Is it the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that's creating this glut of amazing black-interest movies? What is a girl to do?!
I don't usually do lists but here goes. This weekend includes:
LES SAIGNANTES (2005) @ Spectacle tonight. If you like experimentation, African films, sci-fi, self-relfexive film, political films, gorgeous films, comedy etc. then you have to check out Bekolo.
(ha ha ha I'm not really a racist! It's just acting!)
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) Harry Belafonte. Robert. Ryan. Shelly Winters And Gloria Grahame? AND it's shot in noirish Hudson, NY? Best seen big screen @ BAM Friday. Robert Ryan's right up there in Richard Widmark territory being all racist and RR/RW (ie. hot and crazy) scary! A beautiful B&W film directed by Robert Wise and produced by Belefonte's production company, HarBel. Jazz score by John Lewis.
They're K I L L I N G it at BAM with A Time for Burning: Cinema of the Civil Rights Movement. I've really got to catch up with the blog and I'm full of regret at everything I've missed! The combining of docs and features is fantastic and I love that they're going outside the box genre-wise by showing Hershell Gordon Lewis' 2000 MANIACS! (1964).
I've never seen it but have definitely heard of it so I'm gonna put my gore-guard on and check it out tomorrow. Look for more as I restart Ina's Horror Blog. Lovely "Nothing But A Man" (1963) plays this weekend as well.
(Sing it with Bobby Womack:)ACROSS 110TH STREET (1972) d.Barry Shear, @ AMMI in FUN CITY programmed by J.Hoberman.
I loves this movie--it's one of my favorite blaxploitation flicks--it uplifts the genre! And it's got my boyfriend, mean, sweaty and insecure mafioso Tony Franciosa. Oh yeah, GoodcopBadcops Anthony Quinn and Yaphet Cotto and grrrr-owly villain Richard Ward are all in it too!
Spoiler alert: this is the best scene it the film and I wrote a lot of papers about it! Watch as Doc Ward "Punks" Franciosa's Nick di Salvo. Laughter and scenery chewing ensues:
Mr. BoDjangos! starring Bill Robinson, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Fred Astaire (with a score by Django Reinhart). In the movie, BoDjanagos, after escaping from a minstrel troupe,"mows down" the cast of the Shirley Temple vehicle, The Little Colonel by pointing his fingers like a gun and and making a rat-a-tat-tat sound with his famous wooden tap shoes while Sammy sings his signature song!
This is how I imagined how we'd arrive to the Ranch in Banner, WY!!
“Oh! Cowboy’s a wild man but oh what a mild man the wildest of cowboys can be...”
Well maybe it wasn’t quite like that but then maybe it was...
Now, if I was giving a list for the top 250 films for BFI -- I guess they couldn’t get in touch with me--(and don’t you even get me started on exploring the demographic of the 1000 participating critics)(really don’t cause it will take up the rest of the month!)--my selections would absolutely include Whoopee (1930) d. Thorton Freeland starring the incomparable Eddie Cantor. It’s a guilty/not guilty pleasure of early sound cinema, the wonders of which I have tried to sort out in my work since I first saw it eons ago while still in high school. It was central to one of my first videos “1/16th of 100% ?!” and it continues to lasso my heart with it’s curious mixture of modern technical savvy (featuring sync-sound and lovely 2 strip Technicolor) but with old fashioned staging, vaudevillian performances, abundant and egregious stereotyping and racial/ethnic drag and play. It shapes my thinking on this transitional moment for Hollywood productions where all the aspects of the mixture listed above were fluid, open and exciting--full of possibilities. It’s all very American and completely crazy!
And then there’s my Eddie-bey as displaced New Yorker, Henry Williams.
“It’s exactly like Star Wars…The story is too fantastic and wonderful to cram into 2 hours.” If we get a good first weekend…there is a prequel and a sequel and they’re better than this movie by a long shot…I took the soft center."
Well, it is what it is! I find this clip of George Lucas discussing RED TAILS on the Daily Show both illuminating and amusing!
Illuminating because he addresses some of my very mixed feelings about the movie. My father, Lee (Buddy) Archer, was a Tuskegee Airman and he and his good friend Dr. Roscoe Brown ("The Gruesome Twosome"), consulted on the film and appeared in the accompanying documentary, Double Victory. Dad passed away in January 2010 and did not get to see any of the completed film.
I attended a preview screening a couple of months ago and the premiere last week. The film, much improved from the first time I saw it, should be supported. As a daughter, at first I found Red Tails disappointing, having had the good fortune to hear first-hand stories from the Airmen all of my life (I'll never forget the image of the small sea of red jackets at my mother's funeral in 1996). As a filmmaker tho', I'm intrigued by the way Red Tails is being hyped, the vague authorship of the movie and how it fits into Black cinema, historically. The amusing part is that I thought that Lucas called the film the 1st black-cast film (!) but, in fact, he claims "It's one the first all-black action pictures ever made."(see below)
Also funny--or at least a little hyperbolic--is his fear that the film, if it fails, will endanger if not destroy the opportunities for black filmmakers from this weekend on--prompting from Greg Tate and others the moniker “George Lucas, Black Filmmaker”! But I think Lucas is actually referring to the dangers of big —or should I say GI-normous budget films with predominantly black cast with a black director at the helm. This confused authorship between Lucas and the film’s director, Anthony Hemingway, is intriguing and in the clip Lucas self-effacingly disparages the film (the "soft" center) but inadvertently or unconsciously depending on how you feel about Lucas’ motives, displaces director Hemingway who he does not otherwise refer to in the interview.
The soapy and boyish "soft center" he describes is a truncated and specifically located episode, with hugely compressed characters. The focus then is mainly on dogfights and air(and digital) technology with an almost complete lack of context for the characters--particularly the absense of black women or almost any women--who are not even referenced (no gals back home? No sisters, no Mamas?), nor of African Americans at home following the airmen's adventures.
Well, I guess all of this was relegated to the prequels and sequels that hopefully will be produced (and maybe with my help!)but now hang in the balance of the OPENING WEEKEND BOX OFFICE!!
Anyway, all of this reminds me that all-black/colored movies directed by blacks and whites have existed since the movies began. There’s more than one per decade (I'll make a list later)! For example, preserved in part by our own Women’s Film Preservation Fund, A Fool and His Money (1912) is thought to be the first American film featuring an all African-American cast. And it was made by a LADY!—Alice Guy Blaché who owned Solax Studios, in Fort Lee, New Jersey and produced and directed dozens of films in the silent era.
The first all black action picture? What about The Norman Studios The Flying Ace set in WW1 and made in 1926! This film featured air battles, special effects (the camera turns completely upside down), comedy, action, daring aerial rescues AND romance!!
Here is a great clip from this rarely screened jewel!
Whether they run for two hours or for "6 SMASHING Reels!" black-cast films with their delights, issues, failings and travails are uniquely American and for me, essential in our understanding of the history of cinema.
SO,go see Red Tails this weekend!! You'll have fun!
I wish I had time to talk all about All-Media Star (stage, radio, screen, television) comedian Eddie Cantor today! A reoccurring figure in my work who has fascinated me every since high school when I first guiltily giggled through one of his blackface routines--which one was it? When he was rubbed in spa mud to hide from thugs, or after burning an errant champagne cork to hide from heavies or just slathering it on to dance with the Nicholas brothers--when his movies made a rare appearance on TV? My favorite, the complex, disturbing and funny moment I return to in my videos is in gorgeous, Technicolor "Whoopee", when Henry Williams hides in a gas stove that blows up revealing (and disguising) him as a "black" man.
But in Cantor's early films "black' is only one of myriad examples of racial and ethnic cross-dressing that animate these "anarchic", vaudeville-style musicals. He appears as Indians, Orientals, Latinos, Ladies, Romans and importantly, "Hebrews"! The movies are crazy and for me, a central part of the history of our film culture. But I can't go into all that now. OK, Toots?!
A clip from the film: Hallo Du süsse Frau!I like the way cars are used in the film. As Richard Traubner said at his presentation at MOMA, the opening shots of the film are almost Langian. I love that Oskar Karlweis slides down the wheel fender and that the dancers walk through the roadster and the camera actually leaves the proscenium pov and goes to the other side! It's a little thing but quite canny and gives an otherwise static set-bound dance a little life. Karlweis moves a little like Burt Wheeler. I like his singing and his gazing at his memento Mercedes gas cap! And of course there's the klaxon motif!
You'll need a super strength song eraser to get these catchy tunes out of your head...
"Ein Freund, ein guter Freund,das ist das Schönste was es gibt auf der Welt..."