L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema by Allyson Field and Jan-Christopher Horak

845975ad1136169-261x361.jpg Author Allyson Field and Jan-Christopher Horak
Isbn 520284682
File size 59.3MB
Year 2015
Pages 488
Language English
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L.A. Rebellion This page intentionally left blank L.A. Rebellion Creating a New Black Cinema EDITED BY Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-Christopher Horak, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS University of California Press, one of the most distinguished university presses in the United States, enriches lives around the world by advancing scholarship in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Its activities are supported by the UC Press Foundation and by philanthropic contributions from individuals and institutions. For more information, visit www .ucpress.edu. University of California Press Oakland, California © 2015 by The Regents of the University of California Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data L.A. Rebellion : creating a new black cinema / edited by Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-Christopher Horak, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart. pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-520-28467-8 (cloth : alk. paper) isbn 978-0-520-28468-5 (pbl. : alk. paper) isbn 978-0-520-96043-5 (ebook) 1. African American motion picture producers and directors—California—Los Angeles—History—20th century. 2. Independent filmmakers—California—Los Angeles—History—20th century. 3. Independent films—California—Los Angeles—History—20th century. 4. Experimental films—California—Los Angeles—History—20th century. I. Field, Allyson Nadia, 1976–editor. II. Horak, Jan-Christopher, editor. III. Stewart, Jacqueline Najuma, 1970–editor. pn1995.9.n4l24 2015 791.43089′96073—dc23 2015016337 Manufactured in the United States of America 24 10 23 22 21 20 19 18 17 16 15 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ansi/niso z39.48–1992 (r 2002) (Permanence of Paper). For Elyseo Taylor and Teshome Gabriel This page intentionally left blank Contents Preface: Once upon a Time in the West . . . L.A. Rebellion Clyde Taylor Acknowledgements ix xxv Introduction: Emancipating the Image—The L.A. Rebellion of Black Filmmakers Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-Christopher Horak, and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart PART ONE. CRITICAL ESSAYS 1 57 Rebellious Unlearning: UCLA Project One Films (1967–1978) Allyson Nadia Field 3 55 Threads and Nets: The L.A. Rebellion in Retrospect and in Motion Chuck Kleinhans 2 1 83 Tough Enough: Blaxploitation and the L.A. Rebellion Jan-Christopher Horak 119 4 Anticipations of the Rebellion: Black Music and Politics in Some Earlier Cinemas David E. James 5 Re/soundings: Music and the Political Goals of the L.A. Rebellion Morgan Woolsey 6 251 Encountering the Rebellion: liquid blackness Reflects on the Expansive Possibilities of the L.A. Rebellion Films Alessandra Raengo PART TWO. L.A. REBELLION ORAL HISTORIES 10 225 The L.A. Rebellion Plays Itself Jacqueline Najuma Stewart 9 196 Bruising Moments: Affect and the L.A. Rebellion Samantha N. Sheppard 8 171 Struggles for the Sign in the Black Atlantic: Los Angeles Collective of Black Filmmakers Michael T. Martin 7 156 L.A. Rebellion Oral Histories Filmography Selected Bibliography List of Contributors Index 291 319 321 355 403 427 431 PREFACE Once upon a Time in the West . . . L.A. Rebellion CLYDE TAYLOR I’m not a fan of the Big Bang theory where, in one version, the universe explodes from a subatomic particle, much smaller than a pinpoint. But the image of the Big Bang in reverse does capture me, with Total Everything spinning in a whirlwind back to this one infinitesimal spark. In this memory capsule, I want to follow some threads in rewind to capture partial, personal glimpses of the L.A. Rebellion, hoping to focus some particulars of the cultural scenes it swam in and also highlight some threads that its energy small-banged into the cultural firmament. A good place to start is the African Film Society. One day in the mid1970s, VèVè Clark, my brilliant friend and colleague in UC Berkeley’s Black Studies Department, called me (and eighty others, she said) and said don’t miss the film playing that night at the Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley’s articulate cinematheque. The film was Haile Gerima’s Harvest: 3,000 Years (1976), a world-class masterpiece easily placed between Chaplin and Kurosawa. I was blown away, as any great film can do to you. But who made this film? Out of what matrix? An Ethiopian? Before I reached the aisle to exit, I was plotting to know more. Each step down the stadium staircase brought another thought. There must be an association that promotes such films. At the time, I didn’t know three African films, but if more existed, I was going to find and support them. There must be some African film society somewhere. By the third step, my conclusion was fixed: if there isn’t, I’m going to start one. ix x | Preface FIGURE P.1. Harvest: 3,000 Years, (Dir. Haile Gerima, 1976). The African Film Society (AFS) began in 1976 as a small group of Bay Area media- and PR-savvy cultural activists and artists. The original core included my wife, Marti Wilson-Taylor, and Valerie Jo Bradley, Edsel Matthews, Iris Harvey, and Sandra and Fasil Demissie, with other generous spirits like Juma Santos and Ed Guerrero pitching in. We planned and organized film screenings based on improvised research into African filmmaking. We focused on African film from the jump, thinking it the newest and neediest scene then commanding attention. But we always included Black independent cinema and diaspora films in our brief, even though we hadn’t fully grasped the ferment taking place on the Westwood campus. Still, the trail was due to lead back to Los Angeles. (For your Butchered History file, from the Wikipedia entry for “Film Society”: “In 2005 the Musée Dapper in Paris founded the first film society entirely concentrating on the cinema of Africa, the Caribbean and the African-American diaspora—the occasion being the celebration of 50 years of African Cinema.”) Our crusade had a limited reach, with audiences sometimes as small as forty people. But it also stretched to different ends. We learned a good deal more about Africa, which we put to use in our individual Preface | xi ways, I in classrooms and writing. We dug into a crash course on film language and history. And just as one reminder that it was not all about Los Angeles, one of our principle advisors, mentor, really, was our friend, New York documentary master St. Clair Bourne, during one of his many sojourns in California, at one stretch teaching film techniques to the “rebels” at UCLA. Another friend was blossoming actor Danny Glover, who says that his interest in African films began at AFS screenings. Glover has had more impact on home-based African movies than any other American, through his acting, producing, and bringing African films to U.S. television. (He also acted in Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger [1990] and Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation [2007].) We soon discovered companion drives advancing the new screen imagery, like Oliver Franklin’s film series at the African American Museum in Philadelphia and Tony Gittens’s Black Film Institute in Washington, DC, which he later massaged into the Washington, DC, International Film Festival. Pearl Bowser was a one-person film institute in herself, programming film series around the country and in Europe. Her dedicated revival of interest in Oscar Micheaux and early “race” movies helped the independent scene recognize that the trail had been blazed before. I’ll never forget a postscreening dialogue after the first AFS screening, between one of our collective and a member of the audience. The viewer said, “Oh, I get it, it is not a professional film.” And my film society colleague said, “No, you don’t understand: it is a professional film, it is just not a commercial film.” I smiled, thinking I had seen the manure pile of US cultural ignorance blush just a bit. In the AFS we knew we were among the first doing something that seriously needed to be done. We mounted what was one of the first Black women’s film series. But we were impatient to make this gripping expression go “viral” within the bloodstream of our times. As one move to reach a wider audience for African and Black independent films, I took to writing about them. And that brought me back to UCLA. “Back to UCLA” cues another rewind. One of Teshome Gabriel’s early essays became a tattered reference for us in the society. “Images of Black People in Cinema” looks like a draft for a book I wish Teshome had gone on to write, and was surely a sketch for a path I would trample for decades to come, including the first comments on the upheaval at UCLA.1 But I remembered Teshome only slightly from my days as a visiting professor in the UCLA English Department from 1969 to 1972. I needed to get to know him better. xii | Preface Charles Burnett and Jamaa Fanaka. Collection of Jamaa Fanaka, courtesy Twyla Gordon-Louis, Trustee, Gordon Family Trust. FIGURE P.2. I have a clearer memory of an afternoon around 1971 when I ran into Elyseo Taylor on campus.2 A well-rounded intellectual, Elyseo only occasionally mentioned his work on film production in theater arts. Naturally we stopped to chat about the issues and crises facing Black faculty in those days, like supporting Angela Davis, under fire from the UC Regents or sooner or later menaced by a national witch hunt. Behind Elyseo, as we stood on the walkway close to Bunche Hall, was a group of young men who looked more like construction workers than students, except that the gear they carried was film-production hardware. My side glance caught their bored impatience. But as I re-memory them and put faces onto those figures in the background, I think I see Larry Clark, Haile Gerima, Charles Burnett, and Majid Mahdi—a crossing of paths that would make more sense later. Preface | xiii It was probably Elyseo who insisted that I come to a hall on UCLA’s campus one afternoon to watch African films and meet African filmmakers. My sharpest impression was Paulin Vierya’s short film Afrique sur Seine (1955), basically showing African students strolling about Paris as if their very existence there was remarkable: which it was! No doubt I also saw Ousmane Sembène’s short film Borom Sarret (1963) that afternoon but had no idea what he and that film would mean to me, nor know how much I would have to learn to see in that film some of the dense cinematic and cultural meaning that Manthia Diawara draws out in his book African Film: New Forms of Aesthetics and Politics.3 Need I say that I came to recognize Sembène as one of the greatest film artists of all time? A few years later, at a panel in New York, Paulin Vierya, who was also a critic and theorist as well as a filmmaker, remarked that African films should be shown on international airliners like the one that brought him to the United States. At the time I thought this was utopian, which it was. But more precisely, it was visionary. These snippets and glimpses from the time when a group of UCLA film students were plotting to reframe the image of Black people in the world anticipated a future when the unthinkable could become thinkable. And while many projections and goals are far from met, these glimpses catch sight of cultural activists who were growing in the health of their visionary creativity. They understood the warning James Baldwin sent in a letter to his nephew: “You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity [. . .] that you were a worthless human being. [. . .] You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity.”4 What was afoot at UCLA, and not only among the film students, and not only at UCLA, was a visionary determination to smash those expectations. So I had many prompts that something special was happening at UCLA and I better get into its wind. Just one more prompt demands mention. Months before I saw Harvest for the first time, Roy Thomas, another provocative colleague in Black studies at UC Berkeley, arranged a screening of Gerima’s Child of Resistance (1972), which parabolically examines the frame-up of Angela Davis. This was another breakthrough moment for me, a bit like hearing Coltrane the first time, except that I was familiar with the roots of Coltrane in Lester Young and Charlie Parker. Heavily symbolic to the point of surrealism, parodic, caricatural, poetic—akin in its way to Edvard Munch’s The Scream—the film made me wonder if cinema could load the kind of impact that had fired xiv | Preface FIGURE P.3. Child of Resistance (Dir. Haile Gerima, 1972). off in Baraka’s Black Magic poems or would later terrorize audiences like Melvin Van Peebles’s play Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death (1971).5 We pressed on with screenings in the African Film Society. But I also began writing about what I was seeing and learning. After all these nudges from the grass fires around me—I was a lit-crit professor and a part-time art film buff—I headed down to UCLA to get the story straight before I wrote about it. I went again to L.A. to see films by Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, Barbara McCullough, Ben Caldwell, Alile Sharon Larkin, Larry Clark, Barbara O. Jones, Billy Woodberry—the most vital and accomplished screen representation of Black Americans ever: years later I still stand ready to back up this argument. It turns out that I caught up with this blast of talent when its fuse was still sizzling. Julie Dash’s promise was clear from her Diary of an African Nun (1977), well before Illusions (1982) and Daughters of the Dust (1991); and I followed Alile Sharon Larkin’s steep ascent from Your Children Come Back to You (1979) to A Different Image (1982). When Larry Clark defended Passing Through (1977) at his UCLA master’s project screening, I sat in the auditorium among a stunned audience. Preface | FIGURE P.4. xv Your Children Come Back to You (Dir. Alile Sharon Larkin, 1979). Promo card for Your Children Come Back to You. Collection of Alile Sharon Larkin. FIGURE P.5. I got to know the filmmakers, heard their problems and dreams, looked over their shoulders at work on the editing table. I witnessed a movement giving birth to itself—that stage of collective creativity and awakening when everything needed to be done for the first time. Each film or discovered filmmaker added a stroke to the developing self-portrait of once-invisible people. Every new film from xvi | Preface Sembène or from Cuba, Brazil, or the Philippines, old movies from China, became building blocks of self-knowledge. The scene was a laboratory for film insurrection. One of the student provocateurs, John Rier, advanced a quest I never forgot: films in which Black people banded together in a common cause and prevailed at the end, something you can see in any Toy Story (Dir. John Lasseter, 1995) but remains verboten for Black characters even to this day in the postApartheid American movie industry. It was on the job postdoctoral education. Naturally, I consulted Teshome Gabriel’s generous, nuanced thinking. At an outdoor lunch on campus, Teshome scratched out three notions on a paper napkin that I modified in the essay “New U.S. Black Cinema” about Black independent filmmaking.6 In rewind, I think the combative style of interaction in those days and on campus did the gentlemanly humanist personage of Teshome a disservice. He never claimed or got his “props” as a contributor to the Rebellion. The hyperauteurist mentality on that scene, on that scrimmage field of exploration and resistance, clouded the impact of a nonfilmmaker like the scholartheorist-teacher Teshome or an essential performer like Barbara O. Teshome and I silently carried one bond. He more than I shied away from the risk of being labeled a cultural outsider as critic-scholar—he in the context of an Ethiopian discussing African American representation and I in writing about African film. So I feel a twinge that at that brownbag lunch that day, he was handing me his notes on Black independent films and moving on. It was an unnecessary and unwanted gallant gesture. The UCLA film engine got me running, but it wasn’t the only game in town. There was also Bill Greaves and the important episode of Black Journal, the Public Broadcasting television series that premiered in 1968, perhaps the only group action comparable (and preceding) the UCLA movement in the collective training and development of many pioneering film producers. For a while the cliché ran that New York, where Black Journal was based, dominated Black documentaries, while L.A., meaning UCLA, shone among Black independents in fiction and feature films. But that was an oversimplification. Carroll Parrott Blue was outstanding as a UCLA documentarian. And in New York Kathleen Collins, Ronald Gray, Bill Gunn, Charles Lane, Woodie King Jr., Jimmy Mannas, Al Santana, and others, including Bill Greaves himself, made fictional or auteurist documentary films. I didn’t mind thinking of what I wrote as film journalism. I can look at it as a first draft of a new history of Black image projection. Kalamu Preface | xvii ya Salaam agreed to have me write a column about Black film in the Black Collegian, where I hoped to attract Black colleagues to this new historical source of original, independent thinking. I feel no pain revisiting what I wrote in those days. In the 1970s, 1980s, and some of the 1990s it’s possible that I wrote more stuff about Black independents than anybody else. This is less a celebration than a lament. We had a flash of recognition around 1980 when the African Film Society hosted a reception for Ousmane Sembène in the Bay Area. We had the satisfaction of watching the mutual admiration between Sembène, widely recognized as a great international film director, and Angela Davis, free and no longer hunted, both in full stride as two of the brilliant rebels of the twentieth century, both connected in different ways to the filmmaking insurgence at UCLA. This rewind projection from Big Bang back to small acts catches moments where we can see a matrix, a film culture, taking shape in the 1970s and growing stronger in the 1980s. By then the Atlanta African Film Society had launched, spearheaded by Ed Spriggs, with Cheryl Chisolm and others. A surprising sister movement sprang up in Britain out of radical and innovative workshops—Ceddo, Sankofa, and Black Audio—producing strong films with the fingerprints of work coming out of UCLA all over them. In the 1980s, Black independents were welcomed and celebrated in the Festival of Pan African Cinema (FESPACO) in Burkina Faso, West Africa. They became invitees to film series in Europe. Solid academic work began to appear, like Ntongela Masilela’s “The Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers.”7 Some of this burgeoning activity was sparked directly or indirectly by films from the L.A. Rebellion. And in the roil and mix of the action around this growing film culture, the films from UCLA were always given a special, pedigreed respect. By the early 1990s, your mind could gather up driblets of impressions, signs of incremental momentum within the Black independent film scene—growing numbers of young women determined to become filmmakers, inspired by Julie Dash; St. Clair Bourne at the center of a network of activity; an army of novitiates entranced by the oratory of Haile Gerima. A special sign of arrival: Toni Cade Bambara, from the royalty of Black literature, had rolled up her sleeves and collaborated with Louis Massiah to make films in Philadelphia, gracing the Black independent film movement with some of its most brilliant interpretation. By then there was no doubt: Black independent film was a movement. Once, in the mid-1980s, while I was sitting on a funding panel for the National Endowment for the Arts, an application from one of the xviii | Preface UCLA filmmakers came through. When I looked in the folder for critiques and reviews of previous works, I was relieved to see a review I had written, noting accurately that this applicant’s film was a singular achievement in American cinema. One of a dozen monkeys jumped off my back, no longer screaming “Do something!” Relief twisted sour when I saw that sheet was the only one in the folder. Why hadn’t others taken the time to write reviews? The monkey jumped back into my head, screeching “Shouldadonemoooore!” Around the same period, one day I was haunting the cubicles at UCLA where the film students were at work, researching a piece on Black women filmmakers for the Black Collegian. When I got to the station where Alile Sharon Larkin was working on A Different Image, she checked me, saying, “I’m not ready for you yet, Clyde.” Not ready for me? The transition slowly dawned on me. In my mind I may have still been an eye-witness sending communiqués back from the front, where we all had stakes in a war to achieve vindication through visibility. But the camaraderie born of a shared venture had slowly shifted; I was also a “critic,” a term I have always ditched in favor of “cultural historian.” Sharon’s gentle stiff-arm, an unexpected honor perhaps, was a sign of maturing structure in a movement trying to become institutionalized. Before and after, the filmmakers always charmed me with their openness and warmth compared to the cattiness of the Black literati. Black independent film gave me some of the best friendships I ever had. And except for being threatened with an ass kicking on one occasion, or on another being urged to “commit intellectual suicide”—both from UCLA cinéastes—Black independents were remarkable for their positive, supportive style, across the board. Seeing me as a critic might ensure a filmmaker’s identity as a film director for real. It was like the passage in Jean Genet’s The Balcony where a character role playing in a brothel says, “My being a judge is conditioned on your being a thief.” “Critics” of the kind that pored over Jean Renoir or Kurosawa were rare if not nonexistent for the upsurgent Black film movement, unaware of what they were missing. But in their absence, I later recognized, some directors, Africans among them, needed imagined scenes where some visible critic woefully misunderstood or neglected their finer artistic flourishes. And if I happened to be in the area, I would do nicely as a target for their verbal lances, just like a windmill walking into a Don Quixote phantasm. When we look at later developments like the African Film Festival in New York, based at Lincoln Center, or New York’s African Diaspora Preface | xix Production photograph, A Different Image (Dir. Alile Sharon Larkin, 1982). collection of Alile Sharon Larkin. FIGURE P.6. Film Festival, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, and dozens of other film series sprawled about the country, we can see that much of this was bound to happen. But a couple of these outcomes came about directly or indirectly from the spark of films from the L.A. Rebellion. In Washington, DC, David Nicholson started Black Film Review, which under the direction of Jacquie Jones continued to assert the reality of a Black film movement. An archive came later, and academic recognition, bibliographies, filmographies. (But a curious side note: Once, on a panel in Milan when I was being scolded by an African director because “you” don’t show enough African films in the United States, I said and discovered as I spoke, that “we” were giving African films more exposure at festivals than US Black independent films.) • • • “That’s it!” John Hanhardt, the broad-visioned director of the Film and Video Program at the Whitney Museum of American Art, said to the theme and title “L.A. Rebellion.” This was one of several I had scratched out as possibilities for a series I was to curate showcasing Black

Author Allyson Field and Jan-Christopher Horak Isbn 0520284682 File size 59.3MB Year 2015 Pages 488 Language English File format PDF Category Art Book Description: FacebookTwitterGoogle+TumblrDiggMySpaceShare L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema is the first book dedicated to the films and filmmakers of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of African, Caribbean, and African American independent film and video artists that formed at the University of California, Los Angeles, in the 1970s and 1980s. The group—including Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, Billy Woodberry, Jamaa Fanaka, and Zeinabu irene Davis—shared a desire to create alternatives to the dominant modes of narrative, style, and practice in American cinema, works that reflected the full complexity of Black experiences. This landmark collection of essays and oral histories examines the creative output of the L.A. Rebellion, contextualizing the group’s film practices and offering sustained analyses of the wide range of works, with particular attention to newly discovered films and lesser-known filmmakers. Based on extensive archival work and preservation, this collection includes a complete filmography of the movement, over 100 illustrations (most of which are previously unpublished), and a bibliography of primary and secondary materials. This is an indispensible sourcebook for scholars and enthusiasts, establishing the key role played by the L.A. Rebellion within the histories of cinema, Black visual culture, and postwar art in Los Angeles.     Download (59.3MB) Alternative Projections: Experimental Film in Los Angeles, 1945-1980 Amateur Cinema: The Rise of North American Moviemaking, 1923-1960 Between the Black Box and the White Cube Made in California – Art, Image and Identity 1900-2000 Greetings from Los Angeles Load more posts

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