1. The Symbol of the Unconquered (Oscar Micheaux, 1920)
2. Super Fly (Gordon Parks Jr., 1972)
3. SHORTS: a-d are froom the Pioneers of African-American Cinema set - I'm taking the timings from the set as IMDb's aren't correct on b & c
a) Two Knights of Vaudeville (unknown, 1915) 11 m
b) Mercy, the Mummy Mumbled (R.W. Phillips, 1918) 13 m
c) A Reckless Rover (C.N. David, 1918) 14 m
d) The Films of Oscar Micheaux (no director listed, 2016) 9 m
e) St. Louis Blues (Dudley Murphy, 1929) 16m
total run time 63 minutes
4. Velvet Smooth (Michael Fink, 1976)
Spike Lee double feature
5. Summer of Sam (Spike Lee, 1999)
6. She's Gotta Have It (Spike Lee, 1984) (re-watch)
7. Women in Cages
(Gerardo de Leon, 1971)
OK I'll admit this is borderline; a mostly Filipino production, with Filipino crew and secondary cast, and only one major black presence - but that black presence is Pam Grier in only her second starring role, after the same year's other women in prison epic The Big Doll House
. And she does dominate this, as the butch lesbian guard who runs a nasty women's prison that seems mostly filled with Asian women but for the small group of characters we follow, white women generally tricked or coerced into crimes or behavior that got them unjustly placed here. A fair amount of nudity on offer, not all that much violence apart from some non-explicit sadistic torture and whipping; generally unpleasant, poorly acted, and not all that interesting although I have to agree with noted feminist Quentin Tarantino that the last shot is pretty powerful. Still not enough for me to ever want to bother with this again.
8. The Cool World
(Shirley Clarke, 1963)
If there's an actual quality copy of this film floating around, I'd love to see it. I know that Clarke's work is in the process of being restored and transferred to quality BD/DVD by Milestone, but this one hasn't shown up yet* and the copy I had was very dark, with poor sound and burned-in French subs. While it was watchable (moreso by my standards of 25 years ago; I'm not used to seeing stuff that looks like this now so much) I definitely feel like I missed some things both visually and aurally, and it's a testament to the power of the filmmaking, music, locations, and the devastating despair that pervades the film that I loved it regardless of the flaws. The voiceovers and non-sync-ed sound of the opening reminded me of Jean Rouch's Moi, un noir
- an ethnographic fiction if you will taking place in slum areas of a large city in what is now the Ivory Coast - and so I was starting to think of this in the same light, but after the credits it becomes more of an American Los olvidados
, a low-rent crime story and study in poverty and squalor and hopelessness that is clearly meant to move and enrage. I don't know how much it did; our culture of violence and the obsession with guns and machismo as a way of "being a man" are certainly still present; rarely have they been viewed so critically and at the same time compassionately as they are here, in New York, in the ghetto, among teenaged boys wanting to be men the only way they know how: through gang violence.
* It's apparently owned by Frederick Wiseman, it's producer, and I have no idea if he's cooperating with the "Project Shirley" folks on getting this out.
Probably a masterpiece but I'll wait to see a better copy - hopefully sooner and not in 10 or 20 years - before I can say for sure.
9. Nothing But a Man
(Michael Roemer, 1964)
Another hard, clear-eyed view of the black condition in America from a New York-based Jewish director, Roemer's film is set in Alabama but filmed in New Jersey with a cast of mostly professional actors, and one thing that's noticeable right away is that none of the black actors have southern accents while most if not all of the white actors do. I suspect this was done deliberately to make a jarring distinction between the races as they saw themselves, and as they promoted themselves to be. It's off-putting and in some sense detracts from the realism, but it ultimately doesn't matter much. The portrait of fairly smart but uneducated, rational but temperamental and proud Duff Anderson (Ivan Dixon in the best performance and role of his film career) struggling to find and keep work when he can't keep silent about injustice, and also struggling to be the man his father wasn't, the man he has no role models for, a stable husband and father. Abbey Lincoln is also great as Josie, the preacher's daughter who marries him, and look for a young Yaphet Kotto as one of Duff's buddies on the railway that he works for at the beginning of the film. What probably struck me most, something I haven't seen shown in this way very often, is the very casual sort of putting down the black man that we see over and over here - white men who are (theoretically) equals who badger and press Duff and others into smiling or conversing over and over when they don't want to, this obsession that the whites have of controlling the very conversation and emotional registers of all the black people around them. Over and over there's an implicit threat of violence, jail, losing a job, being run out of town - rather than the more obvious and overt violence of the KKK or lynch mobs; we're told early on that the last lynching in this town was 8 years ago, nobody did anything about it, and sure, things are a little better...but clearly black people are still living at the sufferance of the whites. Tolerated if they act like whipped dogs. And the whole film's underlying narrative is one of Duff trying to somehow live as a man of honor and self-respect under these conditions.
Perhaps the ending is
just a *wee* bit too hopeful
but that caveat aside, brilliant stuff. A double feature of this and The Cool World
is probably as good as any three hours of narrative to give one a primer on black life in America just before the Civil Rights Act.