Category Archives: Film and Television

Mahogany (1975): Cult Movie of the Week

Sometimes a post idea for Darkjive happens organically: the intersection of various occurrences in my life make it clear that I MUST post about something in particular.

In this case, “Mahogany” started out as a request from a reader who thought that, because it was primarily shot here in Chicago, the lack of a post was a glaring omission on my part.

Additionally, a certain co-worker has referred to me as Miss Ross (a Mahogany reference) for years, because of my borderline-theatrical vintage fashion sense.

I also just recently got past my disdain for the “Theme from Mahogany” so that I could view the film for the first time in its entirety. Alas, the time has come…

Ultimately, this is a cult movie in the truest sense of the word. Watch it for the fashion, for the shots of Chicago in the 70s, for the classic rags to riches tale… or even simply for the dialogue. “Mahogany” is the story of Tracy, a shop girl from Bronzeville who takes classes at a Fashion Design school at night and dreams of making it as a designer… even as she climbs the ladder of success as an unlikely model. Starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams, it’s also a sadly flawed tale of conflicting motivations and hard-won love.

A wonderful taste of “Making It” seventies-style… but at what cost? Losing love? Identity? Or maybe, can she have it all?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Chicago: in all its fried, dyed, laid-to-the-side (or perhaps natural) glory.

I was watching my “Best of Soul Train” DVD box-set this weekend (of course), which includes tons of original TV spots for Ultra Sheen and Afro Sheen (two black haircare lines manufactured by Chicago’s own Johnson Products). Iconic brands, to be sure. During the glory days of Black Haircare manufacture in Chicago (roughly the late 1960s through the 1970s), Johnson Products’ annual sales were over $10 million. During the 1970s, as sales expanded even further, Johnson Products ranked as the largest African American–owned manufacturing company in the nation. In those heady days, alongside Johnson Products, the illustrious Soft Sheen and other smaller firms also called the Windy City home.

Unfortunately, Johnson Products (the first minority firm to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange) was sold to Proctor and Gamble, but was recently acquired by a black firm based in Dallas.

Sadder still, Soft Sheen which had about 400 employees in the Chicago area and $100 million in annual sales by the mid-1990s, was purchased by L’Oreal in the late 1990s, and a newly built manufacturing plant on 87th Street was shut down soon after. The Company’s headquarters were shifted elsewhere.

Below, Sheila Hutchinson (the lead vocalist from the Emotions [who are also from Chicago]) sings an old Soft Sheen jingle called “Brand New You in ’82”. Nearly thirty years old, the record was released as a promotion on Soft Sheen Records. The song sounds like some lost Emotions or perhaps Earth, Wind, & Fire number.  Personally, it makes me feel like I’m ready to face 1982, too.  Reaganomics… here I come! Jive on!


Dorchester Projects: presenting a home movie film festival for the south side.

(above, taken by me during Dorchester Projects’ Summer Daycamp, 2011)

The last installment of The Dorchester Projects’ Outdoor Home Movie Film Festival is this Thursday, August 11th at 9pm and will feature Live Musical Accompaniment… Sounds like a fantastic way to spend the last little chump change of summer. Organizers request you RSVP to dorchester.projects@gmail.com.

 


Passing Strange: a righteous afro-rock opera comes to Chicago!

 “Passing Strange“, the Tony-winning black rock-opera is righteous, and it’s being staged in Chicago featuring  local soul revivalists JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound… and my chica: LaNisa Frederick.  Amen.

Passing Strange is the coming-of-age story of “Youth” (Daniel Breaker), a kid growing up somewhere in LA in the seventies.  He is disillusioned because he doesn’t fit the common definition of blackness.  Floating above the city, getting high in his choir director’s blue Volkswagen beetle, “Youth” decides to uproot himself from everything he’s known in order to find home.

It takes a blurry, nomadic trek across Europe to realize some ultimate truths about where he fits in the world and whom he can count among his tribe.  Features a great live band (book and music by Stew and Heidi) and meaty writing that sometimes billows poetically like blood in water. For anyone who grew up not fitting in, then realized that they fit in perfectly, after all.  Jive on.  Below,  an excerpt from the Spike Lee-documented Broadway staging.

Passing Strange

Featuring JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound

Chicago Center for the Performing Arts (CCPA)

777 N. Green St., Chicago IL (Google Map)

APRIL 21 – MAY 29, 2011

Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sundays @ 7pm


The Return of Captain EO: This was it.

 

Hot off the presses.. Captain EO will be reopen at the Epcot Center (at Walt Disney World) this July. The ride/film short directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring Michael Jackson was originally opened in 1986 and closed in 1994 amidst allegations of abuse.  The film was definitely a highlight of my family’s trip to Orlando back in the day.  I am sad that Michael had to leave us for this gem of 80s cinematic opulence to return to the world!  Jive on.


Brighter Side of Darkness: a love note.

