Category Archives: movies
Vintage Black Films @ Film Grove
Whole lotta’ streaming going on! Film Grove is a new company by Rayna Booker and Charmaine Clark seeking aspiring filmmakers to submit their films for a film festival competition. Filmmakers will share in the revenue as their films stream on the channel. Their mission is to add more diversity to the film and television industry. Film Grove looks to fill their online presence with up-and-coming filmmakers, especially women of color.
In the spirit of recent events, here is a wonderful collection of Vintage Black Films already streaming on the Film Grove channel. Some of these treasures have historical significance. “The Joe Louis Story” and “The Jackie Robinson Story” are about two sports legends that changed the look of sports forever.
“The Joe Louis Story,” starring Cole Wallace reminds us what a giving individual Joe Louis was. At first, Louis was taking violin lessons until someone pointed out he was built to box. His family supported his passion for boxing. Joe Louis quickly became a contender, but often bought meals for everyone.
Unfortunately, Louis wasn’t very good at keeping track of his finances and often found himself in debt. His stubbornness forced him to return to boxing no matter how much his wife wanted him to retire.
Joe Louis fought Max Baer in the mid-30s. Baer wore a giant Star of David on his boxer shorts. It was a sign of the times as Germany’s Nazi Party was ruling Europe.
Germany had its own boxing champion, Maximilian Schmeling, on the forefront of a battle of ideologies, democracy vs. nazism. Schmeling was the World Champ in 1930 and 1932, but the main events came years later when the two fighters, Joe Louis and Maximilian Schmeling, fought in 1936 and 1938 in worldwide events with global appeal. The bouts were much bigger than two men in a ring. The whole world was tuned in and had their radio dials turned up. Schmeling won the first fight in the 12th round. But Louis made a comeback in the second fight, knocking Schmeling out in the very first round. It’s one of the most talked about boxing matches of all time, but this 1953 film did not emphasize the details well.
Although not the biggest or best production, the film gives a little bit of insight into Louis’ stubborn character. Joe Louis had to fight racism when he wasn’t in the ring, but the story in the film sadly does not cover that.
A much better production and story that covers everything in depth is “The Jackie Robinson Story.” Not to be confused by the excellent 2013 film, “42” starring Chadwick Boseman, this is the 1950 earliest telling of Jackie’s story. I didn’t realize until after viewing the film that the lead actor is played by Jackie Robinson himself. The film, directed by Alfred E. Green, also stars the dashing Ruby Dee as Rae Robinson, Jackie’s wife, who would be cast many years later in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.”
After working as an athletic director for the army, Jackie lands a job playing baseball on an all black touring team called the Black Panthers. The bus stops at a restaurant. Being the rookie, Jackie’s teammates asked him to go inside and ask;
- if they can eat inside
- if they can wash up
- if eating inside is okay, can they get sandwiches
Jackie asks his teammates about contracts. His teammates had a good laugh. The black or colored teams were not supported well, if at all.
After a game, Jackie gets a call from someone representing the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie blows off meeting with the guy because he thought it was hoax. Finally, Jackie meets with Branch Rickey. The story of Jackie Robinson is also the story of Branch Rickey. Rickey had been scouting other black baseball players in hopes of adding diversity to Major League Baseball. Rickey’s own career is on the line if this idea goes south.
Rickey explains to Mr. Robinson, “It’ll take a lot of courage.” Rickey states further, “We’re talking about the night for any American to play baseball.” If that wasn’t enough to think about, Rickey informs Jackie, “I want a ball player who’s guts enough ‘not’ to fight back.” Rickey stresses,
Mr. Robinson tells his mother on the phone, “I can be the first negro to play organized baseball, Mom.” His mother advises Jackie to seek the guidance of a priest. Jackie talks to a priest in New York. Jackie then marries Rae. They sit in the back section of a bus. Rae is decked out in her wedding dress. It is one of the many sad images displaying segregation and racism in American society and culture.
Jackie gets hired to play for the Montreal minor team. Every step in his climb to the top has its challenges. He needs to win over not only the players that would be his teammates, but his new coach. More challenges arise when the team shows up to play and they find a sign reading:
In accordance with
City Ordinance No. 11725
relating to prohibition of
sports events between
WHITE and COLORED.
In 1946, at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey, 52,000 fans witnessed history as Jackie Robinson, playing for the Montreal Royals, stepped up to home plate against the Jersey City Giants. Regardless of the turnout, his first at bat was a first for him and a first for all people of color. Robinson grounded out, but the rest of his day was filled with excitement, four hits including a three-run home run, four runs batted in, and stolen bases.
As expected, some fans did not take kindly to Jackie’s participation in organized baseball, throwing trash onto the field. A few caucasian men tried to intimidate Jackie after a game. One says,”Hey Jackie, gimme a shine.” Jackie remembered what Branch Rickey told him by not letting it get to him.
The Montreal Royals were thrilled with Robinson. The coach, resistant at first, ended up praising him.
There was talk of bringing Jackie Robinson onto the Major League Brooklyn Dodgers team, but a small group of Dodgers were against it. There was a petition going around for players to sign to rid of Mr. Robinson. Branch Rickey meets with the small group of players. He reminds one of the players about his ethnic Italian background. No one stopped this player’s immigrant parents from working so why should that stop Jackie Robinson from playing.
Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers and as they say the rest is history. Robinson’s story has been very influential in race relations in sports and American society and culture. As good as “42” is, check out “The Jackie Robinson Story” too. It’s an excellent film!
RIP Chadwick Boseman (“42”) who died at age 43 ironically on Jackie Robinson Day.
Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA
“Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA” is a 1946 film with an all African American cast. Francine Everett plays lead Gertie La Rue with a lot of spunk and spirit. Gertie belongs to a dance troupe that had been exiled from their usual locations because Gertie had a falling out with Al, her ex-boyfriend. Al manages the group.
