Sog., Scen.: Dudley Murphy. F.: Dal Clawson. M.: Russell G. Shields. Scgf.: Ernest Feglé. Mus.: Duke Ellington. Int.: Fredi Washington, Duke Ellington and His Cotton Club orchestra: Arthur Whetsol, Freddy Jenkins, Cootie Williams (trombe), Barney Bigard (clarinetto), Johnny Hodges (sax contralto), Harry Carney (sax baritono), Joe Nanton (trombone), Fred Guy (banjo), Wellman Braud (basso), Sonny Greer (batteria), Duke Ellington (piano). Prod.: RKO Radio Pictures · DCP. Bn.
Dramatic films which use jazz organically are few and far between, while jazz films which feature the music dramatically are perhaps even rarer. The singularity of Black and Tan Fantasy, comprising the first appearance of Duke Ellington on film, is that it fuses both categories – developing a sort of poetic synthesis that demonstrates, at the very onset of the sound period, that the two new art films of the 20th century don’t necessarily have to trample on one another. Written and directed by Dudley Murphy, who made another short with Bessie Smith (St. Louis Blues) earlier the same year, and previously executed Fernand Léger’s ideas in Ballet mécanique, Black and Tan uses arty trappings and a contrived plot, but has a sharp enough sense of form to turn both of these liabilities into assets. Even the comic racial stereotypes at the beginning are counterposed by a radical rejection of the exploitative white audience at the end. If the most unexplored terrain of jazz films is the capacity to show musicians and performers listening to one another, the sublime and stirring finale here beautifully illustrates a path to be followed.
Digitally restored in 2K in 2014 at the Modern Videofilm laboratory