March got me back in the groove of movie watching, with 31 new to me films. I made it to the theater twice, and was even treated to a free screening of The Women (1939) at the arthouse movie theater. Seeing it like that on the big screen made me love it way more. This month I watched seven films directed by women and I’d really love to watch that same amount or more each month, as I want to exceed 52 films by woman this year. I also watched TCM’s tributes to Robert Osborne, including his Private Screening with Alec Baldwin in 2014. It was just so wonderful to see him, hear him talk of his boundless love for movies, his interviews with Eva Marie Saint (she’s so cheeky and amazing!), Luise Rainier (also very saucy at 101 in 2011!), and to learn of his friendships with some of my favorite stars. I was also so inspired by his journey and passion. I really do miss him, but I’m so glad all this footage of him exists and TCM exists and movies exist!
And speaking of movies, here are my favorite first time March watches.
The Flying Ace (1926)
dir: Richard E. Norman
From the Pioneers of African American Cinema collection on Netflix. This is a very pleasant mystery that’s somewhat misleading because it has little to do with airplanes. The action revolves around a train station robbery but it does showcase reverence for aviation like most films of the era. There are some great flying shots too. Read Fritzi’s review for essential background on the director (who was white).
Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016)
dir: Michael Fiore, Erik Sharkley
Floyd Norman was Disney’s first black animator, and this documentary provides a lot of insight on his time and contributions there. Obviously since Norman is an animator/artist, there are cartoon portions in the film. I’ve been familiar with Norman and his blog for years now, but I learned a lot watching this. Although he never made much fuss about being Disney’s first black animator, he was involved in the Civil Rights Movement and used his art to advance positive images of and for black people. The man is deeply humble regarding his achievements and talent, someone so down to earth and with a perpetual childlike demeanor. He’s so beloved by artists at Disney and Pixar, (he’s worked on Pixar films as well) and although he’s 81, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Belladonna of Sadness (1973)
dir: Eiichi Yamamoto
This film is a moving painting. Each frame is so exquisite; watercolors of an animated film. It is intended for a mature audience. This is a fairy tale in reverse where the wicked are not punished and the innocent (a young peasant woman, Jeanne) suffers untold trauma. Also contains potent commentary on the oppression of women and the working class poor, all woven together in a rich tapestry of artwork.
Get Out (2017)
dir: Jordan Peele
A horror movie version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)! Imagine that film, with its kindly, “open minded” liberals played by Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, suddenly turning into a horror film about racism and violence against black people. It’s stunningly original and deserves all the praise it has since received. And although it follows the typical horror movie conventions, this is really unlike anything most audiences have seen.
Deidra and Laney Rob a Train (2017)
dir: Sydney Freeland
A Netflix original film and my favorite woman helmed feature of the month. This film still has a heart even though it’s over the top hilarious and bizarre. The title characters are sisters who rob a train in order to post bail for their mother and to pay for college. This is a comedy about poverty with black leads that is tender and funny, neither mired in despair or inescapable odds. There’s a happy ending! I think this film would make a great double feature with another Netflix original, Divines, which is decidedly more bleak and heart wrenching. And it’s amazing to have two black girls with curly hair headline a film. More importantly, they’re multifaceted and likable even as they make mistakes and behave less than charmingly. I was rooting for them throughout. This is one of the most authentic and original films I’ve ever seen.
They Live by Night (1948)
dir: Nicholas Ray
Ah yes, it’s been so long since I was completely destroyed by a doomed romance! I needed to distance myself from this film, even though I made a playlist of songs that perfectly described our lovers and their tragic story. This reminded me of another Nicholas Ray film, On Dangerous Ground (1952). Both are so ethereal, but they pummel you with tragedy and emotion. Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) and Bowie (Farley Granger) are two innocents, and even the opening credits announce that they were never properly introduced to our world. Bowie was wrongfully convicted of a crime but falls in with criminals and is trapped in committing robberies. He and Keechie fall in love, go on the run, and remain as innocent as doves, but never as wise as serpents. They are forced to inhabit a world that lacks softness.
dir: Barry Jenkins
So beautiful and so difficult for me to articulate that beauty in any meaningful way. A film that examines the tenderness of black men, yet examines is too clinical a term. A drastically different portrait of black masculinity and sexuality emerges. There are so many vibrant colors, not to mention how gorgeous all that black skin looks. Every performance, from Trevante Rhodes to Naomi Harris, Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monae, Andre Holland, is just so rich. It’s a heartbreaking film but so, so rewarding. I’m so grateful that it exists and that I watched it at last.