My Psychedelic Love Story (Errol Morris, 2020): USA

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson

The latest documentary from the renowned filmmaker of the Thin Blue Line and Fog of War, Errol Morris, comes a tell-all story of Johanna Harcourt-Smith, a once young, jet-setting, an aristocratic Jewish woman who cavorted with the high priest of LSD, Timothy Leary. My Psychedelic Love Story is the story of Harcourt-Smith and O’Leary as they circumvent extradition and indulge themselves in daily acid trips for a two-month period before Leary is extradited back to the US and incarcerated.

Having recently watched The Trial of the Chicago 7, on Netflix, I cannot say I was surprised to see Timothy Leary jailed for such a long period of time for such a small amount of marijuana possession. The underlying story was the Nixon Administration making an example of another high-profile individual who encouraged others to think and act “outside the box.” All in the name of law and order.

Morris bases his work in My Psychedelic Love Story on a four-tape interview Leary gave with a prison psychologist. In agreeing to be interviewed,  Leary makes clear in the tapes he wanted the love of his life, Ms. Johanna Hardourt,  to have custody of the tapes. But, according to Harcourt, her life centered on Leary and getting him his release from prison. Leary was undergoing hallucinogenic treatment while incarcerated. First from Harcourt smuggling in acid tabs in her belly button and through postage stamps on her letters sent through the US Postal Office.

Eventually, the government (the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency) threatened Leary with an ultimatum – publicly announce his cooperation to halt the LSD crisis or spend the remainder of his life in a psychiatric ward with a fried brain. His incarceration would soon include his ingestion of stronger and stronger doses of hallucinogens until he lost his mind. Leary agreed to cooperate, was released from prison in the Witness Protection Program, and was living in a small cabin in Idaho with no electricity. One night he and Harcourt had an argument. Leary left in the middle of the night and Harcourt never saw Leary again.

Only within the last few years when some of her belongings were sent to her did Harcourt listen to the interview tapes from 1974. Morris has his interracamera, as well as several other cameras, place at various angles and vantage points as Harcourt delivers a monologue of epic proportions. As Harcourt drifts from topic to topic Morris introduces still photographs, archival footage, and a clip from Alice in Wonderland as Harcourt is a compelling storyteller. During her two-month jet-setting romance with Leary, she recalls her conversations with Keith Richards and how she encouraged him to go to America and make albums with the Rolling Stones. The trips to Switzerland, Norway, France, and back again. Listening to her tell her tale coupled with Morris’ use of image inserts of colorful Tarot cards, I felt captivated and often wondered how could Harcourt have such a vivid recollection of her and Leary’s travels on the run from the law. Nevertheless, My Psychedelic Love Story is quite a tale. Highly recommended!

 

FILM REVIEW: Joseph Puleo’s “America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill”

Posted and reviewed by Larry Gleeson.

“America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill” (Courtesy of St. Louis International Film Festival)

America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill, directed by Joseph Puleo and based on Rio Vitale’s book, St. Louis’s The Hill, was a walk down memory lane for me as a history buff with family ties to the area around The Hill, an Italian enclave and the last remaining Litlle Italy in the United States. America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill explores the deep historic roots of the iconic St. Louis neighborhood and the Italians who immigrated to The Hill in pursuit of the American Dream of owning a home and starting a family.  This is a project I imagine the likes of Martin Scorcese making – only Marty tends to stick to his own neighborhood in New York City (Mean Streets, and The Oratorio). Nevertheless, when he sees this film, I hallucinate he’ll be beaming with Italian Pride.  America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill which screened at the recent St. Louis International Film Festival (SLIFF) is Joseph Puleo’s first feature and was the recipient of the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Cinema St. Louis Showcase. Rio Vitale is credited as the film’s Executive Producer.

With a smooth opening black screen coupled with non-diegetic chimes, the film meanders in the darkness before it reveals an interview with Msgr. Salvatore Polizzi. Msgr. Polizzi, a Roman Catholic priest and former associate pastor of The Hill neighborhood’s St. Ambrose Catholic Church in the late 1960s and early 1970s, begins speaking about the general fear many Americans experienced going into an Italian community, “And we were kind of happy there was a fear also.” The film transitioned as introduction titles rolled and the historical documentary was off and running informing the viewer of the setting with home videos and a still photograph of the most recognizable landmark in St. Louis, Missouri, The Gateway Arch. The editing and soundtrack are seamless and spot-on as both aspects enhanced the film’s narrative.

