Posted tagged ‘Oscar Micheaux’

Film Society Week Ahead February 19-25: Oscar, Film Comment Selects and Laura Dern in fishnets

February 18, 2009

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Our Oscar Micheaux series wraps up with some more underrated rarities of pre-war black cinema, including Hallelujah!, directed by King Vidor, the first sound film featuring an all-black cast.

No need to fret about your movie picks when Film Comment Selects! That’s right, the yearly two-week series is here, and more provocative than ever. This week, see debut director Pablo Fendrik’s minimalist thriller The Mugger, as well as two renowned classic documentaries: Demon Lover Diary and Seventeen. Check out the whole line-up.

Another Film Society party is here: Saved from late night 80s cable/USA Up All Night/Z Channel quarantine and slapped right onto the big screen, it’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains! Come to see angst-ridden, pre-fame Diane Lane and Laura Dern in fishnets and then stay for the post-punk afterparty with DJs! Sponsored by Viva Radio. RSVP on Facebook or buy tickets.

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Preserving the history of black cinema, one poster at a time

February 12, 2009

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One of the most challenging aspects of mounting our Oscar Micheaux series was locating images to pair with descriptions of the pre-war black cinema pioneer’s little-seen films. We were aided greatly by Separate Cinema, a unique archive of 25,000 rare film posters, lobby cards and photographs that chronicle the evolution of films by and about African Americans. The founder of Separate Cinema, John Kisch, graciously agreed to be interviewed by the filmlinc blog about his archive and the history of black cinema.

“When I began collecting black film posters in the early 1970s, I was certainly part of the “general public,” wrote Kisch in an email exchange. “Still a teenager, and in a predominantly white environment, I had no knowledge of black actors other than Sidney Poitier, Fred Williamson or Pam Grier, who were (to me), simply actors on a screen. I had no conscious thoughts that black film history even existed. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, black music was an inescapable and major part of everyone’s life; it was everywhere. Black film history, however, was a blur and in retrospect, not something many people were made aware of. I didn’t learn about it in school, no one I knew spoke of it, and black “history” was limited to the things that the Civil Rights Movement made a point of referencing.”

Kisch cites two films as turning points in the history of the black experience on screen: “Modern history might point to two pivotal films: Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It  (1986) and Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (1987) as being another step up the ladder in the acceptance of the Black cinematic experience. However, if that “experience” had in fact crossed over to the mainstream, we wouldn’t be questioning it today. There are many many films yet to be made by those whose voices and experiences need to be heard. It will happen. Audiences are ready.”

Kisch further lists the following pre-1950 films as MUST SEE:

  • Mainstream Hollywood : Hallelujah (1929), Emperor Jones (1933), Imitation of Life (1934), The Green Pastures (1936), Stormy Weather (1943), Cabin in the Sky (1943), Intruder in the Dust (1949), Pinky (1949), No Way Out (1950).
  • Independent: Anything by directors Oscar Micheaux or Spencer Williams would be important in understanding their importance to the world of Black film.
  • More modern independent films of note (1950-1970) would certainly include: Shadows (1959), One Potato Two Potato (1964), Nothing But  Man (1964), Dutchman (1967).

To see illustrations of some of the posters mentioned and hundreds more from Separate Cinema’s traveling museum exhibits, please visit the Separate Cinema Archive.

Film Society Week Ahead February 12-18: Micheaux and a funny Valentine

February 11, 2009

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A different way to say I love you: Stella Dallas, Olive Higgins Prouty’s celebrated novel was most famously adapted for the big screen by King Vidor, in the Barbara Stanwyck weepie of 1937. This Valentine’s Day Eve, see the original, a classically elegant silent version that is by many accounts an even greater film.

Our Oscar Micheaux series continues, highlighting the little-screened achievements of this pioneer of pre-war black cinema. This week, catch The Girl from Chicago, a mystery that travels from Mississippi to the jazz clubs of Harlem, or the Louis Armstrong and Lena Horn-infused Cabin in the Sky.

Oscar Micheaux: An early pioneer of black cinema spotlighted at the Film Society

February 9, 2009

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For a man J. Hoberman once described as “the most prolific director of so-called race movies and the forebear of American independent cinema,” Oscar Micheaux is a far cry from a household name. In spite of enjoying a flurry of critical attention in recent years – several biographies, academic scholarship, the odd retrospective – Micheaux’s work is only now coming into well-deserved relief, most notably through a joint collaboration between Columbia and Lincoln Center to showcase his films. Beginning last week, the program got off to a strong start with Birthright, an adaptation of a T.S. Stribling novel that once earned Micheaux a $25 fine for violating the state censorship laws of Jim Crow Virginia. A frank examination of the complexities of race and prejudice in the industrializing South, Birthright chronicles the efforts of Peter Siner, a half-black Harvard graduate, to open a school for black children in his rural hometown of Hooker’s Bend, Tennessee. Interspersing Josephine Baker inspired dance numbers with the picket fence conversations of the town’s older white residents, Micheaux sketches a nuanced portrait of a declining society struggling to adapt to a rising black class at the onset of the 20th century. As Hoberman also points out, what’s particularly striking about Micheaux’s work isn’t its technical prowess or narrative impact – his actors often seem acutely conscious of the limitations of their dialogue – but rather his obvious self-awareness. For a director whose career was forged in an era of institutionalized racism, his films are extraordinary in their ability to define themselves against this, and, clunkiness and all, stake a claim in the annals of film history.

– Jessica Loudis

Film Society Week Ahead February 5-11

February 4, 2009

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All inclusive entertainment: Young Friends of Film presents Wong Kar Wai’s Days of Being Wild with a post-screening discussion and party with open bar and free snacks, Thursday February 5 at 7:30. [Buy tickets]

Celebrate Black History Month at the Film Society:
We honor the remarkable career of pioneering filmmaker Oscar Micheaux with a series of films that are a rare glimpse of authentic and complex African-American characters during the pre-war period. Enjoy a special reception on opening night, February 6th.

Wikipedia Loves Art is here! Save the date for these meet-ups to mix it up with art-lovers like yourself:
Friday, February 7 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art [RSVP on Facebook]
Saturday, February 7 at the Brooklyn Museum [More info on Flickr]
Friday February 13th at the New York Historical Society [More info on Flickr]