That’s right folks, little old me. But first, as you may recall, just a few days ago, I wote an item about The Black Cinema House in Chicago, a newly established screening space, in operation since this fall, devoted to the exhibition and discussion of independent and rarely seen black cinema in all its forms – HERE
Among the films the House has screened recently were the groundbreaking experimental 1958 classic Cry of Jazz, which was introduced by Northwestern University professor Jacqueline Stewart, Richard Pryor’s Jo Jo Dancer – Your Life Is Calling and the New York film collective Cinema Stereo.
And now moi will be introducing the 1940 “race” film, Broken Strings, starring and written by Clarence Muse, on Sunday Feb. 24, starting at 3PM.
Though most people automatically think of filmmaker Oscar Micheaux when it come to “race’ films (independently made and distributed black films, made from the silent era to the late 1940’s for the African-American audience), there were, in fact, many race film filmmakers, both white and black, aside from Micheaux. Unfortunately, many of these films have been lost to be perhaps never seen again.
Muse was, in effect, quite similar to his peer Paul Robeson, in that he was a true renaissance man. With a degree in international law, Muse was also an opera singer, a composer, a screenwriter and was the first black director of a Broadway play.
Unfortunately, of the over 150 films that he appeared in during his career, the last one being 1979’s The Black Stallion at the age of 90, Muse was almost always reduced to playing stereotyped, buffoonish characters, usually in the role of a devoted slave, a horse groom or a servant.
Broken Strings was one of his rare opportunities to “call the shots” as it were. In the film, he wrote the lead role for himself – that of a classical violinist whose hands are severely damaged in a car accident. He is reduced to barely scraping by, giving violin lessons, However his son, who Muse intends to have him follow in his footsteps as a classical musician through harsh practice sessions, would rather play swing jazz music, which Muse thinks is the work of the devil. What he doesn’t know is that his son is secretly playing in jazz clubs at night to earn the money for a career-saving operation for his father.
Though it’s admitedly corny at times, Strings effectively deals the generational conflict between the older black generation who are striving for acceptance and to “uplift” the race, and the younger set who are more interested in discovering their own voice, free of the burden of white acceptance.
And on top of that, it’s got one of the best last lines for any movie, period. And no I’m not going to tell you. You’ll have to come and find out for yourself.
To find out more about the screening and to reserve a seat go HERE.