Thursday, June 30, 2022

Special Theme: Black Independents on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday in July

Daughters of the Dust
This July Turner Classic Movies will be showing movies with the Special Theme of Black Independents on Wednesdays. Neither the Silent Era nor the Golden Age of Hollywood were very golden for African Americans. The major studios gave Black actors very little in the way of meaningful roles, with many African American characters being little more than stereotypes. As a result, Black filmmakers had to make movies outside the major studios, movies with primarily Black casts free of the stereotypes so prevalent in the Hollywood movies of the time. Financing was often along the same lines as independent filmmaking remains today, and budgets were often low. With segregation existing throughout much of the United States in the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, race films were almost always shown at Black theatres and in Black neighbourhoods. While race films would disappear in the early Fifties, Black independent filmmakers have continued making movies to this very day.

The films TCM is showing for the Special Theme on Black Independents range from the Silent Era to the 21st Century. The oldest is Oscar Micheaux's The Symbol of the Unconquered, dating to 1921.  The newest is the documentary Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Filmmaking, dating to last year. Viewers will definitely want to tune in Wednesday, June 6 when TCM will be showing Black independent movies from the Silent Era to the Forties. These include Oscar Micheaux's The Symbol of the Unconquered (1921), Powell Lindsay's Souls of Sin (1949), Richard E. Norman's The Flying Ace (1926), and Spencer Williams Jr.'s The Blood of Jesus (1941) and Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946).

Of course, TCM will also be showing more recent films on Wednesday nights in July. On July 13 Turner Classic Movies will be showing Bill Duke's The Killing Floor (1984), an American Playhouse film centred on two sharecrooppers who find jobs in the meatpacking industry in Chicago in the 1930s. It is on late, so viewers will want to set our DVRs. On July 20 TCM is showing Hollywood Shuffle (1987), Robert Townsend's excellent satire of African American stereotypes. Later that same night The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl Dunye's comedy about a video store employee who sets out to make a documentary about a 1930s actress best known for playing stereotypical Mammy roles, airs. On July 27, TCM is showing the classic Daughters of the Dust (1991). Directed by Julie Dash, the film follows a family of Gullah islanders in 1902. It is on fairly late, so viewers might want to set their DVRs.

Below is the schedule for Special Theme: Black Independents. All times are Central.

July 6
7:00 PM  Oscar Micheaux: The Superhero of Black Filmmaking (2021)
9:00 PM The Symbol of the Unconquered (1921)
10:15 PM Souls of Sin (1949)
11:30 PM The Flying Ace (1926)
12:45 AM The Blood of Jesus (1941)
2:00 AM Dirty Gertie from Harlem, U.S.A. (1946)

July 13
7:00 PM Compensation (1999)
8:45 PM Bless Their Little Hearts (1984)
10:15 PM I Will Follow (2010)
11:45 PM My Brother's Wedding (1983)
2:00 AM The Killing Floor (1984)

July 20
7:00 PM Hollywood Shuffle (1987)
8:45 PM Cane River (1982)
10:45 PM Losing Ground (1982)
12:30 AM The Watermelon Woman (1995)
2:00 AM
Sidewalk Stories (1989)

July 27
7:00 PM Medicine for Melancholy (2008)
8:45 PM Hunger (2008)
10:30 PM One False Movie (1991)
12:30 AM Emma Rae (1975)
2:15 AM Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

TCM Spotlight: The History of Rock on Film on Monday Nights in July

The Beatles in  A Hard Day's Night
On Monday nights in July on Turner Classic Movies the TCM Spotlight is on the History of Rock on Film. The movies airing as part of the TCM Spotlight on the History of Rock on Film span most of the history of rock music, from Jailhouse Rock in 1957 to Sid and Nancy in 1986.

Among the films airing on TCM Spotlight: the History of Rock on Film is perhaps the greatest rock musical of all time, The Beatles' movie A Hard Day's Night (1964). As most readers of this blog know, it is one of my favourite movies of all time. Also among the movies I suggest that TCM viewers will not want to miss is Jailhouse Rock, featuring Elvis Presley in his prime. Catch Us if You Can (1965) is stars The Dave Clark Five and is decidedly different from A Hard Day's Night. Don't Look Back (1967) is a documentary is a documentary that follows Bob Dylan on his 1965 tour of England. Bikini Beach (1964) might seem like an unusual choice for the History of Rock on Film, but it features perforances by Stevie Wonder, The Pyramids, and The Exciters. Viva Las Vegas (1964) is my favourite Elvis movie of all time and features the incredible Ann-Margret. Among the other must-see movies are The Harder They Come (1972), starring reggae and ska star Jimmy Cliff, and Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982).

For TCM Spotlight: the History of Rock on Film, Turner Classic Movies has a fairly good line-up of movies. The only changes I would make is that I would have put The Who's movie The Kids Are Alright (1979) and Cliff Richard's Summer Holiday (1963) in there as well. I don't know that I would have included ABBA--The Movie (1977), as I don't think Abba can be considered rock even by the loosest definition of the genre.

Anyway, here is the schedule for TCM Spotlight: Rock on Film. All times are Central.

July 4
7:00 PM Jalihouse Rock (1957)
8:45 PM The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
10:45 PM Great Balls of Fire (1989)
12:45 AM Mystery Train (1989)
2:45 AM Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987)
4:45 AM Jamboree! (1957)
6:15 AM Go, Johnny, Go! (1959)

July 11
7:00 PM A Hard Day's Night (1964)
8:45 PM Alice's Restaurant (1969)
10:45 PM Bikini Beach (1964)
12:30 AM The In Crowd (1988)
2:15 PM Don't Look Back (1967)
4:00 AM Get Yourself a College Girl (1964)
5:30 AM Catch Us If You Can (1965, AKA Having a Wild Weekend)
7:15 AM Viva Las Vegas (1964)

July 18
7:00 PM Tommy (1975)
9:00 PM Sid and Nancy (1986)
11:00 PM The Harder They Come (1972)
1:00 AM Performance (1970)
3:00 AM Jubilee (1978)
5:00 AM ABBA--the Movie (1977)

July 25
7:00 PM Breakin' (1984)
8:45 PM Smithereens (1982)
10:30 PM Foxes (1980)
12:30 AM Pink Floyd--The Wall (1982)
2:15 AM Fame (1980)
4:30 AM Absolute Beginners (1986)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Salvatore Romano on Mad Men

In the Fifties and Sixties, homosexual characters were rarely seen on American television. When they did appear, they were often portrayed as caricatures. This changed in the Seventies with the debut of the short-lived, 1972 summer replacement show The Corner Bar. This largely forgotten sitcom was historic for introducing the first recurring gay character on an American television show.  Unfortunately, Peter Panama (Victor Schiavelli) was portrayed as such a stereotype that Rich Wandel, then the president of the Gay Activists Alliance, referred to the character as "the worst stereotype of a gay person I've ever seen." Fortunately, since then gay characters on American television have been portrayed much more realistically. Among the best known gay characters to appear on American television in the twenty years was Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt), the art director at Sterling Draper, during the first three seasons of the TV show Mad Men.

In some respects, Sal conformed to previous stereotypes of gay men in American society. He was close to his mother, with whom he would often talk on the phone in Italian. He was extremely fashionable, always wearing the best clothes, and urbane. Indeed, in the sixth episode of Mad Men, "Babylon," when lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his wife Betty (January Jones) are discussing actress Joan Crawford, Don tells Betty, "All men love Joan Crawford. Salvatore never stops talking about her." For the most part, however, Sal transcended old stereotypes of gay men. Sal Romano became a fully developed character, and he also remains one of the most popular characters on Mad Men.

Mad Men being set in the Sixties, Sal is a closeted gay man, passing as straight. To this end, he often jokes with the other men of Sterling Draper about women. Sal also refrains from any homosexual activity during the first season of Mad Men. one has to think for fear of being discovered. In the episode"The Hobo Code," Sal has dinner with Sterling Draper client and Belle Jolie executive Elliott Lawrence (Paul Keeley), but declines his invitation to go back to his room.  It must be kept in mind that the time period in which  Mad Men was initially set in 1960, a time when the Lavender Scare was still very much underway. The Lavender Scare was a moral panic over homosexuality that lasted from the end of World War II into the Sixties. Homosexuality was still included the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association as a mental disorder.

