Scen.: David Schickele. F.: David Myers. M.: Jennifer Chinlund, David Schickele. Int.: Paul Eyam Nzie Okpokam (Bushman), Elaine Featherstone (Alma), Lothario Lotho (fratello di Alma), Ann Scofield (ragazza conosciuta al bar), Jack Nance (Felix), David Schickele (Mark), Donna Michelson (Diane), Patrick Gleeson (Marty). Prod.: The Bushman Company, The American Film Institute. DCP. D.: 73’. Bn.
A tracking shot follows a young man as he walks along the side of a gently sloping road. Hands in his pockets, he proceeds barefoot with a pair of Converse on his head. Ambient sounds and the barking of an off-screen dog are swallowed up by the sound of percussion and tribal song. The camera gradually approaches him as he turns around and signals to thumb a ride. Over his extreme close-up, the soundtrack blends magnificent tribal harmonies, Yoruba percussion and the sound of a harpsichord playing Henry Purcell’s Ground in C Minor. The music here introduces the story’s two locations (United States and Nigeria), whose images (in the present and in the form of memories and flashbacks) alternate throughout the film, mapping the protagonist Gabriel’s identity. The rest of soundtrack continues to make use of this process of synthesis; like his better-known brother Peter, the composer and polyinstrumentalist David Schickele entrusts it with the task of articulating and supporting the film’s cultural and racial discourse, also on an emotional level.
“1968: Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Bobby Hutton are amongst the recent dead”; this text is superimposed as we again follow the young man from behind; then, in a parallel montage with two children in a forest carrying jars on their heads, we read “In Nigeria the civil war is entering its second year and no end is in sight”. The white smoke of the factories against the blinding light of the morning skies allows us to glimpse the outline of San Francisco while the young man finally finds someone to give him a lift. We are barely into the third minute of the film when a caustic dialogue with the biker – half-way between Sembène’s Borom Sarret and a parody of Easy Rider – subverts the tone of the prologue. With one eye on cinéma vérité, the European new waves and early Cassavetes, and the other on African pioneers like Sembène, Ecaré and Hondo, Schickele not only condemns the reactionary and racist America which will later frame Gabriel on the slightest of pretexts, but also the liberal America of progressive intellectuals who quote McLuhan and Malraux but lapse into rhetoric and misunderstand the deeper meaning of human experience. With irony, poetry and a delicate touch, Bushman leads us into the darkness of the beginnings of an odyssey. And for days, you are unable to think of anything else.
Restored in 4K in 2022 by University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, Pacific Film Archive and The Film Foundation from the original negatives. Restoration was carried out by Corpus Fluxus at Illuminate Hollywood (picture restoration), Audio Mechanics (sound restoration) and at Fotokem laboratory. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. Additional support provided by Peter Conheim, Cinema Preservation Alliance