Jan 8, 2010

Fwd: CRY OF JAZZ screening

Below is a swell report from Andy Uhrich (NYU MIAP '10) on the screening and discussion of Edward O. Bland's film THE CRY OF JAZZ (1959), which took place at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem on January 7.  This showing was from a DVD of the film.

The 2010 Orphan Film Symposium will debut a restored film version, with discussion by director/composer Ed Bland, scholars Jacqueline Stewart and Anna McCarthy, and others. (Did you know that the landmark "First Statement of the New American Cinema Group" begins

       In the course of the past three years [1959-1961] we have been witnessing the spontaneous growth of a new generation of film makers -- the Free Cinema in England, the Nouvelle Vague in France, the young movements in Poland, Italy and Russia and, in this country, the work of Lionel Rogosin, John Cassavetes, Alfred Leslie, Robert Frank, Edward Bland, Bert Stern and the Sanders brothers.

-- and that Bland was a signer of this manifesto?)

Anthology Film Archives is currently preserving the film, with sound restoration by BluWave Audio, lab work by Colorlab, some advocacy from the Orphan Film Symposium, consultation with Ed Bland, and the organizational genius of Andrew Lampert.  Andy Uhrich also researched and helped write a Film Foundation grant during his summer 2009 Anthology internship.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Andy Uhrich <auhrich@nyu.edu>
Date: Fri, Jan 8, 2010
Subject: CRY OF JAZZ screening
To: Dan Streible <streible@gmail.com>, Jacqueline Stewart <jacqueline@northwestern.edu>, anna.mccarthy@nyu.edu

Greetings all,

The screening last night was really great. Thanks to the press [in the NEW YORKER] and Mr. [Armond] White's presence the screening sold out the 60 or so seat room. Mr. [Albert] Maysles was there in the front row videotaping the proceedings. While the audience skewed older, the audience was a diverse mix of age and ethnicity.

The audience was clearly engrossed in the film and laughed at the scene of the poodle clipping as an embodiment of privileged white life.

Mr. White is clearly an ardent fan of the film. He started the discussion by talking about the film as a "lost" film due to its provocative indictment of racism. So while he didn't use the term orphan that idea is the way he framed the contextualization of the film. He also talked about the film as an aesthetic work, noting its blending of documentary and fiction. He made a comparison to Eisensteinian montage in the editing of the film's depiction of African American life, which isn't too far off the mark as the film's editor [Howard Alk] was a huge fan of Eisenstein.

Mr. White also talked about the film in relation the new waves of the time mentioning BREATHLESS but mostly talking about it in comparison to PULL MY DAISY and SHADOWS. It goes without saying that he finds CRY better than all of those films. While he did not talk about Mekas and the New American Cinema he did talk about CRY in relation to what he called beat and bohemian films. He described the film as an African American response to Norman Mailer's WHITE NEGRO [1957]. He compared it favorably to Richard Wright's 12 MILLION BLACK VOICES [1941] as an evocation of the reality of the African American experience of racism (which, from talking from Bland's daughter after the screening, I understand was exactly the previous generation of Black intellectuals and activists that Bland et al. were reacting against). Mr. White also proved true to form as a partisan for Steven Spielberg when he compared CRY to THE TERMINAL, though he made the comparison fit by point out that Tom Hanks's character is an Eastern European jazz fan.

The question-and-answer session was one of the better public discussions I've ever been to. People were intrigued by the film but not afraid to question its conclusions. People asked about the film's reception at the time, commented on the interracial romance in the film, and talked about the idea that jazz is dead. Mr. White was a great moderator and -- in response to the fact that there are no black women in the film and that the portrayal of white women is perhaps less than flattering -- talked about the tendency of otherwise progressive groups to often be quite sexist (the Panthers, for example). It was actually rather amazing how the film still touched a nerve and made people want to talk about the issues it raises.

Oh, and Mr. Bland's daughter mentioned that the new preserved film would be screening at Orphans.