Oct 21, 2020

Some Good News . . .


All the links on this website should be working now because the Film Journal International website has been restored: http://fj.webedia.us The magazine ceased publishing in December 2018, and then in June, its content disappeared. 

I have removed all the links to my work for Biography.com because that website removed all my reviews and features (and those of others) when they stopped film coverage altogether. I will soon be restoring some with links to PDFs on Google Drive. 

Best news (besides the fact that the Democrats will boycott the committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett) is that my Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic profile is restored along with more than a decade of links to my reviews: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/maria-garcia/movies

Aug 31, 2020

Writing About (Dead) Iconic Figures

In my last two "Cinema" columns for Ambassador, instead of interviews with living filmmakers, I was compelled to write about film professionals who are dead, namely Federico Fellini and Ennio Morricone. This was a somewhat new endeavor for me. I have written two long-form pieces about my favorite actress, Anna Magnani, one a review of a retrospective of her work at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and another in a year when there were so few Italian films released in the U.S., I could indulge myself by devoting a column to my favorite Magnani roles. 

I occasionally write about recently released classics on Blu-ray, mostly for Cineaste, for instance my recent review of John Ford's The Last Hurrah (1958). I always enjoy revisiting Ford, one of America's great directors, and researching stories about the production, especially when I feel that the movie is under-appreciated as this movie undoubtedly is—who can resist a cast that stars Spencer Tracy, and includes such Ford regulars as Basil Rathbone, Jane Darwell, Donald Crisp and John Carradine? 

With the Fellini and Morricone columns, my writing was focused on the work, the cinematic legacy, a comfortable circumstance for a film critic. With the 100th anniversary of Federico Fellini's birth this year, there was no way to avoid writing about him. His portrayal of women has always made his films problematic for me, and in revisiting his work in the course of my research, I found my opinion had not changed. Much of his oeuvre is dated, but the performances of his wife, closest collaborator and star, Giulietta Masina, are vibrant and worthy of more critical consideration than they have been afforded. Their collaboration gave me the "hook" for my piece. (It appears here: https://www.niaf.org/niaf_magazine/ambassador-magazine-vol-31-no-4-current-issue/)

With the Ennio Morricone column, which will appear in the upcoming Fall issue of Ambassador, the research was daunting, in part because of the length of the composer's career in film. I had the advantage of being able to read some newspaper articles in Italian, and that gave me anecdotes that did not appear in the American press, but it was necessary for me to conduct more database research than usual. While I consider myself well-informed on the subject of film music, I am not a musician. And, to write about the maestro, who was also a classical composer, I had to explain the reason his music was considered so innovative, without the benefit of a web-based platform. (Ambassador appears online but as a PDF.) In other words, I could not provide readers with musical or video clips.

I found myself rewriting the introductory paragraphs for two weeks before realizing that I needed some of the vocabulary of a music critic. Of course, I did more research, and that yielded an intriguing quote from Morricone in an interview published 25 years ago, in which he said that he began each of his compositions with "a brick from Bach." As a passionate early music "fan," I listen to Bach often, and started speculating about the nature of the maestro's "brick" in Bugsy (1991) and Cinema Paradiso (1994), two of my favorite Morricone scores. 

I was not exactly "off and running" after that—Red Smith was not exaggerating when he said that writing is an endeavor in which you "open a vein and bleed"—but I had the structure for my 1300-word article. In retrospect, I found a way to comment on the life of two iconic figures with some biographical research, although in the end mainly through their work. One of the benefits of being a film critic is that the research, in addition to reading interviews and reviews (and sometimes the more painful task of rereading your own published pieces), entails screening the work of talented filmmakers like Giuseppe Tornatore and Barry Levinson.

