When he died in March at the age of 83, acclaimed film and stage director Ulu Grosbard left behind a small but remarkable body of big-screen work that included inspired collaborations with Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall and Meryl Streep, and Oscar-nominated performances by Jack Albertson, Barbara Harris and Mare Winningham. We remember this longtime Film Society friend with screenings of two of his finest films:
Ulu Grosbard | 1981 | USA | 35mm | 108m
Los Angeles, 1948. As the city returns to a peacetime economy, Detective Tom Spellacy (Robert Duvall) investigates the murder of a young woman. He picks up a trail that leads him to Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), a shady tycoon with many dealings with Tom’s brother Des (Robert De Niro), a Catholic priest in charge of his rapidly expanding diocese’s construction projects. Guilt, innocence and responsibility are carefully parsed in the film, as each character attempts to deal with a world they sense is steadily moving beyond their control. Duvall earned the Pasinetti Award for best actor at the 1981 Venice Film Festival for his work in this captivating companion piece to Polanski’s Chinatown, based on the novel by John Gregory Dunne and inspired by the real-life “Black Dahlia” murder case.
Ulu Grosbard | 1995 | USA/France | 35mm | 115m
Grosbard returned to filmmaking after a decade-long hiatus with this searing family drama about two musically talented sisters whose lives are mirror images of each other. In a spectacular performance for which she was named Best Actress by the Montreal Film Festival and the New York Film Critics Circle, Jennifer Jason Leigh hurls herself into the role of Sadie, a dedicated but self-destructive bar-band singer beset by alcoholism and forever living in the shadow of her sister Georgia (Oscar nominee Mare Winningham), a well-adjusted and successful folk singer. The tough, knowing script by Leigh’s real-life mother, Barbara Turner (Petulia, Pollock), is brilliantly brought to life by Grosbard, who insisted on having all of the actors perform their own songs live on set, culminating in Leigh’s show-stopping, nine-minute rendition of Van Morrison’s “Take Me Back.”