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Odie Henderson: An Anniversary Celebration

Odie Henderson makes me laugh out loud probably more than anyone I know outside of my family. In the beginning, I had to get used to some of his humor, but once I did, I found him completely hilarious. Roger said Odie's humor was unarming, and would sneak up on you. He is smart, modest and shy, and I look forward to both his reviews and our casual communications. He has an uncanny ability to observe life and pinpoint those things that would be just beyond the reach of the ordinary observer. (See his review of Spike Lee's film "Da 5 Bloods") He is not shy, however, about allowing us to get a glimpse into who he is, what he believes and how he relates to his family and this world. 

When he is complimented on his observations, he deflects the compliments in his self-deprecating manner, reminding me that sometimes his reviews draw death threats. (Film criticism is not usually considered a hazardous profession.) He has a curiosity I admire. Once, just for the heck of it, he stopped over in London on his way either to or from a film festival in Poland and decided to trek Roger's path outlined in his book "The Perfect London Walk" just to see what it was all about. He documented the walk with photographs and information about which directions were not current. (See that article here.) 

And underneath Odie's curiosity and his humor, there is a sweet warmth that makes you happy he is here to travel this path with us. His poignant tribute to the late John Singleton was cited far and wide. And when Odie was asked to participate in the Krakow Film Festival in Poland, his selection of nine films by and about African-Americans for a sidebar section was sold-out. 

It is hard to believe that Odie has been able to contribute reviews over the last eleven years since he also had a lucrative career in the IT world. It gives us great joy in celebrating him. Below I will share a brief Q&A with him, our editors will share their observations about Odie, and there is even a photograph of Odie meeting Roger for the first time. But more important, we will share 11 of Odie's most cherished articles published at our site and handpicked by the writer himself. Click on each article title, and you will be taken to the full piece. We welcome your thoughts on your favorite reviews by Odie.

Thank you Odie, and Congratulations!—Chaz Ebert


QUESTIONS FOR ODIE FROM CHAZ EBERT, Editor-in-Chief

What was the first film review we published from you at Rogerebert.com? 

"Sleep Furiously" was my first review published at the site, submitted July 25, 2011.

You remind me of the character played by Jennifer Beals in the movie "Flashdance" who was a Welder by day and Flash Dancer by night. You are a Tekkie by day and a Film Critic by night. How and why do you balance the two?

I introduced "Flashdance" a few weeks ago at the Quad! Who better to do that introduction than a former stripper? I do not know how I managed to work a 60 hour a week coding job and write those reviews/pieces. Since I retired from I.T. in May, I sit here and wonder how I did it. I can write all day now, and for some reason, I'm LESS productive than when I was juggling 2 different careers.

What have you learned going to Film Festivals, such as the ones in Poland?

I learned that every film festival has a particular feel when you attend. The Polish Film Festival felt most in tune with its audience and had a sense of national pride that was infectious. When I programmed the 9-movie sidebar I did for Off-Plus in Krakow, I was surprised how the Polish moviegoing crowd reacted to films about Black people. They embraced the movies I showed.

Why did you choose the eleven film reviews below to highlight for your tribute?

I chose these reviews because they told the reader something about me--who I was, how I processed a film or how a movie engaged my nostalgia. In the case of "Backgammon," it was my first no-star review at the site, and it's a review that had a lasting impact on readers. Jeremy Fassler tweeted that he watched Backgammon as part of his bachelor party because of my review. There was even a dramatic reading of my review at one point. I wish I'd been there

If you had a magic wand and could have anything you want in the world, what would it be?

If I had a magic wand, I would wave it so I can read Roger's reviews on some of the big movies that have come out since he left us. Barring that, I'd love to have the vision in my left eye back.

Odie Henderson on the day he met Roger Ebert in 2011.

OUR EDITORS ON ODIE

BRIAN TALLERICO, Managing Editor

One of the great joys of being the Managing Editor at RogerEbert.com is being able to learn by working with the writers on our staff. So what did Odie Henderson teach me? Most of all, confidence. So many writers feel hesitant in their opinion, but Odie never falters in his voice, never worrying what other people might think. And yet he never comes off as snobby or pretentious either. He reminds me of what many people said about Roger when he passed, "He was often the smartest person in the room, but he never made you feel like that." Odie is a brilliant human being but finds a way to be incredibly relatable in his writing too. His voice is singularly his own while also being one that naturally appeals to people all over the world. That takes remarkable talent and it's been inspirational to this writer since the day I got here.

