Tag Archives: Blaxploitation

Ronald Fair: Griot of Chicago Tales

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Ronald Fair still writes today, but has dropped off the national literary radar, unpublished in the U.S. in more than twenty years, yet the messages within his work remain eerily pertinent for folks coming up in our hardscrabble city.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

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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.


Monkey Hustlin’ in Chicago

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Monkey Hustle is a blaxploitation film shot in Chicago in the 70s (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).