Showing posts with label Sidney Poitier. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sidney Poitier. Show all posts

Monday, February 20, 2023

The Classic Film Collective: 7 Amazing Facts from Sidney Poitier’s Memoir The Measure of a Man

This was originally published in the former The Classic Film Collective Patreon.

The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography
by Sidney Poitier
Paperback ISBN: 9780061357909
272 pages

“You don't have to become something you're not to be better than you were.” — Sidney Poitier

We lost a bright shining light when Sidney Poitier passed away last year He left behind a legacy of amazing acting work. Films like The Defiant Ones (1958), A Raisin in the Sun (1959), Lilies of the Field (1963), which earned him an Oscar, the first ever awarded to a black male actor, A Patch of Blue (1965), To Sir, With Love (1967), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) defined his career, challenged our notions of race and opened doors for many actors to come. In addition to his accomplishments as an actor, he was also a terrific writer. He published a handful of memoirs including This Life in 1980 and two more recent memoirs Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter and The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography. His last book, published in 2013, was a science fiction novel entitled Montaro Caine.

In the 240+ pages of The Measure of a Man, Poitier does a lot of self-reflection. He contemplates growing up on Cat Island in the Bahamas, his treacherous journey to the United States, becoming an actor in New York City, his tumultuous love life, the many obstacles he faced as a black man and of course his amazing movie career. Let’s take a look at 7 amazing facts from this incredible memoir.

Fact #1 Sidney Poitier didn’t see his own reflection until he was 11 years old.

Growing up poor on Cat Island in the Bahamas, young Poitier didn’t have access to mirrors or any type of glass. Poitier recalls, there were “No glass windows, no glass doors, no stores with glass fronts…” Any reflection came from ocean or pond water, the sheen from metallic objects. Little did he know that the image of himself that he could not see would go on to have a major impact on the world around him. When he and his family moved to Nassau, Poitier finally saw his reflection. But it would still be years before he would be exposed to the effects of racism. He wrote, “I didn’t think about the color of my skin. Not any more than I would have bothered to wonder why the sand was white or the sky was blue.”

Fact #2 Poitier almost died by drowning on two separate occasions. 

Poitier recounts that as a child in the village of Arthur’s Town on Cat Island, there was a “ditch one hundred feet long, six feet deep, dug from the sea to an inland salt pond.” This was known among the locals as a death trap and the young Poitier felt determined to conquer it. He made a perilous attempt at opening a trap door through a tunnel but was not able to. It was high tide and if he had unlatched the door he would have surely drowned.

Decades later, while on a trip to Acapulco with his friend and agent Marty Baum went for a swim while their wives stayed behind on the shore. They swam out and didn’t realize that the ocean floor would drop off so quickly. They got caught up in a dangerous current. Poitier remembered, “then the ocean rose up beneath us. It wasn’t a wave on the surface of the water. It was a raging, thundering swell… The momentum of that angry wave yanked us free from the undercurrents that were pulling at our legs and flung us violently into the shallows of the beach.”

Fact #3 A bus station attendant convinced Poitier to move to New York.

Well, sort of. Poitier had a rough time of it when he moved to Miami. Poitier wrote “I knew that Miami wasn’t for me, because Miami designated me, by law and social custom, as being undeserving of human consideration.” He wanted to get as far away from the city as possible. He asked the bus station attendant how far each destination was and what the cost of each ticket was. Two trip options, Chattanooga and Birmingham, were just too close for comfort. He needed to be as far away as possible. The attendant said that “the next bus is going to New York” and that it would be “eleven dollars and thirty-five cents.” Poitier bought a one way ticket and never looked back.

Fact #4 A waiter helped Poitier learn to read proficiently.

Tired of working as a dishwasher in New York City, Poitier decided to give acting a go. In his memoir he writes, “I had no training in acting. I could barely read! And to top it off I had a thick, singsong Bahamian accent.” After approaching a casting agent at the American Negro Theatre, he was told in not so nice terms that he didn’t have what it took to become an actor. Poitier was too proud to listen to the man’s hurtful rejection. “Whatever it was, I knew I had to change it, or life was going to be mighty grim.” Poitier recounts that an older Jewish waiter at the restaurant where he worked offered to help him during breaks. “He became my tutor, as well as my guardian angel of the moment. Each night we sat in the same booth in that quiet area of the restaurant and he helped me learn to read."

Fact #5 Poitier softened his accent by listening to the radio.

