The theme for this month – Nowhere to Run

Theatrical Release

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Directed by Spike Lee (Do The Right Thing, When the Levees Broke)
Written by Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott
Shot by Chayse Irvin (Lemonade, Pass Over)
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Jasper Pääkkönen and Paul Walter Hauser

“Set in the 1970s, it’s about a Colorado cop named Ron Stallworth who decided to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan. One small, um, problem: Stallworth was African-American. As his chief says, he’s the Jackie Robinson of the Colorado Springs police force.

“Stallworth (Washington, son of Denzel) first gets a taste for going undercover when he’s assigned to a Stokely Carmichael speech at the nearby university. Soon after, he reads a newspaper ad soliciting new members for the local chapter of the KKK. So he calls them up and, after spewing the right racist invective, gets invited over for a meeting.

“Which brings us back to that small, um, problem.” Eleanor Ringel Cater, Saporta Report

“The film looks great, with the soft browns and reds that helped defining the late seventies (Washington leaves a strong impression, and not just because his afro is outstanding).

“Towards the end of the film, it develops the stakes of a thriller. Duke visits Fort Collins, and Stallworth gets assigned to protect him, while Flip must stay undercover as “Stallworth.” The Klan are slow to uncover the plot – they are not that stupid – and the tension is whether Flip/Ron can hold it together long enough to save the day.” Alan Zilberman, Brightest Young Things

“The main idea of BlacKkKlansman is mediation—the creation and the spread of ideas themselves in art and in discourse. Lee’s own movie has the heightened, antic (though not comedic) air of a tall tale, reflecting not only the astonishment of the story itself but also Lee’s self-aware deployment of the story as a didactic fable of modern political power.

“BlacKkKlansman is filled with speeches, both onscreen and in voice-over, as well as with movie images and references, as when, early on in the film, Ron heads to the small local theatre where Ture is speaking. There, where most filmmakers would likely offer a few potentially controversial lines from a speech, Lee turns the speech into a grand scene of political theatre. Ture (played with a thrilling rhetorical vitality by Hawkins) delivers an extensive speech in which he makes clear the connection between art—and aesthetics over all—and political power. He says, “You must define beauty for black people, and that’s black power”—and he means beauty in the most ordinary sense, discussing his own appearance as a black man and contrasting it with familiar media images of beauty.

“Throughout the sequence, Lee doubles Ture’s speech with closeup images of black people in the audience, using gentle effects to pull the faces out of their immediate dramatic context and exalt them as images of beauty. Ture discusses his childhood delight in the series of Tarzan movies—emphasizing the self-hatred that they imbued him with and likening the experience to Jewish children watching a movie about a concentration camp that stokes them to root for the Nazis. He also links this self-hatred to black Americans’ endurance of life in “captive communities” and violence by racist police officers; his concluding call is for “an undying love for black people”—and Lee’s images of the audience members are themselves small but strongly symbolic acts of love.

“There are other kinds of speeches in BlacKkKlansman, too—including white-supremacist ones that are heard on the radio throughout and provide a constant background to the hateful spew that Klan members unleash in private. The local group’s leader, Walter (Ryan Eggold); his associate and challenger, the hotheaded Felix (Pääkkönen); Felix’s wife, Connie (Ashlie Atkinson); and the goofy Ivanhoe (Hauser) use the N-word casually along with the rest of their crude invective against blacks, Jews, and gays, and in favor of a regime of white supremacy. (Throughout, Lee emphasizes that anti-Semitism as well as homophobia and misogyny are integral to the ideology of white supremacy.)” Richard Brody, New Yorker

“Lee, who co-wrote this film with Wachtel, Rabinowitz, and Willmott, based on Stallworth’s memoir Black Klansman, has regularly encouraged audiences and commentators to experience his movies as incendiary political acts. BlacKkKlansman, which caused a stir at the Cannes Film Festival, opens with the long pull-back shot of Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind picking her way through the Confederate wounded and follows it with clips from D.W. Griffith’s monumentally racist 1915 classic The Birth of a Nation, the success of which revived the dormant Klan. He ends the movie with newsreel clips from the violent “alt-right” rallies last year in Charlottesville, Va.

“This is a lot of heavy-duty baggage to load onto a movie that, in its deceptively lighter moments, plays out as a wiggy sketch comedy that would look right at home on “Saturday Night Live” (one can see the young Eddie Murphy in it) or as a “Key and Peele” episode. Jordan Peele, one of the film’s producers, was, in fact, going to direct the movie until the success of Get Out shifted the project to Lee.

“Lee, however, is a very different filmmaker than Peele. Peele’s scathing wit is simultaneously blatant and creepily subtle. Lee makes his racial points with a bullhorn; he embraces agitprop. This may be why his documentaries, such as When the Levees Broke and 4 Little Girls, in which he can dispense with actors and dialogue and use the historical record to channel his outrage, are superior to most of his dramatic films.” Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor

“He never stutters, he never reveals he’s in character. He’s speaking from genuine experience and soul-searching thought. Lee fills the frame with faces of the people absorbing Kwame Ture’s words, and then he cuts to scenes in which they intelligently debate his teachings.

“The Klansmen that Stallworth and Zimmerman infiltrate have no such debates. They have house parties where they rah-rah each other. They celebrate while watching D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, while an elderly man named Jerome Turner (Harry Belafonte) illustrates in terrifying detail the real-life horrors that Griffith’s pro-Klan propaganda film inspired in the South. Both stories are making an political impact, and Lee’s film announces itself as part of that same storytelling tradition.

“BlacKkKlansman features remarkable performances by Washington, Driver, Hawkins, and Harrier as Colorado Springs activist Patrice Dumas. They seem to be perfectly calibrated with Spike Lee’s exuberant storytelling style, and give heightened portrayals because they are heightened people, who think about and live through serious, unusual and sometimes ridiculous situations.” William Bibbiani, ign.com

Archival films

The Brother From Another Planet (1984) 

Written and directed by John Sayles (Matewan, Lone Star)
Shot by Ernest R. Dickerson (Do The Right Thing, Malcolm X)
Starring: Joe Morton, Rosanna Carter, Ray Ramirez, Yves Rene, Ginny Yang, Daryl Edwards and Steve James

“The brother is not looking for trouble, is not controversial, wants only to make sense of this weird new world. Because his instinctive response to most situations is a sort of blank reserve, people project their own feelings and expectations upon him. They tell him what he must be thinking, and behave as if they are right. He goes along.

“The movie finds countless opportunities for humorous scenes, most of them with a quiet little bite, a way of causing us to look at our society. The brother runs into hookers and connivers, tourists from Indiana, immigrant shopkeepers, and a New York weirdo who, in one of the movie’s best scenes, shows him a baffling card trick, and then demonstrates another trick that contains a cynical grain of big-city truth. The brother walks through this menagerie with a sometimes bemused, sometimes puzzled look on his face. People seem to have a lot of problems on this planet. He is glad to help out when he can; for example, curing video games by a laying on of hands. His right hand contains the power to heal machines, and it is amazing how quickly people accept that, if it is useful to them.

“The Brother From Another Planet was written and directed by Sayles, who is a one-man industry in the world of the American independent film. His credits include Return of the Seacaucus 7, Lianna, and Baby, It’s You, and in this film — by using a central character who cannot talk — he is sometimes able to explore the kinds of scenes that haven’t been possible since the death of silent film. There are individual moments here worthy of a Keaton, and there are times when Joe Morton’s unblinking passivity in the midst of chaos really does remind us of Buster.

“There is also a curious way in which the film functions as more subtle social satire than might seem possible in a low-budget, good-natured comedy. Because the hero, the brother, has literally dropped out of the skies, he doesn’t have an opinion on anything. He only gradually begins to realize that on this world he is ‘black,’ and that his color makes a difference in some situations. He tries to accept that.” Roger Ebert

Get Out (2017)

Written and directed by Jordan Peele
Edited by Gregory Plotkin (Game Night, Happy Death Day)
Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root and Lakeith Stanfield

“Every once in a while a film comes along that’s so damned scary you can barely believe it. Get Out is one of those movies. It’s not just a frightening concept, and it’s not just terrifically suspenseful. It turns society on its ear in a way that only the best movies can, and in a way that folks who are familiar with writer/director Jordan Peele’s comedy should probably have anticipated.” William Bibbiani, mandatory.com
Screenings:

BlacKkKlansman is at The Grand Cinema.
The Brother From Another Planet will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday in the Center for Spiritual Living (206 N. J St).
Get Out will screen at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 14 in the CSL.

The TFC Discussion Night for these three films is Wednesday, Sept. 19 in the CSL.

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