One of the 25 films to be inducted for preservation in the 2010 National Film Registry of the Library of Congress (Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” was on the short list that year), is the experimental film “The Cry of Jazz” – a fascinating 34-minute critical analysis of Jazz music, directed by Ed Bland (an African American), his only film.
He went on to a career as a composer, arranger, and producer for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, and on films like “A Raisin In The Sun,” “Ganja And Hess,” and “The Cool World.”
Shot on 16mm black-and-white with really no budget, and a volunteer cast and crew, the film is essentially a thesis on the structural correlation between black life in America and jazz music.
Indeed, Bland wrote a book on the subject matter, titled, “The Fruits of the Death of Jazz,” and the characters in the film serve as mouthpieces for his declarations, which must have been startling at the time the film was made, in 1959.
In watching the film, I immediately thought of another title that would have been just as alarming in its day – John Cassavetes’ “Shadows” (also made in 1959 coincidentallyy). Both films were at the forefront of the then American cinema avant-garde; although Bland’s film doesn’t seem to have enjoyed the same kind of repertory status as Cassavetes’ seminal work.
At the center of “The Cry of Jazz” is a debate between black intellectuals and white jazz fans in some unknown living space, on the history of jazz as the story of the “fantastic ingenuity of the Negro in America.”
Music is provided by Sun Ra and his Arkestra, who are seen and heard performing while in their prime.
I found the entire piece on YouTube, which I embedded below, split into 4 parts, so watch it now: