Sunday, April 3, 2016

Oscar Micheaux night

This week sees several silent movies on TCM. There's the normal Silent Sunday Nights slot, but there are going to be some silents in other places, too. More on those later in the week. This being Sunday, we note that it's Silent Sunday Nights again, and this week looks at a couple of films from pioneering black filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.

The night begins at midnight with Within Our Gates, a movie about a black woman who tries to run a school down south but has funding issues, so she goes to visit her relatives up north, where she faces just as much racism as she would down south. The woman also has a past about her, although that past is really only revealed in the film's climax. It's an interesting idea, but the various plot lines get a bit muddled, which is a shame.

The other movie is interesting but also has problems: The Symbol of the Unconquered at 1:30 AM. This one deals with a light-skinned black woman from down south who goes north when she inherits some land from a relative. She winds up living next to another black man, who is farming the land until he finds out about the mineral rights underneath the land. Unfortunately for him, the white people find out about those mineral rights, too, and want him off the land. They're willing to go so far as to use Klan force to drive the black man off his land. The story is an interesting one, and the problem here isn't with the film itself. Unfortunately, as with a lot of silent movies, the elements degrade over time, and a couple of reels of The Symbol of the Unconquered have been lost, with a note at the beginning of the movie telling us they will be filled in with stills where available, or intertitles telling us what's on the missing reels. The climax that has our black heroes fighting the Klan -- and winning -- unfortunately wound up on one of those missing reels, so just as we get to the climax, we only get a brief verbal description of it!

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