SweetLeigh

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Cinephile: Race Films & Imitation of Life

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From 1915 to approximately 1951 there was a genre of films known as Race Films. These films were primarily written, directed, produced by Black artists, starring Black artists for Black audiences in segregated or Black movie houses. The existence of African American movie studios is probably a total revelation to most people.  The independent films and studios created outside of the Hollywood Studio system would later be a source for casting Black roles, including the likes of Paul Robeson and Sidney Poitier.

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My darling fellow film aficionado Margarita, sent me a link for an event recently, African American Pioneers in film at NYC ‘s Film Forum. The series features the films of one of the most well-known writer and makers of race films, Oscar Micheaux. Of course that got me thinking about silent films and how The Birth of A Nation, the story of the KKK is seen in the U.S. as a cinematic bright spot. “Technically” speaking of course. But it is far more interesting to me to look at films being made by Black filmmakers at the time to truly learn about Black history, and in essence “American” or U.S. history.

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The first Black film production company was  The Lincoln Motion Picture Company started by African-American actor Noble Johnson and his brother George in 1916. Noble resigned from the company in 1921 due to the demands of his acting career. He was a large man who was in high demand in both silent and talkies as a character actor. He played many ethnic roles from black to Native and was featured in many popular films from 1915 into the 20s and 30s and continued working into the 1950s. In the early days, all of his film roles pay went directly back into the company. Micheaux and others would follow the Johnsons into the race film business.

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Noble Johnson in The Most Dangerous Game

From Micheaux’s catalog, I came across several films online. I love the interwebs! Every genre of film ranging from mysteries to musicals, dramas and romance can be found on Youtube if you know the filmmakers names or titles.  It is really truly amazing so many of these films are largely forgotten. There are 500 known made race films, of them, approximately 100 are available to watch.

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“The race films vanished after United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc., or the Hollywood Antitrust Case of 1948, which forced the division of motion picture exhibitors from the motion picture production companies. African-American participation in World War II contributed to the casting of black actors in lead roles in several Hollywood major productions, such as Pinky with Ethel Waters; Home of the Brave with James Edwards; andIntruder in the Dust, all in 1949; and No Way Out (1950), which was the debut of the notable actor Sidney Poitier.” via Wikipedia

The Riverbends Genealogical and Historical Society has an extraordinary playlist of African American films available here on Youtube.

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Imitation of Life was the first classic film I saw that featured a women of color in a lead role and it easily won my heart. In the film Pinky listed above, the light skinned African American lead character was played by a white actress. But in both the 1934 and 1959 versions of Imitation of Life, actors of color portray the people of color in the film.

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The story is a classic tale of two mothers struggle and sacrifices for their daughters. Two single mothers meet on the beach, both having fallen on hard times, they decide to live and work together to try to get ahead. Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers star in the 1934 version. As their daughters grow up African American actress Fredi Washington plays Beavers daughter, who is removed from African American life and wants to pass.

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Louise Beavers and Fredi Washington

In the 1959 version, Lana Turner and Juanita Moore are the mothers and Moore’s daughter is played by biracial Mexican American Susan Kohner – daughter of Lupe Tovar. Juanita Moore won an Oscar for supporting actress for her role. She was also nominated for the Golden Globe and Laurel Award for supporting actress. Imitation of Life, both versions, are a Must See. Although Moore’s role in particular is reduced to a maid/personal assistant, they carry the films respectively and give beautiful heartfelt performances.

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Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner

xoxo,

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Cinephile: Anna Lucasta

62a5032f628accd5b861157a17541810So if you know me, or have perused my blog for long enough, you understand that I am a Cinephile! Film Fanatic! Movie Maven…. I adore classic film and was literally raised on women centered black and white melodramas featuring High femme goddesses like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck and Claudette Colbert. So many great films, so little time. I am still working on all of their catalogs. I would later learn of Sidney Portier, Dorothy Dandridge, Freddie Washington, Paul Robeson, along side of so many other very talented Black performers in film and television.

But it wasn’t until I was a teenager, that I realized I wasn’t seeing many classic films starring people of color readily available to me. That if they were, the actors were often limited to stereotypes, or  you just couldn’t find the films that featured our most famous Black classic film stars to watch! It took looking long and hard – before google was a verb in our collective vocabulary – to find these films. Remember Movie Guide books!? Thank gawdess for the library, interwebs and dare I say ebay….

This February aka Black History Month, in the face of #Oscarsowhite, I will be centering more of my CineStyle and Cinematic posts on some of my favorite films featuring folks of color. From Black independent film studios, and their productions to mainstream films, foreign films, indie cinema not to mention popular musicals like Carmen Jones featuring complex Black characters. I cannot wait to share more noteworthy films I adore.

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This week’s film is Anna Lucasta, originally a play written about a Polish-American family. The first production of Anna Lucasta was by The American Negro Theater at the Mansfield Playhouse. Very little change was required of the play that debuted in 1944 to critical acclaim for its all Black cast. The production toured for three years, including London and among its touring company was a very young Sidney Portier. In 1949 the first movie adaption opened starring an all white cast, but the remake the 1958 film by Universal Pictures again features an all Black cast.

Anna Lucasta (Eartha Kitt) is still longing for her father’s love and approval, after being cast from the home as a teenage girl for coming of age and being attractive to boys, read – slut shaming. But there are inklings of an even uglier secret there. She falls into a life of prostitution and into the arms of street-wise sailor Danny Johnson (Sammy Davis Jr.). Anna’s conniving siblings send her father to bring Anna back home to barter her off to a visiting young house guest for his fortune. When Anna returns to the family home and is embraced by the well-intentioned suitor, her abusive father sets a hateful plan in motion to destroy Anna’s hopes for a future.

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I watched Anna Lucasta for the first time just before seeing Breakfast At Tiffany’s for the first and only time. Which led to some basic comparisons of the two tales of two women, both existing through their desirability to men.

While Anna Lucasta is 100% drama Breakfast at Tiffany’s is 30% glamorous lifestyle tour, maybe 30% dramedy and 40% romance. I don’t have a problem with glamour or romance! But I was absolutely floored and disappointed when Andy Rooney appeared in yellow face as a caricature of a Japanese landlord to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly. Horror of horrors. Breakfast at Tiffany’s was forever tarnished for me that very second.

Both films however share women leads who learn to begin to like themselves after being seen and possibly loved without judgment by another. Because it is a serious drama, and a stage adaptation, Anna Lucasta has more character development and context for Anna’s circumstance and desire to be loved. Unlike Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Butterfield 8 later in 1960, our heroine is quick to brush off her cynicism and become optimistic when given the chance.

23dcd20bedc0596ed3bf485008eadfdaAnna Lucasta is full of well-formed characters and a surprisingly bittersweet ending. The screenplay and original play were written by Phillip Yordan, the 1958 production was directed by Arnold Laven. Eartha Kitt as Anna Lucasta, Sammy Davis Jr. as Danny Johnson Frederick O’Neal as Frank, Rosetta LeNoire as Stella, Isabelle Cooley as Katie Lucasta, Henry Scott as Rudolph Slocum and Rex Ingram as Joe Lucasta.

Bonus! Sammy Davis Jr. and Eartha Kitt dated three years prior to making the film. ❤

Every member of the cast performs beautifully. Don’t worry you can put away your hankies. Even through the sad realizations, it still feels like there is hope at the end of this tunnel for Anna Lucasta. And because I love you, here is a link available to view the film as on Youtube! Yes, lovelies! You’re welcome.

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xoxo,

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CineStyle: Rosemary’s Baby

 

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This time of year, every year there are two films that I HAVE to watch, John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), baby!  Rosemary’s Baby follows young newlyweds who move into a beautiful apartment building. Soon they are surrounded by peculiar neighbors and odd occurrences. When the wife becomes pregnant, paranoia over the safety of her unborn child begins to control her life.

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A movie about a satanic cult that manages to produce a fresh contemporary take that delivers redonkulous style, and glamour including the greatest house makeover on film maybe ever..? YES PLEASE! You can also pick a subtext. I say that not having read the original novel by Ira Levine. I prefer the evil underbelly of the upper class to the traumas of childbirth analogies. But I amm sure there are many a theory to choose from.

