Category Archives: Cult Movie of the Week

Join Ayana Contreras: Monkey Hustlin’ in Chicago.

monkey_hustle_1977_685x385

I will be hosting a film screening of 1976’s Monkey Hustle at the Black Cinema House on Sunday, June 9th at 6pm. We will watch the film (which was shot mere blocks from where we’ll be watching it), and then discuss it.

Monkey Hustle – hosted by Ayana Contreras

Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave., Chicago

Sunday, June 9th at 6pm

Seating is limited, so please RSVP by emailing blackcinemahouse@rebuild-foundation.org to reserve your seats.

For more on the film, see my review below.

Monkey Hustle is a black film shot in Chicago in the 1970s (a rarity, in that regard), around the same time as Cooley High.  Mainly shot around 63rd Street, East of the Dan Ryan (the Woodlawn Neighborhood), and various West Side locations, the city figures prominently in the overall vibe of the film.  Starring in Monkey Hustle are (among others): Yaphet Kotto as a small-time hustler/love interest of the lovely Rosalind Cash, and a very young Debbi Morgan as Cash’s daughter.

Cash runs the local teenage hangout.  As the neighborhood hero/big-time hustler, we have Rudy Ray Moore (who is also Cash’s alternate love interest).  The other major character is Win, Debbi Morgan’s love interest who, despite showing promise for bigger things, dips deeper and deeper into the “Monkey Hustle” with Kotto.

The overlying plot is fairly pointed:  The city government is pushing ahead on plans to construct an expressway on land currently occupied by the neighborhood (which was actually happening in real-life Chicago… remember the plans for that “Crosstown Expressway“?).  Ultimately, the set-up becomes ‘the hustle must go on to save the community (by any means necessary)’.  Overall, a message movie with too many competing angles.  But fun for the shots of Chicago (and the girl fight).

Advertisements

Sundown in K-Town: North Lawndale Documentary Festival

Sundown in K-Town Teaser from BetterBoys Foundation on Vimeo.

Better Boys Foundation (BBF) and Facets Multi-Media announce a film festival comprised of a series of social documentaries screened outside in the inner courtyard of the BBF Center at 1512 S. Pulaski Road . These groundbreaking documentaries such as The Murder of Fred Hampton (pictured at left), And This is Free, American Revolution 2, and others exemplify the role of independent, particularly documentary, filmmaking in reporting about and shaping Chicago. Discussion panels of film professionals, journalists and individuals relevant to the films will follow the screenings. Two of the films will be accompanied by shorts produced in house at BBF by FilmLAB@1512, BBF’s youth filmmaking apprenticeship. A local production company, Kartemquin Films, has generously donated two of the screenings.

I caught the first installment of this Film Festival, which is going on until July 27th. I really enjoyed the experience and the setup (a large projector screen and speakers set up outdoors inside the Better Boys Foundation’s Courtyard). Great for the community (the neighborhood that Martin Luther King, Jr. came to in 1966 to fight for open housing). Also notable is the Better Boys Foundation itself, which has been around for some 50 years and collaborated with the Black Panthers for Chicago’s edition of the Free Breakfast Program. The idea of the Program was later appropriated by the US Government for the Head Start program. Jive on.

More Info: facets.org/sundown


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.


Cult Movie of the Week: the spook who sat by the door.

Goodness. I am reviving the “Cult Movie of the Week” category for a minute based strictly on this film. I am also seeking out the book it’s based on, as well as the soundtrack.  I was sucker-punched by Herbie Hancock’s future funk interpretation of a Spy/Espionage movie score. I was in love when I heard the cut that featured a bass guitar overdubbed in reverse!!!

The Chicago roots of the film run deep: from the setting (Chicago) to where the movie was shot (Gary, IN with a smattering of Chicago shots in the stew). They roots extend to the man behind the soundtrack (Hancock was born and raised in Chicago) and to the author (Sam Greenlee still lives on Chicago’s South Side).

Author Sam Greenlee’s novel (that the film is based on) was originally published in 1969. Based on the premise of a Social Worker turned lone Black CIA agent who goes rogue and ultimately trains a Chicago street gang to be an elite squad of guerrilla warriors dead-set on fighting for a Black Revolutionary War in America, the novel was difficult to get published in the mainstream press. So it’s no wonder that (according to Greenlee) although the film was shot locally, the City of Chicago did not okay it, so shots of the 63rd Street El had to be commandeered. Most everything else was shot across the Lake in Gary, Indiana (the city’s first Black Mayor was in office at the time).

The movie was directed by Ivan Dixon who, to me, is best known as the sigh-inducing male lead in the righteous 1964 movie “Nothing But a Man”. He also guest starred in two episodes of the original “Twilight Zone” that are both worth seeking out.

According to a recent article by Nina Metz in the Chicago Tribune:

“Shortly after it opened in theaters, the film vanished altogether — pulled by its distributor, some allege, bowing to pressure from the FBI. The narrative, about disciplined efforts to take down The Man through brain power and armed revolts, was intentionally controversial, and it doesn’t take a leap of the imagination to presume the film made those in certain corridors of power nervous enough to “disappear” the movie altogether.

