a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Posts tagged ‘African-American’

Could Mahershala Ali become the first African-American actor, after Denzel, to win TWO Oscars?


Could Mahershala Ali, who won the Best Supporting Actor a mere two years ago for Best Picture Winner “Moonlight”, win a SECOND Oscar in the same category for “Green Book”?

If so, he would be the first African American actor to win TWO Academy Awards, never mind two nearly in a row, after Denzel Washington won two.

In “The Green Book,” he plays a real life character, a jazz pianist sensation of the 1950s. The film is set in the rural South in 1963, when it was very dangerous for a successful Black man to have a white driver from the Bronx, played by Viggo Mortensen.

Both actors received very strong, positive notices out of Toronto, where it became a surprise hit, and won the prestigious, and predictive Grolsch People’s Choice Award, voted on by the public, vaulting all involved into the middle of the Oscar race.

The film was directed by Peter Farrelly of “Dumb and Dumberer” film.

Should this happen and Ali get nominated and win again, he would make Oscar history. No Black actor has ever won twice.

“Monuments Men” postponed! Getting out of Oscars’ Way of “12 Years…”

And so it continues. More and more Oscar drop-outs. Meaning they’re all getting out of the Awards season upcoming onslaught of “12 Years a Slave”! And who can blame them? The latest casualty of this brutal Oscar race is George Clooney’s “Monuments Men”. Opening it “in early 2014” is equivalent to meaning it doesn’t have an Oscar prayer.

And the premise, getting Art out-of-the-way or back from or something like that from the Nazis. Meh. Gorgeous George is writing, directing and  starring in it. This just doesn’t sound good. January and February are like movie grave-yards. The good stuff opens NOW. In October, Nov., Dec.

And “The Wolf of Wall Street” has also moved its’ purported opening from this fall. Which is now. Until Christmas. MAYbe. Maybe not. “Wolf” is the Martin Scorcese’s latest for Leo DiCaprio. 

As I said when I saw it in Toronto, nothing can beat “12 Years a Slave” for Best Picture and maybe many, many other categories, too. http://www.goldderby.com is now reporting Lupita Nyong’o the beautiful Yale School of Drama grad, who steals the show at “12 Years a Slave” as the  tragic slave, Patsie, has now passed Oprah Winfrey in the Supporting Actress category.

Which I was saying at TIFF. THAT role! The things that happen to Patsie are the worst, the most horrific abuses in that filled-with-horror movie. Lupita cried as she won the New Hollywood Award at the Hollywood Awards last night. The first of her probably many accolades this year and Oprah was nowhere in sight!

Tom O’Neil’s experts now have Michael Fassbender tied with Jared Leto for “Dallas Buyer’s Club.” Leto, who plays a draq queen in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” also just got a Hollywood Breakout Performance Award  last night from the Hollywood Awards. Which nobody takes seriously. Although E! just called it “The Official Beginning of the Awards Season.” Really? I thought that was the Toronto Film Festival. And Steve McQueen of “12 Years...” won for the Hollywood Breakout Director Award,

Gold Derby has “12 Years” winning Best Picture by a mile and also Chiwetel Ejiafor as Best Actor.

They’ve also got Cate Blanchett(“Blue Jasmine”) way out in front of Sandra Bullock for “Gravity”. Whose box-office, as every one knows, is in the stratosphere. For Best Actress. I think “Gravity” has become so big that the Academy is going to want to give it something big, besides all the technical awards it will surely win, and that will be Best Actress for the beloved Bullock. Bullock won the Hollywood Best Actress award last night, too. And wowed the crowd.

Michael Fassbender’s Non-Campaign for Oscar for “12 Years A Slave”

Michael Fassbender’s declaration in the current GQ mag that he’s not going to campaign for an Oscar for his Supporting Role(really a lead) In the monumental “12 Years A Slave” is just a tiny bit disingenuous to me for voila! There  he is on the cover! Looking great, I might add, and very much a winner already.

At Toronto, he seemed to me to be cramming every minute with press time. I sat through a press conference with him and the director Steve McQueen and the rest of the brilliant cast. And he was of course, fascinating. http://www.FascinatingFassbender.com is a website that is worth checking for all things up to the minute on Fassbender.

But at that press conference, he talked openly and freely and feeling about the character of the slave-owner Epps that he embodies so magnificently and so frighteningly in “12 Years a Slave.”