Other dancers suggest Gertie really had it good with Al, but she expresses a different experience. Gertie very much beats to her own drum. She answers to no one. When another dancer asked about her going out the night before an early rehearsal Gertie says,
Gertie then heads to the nearby bar, Diamond Palace. After seeing a flirting Diamond Joe give Gertie a bracelet, a co-worker comments to Diamond Joe, who runs the establishment, “She’s hard to get and hard to hold.”
Gertie hangs out with two other gentlemen taken by her. She teases by kissing both of them at the end of the night.
A holy man, Mr. Christian, in a light suit, tries to talk Gertie into seeing the Lord and changing her ways. Mr. Christian goes to tell the governor to stop Gertie from performing at the Diamond Palace bar.
Gertie, feeling lost, sees a female medium who sees a bad future for her. She sees a man yelling at her. Gertie also breaks a hand mirror. Perhaps Gertie has brought all of this bad luck on herself.
The ending is very abrupt. Their manager and Gertie’s ex-boyfriend, Al, shows up to shoot her dead with a hand gun. And all Al says, “I killed her because I love her.”
It seems Gertie simply drove everyone mad and got what was coming to her. I would have liked to have learned a bit more about Al and his troubles with Gertie. I am somewhat spoiling it because there really isn’t a complete narrative story here. The interest in this film is the period it was made. It is a decently made film and adds to cinema history.
What Vintage Black Collection would be complete without a some blaxploitation films like “Mean Johnny Sparrows” directed by and starring Fred Williamson and “Lady Cocoa” starring Lola Falana.
You may ask yourself, ‘What is blaxploitation?’ It’s an ethnic sub-genre of exploitation cinema in America during the 1970s originally targeting African American audiences. These films were low-budgeted, independently produced films with subject matter about oppressed black people working for and sticking it to ‘the man,’ the white man. There is often an underlying message of black power and unity.
You could see similarities in both the character of Gertie in “Dirty Gertie from Harlem USA” and Lola Falana’s feisty, fast-talking Cocoa in the 1975 film, “Lady Cocoa.” Cocoa is also having boyfriend issues.
The film starts with Cocoa being released from Nevada State Prison for not testifying against her ex-gangster boyfriend, Eddie. Now she’s taking the opportunity to testify and get out of prison.
Ramsey, an older policeman, gathering Cocoa from her cell, asks her if she’s ready. Cocoa responds,”Cocoa’s always ready.” She enters the unmarked police car with Ramsey. Officer Doug Fuller, in the driver seat, is chosen to watch over her while staying at King’s Castle Hotel & Casino in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. As soon as she sits in the backseat, Cocoa starts running her mouth. She looks over Doug’s quiet demeanor.
The two cops share a look suggesting ‘it’s going to be a long night.’
The group of three arrive at the hotel. Doug checks himself and Cocoa in as ‘newlyweds.’ In the hotel room, Cocoa takes one of her many showers of the day. She’s really taking advantage of the day out of prison. Doug, knowing he’s one of the few black officers around, asks Ramsey why he picked a regular patrolman to look after Cocoa when he could have hired an experienced detective? Ramsey assures Doug he chose him because he’s qualified.
After Ramsey exits, Doug and Cocoa lightly argue about politics. Doug talks about his experience in Vietnam and how he didn’t have choices there, but Cocoa is free and has had choices in America. They argue about people getting locked up for smoking grass. Cocoa loves throwing out random trivia and quotes from French philosophy, popular art and music. “Freedom’s just another word for love.” Janis Joplin.
Cocoa orders a lot of food for room service. When it arrives, Cocoa changes the order to caesar salad because according to her you can’t have a heavy meal after being in the shower. She likes being difficult and Doug, inexperienced in this position, let’s her have her way.
Cocoa decides she wants to go downstairs to buy a new dress. Doug mentions limits. Cocoa says, “Limits my ass.” Doug eventually agrees. As they arrive at the elevator, her salad shows up. Cocoa tells the same clerk he must have misunderstood and cancels order.
Feeling lucky, Cocoa gambles at one of the tables. She wins a few hands. With the money, Doug accompanies her in the clothing store to buy a dress. While Cocoa tries on a dress, Doug is met by a young caucasian man waiting for his wife in the changing room. They have a chat about being newlyweds.
Cocoa purchases some clothes. As she and Doug walk out of the store he realizes she stole a necklace and returns it. They run into the couple from the store whom invite them later for live music and dancing.
Just like the old selling point for movies is showing some skin, Cocoa asks Doug in the hotel room to apply some lotion on her bare back. Doug can’t resist Cocoa. She flirts hard time. They kiss. Doug comes to his senses and separates from her.
Cocoa talks Doug into taking her out to dinner. After all, she bought these nice clothes. When Doug and Cocoa enter the dining room Cocoa recognizes a big African American man, Big Joe, played by none other than ‘Mean’ Joe Greene who played professional football. He sits with another man. They’re not smiling.
The rest of this film gets weird. The young white couple they met earlier sets Cocoa up. The young ‘wife,’ Marie, talks Cocoa into hiding in her hotel room until the bad men are gone. Marie let’s Cocoa enter the hotel room, but closes and locks the door without entering. Cocoa finds herself alone with Eddie, the ex-boyfriend she’s supposedly testifying against the next day. Eddie sweet-talks her. He seems to be feeling her out. Cocoa tells Eddie she was never going to testify against him. She only wanted the day out of prison.
Hitmen shoot inside the hotel room window and kill an unsuspecting female hotel staff worker. Cocoa calls downstairs to find and speak with Officer Doug and Ramsey.