MATT ZOLLER SEITZ, Editor at Large

The first time I met Odie Henderson, we just happened to sit next to each other at a New York press screening of "The Sea Inside". He was reading All About "All About Eve", a book by Sam Staggs about the making of that classic film. I had just finished the book myself, so I asked him how he liked it. What followed was a wide-ranging conversation that continued until the lights went down in the theater, picked up again after the screening, and spanned several hours. Locations included the plaza in front of Lincoln Center, a restaurant, a bar, and on the subway platform waiting to take us back to our respective apartments (Odie lived in Jersey City, I lived in Brooklyn). I remember a lot of things about that conversation, but the two that jump out are (1) Odie had been keeping a mental list of films that had the same plot as "All About Eve", and one of them was "Showgirls", and (2) Odie's favorite television drama was "The Wire", and the only thing about it that he didn't like was that Ed Burns was listed as a producer, and he hated Ed Burns. When I asked Odie why he hated Ed Burns, he said, "His movies are terrible." I told him that he'd confused Ed Burns the independent filmmaker with Ed Burns the ex-cop turned television producer and friend of David Simon. I've never seen anyone be so relieved at being corrected. 

A few months later I started a blog, The House Next Door -- now a part of Slant Magazine — which began as a solo project but soon amassed a small army of contributors. Odie was the second person other than myself to contribute a piece, a list of great Mother's Day movies. His spiky, conversational, yet eloquent way of writing was evident there and throughout the dozens of reviews, essays, and listicles he contributed over the ensuing years. I was not surprised to find out that he had been corresponding with Roger Ebert for years, much less that he would end up becoming a formal contributor to Roger's website after a long period of emailing with Roger and being quoted by him. 

Roger mentored a lot of writers and when I had an in-person conversation with him at the 2009 Ebertfest, where Odie and I both interviewed guests, we talked about some of the writers that our sites had in common. As Roger had lost his speaking voice at that point, the conversation had to be structured more like an interview, so as not to tax Roger's energy by making him write on long answers on a small notepad. When I asked him, "What's your favorite thing about Odie as a writer," he bobbed his head in delight and wrote, "No matter what he writes, he always sounds like himself."

I thought about that moment years later when I was spending some time with my father, a jazz pianist. I asked him, "Dad, what's the biggest change in your style over the years." He thought about it for a second and said, "I sound more like myself." And of course I thought of Roger's notepad, and asked him to elaborate. He said, "When i was younger, I think I was a little too concerned with showing people that I was a virtuoso, and trying to prove that I could play like Bill Evans or Thelonious Monk. When I got older I relaxed a bit and I think I've gotten to the point where you can still hear the influences, but mostly I just sound like me." Odie got there early, and has been there ever since.

NICK ALLEN, Senior Editor

If you ever get a chance to sit down and listen to Odie Henderson, take it. He has a way with a story, inspired by his intertwining life experiences and movie knowledge, that can be more entertaining than some of the movies he writes about. Not only would you get to hear a laugh-out-loud tale, as told from Odie's gut with unyielding wit and attitude, you'd learn something new. Maybe it would be about seeing a certain iconic movie on opening weekend, or about his mother, or an undersung chapter about New York City from when he was growing up. But if you can't meet Odie, that's OK, he's a busy man. In reading his reviews, tributes, tweets—anything he writes, really—you can be treated to the same unforgettable voice.  

MATT FAGERHOLM, Literary Editor

Odie Henderson was the first RogerEbert.com critic I met at Ebertfest. We grabbed a bite before the opening night screening of "Life Itself" in 2014, and I was immediately dazzled by his brilliance, his uproarious humor and his thoroughly welcoming demeanor. When I fumbled at tying my necktie, he was the colleague I didn't feel embarrassed to ask for his assistance. When the laughable trailer for the would-be thriller "Deliver Us From Evil" debuted later that summer prior to the "Godzilla" reboot, featuring an owl doll that hooted "Ah Ah Ooooo" as if possessed by Conan O'Brien, it amused Odie and I to such a degree that it has inspired the longest running gag I have ever maintained with a friend in my life. Every time we spot a creepy owl, we send a picture of it to one another, and we never cease finding an opportunity to incorporate "Ah Ah Ooooo" into our interactions. Though Odie and I may not see eye to eye on various pictures, our respect for one another has never faltered, and I am always inspired by the level of passion and insight he brings to every review and article he has written for our site. Happy Anniversary Ah-Ah-Ooooooodie, and let's definitely plan on singing "The Rainbow Connection" at the next karaoke bar we visit together!