“I don’t see him as evil or a villain. I see him as a person. A businessman who is protecting his property.” I wasn’t taking exact notes, but it was words to that effect that sort of stunned people there when he said it. Because he seems to be the absolute embodiment of evil.

But an actor, a really good actor, and Fascinating Fassbender is a brilliant actor, ALWAYS has to humanize a character for himself and see the world through that character’s eyes, as he has so memorably done.

He was on Charlie Rose, too, with Steve McQueen and Chiwetel Ejiafor(I think you can watch that on You Tube on http://www.youtube.com/CharlieRoseShow.) So he did A LOT of publicity, and he did it early and now has gone off to New Zealand to film “Macbeth” and HE’s playing yes, Macbeth.

He did a lot of press already and now he feels he’s done enough. After “Shame” everybody in Hollywood now knows who he is, and then when he didn’t even get nominated(I knew he wouldn’t. And said so. All that nudity and urinating on camera! i mean, it was riveting, but the SWORM, the Straight White Old Rich Men, who form the bulk of the Academy were shocked.) And he was devastated when he didn’t get nominated, and now in GQ he says he wants no part of the process, which he found humiliating and this time is going to sit out Phase I of the Oscar season, which is now upon us.

October, November and early December is when you build buzz and the Oscar campaign machinery begins to shift into full gear. Then the nominating ballots are sent out around the holidays and the nominations themselves are announced in January, which is the start of Phase II.

But after the nominations come out in January and he starts winning awards(how can he not? I mean, they ALWAYS award the white guy, even a villain, in a black movie, like they did just last year for “Django Unchained”s Christophe Waltz) and he’ll come back to pick up his trophies the same time Mo’nique did in Phase II.

And this year the Oscars aren’t being handed out til MARCH! Because of the Olympics, so it’s a super-long Phase II.

Like The Terminator, he’ll be back.

I predict these things.

At NYFF, ” 12 Years a Slave”s Magnificent Achievement Dwarfs All Others

“12 Years a Slave” I’ve never really seen anything like it. I feel it is one of the greatest films of all time, Simply one of the greatest films ever made and yes, I saw it first at TIFF, where it leveled all comers, and now over a month later at the NYFF, the impact is the same. Nothing has changed. It’s a month later and really there’s nothing going to stop it.

It won the Audience Choice Award at the Toronto Film Festival and this is just the first step in the many, many awards that are going to come its’ way. It’s seriousness makes “Django Unchained” look like a joke. And yes, it did win two Oscars. Both for the two white men who were nominated. Quentin Tarentino who got his second Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Christophe Waltz, who stunned all Oscarologists (EXCEPT Tom O’Neil at www.goldderby.com) who didn’t predict it. Waltz won of course for Best Supporting Actor.

This year it will be very, very different at the Oscars I predict. But if we look at the precedent being “Django” as the only other film in recent years to have Slavery as its’ main subject , the white guy in Supporting, this time Michael Fassbender, might just get lucky and win just as Waltz did. He’s playing the evil slave owner Epps, who prides himself in “breaking” troublesome slaves. Being sold to the Eps plantation is akin to being sent to Hell.

And Fassbender, who’s star has been on the rise for years now, mainly due to his other two collaborations with British director Steve McQueen, the harrowing “Hunger” where he lost something like 40 pounds as a Irish hunger striker, based on a true story and yes, also as the lead in “Shame” playing a slightly lighter topic as a sex addict, who is naked for sooo many of the scenes in that film. Also, he’s in “X-Men:First Class” and so he’s well situated to FINALLY be nominated for “12 Years a Slave” and he may win.

The film is certainly going to win Best Picture. Despite “Gravity”s overwhelming box-office achievement this weekend, I don’t think the Academy is ready to embrace 3-D, even yet. And since so many voting members watch the nominated films on screeners or DVD copies of the nominated movies, at home on their television sets, 3-D and certainly IMAX is going to look like not much of anything, compared with the gargantuan thrill it provides on the biggest of Big Screens. It should pass $100 million domestic at the box-office in the next week or two. At most.

But all this is to say that “12 Years a Slave” is going to look just fine on DVD. It’s a film of intense close-ups, and unflinching brutality. And of course, it takes a British director to finally tell the truth of this utterly American horror story that was slavery in the pre-Civil War South. McQueen could become the first Black director to win an Oscar. I think if they give it to the film they are going to give it to him, too.

