Now is the time to praise the great Diana Sands, who died at age 39 of cancer way back in September of 1973, just as she was becoming that truly rare commodity - a major and majorly serious film actress. She left only a handful of film roles behind - ranging from Joshua Logan's delightfully frivolous "Ensign Pulver" (in which she and Al Freeman, Jr. are quite comic) to Hal Ashby's crucial race-relations comedy, ”The Landlord.”
But her best work came in a film that virtually disappeared almost immediately following its release in 1972.
Stig Björkman's "Georgia, Georgia," based on an original script by Maya Angelou, is a shockingly emotional and gaspingly original examination of a taboo topic - dealing with a back woman overtaken by "white fever."
Obviously, Angelou's screenplay is penetrating a very specific black psyche here, and much of its brilliance is directly related to Sands' nakedly brave performance as American songstress Georgia Martin.
Georgia has developed something of a cult following in Europe - a status which Georgia's traveling companion/mother figure, Alberta (played with fierce intensity by Minnie Gentry), feels has compromised the singer's blackness in general and her heritage in particular.
Starting her concert tour in Sweden (where most of the movie was filmed), Georgia is clearly experiencing a crisis of identity and seems to be willfully drifting away from "her community," particuarly when she, well, drifts into an affair with a white man (Dirk Benedict, below with Sands).
Made at the height of the Vietnam war, "Georgia, Georgia" also manages to weave in some then-topical political asides, such as a group of black Vietnam deserters who hope to enlist Georgia as a convenient mouthpiece - a spokesperson "to talk up for the black deserter community."
It's all compellingly fascinating as both Georgia and the film surrounding her refuse to do anything that we would expect of them.
Björkman, who directed "Georgia, Georgia," giving it a pulsing pace, was a former movie critic in Sweden before turning to filmmaking and, at one time, was considered one of Sweden's most promising and gifted young directors. But he seems to have inexplicably disappeared, along with this film, having produced very little output (all of it Swedish) since '72.
Diana Sands' last film was 1974's "Honeybaby, Honeybaby," for director Michael Schultz. She was about to appear in John Berry's "Claudine" (also a '74 film) when she died, replaced in the film by Diahann Carroll, who received an Oscar nomination for the role as a single mother struggling to raise her family in Harlem. James Earl Jones co-starred.