Jun 7, 2020

Pandemic Woes

Yet another iteration of Box Office's abandonment of Film Journal International's content has left dozens of writers with broken links and audiences without the comprehensive coverage of that magazine.
In addition to having less work over the past three months, I recently discovered some of the links on this website from Film Journal International (where I was a contributing writer for over 20 years) are not working because Box Office, the entity that purchased FJI, changed its website configuration. I'm working my way through fixing these.

Like others who do creative work, I also discovered that the pandemic did not really free up time for me to pursue projects that were delayed by the exigencies of earning a living. I never had that two-week pause many received during the depths of the pandemic; my husband and I were both working, he at locations away from home. Sitting 6 feet apart at the dinner table, and having to sleep in separate rooms, our only consolation was that we were still able to pay our bills. Uninterrupted sleep was rare--and still is as the phased "reopening" of the city feels rushed and ill-advised. 

Nothing stifles the ability to write more than anxiety. It is a romantic notion that the vast majority of writers are half-mad or heavy drinkers who continually ask their editors or publishers to extend their deadlines. Actually, just the opposite is the norm. Most of us stick to a strict routine of writing every day, and the slightest interruption of that routine--having to work in the afternoon rather than the early morning, for instance, or having too much work or too little--can cause tremendous disruption, to the point where an 800-word piece that usually takes a few days to write can stretch to weeks of revision.

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo announced that New York City saw "only 35 deaths." That flattens the curve, yes, but what of those 35 families who could not be beside their loved ones as they struggled to survive? And what of the families of the tens of thousands of New Yorkers who died? Have they "recovered"? The misery of loss, so many iterations of loss, hangs over the city. Four hundred thousand New Yorkers are expected return to work on Monday. Does that mean we have recovered?

I've not lost anyone to COVID 19, but the rush to "recovery" feels forced. I have trouble remembering what I wrote just a few weeks ago, and I have not touched the book I began in February. Finding my way back to my routine does not yet seem possible. The undertow is still there.

Mar 20, 2020

Updating Feature Articles

My Winter 2019 interview with Jared Lamenzo

Please note updates to "Recent Features" that includes some of my Toronto Film Festival coverage. In print, the cover story in the current issue of Cineaste is my interview with Kasi Lemmons for Harriet (2019), also part of my TIFF coverage.

See updates to "Favorite Interviews" that includes my interview with master organist Jared Lamenzo who also heads "Friends of the Erben Organ," an organization formed to restore the historic instrument in Old St. Patrick's Cathedral here in New York City.

Cinema in Our Historical Moment

Luca waiting for the 11 AM pet and scratch.
Spring is a busy time for film critics, but press screenings are far and few between this year, and major film release dates are being pushed to later in the year. In New York City and Los Angeles, movie theaters are shuttered. The very fabric of an industry, of its deal-making, its celebrity-packed festivals, and the glittering allure of openings and award ceremonies, seem evanescent—the Cannes Film Festival, founded in 1939, and cancelled after its first screening with the invasion of Poland, is rescheduled for mid-summer.

Critics are being offered Vimeo links for review, but magazines and newspapers are warning their freelancers that pages will be cut. This is true not just for those of us who write for print venues, but for online periodicals as well. Budgets, too, will be trimmed. Streaming services may be flourishing—it is hard to know when so many are private companies—but in a few weeks’ time, if not already, many Americans will tire of working at home. Frayed nerves are likely in households where spouses are suddenly working in the same room, and children and perhaps extended family, are also at home. I am accustomed to writing at home—in fact, I am challenged by my part-time educator position where I have to write in a cubicle. Now the latter will move to online modalities. I’m learning new skills.

I posted a list of films on my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/MariaGarciaNYC) for the age of viruses, but I feel as I did after 9/11. Somewhat adrift. Frontline healthcare workers are at risk, but they have purpose, as does the cleaning crew at my college—last week, Mickey, one cheery soul among that group, admitted that the absence of students made her sad, but that it was nice to be able to clean something and have it stay clean for a few days! So many have lost their jobs in New York City that of us struggling to adjust are lucky. While full-time and part-time educators, especially longstanding ones, are being tested by online course delivery, we, too, have purpose. But what of the purpose of the cinema, of the film book I am researching and writing? Learning is a lifelong pursuit, and I am in the privileged position of conducting research, of contributing to film scholarship . . . and I have a family that includes two cats. Eleven AM, right about now, is neck-scratching time. COVID 19 hasn’t changed that! The wisdom of our beautiful, furry companions: live in the moment.

