Director Spotlight : The Films of Kasi Lemmons

evesbayou

cavemansvalentine

With the perhaps unnecessarily color titled BLACK NATIVITY headed to theaters this November, I thought now was the perfect time to take a pictorial gander at the films of its director Kasi Lemmons; a director who unfortunately like too many directors, particularly directors of color, does not get a chance to work enough.

Her 1997 debut film EVE’S BAYOU remains a personal and perennial favorite, being equal parts coming of age story and southern gothic tinged horror and magical realism. In the nearly 20 years since that film’s debut she has managed to make 4 feature films and one short, which is good to have at least that much work from a unique and talented director, and is also a tragedy to only have had that much work from a talented and unique director.

I do think the economics of making a theatrically viable film in Hollywood has kept her from truly exploring the promise of her first film; as I would have loved to see a dozen movies from Kasi Lemmon’s in her unique and dangerous southern gothic magic realism vibe. In the directorial genes of Kasi Lemmons, you had the promise of a director with the unique output of a David Fincher or Nicolas Winding Refn.

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However the films we do get from her, even hampered by the constraints of producing more accessible and conventional movies, still are never completely… conventional. There are stylistic choices and decisions that in places, take your breath away. Particularly she has never shied away from strong Black protagonists, and Black male protagonists as heroes, leading men, rather than comedy relief or the sexless partner.

Kasi Lemmon’s cinematic viewpoint of Black Masculinity, even when that masculinity is dangerous or flawed, is never less than riveting and dignified and hopeful, and as such is a viewpoint that is virtually forbidden/extinct in Hollywood films. I doubt BLACK NATIVITY will be likewise blessed, but I will still support the film and go see it, in the hopes a respectable opening gets Lemmons back to making films, that transcend… convention.

blacknativity

Eve’s Bayou

The Caveman’s Valentine

Talk to Me

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Today’s recommended Writer: John Ridley Pt 1 of 2

John Ridley is one of the most versatile of writers, starting out doing writing for such shows as MARTIN and FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR he would follow that up with some of the most accomplished novels, screenplays, and films of the waning days of the 20th and new days of the 21st century.

For me his loose HARD LUCK pulp trilogy of STRAY DOGS, LOVE IS A RACKET and EVERYBODY SMOKES IN HELL are the books that made me a John Ridley fan. They are a series of exhilarating mystery novels, that share only a thematic sensibility but a successful one, of a hard luck or down on their luck protagonist, trying to navigate a world completely out of his control.

Stray Dogs

Love Is a Racket

Everybody Smokes in Hell

These would spawn two equally excellent films, Namely U-TURN based on STRAY DOGS and directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn and Jennifer Lopez, and COLD AROUND THE HEART written and directed by Ridley and starring David Caruso, Kelly Lynch and Stacey Dash, both excellent, intimate, dark noirs/neo-noirs in the vein of films such as BLOOD SIMPLE and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.

Unfortunately both films were released in 1997, the year of Blockbusters such as TITANIC, GOOD WILL HUNTING, FIFTH ELEMENT, MEN IN BLACK, as well as the year of the crime film/neo noir JACKIE BROWN, LA CONFIDENTIAL, LOST HIGHWAY, THE GAME. It was just a case of bad timing, and these great movies getting squeezed out at the box office.

Unfortunately I think what the financial under-performance of the films, specifically COLD AROUND THE HEART robbed us of most, was more work from John Ridley as director. I think in any less big-budget heavy year, his COLD AROUND THE HEART would have done for him what ONE FALSE MOVE did for the career of Carl Franklin, or the aforementioned BLOOD SIMPLE did for the Coen Brothers.

As it is both films are available on DVD (unfortunately Director’s Commentary versions aren’t yet out there) and can be appreciated for the stylish and compelling films they are.

And they led into the next phase of John Ridley’s career.

U Turn: Price your copy here

Cold Around the Heart: Price your copy here

-End of Part I-

Aristocrats of Insanity: The books of Thomas Ligotti

“A paralysis had seized them, that state of soul known to those who dwell on the highest state of madness, aristocrats of insanity whose nightmares confront them on either side of sleep.”
—from Thomas Ligotti’s THE TSALAL short story, available in his excellent collection NOCTUARY

I’ve spent an inordinate amount on collecting the work of Thomas Ligotti, and I’m not quite sure of it, his works, or even sure of him yet, as a writer.

His MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE, one of his later collection of stories, was just plain… endless. It was often tiresome, un-engaging writing that spiraled itself into ever tightening circles of disinterest. Luckily, I did not buy MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE, but had the good sense to rent from the Library.

While Nihilism is a state we all flirt with, particularly the artistic minded, to make of those fleeting moments a religion or a philosophy or a world view, is the height of maudlin, affected, self indulgent claptrap.

Particularly to invoke thousands of words to the belief in meaninglessness or the uselessness of everything or the need for everything to be exterminated, as Ligotti purportedly does in his non-fiction book THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE (and no I’m not about to read it, the snippets I’ve read are enough, when Ligotti is being maudlin I can’t make it through his short stories, much less his novel length attempt at philosophy) is the height of affectation and self-delusion.

If nothing means anything what the eff are you writing for?

Have the strength of your convictions and off yourself, or the more rational and preferred thing… embrace the fact that your convictions may need work, and life can be good as well as bad, and that’s reason enough… for everything.

So Ligotti, when he gets out of his own way, and doesn’t succumb to his own ennui, or believe too much in the precarious hype heaped on him by his overly ‘cultist’ fan base… can be a great writer (the only thing more detrimental to a writer than the critic who believes he can do no right, is the fan who believes he can do no wrong. The former at least would potentially embrace change, the latter, should your style change/mature, would hate you for ‘selling out’). Unfortunately in any given collection, he tends to be a .500 hitter.

However perusing his earlier collections there is much there to be enamored of, in that 50%.

SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER (1985,1989)
Songs of a Dead Dreamer

GRIMSCRIBE (1991)
Grimscribe: His Lives and Works

NOCTUARY (1994)
Noctuary

THE AGONIZING RESURRECTION OF VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (1994 – On the low end copies of this are going for a few hundred dollars. Pretty expensive for a book of not even short stories, but snippets, vignettes. Save yourself money and buy SONGS OF A DEAD DREAMER instead, as they share some of the same vignettes.)
The agonizing resurrection of Victor Frankenstein: & other gothic tales

THE NIGHTMARE FACTORY (1996- Collects the previous, at the time, out of print story collections).
The Nightmare Factory

[There were some CD chap books that were released in this period.]

MY WORK IS NOT YET DONE (2001)

THE SHADOW AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD (2005- With NIGHTMARE FACTORY being out of print, this is NIGHTMARE FACTORY light, being a smaller, less comprehensive collection, sampling of Ligotti’s previously published work. With a few new stories tossed in. This was my introduction to Ligotti, and considering I’m still talking about him, I guess it was a good one)
The Shadow at the Bottom of the World

TEATRO GROTTESCO (2006)- And as with previous volumes there’s very little new here, it’s mostly a repackaging of previously collected stories. However, because this is the newest, this is the most affordable collection out there, so makes a great starting place. Plus the Virgin Books edition that is available is very nicely laid out, readable interior, comfortable compact shape, and a cover that is a closeup on the face of a weathered, broken doll… which says everything you need it to say about the work within.

Teatro Grottesco

So I’m not sure the future is going to bring us anything substantially new from Ligotti, more than likely just ever more expensive repackaging of older stories. But it does mean you can pick up just about any volume and get a nice sampling of Ligotti’s work.

I think you’ll find, Ligotti at his best… worth your time.