And also his leading man,  the extraordinary British actor, Chiwetel Ejiafor, who as the freeman kidnapped and sold into slavery, is called upon to do things that no actor in the history of film has ever been asked to do before. He’s breathtaking! The levels of pain AND strength, the inner resources and resilience of spirit he brings to Solomon Northrup are astounding. And his and director McQueen’s intelligence inform every shot. It’s staggering in its’ immensity. But it’s all done utterly realistically and  with total naturalism.

The unimaginable atrocities that are depicted here are ALL TRUE.

And last but not least, we have to praise the Oscar chances, and the rise from complete obscurity of its’ ingénue star, Lupita N’yong’o, the young African-American actress, who plays Patsie, the beautiful slave who endures the most unmentionable cruelty, sexual and otherwise by Fassbender’s evil Epps. She will be nominated for Best Supporting Actress for sure, and will give Oprah Winfrey a run for her money in that category.

It’s overwhelmed all comers I feel at the New York Film Festival, just as it did previously at Telluride and Toronto. You see, nothing much has changed since audiences saw it in September. And oh yes, I have seen something like it before! It was also in the capable hands of Fox Searchlight and the name of the film was “Slumdog Millionaire” which debuted and wowed at Toronto and went on to wow the world and win every prize in sight, including the Oscar. It’s one of those kind of years. The word is unstoppable.

Oscars at TIFF~ “12 Years a Slave” & “Gravity” Both will win major awards!

Overwhelmed by all the great movies I saw at TIFF’13 this week, but two stood out as already dominating the Oscar conversation. “12 Years a Slave” and “Gravity.” Is it too early to say the race for Best Picture and Best Director is over? No. It’s not. The Academy can not deny “12 Years a Slave” one of the best films I’ve ever seen, or will ever see, one of the greatest films of all time, will win Best Picture and its’ director Steve McQueen, will become the first ever black man to win an Oscar in that category. Thus breaking the age-old tradition of awarding only white men(Exceptions – Kathryn Bigelow & Ang Lee {twice}).

It will be given a run for its’ money by “Gravity” Alphonse Cuaron’s dazzling 3D epic of Sandra Bullock and George Clooney lost in Space. It will win every technical award it’s nominated for but I think the real surprise here is Sandra Bullock, who is basically the ONLY character in the entire movie. It’s a one-woman show, and she’s giving the performance of her life, and will certainly be nominated for this breath-taking solo achievement that no one, including myself, ever thought she was capable of. She will definitely be nominated for Best Actress and I will go one step further. If ANYONE can upset Cate Blanchett’s Oscar chances in that category, it’s Sandra Bullock.

Are they really going to give an Oscar to an actress playing RUTH MADOFF?!? Blanchett’s triumph is that she makes this extremely unlikable, maybe even vile, woman sympathetic, but is she THAT sympathetic? I mean, you’re left at the end with an utterly unpleasant taste in your mouth.

Whereas when Sandra Bullock(SPOILER ALERT!) kisses the earth in “Gravity” and stands up and proudly walks on that beach, I thought “OMG! She’s going to win another Oscar!” And in a year that is shaping up as having ONLY former winners nominated(Blanchett, maybe Streep, maybe Julia Roberts, maybe Judi Dench and maybe Kate Winslet), Bullock STILL America’s sweetheart pulls off a cinematic achievement in that except for the very brief George Clooney, she’s the ONLY  PERSON IN THE ENTIRE PICTURE. SHE HAS TO CARRY THE WHOLE THING, and YOU LOVE HER! She’s utterly sympathetic and Cate Blanchett’s triumph is that she’s NOT, but Bullock’s Dr. Ryan, you just love and want to get back to earth, and I think the actors branch as well as the below-the-line voting members are going to acknowledge that unique one-woman achievement.

Angelina Jolie and Natalie Portman passed on this role. And I think they are going to regret it when Sandra Bullock wins her SECOND (unbelievable!) Best Actress Oscar, a sentence I never thought I’d be typing!

Video

Melonie Diaz Sizzles in Super-Hot Oscar Contender “Fruitvale Station’

The lovely and charming Melonie Diaz of the much Oscar-buzzed “Fruitvale Station” a Sundance and Cannes sensation that couldn’t be more timely. Melonie reveals that she studied directing at NYU Film School! And discusses her relationship with Oscar Winner Octavia Spencer who plays her mother-in-law in the ripped-from-the-headlines movie.

Video

Newsflash! “Beasts” director is NOT 23 years old! He’s 29!

