Feb 8, 2009

Williams & Micheaux at Lincoln Center

The midnight ramble is back. Running through February 19th, Lincoln Center's Oscar Micheaux and Black Pre-War Cinema will unspool ten of the black indie filmmaking pioneer's films alongside films by an eclectic group of white filmmakers delving into Pre-War African-American themes and milieus, such as Vincente Minnelli (Cabin in the Sky), Edgar G. Ulmer (Moon Over Harlem), and King Vidor (the ludicrous Hallelujah!), as well as documentaries about the era (Brad Osborne's In the Shadow of Hollywood: Race Movies and the Birth of Black Cinema) and some interesting bits of 20s Negro film esoteria (such as Frank Peregini's The Scar of Shame).

Also featured is Micheaux's lesser known contemporary Spencer Williams, Amos n' Andy star and an altogether more persuasive director, Williams' films, especially Go Down, Death and The Blood of Jesus (which screens tonight in a brand new 35mm print), both marvels of early Black spiritual horror, a genre that doesn't have enough entries to really exist, are still blood curdling and provocative.

Micheaux's movies are comparatively campy and poorly made. The programming seems to highlight his more interesting films, like the passing narrative God's Stepchildren, Within Our Gates, the first American film to realistically depict the terrorism southern blacks were privy too during much of the 18th-20th centuries, is worth a viewing and Body and Soul, Paul Robeson's screen debut, is as watchable as it is unconvincing.