Doug confronts the young white couple as they seem to be working with either Eddie or the hitmen. The couple attempt to run Doug down. After driving through a wing of the casino, their car ends up in a pool. Marie, the white woman from the young couple, turns out to be a man. Doug had a shooting match in the bathroom. Doug realized Marie’s wearing a wig and pulled it off. Doug, pissed, states,
Ramsey and Cocoa find Doug and they drive away. Ramsey notices they’re being followed most likely by the hitmen. Doug tells Ramsey he knows a friend’s boat they can hide in. Ramsey pulls the car over. Doug and Cocoa get out and hide until after the hitmen’s car passes.
Cocoa finds an abandoned car and jumpstarts it. Doug and Cocoa arrive at the docks and find his friend’s boat. The hitmen were tipped off and show up at the docks. While Doug and Cocoa think the coast is clear, they let their guards down, deeply kiss and make out. Clothes come off.
The hitmen shoot into the correct boat, but Doug and Cocoa hopped into the neighboring boat because it has a proper shower. And as you’ve learned, Cocoa likes showering. Doug shoots the hitmen.
Ramsey is found to be a traitor. Lady Cocoa and Doug walk away happily ever after. I guess she testified against her ex-gangster boyfriend. It’s a fun, watchable, popcorn flick. With these low independent movies, there aren’t perfect resolves and ending wrap-ups.
Mean Johnny Barrows
From Mean Joe Greene to “Mean Johnny Barrows,” there’s plenty of blaxploitation films from the 70s. Fred Williamson, like Mean Joe Greene, was also a former NFL football player. Williamson is the lead actor and director of “Mean Johnny Barrows.” The 1975 film, taking place in Los Angeles, California, also features Roddy McDowall as Tony and a ‘special guest star’ role by Elliot Gould.
Williamson plays a down-and-out ex-army vet, discharged for punching a superior. His superior had provoked Williamson’s character, Johnny, with racial insults.
Johnny is arrested after a scuffle in the street. The police officers give Johnny a hard time. They mention ‘splitting his skull wide open.’ Finally, an older officer, their superior, recognizes Johnny as a college football star. They chat about how Johnny is a legend also for winning the Silver Star for taking on the Vietcong in Vietnam. Johnny is released to the streets.
Johnny enters a restaurant seeking work. The mobster owner, Mario Racconi, offers Johnny a hitman job. Johnny refuses. The owner tells him, “See how many meals you can buy with a Silver Star.” Music with lyrics about finding work accompanies Johnny on his request to find a job.
The Racconi family discovers that their rival mob family, the Da Vinces, may be moving drugs through a flower shop. Once again, Mr. Racconi tries to talk Johnny into joining their organization. Johnny informs Mario that he was a soldier when he killed all of those men. Racconi asks Johnny, “What are you now? A man just do what a man must do.” Nancy, a pretty, young woman working for the Racconis, asks Johnny again while walking him out to the street. Johnny tells Nancy to thank Mario.
Johnny starts a crappy job washing bathrooms and cars at a car repair shop. Another song plays on the nose lyrics, “He was a hero.” Johnny’s grouchy, horrible boss only pays him $21…for a month’s work! They get into an argument. And then it’s almost like two police officers patrolling nearby channel this potential scuffle. Sure enough, Johnny gets arrested.
The Racconi Family has a meeting with the Da Vince Family. Mario doesn’t want drugs being sold in the area even if it’s only directed at blacks and minorities. The Da Vinces shoot and kill a bunch of Racconi’s crew.
The Racconi Family bails Johnny out of jail. They offer Johnny $100,000 and some land to kill the entire Da Vince Family. They remind Johnny about how the Da Vinces are selling drugs to blacks. “You’re not only doing me a favor, but helping out your own people.”
Nancy is betraying the Racconis with a secret relationship with Tony Da Vince, played by Roddy McDowall. Tony boards a ship to escape to Mexico. Johnny, secretly onboard, throws Tony off the boat in the middle of nowhere.
Johnny gets back to land. He makes a special delivery by surprising a driver working for the Da Vince Family. Johnny and the driver speed down a driveway and crash into the Da Vince house. Johnny then lights all the drugs on fire. Johnny’s ex-army supervisor shows up out of nowhere to battle him. It’s kind of funny how army soldiers also know some form of karate. It’s not like they teach that in army training. Only movies in the 70s and 80s do that. Johnny eventually kills his ex-army supervisor by throwing his Silver Star at him. TWHACK! Perhaps there’s a message there somewhere. Don’t mess with Johnny Barrows.
Now Johnny ends up running into some hills in Malibu with Nancy. Johnny believes Nancy loves him, but she informs him she was in love with Tony. She shoots Johnny and tells him,
And then like the opening where Johnny is with his army team in Vietnam, trying to avoid the mines, Nancy steps on a mine. Why are there mines in Malibu? This is one of many questions that go unanswered in a blaxploitation film. Blaxploitation popularity filtered into other ethnic audiences.
If you’re a filmmaker seeking exposure and potentially some money for your film, check out filmgrove.com In addition, there are other categories of films in the Film Grove collection; science fiction, horror, Betty Boop cartoons and some episodes of “The Lucy Show.”
Movies & Racism
What can white people do?
As a white person, what can I do to contribute to the conversation on racism? I’m already passionate about human rights, civil rights, equal rights and justice for all. Protesters march the streets condemning police brutality, calling for better treatment of black men and women. Just as people of different colors, races and religions marched with raised fists supporting our black brothers and sisters, white people need to continue the conversation on racism.
It’s not enough for black people to discuss racism with other black people. The beauty blossoming from the Black Lives Matter protests is the unity, and not just in America, but around the entire world. The entire world is shouting, “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”
Racism is a global sickness. Protesters, wearing protective masks, have often mentioned their concern about COVID-19, but racism has been around for over 400 years. Their fight for racial justice is more important. They would die for this cause as many have for many years. Hate is a virus.
Black men in particular have been treated unfairly. It has been difficult at times in some cases to witness any justice whatsoever. A lot needs to improve. I may not be able talk specifically about racial justice or police reform, but my experience and passion is the movies.