Below, “Love Jones” by Brighter Side of Darkness, performing on Soul Train. Don’t confuse this group with the Jackson Five, as they are aren’t a family act. They were just one in a rich history of Chicago-area based Kiddie Soul groups. The nucleus of the group came from Calumet High School here in Chicago, but 12 year old Darryl Lamont was added by manager Anna Preston to give some Jacksonesque kiddie appeal. Word on the street says that two members of the group were forcibly dropped from the ensemble “for [their] reputed misbehavior” while in L.A. for the taping of the Soul Train episode excerpted below, effectively killing the star turns of the members of Brighter Side of Darkness.

A version of the group would return briefly in 1975 as “The Imaginations”, still jonesing on a cut called “Love Jones ’75” that begged, “But if you LOVE me……”   The group also resurfaced a few years later on Lennie LaCour’s Magic Touch Records under the Brighter Side of Darkness moniker for the creatively-titled Disco cash-in “Disco Ball”; but they never even inched towards the hit status of “Love Jones”.  The record was so famous, in fact, that Cheech and Chong at one point recorded a parody….called “Basketball Jones“.  Trippy as hell.


I Spy: an exercise in style, stealth, and pace

When you think of 1960s TV, what do you think of? Gilligan’s Island?  Or perhaps The Munsters?  Just don’t forget about I Spy (one of my absolute favorites).  Imagine: the mod, mod world of the sixties, international espionage and thievery, and two American spies:  Robert Culp as Agent Kelly Robinson, whose cover is as a former Princeton law student and Davis Cup tennis player; and Bill Cosby as Agent Alexander Scott, a Rhodes scholar whose cover is as Robinson’s Tennis coach as well as being a language expert (yes: a black tennis playing dude with a gun on TV in the mid-sixties).  The show is an exercise in style and stealth, relying more heavily on crafty spy work than explosions; and the deliberate pace (a testament to the times) keeps me captivated.

My favorite aspects of the show include the great, globetrotting on-location shots, the intelligence of the writing, and the truly global cast of characters represented, all of whom are presented with dignity.  Another notable factor was the palpable bond between Cosby and Culp.  In fact, Cosby recently stated to the LA Times, “We almost had our own language”.

Click here for “So Long, Patrick Henry”, an episode from 1966 in which An expatriate African-American living in Africa must regain his citizenship before enemy agents kill him.


Passing Strange: a righteous afro-rock opera

 

 “Passing Strange“, the Tony-nominated black rock-opera is righteous…. Amen.

Passing Strange is the coming-of-age story of “Youth” (Daniel Breaker), a kid growing up somewhere in LA in the seventies.  He is disillusioned because he doesn’t fit the common definition of blackness.  Floating above the city, getting high in his choir director’s blue Volkswagen beetle, “Youth” decides to uproot himself from everything he’s known in order to find home.

It takes a blurry, nomadic trek across Europe to realize some ultimate truths about where he fits in the world and whom he can count among his tribe.  Features a great live band (book and music by Stew and Heidi) and meaty writing that sometimes billows poetically like blood in water. For anyone who grew up not fitting in, then realized that they fit in perfectly, after all.  Jive on.  Below, from the Spike Lee-documented Broadway staging.

 


Whatever it is I think I see, becomes a Tootsie Roll to me…

tootsieNow is the time of year that our minds drift towards fantastical costumes and sugary delights. Above, perhaps the sweetest costume I’ve ever seen.  The Tootsie Roll Baby Bunting costume is made out of a soft brown felt and is available at Target.com.  A bit about Tootsie Rolls (a Chicago based classic):

Tootsie Rolls were first manufactured in 1896. 

The traditional chocolate Tootsie Roll lists among its ingedients orange extract.

Tootsie Roll Industries moved operations to Chicago in the early 1960s (before that, it was based in Hoboken, NJ).

Tootsie Roll has had the same jingle since 1976.  Enjoy, below…and Jive on.


Tim & Tom: it wouldn’t be funny if it weren’t so true

tim_and_tom_cover

As part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, this Saturday meet Tim & Tom… a “Salt & Pepper” comedy team born in the hotbed of sixties Chicago…

Tim Reid and Tom Dreesen met for the first time in tumultuous 1968 Chicago. As the heady promise of the sixties sagged under the weight of widespread violence, rioting, and racial unrest, two young men – one black and one white – took to stages across the nation to help Americans confront their racial divide: by laughing
at it.

“While the country was wracked by the civil rights movement, a sexual revolution, and a controversial war, these friends took the stage as the first—and so far, only—black and white comedy team. Together they spent five years touring the country, facing unabashed racism, occasionally violent hecklers, and cheering crowds. Reid went on to star in the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati and create the influential Frank’s Place, and Dreesen spent 30 years in stand-up, including 15 years as Frank Sinatra’s opening act. The duo returns to the stage to tell their stories and reflect on a lifetime of unique experiences. Ron Rapoport moderates.”

–from Chicagohumanities.org

Where & When:

DuSable Museum of African American History
740 East 56th Place
Chicago, IL 60637
Saturday, October 17th 2pm-3:00pm

Tickets:

Adults: $5.00
Educators & Students: FREE
The book entitled Tim & Tom: An American Comedy
in Black & White
is published by University of Chicago Press.