Tag Archives: film

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.

 


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


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).

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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.


Hi-Fi White: Foodstamps, Bulldogs, and Hollywood


Wilbur White was a nightclub singer on the South Side of Chicago whose bluesy growl wielded so much power that he was nicknamed Hi-Fi.  He’d been in the clubs since the 1950s, and although I hear he put on a knockout of a show, that never translated into record sales.  Speaking of knockouts, he played bit roles on Sanford & Son and in the boxing-in-prison movie Penitentiary (1979).  In the film, he was cast as the gap-toothed transvestite Sweet Pea.  Behind the scenes, the film was so under-budget that White took initiative and collected food stamps from cast and crew, becoming the production’s official caterer.  He fed over one hundred actors and technical staffers for the final week of shooting.   That’s good ol’ Chicago can-do!

here’s a clip of perhaps his signature number, Bulldog.

and here’s the trailer for the film:


NOTE: view the comments on this post for first hand stories and recollections…


Cult Movie of the Week: Shaft in Africa

I will start with the disclaimer: I am not really a blaxploitation film lover. I’m a lover of their funky romps-of-soundtracks. That said, I dig Shaft in Africa despite its more reserved soundtrack. Why? It’s titled Shaft…..in Africa! Not only Africa, but, specifically, Ethiopia… a country that holds a lot of romance for me because its people fought colonization (and won) in a time when Africa was being sliced up like hot apple pie.

Fast forward sixty years to this film. Shaft’s mission is to break up a human trafficking ring luring young Africans to Paris. Starring (former Ebony-Jet Fashion Fair model) Richard Roundtree and Vonetta McKee, Shaft in Africa (1973) also encompasses a love storyline between Shaft and Aleme. Lovely as McKee is in this film, amazing scenes of both Paris in the 70s and Ethiopia are enough reason to snatch up a copy of this film.

One of my favorite touches to this film is the Capoiera-styled fight scenes and the 007-outfitted wooden staff that Shaft uses when he goes undercover: the staff has a built-in camera and anything else he may need. It’s like James Bond, but he gets dirty…. and I like it.

shaft in africa5
One note about the soundtrack: the theme song was recorded by the 4 Tops (“Are You Man Enough”) and the soundtrack was composed by Chicago’s own Johnny Pate. Pate was the arranger for most of the early work by the Impressions and the man who Curtis Mayfield relied on as a orchestrator/arranger for years. In fact in Rolling Stone’s 1972 review of the Superfly soundtrack, Bob Donat stated,

…equal credit of course goes to arranger – orchestrator and long-time Mayfield collaborator Johnny Pate, who’s written charts for Curtis and the Impressions since the “Gypsy Woman” days.”

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The Other Chicago

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I had a recent conversation with a friend in which I said I’m sorry that tourists miss out on the Other Chicago, the part I can’t live without:

Driving down Lake Street. Waiting in line FOREVER for a Rainbow Cone. The Garfield Park Fieldhouse presenting as a tiny gold speck on the horizon westbound down Madison.  All the neighborhood murals.  Anyway, this reminded me of my intent to see a film called The Architect (2006).  It is a movie shot here in Chicago that I completely missed.  Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Viola Davis, Isabella Rossellini and Hayden Panettiere , LaPaglia’s character is an Architect who is confronted by residents of the Housing Projects he designed.  Drama ensues.  Click here for the trailer.


Cult Movie of the Week: Jacksons an American Dream

Yeah, I said it.  Angela Bassett, Terence Howard, dude from Welcome Back, Kotter Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, etc., in the story of Gary, Indiana’s most famous sons (and daughters).   I recently pulled out my (second) dub of this.  It’s a textbook cult classic:  lines you can’t forget, larger than life characters… and untouchably-dope music.  Since I couldn’t make it to London to snag tickets to the gloved one’s “final” tour, this will have to suffice.  Below is that scene when Katherine finds Joseph’s been cheating.  You know what’s next. She don’t wont him, she don’t wont him, she don’t wont him no mo’…..