It is perhaps to continue passing as straight that between the first and second seasons of Mad Men Sal married Kitty Romano (Sarah Drew). Initially, Sal and Kitty's marriage seems happy, although, as might be expected, it son develops problems. In the episode "The Gold Violin," when Sal invites Ken Cosgrove (Aaron Staton), on whom Sal has a slight crush,  to dinner at their apartment, Sal pays more attention to Ken than he does Kitty. Things come to a head in Sal and Kitty's marriage in the episode "The Arrangements." Kitty complains to Sal about their lack of sexual intimacy. It is when Sal re-enacts Sterling Cooper's commercial for Patio Diet Cola, which is a take-off on the opening of the movie Bye Bye Birdie (1963) in the same episode, that Kitty finally realizes Sal is gay.

While the audience realizes from the beginning that Sal is gay, for most of his run on Mad Men no one at Sterling Cooper does. But then Salvatore Romano is deep in the closet. As mentioned earlier, he jokes with the other men at the agency about women. In the first season he also refrains from any homosexual liaisons. As far as the rest of Sterling Cooper is concerned, Sal is straight. He is also a valued member of Sterling Cooper. Don Draper respects Sal's opinion in artistic matters and he is often allowed more input into advertising campaigns than some of the copywriters. In "The Arrangements" Don selects Sal to direct the television spot for Patio Cola, a task that he excels at.

While Sal was very much in the closet in the first and second seasons, in the third season episode "Out of Town," while Sal and Don are on a business trip to Baltimore, that Sal permits himself a tryst with a male hotel bellhop. Don discovers this after a fire breaks out in the hotel. Much to Sal's relief, Don never mentions what he saw to Sal. On the plane flight back to New York City, Don does suggest the line "Limit Your Exposure" for the campaign for London Fog raincoats. Sadly, one of the people who realizes that Sal is gay is Lee Garner, Jr. of Lucky Strike, Sterling Cooper's top account. In the episode "Wee Small Hours" Garnet made a pass at Sal, which Sal rebuffs. Garner demanded Harry Crane remove Sal from the account and when Harry did not do so, Roger Sterling fired Sal in order to keep the Lucky Strike account. The last time we see Sal is in the same episode. He is in a phone booth at a truck stop, apparently arranging to meet another man.

Sal's departure from Mad Men was not popular with fans. According to Bryan Batt in an interview with Esquire in 2015, after Sal left the show "there was a big write-in outcry." I find this entirely believable, as I know that Sal was a favourite among myself and my fellow Mad Men fans and all of us were disappointed that he would no longer be on the show. Of course, many Mad Men fans always hoped for Sal's return. He never did, not even in the show's final season. That leaves Mad Men fans with the question of "What ever happened to Salvatore Romano?" In the same interview Bryan Batt relates that Matt Weiner once told him that Sal would come back as a big director, but he thought the "storyline took a different route." As to Bryan Batt's opinion as to what happened to Sal, in the Esquire interview he said that he'd like to think "Sal had a happy ending," although that it would mean breaking his wife Kitty's heart. Bryan Batt thought that after Sal's mother died, he would finally come out of the closet. In the Esquire interview, Bryan Batt said, "I imagine him walking through the West Village as Stonewall happens and getting swept up in it." I don't know about other Mad Men fans, but I always thought Sal probably got a job as an art director at another agency. I think he probably continued directing television commercials and may have eventually directed television shows and even movies. And I do think, once his mother died, he came out of the closet.

As to why Sal Romano remains a fan favourite among Mad Men fans, I think there is a number of reasons. The first is that Sal was among the very few decent men at Sterling Cooper. While he might joke with the other men about women in his effort to pass as straight, he always treated the secretaries and other employees at Sterling Cooper with decency. Sal also has a dignity that many of the other people at Sterling Cooper does not. He could have very easily given into Lee Garner, Jr.'s advances, but instead he chose to stand up for himself. Honestly, I would not want to work with Don Draper, much less Pete Campbell, but I think Sal would be very pleasant to work with. Second, I think many people can identify with Sal beyond gay men, even cisgender, heterosexual men such as myself. In the aforementioned Esquire interview, Bryan Batt said of Sal "I think everyone in their lives, in some way, shape, or form, pretends to fit in. Anyone who has felt they didn't belong, who felt as if they couldn't be themselves among others, can then identify with Sal whether they are gay, straight, or whatever.

While there were gay characters on American television before Salvatore Romano on Mad Men, in some ways he was a groundbreaking character. While gay characters had appeared on American television before Sal, Sal was probably one of the earliest closeted gay men portrayed in an American period television, if not possibly the first. Through the skill of the writers on Mad Men and Bryan Batt's talent as an actor, Sal became one of the best developed characters on the show. He also became one of the best loved.