Breaking Hollywood News! Benh Zeitlin who is being proclaimed the new Orson Welles for having directed the award-winning “Beasts of the Southern Wild” for doing this at age 23. Benh himself says, “No, no. I’m 29. I want to stop this rumor. I’m not a child!” But he certainly knows how to direct children, as he certainly has done with his 6-year-old star Qu’venzhane Wallis. He also co-wrote this with a woman, Lucy Alibar, who he has been collaborating with for many years. He also reveals that though he has never been to film school, he teaches film and video to school children. This explains, a bit, the authenticity of the female child, Hushpuppy’s perspective.

Camera & Editing ~ Cody Michaels

Oscar’s Pesky Supporting Categories. Mucho loco.

Oh, those pesky Oscar Supporting Categories! They are sooo hard to pin down, always, but this year’s there’s so much movement it makes the potential nominees look like Mexican jumping beans!

And no SAG didn’t match the Golden Globes, and they both didn’t match the  (Broadcast Film Critics Assoc.) But look who these groups REALLY represent. Look closely. And the first thing you may notice is that the Broadcast Film Critics, is made up, of mostly, well, film critics.

And there are NO film critics in the Academy. Repeat after me. THERE ARE NO FILM CRITICS IN THE ACADEMY.

And Stu Vanairsdale’s www.movieline.com excellent depiction of the Hollywood Foreign Press as “swag monkeys” is sooo apposite I want to adopt it just for my own, but yes, that defines them. ABSOLUTELY. And also, they are PRESS. And yes, repeat after me…no don’t bother. There’s no press in the Academy either….

So the fact that Michael Fassbender didn’t get a SAG nom is much more significant than it may at first seem. AND he’s urinating on-screen. Literally pissing his nomination away. And that’s how Demian Bichir got HIS SAG nom, playing a heroic Hispanic gardener. Yeah, this category this year . It’s a pisser.

But also not nominated for SAG was Albert Brooks from “Drive” and that make me wonder. He was nominated for Supporting Actor by both the BFCA and the GG, but to be left out of SAG may be fatal.

Why was Brooks not nominated for “Drive”? Maybe because THEY DIDN’T WATCH “DRIVE.” SAG gave nothing to “Drive” whereas the BFCA nominated it A LOT.

Who was nominated in Brooks’ place? Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar!” Stupendous in “The Joy of Typing” as BOTH Winklevoss twins, he’s riding a crest of good will. And Academy members keep exclaiming “I loved J.Edgar!” Which is something obviously Stu V. isn’t hearing.

And Hammer benefits by being in Leo DiCaprio’s shadow. He gets to kiss him, after all (Degree of difficulty!) And even though “J. Edgar” was left off the PGA list, it made MY Ten Best, and I STILL think it’s another Clint Eastwood masterpiece. THAT could be a surprise BP pop-up on Oscar Nomination Day, which is Tuesday Jan.24.

AMPAS members are voting right now on their choices of nominations. Yes, they are. And so what’s on their minds? Well, “The Artist” for one, which is going to get more nominations than any other film this year. And Berenice Bejo is on her way to a for sure Best Supporting Actress nomination and possibly even a win, in my book.

The Argentinian/French beauty carries as much of the film as the stalwart Jean Dujardin, who did win the Best Actor prize in Cannes this year. And she got a BFCA, a SAG nod, and also a Golden Globe nomination. So she was the triple crown of nods as it were.

And she also just won BEST ACTRESS in the Rome Film Festival which just wrapped last week.

So she’s definitely on a roll, and she’s also married IRL to “The Artist” s front-runner for Best Director Michel Hazanaviscius. And HE’S probably going to win Best Director across the board, and if she won, too, that would be the first time in Oscar history that a husband and wife team won double Oscars, a quaint touch that the Academy may very likely find too charming to resist, too. Just like their movie!

They’re French, and SOOOO in love! And so happy!

Berenice’s main competition is Octavia Spenser for “The Help.” Spencer, an unknown up until this season, also was a recipient of a SAG, BFCA & a GG nod. So she’s almost assured of a nomination. But she’s an Academy newbie. Her memorable performance as the foul-mouthed Minnie is the kind of role that gets nominated but doesn’t necessarily WIN awards.

And there was that shitting in the pie scene. Unlike Michael Fassbender, we don’t SEE her doing it, thank god, but she does do it, and then serves it to Bryce Dallas Howard, RON HOWARD’S daughter! in real life, who plays the villainess Hilly so well here in “The Help.”

Stu V. and Tom O’Neil at www.GoldDerby.com and many others have her as a frontrunner in Supporting Actress, but I wonder….

I do NOT think the Academy is open-minded enough to award TWO African-American actresses in ONE year. One of them, maybe, but not both. And Viola Davis is pictured and named as “The Frontrunner” on this week’s Entertainment Weekly annual Oscar issue. She’s pictured with George Clooney, which actually could be the kiss of death. They could BOTH not win.

And the two “Help” women, may split the “Help” vote. And neither wins.

It’s a very interesting year in that the actress categories are so up-in-the-air.

And it just goes to show that Meryl Streep’s reviews for “The Iron Lady” were sooooo bad that they vaulted Viola Davis on to the cover of EW!

And Shailene Woodley of “The Descendants” was not nominated for a SAG award either.  Too young, merely a teenager. But Janet McTeer of “Albert Nobbs” was…and Stu V. has Glenn Close of “Albert” slipping out of the locked five in Best Actress, being replaced by Rooney Mara. I don’t see that happening. But Janet McTeer has ALSO scored the trifecta of BFCA, SAG & GG.

And then there’s Jessica Chastain & her 5000 films she was in this year’s problem. What to nominate her for? Well, if it’s for “The Help” (a good perf, but not great) she’d also be splitting the “Help” vote with Spencer and then…and then…Berenice Bejo wins!

And Vanessa Redgrave could win in this category, but she’s been nominated nowhere so far and it seems like NO body is watching “Coriolanus.”

And then there’s sweet Carrie Mulligan who shows HER nether regions in “Shame.” But oh yes, since she’s a young girl, that could help her…but so far…No nominations…which is a REAL shame.

And Christopher Plummer? He won this race, Supporting Actor, the minute his marvelous film “Beginners” opened in May. The question that plagues us Oscar-ers and Oscar-ettes, is who’s going to be nominated in that category and lose to him. Plummer has never seen so, well, plummy. And he’s experiencing the most attention and love he’s perhaps ever gotten in his long and very chequered career. He’s very grand, too, as Herbert Wanger in “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” It’s his year. He’s everywhere!

A GRRRReat Day for “The Artist”! Bad day for George Clooney…

So Super Tuesday of the Awards Season has come and gone and the faster-than-they’ve ever been, the Speedy Alkaselzters of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle named “The Artist” Best Picture and its’ unknown-in-America director Michel Hazanaviscius, Best Director! Yay! But what does this alll MEAN?

Sasha Stone at www.awardsdaily.com and Tom O’Neil, the guy who started all this Oscar madness, at www.goldderby.com both point out that only five times in the past 20 years have the Oscars and the New York Film Critics agreed.

But it must be a VERY happy day over at the Weinstein Company! And at chez Hazanaviscius! The champagne corks must be popping! I mean, not only is this bon-bon of a movie in BLACK and WHITE, it’s also SILENT! And FRENCH! Or French made! And I can NOT name a French movie that has gotten THIS close to Oscar before.

So it’s unprecedented and unbelievable, but not by Sasha and I who called it as soon as we saw it. She, in Cannes, and I, in Montreal! At the Montreal Film Festival! What a beautiful moment that was!

And I described earlier how exciting the NY Press junket was. In this blog, just a little while back, I said that I felt Oscar’s presence in that room. Or rather suite of many rooms. Everyone was just so happy that day! But there was the little(or not so little, really) golden guy’s overwhelming presence in the air!

I knew I was surrounded by winners but the alllll knew it too. It was a nonpareil feeling, vraiment! Bien sur!

And since this is the first announced major award of the season, it may have more impact than any other NYFCC’s awarding has ever had before.

Famously the NYFCC moved up its date to be BEFORE the National Board of Review which is set to announce on Thursday. Will they rubber stamp the NYFCC? Or will they differ? Well, they may choose a different Best Actress than Meryl Streep. They could choose Michelle Williams’ wonderful Marilyn. But their choice of La Streep shows that yes, indeed, she is the front-runner in that category and NOT Viola Davis. Also, strangely, it’s a movie that hasn’t even opened yet and won’t for a couple of more weeks.

Oh, and not so strangely, “The Iron Lady” is ANOTHER Weinstein opus. I mean, it’s just incredible!

