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Film Pioneer Gordon Parks Retrospective in Chicago This Fall

Film Pioneer Gordon Parks Retrospective in Chicago This Fall

Let me start by saying that there is something I hear a lot of black filmmakers today say which sort
of annoys me: when they’re asked what past filmmakers inspired them, they almost all inevitably say Spike Lee.

Now I realize
this is more of a generational “thing” as it were, but I feel that it does give
the idea that there were no black filmmakers before Spike came on the scene. I’d like to believe that people know that this isn’t true, but I suspect there are those
who really believe that.

Of course
there were many black directors long before Spike started, even
before he was even born; and without a doubt the most important, successful and
influential of those directors was Gordon Parks.

The definition
of a true 20th century renaissance man, Parks was involved in many
artistic fields, from being one of the great photographers of the last century, chronicling world events, celebrities, fashion
models and black life in America, a novelist, a music composer, and as a film
director. Though his output was small compared to directors today, it was
quite wide-ranging, from documentaries, commercial Hollywood films, personal projects
and independent films. And despite the fact that, before he made his first
film, he had little to no experience in filmmaking, he was a
complete natural. It was in his bones (his son Gordon Parks Jr., who Parks is sometimes confused with, made
his own mark in films directing classics such as “Super Fly” and “Three the Hard Way” before his untimely early death in a plane crash).

And like so
many endeavors he was involved with, Parks was “the first,” including being the first black director
to make a feature film for a Hollywood film studio – his first feature narrative
film “The Learning Tree” based on his semi-autobiographical book about growing up
in rural Kansas in the 1930s for Warner Bros in 1969.

And yet, surprisingly,
considering his importance and ground breaking status, at least to my knowledge, there has never been
a retrospective of Parks’ film work. That is until now.

Starting next
month in Chicago, the Doc Film society will screen, every Thursday, starting on
October 1 through mid-November, a 10 film retrospective of all Parks’ films, from his
early documentaries to his last feature film.

Not only are
his more popular films, such as “Shaft” and “Shaft’s Big Score” being screened, but
also two rarities – his 1976 Paramount film “Leadbelly” about the life of the legendary
blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, which the studio practically buried, releasing it
in very few theaters. It’s possibly Park’s finest work for the screen.

Also his
last film, the 1984 PBS drama “Solomon Northup’s Odyssey,” starring Avery brooks, which is the first film version of the book which was remade as the better
known “12 Years a Slave” by Steve McQueen 28 years later.

All the
films will be screened at the Max Palevsky Cinema, located at Ida Noyes hall, at
the University of Chicago campus. The screenings are open
to the public.

For more
info go HERE.
 
Below is the complete screening list of films and dates

“The World of
Piri Thomas”

Thurs, Oct
1, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

This film
program consists of Gordon Parks’ three early documentary films: Flavio (1964),
Diary of a Harlem Family (1968), and The World of Piri Thomas (1968), all
presented in 16mm. The films explore the lives of individuals separated by
location—Black Harlem, Brazil, and Spanish Harlem—but all unified by their
impoverished environments and struggles to survive for a better future. The
screening is free and open to the public.

Free

Presented by
Doc Films

“The Learning
Tree”

Thurs, Oct
8, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

The first
major Hollywood studio film directed by an African American, Gordon Parks’
feature debut is a coming-of-age story based on Parks’ semi-autobiographical
novel of the same name. The Learning Tree follows two black teenagers, Newt
Winger and Marcus Savage, as they grow up in rural Kansas and confront racial
discrimination in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The film was among the first
25 films included in the National Film Registry in 1989. (Gordon Parks, 1969,
107 min, 35mm)

General $5,
free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by
Doc Films

“Shaft”

Thurs, Oct
15, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

One of the
best known and most influential blaxploitation films ever made, Shaft made
Parks a legend and Richard Roundtree, in the titular role, a star. Hired by
gangster Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) to find his kidnapped daughter, Shaft finds
himself caught in a dangerous crossfire of violence with the police, the mafia,
and Harlem’s underworld all out for blood. With its pulsing action and its
beautifully shot NYC vistas, Shaft thrills and delights. (Gordon Parks, 1971,
100 min, 35mm)

General $5,
free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by
Doc Films

“Shaft’s Big
Score!”

Thurs, Oct
22, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

The second
Shaft film, Shaft’s Big Score!, is bigger, bloodier, and even better than the
first. After his friend is killed, Shaft is out for justice, and what he finds
is his old nemesis, Bumpy Jonas, this time in an underground war to control the
NYC numbers racket. Car chases, explosions, shoot-outs and sex fill every
moment, and Roundtree, the best James Bond we never got, dominates the screen.
(Gordon Parks, 1972, 104 min, 16mm)

General $5,
free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by
Doc Films

“The Super
Cops”

Thurs, Oct
29, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

Parks’
strangest and perhaps best film, The Super Cops tells the vaguely real-life
story of Dave Greenberg and Robert Hantz, two rookie NYC police officers who
were so legendarily successful—a 97% conviction rate on their 660 arrests in
just four years!—that they earned the nicknames of Batman and Robin. A weird
mixture of gritty verité and comic-book stylization, the film agilely and
expertly crafts a paranoiac comedy of police corruption and extra-legal crime
fighting. (Gordon Parks, 1974, 90 min, 16mm)

General $5,
free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by
Doc Films

“Leadbelly”

Thurs, Nov
5, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

Roger E. Mosley
plays Huddie Ledbetter, the brilliant blues guitarist and singer, better known
as Leadbelly. In a series of flashbacks, the film tells the story of
Ledbetter’s early life and how he emerged one of the greatest musicians in our
nation’s history. ‘They chased him down with dogs, chained him in iron, beat
him with rawhide, slammed him in the sweatbox. They tried to bury Leadbelly,
but Leadbelly wouldn’t lie down. You can’t bury a black legend like Leadbelly!’
(Gordon Parks, 1976, 126 min, 35mm)

General $5,
free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by
Doc Films

“Solomon
Northup’s Odyssey”

Thurs, Nov
12, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

The first
film adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiography Twelve Years a Slave,
Solomon Northup’s Odyssey tells the true story of a free black man kidnapped in
1841 and enslaved for 12 years in Louisiana. Choosing to film in parts of the
Deep South for added realism, Parks also selected a film crew of mixed races in
order “to show Southerners how Whites and Blacks could work peacefully
together”. This screening is free and open to the public. (Gordon Parks, 1984,
115 min, DVD)

Free

Presented by
Doc Films

“Half Past
Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks”

Thurs, Nov
19, 7 pm

Max Palevsky
Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

This program
consists of two documentaries. “The Weapons of Gordon Parks” (1968, 28 min,
16mm), part of Warren Forma’s “Artists At Work” series, tells the story of Life
photographer Gordon Parks in his own words. Craig Laurence Rice’s Half Past
Autumn (2000, 91 min, DVD) presents a larger picture of Parks’ life: from his
early experiences with racism to his successes as a writer, composer,
filmmaker, photographer, and humanitarian. The screening is free and open to
the public.

Free

Presented by
Doc Films

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