|Djibril Diop Mambéty
|Nothing but a Man
|Story of A Three Day Pass
|Melvin Van Peebles
|SKAZ PRO TO, KAK ZAR PETR ARAPA Z HENIL (HOW CSAR PETER THE GREAT MARRIED OFF HIS MOOR)
|ZOKU NINGEN NO JOKEN
|Edward James Olmos
|All Night Long
|Fred M. Wilcox
This adaptation of Friedrich Dürrenmatt's Swiss-German satirical tragicomedy play The Visit (1956) has always amazed me in the way the story unfolds and how it betrays so much of Mambety's love of theater. How grounded he is in the common people. His broad statements on consumerism and capitalism, without the sledge hammer blow. Subtle and absurd, rich characters. My favorite line, when Mansour Diouf as Dramaan Drameh questions the mayor of the town to complain about the million dollar bounty on his head and the townspeople conspiring against him. Noticing the fine cigar, the mayor is puffing on, he asks what he is smoking. Mamadou Mahourédia Gueye, as the Mayor, replies, "If you were to ask its name, it would answer Havana." The colors, the sea, the golden arm of Ami Diakhate as Linguère Ramatou, the crowd welcoming the train bringing her to demand the life of Drameh. The whimsical, metaphorical ending. Yeah for me, this is one of the ten best.
Yeelen (Bambara for "brightness/light") is a journey into the mystic past of Mali. Souleymane Cissé introduces us to an epic battle between a father and the Komo Secret Society. Here in Chicago, as a student of the AACM School of Music, we claim our creative music as “ancient to the future” and “a power stronger then itself”. These ideas thoroughly express Yeelen. Afrofuturist before the term was initiated, describing the long standing creative tendencies of Black literature, music and art in a mission of transformation. Issiaka Kane stars as Nianankoro, a young man possessed of magical powers. His father, Niamanto Sanogo as Soma, is an evil man who uses the sacred powers of the Komo to benefit only himself. He has a vision his son is coming to kill him. Soma tracks Nianankoro and his mother through the Fulani, Bambara and Dogon lands using a magical wooden post to to divine his location. A chilling moment for my Mississippi self occurs in the dialogue from Soma's twin, Djigui: “I was also told this: ‘Your descendants will undergo a great change. They'll be slaves, and deny their race and faith.’”
Each Saturday and Sunday afternoon, I would venture into the world of Japanese cinema at Francis Parker Auditorium. Omar Kaihatsu introduced us to the Japanese cinema beyond Kurosawa's works. Along with Tora-san films we saw the most compelling of Chambara cinema, and the one that really stayed with me was Kobayashi's Harakiri. The production value, its design, the stark black and white camera work shot in what I felt was like the Zone system in the region of two, gave me images that still live in my memory.
Taking place in the Edo period, a period of peace where the role of the samurai was diminishing and they were untested, it is a critique of samurai culture in the most brutal of ways. In those days, masterless samurai, rōnin, would appear at a castle, requesting the chance to commit seppuku on the clan's land, but in fact hoping to be turned away and given alms. Akira Ishihama plays Chijiiwa Motomem, the son of Nakadai Tatsuya (Tsugumo Hanshirō), who leaves home one day desperate to use this ploy and never returns. This dark drama questions the whole nature of samurai.
Nothing but a Man
This is a black film by a white filmmaker who gave agency to his actors and people around him to mould the screenplay and story into a realistic portrayal of their lives. Playwright Getrude Genet assisted Mike Roemer on the screenplay an the actors were allowed to alter their dialogue to fit their life's experiences. You feel it.
This neorealist film takes place in the early 1960s and tells the story of Duff Anderson, played by Ivan Dixon, an African-American railroad worker who struggles to maintain his self-respect in a racist small town near Birmingham, Alabama, after he leaves Chicago to marry the local preacher's daughter, singer Abby Lincoln.
I saw the film in 1969, on public television, No film had touched me like this film up to that point in my 16-year-old life. It was a film that allowed for the seeking of restorative justice in the freedom to love oneself, to overcome not just the external oppression, but its accompanying internal oppression, the attempts to hammer one into a particular social ‘place’. Ivan Dixon internalizes and immortalizes that role, even more so than Sidney Poitier's Walter Lee in A Raisin in the Sun. Duff remains my hero.