Having discussions about racism in movies is a great way to talk about the issues. Just as there is a lot of racial history in America, there’s a lot of movies about the topic.
“Broken On All Sides”
Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the U.S. (Trailer) from Collective Eye Films on Vimeo.
In 2012, I ran the Social Media Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada. The festival was about social media taking on social issues. One documentary film in particular, “Broken On All Sides: Race, Mass Incarceration & New Visions for Criminal Justice in the U.S.” focuses on a book by Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow. Michelle Alexander’s book focuses on how the war on drugs and tough on crime policies targeted people of race, specifically black men. If these same black men completed their time, they had very little chances of employment or improving their lives once released back into society.
Prisons became a place of overcrowded cells. Many simply could not afford to bail themselves out and ended up doing more time. “Broken On All Sides” can be viewed on Vimeo. The director, Matthew Pillischer, shared this link and password (broken) to let anyone watch this important documentary.
“I Am Not Your Negro”
In 1979, James Baldwin turned in an unfinished manuscript entitled, “Remember This House.” The book was to be a first hand personal account of three very outspoken black activists; Medgar Evers, Malcom X and Martin Luther King, Jr. Filmmaker Raoul Peck took the unfinished manuscript and turned it into this very intelligent and insightful documentary narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. “I Am Not Your Negro” was nominated for an Oscar at the 2017 Academy Awards. James Baldwin: “The story of the Negro in America is the story of America, and it is not a pretty story.”
“13th,” an Oscar nominated documentary by Ava DuVernay, discusses mass incarceration and racial inequality. The title, ‘13th’ refers to the thirteenth amendment of the United States Constitution to abolish slavery unless it is punishment for a crime. The amendment was passed on January 31, 1865 and made official on December 6, 1865. Michelle Alexander (“Broken On All Sides”) is a subject in this film too.
Another Oscar nominated film by Ava DaVernay is “Selma.” “Selma” (2014) is the narrative story of Martin Luther King, Jr. pursuing a campaign to achieve equal voting rights for black people. King, played wonderfully by David Oyelowo, lead a large march of mostly black people from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. It is an extraordinary and powerful portrayal of a man looking to make peaceful change in the world.
Another movie taking place in the 1960s is “Green Book.” Director Peter Farrelly is a story that tackles both issues of racism and homophobia. Tony Vallelonga, (Viggo Mortensen) a nightclub bouncer, reluctantly takes a job driving a classical pianist, Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) on a tour of the deep southern states. Their main resource for their journey is The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide for black people looking to be safe in the segregated south. By the end of the film these two strangers become very close. They may have not changed the world, but they changed each other’s world for the better.
“It takes courage to change peoples’ hearts.”
It’s an excellent film! Don Shirley is masterfully portrayed by Mahershala Ali who won an Oscar for an Actor in a Supporting Role. Viggo Mortensen was also nominated for the Leading Role.
Spike Lee – “Do the Right Thing”
As far as I know, whenever Spike Lee is mentioned “Do the Right Thing” in 1989 is the movie that always comes to mind. It is so powerful and important. It takes place on a very hot Summer’s day in a Brooklyn, NY neighborhood where tempers often rise due to racial conflict. Sal, Italian, played by Danny Aiello, owns a pizza parlor where it’s patrons are mostly black and Hispanic. His son, Pino, (JohnTurturo) would love nothing more than to move their pizza place to their Italian neighborhood.
When one of the black customers, Buggin Out (Giancarlo Esposito) looks up at the famous people in pictures on the wall he points out there’s no black people. Sal reminds him there’s only Italians because it’s an Italian establishment. Things get heated throughout the day. Mookie (Spike Lee), Sal’s delivery driver, is friendly with Buggin Out, putting him in a tough spot.
The rest of this amazing cast includes; Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Bill Nunn, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Martin Lawrence and John Savage. ‘Fight the Power,” a strong political song by Public Enemy is still very relevant.
Spike Lee has gone on to make numerous films about racism including “Malcolm X,” but my second favorite film of his is his more recent “BlackkKlansman” in 2018. As incredible as it sounds, this movie is based on true events. It’s about, Ron Stallworth, the first black officer hired in the early 1970s at the Colorado Springs, Colorado police department. Stallworth, played by John David Washington, working in the records room, is sick of hearing racial insults from his co-workers. He decides to switch to undercover work in a big way. He simply calls up the grand master of the KKK, David Duke, and state how much he hates blacks, Jews, Mexicans, etc. He forms an instant bond with Duke, but he can’t meet with Duke in person for obvious reasons. So his white, Jewish partner, played by Adam Driver, uses his name to go undercover to infiltrate and expose the KKK.
Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”
Solomon Northrop, played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, is a black man born free in upstate New York. Northrop, a professional violin player, thought he was meeting with some men about a job opportunity, but was mislead, abducted and sold back into slavery. It is an unbelievably true story showing one man’s struggle and survival for a right to win back the freedom he already had. The amazing cast includes Michael Fassbender, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Alfre Woodard, and Lupita Nyong’o. A fellow slave in captivity advises Northop, “If you want to survive, do and say as little as possible.” Northrop answers, “I don’t want to survive. I want to live.”
Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”
This is a horror story about a white girl named Rose Armitage who brings her black boyfriend, Chris Washington, home to meet her parents. Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, is concerned about meeting Rose’s white parents and family. Her parents make him feel comfortable. Too comfortable. A party with guests has some strange aspects to it and even stranger characters. Black male and female servants act like they only speak when spoken to. Rose’s mother, played by Catherine Keener, is some sort of psychologist. When Chris mentions to her parents he’s trying to quit smoking Mrs. Armitage offers Chris tea to take him to his ‘sunken place.’ Chris learns the hard way that Rose’s family have bad intentions for him. There are levels of deceit, manipulation and blatant racism throughout this story.
