My apologies for a delayed start to using this column to celebrate Black History Month as I am eternally playing catch up and last week was busy trying to finish up with the reviews I was behind on. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I felt it would only be appropriate to start our look at Black romances on screen. This will be the first abbreviated topic of the column largely because the romance and romantic comedy genres are decidedly not my thing and so I have a decidedly limited pool of films (good or bad, Black or any race) to pull from.
There are a couple that immediately spring to mind though. First up is the most obvious and the most recent, If Beale Street Could Talk. It’s gotten unfairly overlooked through much of award season and was released very late in the year which hurt it in a lot of end of the year countdowns (certainly our/my own), but it’s just a beautiful shot and realized work whose central romance has to thread so many lines between the crime at the center of the film and the separation between them, but comes out surprisingly hopeful.
Traveling back to the 1970s, we have the Diahann Carroll/James Earl Jones starring Claudine, which likewise balances its more comedic and dramatic elements with the mother at the center living on welfare, supporting six kids, and having to lie about her relationship and job status if she wants to get by. The two make a great couple though which is such a key to the success of any romantic film.
I debated heavily about whether to put Jungle Fever here. It is a deeply flawed look at interracial relationships from Spike Lee, but it’s still a good title and like so many of Lee’s works there’s plenty here worth talking about even if all the commentary doesn’t quite land. Granted, the best part of this romance film is Samuel L. Jackson as Wesley Snipes’ crack addict brother so let me throw in one more bonus entry.
Sure, it’s held back by Omar Epps’s dopiness, but I liked Love & Basketball far more than I thought I would. Sanaa Lathan carries this romantic drama about… the title says it all, doesn’t it? Plus, we get to highlight a female director in Gina Prince-Bythewood.
As a second bonus, here’s the short Something Good – Negro Kiss, the earliest known recording of two African-Americans kissing. It was also added to the American National Film Registry last year.
As a topic this week, what are your favorite Black romances in film (regardless of genre)?
Doc Pick of the Week
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019) dir. Xavier Burgin (Shudder): Based on the book by Robin R. Means Coleman, PhD., we have both a thematically appropriate title and one that is right up my alley. Those of you familiar with my writing here will know I have a big thing for the horror genre and for writing about the different aspects of the genre. While I’ve tackled a number of Black horror films before whether it was as stereotypical villains, as stars, or by looking at African films (an area of the world that was sorely neglected), the Black experience in horror film was one I never tackled as a thread topic or in any depth. I can’t even say that I featured that many films with prominent Black actors.
Thankfully, today’s title seeks to fill in that gap. Unlike Half the Picture, which sought to look at the history of female directors in film, I was happy to see the film approach the topic from a more historical approach and chart the development of the various stereotypes and the examples (for better or usually worse) in the genre. It casts its net a bit too wide in scope, going beyond horror at times while not delving enough into those early stereotypical horror roles for my liking (I mean I get why), but as it went on it did start to focus more on specific titles. The highlights of those were typically a couple of the more obscure ones with the film being dragged down by an obsession with The Girl with All the Gifts, which it refers to repeatedly throughout and with little connectivity (also Get Out, but that makes slightly more sense and is far better).
It also has some quite questionable reads on films, most egregiously its take on Poltergeist where it attempts to co-opt the film for Black people and somehow construe it as being a fear of Black and brown people and not you know, a revenge for the taking of and lack of consideration for Native American land. As a documentary it’s not that well produced, but it’s an important and overlooked topic that’s worth viewing for that reason alone and one that manages to at times raise some interesting points.
B-B-B-Bonus Doc – Hale County This Morning, This Evening (2018) dir. RaMell Ross (Hale County Site): Normally I try to keep this to one doc, but I didn’t want to wait a week to highlight this film which also premiered this week on PBS. It’s available to stream for two weeks after broadcast according to this post so here’s your chance to knock out an Oscar nominee. It’s also thematically appropriate as it focuses on two African-American men from Hale County, Alabama. It follows them over a five year period as they take divergent paths including one’s path into basketball. While this may sound a bit familiar, do not going expecting Hoop Dreams 2 as this is a very non-traditional documentary.