Story of A Three Day Pass
What makes a film great? For me it is visceral, feeling, associative. I saw Story of a Three Day Pass as a 15-year-old Vietnam War opposer, civil rights dissident and US Army brat, military dependent. I thought Melvin Van Peebles was Dutch. When I saw the film, I knew he had to be black like me, but he was extra me. He was telling the kinds of stories I wanted to tell. I had lived on military bases and I knew the racial gauntlet my father and his fellow GIs ran inside the military institution. So, seeing this was extra special. Van Peebles told the story like an urban blues man. In Chicago we're straight out of the blues. Riding the rails and that slender line between the sacred and profane, between subservience and rebellion, subverted maroonage in the face of the enemy, just to be able to be human, to love who you want, when you want. To experience the same meritocracy as everyone else in the course of doing a good job. And in the end, it’s the good sisters from the church who rescue him. It makes me smile to think of it.
SKAZ PRO TO, KAK ZAR PETR ARAPA Z HENIL (HOW CSAR PETER THE GREAT MARRIED OFF HIS MOOR)
I first read about the African Abram Petrovich Gannibal, great-grandfather of the author and poet Alexander Pushkin, in a book by J.A. Rogers. I never expected to see a film about him. I saw this film at a Ukranian Theater in Chicago, invited by the late Milos Stehlik of Facets Media. The film is a musical directed by the Russian filmmaker Alexander Mitta. The film features Vladimir Vysotsky as the protagonist Abram Petrovich Gannibal, the African godson of Peter the Great. Get ready for this: he plays the role in brownface. For fifteen minutes I was very pissed. Surely there were African actors at Patrice Lumumba University in 1976. At minute twenty, I was solidly into the story. Vysotsky was a great actor, the humanity of the character came through, riveting me to my seat, the film flowed seamlessly, dreamily. It is an adaptation of the book The Moor of Peter the Great by Gannibal's great-grandson Alexander Pushkin, written in 1827. I found out the film was the sixth most popular film in the Soviet Union, being seen 33,100,000 times, and it was very clear to me why. The music, the history, the humour and drama, the innovative craftsmanship.
ZOKU NINGEN NO JOKEN
A film that so many of us can agree is almost certainly one of the greatest films ever made: Kobayashi's The Human Condition, composed of Road to Eternity, No Greater Love and A Soldier's Prayer. This is a series of films I saw in one day in my teenage years, when I was discovering the power of cinema. I reeled at the raw emotional power of all three films. The series was a stern indictment of militarism; I did not have, still do not possess, the eloquence this series of films deserves. My 16-year-old self was breathless at the sheer magnitude of its production. I had never considered the experience of the ‘other side’, I lacked anyone to share the richness of these moments with. It was the solid cool of Nakadai Tatsuya that dominated the story. To me he was like Brando, the same kind of energy. So much to absorb: bloody images of war in black and white, issues concerning labor, fascism and the secret police. It’s films like this, to quote fellow film programmer Charles Coleman, that give us a reason to live.
American Me is an extraordinary achievement by actor/director Edward James Olmos. Violent, poignant visuals of one section of the many marginal communities across America's racial divide. Olmos pays Montoya Santana, a leader of La Eme, in a way that only someone with intimate knowledge of the gang culture could. Cinema antiheroes, when well done, lure us seductively into their worlds. Santana is pulled from the street life into prison at 18 and grows to be an adult in prison and leader of the Mexican Mafia group, La Eme. The film takes a turn from the violence of prison to Santana's return into society and his adjustment to the civilian world. Santana attempts a romantic relationship with Julie (Evelina Fernández), but she is disturbed by his violent tendencies and speaks out to him about La Eme's negative influence on their world. Slowly rising to a soft boil, the film broods as Santana realises what he has lost in prison and heads to a tragic end.
All Night Long
I'm a lover of Jazz music. A jazz version of Othello was very intriguing to me, and when I first watched this I thought Charles Mingus was going to be featured in more than a two minute opening scene. But it really grabbed me and stuck with me in a way I did not expect. For me, its greatness is in it actually being made, photographed so well, solid expressive melodrama.
All Night Long made me seek out all of Basil Dearden's work.
Another Shakespere vehicle, but on the planet Altair with a talking booze-distilling Robot. From the design of the spaceship with its hyperlight drive to the monster arising from our own minds, I always sit fascinated at this films design and the compelling performance of Walter Pidgeon, an actor worthy of the bard. But the driving memory of this film is the music, that badass electronic soundtrack by Bebe and Louis Barron, vibing Norbert Wiener's 1948 book Cybernetics: Or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. What I thought was a theremin was total electronics, truly groundbreaking to my eardrums. Yeah, one of the greatest.