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FLASHBACK: What About That OTHER ’12 Years A Slave’ Movie?

FLASHBACK: What About That OTHER '12 Years A Slave' Movie?

Now that we finally can see the trailer for Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave (BELOW on this page), what better time to tell you again, as
I told you back in January, that 12 Years A Slave is not the first film version
of the story.

The film is based on the 1853 autobiographical novel by Solomon Northup, which McQueen said in
an interview that he read, and was so taken by, that he immediately wanted to
turn it into a movie. And I must admit that I can’t wait to see it. I can’t imagine how
McQueen could mess this up (If it was Lee Daniels’ 12 Years a Slave, with Oprah and Beyoncé then I would think we would have cause to worry).

But McQueen’s film is not the first to tackle Northrup’s

I’m referring to the 1984 TV movie, Solomon Northup’s Odyssey, starring Avery Brooks (Spencer for Hire, A Man Called Hawk, Star Trek: Deep
Space Nine
) in the role of Northrup, which is the last film to be directed by
the legendary film director/photographer/composer and all around renaissance
man, Gordon Parks, who passed away
in 2006.

It was made for PBS for their 1980’s film series American Playhouse, which were feature
length film versions of important literary works (Another terrific film in the
series that has been forgotten, was their 1985 film version of James Baldwin’s semi-autobiographical
novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain,
with Paul Winfield, Giancarlo Esposito,
Rudy Dee
, Alfre Woodward and Ving
in his first film role, which is now only available on Amazon’s Prime
Instant Video).

However Odyssey is a good and involving film, though it
is somewhat hampered by its obvious low budget limitations and rushed
production schedule which gives it an unnatural stiffness. It definitely lacks
the production values and sweeping grandeur that, judging from the trailer,
will be in McQueen’s film, though his film was also on made a very modest budget. You could literally make TEN 12 Years A Slave movies for what it cost to make Pacific Rim.

Odyssey was shot in a very quick three weeks, on location
in Savannah, Georgia, and even Parks
himself said later that he was not entirely happy with the finished product due
to the financial and production compromises. He was quoted as saying: “I can’t say I don’t like the film; I
think it’s a powerful film, but it could have been stronger. But you meet that
sort of crisis on every film; there are some sort of compromises you always
have to make.”

However the film does definitely beg to be rediscovered, and fortunately
it is still available to be seen. Though it was shortly available for a time on
Netflix last year, it is currently on Amazon Instant Video and on DVD, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes
more widely-available soon, to capitalize on McQueen’s film.

Odyssey is also
somewhat rather special to me, because I saw the film many years ago at a
public screening with Parks in person, and I had him autograph one of his books
for me; and shortly afterward, I received a personal letter from him, expressing
his appreciation. Both of which I still treasure highly today

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