Movies That Matter
In the spirit of my Social Media Film Festival, I started Movies That Matter LA Meetup in 2015 through 2016. It was a movie group with screenings about social issues. The idea of the group was to see a movie and discuss it afterwards. Movies touched on climate change, prescription drugs, anti-semitism and racism. Three films regarding racism during that time were “Loving,” “Hidden Figures” and “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets.”
“Loving” is based on the true story of Richard Loving, portrayed by Joel Edgerton, who falls in love with a black woman named Mildred (Ruth Negga) in the 1960s. They decide to drive up to Washington DC to get officially married. The couple was arrested for being an interracial marriage in Virginia. Loving began a legal battle that would end with the Supreme Court’s historic 1967 decision to make interracial marriage legal.
“Hidden Figures” is the unbelievable story about three black female mathematicians highly responsible for the success of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. The space race in the 60s between the Soviet Union and the United States was fierce. The times were intense, but even more so for these women as they had to not only prove themselves under duress, they had to battle many racial biases. Simple things like going to the restroom weren’t so simple for black women. They had to walk great distances to relieve themselves. These extremely intelligent women, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary W. Jackson, were performed beautifully by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. It’s a very inspiring story.
On Wednesday, June 24th, 2020, NASA Administrator, Jim Bridenstine announced the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C. to be named after Mary W. Jackson, honoring her as the first African American female engineer at NASA. Additionally, Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.
Bridenstine stated, “Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology. Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.”
Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station”
Sundance winner “Fruitvale Station,” written and directed by a Ryan Coogler (“Black Panther,” “Creed”), is a true story about 22-year old, Oscar Grant, played beautifully by Michael B. Jordan. Grant wakes up on the last day of the year, December 31, 2008, thinking about his future and improving his life. Recently unemployed, he wants to be there more for his four year old daughter, Tatiana, and be a better boyfriend to his live-in girlfriend, Sophina. Grant spends much of the day preparing for his mother’s birthday party. After the party, his mother, Wanda, (Octavia Spencer) talks Grant into to taking the BART train over driving because of all the NYE drivers drunk drinking. The unfortunate incident shows how the police officers shot an unarmed Grant and used excessive force.
Michael B. Jordan is also the lead in “Just Mercy” about a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, who, after graduating from Harvard, decides to defend the wrongly accused in Alabama instead of taking potentially more lucrative financial job opportunities. One of his notorious cases involved Walter McMillian, on death row for murdering an eighteen year old girl. The only testimony against McMillian played by Jaime Foxx, is of a criminal with a motive to lie. There are a lot of things hindering Stevenson’s progress in this and other cases. One thing you learn about Stevenson is that he never quits. “It’s never too late for justice.”
“3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets”
The last movie I’ll share is another documentary film, “3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets” directed by Marc Silver. In November 2012, four young black teenagers pulled up to a gas station in a red SUV. Their music was blaring. Another vehicle pulled up with a white couple inside. The woman entered the store. The middle-aged male driver, Michael Dunn, started a shouting match with the boys about their music. Three and a half minutes and ten bullets later, seventeen-year old Jordan Davis was dead.
It’s just one event in an endless string of endless of similar occurrences where both black men and women should have no reason to lose their lives over the smallest things or nothing at all.
Police officers are now wearing body cams. Those cams need to be recording all incidents out of protection for both the officer and the person they’re arresting, displaying exactly what goes down. It’s not that black people haven’t been victimized the last several decades. Arrests are now being recorded by the police themselves, but more importantly THE PEOPLE. The people are recording everything even before anything happens, using their cell phones. They anticipate something happening because their trust of the police has diminished.
After seeing the body cams of the police officers before and during the George Floyd arrest, people stood up. Eight minutes and forty-six seconds was a long time to watch a Minneapolis police officer place a chokehold on Mr. Floyd. Not only did black people stand up, but they started marching. They were not the only people that stood up and started marching. Brown people stood up. Asian people stood up. And white people stood up. By and large, Americans, Europeans, and human beings all over the world felt and shouted “Enough is enough!”
In Summary, here is a list of films in the order presented in this blog about racism people of all ethnic backgrounds can view to discuss the issues further.
- “Broken On All Sides”
- “I Am Not Your Negro”
- “Green Book”
- “Do the Right Thing”
- “12 Years a Slave”
- “Get Out”
- “Hidden Figures”
- “Fruitvale Station”
- “Just Mercy”
- “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets”
What else can white people do?
Donate & Share Fundraising Campaigns #HateIsAVirus
Where to Donate for Black Lives Matter
Justice for Breonna Taylor Go Fund Me #SayHerName
Official George Floyd Memorial Fund
Ahmaud Arbery Go Fund Me
Official Go Fund Me for Rayshard Brooks
American Civil Liberties Union
Equal Justice Initiative
NASA Resource for “Hidden Figures”
Let’s All Go to the Movies
Let’s All Go to the Movies!
It’s Saturday night. You and your significant other plan a night out at the movies. It’s tradition! Most of you plan to see a new release. Cinephiles may be seeing an old movie like “The Godfather” on the big screen. Maybe you’re out with friends, sharing a common interest in a particular movie. A part of the excitement is simply getting cozy in a dark theater with your favorite snacks and drinks. And then take a ‘most excellent adventure’ with the characters on the big screen.
Since Thomas Edison sold a few Vitascope projectors to brothers Mitchell and Moe Mark in Buffalo, New York, movie-goers have been infatuated with seeing movies in the theaters. The Mark brothers called their storefront theater, Vitascope and opened their cinema with seventy-two seats to the public on October 19, 1896.
The State Theater in Washington, Iowa is the oldest operating movie theater in the world, first showing films in 1897. The theater was entered into the Guinness Book of Records on April 21, 2016. It was still operating as of January 1, 2020.
But as you are all unfortunately aware, all movie theaters around the world are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a society the entire world has looked to the cinema in good times and bad times. Movies help us escape the daily grind as well as to be informed in times of war and conflict. Technology has placed moving pictures and information into the palms of our hands, but our appreciation and excitement for the big screen will never fade away.
