Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Preview of this Month's 'Pioneers Of African-American Cinema' Screenings

Director Oscar Micheaux lines up a shot

Over the past few years, Kino Lorber, one of our favorite distribution houses, has coordinated a major restoration project called Pioneers Of African-American Cinema.  As part of this project, executive-produced by Paul D. Miller (also known as DJ Spooky) new restorations have been created from original elements that reside in a number of film archives including the Library Of Congress, the UCLA Film and Television Archive and, close to home, Southern Methodist University.

These, with some important exceptions, were films made for African American audiences, to be played exclusively in theaters which catered to a black clientele, as such these films provide a fascinating glimpse into a popular culture that was not visible by society at large, mostly until now.

We're honored to present two programs of selections from these materials, co-curated and hosted by Professor Mark Cunningham, Ph.D, of Austin Community Colleges Radio-Television-Film Department.

For the first installment, screening at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum's Spirit Of Texas Theater on Sunday, February 19 at 4pm, we present the following program:
1) DARKTOWN REVIEW (1931, 18 min): From legendary African American director Oscar Micheaux, his most unusual, free-wheeling film, a recontextualisation of a traditional black-face minstrel show, in an attempt to reclaim the tradition from its racist purveyors. 
2) SCREEN SNAPSHOTS: (Micheaux Footage Excerpt) (1920, 1 min.): This extremely rare newsreel footage shows the director Oscar Micheaux at work on one of his early productions.
3) HOT BISKITS (1931, 10 minutes): Spencer Williams was as different a filmmaker from Oscar Micheaux as can be imagined, but still a very important pioneer. In this comedy short, we witness how a pair of bickering rivals settle their differences in a game of miniature golf. 
5) THE BRONZE BUCKAROO (1939, 58 min.) Fascinating in its special way, this is a by-the-book singing cowboy B-Western with the important distinction that the entire cast, headed by the 'Bronze Buckaroo' himself, big-band singer Herb Jeffries, is African American. It is very instructive to see how the comic relief character in this film differs in tone and substance from his counterparts in films made for white audiences.
On Sunday, February 26, Professor Cunningham will return to screen the following program, also at the Bullock museum:
1) An excerpt of footage from Commandment Keeper Church, Beaufort, South Carolina, May 1940 (15 min.) The great author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston documented a Gullah church service in the Sea Island community of South Carolina. This fascinating footage has been selected for the National Film Registry of the Library Of Congress. 
2) Rev Solomon Sir Jones Home Movies (1924-28, 16 min.) During the '20s the Reverend Solomon Sir Jones, using an amateur 16mm camera, documented African American church services throughout Oklahoma. These communities, a mere three generations removed from slavery, have been little depicted in any form of historical recollection, making these films all the more valuable. 
4) BLOOD OF JESUS (1941, 57 min.) This is one of the best-known "race" films and the first full-length feature made by actor/producer/director Spencer Williams. Because of the very low budgets of most of the films in this category - which after all, were expected to make their money back in very few locations - there was little room for stylization and experimentation, but in this extraordinary drama, Williams explores a spiritual motif in surprising and poetic ways.

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