Next he had to work on his thick Bahamian accent. Poitier had a disastrous start at the American Negro Theatre after he covered for fellow Caribbean actor Harry Belafonte. He knew that if this acting gig was going anywhere he had to improve on all fronts. Every night while practicing his reading skills, he would sound out syllables of difficult words to get better at enunciating them. He would also listen to radio shows, mimicking how the announcers spoke in order soften his accent. Poitier didn’t give up and strove to become a better actor. When he heard 20th Century Fox was casting for No Way Out (1950) he jumped at the chance. He got the part and a star was born…

Fact #6 Poitier had to be smuggled into South Africa to make Cry, the Beloved Country (1951).

No Way Out director Joseph Mankiewicz put Poitier in touch with Zoltán Korda who was then casting for Cry, the Beloved Country (1951). Korda flew Poitier out to London for an audition and he got the part. Poitier and Canada Lee, in his final role, play two priests in South Africa during the early years of apartheid. In order for Korda to get Poitier and Lee into the country, he had to tell immigration offers that the actors were actually indentured servants. While Poitier doesn’t go into detail about this, he does reflect on the experience of making Cry, the Beloved Country by saying “It was heady stuff, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that, not only was I one lucky youngster, but something more had to be at play here.” Some time after Poitier was asked to publicly denounce co-star Canada Lee because of his political beliefs and Poitier refused.

Fact #7 Poitier believed he was a catalyst for change even when others criticized his complacency.

In the memoir Poitier writes, “Social movement doesn’t come all at once, just as it doesn’t come out of nowhere.” He reflected on a New York Times article entitled “Why Do White Folks Love Sidney Poitier So?” Poitier was criticized for playing gentle characters rather than ones who chose force or to a greater extreme violence to make change. He writes “In essence, I was being taken to task for playing exemplary human beings.” These characters include those in To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, all of whom in the face of conflict remain steadfast. Poitier’s subversiveness was more subtle. He found strength in positivity. It was his form of self-preservation but it was also his way of making change. He went on to say, “simply put, I’ve learned that I must find positive outlets for anger or it will destroy me.”

The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography by Sidney Poitier is available through a variety of book retailers and can also be borrowed from your local library through Overdrive.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Lilies of the Field (1963) and The Organization (1971)


Check out my latest YouTube video where I review two Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays starring Sidney Poitier: Lilies of the Field (1963) and The Organization (1971). I came to really appreciate Lilies of the Field with another viewing on this excellent blu-ray edition. Poitier won an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance in this touching film about exiled German nuns and an ex-GI who helps them build a chapel. The Organization (1971) is the third in the Mister Tibbs films starting with In the Heat of the Night (1967) and They Call Me Mr. Tibbs! (1970). Convoluted plot follows Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) as he uncovers a secret organization of dangerous businessmen who transport and sell hard drugs. Great cast, great setting, but a so-so film.

I'm hoping to get videos up weekly. Would love to hear your thoughts on types of videos you'd like to see!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

For Love of Ivy (1968)

Today is Sidney Poitier's birthday! The legendary actor turns 91. To celebrate I'm taking a look at Poitier's film writing debut from 1968: For Love of Ivy. 1967 was a good year in Poitier's career especially with the release of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, With Love. He was in a position to take on a new challenge. Poitier wanted a part as a romantic lead; something in the same vein as a Cary Grant movie. In a rush of inspiration Poitier wrote down an outline for a story. He simply called it Ivy. Poitier later collaborated with Robert Alan Arthur who would be integral in taking the outline and fleshing it out into a full fledged movie. The story was a romantic comedy, meant for a mainstream audience, with two African-American leads. It would be ground breaking. The end result was For Love of Ivy (1968).

Ivy Moore (Abbey Lincoln) is a 20-something who works full-time for the wealthy Austin household. She's not just their maid, she's like a member of their family. She's an integral part of what holds them together. When Ivy announces to Doris (Nan Martin) and Frank Austin (Caroll O'Connor) that she plans to leave her job for a new life in the city, they panic. The Austin kids, free-spirited hippie Tim (Beau Bridges) and boy-crazy Gena (Lauri Peters) concoct a plan to keep Ivy around. Tim, who does a bit of gambling on the side, enlists his one African-American friend Jack Parks (Sidney Poitier) to go out on a date with Ivy. If Ivy finds a guy and settles down, surely she'll reconsider leaving the Austin household. Tim and Gena try everything to get Jack and Ivy together. Jack is comfortable in his bachelor lifestyle. He runs a shipping company called Par-Tal which is really just a front for his illegal underground casino. Ivy has no idea what she's getting into. Thrust into an awkward situation, she makes the best of it while keeping true to her fiery independent spirit. Will these two fall in love or will Tim and Gena's plan be a total and utter disaster?

More than 300 women tried out for the title role of Ivy. It ultimately went to jazz singer Abbey Lincoln. This was her second film in a very short film career. Both Lincoln and Poitier are charismatic on screen. However I didn't buy them as a couple. Something seemed off. Maybe it was a lack of chemistry with each other, the deliberately slow pace of the story or some other factor. Once something started to happen I was relieved because the waiting was torturous. Intended to be a romantic comedy, For Love of Ivy isn't very funny. With the exception of a few outrageous scenes, it doesn't try very hard to be comedic. According to Poitier biographer Aram Goudsouzian "Daniel Mann's direction sapped the pungency from the better one-liners. He rendered the actors excessively mannered, and the picture moves slower than the light script demands. Thanks to Mann, the romantic comedy had little comedy." The film is more heavy-handed than it is light-hearted. For Love of Ivy has potential that it does not deliver. The film made a modest profit at the box office and Sidney Poitier received on-screen credit for his original idea.

Race is not intended to be at the forefront of the story but it's always there on the surface. The story juxtaposes a wealthy white family whose antics are always ridiculous with more grounded sensibility of Ivy and even Parks. I thought it was interesting that Parks' underground casino is run by African-American and serves a strictly white clientele only. When Ivy tries to bet, Parks refuses saying that he doesn't allow his people to gamble there.

The performances really save the picture. Poitier is charming and it is so good to see him in a bonafide romantic leading role. Lincoln proves her worth to be the center of the story. Beau Bridges is a delight as scheming hippie son of a wealthy family. Caroll O'Connor is the confused and angry patriarch in an all too short a role. Nan Martin is over-the-top as the flustered matriarch. I also enjoyed Leon Bibb as Billy Talbot, one of Parks' main men who is eager to take over the business.

For Love of Ivy (1968) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Thank you to the folks at Kino Lorber for sending me the Blu-Ray for review.

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Wilby Conspiracy (1975)

"Don't you love your country?"
"Yes, but is it the same country?"

Prisoner #34, Shack Twala (Sidney Poitier) stands trial. It's Capetown, South Africa in the midst of apartheid. Thanks to the remarkable defense work by his lawyer Rina Van Niekirk (Prunella Gee), Twala is now free. Rina's boyfriend Jim Keogh (Michael Caine) wants to celebrate her victory and Rina invites Twala to join them. On their way to her apartment they encounter the Capetown police who are a little too eager to arrest another black person. Twala, Keogh and Rina get into an ugly fight with the police officers and escape. Rina helps Twala and Keogh flee to Johannesburg. Things begin to escale when two members of the secret police, Major Horn (Nichol Williamson) and Van Heerden (Rijk de Gooyer), are sent out to hunt down the fugitive duo. Twala knows of an Indian dentist Mukerjee (Saeed Jaffrey) who will help them, if his assistant Persis (Persis Khambatta) doesn't get in the way. But Twala is hiding something. Keogh soon learns about the Wilby conspiracy. Mukerjee, Twala and Wilby have a treasure trove of diamonds hidden in a sinkhole. This loot will help finance the Black Congress' revolution, something the secret police are hell bent on stopping. All Twala and Keogh need to do is get the diamonds, find Wilby and escape South Africa before it's too late. But that's easier said than done.

The Blu-Ray is a million times better quality than this image!

Directed by Ralph NelsonThe Wilby Conspiracy (1975) is a political thriller set in the oppressive era of apartheid. Based on the novel by Peter Driscoll, it explores the racial dynamics of the era while also serving as a thrilling chase movie. Some of the politics from Driscoll's original novel were stripped away from the movie but the final product still demonstrates the dangerous political climate of South Africa in the 1970s. The movie was filmed in Keny and at the MGM Pinewood Studios in England. It was far too risky to actually film on location in South Africa.

Actor Sidney Poitier hadn't been in Kenya since filming Something of Value (1957) and found a much different country on his return. He was warmly embraced by the locals and the government as a major movie star. Much had changed politically in Kenya over the past decades. The film has some amazing aerial footage and there is extensive use of small aircraft and helicopters. Chase scenes in the air and on the ground are thrilling to watch.

