|Saw  Murder in Harlem (1935, Oscar Micheaux). This is the only one of Micheaux’s over 35 films for the black audience untapped by Hollywood that I’ve seen, and a late one and that, but most of what I’ve read about his at-best pedestrian technique as a writer and director is confirmed – though not the claim that, in his films, light-skinned African-Americans are typically “the good guys”; nor did the film seem to have the unmotivated eroticism often said to make his work “exploitative,” save for one singer/dancer’s dress that indicated that someone hadn’t gotten the memo about the Production Code. One vivid performance (Alec Lovejoy) in a vast sea of woodenness, with the booby-prize going to lead Clarence Brooks as Henry Glory, who goes to door selling a new novel by “one of our best colored authors,” which is to say Henry Glory – this being, apparently, just what Micheaux did as a young man before he got into filmmaking. Despite the expository flat-footedness of much of the dialogue, interesting to hear some culturally specific slang (”peckerwood”) passing by without much emphasis. The murder of the title, it turns out, is committed not by the white chemical plant owner (who actually thinks he did it, a common Perry Mason device), but a psychopathic kid, also white, who is finally killed (we learn from an on-screen newspaper item) in a quixotic attempt to free Leopold and Loeb from Joliet.|
While its historical importance is undeniable, it’s difficult to actually experience this film as one assumes its intended audience did; that is, as dramatically compelling or consistently entertaining. It’s not just me: the print shown included a b&w wraparound featuring Ossie Davis engaging in some special pleading for this and the other films in the ”Tyler Black Film Collection”. Glad I saw it, but how often do I say otherwise?
Related:  Paradise in Harlem (1939, William Seiden), another film w/ an all-black cast, though this one was the first feature by a director whose work was otherwise almost entirely for a different “parallel market,” the Yiddish-language one. Mainly concerns a vaude/nightclub comic (we see him first in cork, ala Bert Williams) who dreams of doing Othello. (Robeson’s Broadway Othello, I believe the first with an African-American in the title role, was ’42.) This eventually happens: the film’s final sequence is a version of the handkerchief scene in which audience heckling gradually turns into a gospel obbligato, to which the actors respond by singing their lines in blues cadence, all this eventually leading – not particularly sensibly, given the onstage happenings, but somewhat cathartically – to general lindying in the aisles. This set piece is very well orchestrated, visually and musically. Otherwise, the film exhibits the same mixture of vernacular élan and self-consciously respectable stiffness as the Micheaux, with the generous time given over to minimally motivated “numbers” making it more engaging overall: it’s fascinating to see significant ‘30s-‘40s bandleader Lucky Millinder in action, for instance. The story heads South at one point: there’s an interesting representation of a juke joint, with a performance of a song with some striking lines about missing the work from the WPA more than one’s woman.
(Both of these are from the terrific MOMA series ”Hollywood on the Hudson,” inspired by Richard Kozsarski’s eponymous book on studio and independent filmmaking in NYC. I’ll be at a lot of these in the coming weeks; especially excited to get another crack at the 1933 tuner Moonlight and Pretzels.)
Saw  Fully Awake: Black Mountain College Experience (2007, Cathryn Zommer, Neeley House), a straightforwardly informative but not especially probing video doc. Probably better to read about the place: most of the surviving students/graduates (out of 1200 of the former, there were only 60 of the latter) hammer home the same points about self-determination in a generally self-congratulatory manner (one exception is the guy who says, roughly, “Freedom can be as difficult to deal with as oppression”), and, as there doesn’t seem be much archival footage available, most of the piece is made up of stills and talking heads. Not enough specifics on Albers’s departure; nor, really, anything that would tell you why Charles Olson is an interesting figure, beyond being extremely tall. I probably found this film annoying partly because of my previous experience with an institution with some pretenses toward a diluted version of Black Mountain values, though minus the work program or noticeable emphasis on actual responsibility. Nice to see Jonathan Williams, though. The credits mentioned support from Ray Johnson (not his estate or anything like that), which can only mean that the project was underway before his death in 1995. [There are a couple of small, concentrated Johnson assemblages, by the way, in “Looking at Music,”  a not especially tightly-focused exhibition up concurrently in the museum.]
Oh, my Believer review of  The Nancy Book begins here; the rest may or may not still be on the stands. See also Jordan’s more extensive take.
Speaking as someone who would be gladdened to imagine that a viable political candidate actually found someone like William Ayers minimally comprehensible, and realizing that locating logical gaps in present-day political speech is akin to finding, I don't know, glass in a window: wouldn't a conventional term for someone who "doesn't see America as you and I see America" be "maverick"? (Andrew Sullivan's reminder of the precise origins of that term is also salutary.)
free music, discography, etc. here
- the obstaclizer
- 3 quick book reviews
- Tangentially connected to The Gleaners and I: One ...
- Saw  Basic Sanitation: The Movie (2007, Jorge ...
- non-review notes
- Enjoyed this streaming 3-song "single"  by Bal...
- Saw  Os Desafinados [Out of Tune] (2006, Walte...
- The format I've been attempting here for the last ...
- 24. Stars Like Fleas, The Ken Burns Effect
- 22-23. American Music Club, The Golden Age, Mark E...