Mumm VSOP Cognac Black Film Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

Mumm VSOP Cognac Black Film Festival 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

The final three days of a four-day, 15-feature retrospective, sponsored by V.S.O.P. Cognac and intended to honor black films and filmmakers of the last 50 years. All screenings will be held at the Fine Arts Theatre, 418 S. Michigan, Friday, June 12, through Sunday, June 14. Tickets are $4 for each film; for information, call 939-3700.

CARMEN JONES There's something contradictory in the notion of an Otto Preminger musical: his admirable rational/realist sensibility doesn't settle too well with the whims of the genre. But there are some fine Preminger moments in the midst of this all-black pop version of Carmen--fine, that is, if you care to take the trouble to separate them from the clumsy segregationist context. Impeccably liberal in its time (1954), the film has not aged gracefully, although Dorothy Dandridge's performance in the lead remains a testimony to a black cinema that might have been. (DK) (Friday, June 12, noon)

CARBON COPY Businessman George Segal is reunited with his illegitimate son, who happens to be black. With Susan Saint James, Jack Warden, Dick Martin, Paul Winfield, and Denzel Washington; directed by Michael Schultz (Car Wash) (1981). (DK) (Friday, June 12, 2:30)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN The screen version of Lorraine Hansberry's play, about a black family in the Chicago ghetto trying to make sense of their lives, stars Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil, and Ivan Dixon. Daniel Petrie directed. Don Bogle, something of an authority on black films, calls it a disorganized integrationist melodrama, but it does have enough gritty insights and (for the time) strikingly accurate production details to keep the level of interest up. (DD) (Friday, June 12, 5:00)

ST. LOUIS BLUES Nat King Cole stars in this biography of the great composer W.C. Handy. With Pearl Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, and Ella Fitzgerald. A modest picture, with only the stars' presence to recommend it; Allen Reisner directed (1958). (DD) (Friday, June 12, 7:45)

CABIN IN THE SKY This all-black musical was Vincente Minnelli's first assignment as a director, and while he doesn't succeed in completely legitimizing it, evidence of his taste and talent is sprinkled throughout. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson gets the only leading role of his career and makes the most of it; his partner is Ethel Waters, who appeared in the Broadway version of the show. With turns from Lena Home, John Bubbles, Louis Armstrong, and the Duke Ellington orchestra (1943). (DK) (Friday, June 12, 9:45)

IMITATION OF LIFE The first version of Fannie Hurst's elaborate soap opera (1934), about a working girl who promotes her maid's pancake recipe into a fast-food empire, and the trials and tribulations of the maid's daughter, who tries to pass for white. Douglas Sirk's famous 1959 remake was pure metaphysics; this version emphasizes the social content, particularly in its Depression-era attention to class nuances. The director, John Stahl, was a notable visual stylist (although this film contains few of his characteristic flourishes) and was possessed of the prime asset of the melodramatist, the ability to take his material seriously and make it play. It seems racist now, of course, but it was earnest in its time. With Claudette Colbert, Warren William, and Rochelle Hudson. (DK) (Saturday, June 13, noon)

STREAMERS Sure, it's searing and intense, but so is a microwave oven. David Rabe's play, about a barracks room of draftees waiting to be shipped to Vietnam, is a less than honorable piece of theater, relying on physical and psychological violence to keep the audience in a constant state of anxiety and submission; Robert Altman's film is even more dubious, based on a mise-en-scene that isolates individual actors into interminable, shrieking, close-up monologues. You leave the theater feeling shaken, upset, and without the slightest idea of what all the screaming was about. With Matthew Modine, Michael Wright, Mitchell Lichtenstein, and David Allen Grier. (DK) (Saturday, June 13, 1:45)

CONRACK Martin Ritt cornered the mid-70s market in lush, down-home liberalism with Sounder and this 1977 feature. Jon Voight stars as a South Carolina idealist who takes on the task of educating a group of island black children, most of whom are so neglected by the state's educational bureaucracy that they know neither the name of the country, how to count past four, nor the name of the ocean that washes up against their beach. Unfortunately, while Voight is in fine form as the immensely cheerful iconoclast, Ritt leaves far too much undefined and undifferentiated and tips over into pathos and unfunny caricature. It misses by less than a mile, but it misses. (DD) (Saturday, June 13, 4:15)

FAST FORWARD Eight small-town teenagers head for Broadway to take a crack at stardom. As the press kit put it, "When you have a dream you want so badly you can taste it, there's only one thing you can do--go for it!" Sidney Poitier directed; the cast of debutants includes John Scott Clough, Don Franklin, Tamara Mark, Tracy Silver, and Cindy McGee. (DK) (Saturday, June 13, 6:30).

LADY SINGS THE BLUES The Billie Holiday story adapted as a star vehicle for Diana Ross, who sings well but hardly in the Holiday manner. The director, Sidney J. Furie, never again seemed so adept or comfortable with genre material: this showbiz bio hits all of the high points of the formula with some measure of precision. Clearly, it's an affront to Holiday's art, but just as clearly, it's a good piece of low entertainment. With Billy Dee Williams and Richard Pryor, in his first important part (1972). (DK) (Saturday, June 13, 8:45)

DUTCHMAN Anthony Harvey's claustrophobic film about a subway encounter between an uptight black professional (Al Freeman Jr.) and a taunting white seductress (Shirley Knight), based on LeRoi Jones's strident, angry play (1967). (PG) (Sunday, June 14, 1:00)

A SOLDIER'S STORY Norman Jewison recycles elements of his Academy Award-winning In the Heat of the Night for this didactic drama welded to a thriller format. The sadistic sergeant of a black platoon is murdered at a Georgia Army base during World War II; a black officer (Howard E. Rollins Jr.) is sent to investigate, and encounters what appears to be a racist cover-up. Jewison's lack of interest in developing anything other than his rather debatable ideological point (somehow, it appears, this uppity black deserved to be killed) relegates the film to the realm of moderately competent TV drama. With Adolph Caesar; the disappointing score is by Herbie Hancock. (DK) (Sunday, June 14, 2:30)

NATIVE SON A 1951 adaptation of Richard Wright's novel of black Chicago, with the author himself as his hero, Bigger Thomas. With Jean Wallace, Gloria Madison, and Nicholas Joy; Pierre Chenal directed. (DK) (Sunday, June 14, 4:45)

HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE Improv talent Robert Townsend is pretty much the whole show--writer, producer, director, and star--in this independent sketch-style comedy, about a marginally employed black actor trying to make it through the Willie Best shuffle of Hollywood racial stereotypes. A lot of the gags are clever (if not particularly demanding), but the formal structure's a mess, and Townsend seems more intent on marketing his own geniality (it's more performance audition than film) than in pushing the critical satire too hard or far. Still, it's a pleasant enough diversion, in an amateurishly personal sort of way, though Townsend's frequent recycling of actors (for reasons of budget rather than laughs) makes for some odd Pirandellian confusions. With Helen Martin, Anne-Marie Johnson, and John Witherspoon. (PG) (Sunday, June 14, 7:00)

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
June 13
Performing Arts
January 12

Tabbed Event Search

Popular Stories