Independently produced in conjunction with United Artists, producer Martin Baum used to be Poitier's agent and he cast both Poitier and Caine for the film. Director Ralph Nelson had worked with Poitier on Lilies of the Field (1963) and Duel at Diablo (1966). For Caine this was his first "message film." In his memoir he wrote, "my experiences on the set of Zulu had made me an implacable opponent of the apartheid system and I was pleased to be able to make a contribution to highlighting its cruelty." Caine and Poitier were good friends and bonded even further during the making of the film. They both had a near death experience when a 50 pound camera broke loose, almost killing them both. If anything it drew them closer together and they've been friends ever since.

Even without some of the politics of Driscoll's original novel, The Wilby Conspiracy holds a powerful punch as it delivers the painful message of oppression. The film suffers at one point when the story begins lose its purpose and relies too much on the extended chase. Perhaps what was taken away from Driscoll's story should have been left in. The movie is part political thriller and part action drama and I found it wholly engrossing. Caine and Poitier's characters have a contentious relationship and it was intriguing to see what they both had to bring to two very different roles.

On a side note, in one of the scenes actor Nichol Williamson utters the Dutch curse word "godverdomme". My father, who lived in the Netherlands for a brief time, used this curse word, which translates into g-d dammit, whenever he was angry. I have never heard anyone else use it until I watched this film. My father passed away a couple of years ago (you can read my tribute to him here) and it briefly reminded me of him. It made me smile because even though he said it when it was mad, it was one of those quirks that was unique to my dad.

While watching The Wilby Conspiracy I couldn't help but make the connection to The Defiant Ones (1958). Caine and Poitier as two fugitives on the run reminded me of Poitier and Tony Curtis as two chain-gang fugitives who escaped prison. I would recommend pairing those two films together. You could also pair The Wilby Conspiracy with another Poitier film set in South Africa: Cry, the Beloved Country (1951).

The Wilby Conspiracy (1975) is available from Kino Lorber on DVD and Blu-Ray tomorrow! When you purchase through my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review.

Friday, March 31, 2017

My Top Picks for the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival

Me at the 2016 Francis Ford Coppola hand and footprint ceremony

I can't believe it. I'm going to the TCM Classic Film Festival for the fifth time. In a row! After going to the 2013 TCMFF, it was inevitable that another festival would be in my future. But who knew I'd be going so many times? Not me.

And for the fifth time I'll be attending TCMFF as a member of the media. That means I'll be providing you with lots of coverage here and on my social media (follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and e-mail me if you're interested in my uncensored Snapchat coverage).

Without further ado, here are my top picks for this year's festival.


Red Carpet for In the Heat of the Night (1967) - I'll be missing quite a lot on Thursday in order to block off some time for the red carpet premiere. This is my favorite part of the festival. I'll either be in the bleachers or on the red carpet interviewing celebrities. More details to come. I'm most excited about the red carpet this year because Sidney Poitier will be there. Seeing him in person is a dream come true.

Requiem For a Heavyweight (1962) or The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) - The older I get the less ambitious I am about my TCMFF schedule. Both of these look like great screenings but Requiem is playing at the Chinese Multiplex and that means I can get to my hotel room a lot sooner. The Man Who Knew Too Much is all the way over at the Egyptian. That might be the deciding factor in this case because otherwise it'll be difficult to pick between the two.


Hand and Footprint Ceremony: Carl and Rob Reiner - I've been to the last 4 imprint ceremonies, 3 of which I covered on my blog (Jerry Lewis, Christopher Plummer and Francis Ford Coppola). These are a blast and I don't want to miss that one. If for any reason I can't get into this event, I have Cry, the Beloved Country (1951), starring Canada Lee and Sidney Poitier, on my list as a back-up.

Panique (1946) - I love French cinema and I'm starting to explore older classics. Directed by Julien Duvivie, the film is based on the novel by Georges Simenon and his son Pierre Simenon will be on hand for a pre-screening interview.

I'm not sure what to watch after Panique because I'll need to get in line early for...

Red-Headed Woman (1932) - This is by far my favorite Pre-Code. There's no way I can miss this one. If that means I have to skip a programming block, so be it.

High Anxiety (1977) - I'm looking forward to this Hitchcock spoof. Mel Brooks will be in attendance. This might sell out much like Blazing Saddles did a couple of years ago. So I have Cat People (1942) as my back-up. I love Cat People so it will be a difficult decision to watch a new-to-me comedy versus my all-time favorite horror classic.

