Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Handsworth Songs: an hour of collective resistance

Posted By on 04.03.12 at 03:29 PM

Race riot footage becomes a sad refrain in these Songs.
  • Race riot footage becomes a sad refrain in these Songs.
On Thursday at 6 PM, the Gene Siskel Film Center will screen the 1986 experimental work Handsworth Songs as part of its weekly Conversations at the Edge series. The film was created by the artist group Black Audio Film Collective in response to the race riots that had recently erupted across England. The mosaiclike structure—which incorporates interviews with riot victims, archival footage from the 50s and 60s, and musical performances—successfully conveys the unorganized resistance of minority groups against the overwhelming racism of the time (as a pointed news clip reminds us, Margaret Thatcher was all too willing to stoke racist sentiment for political gain). This shares with the contemporaneous Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) and The Last of England (1988) a stirring sense of anger toward the Thatcher regime, but it also contains joyful moments that are no less powerful: a black calypso singer improvising a tune for news reporters, a Sikh community group concluding a meeting with song. John Akomfrah is the credited director.

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