In 1902, the first motion picture theater, Tally’s Electric Theater, popped up in a California storefront. One of the first and most popular films was “The Great Train Robbery” in 1903. It was only twelve minutes long, but it captivated imaginations.
John P. Harris and Harry Davis, in 1905, opened a movie theater in a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania storefront, coining it Nickelodeon for its price of admission, five cents or a nickel. By 1908, thousands of Nickelodeons had opened up across North America.
Before Nickelodeon theaters were all the rage, people flocked to theaters to watch actors perform vaudeville, a variety show and combination of burlesque, comedy, song and dance. One vaudeville veteran, Buster Keaton, was invited by Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle to play a small role in a two-reel comedy he was co-starring in and directing, “The Butcher Boy” in 1917. Keaton found his calling!
Buster Keaton went on to direct and star in films he made famous, “The General,” “Steamboat Bill, Jr.,” “Sherlock, Jr.,” “The Navigator,” “Go West,”, “The Scarecrow,” “The Paleface,” “Battling Butler” and “Seven Chances.” His deadpan face and humorous ways made us laugh at him and with him. He did anything for a laugh. He went to great lengths to perform the most incredible and dangerous stunts just for a laugh. He put his own body through a lot of damage. All in the name of entertainment.
Personally, I grew up admiring lots of characters that stemmed from the early days of cinema when everything was in black and white. Other favorites include Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and The Three Stooges.
I really liked Charlie Chaplin, but didn’t know the extent of his genius until I moved from New York to Los Angeles, California in 1992. And I barely knew of Buster Keaton really until I moved to LA. The Los Angeles County Museum was screening many of Keaton’s films for a few months in early 1994 I believe. Those screenings literally changed my life. I fell in deeper love and appreciation for the cinema and seeing movies on the big screen that I didn’t know was even possible. And I have Buster Keaton to thank for that. I even ended up making a few short silent films with a friend.
Charlie Chaplin was someone I got a kick out of. While Keaton made audiences laugh at his expense, Chaplin’s humor was often politically motivated. “The Great Dictator” is an amazing accomplishment, poking fun at Adolf Hitler while Hitler was still in power. Both comedians took amazing risks in order to reach millions of viewers. Chaplin is known for “The Tramp,” “The Kid,” “The Gold Rush,” “Modern Times” and “City Lights” co-starring Buster Keaton.
Both Keaton and Chaplin along with other film artists such as Harold Lloyd helped kick off the passion that is the cinema. These funny, creative, innovative brilliant minds took us from the days of silent films into ‘Talkies’ an era where sound was added, giving actors a more realistic human feel. Talkies may have ended the silent movie phenomenon at the time, but silent films are still inspiring entertainment today everywhere you look. Keaton’s house falling on top of him, just missing him in “Steamboat Bill, Jr.” has been mimicked dozens of times in film, television and commercials.
Los Angeles also has the Silent Movie Theater on Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood. In the mid-90’s this place screened all sorts of silent films and with live organ accompaniment. It was a really hip thing to attend. There are still events today, but not as authentic as those days in the 90s.
Some of my earliest experiences with the cinema were in Minnesota where I lived as a kid. I recall seeing movies in a drive-in theater. I remember seeing “The Towering Inferno.” And my most endearing memories of cinema involve a gigantic dino-lizard named Godzilla, stomping through Japan and destroying Tokyo. Last year, 2019, The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, did a revival of Godzilla movies and played back-to-back films in 35mm. I…was…in…heaven. Seeing and hearing Godzilla ROAR on the big screen put me right back into my childhood days.
Sidney Patrick Grauman built two of the most elaborate cinema landmarks in Hollywood; the Chinese Theater and the Egyptian Theater. My favorite movie theater to see larger-than-life movies is by far The Chinese Theater. The Chinese Theater opened May 18, 1927. A lot of the elaborate decor is of Chinese nature. And Chinese artisans designed sculptures to enhance the theater’s look and feel. The TCL Chinese Theater, as it’s now called, is absolutely breathtaking! The Egyptian is also quite amazing. Both theaters have very high ceilings like buildings that could have belonged to the Greeks, Romans or even the Egyptians perhaps in between the Pyramids.
When I was about six years old, my father took me to see “Star Wars, A New Hope” in 1977. I was FLOORED! What is this world of rebels, furry characters and dark figures breathing heavily into my face and psyche? I think my Dad, a huge movie fan was taken by it too, because we returned to the movie theaters to see it a second time. I believe we were going to see a different movie the third time, but whatever that movie was was sold out. No matter. I would spend the rest of my life seeing this movie, “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” whenever the chance presents itself on the big screen. That’s where these George Lucas movies were intended to be seen and for generations to come with the new Star Wars adventures.
My childhood was also very much influenced by Steven Spielberg. “Close Encounters,” although I didn’t quite understand it until years later, would have a profound affect on me. My sense of wonder about the world and the universe would blossom over the years. Soon it would be “E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial” that warmed my heart. And my sense of adventure was catapulted into existence by “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” All these movies seen first on the big screen is how I’ll always remember and think of them.
In my early adult years, Stanley Kubrick took over my mind. I think he stole it. Kubrick figuratively pulled back my eye-lids like in “A Clockwork Orange” and pulled me in to his worlds. “The Shining” is one of my favorite movies. “2001, A Space Odyssey” continues to affect me. The visual effects are absolutely dream-like and gorgeous. If anything was meant to be seen in 70mm IMAX, it’s “2001.” Much of Kubrick’s films, like Spielberg, were meant to be seen on large screens. Some of Kubrick’s larger-than-life films include “Paths of Glory,” “Spartacus,” “Lolita,” and “Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Another wonderful film worth mentioning is “Full Metal Jacket.” Larger than life characters need to be seen and heard as big as the screens can be made.
The bigger the better! That’s why we need to support the movie theaters when unforeseen events force them to close for a period of time. Los Angeles is especially full of cinema history. And there’s outdoor venues, cemetery screenings, movies in the park, etc. Go see them all, but don’t forget the movie theaters.
When Laemmle Theater chain opens up again I plan to go see a movie to support bringing them back. They’re a smaller movie chain that often shows independent and/or foreign made feature films. Laemmle is just beginning to partner with a streaming company that will offer their movies on demand so they can survive in the meantime. Click here for more info., trailers and more.
AMC Theaters recently started on-demand to coincide with the regular box office theater option. I’ve been a member of their popular AMC Plus Pass which allows you to see three movies a week for $19.95 a month. They’ve suspended the cost for now while the theaters are temporarily closed.
For a few years I had a Meetup group called Movies That Matter LA. Usually I would pick a new release that involved a social issue related story. Often these movies were based on real people and true events. Some movies we saw were “Hidden Figures,” “Miles Ahead” “The Zookeeper’s Wife” and “Snowden.” One of the documentaries we saw was “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power” about climate change. My group would see the movie and then we would discuss it afterwards at a restaurant or coffee shop.
That’s me, Ross H. Martin, in the photo holding a Golden Ticket from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” one of my favorite movies. This screening with a Q & A took place at the NoHo 7 Laemmle Theater. It was part of a month-long celebration of Gene Wilder films.
Originally called The Pacific Theatres Cinerama Dome, it opened November 7, 1963 with the premiere of “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” in 70mm. Cinerama is a process that brings three synchronized movie projectors together displaying one-third of the picture on a wide, curved screen. The curved screen is an added touch to make the audience member feel more connected than watching on a plain flat screen.
What’s your chosen candy? I grew up eating anything chocolate. My go-to was Rasinets, Goobers or Nestle Crunch bars. And of course, popcorn. Although I can’t much popcorn anymore as it upsets my stomach. There’s nothing like kicking back and reclining in a stadium-made leather chair with a drink and snacks and watching a new movie release. I actually miss the old days when you could hear the plastic film running through the projector.
Today, projectors run digitally and very quiet. With technology getting better and better, movies are looking better and sounding better. Having worked at Fotokem post-production the past five years, I’ve witnessed the work being done on 70mm films still being produced by the likes of filmmakers Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) and Christopher Nolan. Just last night I watched “The Dark Knight” on my little TV screen. Yes, I need a bigger TV. But I recall first seeing “The Dark Knight” at the famous Arclight Cinemas in the Dome. Over 75 feet tall, the Cinerama Dome, another favorite theater of mine, is as impressive on the outside as it is on the inside.
Today, the Dome seats 800 people. At times, there is a display as a part of the giant white dome. When “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) was released you could see Godzilla’s face breaking out of the top and light shining from it symbolizing his nuclear energy zapping the heavens. The Arclight Theaters is also very big on quest speakers doing Q & As after screenings.
And after writing about these movie theater icons and theater chains, I may have to attend them all once they open back up for business. I’ll go see a movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater (TCL Theater). Then maybe I’ll catch a movie at the Dome. I’ll definitely go support Laemmle Theaters.
And now I’m reminded of another great movie theater in Hollywood. The Vista Theater, opened as early as 1923, holding 400 seats. It plays newly released movies as well as classic movies of the past. Last year, at the Vista I saw “Batman: The Movie” (1966). It was the first time I had seen it in a theater and it was wonderful. All the cheesy dialogue and action made me feel all warm and fuzzy.
At Vista the manager or ‘epic manager’ as he is often referred to as, Victor Martinez, is very much like a showman, dressing up at his premieres. He even recruited Wonder Woman.
And finally, with my re-instated AMC Plus Pass, I’ll return to doing what I love most, seeing movies in the theaters.
We in our 40s grew up with so much change at the cinemas. We look forward to bigger and better. Younger people can look forward to those awkward first dates. The movies give them something to break the ice afterwards. Some hand-holding. Sharing popcorn. Maybe a scary horror film makes one lean on the other. These couples will have families and take their children to see the newest animated film and perhaps see them in 3-D. Enjoy!
See you at the movies!
Blinded By the Light
“Blinded By the Light” is a narrative feature film about a Pakistani male teenager trying to assimilate into British society in 1987. His strict father holds his Pakistani roots tightly and doesn’t let anyone else have independent views. Plagued by racism and pressured to become a lawyer or doctor, Javed, played wonderfully by Vivek Kalra, writing since an early age, wants to make a living as a writer. Javed abandons his Pakistani roots after being introduced to the music of Bruce Springsteen.
Why Bruce Springsteen? When Javed asks his new friend, Roops, ‘Who’s the boss?’ Roops responds, “He’s the boss of us all.” An American pop icon. And nothing says American pop culture more than Bruce Springsteen. Although the story takes place in England, Javed’s desire to break free from his surroundings is the American spirit. Writer-Director Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) and additional writers, Paul Mayeda Berges, and Sarfraz Manzoor wrote about Manzoor’s experiences growing up Pakistani in England. Chandra was also a ‘Bruce’ fan. Springsteen’s songs were often about hard-working families getting through the tough times.
The film follows a universal message inspired by Bruce Springsteen, ‘No one wins unless everybody wins.’ Bruce treats people equally and lifts them up. In a Rolling Stone Magazine interview, Chadha says, “…we all stand side by side, and it’s not an us or them – we’re all in it together. And that’s what I think the majority of people want to raise their kids to know. That’s what makes us human. And Bruce is all about empathy.”
There are a few scenes that break into song and transform into a musical with dance routines and it totally works. It’s not all Bruce songs. Javed makes a deal with his sister to take her to a club where everyone enters and changes out of their ‘school clothes’ and into sparkling club-wear. A disc jockey plays popular Middle Eastern 80’s music. It shocks Javed to see his sister all decked out. And then he learns she’s seeing this young boy. This becomes another secret these siblings keep from their family. Their older sister gets married through a traditional arrangement between families.