For years it was only available on bootleg video. In 2004, the actor Tim Reid tracked down a remaining negative stored in a vault under a different name (“When they want to lose something, they lose it,” Reid told the Tribune at the time) and released it on DVD. It still remains largely unknown to the general public, an artifact from the blaxploitation era that defies most of the genre’s cliches.”

I love a good conspiracy theory every now and again. Jive on!


Ronald Fair: Griot of Chicago Tales

BkWorldOfNothingM

Ronald Fair is perhaps best known as a teller of crisp, satirical, and unsentimental Chicago Tales: inner city stories of struggle, morality, and overcoming (not unlike his own Chicago story).  Born in Chicago on October 27, 1932, Fair attended public school. He was inspired as a young man by fellow Chicagoan Richard Wright to begin writing. Wright, as well as a black English teacher encouraged him to keep at his craft despite setbacks. 

Fair ultimately published various short writings in the Chicago Defender, Ebony, Chat Noir, and other publications. His first novel, Many Thousand Gone: An American Fable, was published in 1965.  The book covers the span of time from the Civil War to the 60s, and presents a fictional town called Jacobsville, Mississippi, whose residents were unaware that slavery had been abolished.   The work, through symbolism, called for Blacks to wake up and rise against the systemic oppression they were under.  

His second novel, Hog Butcher (1966), set in the 1960s, told the story of three inner city Chicago boys and one tragedy that changed a community forever. It was adapted into the film Cornbread, Earl, and Me (1975, see the theatrical trailer below).  The film starred a pre-pubescent Laurence Fishburne, and featured a grooving soundtrack composed by Donald Byrd and performed by the Blackbyrds.

Fair’s next work, World of Nothing, was published in 1970.  The work consists of two edgy, perse, short novellas: one of which dealt with sexual abuse in the Catholic church and, like Hog Butcher, featured a young central character.

Soon after the publication of Hog Butcher, Ronald Fair moved to Europe, were he remained, as he was “fed up with American racism”.  While in Europe, he published what he considered his supreme work,”We Can’t Breathe” (1972).  The book covered the lives of five Chicago friends (one of whom becomes an author), and was deeply autobiographical.  The book sold well at first, and then sales inexplicably tapered off.

Ronald Fair still writes today, but has dropped off the national literary radar, unpublished in the U.S. in more than twenty years, yet the messages within his work remain eerily pertinent for folks coming up in our hardscrabble city.

 

 

Read more: http://biography.jrank.org/pages/2345/Fair-Ronald-L.html#ixzz0QiUlGCM4


Movies in The Park: Fireflies and Stars

to-sir-with-love (“To Sir with Love, 1967)

According to the Chicago Park District, 170 current and classic movies will be shown in neighborhood parks throughout the city, through September.  I know many of us have missed the first program offerings, but here’s a list of recommendations for the final month of movies.  Lots to choose from…  Bring popcorn, a blanket, and may I suggest a basket of goodies? NOTE: Click the names of the parks below for their locations.

Highlights and Recommendations…

07/29/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – To Sir, With Love (NR) * Hamilton Park free

A 1967 British film in which Sidney Poitier stars as an idealist engineer-turned-teacher tries to turn around a rough inner city school.

08/10/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – The World of Nat King Cole (NR) Tuley Park free
A truly great 2006 Documentary abouth the Chicago-bred icon.  Featuring (among others) his lovely wife.  If you missed this on PBS, catch it in the park.
 
 
08/11/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – The Sting (PG) * Lake Shore Park free
1973 film starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford in crime-ridden 1930s Chicago.
   
08/12/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – Uptown Saturday Night (PG) South Shore Cultural Center free
Directed by Sidney Poitier, and starring Sidney Poitier, Bill Cosby, and Harry Belafonte.  Steve and Wardell track across the city when they discover Steve’s won the lottery (but the ticket is in his stolen wallet).  The pair meet a truckload of hustlers, crooked politicians, and otherwise colorful folk in the hunt. 
   
08/15/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – Calle 54 (G) Humboldt Park free
A 2000 film featuring an abundance of Latin Jazz legends performing on stage.  
 
08/18/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – The Blackboard Jungle (NR) * West Pullman Park free
In this 1955 film, an English teacher wages a war to get through to his students at a violent inner city school, even though many of his colleagues refuse to pick up arms. An early performance by Sidney Poitier is not to be missed.
   
08/29/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – Sparkle (PG) * Washington Park free
Check out the Darkjive review of Sparkle here.
   
08/30/09 8:30 PM Movies in the Park Movies in the Park – Akeelah and the Bee (PG) * Unity Playlot Park (c/o Kosciuszko Park) free
A new classic featuring Keke Palmer, with Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett.  A young girl tries to make it (against the odds) to the National Spelling Bee.
 
