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The Origins of Film Collection: "African American Cinema" back to product details

Primarily of historical interest
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written by AKrizman February 4, 2003 - 10:52 AM PST
5 out of 5 members found this review helpful
Instead of being a documentary that shows clips from dozens of silent movies while a narrator explains their relevance, The Origins of Film series shows a handful of obscure films from the silent era in their entirety with only introductory title cards provided for explanation.

Volume 3 features "African American Cinema" and includes the following Titles:

Within Our Gates (1920) 79 min.
It seems that the director, Oscar Micheaux, filmed a series of set pieces that addressed a laundry list of race issues and then tried to tie them together afterwards. The result is an incoherent plot with lots of dropped story lines. It's not without its provocative moments, however - particularly in a sub-plot where a black preacher inadvertently demonstrates the rather Marxist idea that religion keeps the oppressed compliant.

Within Our Gates will always have a place in movie history for being the earliest surviving feature directed by a black man. Unfortunately, it has nothing else going for it. It's production values and acting are amateur even by 1920 standards.

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake (1923) 3 min.
Vaudevillians Sissle and Blake perform the song Affectionate Dan in this short pre-Jazz Singer sound film.

Scar of Shame (1927) 68 min.
The first act of Scar of Shame promises an unabashed melodrama with its pat morality and palatable politics. Eddie, the cigar chomping villain, proves the vices of gambling, liquor, and cabaret, while Alvin, the virtuous (if a bit snobby) hero displays his assimilationist ideals as prominently as the portrait of Frederick Douglass on his wall.

After Alvin rescues and marries Louise, the true-hearted damsel in distress, Eddie devises a fiendish plot to kidnap Louise and make her a cabaret girl.

At this point, the film takes an unexpected but welcome turn towards unpredictability. Alvin's integrity becomes suspect when it's revealed that his altruistic attitudes about race don't apply to class issues, and Louise's devotion is exposed as limited. In the beginning, the movie claims that a lack of 'higher ambitions' leads to tragic results, but by the end, it's not obvious whether the tragic results were caused by Eddie's ambition to run a cabaret, or by Alvin's elitism.

The director, Frank Peregini, started his career as a cinematographer, and it shows. In the nighttime and dark room scenes, he evokes palpable suspense and a sense of isolation.

This feature is easily the highlight of this volume.

SEE ALSO:
Origins of Film Collection (Disc 1 of 3)
Origins of Film Collection (Disc 2 of 3)


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