I'm thinking back to my old minstrelsy and passing days --not when I used to pass as a minstrel--but when those issues were the explicit focus of my work going all the way back to RISD.
And thinking about the world of movies of course. Let's see; Actor Herb Jeffries lived his life as a black man and acted in black cast movies...Al Jolson had an autobiographical belief that he actually had a black mammy down home somewhere. And then there's Quentin Tarentino...Zelig and Chameleon Man, Black Like Me, Soul Man and Gentleman's Agreement all come to mind.
So, for a limited time (about a week) and for your viewing pleasure I am posting my video 1/16th of 100%?!
Let me know what you think!
1/16th of 100%!?, video (23 minutes) Writer, director, editor 1993/96
Montage that examines themes of appropriation, miscegenation and minstrelsy through manipulating footage found in Hollywood movies from the 1920s through the 1950s-- including Imitation of Life, Showboat and The Jazz Singer.
Here's what I'll read tonight in case you can't make it! (And I will post my complete program notes later.)
The Vitaphone Studios, a division of Warner Bros, located in Brooklyn, NY, was a prolific producer of short films during the transition to sound starting as early as 1926. Vitaphone technology was a sound-on-disk process where audio was recorded separately onto 16” wax records during filming and synchronized mechanically with the projected footage. The films, many of which were preserved by UCLA, are a record of popular entertainment of the period and they include many ethnic and black themed acts (including, famously, Al Jolson’s pre-Jazz Singer short A Plantation Act), blackface and black-voiced minstrel shows, as well as all black-cast shorts subjects.
A uniquely arty or ART-FULL Vitaphone musical short, Yamecraw: A Negro Rhapsody is based on a symphonic jazz composition by African-American composer, and pioneer of stride piano, James P. Johnson (famous for writing “The Charleston” and other popular tunes of the era) and is reminiscent of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.
(You can listen to a recording posted above. There's a link to the film but the copy is terrible)
A brief “African-American tone poem”, the scenario is similar to that of King Vidor’s Hallelujah. A young man seeking fortune in the city is distracted by urban excitements and tempted by a city woman, only to be crushed by it all. Chastised, he returns, welcomed back home by his devoted wife, to his family’s rural shack. Yamecraw, despite the racist signifiers of this period of cinema -- like watermelons, cotton-picking, and mammies -- is an imaginative and concise presentation of a black migration narrative aided by the restrained performances of the actors that mixes operatic, modernist and folk expression.
Native Son (1951), the first of two movie versions of Richard Wrights’acclaimed 1940 novel, is an odd but compelling international hybrid. It was helmed by a French director, Pierre Chenal, shot in Buenos Aires and, fascinatingly, cast with the middle-aged, African-American author, Richard Wright, playing his 25 year old protagonist, Bigger Thomas. (For a treat look up Wright’s screen tests on youtube)
A NoirCity Magazine interview with scholar Edgardo Krebs, notes that Chenal first wanted to cast Canada Lee, who turned down the role, after which he considered Wright:
“…Chenal posed the question: would you consider playing Bigger Thomas? Wright laughed and responded “But man, I am no actor!” Chenal insisted. “You do not need to pretend to be one,” he said, “just live Bigger’s nightmare.”
Bigger’s nightmare --violently portrayed in both the novel and the adapted film--was that of many post-migration African-Americans and each begins with Bigger and his family already trapped by brutal poverty in a racially segregated city.
Towards the finale of Native Son in true noir fashion, Bigger recounts his dream of escaping imprisonment and his ensuing execution by fleeing the impoverished Chicago streets back to his southern home, a rickety cabin shown floating in a surrealistically designed cotton field. This fantasy, which quickly transfigures into a grim hallucination, initially resembles the strange, pastoral landscape seen in Yamekraw and might suggest that Bigger's unconscious has been influenced by the imagery he has absorbed as a black movie-goer.
By showing two films by white directors adapting works by black artists, in tandem, I hope to demonstrate the duality of black migration narratives and of “home” pictured through generic (and sometimes problematic) film images; first a musical short with a heavenly, happy ending followed by a racially charged thriller, where “return” can only be attained through death.
As Bigger intuits describing his dream:
“All around me everything was white. I was back in the farm where I used to live when I was a boy. I felt free. I wasn’t scared no more… I was back home again.”
program notes written by ina archer
YAMECRAW (1930) Warner Bros. (as The Vitaphone Corporation). DISTRIBUTED BY: Warner Bros. (1930) (USA). DIRECTED BY: Murray Roth. STORY: Stanley Rauh. MUSIC BY James P. Johnson (initially uncredited) and Hugo Mariani (musical score). PHOTOGRAPHY: E.B. DuPar. ART DIRECTION: Manuel Osman.