 

Fame: Cult Movie of the Week

fameFame (1980) is one of those movies that makes you wish you lived in a world so filled with youthful fervor that at anytime a group of kids might break into interpretive dance and jump on a cab. 
We don’t. 
But that didn’t keep us from cheering for the characters in the film (especially Coco and Leroy), and later the TV show (which featured Janet Jackson and Debbie Allen). 
The story of  students at a New York Performing Arts High School, the film follows the ebb and flow of their kinetic reach for stardom. The narrative is, despite pitfalls, like an infusion of fresh hope in admittedly hard times.  It expresses a romantic image pairing sweat with success, art with desire.
A new Fame  motion picture is scheduled for release this year, but somehow it seems superfluous.  Those kids in the original are gonna live forever.
 
Wanna live forever? Wanna learn how to fly (again?)  the Tofu Chitlin Circuit is having a screening  of Fame in Bronzeville this Monday….
 
“If you want fame, well fame costs and right here is where you start paying with sweat!” 
 
 
 

The Tofu Chitlin Circuit (a Bronzeville-based theater conservatory) is continuing their Family Reunion with the quintessential theater movie…”FAME!”  Enjoy a screening and discussion.

Prizes for the best FAME gear!

When: Monday, July 27, 2009
Where: The Digital Youth Network
1050 E 47th Street
Chicago, IL 60653
Time: 6:30 p.m.
Film starts promptly at 7:00 p.m.
Donation: $3

more about TCC:
“Our mission is to bring the audience into the creative process of theater.  Our conservatory is an educational platform that assists artists and audience members with intellectual dialogue, poignant interviews from theater practitioners, workshops, classes and of course performances!”

Cult Movie of the Week: Stray Dog (1949)

Nora_inu_poster

A work of Japanese Noir from iconic Japanese director Kurosawa, “Stray Dog” (1949) gets by on good looks, swagger, and heart. Featuring a slinking pace, the film’s cadence is ultimately trumped by its ability to be beautifully gritty and enveloping, just like summer.

Set in the depths of summer in Post-World War II Tokyo, the film follows detective Murakami as he seeks to recover his stolen gun (pickpocketed on a swelteringly hot bus).  What he finds is himself slipping deeper and deeper into the world of the desperate kid, the Stray Dog, who committed the crime.   The world of Stray Dog is a world of desperation and ruin, a world ravished by bombs and economic turmoil.  Post War Japan is also a world in the midst of social upheaval: a world of seersucker suits and silk kimonos, with the ways of the West ever encroaching on Japanese tradition.  This is the perfect movie for a quiet summer night in which thunder rings out ominously… the sort of night in which we pray for rain to release us from oppressive heat.  But, don’t forget the Tempura & Sweet Tea (trust me on that one).

straydog4


Wattstax (1973) Cult Movie of the Week

barkays480Movie trailer for the 1973 black documentary, Wattstax.  Perhaps the closet thing to “BLACKstock” we’ll ever see.  Great performances from Memphis’ Stax Recording artists of the time and an indelible message of unity, self-determination, and respect (and fly fashion).


I can’t be 100% certain, but I’m pretty sure that the chemical pink ensemble (complete with white, patent-leather, knee-high platform boots) that Rufus Thomas (best known for “Do the Funky Chicken“) wears on stage in Wattstax is the same outfit he sports in a Schlitz Malt Liquor commercial from that era.  But then again, they were living pretty high at Stax in those days.  He could’ve had two suits… or was he wearing a hot pink cape? Hmmm…..

 

more about “Wattstax (1973) movie trailer“, posted with vodpod

Cult Movie of the Week: Sparkle

sparkleNot unlike many movies that are labeled as “Blaxploitation”, the soundtrack to Sparkle (1976) is often regarded more highly than the film itself.  A Curtis Mayfield-produced gem sung by Aretha Franklin, the soundtrack to the movie is glorious… but laden with its share of controversy.  What’s controversial? 

First, the film is a pre-Dreamgirls rags-to-riches story of three girls with dreams of stardom.  Each of the main actresses (Lonette McKee, Irene Cara, and Dwan Smith) could all sing well enough to not be dubbed out of the movie; but apparently Warner Bros. thought not well enough to sell REAL LIFE records.  Sort of ironic.  Notably, in the movie, the somewhat unpolished vocals work well (after all, the singers were supposed to be kids coming up from the streets).

Back to the rags-to-riches story.  So there’s the three girls.  Enter stage left the young well-meaning Svengali producer character (played by Phillip Michael Thomas) whose dreams ride heavily on their success.  Ultimately, a slippery force named Satin cracks the glossy veneer of Sister (the sophisticated lead vocalist played by McKee), and it seems all their dreams are derailed.  Sparkle (Irene Cara) is forced to take over the Lead Vocalist’s role, rising from the ashes. A Star is Born, and Phillip Michael Thomas (as Stix) is willing to gamble everything to see their dreams come true.

What I like most about this movie is the locomotive power of their dreams, and the entrepreneurial spirit that runs through the tale.

Who doesn’t love a righteous dream, bigger than the span of your arms?

NOTE: Curtis Mayfield (who composed the music for the movie) came up in the Cabrini Green housing projects here in Chicago and had a rags-to-riches story of his own to tell, although the projects were a far different place in those days.