Zardoz (1974) - I've never had the stamina for midnight screening but I might make a go of it this year. TCMFF usually hosts two midnight screenings during the festival. Both tend to be crazy and wacky cult classics made all the better with a live audience. Zardoz, starring Sean Connery in the most bizarre outfit ever to grace the screen, looks like it could be a lot of fun to watch with a crowd.


The China Syndrome (1979) - I can't pass up an opportunity to see Michael Douglas in person.

The Art of Subtitling - This Club TCM event sounds really interesting. Bruce Goldstein of Rialto Pictures will be on hand to the discuss the history subtitling foreign classics.

America America (1963) - This is a sleeper on the list and a lot of others who have shared their top TCMFF picks are skipping this one. But I'm definitely going. This is a wonderful film by one of my favorite directors Elia Kazan. Film critic Alicia Malone will be interviewing one of the film's stars Stathis Giallelis at the event. The movie deals with oppression, immigration and family. I reviewed this film back in 2011 and am eager to see it again.

Best in Show (2000) - I know, I know. This is a contemporary movie. But it's so hilarious and I'll need something light after watching America America. Some of the cast will be in attendance and I have my fingers crossed that Parker Posey, whom I idolized as a teenager and still do, will be a surprise guest. Even if she isn't there this will still be a great film to see on the big screen.

The Graduate (1967) - This is one of those big classics that is missing from my film history knowledge. I've seen parts of it including the ending but haven't seen it all the way through. It'll be shown at Grauman's Chinese which is my favorite of all of the TCMFF venues. Screenwriter Buck Henry will be interviewed before the screening.


Cock of the Air (1932) - I'll be waking up bright and early to get in line for this one. Recently restored with a controversial bit added back in, and with contemporary actors filling in with the missing soundtrack, this Pre-Code looks a fun curio.

I'm taking it easy on Sunday, will have an early lunch then will be headed early to Club TCM for...

Conversation and Book Signing with Dick Cavett - Cavett has interviewed everybody and has a lot of stories to tell. He's pretty interesting too. Did you know he used to be a gymnast? And that he wrote monologues for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson? I've read two of Cavett's books, Talk Show and Brief Encounters. Both are collections of essays from his New York Times column. I've listened to both books on audio and would be eager to have either one in print and signed by the man himself.

Hell is for Heroes (1962) - This war movie features four of my favorite people: Steve McQueen, Bob Newhart, James Coburn and Bobby Darin. Newhart will be at TCMFF to attend this screening and I'm excited to see him again. (Fun fact: I accidentally ran into Newhart's Book Expo America book signing several years back. When I turned around Robert Duvall was at the next booth signing his book. It's one of my favorite memories of celebrity sightings.)

Lady in the Dark (1944) - I'll be ending the festival with a screening of this Technicolor musical starring Ginger Rogers. I know nothing about this film and will keep myself "in the dark" so this can be a truly new experience for me.

My picks are subject to change. I've already changed by mind about 5 times before I made this list and I will probably change my mind again. What's great about the festival is that there are plenty of back-up choices. The worst thing about the festival is that you'll miss out on the majority of events.

See you in Hollywood!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Life Beyond Measure by Sidney Poitier

Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Grandaughter
by Sidney Poitier
April 2008
285 pages

Barnes and Noble
IndieBound (your independent bookstore)

"All I know for sure is that "stories" are the bedrock on which each human life is built." - Sidney Poitier

Inspired by the birth of his great-granddaughter Ayele LaBarrie in 2005, legendary screen actor Sidney Poitier set out to write 23 letters, each on a different subject, passing down his wisdom and observations to a new generation. The letters are addressed to Ayele but his words are for all of us. Both young and old, everyone can learn a lot from Sidney Poitier.

“Those who stop their questioning... cut short their explorations and end up with permanently unfinished lives.” - Sidney Poitier

From the onset of the book, we come to understand that family is very important to Poitier. The book opens with a family tree mapping out the lineage of the Poitier family from Sidney Poitier's grandparents down to Ayele. He recounts Ayele's birth, his early encounters with her and how his own family grew over the years.  Poitier also goes back to his own childhood and shares many stories of his parents and his siblings.

Poitier was born in Miami, Florida in 1927, grew up in the Bahamas and came back to the United States when he was a teenager. His experiences living in Cat Island, Nassau, Miami and New York all became distinct phases in his life. And each set of experiences taught him many things.

The beginning of Poitier's life is much different than that of Ayele's or pretty much anyone else who reads this book. Some of the most stunning passages in the letters are Poitier's remembrances of his early life experiences. The first time he saw his own reflection in a mirror at the age ten, the first time he had ice cream, the first photograph ever taken of him at age 16 and the first time he ever auditioned for an acting role. Poitier's education came from life. He learned volumes from experiences both good and bad.

Poitier's writing is beautiful. I marveled at the passage where he describes eating ice cream for the first time. Having grown up in the Bahamas he didn't understand what it was like to feel cold. Not knowing how to eat the cold treat, he took one disastrous big bite. From reading Poitier's words I can just imagine the shock and pain of that innocent first experience.

The school of life taught Poitier very much. Although Poitier's education was little and he didn't even read an entire book until he was in his 20s, no one reading this work would think Poitier anything other than a wise and intellectual man. Poitier's writing is reflective and poetic.

“I vividly recall – crinkled with laughter, stung by embarrassment, frozen in shyness, darkened by disappointment, anger, or fear, lit by wonder and innocence, or mesmerized by the spell of the daydreams to which I surrendered so often during those years.” - Sidney Poitier

In Life Beyond Measure, Poitier is passing on his wisdom to Ayele and to us the reader. He discusses a variety of subjects including family, love, addiction, bravery, fear, doubt, shyness, his heroes, logic and reason, science, technology, climate change, war, faith and death. Even though Poitier is essentially teacher in this text, his writing never comes off as pedantic. The narrative voice is gentle and almost passive. There is a sweetness about his tone.

Passing down the wisdom of the ages is important. There are experiences new generations will never have because of advancements in technology and differences in circumstances. We can learn so much from other's lives and there are so many things we take for granted that a young Sidney Poitier grew up without.

“So I sit comfortable after all these years, and I am very protective of my aloneness. I am very protective of my shyness; it never triggers any displeasure in me, any resentment of itself. It’s a part of me.” – Sidney Poitier

I was particularly struck by Poitier's reflections on his own shyness. As an introvert, I very much appreciated his reflections and insights on his own struggles with being shy. Watching Poitier on screen, I've always noticed an intensity about him. His passion drove his actions. He was never held back by any limitations. Poitier says,  “... I rarely took the path of least resistance. Most of the time, in fact, I walked a proverbial razor-sharp edge.”

There isn't much about Sidney Poitier's acting career in the book. It's not the point of the text. We do get to hear some interesting stories from his acting days. These are mostly relegated to his near death experiences including a car accident during the filming of Edge of the City, his trip to the South with fellow actor Harry Belafonte during the Civil Rights Movement and a dramatic real-life car chase while filming Cry, the Beloved Country in South Africa during the apartheid era.

Poitier discusses death at length. The death of family members, his experience with prostate cancer and leaves Ayele with some thoughts about mortality.

I read Life Beyond Measure as an ebook but I really wish I had a hardcover copy instead. Both are available. There are two inserts in the book (and in the ebook as well) with photos of Poitier with his family.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Life Beyond Measure. I was so struck by Poitier's writing and I'm looking forward to reading his other books. I have so much admiration for Poitier and I value the wisdom our elders pass down to us that to me this book is truly a treasure.

Monday, July 8, 2013

To Sir, With Love (1967)


To Sir, With Love (1967) is one of several movies in the good-teacher-vs-tough-students sub-genre. It stars Sidney Poitier as the well-intentioned Mr. Thackeray who winds up at a school in a rough part of London.  Only 12 years earlier, Poitier had a supporting role as a tough student giving Glenn Ford a hard time in Blackboard Jungle (1955). Now the roles have been reversed and it is time for Poitier to contend with a bunch of young hoodlums raring to get out into the real world.

As a contemporary viewer who already has many of these types of films available to them, why should we watch To Sir, With Love (1967)? The main reason is Mr. Thackeray (Sidney Poitier) himself. His demeanor, his race, his modest sophistication and worldliness sets him apart from the poorly educated ruffians who populate his classroom. You feel sorry for him. He's got a tough job on his hands and he's only really there because he hasn't been able to find an engineering position. He has no teaching experience, everyone is expecting him to bail at any second and the rules state that all teachers must avoid corporal punishment at all costs. However, while watching this I got the sense that out of anyone Mr. Thackeray was well suited to tackle this problematic situation. Not just because that's how the story is supposed to go but because of his qualities as a person. However, you feel bad for his students too. They are disadvantaged youth and don't have bright futures ahead of them. Mr. Thackeray, or Sir as they call him, is a beacon of hope for them if they'd only open their eyes.

The story has a lot of heart and is a bit sentimental but never really cloying. Romance is part of the plot with both a young female student and a fellow teacher having the hots for Mr. Thackeray. And let's face it, the viewer has a crush on Thackeray/Poitier too. I know I did!

While watching this you also get to experience a young hip 1960s London. The music, dance, fashion and culture; it's all there. The cinematography isn't all that notable except for the fantastic intro and the scene in which the students go on a field trip to an art museum. I could watch both the intro and the museum scene over and over again, that is how cool they are!

All the students in the film are played by young British actors. The theme song, which shares the same title as the movie, is sung by 1960s British pop star Lulu who also plays one of the students. The song is a recurring theme throughout the film and is performed by Lulu in the movie as well.

To Sir, With Love is not a perfect movie but it is an enjoyable one. I was confused by the scene in which someone is burning an object in the classroom. After some research, I read it was a sanitary napkin. Mr. Thackeray is infuriated, kicks the boys out of the classroom and yells at the girls about their "sluttish" behavior. Sluttish here means female slovenliness and not promiscuousness. This scene will definitely confuse modern audiences without context.

As a side note, Lulu attended the 2013 TCM Classic Film Festival and performed this song at the Vanity Fair party and at a showing of this film. I unfortunately missed both of these performances while attending other things, so when I got home from the festival I immediately put this film on my Netflix queue so I could watch it. From what I hear, her performances at the festival were wonderful and now having seen the film I'm really sad I missed them.

Fans of Brit-Coms will be happy to see Patricia Routledge who plays the supporting role of a concerned teacher who gives advice to Mr. Thackeray. Routledge is most known for her role as Mrs. Bucket (it's Bou-quet!) on Keeping Up Appearances.

To Sir, With Love (1967) is on DVD with limited availability. It will definitely be part of my next movie purchase because I want to snap this one up before it goes out of print.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon ~ Sidney Poitier ~ A Patch of Blue (1965)

This post is my contribution to the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Jill of Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and Michael of ScribeHard on Film. Sidney Poitier is the featured actor on Tuesday August 7th on TCM.

If you only watch one Sidney Poitier film on Tuesday’s TCM Summer Under the Stars special, make sure it's A Patch of Blue (1965). This sensitive ground-breaking film features fine performances from Shelley Winters, then-newcomer Elizabeth Hartman and the great Sidney Poitier.

A Patch of Blue is one of those films that merits repeat viewings. Every time I watch it, I’m reminded of several things: the importance of kindness, the injustice of racial prejudice and the blindness of love.

Selina D’Arcy (Elizabeth Hartman) is a blind girl living with her mother Rose-Ann (Shelley Winters) and her grandfather Ole Pa (Wallace Ford), both of whom are consistently drunk and getting into trouble. Rose-Ann’s promiscuity has always been the source of pain and suffering for Selina. When two of Rose-Ann’s lovers get into a quarrel, a bottle of acid is thrown by accident at 5 year old Selina leading to her permanent blindness. A Patch of Blue refers to Selina’s happy memory of seeing the color blue before she went blind.

Selina is not allowed to have an education and is forced to keep the home, make dinner and work on beading necklaces and jewelry to supply more income to the family. As Rose-Ann gets older, she becomes more and more jealous of Selina’s youth and beauty and is constantly finding ways to bring her down. Then one day Selina meets Gordon Ralfe (Sidney Poitier) in the park. He’s the first person to be kind to her. Genuinely kind. He helps her with her beads, pulls a caterpillar out of her shirt, gives her pineapple juice, teaches her how to use a payphone, corrects her grammar, and more. Rose-Ann had worked so hard to keep Selina paralyzed and sheltered.  It’s much easier to control someone when you deny them the tools to defend themselves and become independent. But it only took one kind person to give Selina a new chance at life. Sidney Poitier’s Gordon is the catalyst who makes Selina’s world open up with many possibilities.

A handsome 38-year-old Sidney Poitier is a marvel to watch. He’s tall and graceful, has beautiful skin, bright eyes and a smile that could light up a room.

Sidney Poitier’s Gordon is my favorite character in the film. Gordon could have continued his walk through the park not paying any mind to Selina. Instead, he took pity on her and decided to help her out. If anything this world needs it’s more kindness. I really gravitate towards characters such as Gordon whom despite their own problems extend kindness to others in need. Gordon’s generosity towards Selina always makes me cry.

I mean c’mon! She’s got a sad bag of crackers for lunch and he takes pity on her and leads her to the local deli for corned beef sandwiches and pineapple juice. He could have just left her to her sad lunch but instead he treated to something better and taught her how to get out of the park and navigate traffic too! He doesn’t baby her. He enables her to be independent and to do things on her own. And that’s key! It’s one thing to be nice to someone and it’s another to empower them.

The film is ground-breaking because it shows, for the very first time, a kiss between a white woman and a black man. According to IMDB, this scene was cut out of versions shown in certain states in the American south because at that time miscegenation was still illegal there. To me this film is especially important because it shows how two people can fall in love regardless of race. Selina’s blindness demonstrates how love itself is blind and what’s important is who we are inside. Her naïveté about society's rules regarding race could fuel discussion of why those rules ever existed.

While it was Shelly Winters who won the Academy Award for her performance, I think there is a lot to Sidney Poitier's sensitive portrayal of Gordon Ralfe. This film made me fall in love with Sidney Poitier and I've been a happy fan ever since.

Thanks to Jill and Michael for hosting the TCM Summer Under the Stars (SUTS) blogathon and for letting me participate!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Searching for A Patch of Blue in cloudy skies

When I started my last semester, taking on a full-time school load as well as maintaining a full-time workload, I had a burning desire to watch Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) (see previous entry). Something about 2 people tackling on a ginormous family gave me comfort with my load which seemed tiny in comparison. This time however, at the eve of the Spring semester, I felt like watching a very different movie from the Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda comedy.

On the eve of the Spring semester, I watched a film that I absoltutely love. I throw around the word "love" pretty loosely when talking about films. But in this case I have an emotional attachment to this particular movie as it finds its way into the recesses of my emotions and touches my heart on a deeper level than most of my regular cinematic experiences ever dare to delve into. This film is A Patch of Blue (1965).

A Patch of Blue has been on regular rotation on TCM for a few years. There is a good chance that on a quiet Sunday afternoon, you may find this playing on the channel. My first instincts were to change the channel. But after I watched the short documentary "A Cinderella named Elizabeth" (1965), which shows how Elizabeth Hartman got her first movie role as Selina D'Arcy in A Patch of Blue, I was curious to see how her performance turned out. The result, a movie that took my breath away.

If you haven't seen it yet, in a nutshell, this film is about a young African-American man, Gordon (played by the very handsome Sidney Poitier), who befriends a blind girl who is optimistic about life even though she lives with her promiscuous and abusive mother, Rose-ann (played by Shelley Winters), and her drunk grandfather (last performance by Wallace Ford). The two fall in love in a society in which miscegenation is a threat to a society that values the separation of races.

Why do I watch this film now, before my last big crazy-busy semester of my graduate school career? Because I love it and watching a film I love always comforts me in times of crisis. And also because watching poor Selina D'Arcy live a horrid life of destitution and abuse, on top of being blind, and to watch her still have a happy outlook on life reminds me to appreciate what I have and to not complain!

Monday, June 18, 2007

I Heart Bobby Darin: Pressure Point

I must share my love for Bobby Darin with you... with the world. When most people hear his name, they automatically think "Splish, Splash", "Dream Lover" and Sandra Dee. My mind's image of him is far more complex. To me he was an amazing actor, singer and comedian. Did you know that he was nominated for four Golden Globes (winning one) and an Academy Award and that he could do a really great impersonation of Robert Mitchum? No, of course you didn't. I truly believe that Bobby Darin is highly under-rated as an actor in his own right. The man was multi-talented, highly ambitious and hard-working. I always have the utmost respect for people like that.

I came to watch Pressure Point (1962) to see Bobby Darin in a dramatic role. I was ready to see a rough, mean and pyscopathic Darin. There are a couple of noteworthy scenes in this movie. The first one taking place in jail when Darin's American-Nazi character, while alone in his cell, sees a minature version of himself desperately trying to climb out of the sink's drain. The mini-Darin is not thwarted by the larger-Darin's attempt to flush him away. It's quite a powerful scene, representative of the character's descent into his madness.

The second scene is comprised of a sick and twisted game of tic-tac-toe. Darin's character is drunk and violent and with the help of other drunks, proceeds to cover the walls, ceiling, floor and furniture of a bar with tic-tac-toe grids. It ends with a final round done with lipstick on the barman's wife's face and back.
Darin truly steals the show. Poitier gets top billing and is the central character and narrator, but one cannot be but captivated by Darin. Wonderful stark visuals and harsh clangy music, and this film will by far deconstruct any preconceived notions you have of Bobby Darin.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook