Fri

28/08

Cinema Jolly > 21:30

THE NEGRO SOLDIER / THE STAR

(In case of rain, the film programmed in Piazza Maggiore will be projected instead)

Projection
Info

Friday 28/08/2020
21:30

Subtitle

Original version with subtitles

THE NEGRO SOLDIER

Film Notes

This film is considered a “watershed in the use of film to promote racial tolerance”, and Heisler had previously handled the subject with surprisingly fine results in his 1940 The Biscuit Eater. Hollywood showed little interest in the subject of race, apart from work by those communist writers such as Lester Cole (None Shall Escape) and John Howard Lawson (Sahara) who gave African Americans a voice as agents of democracy in the fight against fascism. However, The Negro Soldier was perhaps the only film in that vein written by an African American, Carlton Moss. Films about the black experience were either ‘churchy’ or ‘bluesy’ (a rare exception, King Vidor’s 1929 Hallelujah! was both). The Negro Soldier is churchy (even if it does include a fleeting shot of the father of the blues, W.C. Handy), adopting the form of a sermon, in which the history of African Americans’ involvement in the making of America is recounted to an entirely black audience. But when the familiar image of the church minister at the pulpit arrives, it delivers a twofold punch: it is Moss himself – and the book in his hands is Mein Kampf, from which he reads Hitler’s perspective on the black race. The church form finds new urgency, as the film’s writer merges roles with that of the minister. Heisler makes his point visually, to avoid preaching: at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the German and Japanese athletes fail and an African American wins; a black conductor leads a mixed orchestra through Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Combining footage from fiction films, recreations of real events and newsreels, Heisler and Moss’s take on racial tolerance was perhaps too much for the Army: they demanded that some scenes be cut, such as one in which a black officer commands the troops, and another in which a white nurse massages a black soldier. That didn’t stop African American soldiers and the black press from admiring the film as a step towards a dignified image of their people on screen.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Carlton Moss. F.: Allen Q. Thompson, Paul Vogel, Horace Woodard. M.: Jack Ogilvie. Scgf.: Haldane Douglas. Mus.: Howard Jackson, Albert Glasser, Paul Horgan, Meredith Willson, Earl Robinson, Dimitri Tiomkin. Int.: William Broadus (Jim), Clarence Brooks (Chaplain), Carleton Moss (il pastore), Bertha Wolford (signora Bronson), Norman Ford (Robert Bronson). Prod.: Frank Capra per U.S. War Department 35 mm. D.: 43’.

THE STAR

Film Notes

“Come on Oscar, let’s you and me get drunk”, says Bette Davis, as Margaret Elliott, picking up the Academy award on her desk (her own Oscar in fact). Already intoxicated, Davis drives across town giving us a ghost tour of LA mansions, which look like exhibits in a wax museum. With one hand on the wheel, she puts the statue on the dashboard, its head hidden behind the rear-view mirror. She grabs the bottle and makes a toast, “To absent friends”, the image of the headless piece of gold, the blurred lights in the darkness and the bottle capturing Hollywood’s solitary universe in one shot. Telling the story of a former movie star whose career and psychological wellbeing are in decline, The Star has the hardboiled cynicism missing from recent biopics such as Judy (2019). Conceived as a sequel of sorts to All About Eve, here the ride is bumpier than ever. In reality, the early 1950s were not exactly years of struggle for Davis. She meant it as a dramatisation of what she actually wished on her rival, Joan Crawford. Sterling Hayden (who got the role at Davis’ suggestion) playing an actor who has abandoned Hollywood for sailing is closer to real life. And the sight of a young Natalie Wood falling from the deck of a boat in one scene, provides an eerie prophesy of her final tragedy. Shot in 24 days, the film is eloquently conceived, and explores some of Heisler’s favoured themes, such as the conflict between motherhood and career (Smash-Up; Tulsa), and the experience of helping to establish a world of shared dreams through the entertainment business only to be barred from it (Smash-Up). The characters drift towards the edge before returning, scarred but sober (see also Journey into Light). Heisler lays the emotions bare, making characters seem even more vulnerable than they really are. The language of melodrama, almost perfected here, prevails, but the desperate search through the night and the hopeless knocking on doors recalls the logic of film noir too.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Scen.: Dale Eunson, Katherine Albert. F.: Ernest Laszlo. M.: Otto Ludwig. Scgf.: Boris Leven. Mus.: Victor Young. Int.: Bette Davis (Margaret Elliot), Sterling Hayden (Jim Johannsen/Barry Lester), Natalie Wood (Gretchen), Warner Anderson (Harry Stone), Minor Watson (Joe Morrison), June Travis (Phyllis Stone), Paul Frees (Richard Stanley). Prod.: Bert E. Friedlob per Thor Productions 35mm