NATIVE SON (1951) Argentina Sono Film S.A.C.I. DISTRIBUTED BY: Argentina Sono Film S.A.C.I. (1951) (Argentina), Classic Pictures (1951) (USA). PRODUCED BY: Walter Gould, Jaime Prades. DIRECTED BY: Pierre Chenal. SCREENPLAY: Pierre Chenal, Richard Wright (novel). PHOTOGRAPHY: Antonio Merayo. FILM EDITOR: Jorge Gárate. MUSIC: Juan Ehlert (as John Ehlert). SET DECORATION BY: Gori Muñoz. COSTUME DESIGN BY: Eduardo Lerchundi. CAST: Richard Wright (Bigger Thomas), Gloria Madison (Bessie Mears), Willa Pearl Curtis (Mrs. Hannah Thomas), Jean Wallace (Mary Dalton), Charles Cane (Det. Britten). FORMAT: 35mm. RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes. ORIGINAL RELEASE: Italy 1951 (Venice Film Festival). Argentina, March 2, 1951. USA, June 16, 1951 (New York City, New York)
Thursday, March 6, 2014 from 12:00 PM to 9:00 PM NYC
FUƧION NYC is an engaged, curator-driven platform for exhibitions and public art around the City. Our show will explore what it takes to live and express oneself as a full human being. Technology has not only changed our lives forever but also the relevancy of human endeavor. All facets of our life have been affected and how we relate to one another. So, we will look at ways where we can re-integrate our humanity creatively that includes our desires, individual tastes and environment through the lens of curators and artists of color.
Lead Curators: Savona Bailey-McClain and Yves Marie Vilain
Participating Curators: Ina Archer,Badder Israel
Artists:Ina Archer, Brian Convery, Diane Dwyer, Scherezade Garcia, Christopher Harris, Yasmin Hernandez, Ariel Jackson, Shani Peters, Joshua Reynolds, Adrienne Reynolds, Madeline Schwartzman, Dianne Smith, Toccarra Thomas,Yves Marie Vilain.
The FUƧION NYC digital artists selected by Ina Archer,incorporate the challenges and opportunities presented by technology into their time-based art. Yet, they remain fully human through the integration of the handmade and handheld.Using old and new media, these nine artists explore low-tech and artisanal methods to create works in single channel and installation video, film, digital animation, performance and drawing.
I'm thrilled to be included in this wonderful project and am So excited for the Red Carpet event TONITE! I'll be on the panel starting 7pm!
"All summer long Harlem neighbors have been checking out, commenting on, AND RATING the independent video works of 32 super
fly contributing artists of
The People's Laundromat Theater... NOW the
time has come for the Grand Finale, a Red Carpet style party and
screening where EVERYONE is a V.I.P.!"
(bring it Playa!)
-Taste by SheChef -Sounds by DJ NessDigital -VIP Style by Sureme -Swag by the PLT community
-And Top Rated video works as judged by community visitors to the Clean
Rite Center Laundromat on Lenox & 129th and The Schomburg Center
for Black Culture and Research
Red Carpet Begins at 5, culinary delights and gourmet movie snacks, and Live DJ til 7--
Screening program begins at 7pm sharp.
The Q&A portion will include a panel of the below individuals, co MC’d/moderated by Shani Peters and Petrushka from The LP.
Ariel Jackson, Contributing Artists, Project Editor/Assistant Ina Archer, Contributing Artist, Film reviewer and preservation advocate Ivan Forde, Contributing Artist, Neighbor Robin Cedeno, Neighborhood Participant
The People's Laundromat Theater is a 2013 Create Change project by
Harlem Public Arts Resident Shani Peters. Create Change is developed
and supported by The Laundromat Project, a public arts organization. http://laundromatproject.org/create-change.htm
(Of course, I never mentioned that I was going to be gone, my bad! but it’s time to get back on the blog.)
So first things first; I am pleased to be screening some earlier works in a terrific venue The Clean Rite Center in Harlem USA courtesy of (the always fly and righteous)artist Shani Peters and The Laundromat Project!
Also, I’ll be at the laundromat on July 20th from 11am-1pm for The People’s Wash + Fold Film Club a Q&A/open exchange with the PLT community.
"Like TV? Love Netflix? Want to kick it with your neighbors while you stack those laundry piles? Then join THE PEOPLE’S WASH + FOLD FILM CLUB. We meet at the Lenox Clean Rite every other week to chop it up about not only the videos screening in THE PEOPLE’S LAUNDROMAT THEATER, but about TV shows, webisodes, YouTube clips, film, advertisements and whatever other media has caught our eyes."
Visit Harlem, support black media makers, do your laundry and opine about films! All in one spot and open 24 hours...
The Black Network (1936) d. Roy Mack
See you there!!
The People’s Laundromat Theater is located at the Clean Rite Center on Lenox Ave. near Malcolm X. Blvd. @ the SE corner of 129th St.