It’s a 3-day holiday weekend (starting tomorrow, Good Friday) for some of you, ending on Easter Sunday. Typically, my Netflix picks are newer films; but, this time, if only to jazz things up a bit, here are a few oldies (some much older than others) but goodies to keep you entertained and even enlightened, if you find yourself in the mood to watch a movie on Netflix, but are overwhelmed with what the streaming platform has to offer. Each is followed by a trailer.
1. “All Night Long” (1962) – a compelling jazz-infused psychodrama from British filmmaker Basil Dearden. It’s basically a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Othello,” set in a 1960’s London jazz club, taking place over the course of one eventful evening. As interracial couple, and band mates, Aurelius Rex (played by Paul Harris) and Delia Lane (played by Marti Stevens), celebrate their first wedding anniversary, jealous, ambitious drummer, Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), who wants Delia for himself to headline his own burgeoning band, works feverishly to tear the couple apart, with lies and deception. A familiar story of jealousy and treachery; and by the time the night draws to a close, the previously-happily married Aurelius has been deceived into trying to murder his beloved wife, and her believed-to-be lover. It’s provoking, especially for a film of its time. It’s not something that I’d expect would be made by an American studio back then. And it wasn’t. It was produced by the Brits. Here’s a 1962 movie that accepts an interracial couple at face value; skin color is never a key factor in it, for better and for worse (depending on your POV). And oh, by the way, during the course of this evening, a few jazz legends pass through, like Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck, notably. The film is actually part of a 4-disc pack of crime dramas from Criterion Collection titled “Basil Dearden’s London Underground.” It includes “Sapphire” (1959) – investigations into the murder of a young blonde woman named Sapphire, reveal that she was actually a black woman passing for white. Needless to say, Dearden didn’t shy away from controversial material.
2. “Exam” (2009) – Kudos to any filmmaker who can produce a feature-length film that takes place in real-time, entirely in one room, and have it actually be entertaining and riveting enough to keep the audience watching. The British film “Exam” is one film that I think lands on the side of success when it comes to films of that ilk. It’s a psycho-thriller, written and directed by Stuart Hazeldine, and co-starring a couple of Black British actors we’ve covered on this site, in Colin Salmon and Chukwudi Iwuji. Salmon will probably be most familiar to those of you here in the States – he’s played bit parts in several Hollywood-made movies, like “Resident Evil,” “AVP,” “The Punisher,” and he was a regular in all 3 James Bond movies that starred Pierce Brosnan in the title role. He was also featured in the underrated “The Bank Job” in 2008. “Exam” brings together 8 disparate people – candidates for an unspecified high-powered job – who are placed in room to take an exam, with the winner of the test, getting the job. Of course, all it’s not as simple as that, and things get a bit hairy. But I won’t reveal anymore. The film happens in real time, and it’s a crisply done, brisk genre film featuring some good acting. 100 Minutes, 8 Candidates, 1 Answer, No Question. Intrigued so far?
3. “Anna Lucasta” (1958) – A classic. A beautiful work of film art and quite bold an adaptation for its time. The play the film was based on, was written in 1936 by Philip Yordan, and was about a Polish family. It was later adapted by Abram Hill for American Negro Theater in New York. Yordan brought Hill’s adaptation to Broadway, where it ran for a record 957 performances at the Mansfield Theatre in 1944, and inspired two films, including this late-1950s version starring Eartha Kitt and Sammy Davis Jr. A film that’s received a lot of ink on this blog over the years, but is still quite under-seen, in the 1958 work, Eartha Kitt stars as waterfront prostitute Anna Lucasta, called back home by her greedy brother-in-law (Frederick O’Neal) to be married off to a moderately wealthy young man (Henry Scott). Anna spoils her brother-in-law’s plans by actually falling in love with the young fellow she wasn’t supposed to, and seeing to it that no one gets their mitts on his money. But a visitor from Anna’s past (Sammy Davis Jr.) nearly wrecks the marriage, as her unforgiving father has his own vengeful plan in motion that will affect her future! Enchanting and a pretty big deal for the time it was made, I’d even say that, if made today, “Anna Lucasta,” would still be eye-catching.
4. “Our Song” (2000) – This was Kerry Washington’s very first feature film. She was just 21 years old at the time it was shot, but she gives a really good performance. So see it, if only to see early Kerry Washington at work. The film was directed by Jim McKay. You’ll watch it and, like some, you likely wouldn’t believe that this was a film written and directed by a white male filmmaker. It follows the seemingly unbreakable bond between 3 high school girls (a black American, a black Latino, and a Latino American), and the choices the girls face once their school closes down because of the need for asbestos removal. Washington, who had just graduated from college, plays a 16-year-old in the film. Director McKay’s insistence on the film having a very authentic feel, is a plus. The naturalistic performances elevate it. And while it might seem like a somewhat privileged look at underprivileged life, the film feels as if it were written by the young women themselves. In addition to Washington, Anna Simpson and Melissa Martinez make up the starring trio. It always rings true and is all the more admirable, and affecting, for its refusal to conform to the conventions of most Hollywood teen movies.
5. “The Story Of Film: An Odyssey” (2011) – The 15 hour-long work, directed and hosted by film historian Mark Cousins, made its broadcast premiere in September, 2011 on the UK’s Channel 4, after its North American premiere at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, where it was featured in its entirety. Broken up into 15 episodes, it’s an epic journey through the history of cinema; a 15-part love letter to the movies that spans from the invention of film in the 19th century to the digital industry of the 21st. It includes the following: Part 1 – 1895-1918: The World Discovers – A New Artform; Part 2 – 1918-1928: The Triumph of American Film – and the First of Its Rebels; Part 3 – 1918-1932: The Great Rebel Filmmakers – Around the World; Part 4 – The 1930s: The Great American Movie Genres – and the Brilliance of European Films; Part 5 – 1939-1952: The Devastation of War – and a New Movie Language; Part 6 – 1953-1957: The Swollen Story – World Cinema Bursting at the Seams; Part 7 – 1957-1964: The Shock of the New – Modern Filmmaking In Western Europe; Part 8 – 1965-1969: New Waves – Sweep Around the World; Part 9 – 1967-1979: New American Cinema; Part 10 – 1969-1979: Radical Directors in the 70s – Make State of the Nation Movies; Part 11 – 1970s and Onwards: Innovation in Popular Culture – Around the World; Part 12 – The 1980s: Moviemaking and Protest – Around the World; Part 13 – 1990-1998: The Last Days of Celluloid – Before the Coming of Digital; Part 14 – The 1990s: The First Days of Digital – Reality Losing Its Realness in America and Australia; Part 15 – 2000 Onwards: Film Moves Full Circle – and the Future of Movies. 15 hours might seem like a really long time for one film; BUT we ARE talking about the history of cinema here folks! To comprehensively cover the history of cinema, you’d actually need more than 15 hours. It took me a little while to get through the entire thing (it’s probably best watched in pieces, spread out over a few weeks, giving you time to digest individual chapters, and even seek out and watch the films mentioned during each period, if you haven’t already seen them). I’d rather watch something as ambitious as this (even though it still manages to leave out some crucial history, especially where the African Diaspora is concerned), than some 90-minute documentary on the subject that condenses the history, or only focuses on popular periods and/or movements. It’s not definitive, but it’s worth a look.