Dec 23, 2019

Best Quest Films of 2019

A still from "Honeyland," one of my picks for "Best Quest Films of 2019"
“Best Quest Films of 2019"

My yearly selection of “best quest films” (in alphabetical order) is based upon the criteria I discuss in my recent book Cinematic Quests for Identity: The Hero’s Encounter with the Beast (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015). Quests for identity and individuation are undertaken many times in a person’s life; at the movies (and in real life), all are heroic endeavors because the search for consciousness and meaning is a dangerous psychological and spiritual undertaking in patriarchal societies.

I should note that the rating of films is not the purpose of film criticism, nor of any scholarly or journalistic endeavor. Film criticism should educate audiences to the art form by pointing to movies that in some way possess cultural value. For me, that is the purpose of my yearly list. (My filmmaker interviews are indicated by links.)

Tom Harper’s The Aeronauts

Jia Zhangke’s Ash is the Purest White (http://fj.webedia.us/features/crime-and-passion-jia-zhangkes-ash-purest-white-time-spanning-story-love-and-betrayal)

Deon Taylor’s Black and Blue

Laura Bispuri’s Figlia Mia (Daughter of Mine, pg. 62, http://www.niaf.org/niaf_magazine/vol-30-no-1/)

Michela Occhipinti’s Flesh Out (pg. 63: http://www.niaf.org/niaf_magazine/vol-30-no-4/)

Tamara Kotevska’s Honeyland

Alex Holmes & Victoria Gregory’s Maiden

Gavin Hood’s Official Secrets

Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Cineaste’s Winter 2019 issue, now on newsstands)

Tom Harper’s Wild Rose

Best Quest Film with no U.S. distribution: Bora Kim’s House of Hummingbird

Oct 19, 2019

Toronto International Film Festival Coverage

Some of my coverage of the festival is in my Ambassador column. The magazine is now a consumer publication: www.niaf.org/niaf_magazine/vol-31-no-1/ (page 59).

My Faculty Page at BMCC

This semester, adjunct instructors at Borough of Manhattan Community College were given faculty pages. Here is mine: https://www.bmcc.cuny.edu/faculty/maria-garcia/

Aug 4, 2019

D.A. "Penny" Pennebaker

Photo Credit: David Shankbone (2007)
Oscar winner D.A. Pennebaker died today at the age of 94. I had the great privilege of interviewing "Penny" (the name he preferred) in 2017, upon the re-release of Monterey Pop, his iconic 1968 concert film. He was candid, friendly and generous with his time. Like many great documentary filmmakers, he was humbled by his subjects. My interview is here: http://bit.ly/2LZqyC0 

Jul 23, 2019

"Ricky Renuncia!"

Carla Minet, head of The Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism.
Revolutionary change is often attributed to male heroes but as scholars and filmmakers study the past, it is clear that this is a misrepresentation of history. For instance, in Nancy Burski’s The Rape of Recy Taylor (http://fj.webedia.us/reviews/film-review-rape-recy-taylor), we learn that while men led the Civil Rights Movement, it was the courage of African-American women in reporting their sexual abuse at the hands of white men that spurred the actions of African-American male heroes.

For the past week, we have witnessed the protests in Puerto Rico that began with the leak of chats exchanged by government officials. That leak originated in the office of Carla Minet, the head of The Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism, a courageous activist. In the movement’s protest song, “Sharpening the Knives,” there is the triumphant voice of another woman, iLe, the Puerto Rican Grammy-winning singer of Calle 13.

