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Week Eight: Black History Month


Is That Black Enough For You?!?, dir. Elvis Mitchell (2022) ★★☆☆☆
The film highlighted the trend of releasing the soundtracks before the movies even went to theaters.

I was looking forward to having a whole week devoted to black stories, directors, and creators but when I failed already when I started with this documentary. I had a whole list ready for this week and it fell apart. I have so many things wrong with this film but some of that is overshadowed by the education it provides. The exclusion of problematic elements in these films is where my issues come from. It brings up Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971) , but excludes the very explicit sex scene with a 13 year old. It brings up women lead movies, but excludes the reliant on rape revenge stories. It doesn't want to dive into the fact that many of these films were directed by white men, and even brings up unrelated films just for the name recognition.

I wanted to watch this Netflix documentary to have more of a background on the movies I was going to be watching. My previous knowledge lead me to view this documentary as a "coverup" of sorts. I felt hesitant going into the majority of the films I had planned because I felt like I was missing vital information and education.


Shearing Animation, dir. Jim Henson (1961) ★★★☆☆
Both shorts display the amazing drumming of jazz performer Chico Hamilton

Of course, Black History Month isn't the only time you should be consuming media and stories by black creators. This week was meant to highlight them but I know I struggled. I went back to an area of comfort, someone whose work I'm educated on but still let me learn something new. This means yet again more of those Jim Henson shorts available on Mubi.

Shearing Animation and the other short I watched in conjunction with this one were both basically music videos. Drummer and jazz musician Chico Hamilton is feature in both. I have previously brought up the online jazz history class I took in college and so this name wasn't exactly foreign to me and I even vaguely recognized the playing style.


Drums West, dir. Jim Henson (1961) ★★★★☆
The ending of the film shows Henson himself working on creating the creative animation.

Both shorts let me highlight black music in film, even if short and even if instrumental. I feel like the contribution of black musicians to movie scores is often overlooked and it really is something I feel more entitled talking about than something like acting.

Shearing Animation focuses on illustrated animation while Drums West was far more experimental and used tiny pieces of construction paper to enhance the music. Like most Henson pieces it stores a sense of childhood wonder that is almost like a time capsule; it gets more intriguing with time and is engaging for all ages.


Meeting the Man: James Baldwin in Paris, dir. Terence Dixon (1970) ★★★☆☆
Camera crews gather to get footage of Baldwin

Another area I'm rather comfortable with is literature. Besides going to school for film related education, I also majored in journalism. Plenty of english, communication, and literary based classes later and I find myself still more interested in the life and politics of authors rather than their work. While it wasn't as hauntingly beautiful as the Kurt Vonnegut one from last week, Meeting the Man: James Baldwin In Paris gave me a new perspective on the relationship between filmmakers and those they are interviewing. Let's just say he wasn't as willing as Vonnegut was to give his opinions.


Melancholy Dame, dir. Arvid E. Gillstrom (1929) ★★★☆☆
The Department of Afro-American Research Arts and Culture highlights this film on their virtual archives

While this film isn't outstanding or important in the general history of cinema, it is very important to the history of The Lincoln Theatre. I started doing research this week at the Smyth County Library right down the street and used their catalog of microfilms to check for Lincoln Theatre ads in the paper. The most interesting one I found was for opening week which included underneath the feature film a mention of short one too. Previously we thought that Close Harmony (1929) was the first film screen and while it is the first feature length one it wasn't the very first thing on our screen. Melancholy Dame was advertised as being played before Close Harmony on opening night.

I included it with my week on Black History Month because it has an entire black cast. It doesn't really stand out in the general history of people of color on screen but it is notable for being an early sound film that had a story focused on black people. It's surprisingly still in existence, which can't be said for many early sound film, and is available for free on Youtube.


Hair Love, dir. Bruce W. Smith, Matthew A. Cherry, & Everett Downing Jr (2019) ★★★★☆
Despite the cute animation style the message is moving and important

I remember the hype around this short and the picture book of the same name when they came out. I never got around to watching it but had heard plenty of good times prior to my viewing. As excepted it was adorable and heart warming. The animation was charming and the message important. Great viewing for younger audiences, but a little too fast paced to be properly consumed in one sitting.


Fieldwork Footage, dir. Zora Neale Hurston (1928) ★★★☆☆

The film displays interesting shot types to document a mundane scene

Finally, I wanted to make sure to get a female directed one in here too. Finding work by early black female directors was a hard task but Fieldwork Footage fit the bill and was a short good time. Beautiful and intreging shots of usually mundane work but nothing more beyond that.

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