Coke bottles clanging together, the sound ringing down a dark, wet alley. A voice calls out menacingly:
“Warriors…. Come out and Play-yay…..”
The Warriors (1979) is many things. It is a classical Epic tale (like Homer’s Odyssey). It is a pulpy cult classic with a look all its own (co-starring the New York Transit System and a bunch of dudes on rollerskates). It is a gangland movie. It is a spectacle.
Picture New York in the Late 1970s, poster child of ‘urban decay’. Now picture a late night meeting of every Gangmember from all five boroughs. In that meeting, a gangland kingpin named Cyrus (attempting to unite the Gangs of New York into one indomitable threat), is assassinated by an unknown assailant. Somehow, one member of the Warriors is fingered. Suddenly, the hunt is on to wipe them off the map, and their struggle becomes making it to their home turf (Coney Island) by daybreak. This becomes horribly difficult as night progresses, and gangs come out of the woodwork to avenge the death of Cyrus. Super-fun, no wonder it was made into a video game. Each gang rumble plays out like a “level”. In the final scene, with Coney Island Beach as a backdrop, everything comes to a head.
NOTE: In real life, Coney Island (gritty neon playground of New York [and homebase of the Warriors]) has had its future in jeopardy. Mayor Bloomberg plans to destroy what is there and create a squeaky-clean remake of the island a’la the Times Square revamp. Click here to learn about the campaign to take the grit out of Coney Island (and the community-based backlash).
Another NOTE: You can catch “The Warriors” on the big screen March 6 & 7th (this Friday and Saturday) at the Music Box Theatre (3700 North on Southport, accessible via the CTA Brown Line) at Midnight.
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).
“Killer of Sheep caught the lives of the children with a fidelity to how kids really do fight, play, and cry — and how they can sometimes be cruel simply because they’re so scared.”
— ROGER EBERT
“If Killer of Sheep were an Italian film from 1953, we would have every scene memorized.”
— MICHAEL TOLKIN, SCREENWRITER
This is perhaps my favorite cult classic movie of all. With very sparse dialogue, and a 1950s R&B soundtrack, the film is most telling through the soulful, grey images it engrains in viewers’ hearts: a herd of brown children, running in a dusty, vacant lot, dwarfed by dark, stoic palm trees; or a little girl clinging to a cyclone fence, face hidden by a grotesque rubber mask. Killer of Sheep records mid-70s Watts through Stan, “a sensitive dreamer who is growing detached and numb from the psychic toll of working at a slaughterhouse”, according to killerofsheep.com. “Frustrated by money problems, he finds respite in moments of simple beauty: the warmth of a coffee cup against his cheek, slow dancing with his wife in the living room, holding his daughter”. One day Stan conjures up one more plan, one more dream… to make a better life for his family, but to what avail?
Killer of Sheep absolutely breaks your heart and rouses your senses, as well.
Curtis Mayfield performing “We the People” and “Gimme Your Love”, plus archival tape of folks vibin’ in various Chicago parks back-in-the-day. From the classic film “Save the Children” (1972). The film chronicled PUSH Expo ’72 (at the International Amphitheatre** in Chicago), touted as the biggest gathering of black business in history. When black power was green!
from TIME magazine:
Black Expo in Chicago
Monday October, 11, 1971
“Black Expo in Chicago Black Expo was billed as the largest gathering of black businessmen in history. When the five-day trade fair opened in Chicago last week, there were representatives of nearly 400 black firms on hand to prove the premise. But before the week was out, Black Expo proved to be more than a display of the products of America’s fledgling black capitalism. It turned out to be an unofficial convention of entrepreneurs and politicians in search of power at the polls as well as in the marketplace.
the Rev. Jesse Jackson, black businessmen from 40 states gave their backing to Jackson’s assertion that economic development —”green power”—is the way to black power. Self-sufficiency, Jackson said during the opening-day ceremonies, is the first step in breaking out of the ghetto. Said Jackson: “We do not want a welfare state. We have potential. We can produce. We can feed ourselves.” Despite the enthusiastic speeches, however, black capitalism is still in an initial stage of development. Aware of that, Jackson proposed a “domestic Marshall Plan” to help black neighborhoods develop their economic potential….”
**the Ampitheatre was also where the Democratic National Convention took place (in 1968) as well as countless concerts.
Produced by the University of California at Los Angeles, Extension Media Center, and Directed by Richard Wells. This is a beautifully raw short film shot in 1971. The opening scene portrays kids, fresh out of high school, but already short on hope. The public domain film presents the first-person experiences of a black teenager coming up in Watts whose brother is in a soul band. He expresses his views on ‘the System’, education, war, drugs, revolution, his community, the Black Panther Party, and the police.
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(1966, Directed by Sembene Ousmane)
If you are unfamiliar with this movie, or Black Francophone film in general, change that…now. Black Girl is the story of a beautiful Senegalese nanny named Diouana (played by Thérèse Mbissine Diop, see above), who joins Robert Fontaine (Monsieur) and Anne-Marie Jelinek (Madame) on their trip to the French Riviera, absolutely dizzy from her bosses’ promises of going to town some sunny afternoons and buying fine French things. Growing up in the French colony of Senegal, she came to believe that everything French was, in fact, superior. A much darker reality soon presents itself, however, when she realizes that her absolute truth was only spun to keep her in a position of yearning. A poigniant tale of the scars of colonization that haunts like French Perfume.