Thursday, March 30, 2017

Post race-films

I'm looking at tonight's lineup on TCM, and the prime time theme is "African-American Independents". However, most of the lineup is from after what would be considered the "race film" era. Of the first four movies, the only one I've tried to sit down to watch is The Learning Tree at 10:00 PM, which aired on TCM one Martin Luther King Day. Well, probably more than one MLK day, since TCM seem to wind up with the rights to the same limited selection of films seen as fitting the day. I'm sorry to say that I found the first half-hour or so of The Learning Tree slow and meandering, and I found myself unable to sit through the rest of it.

At the end of the evening, there are two films from the race film era. First at 3:00 AM is The Symbol of the Unconquered, an Oscar Micheaux movie about a light-skinned black woman inheriting her grandfather's farm, only to have to face prejudice when she actually tries to run the place. Unfortunately, not all the reels survive, or at least didn't when I watched this one on TCM. There was an intertitle at the opening about how some of the deleted scenes have been replaced by other intertitle descriptions, but what should probably be the best parts, the climactic fight with the Klan, are on the missing reels.

That will be followed at 4:15 AM by Go Down, Death!, from director Spencer Williams. Williams also directed Dirty Gertie from Harlem, USA, a race film version of Somerset Maugham's "Rain"/"Miss Sadie Thompson", except that Williams had to change the ending of that one for the sensibilities of black audiences. Go Down, Death! sounds interesting, about a juke joint owner who tries to frame a preacher by having loose women cavort with him. It's not the one I wanted to see, however. The original selection for the night, or at least what was on the monthly schedule when I downloaded it at the end of February, was Blood of Jesus. I ran across the ending of that one in a previous TCM airing, and was pleased to see it on the schedule, but when I looked at the end of last week, it had been replaced by Go Down, Death!.

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