Under the section on this blog, “In the News,” I’ve posted a link to proud Puerto Rican Rosie Perez’s delightful documentary, Yo Soy Boricua Pa'Que Tu Lo Sepas!, which is on YouTube in its entirety. I also posted a link to my review of Puerto Rican filmmaker Marcos Zurinaga’s The Disappearance of Garcia Lorca, which was filmed in Puerto Rico. Though flawed, Zurinaga’s film features one of actor Andy Garcia’s best star performances. (Garcia is a Cubano.) He plays the iconic Spanish poet.  

Jul 3, 2019

A Writing Life

Believe it or not: this picture is not staged. I was not feeling well, and decided to stay in bed, and work there. At first, Luna tried to help, but as kittens will, she dropped off to sleep. I should have taken my cue from that, but I was on deadline.

A few weeks ago, I was invited to attend a “Literature into Film” class to discuss a chapter in my recent book, Cinematic Quests for Identity. As a part-time academic, I love these invitations, and immediately said “yes.” The professor, a former colleague, had assigned her students the chapter on Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs, a movie most of her sophomores and juniors had just screened for the first time. All were reading Thomas Harris’s book. She confessed that she wanted her students to see the movie as I had, not as a murder mystery but as a woman’s quest for self-actualization.

Having to re-read my own work is not something I enjoy—few writers do. Afterward, I looked at my notes from a previous class in which I was an invited guest, and at my notes on bookstore readings. By the time I entered the classroom, I was satisfied that I had adequately reacquainted myself with the major themes of the chapter. . . but the students wanted to talk about writing: why write a book, how long had it taken me, what were my writing habits? The latter forced me to reflect on my own creative process, another uncomfortable task.

One student asked: Do you write at night? No, I said. I awaken at 6 AM every day so that I can write for a few uninterrupted hours. Next: What did I do for inspiration? How many words did I write a day? In answer to both questions, I joked that it depended upon what I was getting paid. Most of what is published in writers’ magazines and general interest publications are articles about fiction writers, I explained, and they like to talk about inspiration. If you want to be a non-fiction writer, I told them, you need to be interested in people and their stories. Cinematic Quests for Identity arose out of the idea that so many of the narrative films I liked, and some bio-docs, revealed a pattern of self-actualization that I discovered in my own life and in the lives of my family and friends.
We spoke about Demme’s film, and my analysis of it, but about half of our discussion centered on the act of writing as a job, a profession, a way of being. I said that I found it hard to write if I did not swim laps in the pool, or take long walks along the river. It helps me, I told the students, to have a hobby because writing is not tangible. When I had space to do it, I refinished furniture. I like working with wood, and wish I could do it more often. When we had a country house, I enjoyed gardening and found that I had a real knack for it. One afternoon, as I was making a tomato sauce with the fruit that I had grown, I experienced such a palpable memory from my childhood that I began writing a memoir. Did I plan to publish it, a student asked, and I replied that it was too early to tell. Some students were surprised that a working writer would begin an essay or a book without the thought of it being published. That's a writing life, I explained.

May 26, 2019

Reconstructed and Launched

Staying with my theme of birds and their nests, this photo, taken at the Jamaica Wildlife Sanctuary in Queens, New York, is of osprey fledglings preparing for flight, and represents my launch of the reconstructed website. 

The new version of l'Ultima Parola is complete.

I have added new items to "Selected Film Reviews," including my most recent review for the Los Angeles Times. A new section called "In the News" appears to the right of this column; it will change frequently to include reviews of films or filmmaker interviews that are suddenly topical. I have begun with Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne who just won the "Best Director" prize at Cannes. I have interviewed the Belgian filmmakers several times, but this is my most recent interview with them for The Unknown Girl (2017). I will also be adding my interview with Laura Poitras for "Risk," her documentary about Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder the U.S. seeks to extradite on charges of publishing classified materials.