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Roman Polanski directed the film and Cinematographer (Director of Photography), William A. Fraker creates an unbelievable tension through lighting the gorgeous setting of the Dakota (Apartments) a real-life NYC upper west side cooperative apartment building known for celebrity tenants at the time and built in the early 1880s.

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Not unlike Hitchcock, Polanski leaves the most important aspect of the film to the imagination. Add to that, the artful camera angles and it’s obvious why Rosemary’s Baby is both a classic horror film and a cult classic. It is the clear predecessor for films like The Omen and Audrey Rose. Stanley Kubrick credits watching Rosemary’s Baby as the impetus to tackle the genre himself  with The Shining.

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Some of my favorites star in this film, most importantly, amazing actor, activist, pixie queen and humanitarian Mia Farrow,  and great filmmaker/actor John Cassavetes as Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse. The divine Ruth Gordon won an Academy Award (Oscar) and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role as alternately endearing and creepy Minnie Castevet.  I swoon over this film every time. And it creeps me out, EVERY time.

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Some more fun obsessive compulsive links about Rosemary’s Baby can be found here, here, here and here! Because there will never be enough geek outs over this movie. And thank you Film Grabber for these amazing stills! ❤

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xoxo,

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Cinephile: Inside Out

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This is not a review. This, however, is a dead-on review by Mayka Mei. I didn’t know anything about the latest Disney/Pixar movie until my friend Nati posted lots of adorable videos and pics and FB statuses about it. Then I watched it and cried my little eyes out with Joy and Sadness. The big reveal is so simple but really has been one of the hardest lessons of my life.

I was angry for so much of my adolescence, depressed and in denial throughout my late teens and early 20s. In my mid-30s I was given a label/diagnosis by a Dr. and started to acknowledge and embrace my sadness. It wasn’t until my late 30’s that I owned being a depressive person and stopped feeling shame about it.

Honoring your feelings is the thing. Honoring your feelings and moving through them if you can, is the thing. There is no shame in feeling depressed, asking for help when you need it to cope or manage your feelings. Sometimes honoring those feelings is just riding the waves of emotion.

I am a cinephile and I have come to realize that movies are a huge emotional release for me. It is rare for me not to cry during a movie. Even a rom-com or silly comedy – if done well – will lead me to tear up if not have a full on bawling episode.

I don’t use film as an escape, but as a way to passively connect with my feelings. Especially when I am too much inside of my own thoughts. Since I began doing self-acceptance work, hard work, I realized that so much of it was about finding my motivation from my heart instead of my head. Inside Out is a beautiful reminder of that.

Feeling like you have to be happy all of the time is not the way to honor your experience. It is for most people not authentic. And it hurts people to see happy as the end goal. Living a beautiful life includes tears and sorrow. There is no joy without sadness.


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CineStyle: Pretty In Pink Of Course.

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Written by John Hughes and directed by Howard Deustch, Pretty In Pink is the story of Andie Walsh (Molly Ringwald). Andie is a senior in high school from the wrong side of the tracks. She works, does well in school, and takes care of her unemployed father. He still pines away for the woman who left them behind. Although Andie is mature beyond her years and an outsider at school, she longs for the things teenagers long for, a date to the prom. When she falls in love with Blaine, a rich kid, they both become the targets of scrutiny from her best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer) and his best friend Steff (James Spader who epitomizes male white privilege in every scene) as well as their entire preppy crew. Andie has to decide whether or not to stand up for herself and what she wants and pursue a relationship with Blaine. Will they go to the prom?

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Marilyn Vance is the costume designer responsible for creating the wardrobe for the Molly Ringwald/John Hughes trifecta, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. Divine creative madness… You could also say she is partially responsible for my love of vintage, a staple of my youth but more so that she is wholly responsible for my love of refashioning as I first witnessed in the film when Andie endeavors to make the now infamous prom dress . Thank You Marilyn Vance!

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While Andie’s best girlfriend went the straight up punk route and the Rich kids were decked out in pure pastel prep through and through, Andie fell in between with her post punk granny chic. There were really only two looks that I absolutely loved on Andie both were pants that I immediately tried to emulate with my own wardrobe – to the amusement of the grocery store clerk. Kids are going to experiment, be kind.

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Duckie is perfection. He was the best of vintage shops, so stylish, so sweet and sentimental. He wore his heart on his vintage blazer sleeves along with and pins and brooches, military patches and ofcourse those worn out fabulous Duck shoes (Creepers).

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The main style attraction for me in this film is by far Iona. Caring, funny, a post punk new wave chameleon. My wannabe BFF who loves glamour vintage and playing. The “Costume” looks Vance gives her are so simply, BadAss. Iona is the style star of Pretty In Pink. Easily. Blaine and Steff aren’t really worth mentioning, although James Spader will always have my heart. He was and is so good at being bad.

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The Prom Dress. Most people hate it. I didn’t. I bought it hook line and sinker. This quirky, very individual girl, gathers up all of her courage and chooses to stand proud and alone at the prom – in this utterly unique design of her own making. Back then there were no sewing blogs, DIY’s, or designer’s latest collections to mimic at the touch of your computer. Back then we had to just have imagination, and read a lot. So yes, I love the extremely creative imagination of this very cool and brave 17 year old girl. I love  the dress.

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Movies are such a joy. And I love John Hughes films especially because I was growing up when these movies were made. They are a touchstone to my own adolescence. And somehow John Hughes always managed to touch your heart, get real and wrap it up in a never forced happy ending. I’ve been kinda blue lately. I think its time to get out my copy of Pretty In Pink. Cue OMD….

XOXO

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CineStyle: ZuckerBaby (1985)

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Percy Adlon stole a piece of my heart when I first saw Zuckerbaby (Sugarbaby). I suppose its because, like his films to follow, it is centered around quirky characters with kind hearts the only way I’d truly be happy with someone describing me. Zuckerbaby is a German (formerly West German) film that quickly became one of my favorite films and still is. I rented it from the little VHS video shop 3 blocks from my house in 1986 or 1987.  It was just before the movie Baghdad Cafe came out. Another favorite Adlon film of mine. I also fell in love with his favorite leading lady at the time – who starred in both films, Marianne Sägebrecht

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Marianne is a lonely funeral home assistant who cares for the deceased. Her daily routine is captured in her lonely little apartment, dreary place of work, and even her sad supermarket that seems to further depress her. One day she is awoken from this monotonous existence by a voice. A man’s voice that carries her away on her subway commute home. Finding herself far from home she gets off the train to see before her the train’s conductor. A young handsome man who has seemingly given her a new found purpose.

Due 8 weeks vacation, 38 year old Marianne negotiates 5 weeks off from her job and sets out to seduce this 25 year old young man. Plotting to determine who he is and how to find him she undergoes a metamorphosis. She goes from a shy and reclusive lonely woman to an emboldened, fearless huntress who not only finds her prey but wins his heart.
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One of the things I love most about the film is this candy colored world  that Marianne lives in. The colors of her world begin to transform from oppressive to brightening and from sad to sultry. Long before the Visible Belly Outline started to trend among fat activists, there was Marianne in that pink dress circa 1985. Needless to say I love her wardrobe. Chic, sexy and yes she is braless in most of her ensembles. And those shoes above. My goodness….

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I have been told by people my entire adult life how impressed they were with how comfortable I was in my body. That hasn’t always been true and although I feel comfortable in my skin, I am often affected by other people’s assumptions on my person. As we all know our feelings of self worth and self image can fluctuate on any given day. But watching this film as a teenager gifted me an image of a fat/larger women finding her joy and celebrating her sensuality and sexuality as a fact of life.

When you consider the limited imagery of people of size living their lives much less being represented as sexual beings, is it any wonder fat women especially have been so maligned and marginalized? Perhaps having seen this film gave me an advantage over many of my peers growing up. I saw this character, and believed that it was possible to be fat and desired, fat and confident, fat and content.

