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Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

I cry every time I talk about Mister Rogers. Every. single. time.

It doesn’t matter the context. The tears well up in my eyes. I struggle to hold them back but I always fail. To say that Mister Rogers had a big impact on my childhood is an understatement. He continues to have an impact on me decades later as I’m well into my adult years. Fred Rogers passed away in 2003. 15 years later we need him now more than ever.

Directed by Academy Award winner Morgan Neville, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is a new documentary chronicling the life of the beloved host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers. Told through interviews, clips from the show, home video footage, news footage and more, audiences get a closer look at the man whose TV presence impacted generations of children. The talking heads in the movie are members of Fred Rogers’ close circle. These include his wife, his two sons, actors from the show, guests from the show like Yo-Yo Ma and a few others who knew him well. This gives the documentary a level of intimacy that would not have been attained if outsiders like academics, professionals, cultural historians had been included in the mix. We learn about Rogers’ early years and how his path towards becoming a Presbyterian minister was put aside when he saw a need to help children through the medium of television. Fred Rogers transformed into Mister Rogers, a gentle, caring and patient screen presence who encouraged kids to feel good about themselves and also guided them through some of the more difficult aspects of growing up and life in general.


Fans of the show will recognize many familiar faces including David Newell (Mr. McFeeley), Betty Aberlin (Lady Aberlin), Joe Negri (Handyman Negri) and Francois Clemmons (Officer Clemmons). There are even members who worked behind the scenes including floor manager Nick Tallo who had some great stories to share. They speak at length regarding important and ground-breaking moments in the show and what Fred Rogers was like to work with. Fans will also appreciate how the documentary goes into detail how Mister Rogers used puppets and the land of make believe to convey important messages to children when a direct approach would not be as effective. We also learn how events and cultural moments of the last half of the 20th century affected children and in turn how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood addressed those concerns.

The show was ground breaking. Where other television programming for children was fast-paced, flashy, goofy and often violent, Rogers and his team had something special. The pace was slow and methodical but with not a wasted minute. Mister Rogers was always transparent with children, whether it was on his show or in person, about the format of television, what was real about it and what wasn’t. I remember one episode from the 1980s where Rogers takes viewers behind the scenes and show all the particulars of the set and introduces us to Johnny Costa, the pianist who played the music to the show. In another episode, Negri leaves his dog with Rogers to dogsit. Rogers is very clear with viewers that the set isn’t his real home and that he has a wife and children in a real home elsewhere. I always appreciated this about him. He could have relied on the smoke and mirrors quality of television. He chose honesty instead.

We like to put Fred Rogers in the mold of modern day saint but he was a much more complicated man than that. He was very vocal in his dislike for television. It took him years to accept actor Francois Clemmons’ homosexuality. Rogers had an obsession with his weight, always keeping it at 143 because that number represented the words I Love You. In his later years, especially after he retired, he got depressed, wouldn’t see the doctor for the stomach ailment that eventually turned into the cancer that killed him and he doubted the impact he had on people and whether he could still have an impact.

I knew I would get emotional watching this film. I thought it would be for the many reasons that the memory of Mister Rogers makes me cry. A couple a years ago I spent an entire year watching one episode of the show per week (a local PBS affiliate would air an episode from the early 1980s every Saturday morning at 6 am). I would record it, watch it and cry. I’d cry from happiness of seeing Mister Rogers again and from the pain that nostalgia brings with it. I cried from the loss of those early years, the loss of my childhood and the loss of my father. Every episode would bring a flood of emotions. Even as a kid I was never interested in the land of make believe and I would get upset when the trolley showed up in Mister Rogers apartment because I knew he’d be gone for a little while. I really just wanted to spend time with him.

When I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor I cried for a very different reason than I had expected. This surprised me. We live in an era in which dirty politics, mass shootings, bullying, and cruelty dominate our society. Mister Rogers was the embodiment of kindness. True and unadulterated kindness. He always told us “ I like you just the way you are.” In 2018, that kindness doesn’t seem to exist any more, a point brought up in the documentary and reflected on by Rogers’ wife Joanne. We live in a divided culture and we are cruel to each other on a daily basis. 15 years after his death we need Mister Rogers’ brand kindness more than ever. We need him to tell us to look for the helpers. We need him to remind us that “it’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive.” We need him to tell us it’s okay to be mad, sad, glad and that it’s okay to work through our emotions. We still need Mister Rogers and we get a little bit of him through this film.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018) is screening in select theaters now.

Official Website 

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film

“Printing is a privilege”

When Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type in the 15th century, the world changed forever. The printing press ushered us out of the Dark Ages into the Age of Enlightenment. Fast forward today’s Information Age and we still have much to thank Gutenberg for how the printing press revolutionized the world. For centuries, letterpress, a form of of pressing ink into paper with the use of engravings carved into wood, metal, linoleum or zinc cut plates, was the standard for creating books, newspapers, magazines, brochures, pamphlets, posters and many other forms of printed words on paper. Over the years, the craft of letterpress was fine tuned byartisans who learned how turn type into an art form. Unlike today’s flash in the pan technology which quickly becomes replaced or obsolete, letterpress machines were improved upon in such a way they became timeless. A machine from a century ago could still function the way it was intended if handled with care. With the birth of offset printing in the mid-Twentieth Century and the advent of computers, letterpress became obsolete. But a group of letterpress printers who value the art and craft of the process are keeping it alive and hoping to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.



Co-directed by Andrew P. Quinn and Erin Beckloff, Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a love letter to this art form. It asks the question, why is there still a love for this obsolete technology? The documentary seeks out to answer this with interviews of letterpress printers, both professionals and hobbyists who honed their craft, appreciate the process and ultimately find joy in it. The film revels in the romanc and nostalgia of this form of graphic design. The beat up blocks, the machinery, the colorful designs, the beautiful typography are all part of a long tradition handed down from generation to generation. The interview subjects hail from mid-west and mid-Atlantic. We hear from people who operate independent presses whether at established shops or out of their garage. We learn about the long tradition of Hatch Show Print in Tennessee which made concert posters a collectible art and the Hamilton Museum which keeps the history of letterpress alive. I was particularly taken with the interviews with hobbyist Dave Churchman who collected, you could even say hoarded, letter press equipment. He passed away in 2015 and within the film we also hear from his son who was left in charge of the vast collection his father left behind.

Dave Churchman

There is a “pressing” need to pass on the knowledge of the art of letterpress to the next generation so it won’t be lost. Today we can appreciate the unique aesthetic of letterpress as a form of graphic design (everything you do in your Adobe Suite is influenced by letterpress!) but can we save the process? When the master printers pass on, who will carry their torch?


Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a sensitive and reflective documentary that is clearly in love with its subject. It’s joyful about the form but melancholy about the future. If you have any interest in the history of technology, in graphic design or even in what drives people to pursue their passion, I would highly recommend watching this film.

Pressing On premieres on digital today. You can find it on iTunes, Vimeo or your favorite VOD platform. It’s also available on DVD and Blu-Ray which you can find on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Best Buy!

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film Official Trailer


Aesthetic and Process: Exclusive Clip

Beauty Mark

A timely story for the #MeToo era, Beauty Mark (2017) explores the ramifications of sexual abuse and how the cycle affects multiple generations. Written and directed by Harrison Doran and inspired by a true story, Beauty Mark follows Angie (Auden Thornton), a down-on-her-luck single mom as she struggles to make ends meet. She’s the primary caretaker of her Autistic son Trey (Jameson Fowler) and has to deal with the prejudice that comes with raising a mixed race child. She’s also taking care of her addict mother Ruth Ann (Catherine Curtin) who refuses to work and can barely stay sober enough to take care of her grandson. When their home is condemned by the local authorities, Angie must secure the funds for a down payment for an apartment. Haunted by the memory of former pastor Bruce (Jeff Kober) who sexually molested her when she was 5 years old, she fights back hoping that suing him help her get the money she needs to keep her family off the streets. She reaches out to other victims but when faced with a system that protects abusers and driven by the urgency of her situation, she gets help from her stripper friend Lorraine (Laura Bell Bundy). Can Angie fight back or will she have to give in?

“It’s not about sex. It’s about power.”


Catherine Curtin as Ruth Ann in Beauty Mark
Auden Thornton and Jameson Fowler in Beauty Mark

Star Auden Thornton delivers in her performance of the sympathetic and complex Angie. There are two distinct phases in Angie’s story line. There is one of an overworked mom at her wits end, searching for a way to fight back. Thornton’s physical appearance contrasts greatly to the second phase when she breaks down from sheer exasperation and finds a job as a stripper. There are several heartbreaking scenes throughout the film that linger long enough to give viewers a sense of the desperate circumstances Angie is dealing with. I was particularly impressed with Catherine Curtin as the strung out grandmother who is both a pathetic and repulsive figure. I enjoyed her performance in Victoria Negri’s film Gold Star. Curtin is a modern-day Shelley Winters and one to watch.

Beauty Mark is an engrossing movie with a poignant message. It’s a warning, a call-to-action but most importantly a candid look about a serious problem that’s been swept under the rug for far too long.

Beauty Mark is available to own or rent on digital HD today.

Update: Beauty Mark is now available on DVD. You can purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy.

“A powerful film. Survivors must no longer be silent.” – Ashley Judd

Exclusive Clip


Official Trailer


James Ivory on the making of Maurice (1987) and the appeal of Call Me By Your Name (2017) #TCMFF

At the TCM Classic Film Festival (TCMFF) I attended a special screening of Maurice (1987). Before the film, TCM host Ben Mankiewicz sat down with the film’s director James Ivory to discuss the movie and his career.

To period film enthusiasts like myself James Ivory is a well-known name. He was part of the Merchant-Ivory productions trio that included his late partner producer Ismail Merchant, the late screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala and himself as director. This partnership gave birth to many wonderful films including A Room With a View (1985), Maurice (1987), Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990), Howards End (1992), The Remains of the Day (1993) and many others. These films set the standard because of their excellence in story telling and the meticulous attention to detail given to virtually every aspect of the filmmaking process. The last collaboration with all Merchant, Ivory and Jhabvala was Le Divorce (2003). Merchant passed away shortly after the premiere of The White Countess (2005) and Jhabvala passed away in 2013.


Ismail Merchant, James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala


As the surviving member of this trio, Ivory has recently found a new career as a screenwriter. He had contributed to screenplays on previous projects but Call Me By Your Name (2017), based on Andre Aciman’s acclaimed novel, was the first time he had ever written a script all on his own. At the age of 89, Ivory became the oldest nominee to win an Oscar which he did for best adapted screenplay. I read Ivory’s screenplay for CMBYN before attending TCMFF (you can read it for free online). It’s one of the best I’ve ever read and while Luca Guadagnino’s film for the most part stayed faithful to the script, some of the intimate moments in Ivory’s adaptation were altered for various reasons concerning the director and the film’s stars Armie Hammer and Timothee Chalamet. In discussion with Ben Mankiewicz, Ivory touched upon his disappointment that CMBYN did not contain nudity even though the script called for it. He said,

“I hate talking about the subject and at one point I was told not to by Sony Pictures because it would make people not go see the movie… There’s always been a lot of nudity in our [Merchant-Ivory] movies, male, female. We’ve never worried about that very much. I’ve always felt that in love scenes, when showing people in love or when they just made love or whn they’re about to make love to put sheets around them. I always thought [to include it] … I was told that would happen in this film. However the two guys [Hammer and Chalamet] had it in their contracts [not to]. Let me just say this English actors don’t care about that at all. Or French actors. They walk around naked all the time. It’s not true of American actors. There’s a kind of modesty.”

It’s hard not to compare CMBYN with Maurice. Both are romantic period pieces, one set in 1980s Italy and the other early 20th century England, that focus on gay characters. The outcomes for the two sets of couples are very different but many of the story elements are the same and both include references to ancient Greek and Roman literature and art. When Mankiewicz brought this up, Ivory disagreed. He thinks they are quite different except that they are both “unashamed presentations of gay love.”

The story of Maurice was ground breaking in that it was unashamed in its presentation of romances between men. Renowned author E.M. Forster wrote the novel in 1913 and 1914 and revisited it a few times over the decades. When he passed away in 1970, he left the manuscript behind with a note that read “publishable, but worth it?” It was indeed published the following year but considered a minor entry into his ouevre. In conversation, Ivory pointed out that Forster couldn’t have published it in his lifetime. He went on to say, “it would have been considered obscene. It was a story with what was considered criminal acts in England. Then laws in England were changed in the early ’60s. So it could be published. But by that time he was pretty old and he wasn’t thinking about it a lot. Various friends of his who had read it over the years told him not to [even though] they liked it.”

Upon the success of the Merchant-Ivory adaptation of Forster’s A Room With a View, Ivory and his team received offers from studios for all sorts of projects. One of them was a treasure hunting adventure film set in the Caribbean and starring Tom Cruise. When that project fell through, Ivory revisited Forster’s work, reading and re-reading his various novels and stories. Ivory had read Maurice when it first came out but hadn’t thought of adapting it to film until he read it again a decade later. In the interview he said:

“I thought that Maurice was sort of the other side of the coin of A Room With a View. It was really the same kind of story. The same kind of people. Privileged, upper-middle class, educated, English people who were going to live a lie rather than really seek personal happiness, romantic happiness. They were prepared in A Room With a View and in Maurice to live some lie and pretend that they didn’t loved the person they really loved. I thought that was very relevant to today. A lot has changed since 1910 but people’s attitudes about living a lie had not always changed.”

Forsters executors at King’s College were hesitant that a film adaptation of Maurice wouldn’t pan out.  ccording to Ivory, they were mostly concerned that the novel didn’t have the prestige of Forster’s other work and that a movie might drag down his literary reputation. Eventually they relented. Screenwriter Jhabvala was otherwise occupied writing her novel Three Continents and also fairly uninterested in Maurice as a project. However she did contribute what Ivory calls “very good and highly useful dramatic suggestions” to the script Ivory worked on with Kit Hesketh-Harvey.


James Wilby and Hugh Grant in Maurice (1987)


The film starred relative newcomers James Wilby as Maurice, Hugh Grant as Clive and Rupert Graves as Alec Scudder. Because it was difficult to get all the cast members at the same place at the same time there was little-to-no-time for rehearsals and script read throughs and barely enough time for the actors to get to know each other before shooting very intimate scenes. Mankiewicz asked Ivory what it was like to direct a love scene with two actors who had yet to develop chemistry with each other. Ivory’s response:

“It’s a bit like throwing a dog and a cat in a box together. You just have to see what’s going to happen. “

Maurice was well-received at the Venice Film Festival, where it received several prizes, played for several months at The Paris Theater in New York and was praised by critics. Maurice was ahead of its time in many respects but also came at the perfect time. Ivory pointed out that

“It came out at the height of the AIDS epidemic. It was at its worst point. If you think that maybe because of that people would have backed off from it. But I think people didn’t dare to criticize it because of that very fact. This huge tragedy was going on. People who might have attacked it said it was not the time. Especially a film with a happy ending.”


Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me By Your Name (2017)


Fast forward thirty years later and Ivory’s Call Me By Your Name (2017) garners critical praise and a cult following. And that Academy Award for best adapted screenplay didn’t hurt either. About CMBYN’s appeal, Ivory shared,

“I’m stopped on the street all the time in New York. People recognize me. Maybe it’s my cane or something. They come up to me. Sometimes it will be much older couple, man and wife, and they go on and on about how they love the film. I’ve also noticed that with teenage girls who are just crazy about it, of course that’s Timothee Chalamet I know. They see it again and again and again. It’s just playing everywhere. It’s a love story between some attractive young people in the most beautiful place in the summer. Apart from it’s general tone as a film it’s just something that appeals to people. The same thing can be said A Room With a View. It’s the same kind of feel. A Room With a View had that same kind of audience reaction everywhere in the world.”

What’s next for James Ivory? For years he’s been trying to get funding for an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Richard II without much success. Currently he’s working on a screenplay for Alexander Payne based on a story Ruth Jhabvala wrote for The New Yorker shortly before she died. It was optioned years ago by Payne and Fox Searchlight but only recently has it been revisited.

Read more of my TCMFF coverage over on my classic film blog Out of the Past.

Six L.A. Love Stories

6 couples, 6 different stories, 1 afternoon in L.A.

Directed by Michael Dunaway, 6 L.A. Love Stories is a raw and bare bones look at the complexities of love and relationships. It offers six different vignettes, not interconnected in any way other than they all take place in Los Angeles. Ashley Williams and Ross Partridge play strangers at a pool party whose conversation gets off to a rocky start. Matthew Lillard plays a husband who just discovered his wife, Carrie Preston, has been cheating on him. Jennifer Lafleur is a stage manager who reconnects with her ex-girlfriend, a motivational speaker played by Ogy Durham. Jamie Anne Allman is a Hollywood studio exec meeting up for a drink with her struggling actor ex-boyfriend Marshall Allman (both actors are a couple in real life). Director Michael Dunaway and actress Alicia Witt play a divorced couple who rediscover their emotional and physical connection. And the final vignette, which is my personal favorite, follows a Will Rogers scholar, Stephen Tobolowsky, as he battles with a Will Rogers estate tour guide, Beth Grant, who is strictly by the book.

6 L.A. Love Stories offers multiple insights into relationships, how they can go wrong and how couples can reconnect. Three of the couples are exes, two are meeting for the first time and one is at a crossroads in their journey. Legendary director Peter Bogdanovich has a small role as a speaker in the Lafleur/Durham vignette. He delivers a motivational speech using a “big stick”, in reference to president Teddy Roosevelt. His daughter Antonia Bogdanovich served as producer and production designer on the film.

Available on DVD, digital and VOD today from Random Media, 6 L.A. Love Stories is a quiet unassuming indie film that offers a genuine look at relationships.

Six L.A. Love Stories from Random Media on Vimeo.

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