Some liberalities were taken. Apparently, journalist Sarfraz Manzoor did not have a girlfriend at the time. He also never talked back to his father to the extent the character does in the film. These additional elements heighten the stakes and build deeper levels in the story.
The film is also a sad reminder that racism and xenophobia were prevalent in the 80’s, but unfortunately that has not changed today. In the film, it’s mentioned how open and free America is or was. So much hatred has come out of the woodwork in America in the last few years that it’s a bit ironic. This is why more films about people from different backgrounds is vital to America and the world. The more the world sees that we’re all just people trying to find good jobs and live together in peace the less likely we’ll hate each other. Because…’Tramps like us, baby we were born to run.’
Why is Comic Con So Serious?
The following blog is very old as I attended Comic Con the first and only time in 2008. This article was on my Hubpages site which I’m discontinuing. I thought this might be an interesting addition and timing as Comic Con 2019 is taking place this weekend. And no, I am not attending and miss this experience. I’ll have to plan on going next year.
There’s Batman exiting the parking lot! And there’s the Joker crossing the street. And there’s another Joker. For years I heard about the Comic Convention or Comic Con as they like to call it. Every year seemed to pass by and I’d forget about it when it was time to get tickets. This year almost slipped through my fingers like a villain falling from a great high-rise. About a month before Comic Con it was nearly sold out. I got a ticket for just Sunday. I drove down to San Diego from Los Angeles. It only took 1-and a-half hours to get there.
I thought I might try to catch the “Smallville” panel upstairs, but a staff member told me it was sold out. So, I started walking along the great line of people waiting to get into “Smallville” and got on at the end of the line to think about attending the “Supernatural” panel in the same room afterwards. I mainly got in line to collect my thoughts. Am I going to wait in long lines all day on my first and only day of Comic Con? NO! I decided to check out and spend the whole day downstairs where all the booths are. Somehow I found myself on a long line there too. It wasn’t for a panel with celebrities talking about filmmaking. It wasn’t for a celebrity signing autographs either. The line was for picking up free stuff off of a table. That’s insane! The staff person said the line was about 5 minutes long. Twenty-five minutes later I was more relieved to be done standing in that line than whatever crap I got from the table. I’ll probably end up throwing most of it away. So, long lines leading nowhere is a part of Comic Con.
You’d think by Sunday the convention would thin out a bit. No way! It was wall-to-wall people. Some were dressed as PREDATORS, STORMTROOPERS, GHOSTBUSTERS and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. The good thing I got about walking up and down the aisles was a warm, fuzzy feeling, a nostalgic heaven of sorts. There were toys I saw that I used to own. There were toys I saw I’d like to own. My budget was tiny, but there was one item I really wanted, a small figurine of a Cylon. I LOVE “BATTLESTAR GALACTICA”! They were sold out of course. All the cool stuff is available early on in the convention. I did purchase a few items; One Batman tee shirt, 2 8x 10 photos of DARTH VADER and INDIANA JONES. The convention is jam- packed with figures of superheroes and villains of all sizes. The HULK and IRON MAN were bigger than life.
Various celebrities and artists were signing autographs throughout Comic Con. The actor that played the guy in the bunny suit in “DONNIE DARKO” was signing autographs. After walking all day long I took a little time to rest up at a table I found luckily. I ate my pretzel and water for 7 dollars and people watched. Well, some of them looked like people. Actually, sitting down, eating my pretzel and people watching was a highlight to my day. I was exhausted. It was nearly 4PM and I wasn’t sure how much more roaming around I could do. I got a tip from a fellow fan that Lou Ferrigno was there. That’s the real INCREDIBLE HULK! There he was with his arms the size of my head. I snapped a few photos. I didn’t want to take too many pictures as he was actually there to sign autographs and take pictures for cash. I currently don’t have $20 for an autographed picture with The Hulk and definitely not for the actor who’s name I don’t know who played that guy who wore the bunny suit. So, if you’re new to Comic Con and want to get the best out of your experience be prepared for
1) Long lines everywhere you go
2) Most wanted toys sell out early
3) Heavy crowds
4) Expensive food
5) Oh, and if you’re driving from LA, what took me 1-and-a-half hours to San Diego took me 3 hours to drive back. I felt like the Hulk. My body was even turning green. RRRRRRRRR!
Comic Con is a serious business. Somewhere the Joker is laughing. “Why so serious?” HA HA HA HA!
Beware all you filmmakers and sound editors out there when watching and listening to the first 20 minutes of The Artist. (I actually stopped a theater employee walking by and asked if all the soundtracks were functioning.) Most of the time cards would appear to express the characters’ dialogue. Some dialogue did not have cards.
We’re trained to hear separate soundtracks; music, sound, effects and oh, yes, dialogue. I knew very little about this movie going into it. I did not expect a movie with John Goodman, Malcolm McDowell and James Cromwell to have basically no dialogue. About 98% of the ‘film’ is literally ‘silent.’ This black and white throwback to the late 1920’s expresses how glorious film was in its time. Talkies arrived.
Suddenly, it was “Out with the old and in with the new.”
It’s nice to see that The Artist was filmed on 35mm Kodak film negative. My very first film was shot with the same gorgeous black and white film negative at film school in 1994. It goes without saying, the cinematography was breathtaking. And now with Kodak filing for bankruptcy how long will film survive?
The Artist was a good love story as many old films are. It’s nominated for Best Picture, Best Director Michael Hazanavicius, Best Actor in a Leading Role for Jean Dujarden, Actress in a Supporting Role for Berenice Bejo, Best Cinematography for Guillaume Schiffman, Best Editing for Anne-SophieBion and Michael Hazanavicius, Best Art Direction and Costume Design.
I liked it.
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