NELL MINOW, Contributing Editor

I met Odie at Ebertfest and from the very first moment of our conversation it was clear that he was someone who engaged with movies fearlessly, bringing everything of himself to the film and expecting the same level of commitment from the filmmakers in return. He is an excellent writer, engaging, knowledgeable, and very funny and he is never swayed by conventional wisdom, fear of backlash, or good intentions. He is critical, but not cynical. On “Alice,” he wrote, "If this film were a person, it would tell you it had a Black friend and voted for Obama twice. That’s how insultingly simplistic it is about race.” He will sometimes bring his own experience to a film to illuminate, never getting in the way of the focus on the story the film is telling, or trying to. His review of my favorite film of 2021, “The Outside Story” captures it perfectly.”[Director Casimir] Nozkowski crafts a sweet, gentle situational comedy, surrounding his lead with a slew of supporting characters whose expected quirkiness is sharpened by a heaping dash of saltiness and keen observation." 


11 OF ODIE'S FAVORITE ARTICLES

Petite Maman

"I am so much like my own mother, and she is very much like her dad, who died when I was 18 months old. Many days I have wondered that, If I’d known him better, I’d know mom better, and by extension, I’d understand myself. 'Petite Maman' inspires that kind of feeling, and does so in a fashion that is simple on the surface, yet commendably complex upon introspection. When Nelly and the adult version of Marion see each other at the end, the result is emotionally overwhelming, even more so when you realize that the film accomplishes this catharsis with two words. These two are rediscovering themselves. We forget a lot of things when we grow up. This film is a wonderful reminder."

Swan Song

"On his journey, Mr. Pat is haunted by David (Eric Eisenbrey), his deceased partner who died of AIDS. Seen as a young man in flashbacks that his elderly partner occasionally inhabits, David stands in for the many we lost to the epidemic of the '80s. He’s also a reminder that quite often, partners were not allowed any rights to their loved one’s belongings or their property. ('At least it’s not that way anymore,' says the new owner of the plot of land that once held the house Mr. Pat and David lived in.) Mr. Pat’s visit to David’s grave—the first time he’s seen it—is one of the most powerful evocations of grief I’ve seen in a long time. The small gesture Kier makes in this scene is emotionally overwhelming."

Black Panther

"When he finally sees the sun go down over Wakanda, it provokes a haunting emotional response. That same response will be felt by viewers of 'Black Panther,' one of the year's best films, and one that transcends the superhero genre to emerge as an epic of operatic proportions. The numerous battle sequences that are staples of the genre are present, but they float on the surface of a deep ocean of character development and attention to details both grandiose and minute. Wakanda is a fully fleshed-out, unapologetically Black universe, a world woven into a tapestry of the richest, sharpest colors and textures. Rachel Morrison’s stunning cinematography and Ruth Carter’s costumes pop so vividly that they become almost tactile. You can practically feel the fabric of the hat worn by Angela Bassett as it beams in the sunlight on the day her son becomes king."

The Cotton Club Encore

"Despite fleshing out Sandman and Lila’s romance to carry equal weight with Dixie and Vera’s, the most romantic couple in both iterations of 'The Cotton Club' is Madden and his right-hand henchman and lover Frenchy, played by the absolutely magnificent Fred Gwynne. Gwynne towers over Hoskins to the point where they look like Mutt and Jeff, and his effortless deadpan bounces off his more boisterous co-star. Their argument about a ransom payment after Frenchy gets kidnapped is the most tender moment in the film. When Madden yells that he would have paid ten times as much as he did for Frenchy’s safe return, Hoskins makes you feel his worry deep down in your soul."

Backgammon

"Not since John Travolta’s Terl in 'Battlefield Earth' have I been presented with a character who punctuates damn near every sentence with a goofy laugh. Allen, who gives one of the worst performances I have ever seen in a film, applies this tic to the increasingly dreadful dialogue (credited to three writers) she is forced to utter. It’s so annoying that you want to mute the soundtrack. Since Miranda is supposed to be the kind of seductress Sybil Danning, Shannon Tweed or Sylvia Kristel would have played had 'Backgammon' been made 30 years ago, Allen is forced to exude what director Francisco Orvañanos erroneously thinks is sexiness. Allen slinks around the entire film with her mouth slightly agape like the Gerber baby, scrunching up her face and giggling at every opportunity."

Creed

"'Creed' reminds us that, even at its most absurd, the 'Rocky' series has always been about loss. Specifically, how these losses affect the characters and how they grow from them. This is expressed in Bianca’s desire to make as much music as possible before her hearing loss becomes total and permanent, but it’s also reflected in the character of Rocky himself. The genesis of this film stems from the most absurd of the Rocky movies, yet 'Creed' stitches 'Rocky IV' and all the other Rocky films into its narrative with surefooted grace."

Despicable Me 2

"For every meh moment, there's almost 2 well-conceived gags or lines. The voice talent remains top-notch, with Wiig, Bratt, Steve Coogan and the returning Russell Brand as stand-outs. The 3-D, as far as I can tell, is quite good, especially during the closing credits. (Full disclosure: like some of Gru's minions, I've only got one working eye, which turns 3-D into 2.25-D.) Some of the minor plot points pay off big time. I'm as enamored of the Pharrell Williams songs in this one as I was in the first film (and they're well used). And directors Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, and screenwriters Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul milk a few sweet moments of genuine emotional heft from the relationship between Gru and his kids."

The Boys in the Band

"There’s always a deliciously nasty bit of schadenfreude involved in watching a member of the majority squirm when forced into the minority-filled presence his privilege would normally allow him to avoid. When Emory challenges Alan’s rigid homophobia, Alan responds with the violence you’d expect from a man who’s very likely living a straight lie. But this is the only clue Crowley gives us about Alan’s true intentions. However, he also uses Alan to provide the play’s funniest moment, a vicious (and accurate) jab at heterosexual naïveté: When the straight-appearing Hank reveals he likes men, Alan exclaims 'but he’s married!' The other men spontaneously explode with uproarious laughter rife with derision."

Pride

"The title 'Pride' comes to mean different things for the film’s characters. For some, it’s pride in their achievements; for others, it is pride in who they are or what they have become. Each actor gets to play a riff on this, with the standouts being West, Nighy, Schnetzer, Staunton and MacKay. They all contribute to a movie that is a lot of fun to watch and, for me, was profoundly moving at numerous intervals. The last scene, at the 1985 London Gay Pride parade, is as good an emotional moment as any I’ve seen this year."

Elmore Leonard, 1925-2013: An Appreciation

"Since I was 17, Elmore Leonard has been my favorite writer. I told him so the one time I met him. It was at the now defunct and long-gone Waldenbooks on Exchange Place and Broadway in Manhattan. He was there to sign copies of 'Rum Punch,' which was eerily prescient since it was the basis of my favorite film adaptation of Leonard's work. He was a very nice man, patiently listening to the 22-year-old aspiring writer whose excited rambling violated Leonard's fourth rule of writing ('Keep your exclamation points under control!'). When I was done, he verified the spelling of my name, signed my book and wished me luck with my writing."

Colorless green ideas "Sleep Furiously"

"Filmmaker Gideon Koppel returns to Trefeurig, where his parents were refugees from Germany during World War II, but he is not there to interview anyone nor is he there to mourn or celebrate the changing of the tide. He's just a fly on the wall as the residents go about their daily routines armed with the knowledge that they may be the last to perform them. We meet the townsfolk, all of whom remain nameless, and follow them through a year of seasons. School events and county fairs are shown. Scenes are cut abruptly, and they are sometimes scored (by Aphex Twin) and sometimes silent. There is no explanation for any of this, and I had to be told by another reviewer that one of the people Koppel follows is his own mother. Viewers may find this narrative minimalism frustrating, or even pretentiously arty, but remember: It's only pretentious if it doesn't hold your attention. 'Sleep Furiously' held mine; I was lulled by its meditative quality and taken aback by the director's occasional use of the entire canvas of the screen."

A lover of film noir, musicals, Blaxploitation, bad art and good trash, Odie Henderson has been a Far Flung Correspondent since 2011. He has written for Slant Magazine's The House Next Door blog since 2006. He is the troublemaker responsible for the Black History Mumf series at Big Media Vandalism. His work has also appeared in The Village Voice, Vulture, Slate, Cineaste Magazine, MovieMezzanine, Movies Without Pity, Salon, and of course, at RogerEbert.com.

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