As for the restoration of links by BoxOffice for the writing of dozens of freelancers, formerly of Film Journal International, that's still in limbo. In the meantime, I hope readers of this compendium website will enjoy browsing the new categories.

May 15, 2019

Just Added: "Some of My Favorite Interviews"

Mountain Bluebirds were occasional visitors to my hogan when I lived in Tsaile, Arizona.

When I started reconstructing this website a few weeks ago, I also began organizing my tear sheet files. Tear sheets were the way magazine and newspaper writers preserved their work before the Internet. If you recall, I had to reconstruct this compendium site because Box Office bought Film Journal International last year and then removed FJI’s content from their website in March. That left dozens of freelancers, many of us contributing writers to FJI, reeling; our websites were built on those links, as were our Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic profiles. After the sale of FJI, I began creating PDFs of my articles from the website; I have over 500 reviews and interviews, but because of the faulty search function on that website, I am not sure that represents all of my work for FJI over the past 23 years.

The hours I spent rifling through tear sheets led to me to create file folders by date, separating feature articles and interviews from film reviews, the latter of which I’m still sorting. I discovered my travel, and food pieces, too. I am not in the least bit nostalgic, but during this dusty task, I could not help reflecting on the many remarkable artists I have had the privilege of interviewing. That led me to create new categories for this website, among them “Some of my Favorite Interviews.” This list may change over the course of a year as I can’t list all of them. I hope the older articles will lead readers of this post back to movies they have not seen in years, or have never seen at all.

Yesterday, I came across an interview from the fall of 1998 when I heard that Irwin Winkler would be shooting on-location in Greenwich Village. I called his Hollywood office to ask if I could get an interview. My magazine editor said it would be a waste of time; another writer had asked, and gotten a “no.” It was never easy to get on-location interviews. In the course of my telephone pitch, Winkler’s assistant asked if I had ever been on-location. “No,” I said, “except when I was a film student.” She called me back an hour later to say that Winkler would allow me on the set. I was to get there in the morning and hope that the crane shot went well. Then I could get my 45 minutes with Winkler.

When I got to the West 4th Street location, I recognized John Seale, the Oscar-winning cinematographer. He was standing on the curb at the border of Washington Square Park, holding up a light meter. I introduced myself, and took advantage of the few minutes I had with him as he walked me over to Winkler. I asked him to define great cinematography. “It fits the story,” he said, and then smiled. “The story” is a trope in Hollywood. Production designers, composers and editors had given me the same answer when I asked them about their craft. Seale knew that and he added: “It has to be seamless. This is my first time with Irwin, and he understands that.”

Winkler was seated in front of his monitor when we reached him. He looked up and said: “We’re losing the light, Johnny.” Apparently, the crane shot had not been completed. The iconic Hollywood producer and director motioned for me to sit in a canvas chair; on the back of it was a sign in neat lettering, “Visitor.” It meant anyone who wanted to speak to Winkler now whispered in his ear. “Almost 4 hours,” he said to me, pointing at the cranes, “and it will be about 10 seconds of screen time. We only have the permit for today.” I knew at that point that I would be there more than 45 minutes.

May 5, 2019

Reconstruction Underway

Slowly escaping the nest . . .
Making progress . . . links are working in new categories that include "About the Craft of Filmmaking," "Italia," Italian film and filmmakers, "Recent Features," "Selected Film Reviews," and "Women Filmmakers and Women's (and Girls') Stories." Upcoming categories are "Food, Wine, Travel" that will include samples of my articles on these subjects, many of which include my photography, and "7 Years of Human Rights Watch Film Festival," reports on the festival itself, that often include filmmaker interviews.

May 2, 2019

Spring Reconstruction

After the loss of links to much of my work on the web (see previous post), I have decided to reconstruct my website. In the meantime, please bear with me as I try to rebuild . . .

At the Jamaica Wildlife Sanctuary in Queens, New York, last summer.