Archive | April, 2013

The National Film Preservation Foundation

26 Apr
The Two Orphans (1911), Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

The Two Orphans (1911), Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.

The National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) is a great resource for information about film preservation and news on the latest developments in the field. The National Film Preservation Foundation was created by the U.S. Congress in 1997 as an nonprofit organization to help save films which would by unlikely to survive without public support. They have developed grant programs to enable film archives across the county to preserve films that might otherwise be lost.

The Film & Media Archive was a recepient of a grant from the NFPF last year and preserved the only known footage of noted writer and critic Ford Madox Ford. The film, George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford, is now preserved and access copies can be viewed at the archive.

The NFPF’s website is a great place to learn more about film preservation and find resources, guides, and examples of perserved films:

All in all, it’s a great place to start learning about film preservation and exploring lost, unknown, and recovered films.

Image from George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford

Image from George T. Keating Home Movie featuring Ford Madox Ford

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Gerald Early to get St. Louis Walk of Fame star

22 Apr

Gerald Early

Gerald Early, the Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters at Washington University in St. Louis has received a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The St. Louis Walk of Fame is a collection of more than 130 brass stars which honor individuals from the St. Louis area who have made a cultural contribution through the arts, writing, music, or sports.

Professor Early came to Washington University in 1982 and since that time has been a prolific author and cultural critic in addition to teaching courses in English, African and African-American studies, and, American culture studies. He was also the director of Arts & Sciences’ Center for the Humanities for over eleven years.

Professor Early’s books include, This Is Where I Came In: Black America in the 1960s, One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American CultureDaughters: On Family and Fatherhood, The Culture of Bruising: Essays on Prizefighting, Literature and Modern American Culture, and A Level Playing Field: African American Athletes and the Republic of Sports, to name just a few.

In addition to being an author and a professor, Early is a noted cultural critic who has been a consultant and appeared in numerous documentaries. Gerald Early appeared in Henry Hampton’s I’ll Make Me a World, and the entire interview is available to view at the Film & Media Archive. Professor Early was also part of a group of librarians, archivists, and professors who were responsible for the Henry Hampton Collection finding a home at Washington University. The group’s successful proposal made the case that the Hampton Collection should be at a university where it would be open and accessible to students, faculty, and researchers.

Professor Early has appeared in other documentaries as well, including Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack JohnsonBaseball, the Ken Burns documentary series, Joe Louis: America’s Hero… BetrayedSay It Loud: A Celebration of Black Music in America, and many others

The full text of his speech on receiving the star can be read here.

Remembering Les Blank

12 Apr

American filmmaker and documentarian Les Blank died last week at the age of 77. Blank began making experimental short films in the 1960s and then moved onto documentaries. Never a conventional filmmaker, either in execution or subject matter, he brought his unique sensibility to his work. He made many films about artists and musicians, including Lighnin’ Hopkins, Dizzy Gillespie. He also documented jazz music and the culture in New Orleans, as seen in the clip above.

He was friends with the German filmmaker Werner Herzog and eventually made films about him including Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, a film about a bet between Blank and Herzog that if their friend Errol Morris made a film, Herzog would eat his own shoe. It’s not a spoiler to say that Morris did make a film, and Herzog came through on the bet resulting in one of Blank’s best films. Blank also documented the making of the notoriously chaotic production of Herzog’s film Fitzcarraldo, made with actor Klaus Kinski in the rainforests of South America. The obsessive ambitions of the film’s main character to build an opera house in the Amazonian jungle mirrored the obsessive ambitions of the filmmaker Herzog to replicate these physical feats in film and tell his story. Herzog did engineer moving a 340-ton ship up the Amazon and carried it across an isthmus to another river while also getting caught up in a military conflict between Peru and Ecuador.

Herzog speaks about Blank and that documentary, Burden of Dreams in the clip below.

The Film & Media Archive has several films by Les Blank in the Henry Hampton Collection including, Dizzy Gillespie, an early film focusing on the jazz  trumpeter, composer and arranger where he discusses his life and musical theories, Sun’s gonna shine, a lyrical recreation of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ decision at age eight to stop chopping cotton and start singing for his living, Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins, a film about the famed blues musician, and Running Around Like a Chicken With Its Head Cut Off,  Les Blank’s first student film, a homage to Ingmar Bergman’s Seventh Seal, the film that inspired Blank to become a filmmaker.