With America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill Puleo provides an eloquent treatment of the Italian immigrant coming to America and settling into the area and becoming a part of the social fabric. Puleo utilized a plethora of black and white photographs, newspaper articles as well as a multitude of interviews with a wide-ranging assortment of Hill residents and extended family members sharing their experiences, strength, and hope. Fr. Polizzi arrived at St. Ambrose Parish in the late 1960s immediately immersing himself in the community. The early 1970s was a time of great social and cultural upheaval and brought changes to the area – think of Travis Bickle’s opening voice-over monologue in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Fr. Polizzi and the men of The Hill neighborhood took matters into their own hands to ensure the neighborhood was kept intact and the darker elements were kept out. The women did the same (and more), to keep their Italian heritage alive and thriving. The nearby Shaw neighborhood by comparison (a war zone) didn’t fare so well.

For me, growing up in the Metro-East area of St. Louis and being a long-time St. Louis Cardinal baseball fan,  my mother had friends on The Hill, notably Eleanor Berra Marfisi, a Berra family member, and author of The Hill: Its History – Its Recipes. Naturally, Mother informed me Lawrence “Yogi” Berra, a brilliant baseball player and manager, was from The Hill. Most baseball fans have heard of Yogi Berra and his Yogiisms as had I (“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”). However, I wasn’t aware of his 10 World Series Championships and the three Most Valuable Player Awards he earned while playing baseball for the New York Yankees. I was probably more familiar with The Hill’s Peabody Award-winning, and recipient of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding broadcasting achievement, Joe Garagiola. Garagiola broke into the MLB with the 1946 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals Baseball Team. Within a runtime of seventy minutes, Puleo covers all this and much more including how and why The Hill, named for its proximity to the highest point in St. Louis, is America’s last Little Italy today.

Viewing America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill brought back a lot of memories including the above mentioned. Others included learning about St. Ambrose from my dear friend Mike Cucchi (pronounced ˈko͝okē), a standout soccer player and local college soccer coach who made gossip fodder when he “finally moved off The Hill.” Niki Cusamano and  Alisa Santangelo remain and are a part of the new generation of Italian-Americans who want to be a part of The Hill’s St. Louis Italian traditions. I can tell you whenever I visit family in St. Louis, I visit The Hill and Cunetto’s House of Pasta. Last visit my oldest brother Jim introduced me to Frank Cunetto, who is featured in the film as one of The Hill’s restaurateurs, and to our server at Cunetto’s, Vicki, a Hill resident of Sicilian heritage.

America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill TV premiere is scheduled for Monday, November 30th, 7 PM, with a second showing on December 6th, 4 PM on Nine Network PBS. DVD’s are also available in limited quantities on the film’s Facebook page. I’ve seen a lot of films this year and America’s Last Little Italy: The Hill sits at the top!

Highly recommended!

Hollywood Foreign Press Interview: Amanda Seyfried

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Anticipation is making me wait! For the last several weeks’ Oscar buzz has been swarming all over Mank, the David Fincher biographical drama revolving around the witty and often acerbic, Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter for one of the greatest films ever made, Citizen Kane. The film stars Oscar-winning (Darkest Hour), Gary Oldman, as Mankiewicz, Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies, and Charles Dance as William Randolph Hearst. Mank is coming on December 4th, 2020, to Netflix.  Getting hot and bothered due to my above-average risk of COVID-19, and not being able to attend a theatrical screening, I share this awesome, albeit all-too-brief, interview as it appeared on GoldenGlobes.com. with the always delightful, Amanda Seyfried. Enjoy! And, until next time, I look forward to seeing you at the movies. 

Larry Gleeson, left, with Hollywood starlet, Angie Dickinson. (Photo credit: HollywoodGlee)

Interview by Scott Orlin

November 23, 2020

Amanda Seyfried on “Mank”: “I have never seen myself dressed up that way.”

Amanda Seyfried was all set to start classes at Fordham University when she got the call. The then 18-year-old had been cast in an upcoming feature, Mean Girls, which required her to postpone her college career to co-star in the Tina Fey penned comedy. Needless to say, the decision proved inspired as the Allentown, Pennsylvania native has never looked back.

Pivotal roles in such TV series as Veronica Mars and Big Love led her to her first lead role in the 1999 musical Momma Mia! co-starring Meryl Streep. The movie, which used Abba songs to convey the character’s emotions, was a worldwide smash and would eventually produce a sequel 10 years later. In between her portrayals of Sophie, Seyfried secured parts in Jennifer’s Body, Sucker Punch, Ted, Letters to Juliet, and most recently, the psychological horror film You Should Have Left. Now the mother of two steps before the camera under the tutelage of acclaimed filmmaker David Fincher in the period drama Mank, that details the creation of the classic film Citizen Kane.

You are stepping into the shoes of actress Marion Davies, though popular in her time many people today don’t really know her. What insights did you gain about her in your research?

Marion Davies, while being a movie star and having some people know who she was, is such a mystery. There actually wasn’t a lot of research. I found one book that was an autobiography published posthumously of interviews she had done about ten years before her death. The way she remembers things, we are not really sure how clear they are. She had done a lot of movies but not many knew her back story. If you happened to have seen Citizen Kane, you could see that Susan Alexander was inspired by Marion. It is tough to figure out who she is. I do feel the screenwriter, Jack Fincher really captured who she really was more accurately. We get to see how she communicated with other people, especially by the letters she had written, and so we were able to capture the best of her.

She was quite confident. She knew who she was and operated through life that way.

She wasn’t a worrier. She was an extrovert and loved to have fun. That is absolutely the opposite of me. I like to have fun (laugh). I live like an introvert. I can socialize well but I would rather hole up on my farm. That is great but we share an essence in that she was very kind and just wanted to make the most of it. She liked to celebrate all the time and entertain people. She was cool and knew who she was. I think that is why she was so confident.

The look of the film was quite cool. These women from the 1940s style films were dressed regally and not a flaw on their face. How did you like capturing that visual?

I have never seen myself dressed up that way. Even looking in the mirror on set, it was awe-inspiring. It was kind of surreal. I do watch my movies but I am able to take myself out of it to a point. This viewing experience really struck me by the fact that it made me look like I was really living in that era. It felt like it at times. Not a lot of actors get that opportunity. It was very special. I don’t think I will ever get over it. I wasn’t CGI’d into something. I was there. It is not a trick. It is all so specific to technical details. It is only something Fincher can do.

Speaking of Fincher, how did he work with you? He is notorious for doing many takes.

He knew my character in and out; through his bones. The way he approached me was with the most amount of knowledge about where she was coming from for a specific scene or what she was thinking. It really helped shape my performance. He gave me such details about one little breath that helped me change the reaction to something. He wasn’t that specific but we were on the same ride. He was really connected to Marion in a way that I needed because there were so many things happening. He set these parameters and just led me down the path. He was extraordinary.

Speaking of extraordinary. Congratulations on your new baby.

Thank you. My last baby (laugh).

You never know.

I know (laugh).

 

Sundance Institute Names 2021 Momentum Fellows

Posted by Larry Gleeson

New Collaboration with NBCUniversal to Support Underrepresented Filmmakers in Building Sustainable Careers

 

Los Angeles – Sundance Institute announced today the third class of the Momentum Fellowship, a full-year program of deep, customized creative and professional support for mid-career writers and directors from underrepresented communities who are poised to take the next step in their careers in fiction and documentary filmmaking.

The fellowship includes unrestricted grant funding, industry mentorship, professional coaching offered by Renee Freedman & Company supported by The Harnisch Foundation, writing workshops and industry meetings in Spring 2021, and bespoke year-round support from Sundance Institute staff. Additionally, the FilmTwo Fellowship has merged into the Momentum Fellowship, and NBCUniversal will provide an opportunity to select Momentum fellows working on fiction projects to participate in the Universal Directors Initiative. The two-year at-will initiative provides select participants access to NBCUniversal’s creative executives and producers to build career momentum and exposure to potential directing opportunities across Film, TV, and Streaming.

