Friday, January 22, 2010


The most prophetic film ever made . . . it predicted the riots of the ‘60s and ‘70s and gave the basis for them.” Willard Van Dyke, pioneer American documentary filmmaker, Curator of Films, The Museum of Modern Art, 1971.

“. . . packs more of a wallop than the ENTIRE 10 disc Ken Burns Jazz documentary.”
Shandrasblog Dec. 20, 2009

Ed Bland's 1959 film -- THE CRY OF JAZZ -- more current than ever.

"Bland's insights into the art and politics of jazz . . . are profound. . . . the movie, which is as heartfelt as it is analytical, suggests a new dimension in music criticism."
Richard Brody, The New Yorker, Jan. 11,2010

“Jazz is a musical expression of the Negro’s eternal re-creation in the eternal present.
Denied a future and a past, the present moment must be the accent of time in which the Negro invests his passion. The joyous celebration of the present is the Negro’s answer to America’s ceaseless attempts to obliterate him.”
Ed Bland, Film Culture, 1960

Following the release of THE CRY OF JAZZ in 1959, Jonas Mekas, filmmaker, head of the New American Cinema and Anthology Film Archives, asked me to write about the ideas that led Mark Kennedy, Nelam Hill, Eugene Titus, and myself to form KHTB Productions in Chicago and make this film. The above and  following excerpts appeared in an article in  Film Culture (No. 21, Summer 1960). Please note that the word Negro was used in the article because that was the polite expression used to refer to blacks or African-Americans at that time.


The Negro was kidnapped and taken to American shores to serve as a tool in the growth of the appetitive American economy. The essence of slavery is the use of a human body and soul as the raw material of another’s creation.
After arriving on these shores, the Negro was allowed no future – for him, time stood still. His past was snatched from him by prohibiting him the use of his language, by destroying his tribal and familial ties, and wiping out his Gods. The Negro’s image of himself was destroyed.

No people can live without an image of themselves, and no soul is the raw material for another’s creation. The soul demands freedom; if it cannot fight, it will argue, if it cannot argue nor persuade, it will dance, it will sing. If reason is denied, then art must arise. In a sense the Negro did not create jazz; he was jazz.

 Jazz was the Negro’s act of transcendence; without this act, the Negro would have been a sub-human animal or dead. The question arises, however, as to the absoluteness or total boldness of this transcending act and the nature of its structure.

Given the kind of human outrage perpetrated upon the Negro, his response at best could be no more than minimal – namely, a distillation of the essence of his American experience that would meet the demands of giving him a soul, an image, and a memory. If that could be accomplished, it would indeed be achievement enough under the circumstances. In short, the Negro’s transcendence thru jazz was at best a holding action, a holding action until he was able to make a profounder estimate of his American experience.

If, during the time of the invention of jazz, he had made a yet profounder reckoning, he may have been involved in violence. The failure of over 100 slave revolts convinced the Negro that there was little to be gained thru the continuance of his Apache period, especially when it became apparent that violence was exactly what the American white desired so as to have further justification to destroy the Negro.

This holding action called jazz was a conflict with the endless daily humiliation of American life which bequeaths the Negro a futureless future. Thru jazz one can become aware of the Negro’s image of himself.

 It is an image of a man peculiarly sensitive to the vivid present. . . .

Inherent in this worship in its vivid present is an esthetic and/or religious dimension fundamentally at odds with the romantic and arrogant way white Americans have of looking into the future.

To be continued……


No comments:

Post a Comment