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In the U.S. not long after the film had been released Ricki Lake starred in a made for TV remake. You may have seen it, its called BabyCakes. Unlike Sugarbaby/Zuckerbaby the leading man in BabyCakes has no intention of accepting Ricki’s invitation to dinner at her house. He shows up only because he’s too drunk to make it home and had her address in his pocket. The “American” spin is one filled with cliches and excuses for why an attractive man has to be won over to a large woman based on her personality. In Babycakes it is thought unthinkable he might desire to get to know her, or desire her period.

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What is most impressive about Adlon’s screenplay for Zuckerbaby is that it never slights its subject or characters by reducing them to cliches. He merges the bittersweet realities of life with the fantastic joy in pursing ones desire. He creates a magical realism that is hard to resist and easy to believe.

xoxo

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Character Study: Denise Huxtable

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Oh my GAWD! The television show A Different World just showed up on Netflix to stream in its entirety! Leave it to Netflix to get me waxing nostalgic! A Different World was a great show that showed a diversity of Black people going to college that had never been seen before. Such a great funny show. And yes it had a lot of lesson episodes, because college kids are still kids, growing up.If you haven’t seen it check it out!  It was the the spin off of a little show called The Cosby Show that starred Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable going to historically Black Hillman College. Oddly enough I had been planning on donig a DH tribute anywho so can’t give them all of the credit! So Cool! Marathon is pending. But first we have to talk about Lisa or actually, Denise.

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Denise Huxtable was my first Alternative Black Girl. I later learned that she was almost every teenage girl’s favorite 80s TV style icon!  Not to mention just plain cool girl. Never mean, always cool. even when she was riled up. spoke her truth and kept it real. Vanessa was a little more shrill(!) in her early days but cool too as she became a teenager! #justsayin. Denise’s wardrobe full of Japanese designer pieces, prints and fabulous asymmetrical voluminous clothes screamed Bohemian art chics unite! Most of all it said Be your own fabulous self. And although there were plenty of outfits I would gladly have worn out of that closet, It wasn’t just about the sense of style that she had! Denise just resonated ease and confidence.That’s what we all admired, her ability to be that easy, that confident, AND that unique. Even if its total mythology, we still do!

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Apparently we have Costume Designer Sara Lemire to thank for the unique and extremely stylish Huxtables. In a 1987 Interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “With Lisa, I would have gone much more outrageous with the hair and hats, but I don’t have much control over the hair,” says Lemire, 44. (Other people are in charge of hair and makeup.) “Lisa always had great taste and liked great things. For me, it was like dressing myself if I was 20 years younger.” Can you imagine if she did what she wanted to do with Denise’s look??  Gush!

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Fun Fact: Lisa Bonet had eloped with musician Lenny Kravitz on November 16, 1987, announced that she was preggers in early 1988. A pregnant college freshman was not what the producers of A Different World had in mind, so she was fired! Of course she was rehired back on The Cosby Show for Season Five. Of course, she was outfitted in even bigger oversize jackets and loose-fitting patterned shirts until she conveniently went away to  Zaire to work with a photographer. When she came back from Africa, she was Denise Kendall, wife of a Navy officer and her wardrobe took another fabulous turn, as did her hair! Different as it should be but still fab. As always not afraid of perception and a stylin Icon. Who never took herself too seriously.

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Denise Huxtable and all of the Huxtable women were in fact Style Icons of not only the time, but forever! I love how the Philadelphia Inquirer piece ends. It is still so very relevant: ‘ “Most of all, Lemire keeps exploring the power of television, how it affects clothing and clothing affects characters and viewers. “I look at a lot of television and can’t understand what the costume designers are doing,” she says, shaking her head. “It looks like a lot of people have forgotten that it’s a visual medium.” ‘ So Freakin’ True, almost 30 years later!  I LOVE You Denise! No worries there will be a Lisa Bonet Style Icon post in the near future! I got you.

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For amazing Denise Love check out HuxtableHotness on Tumblr and a google search will hook you up like it did me. Thanks gawds I have responsibilities!

xoxo
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