The film is extremely minimalist, favoring fly-on-the-wall film-making and often layering in some unusual music choices. The occasional interstitial and some very basic labeling is the only real intrusion on what little narrative there is and offer limited information and questioning. It’s fond of context free scenes that mostly just build on the atmosphere of the world around these two men. There’s a number of lengthy time lapse shots with the film frequently cutting to lengthy shots of the outdoors, shadows on the ground, or just anything away from the stars of the film. It favors very tight shots on the subjects, their families and friends, these too largely static though a couple skillfully stick with them as they move, namely Daniel Collins the basketball player. It’s very much not going to be for everyone, and I think you will be able to tell about ten minutes in if this is going to be your thing or not. It’s a bold and uncompromising work for better or worse.
This Week in TCM
All Times EST
Week 4 of this section is another in the 31 Days of Oscar on TCM. This section will highlight my favorite titles, the interesting showings, and maybe a title or two I don’t like but are notable anyway.
To Be or Not to Be – 2/12 2:00 PM – The original is my much preferred version of the WWII set comedy and a great one at that.
Night Train to Munich – 2/12 4:00 PM – For more WWII action, here’s an early thriller title from Carol Reed (1940) that I feel unfairly slips under the radar.
Casablanca – 2/12 6:00 PM – I’ve warmed to it over the years, but I’ll admit it’s largely made it to this section for notability reasons. It’s far from Bogart’s most compelling work and the great love story at the center just doesn’t work for me.
On the Waterfront – 2/13 12:15 AM – There are some very iffy politics at work behind the making of the film, but there’s no denying Marlon Brando’s acting or the story of corruption in spite of it.
Lawrence of Arabia – 2/13 8:00 PM – Alec Guinness playing an Arab is hard to excuse (I don’t care about any of this for the time period shit), but it’s still a magnificent film and one of the most gorgeous films ever shot.
The Bridge on the River Kwai – 2/14 12:00 AM – For an even better David Lean title, there’s this prisoner of war story whose mere title has the whistling tune already stuck in my head.
The Philadelphia Story – 2/14 8:00 PM – One of the all-time great romantic comedies with a stacked cast of Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey working off of a fantastic script (an adaptation of the play which Hepburn had starred in and backed as a vehicle for herself to rebound her career)
Kramer vs Kramer – 2/15 12:00 AM – Already featured this
The Bad Seed – 2/15 5:30 PM – It has an absolutely terrible ending, but before then it’s one of the better Evil Kid movies and the creator for many of the tropes associated with it.
Lifeboat – 2/15 – 10:00 PM – One of Hitchcock’s best and yet it often unfairly gets lost or shuffled down to his second tier, its limited space format making for some great thriller elements.
The Naked Spur – 2/16 4:00 AM – Characteristically good Jimmy Stewart-Anthony Mann Western
Cimarron – 2/16 6:00 AM – If you didn’t get your fill of bad Best Picture winners last week, this week may be the big capper with arguably the worst and later on what is probably my least favorite, Oliver!.
The Ox-Bow Incident – 2/16 11:30 AM – A far more sobering Western this time from William Wellman and starring Henry Fonda.
Atlantic City – 2/17 2:00 AM – I try not to feature films I haven’t seen yet, but a Louis Malle film is a pretty safe pick and it’s one I’ve been meaning to get to for a while.
Au Revoir les Enfants – 2/17 4:00 AM – Perhaps Malle’s most notable work (though My Dinner with Andre is probably more famous), is a wonderful WWII set autobiographical tale.
High Noon – 2/18 8:00 PM – Perhaps the greatest Western ever made and one that is laden with such rich (and open to interpretation) story elements and fantastic acting.
You Can’t Take It With You – 2/19 8:45 AM – Frank Capra’s story of an eccentric family is quintessentially Capra in message with a fun, comedic tone.
Honorable Mentions – East of Eden, Love Affair, Dark Victory, The Champ (1931), A Streetcar Named Desire, Network, Ben-Hur (1959)
ALL TCM FEATURES ON HIATUS DURING THE MONTH
Sights and Sounds from the Critics Top 250
None This Week
The Week in Movie Reviews
– WTF ASIA 42: The Mission (1999)
– Made Overseas: Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (2013)
– Millennial Malaise 05: Reality Bites
– The Lego Movie 2 Plays the Hits
– LGBT Movies: More Romcoms
– Hallmark Bonus: The Story of Us Recap/Review
– Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. So Dear To My Heart
What have you been watching and what did you think of it?
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