Eventually I hope to turn this train of thought into something. Anyway, a clumsy start:
(The Scar of Shame, 1927, directed by Frank Peregini. I understand Micheaux's predominant theme was 'passing'--I've only seen one for myself; this similarly seminal film of the silent black American cinema, on the other hand, is foremost about class and color tone divisions among black people exclusively, if I recall.)
Fred Hampton after he was murdered by the police.
"Don't fuck with Pam Grier," we are told forcefully enough by images like these.
What I'd like to suggest, one topic or tangent I want to introduce, is the question of black Americans' "space of their own" in cinema--that means literally on-screen but also in terms of exhibition or consumption. There was the cinema of Micheaux and up through Spencer Williams, Jr.--respectable cinema, or so I suppose its reputation holds, for and usually by black people. The 1960s (David Ehrenstein relates here that Billy Wilder's The Apartment was a watershed moment for the hiring of black extras in H'wood, by the way) had what I figure to be an entrenchment of two dominant cinematic/media image-sets of blackness in America. There is blackness as a well-behaved victim (child or chaste adult), Mockingbird blackness, Poitier blackness: truly dignified at best, horribly condescending and racist at worst. Perhaps both at the same time, quite often. Then there is blackness as a threat, very strong and masculine and separatist: the Black Panthers, for instance. I could be wrong about this: I'm still a fumbling student of the issue: but it's my impression at the moment.
The black exploitation film as a tool in the process of social control?--better for a dominant white class to peddle fantasies of black power to black audiences after so many of its political leaders had been assassinated, than to have said leaders making real strides. What became "blaxploitation" started off as a tool, an expression, of black individuals and communities. Melvin Van Peebles made Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song ('71) on his own. And it was attuned to something deep, powerful. But around the same time, Hollywood was allowing black people to finally make their own films--under the aegis of Hollywood and its money, presumably for black audiences, but not independent for themselves. Gordon Parks made the first such film in The Learning Tree ('69, a good film though I saw it years ago, don't recall it too well). Blaxploitation soon became a moneymaking tool for your standard, white-owned, white-run companies. Black actors starred in movies (at least nominally?) targeted to black viewers, but by and large I don't believe these films produced for the black community/ies of America.
What I want to critique--assuming there are not parts of the equation which I have yet to discover which would negate the basic criticism--is the exploitation of distinctly black film workers and audiences for distinctly white profit. But. I don't want to dismiss this genre altogether for the circumstances of its production. I want to look into it, see more than the handful of films I have already seen, figure out what it says and what it might say. I would like to learn to what extent, and in what nature, the genre might have been a genuine "space" of black Americans' own. I have a decent initial grasp of the available bibliography, but if there are hidden gems to be read (or seen), please let me know. I also did not see Mario Van Peebles' recent documentary, though I will. This is the foundation: what I want to go into is analysis (or even "poetics"--a non-Bordwellian sort of film poetics?) ...
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... and ... on the nature of Elusive Lucidity these days, I have to admit that I am apprehensive of alienating the small group of people who read this blog. I am grateful for any and all readers I have (though at the same time I basically dislike bringing up my work to people who don't know about it: I feel the only readers I earn are those who find me and decide the writing is worth a return peek). I know that this is essentially a cinema blog. And I want to keep this a cinema blog, because if I am good at keeping a blog about anything, it must be that. But for months now (actually, really, maybe it's a process of years) I have felt a mounting personal pressure about politics, and greater and greater self-resentment for not doing anything about it. I feel a paralysis because of this--a paralysis of my creative and analytical faculties both. When I read sites like Venezuelanalysis, Brownfemipower, Corpwatch, or countless others, I am overcome with the urge to have my own meager screen musings online reflect the passion & hopefully commitment that these sites--these people--inspire in me. (As to how well I translate that into real life, too, well, that's another part of the challenge.) I make zero apologies for my politics; at the same time I make zero demands of my readers, politically. I understand that there are a few conservatives and libertarians, and probably a majority of liberals/Democrats, among my readership, and I consider myself none of these. So in discussing moving images I hope that my hospitality and my convictions work together organically, and I hope that I can essentially, eventually do more than preach to a choir either politically- or cinephilically-speaking. There--that's off my chest with #201.