoughts on the film.
Queen of Glory - Apart from playing at Tribeca in 2021, writer/director Nana Mensah’s narrative chronicling of an educated daughter taking over her mother’s beauty shop following her sudden death, has flown somewhat under the radar. But this smart story, centered around a highly specified Ghanaian immigrant experience is a heart-warming tale about embracing one’s culture and neighborhood rather than assimilation.
Practical Magic - I sheepishly must admit that while I’ve seen the gif of Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Stockard Channing, Dianne Wiest dancing around a kitchen island, fancifully waving margaritas above their heads, I had not watched the movie (a very 2022 statement by me). A family of witches living in a secluded seaside town serves as the background to a generational curse, sibling angst, and a spell gone wrong in a film that reminds you how easily the 1990s produced sturdy, rewatchable entertainment vehicles for its biggest stars.
Reform School - A nuanced and early portrait of the juvenile detention center to prison industrial pipeline, this incisive picture gives Louise Beavers (Imitation of Life) a chance to show how she should could play a different kind of role; here, as an activist who becomes a head of a reform school, she sinks her teeth into this character, and in the process, makes you wonder what more she could’ve accomplished in a less prejudice Hollywood system.
Return to Seoul - Cambodia’s submission to the Academy Awards, Davy Chou’s film is a blitzkrieg of raw emotions. Kinetic in its energy, and as deep as the place where its protagonist hides her forlornness, confusion, identity and sense of abandonment. Park Ji-min, pardon the cliché, though it’s apt, is a revelation as the lead.
Sammy Davis Jr: I’ve Gotta Be Me - This Sam Pollard documentary recounts the life and career of the famed Rat Pack member (for my money the most talented of the bunch) Sammy Davis Jr. Pollard has a way of pulling out the key points of humanity from major Black, pop culture figures, and he does some of his best work with this complicated entertainer.