Tonino Guerra (1920-2012): A Sad Loss for World Cinema

23 03 2012

Screenwriter Tonino Guerra (1920-2012)

I just received news today that Tonino Guerra passed away this past Wednesday after some months of illness.  A storyteller and screenwriter of the highest degree, Guerra’s work with directors ranging from Michelangelo Antonioni to Federico Fellini to Andrei Tarkovsky have provided the backbone and structure to a wealth of wonderful films in World Cinema.

Born in Santarcangelo di Romagna, Italy on March 16, 1920, Guerra was a survivor of an Italian concentration camp during the second World War.  It was here that he began writing, which after the war, blossomed into a successful career in film and television.  Guerra fashioned himself as a tool for the directors with which he worked, often times helping them structure and pen their own concepts and stories, rather than presenting a completed script of his own accord for production.  Working in this manner is quite different from how most screenwriters prefer to work, many wanting as little bother from the director as possible.  However, in Guerra’s method, the beautiful stories and ideas of such iconic directors as Fellini and Antonioni were able to fully come to fruition and soundly transfer from mind to celluloid image.

Among Guerra’s noted works were Antonioni’s L’avventura, La notte, L’eclisse, Blowup and The Red Desert; Fellini’s Amarcord (a personal favorite of mine); Theo Angelopoulos’s Landscapes in the Mist and Eternity and a Day; and Tarkovsky’s late entry Nostalgia, among many others.  Well awarded during his long and prosperous 50 year career, Guerra received three Academy Award nominations, those being for Amarcord, Blowup and Casanova 70.

I try not to write posts about every celebrity who passes, as many get more than their fair share of Rest in Peace articles in the news and blogosphere; however, for Guerra, whose work is largely in foreign cinema and possibly lesser known to many American audiences by name, I wanted to pay dues to a true icon in the motion picture industry.





Frederica Sagor Maas 1900-2012

16 01 2012

Usually when someone is a super-centenarian (110+), that is their biggest claim to fame.  However, for Frederica Sagor Maas, she was also a trail blazing female screenwriter in early Hollywood.

Born on July 6, 1900, Frederica Sagor obtained a degree in journalism from Columbia University before taking a position as a story editor for Universal Pictures, and then as a screenwriter for Preferred Pictures in 1924.  Two of her most prominent titles were the Clara Bow and Garbo vehicles The Plastic Age and Flesh and the Devil.  Following solid work in the industry for several years, like many in the silent era, her workload declined in the 1930s.  Her last credit was for The Shocking Miss Pilgrim was in 1947.

She married fellow screenwriter, Ernest Maas, in 1927; the couple would remain married until his death in 1986 at the age of 94.  After many rejections of both her and her husband’s screenplays, coupled with the stock market crash of 1929, Maas and her husband became disillusioned and impoverished.  Eventually, however, she started a second career as a stenographer for an insurance agency, in time moving to the role of adjuster due to “adjusting” her age by 10 years on her resume.

Never one particularly fond of the movie industry or how it treated its employees, she wrote her tell all memoir “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim” in 1999 at the age of 99.  Perhaps her greatest feeling of satisfaction was being able to tell her story and knowing that all those that did her wrong or whom she despised were in the ground.  In an interview with Salon in 1999, she said, “I can get my payback now. I’m alive and thriving and, well, you S.O.B.’s are all below.”

It is with some personal sadness to hear of Frederica’s passing last week at the age of 111.  In 2008, I contacted her about the possibility of doing an extensive on camera interview about her life and times in Hollywood.  I was contacted back by her niece, Phoebe, who told me that, though Frederica’s mind was sharp many days, that would be a taxing thing for her and that some days were better than others.  Being 108 at the time, that is not a shocker at all and I completely understood.  I further found out that famed film historian Kevin Brownlow had beat me to the chase so to speak by doing a series of interviews with Maas in 1999, though I don’t know that any of the footage has been released or used as of this time.  I’m sure Mr. Brownlow is waiting for the most opportune medium to present the footage.

Though we didn’t end up doing an interview, Frederica’s niece Phoebe was extremely kind and said there were several boxes full of correspondence and other items from Maas’s time in Hollywood that she would be happy to look through if any of the information was helpful for any of my writing efforts.  Furthermore, nearly a year later, Phoebe sent me a wonderful article from the San Diego Times regarding Frederica’s solidification as one of the oldest inhabitants of California.  I sent a gracious “thank you” note and Christmas card that year.  According to Phoebe, Frederica was ready for her time to come; after a certain age, it becomes difficult to go on when all your friends, family and loved ones are gone and it’s hard to do the things you once loved.  Though it’s always tough to see someone go, I’m sure Frederica is at peace now with her husband and other friends and family with an eternally youthful mind and body.  We are so lucky, as a film historian community, to have had someone with her knowledge so willing to share her experiences and stories of that early time in cinema’s history.








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