“We are thrilled to bring back the Momentum Fellowship for a third year, to support these visionary artists at such a critical moment both in their careers and in our culture at large,” said Karim Ahmad , Director, Outreach & Inclusion, Sundance Institute.

Karim Ahmad, Director, Outreach & Inclusion, Sundance Institute.

The Momentum Fellowship, which launched in 2018, evolved from the Women at Sundance Fellowship, a highly successful model that merited expansion for impact across a broader cohort of underrepresented communities.

Those eligible for this intersectional program include artists identifying as women, non-binary and/or transgender, Black, Indigenous, and/or people of color, and artists with disabilities. Past recipients include Andrew Ahn, Linda Yvette Chávez, Christina Choe, Deborah Esquenazi, Rodney Evans, Penny Lane, Avril Z. Speaks, and Malika Zouhali-Worrall.

The Sundance Institute Outreach and Inclusion program is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Emerson Collective, Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, NBCUniversal, Ruderman Family Foundation, Critical Minded, Jason Delane Lee and Yvonne Huff Lee, Netflix, SAGindie, Asante Family Philanthropic Fund, Easterseals Disability Services, Rene Cruz—Esperanza Arts Foundation, Philip Fung—A3 Foundation, and Open Society Foundations.

Women at Sundance is made possible by leadership support from The David and Lura Lovell Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, and Adobe. Additional support is provided by Kimberly Steward, Paul, and Katy Drake Bettner, Barbara Bridges, Abigail Disney, and Pierre Hauser—Like a River Fund, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Rhianon Jones, Suzanne Lerner, Cristina Ljungberg, Susan Bay Nimoy, Ann Lovell, Zions Bank, Visionary Women, Gruber Family Foundation, Pat Mitchell and Scott Seydel, Brenda Robinson, and an anonymous donor.

Also announced today: NBCUniversal is partnering with the Institute on the final FilmTwo Fellowship. The recipients of the Sundance Institute | Universal FilmTwo Fellowship are: Ash Mayfair, Marcel Rasquin, and filmmaking team Samantha Buck and Marie Schlingmann.

The 2021 Momentum Fellows are:

Cristina Costantini

Cristina Costantini is an Emmy award-winning director.  Her latest documentary Mucho Mucho Amor, about famed Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was released on Netflix in 2020. The film was nominated for a Critics Choice Award and won the Best Latinx Film award from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP). Her first feature film, Science Fair, told the story of nine high schoolers from around the world who set out to win the International Science and Engineering Fair. The film won the Sundance Festival Favorite Award in 2018 as well as the SXSW Audience Award, a Critics Choice Award for Best First Time Director, and an Emmy award. Before becoming a documentary filmmaker, Cristina worked as an investigative journalist, covering immigration, detention centers, sex trafficking, and the opiate epidemic for ABC News, Univision, The Huffington Post, and Fusion. Her investigative work has been recognized with a GLAAD Media Award, National Association of Hispanic Journalists Awards, and an Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award. The Wisconsin native is a Yale grad who now lives in California with her husband, Alfie, and their pug dog Harriet. She is a partner at Muck Media, a Los Angeles-based production company.

Natalie Erika James

 

Natalie Erika James is a Japanese-Australian writer/director based in Melbourne, Australia. Her debut feature, Relic, is a psychological horror starring Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin, produced by Carver Films, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nine Stories and executive produced by the Russo Brothers’ Agbo Films. Relic premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and was programmed in SXSW, BFI London Film Festival and Sitges Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Mention for Direction. The film was nominated for Best Original Feature Film at the 2019 Australian Writer’s Guild Awards and nominated for Best Direction in a Feature Film at the 2020 Australian Director’s Guild Awards. Natalie is currently developing Drum Wave, a Japanese folk horror with development support from Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Drum Wave was one of 14 projects selected for the project market at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao, taking home the Best Co-Production prize. Her 2018 proof-of-concept short for Drum Wave was nominated for Best Australian Short Film at the Sydney Film Festival and premiered internationally at Fantastic Fest. Natalie is signed to WME and directs commercials and music videos through Australian production company, Fiction.

Shalini Kantayya