294 Great Directors: Michael Roemer

“It was showing how the economic system, the social system, destroyed the most intimate relationships. I saw it happen. It happened to Jews. It happened to my grandfather. He came from a very assimilated family, and they were interrelated with the Prussian aristocracy. Nonetheless, my grandfather was destroyed by everything he had taken away from him. He was a wonderful man. He shrivelled up and lost his identity.”

Why This Director?
: Everyone who’s seen Nothing But a Man raves over it, and I replaced someone else with him at the last minute just to knock off someone’s whole filmography easily.

My Last Experience Was…: Nope.

What Did I Watch: Nothing But a Man/Plot Against Harry.

Where Does He Fit: The dilemma regarding white filmmakers telling stories about black people is a tricky line to straddle, but I think we can all agree that if you’re going to do it, having someone go into the Deep South and report their findings there in the form of fiction is the way that will produce as close to the most authentic experience you can have. Heat Wave is the only song on the radio, and while there’s small pleasures, there is also an ever-present aura of fear and gloominess, with the lighting in the black and white film rendering the cast members as astonishingly detailed in their reactions, from Gloria Foster’s enabler/savior of an alcoholic to Ivan Dixon and Abbey Lee being tentative in very different ways, and even minor roles like Helen Lounck as a foster mother and Helene Arrindell as a prostitute who gets one scene feel astonishing. It’s an astonishing piece of work even if pinpointing why is elusive.

Nothing But a Man’s characters didn’t have much to live for but you wanted them to get by anyway. Plot Against Harry’s characters have plenty to live for, but you can’t really root for them even when they make us drily laugh at the complete delusion on display, perfectly predicting the Coen Brothers and sadly being realized right when they were starting to make it onto the scene due to the world not getting Jewish humor at the time, or something. Still hasn’t been reclaimed, either, but it’s sharply written and beautifully shot. Such a shame Roemer’s career only hit two movies.


Most Valuable Asset: Empathy from the worst possible situation to gain it from. Also, black and white.
Most Excited For: Nothing left, I think 😦

Coming Up Next: Silent film fetishist, Guy Maddin.


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