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

4 Apr

Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, 45 years ago, on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray was eventually tried and convicted for this crime. Dr. King was a master orator and electrified audiences when he spoke, and on this anniversary we’d like to celebrate him and revisit some of his speeches. Dr. King was in Memphis throughout the early months of 1968 in support of the Memphis Sanitation Strike. On February 1, 1968, two sanitation workers were killed on the job sparking outrage which led to a boycott and a strike in an attempt to gain better working conditions and respect for the workers. The clip above is from the documentary, I Am A Man: Dr. King & the Memphis Sanitation Strike, and gives some important background for the strike and Dr. King’s activism and efforts to help the workers.

The Film & Media Archive holds several interviews Blackside conducted with many of Martin Luther King’s associates, friends, and family members for the series Eyes on the Prize II,  including Coretta Scott KingRalph Abernathy, who was with King when he died and spoke about that in his interview, William Lucy, one of the strike organizers in Memphis, Jerred Blanchard, a city council member who sided with the strikers, Marian Logan, Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) member and associate of Dr. King, Andrew Young, also an SCLC member, and many others. The episode, The Promised Land (1967-1968) covered the last year of Dr. King’s life and many of the interviews talk about his time in Memphis. Together these interviews and the stock footage Blackside gathered form a striking, multifaceted portrait of Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and activism.

In Andrew Young’s interview he describes the moments right before Dr. King was shot,

We got the injunction thrown out, and we got our permission to march, and I guess about 4:30 or 5:00, I came back to the Lorraine Motel and I found Martin and A.D., and Ralph, and everybody gathered there, and they’d been eating, and, and had lunch, and were talking and clowning, and when I came in, Martin just grabbed me and threw me down on the bed, and started beating me with a pillow. I mean, he was, he was like a big kid. He was fussing because I hadn’t reported to him, and I tried to tell him, “I was on the witness stand, I’m here in the Federal Court.” And he was just standing on the bed swinging the pillow at me. I’m trying to duck with him saying, “You have to let me know what’s going on.” You know, and finally I snatched the pillow and started swinging back and it, you know, and everybody, it was sort of like the, the, you know, touchdown, and everybody piles on everybody. It wa–it was just, I mean, people just started throwing pillows and piling on top of everybody, and laughing and, and going on and then, he stopped and, and said, “Let’s go.” You know we’d do a dinner at six, it was at that time about six o’clock. And he went on up to his room to, you know, to put on a shirt and tie. I went out in the court-yard, waiting for him and started shadow-boxing with James Orange who is about, you know, 6’5″ and 280 pounds, so it was mostly continuing the clowning around atmosphere. I mean James could slap me in the ground with his little finger, but I was, you know, clowning around with him. And Martin came out and asked “You think I need a coat?” and we said, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool, and you’ve had a cold, you better go back and get a coat.” And he said, “I don’t know whether or not I need coat,” and you know, the next thing we know, a shot. Well I thought it was a car backfiring, or a firecracker, and I looked up and didn’t see him.  And I frankly thought that it was a car that backfired and he was still clowning, because he was always given to clowning particularly in those kinds of–when we’d been very, very well down, and then all of a sudden, you know things look like they’re going to work out, he could get very giddy almost.

Interview with Andrew Young, conducted by Blackside, Inc. on October 27, 1988, for Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crossroads 1965 to 1985. Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

This clip contains what has become known as the “Mountain Top” speech.

Martin Luther King gave this speech on April 3, 1968, the day before he died. In this extraordinary speech King speaks about why he is in Memphis but also ranges over many topics including a list of things he has seen during his campaign for civil rights near the end of the speech. He recounts the major campaigns and triumphs in Montgomery, Selma, and the “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington. The speech is also philosophical and  has both biblical and historical references intertwined throughout.

But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job?” Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

The speech ends with another biblical allusion although the figure of Moses is not named, King draws a parallel between himself and the prophet which proved heartbreaking and prophetic. Although a careful reader, or listener, of the speech will find references to violence and threats against King’s life dropped almost casually into the speech, from the attempt on his life when he was stabbed by a mentally ill woman to that morning’s flight to Memphis where the flight was delayed because the plane had to be checked for bombs and explosives. The fact is Dr. King lived under the threat of violence and had for some time by April 3, 1968 when he gave this speech. Knowing this does not lessen the shock or power of the last lines,

Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

For further reading, the King Papers Project at Stanford University has a comprehensive list of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speeches with transcripts and audio (when available).