Also incredible is that David Fincher’s American re-make of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” got NO-THING from the NYFCC. And this is the movie that made them move their date YET AGAIN to accommodate seeing this just-finished film.

Also everyone and his blogging brother was saying it was  a war between “The Descendants” and “The Artist” and now…”The Descendants” lost big time all over the place. It got NO-THING from the NYFCC and also George Clooney did not get a Best Actor Nomination from the Independent Spirit Awards. Yes, THEY were announced today, too, and Sasha has all of them over at www.awardsdaily.com And her take on what all this means.

I think, personally it means nominations for all these winners. It REALLY helps Albert Brooks who got Best Supporting Actor for “Drive”. And “Drive” which I liked immensely seemed to be slipping off the pundit-o-sphere. But Albert’s back and I think IN. And yes, he WAS really scarey in that movie! He was playing a gansta. No, I’m not kiddin’! He really was! People forget what a good, solid actor is underneath the rest of his many talents, but the NYFCC with this award has reminded everyone.

This is not necessarily the case for the lovely Jessica Chastain who wins for THREE movies. But which of these three “The Tree of Life”, “The Help”, and “Take Shelter” is the Academy(and the Globes and SAG, etc. etc) going to choose to rally behind as THE ONE. The Academy only allows for one film per nomination.

Like for instance, the National Board of Review can give Jessica the same Supporting Actress award for all those movies, too.

But the Oscars have to pick just one. It seems like “The Tree of Life” is the one with the most life in it. It tied the Gotham Awards last night for Best Picture with “Beginners” Yay! For Mike Mills! And for Christopher Plummer! “Beginners” also got Best Ensemble at the Gothams! And “The Descendants” AGAIN got nothing.

I tell you as well made as I felt “The Descendants” was it was ultimately extremely depressing.
So we can almost write “The Descendants” off our lists. And it seems Brad Pitt is now the movie star to beat for Best Actor, since he won here for “Moneyball” and “The Tree of Life”(yup, there it is again!) As I wrote earlier in the Comments Section of Awardsdaily tonight, I REALLY DON’T WANT TO KEEP TALKING ABOUT “TREE OF LIFE” but it seems I have, too.

People keep bringing it up, primordial ooze, dinosaurs and all. RIDICULOUS film! But Brad Pitt’s and Jessica Chastain’s ’50 Texas husband and wife WERE lovely. I’m just surprised to find people remember them and remember them so strongly.

So now it’s Brad Pitt v. Jean Dujardin with George Clooney running on the sidelines, huffing and puffing, like he does so memorably, in his Mad Dash scene in “The Descendants”…trying to keep up.

Well, we’ll see what the National Board of Review does. They, too, may pick “The Artist” but I’m betting Best Actor, Actress and Supporting will be different. But Jessica Chastain may score again with them because she’s got those multiple movies. Seven I think, behind her this year.

But congratulations to all these winners, and let me do a final shout out to winner of the Breakthrough Director Award Dee Rees for “Pariah” and also to Adepero Oduye who received an Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress for “Pariah” Both were my guests at TIFF this year.

And you can see them and ALLLL “The Artist”s on my YouTube channel www.youtube.com/StephenHoltShow

Ellen Stewart, the legendary “La Mama” passes.

I’m a bit bewildered by the events of yesterday. I attended the wake of the late Ellen Stewart, LaMama herself, who started my career, and who was a major figure in my life.  The wake was an incredibly uplifting experience. Paradoxically. Wakes are always kind of frightening, in and off themselves, but this was not. There was soooo much love and joy and peace. Ellen’s great spirit was THERE.

She was one of the legends of our time. An African-American woman who broke through barriers, social and artistic, every day of her waking life.

A more fulfilled, influential, far-reaching, and yes, global life I really can’t imagine. That one woman did all these extraordinary things is just mind-boggling.

Her influence in MY life was extraordinary. She was the first person to say “Yes” to my hopes and dreams of breaking into Show Business. She allowed me in to her “home” of “La Mama” and I was one of her “babies.” I first stepped in the door of the red-rimmed building on 74A East 4th St. on October 1970. She passed at 91.

The first day I got to LaMama and the first things I remember are people were saying that (a) “Ellen is in St. Vincent’s(the West Village hospital)again.” Followed not long after by people saying(b) “Ellen is in Europe.”

The two statements seemed absolutely contradictory and yet those two sentences really summed up the dicotomy of  her life.

It seemed once I got to know her that every time she got out of the hospital (it was always unspecified “heart problems”) she got on a plane and went to some AMAZING theatrical event somewhere unexpected in the world, seemingly founding La Mama companies wherever she would go.

She had La Mamas all over the universe and she truly defined the words “multi-cultural” before there even was such a word.

At her wake, there was a closed coffin, white  flowers ( where they lilies?) everywhere and a (marvelous slide show was playing in the West Village funeral parlors two rooms that were PACKED with Ellen’s “babies.”

She HAD to play the mother role and it was one she excelled at, obviously, and you were always the “baby” no matter how old you got to be.

She started as an elevator operator at Sak’s Fifth Avenue, probably the only job opened to her in that esteemed store. Still an epitome of style. And boy, did Ellen have style! She designed her own dresses, totally self-taught, and wore them in her elevator, and they were sooo strikingly orignal, that the stores’ owners took note and before you knew it, she was DESIGNING clothes at Sak’s! The first black woman to do that. And this was in the ’50s! There were many early black and white photos of Ellen from those days, and before. She certainly seemed model-beautiful. Breathtakingly so. It was wonderful to see fashion shots of her from a time before we knew her as La Mama.

By the early ’60’s she had started her coffee-house theatre and called it La Mama, since “Mama” was what everybody was calling her then. And it was in an East Village basement. And it was the beginning of the Off Off Broadway movement that was to change the American theatre.

La Mama was totally color-blind and so was her theater. It was one of the first places that African-Americans could find a home. One of her brothers wanted to do a play he had written but according to Ellen “He broke his soul” trying to find a place to do it. And so she started her coffee house theater.

I would say single-handedly she started the Off Off Broadway movement but actually there were two other theatrical spaces that were burgeoning simultaneously with La Mama. The Cafe Cino, run by the late Joe Cino. And the Judson Poets’ Theater which was housed in the famous Greenwich Village Church right on Washington Square. And the late Rev. Al Carmines was its’ resident composer, turning out new musicals every single week, it seemed, that the congregation appeared in. EVERY single member who wanted to sing, could sing. The chorus was enormous and filled the church was years with celestial music.

Ellen meanwhile watched her coffee house basement theater grow to the point that it had to move into a four story building, 74A East Fourth Street, which is where I met her, and which is where it is still functioning today.

I started as an assitant stage manager there. The PROP boy, in essence, for the resident GPA Nucleus which was at the time Ellen’s Black company and the all black cast were doing Ed Bullin’s “Street Sounds.” Future Tony Winner Mary Alice (“Fences”) was in the cast of a play that was nothing but monologues.

It was something I never DREAMED I would do and it started me in one improbable(to my VERY young mind) job after another at La Mama.

I worked the box-office guarded by two VERY vicious German Shepherd dogs, one white and one black, called Slick and Sooner. And I was deathly afraid of dogs! AND I was allergic! But Ellen made me do it and I got over both those fears.

I think she thought it was GOOD for me. Or anyone in her orbit, to do things they were afraid of and thought they CAN’T possibly do.

Over my protestations over Slick and Sooner and I being enclosed in such a confined space, I remember her saying “You’re going to be glad they’re there.”

And eventually, I was. The East Village was a VERY dangerous place then, and NOBODY bothered Slick, Sooner or me.  Ellen was of course, right, as she always was.

Eventually I started my career as an actor there in Sam Shepherd’s “Melodrama Play” as a stoned hippie who couldn’t stopped laughing.

And Ellen started doing my plays there, too. “Audition!” in 1972 and later “The Kitty Glitter Story” which starred Agosto Machado and later she showed my first film there “Two Saints” which also starred Agosto, the magnificent Oriental transvestite, who I had met around the corner at the original WPA when I was cast as Candy Darling’s mother in Jackie Curtis’ Warholian musical extravaganza “Vain Victory.”

I met Andy Warhol there while I was working on the box-office one night and Tennessee Williams, too. What did they have in common? Both were gay and both were nervous wrecks. Andy had just been shot and Tennessee was so worried about the opening of his new play “Small Craft Warnings” across the street at the Truck and Warehouse OFF Broadway theater, he was fleeing town.

I met most of the people who were to form my life there, and many who are still my friends today. My composer Donald Arrington and Susan Haskins and filmmaker Nancy Heiken main among many.

I could go on and on. And maybe I will, someday, with the title “I Remember La Mama” firmly placed in my mind.

R.I.P. Mama

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: