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Michael Schultz Retrospective at the Wex

Hope Madden Hope Madden Michael Schultz Retrospective at the WexCooley High - Photo via IMDb
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Filmmaker Michael Schultz has 113 directing credits to his name. Today. Check tomorrow and it could be more. So, is it a problem you’ve likely never heard of him?

Not if you ask him.

“My career has been kind of underground as far as I’m concerned,” he says. “But it’s the way I like it.”

The octogenarian filmmaker whose groundbreaking work in the Seventies – including Cooley High and Car Wash — inspired a generation of directors receives a much-deserved and overdo retrospective via the Wexner Center for the Arts from Thursday, October 14 through Tuesday, October 19.

The program is part of a city-wide series of events celebrating Wil Haygood’s new book, Colorization: Black Films in a White World. And even if he’s happy with his underground status, Schultz realizes the impact he’s had on film.

“I knew that Cooley High was going to be a unique movie,” he says. “I was trying to design it so that it would last through the ages, but you never know. I knew that it was unique, I knew that it would appeal to kids who’d never seen themselves portrayed that way on screen, and I also knew that it would appeal to a broader audience than just a Black a audience because I was trying to remove race from the film and make it so Black that it would transcend any kind of racial issues. The kids were just kids. I wanted to make it so specific that it would translate across cultures.”

Cooley High screens Monday, October 18, just before Schultz is scheduled to speak with Haygood. Admission to both events is free, and though Haygood will no doubt want to spend time discussing the groundbreaking high school drama, he may also spend significant time on the film that nabbed Schultz the technical grand prize at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival.

Did he know what he had in Car Wash?

Car Wash I knew would have people dancing in their seats because the music was so good,” he admits, although Schultz remembers a time when he wasn’t so sure he wanted to make the film.

“When I first got the script, it was just a series of comic antics. I almost turned it down because it was fluff to me,” he recalls. “A good friend of mine, Suzanne de Passe, who was Berry Gordy’s right-hand person said, ‘Are you kidding? It’s a Hollywood movie. If it’s not what you want, take the job and make it what you want.’”

What did he want?

“I wanted to balance the comedy, put a serious through line in the film,” he says. “At that time, a comedy was a comedy, and a drama was a drama, so Universal hated the idea of having dramatic scenes in this comedy because that wasn’t the way they saw it. All through the shooting I was fighting with the studio to keep the ending that I wanted. I just felt that if there was a serious through line, it would keep the audience and make the comedy more impactful. Then it would last and still feel relevant today as it was then. It was ahead of its time in certain character portrayals and issues, but that’s what I loved about it.”

While Schultz notices his influence on other filmmakers, he sees it as part of a natural progression.

Car Wash was an ode to Bob Altman’s Nashville,” he says. “I loved what he was attempting to do in that film. It was so interesting and so bold. He was doing it mostly with sound and I thought, let me do the same thing but let me do it with images. I’ll have the foreground acting as well as what’s happening in the background through the windows of the carwash, and these multiple stories going on through the whole film to keep the audience engaged. I wasn’t inventing the wheel, just reinventing it.”

And, of course, his own work has had a similar effect on other filmmakers.

“I was giving a talk at USC many years ago and a young student came up to me after the talk and said, ‘My name is John Singleton and I’m making my own Cooley High,’” Schultz recalls. “And that was Boyz n the Hood.”

See the retrospective of Schultz’s work from Thursday, October 14 through Tuesday, October 19 at the Wexner Center for the Arts. For tickets and showtimes, visit wexarts.org.

Full lineup:

  • Thursday, 10/14, 7 p.m. – The Last Dragon (1985)
  • Friday, 10/15, 7 p.m. – Car Wash (1976)
  • Saturday, 10/16, 2 p.m. – Which Way Is Up? (1977)
  • Monday, 10/18, 4 p.m. – Cooley High (1975)
  • Monday, 10/18, 7 p.m. – Wil Haygood and Michael Schultz: In Conversation (free admission)
  • Tuesday, 10/19, 4:30 p.m. – Michael Schultz: Directing for Television
  • Tuesday, 10/19, 7 p.m. – Krush Groove (1985)

Mr. Haygood will make a number of other appearances around Columbus throughout October in support of his new book, Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World.

  • Saturday, 10/16, 10 a.m. – One-day immersive film program for teens at the Columbus Museum of Arts
  • Saturday, 10/16, 7:30 p.m. – Screening of Robert Townsend’s The Five Heartbeats (1991), Lincoln Theatre
  • Sunday, 10/17, 3:30 p.m. – Haygood and Robert Townsend will discuss Black filmmaking, Lincoln Theatre
  • Wednesday, 10/20, 11:30 p.m. – Interview with Haygood moderated by Wexner Center Director of Film and Video, David Filipi
  • Thursday, 10/21, 7 p.m. – Evening of conversation and film that explores Black filmmaking in Hollywood; Q&A and book signing with Haygood, Drexel Theatre
  • Sunday, 10/24, 2 p.m. – Carnegie Author series featuring Wil Haygood at the Columbus Metropolitan Library

Follow Hope on Twitter @maddwolf and listen to her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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