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Goat

Any discussion of toxic masculinity, or the ways in which brotherhood in all its forms can get twisted, is likely to be muted by second-guessing…

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The Age of Shadows

At 140 minutes, Kim sometimes loses the rhythm of his spy thriller, but he's such a confident filmmaker—and his leading man such a magnetic presence—that…

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Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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* This filmography is not intended to be a comprehensive list of this artist’s work. Instead it reflects the films this person has been involved with that have been reviewed on this site.

#269 January 24, 2016

Sheila writes: Many of you have probably already heard the exciting news that Guillermo Del Toro's stunning "Crimson Peak" has been chosen as the opening film of this year's Ebertfest (from April 13th, through Sunday, April 17th), with Del Toro attending as the honorary guest. Seeing "Crimson Peak", in all its visual splendor, on the gigantic screen at the Virginia Theater in Champaign, Illinois, will be thrilling. You can read more information here (with links to purchase Ebertfest passes). The other films that will play at Ebertfest have not been announced yet, but stay tuned!

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Jeni le Gon: The first black woman signed by Hollywood was livin' and dancin' in great big way

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My good Sun-Times pal from the 1970s at the Chicago Sun-Times, Cynthia Dagnal, wrote me today:

"A friend in London sent me this, obituary from the London indpendent and I was stunned to see that Jeni Le Gon attended the same Southside dancing school in Chicago that I did. It was probably the most reputable one on that side of the "color line," and not very far from my house. So I studied with the younger "protégés" of Mary Bruce, and all those cute pics of me in little but EXPENSIVE tutus and whatnot that I sometimes use on my blogs are reminders of those days! I took tap, jazz and ballet as a wee one, and loved to walk around en pointe all day long in those danged--and also expensive--toe shoes!"

Le Gon (born in Georgia Aug. 24,1916; died December 7, 2012) was the first African-American women to sign with a major studio, but there was more to it that that. From the loving obit by Stephen Bourne in the Independent:

"Following her screen debut, the vivacious Le Gon was signed by MGM and paid the huge sum of $1,250 a week. They gave her a role in Broadway Melody of 1936 but, she said, "MGM hosted a party for the mayors of various cities and the cast of Broadway Melody of 1936 entertained them. Eleanor Powell, the famous tap dancer from Broadway, had also been signed for the movie and after I stopped the show on performance night at the mayors' party, MGM decided they couldn't have two tap dancers in the picture and I was dropped from the studio. If I had been white, they would have kept me because I could have developed into something, but they let me go. While I was at MGM I was told I wasn't allowed to eat in the main dining room. Here, they were paying me $1,250 a week and telling me I wasn't good enough to eat in their dining room. But Hollywood was no different to the rest of the country in that respect."

Also from the obit:

" She played maids to Maria Montez in Arabian Nights (1942), Ann Miller in Easter Parade (1948) and Betty Hutton in Somebody Loves Me (1952). Tiring of maid roles, Le Gon faced humiliation in 1950 when she joined a group of black actors to call on Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild. They raised their concerns about the stereotyping of black actors, but Reagan showed no interest: "We tried to get him to intervene for us, but he wasn't the least bit sympathetic. He didn't even lie about it."

After moving with her family to Chicago, Le Gon attended Mary Bruce's School of Dancing. At the age of 16, she embarked on a professional career after successfully auditioning for the chorus of the Count Basie Orchestra. After arriving in California in the mid-1930s, Le Gon's energetic and expert dancing skills were noticed by Earl Dancer, a black producer and talent scout. Dancer took Le Gon under his wing and he was instrumental in bringing her to the attention of various Hollywood studios.

She made her film debut in RKO Radio's Hooray for Love (1935), in a lively musical sequence in which she was teamed with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Fats Waller. The trio's rendition of "I'm Livin' in a Great Big Way" was sensational and, after Hooray for Love, Fats Waller employed Le Gon as a vocalist and dancer with his band. Le Gon explained to his biographer, Alyn Shipton, how Waller helped to shape her stage act: "I danced like a boy - I did flips and knee drops and toe stands and all that sort of business so, when I had to sing after I'd danced, he gave me these cute little numbers so that I could talk-sing." In 1984, referring to her toe stands, and to Michael Jackson, Le Gon commented: "That Michael fella, they say he invented it. All the girls from my era did that."

Le Gon was warmly received in Britain when she opened at London's Adelphi Theatre on 4 February 1936 in CB Cochran's revue Follow the Sun. Later that year, she was featured as a cabaret dancer in the British film Dishonour Bright. She said: "I experienced being a real person for the first time. On board the ship and in Europe I was referred to as Miss Le Gon and that had never happened to me before."

"On a tour of Canada in 1969 she found herself in Vancouver and agreed to hold a few workshops during the two days she was there, "but the students began lining up before we had even rented space. In Vancouver, I found out I was a person. Period. I didn't have to worry about going somewhere and hearing somebody say, 'No, you can't come in.' That's one of the reasons I stayed in Canada."

Jeni Le Gon with Biill (Bojangles) Robinson and Fats Waller in "I'm Living in a Great Big Way" (1935).

"Swing is Here to Stay" (1937), co starring the zoftig Dixon Sisters. When she leans at the end, they nailed her shoes to the floor.

In "Getting It Right With You" (1939)

Full-length film: "Double Deal" (1939), with Monte Hawley and Edward Thompson

With Cab Calloway in "HI De Ho" (1947)

Jeni performs in "I'm Living in a Great Big Way" in 2007 in the Century Ball Room in Seattle.

Jeni performs her last dance, it says, at the 2008 Masters of Lindy and Tap. Somehow I don't believe this was her last dance.

Jeni at 90

A December 2012 tribute to Dr. Jeni Legon

Photo at top from the London Independent, autographed to Stephen Bourne, the author of the obituary.

...and above is my friend Cynthia Dagnal herself, when she was attending the same dance studio, about 10 and dolled up to look 30.

She writes: "Distinctive "Chicago style" just makes my eyes tear up. Whenever I hear Gene Kelly say, "Le time step," in An American in Paris, I think of that step--everyone does it, but we did it with Chicago swag. Here's a shot of me all dolled up and looking about 30-years-old. "Here's a little blurb piece on both Sadie and Mary Bruce's dance schools from the Chicago Public Library. Both schools were amazing--in fact, when I read this, I thought, "Okay...which one WAS it?" I think I had to go to Sadie's for a while because there wasn't room at Mary's for a wee one, but it was sooooooo long ago, I don't even remember all that very well. http://bit.ly/WUiaOJ "Doesn't matter, they were both amazing women and both schools were a VERY big deal on the Southside. Every parent wanted to get their kids into a class at either one, and I felt so lucky to be able to dance there. We had huge recitals all the time, and I loved every minute of those very serious shows.

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Jeni le Gon: The first black woman signed by Hollywood was livin' and dancin' in great big way

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My good Sun-Times pal from the 1970s at the Chicago Sun-Times, Cynthia Dagnal, wrote me today:

"A friend in London sent me this, obituary from the London indpendent and I was stunned to see that Jeni Le Gon attended the same Southside dancing school in Chicago that I did. It was probably the most reputable one on that side of the "color line," and not very far from my house. So I studied with the younger "protégés" of Mary Bruce, and all those cute pics of me in little but EXPENSIVE tutus and whatnot that I sometimes use on my blogs are reminders of those days! I took tap, jazz and ballet as a wee one, and loved to walk around en pointe all day long in those danged--and also expensive--toe shoes!"

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#123 July 11, 2012

Marie writes: club member Sandy Kahn has found some more auctions! Go here to download a free PDF copy of the catalog.

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Elizabeth Taylor, pagan goddess

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Camille Paglia is known for being both brilliant and wacky (possibly wacko) -- often at the same time, which is probably when she's at her most inspired. A founding contributor at Salon.com (and co-star of "It's Pat: The Movie"), Paglia spoke on the phone to Salon editor Kerry Lauerman yesterday after the news of Elizabeth Taylor's death, and offered up an extraordinary tribute. I just wanted to share some of it with you. Lauerman begins by quoting something Paglia wrote about Taylor in Penthouse in 1992:

"She wields the sexual power that feminism cannot explain and has tried to destroy. Through stars like Taylor, we sense the world-disordering impact of legendary women like Delilah, Salome, and Helen of Troy. Feminism has tried to dismiss the femme fatale as a misogynist libel, a hoary cliche. But the femme fatale expresses women's ancient and eternal control of the sexual realm." Paglia takes it from there:

Exactly. At that time, you have to realize, Elizabeth Taylor was still being underestimated as an actress. No one took her seriously -- she would even make jokes about it in public. And when I wrote that piece, Meryl Streep was constantly being touted as the greatest actress who ever lived. I was in total revolt against that and launched this protest because I think that Elizabeth Taylor is actually a greater actress than Meryl Streep, despite Streep's command of a certain kind of technical skill. [...]

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Replies to Walter Murch on the end of 3D as we know it

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This is the end... Oh. No. It isn't...

Walter Murch rekindled a discussion about 3D, a hot-and-cold topic since "Avatar," with a letter to Roger Ebert, published on Roger's blog under the headline "Why 3D doesn't work and never will. Case closed." Ebert introduced Murch's correspondence with this, accompanied by a recitation of Murch's credits:

I received a letter that ends, as far as I am concerned, the discussion about 3D. It doesn't work with our brains and it never will.

The notion that we are asked to pay a premium to witness an inferior and inherently brain-confusing image is outrageous. The case is closed.

This, of course, generated more discussion -- much of it with an ad hominem slant, signaled by the headlines in Slate ("Two Thumbs, Two Dimensions: Roger Ebert is done talking about 3-D movies. Thank goodness.") and Boxoffice Magazine ("This Week in Cranky: Walter Murch Declares War on 3D"). At the same time, Kristin Thompson published two sequels (produced concurrently, in the modern Hollywood style!) to her August 2009 piece, "Has 3-D already failed?," assessing the argument for the commercial viability of the format, pro ("Part 1: RealDlighted") and con ("Part 2: RealDsgusted").

What Murch contributes to the debate is not substantially different from what I, Kirstin Thompson and many others have been writing about since the release of "Avatar" (see my posts, "Avatar 3D headaches: Look at this! Don't look at this!" and "Avatar, the French New Wave and the morality of deep-focus (in 3D)"). The one thing he does bring to the table is that he's Walter Murch, famous sound designer and editor, who edited the Francis Ford Coppola/Michael Jackson Disneyland 3D movie attraction "Captain Eo" back in the 1980s. (That use of the technology as a theme park-style attraction is, in my view, a stage the technology still has not moved beyond. Even those who don't personally like the hallmarks of the current 3D processes -- the glasses, the flat-planed illusion of "depth," the dim picture -- admit it works just fine for animation and cartoony or CGI-enhanced live-action, where the 3D isn't meant to be "realistic.")

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Beep-beep-m beep-beep, yeah

Over Memorial Day weekend I attended a high school graduation in Albuquerque. One of the graduating senior boys gave a speech in which he used car parts as a metaphor for the components of one's personality or identity. It was a clever piece he'd co-written with a friend, delivered with wry humor. Afterwards, the head of the school -- a man I'd estimate was in his 60s -- took the stage and thanked the student, quipping: "Baby, you can drive my car anytime."

Thud. Thunderous silence mixed with scattered, bewildered titters.

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The cinema of scarred hearts

May Contain Spoilers

I have a friend who walked out of THERE WILL BE BLOOD during that baptism scene, when Daniel Day-Lewis exclaimed, "I've abandoned my child!" My friend was just divorced, lost custody of his children, and was tormented with the remorse that follows these things. As Daniel Day-Lewis shouted, my friend almost needed to cover his ears. He returned to his seat shortly afterwards, but needed that moment to collect himself.

I have another friend who was molested by a family friend. She refuses therapy, but she attributes multiple aspects of her personality, that she herself identifies as disorders - social ineptitude, sexual dysfunction and confusion, chronic despair - to that period of molestation. When she watched MYSTIC RIVER, a movie speaking of the physical and psychological abuse of children and the long term consequences on their hearts and minds, she found herself painfully revisiting those experiences, but not where we might expect.

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"Twilight: New Moon" is processed lunch meat

From Lisa Walden, New Rochelle, NY: The "Twilight: New Moon" DVD was just released last week and I rented it. I am a 52 year old African-American woman who truly enjoys film. I attempt to see as many films in theaters as I can but time may not allow my catching some so I have to make do with rental.

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Art that reaches backward and points forward

Bruce Eaton, in his 331/3 book on Big Star's "Radio City" (2009):

Beyond talent, there's the often dismissed importance of experience -- in music and life. Does an artist have something interesting to say and the ability to say it in a unique and interesting way? The answer is usually "not really." One of the chief reasons that rock and roll from the 1960s and early 1970s still looms large is that its creators had deep reserves of experience to draw upon when the time finally came to go to the well in the recording studio. Take The Beatles or The Stones, Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. Each knew hundreds upon hundreds of cover tunes -- a disparaged concept today but vital to learning how music works -- and had played endless gigs trying to sell them to indifferent, if not downright hostile, audience. That experience takes patience but it eventually can get you to a point where you can write songs of your own that become a meaningful and permanent part of other peoples' lives.

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Smash his camera, but not immediately

He is a viper, a parasite, a stalker, a vermin. He is also, I have decided, a national treasure. Ron Galella, the best known of all paparazzi, lost a lawsuit to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and five teeth to Marlon Brando, but he also captured many of the iconic photographs of his era. At 77, he is still active, making the drive from his New Jersey home and his pet bunny rabbits through the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan, the prime grazing land of his prey.

I had an idea, as many of us do, about Gallela and the species of paparazzi. It was a hypocritical idea. I disapproved of him and enjoyed his work. Yes, he comes close to violating the rights of public people, and sometimes crosses the line. He certainly crossed the line with Jackie's children.

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