Newark’s Greatest Film at Fifty: Troublemakers (1966)

 

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These are scenes from the documentary Troublemakers, which I would declare, without any hesitation, the greatest film to come out of Newark. It’s many things at once: a vivid, tangible portrayal of life in the struggling Clinton Hill neighborhood; a clinical examination of what happens when “an interracial movement of the poor” moves from theory (read the 1963 document co-authored by Tom Hayden, who led the Newark Community Union Project that’s featured in Troublemakers, here) to practice; an expose of the structures and political systems that maintain inequality in America; a rare and valuable archive of black women’s activism; and a stark analysis of the dead end reached when democracy breaks down. It is, to my mind, one of the great films of the 1960s, one of the clearest expressions of a Left cinema in America, and also a striking, visceral depiction of Newark. Better than any other film or writing, it explains why the uprising of July 1967 took place.

The only reason that I haven’t blogged about Troublemakers during my three years of Newark film-blogging is that I had greater designs, of writing a scholarly journal about it. I’ve done archival research in Newark, Wisconsin, and NYU, and interviewed its filmmakers, Robert Machover and Norm Fruchter, as well as several members of NCUP and the film crew. So, I do still hope to develop that into something more substantive.

But for the moment, this supersedes it: we’re doing a screening at Rutgers-Newark to mark its 50th anniversary, with Frucher and Machover there for a discussion!

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To my mind, this is a MAJOR film event, and I’m thrilled to be involved Continue reading

Juice in Newark: O.J.-Made in America (2016) and the Hertz ad campaign (1975)

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One of the most exciting things about OJ: Made in America is that you can see our larger narratives shifting before your eyes: this isn’t the decontextualized story of Heismans and yards gained (we get those, but they’re not the center), but rather the life of O.J. Simpson writ against its real backdrop: Black Power and the athletes who supported it, from Muhammad Ali to John Carlos (but not, never, O.J.); LAPD violence from Watts to Eula Mae Love to Rodney King; the interplay of race, celebrity, and advertising that he navigated with as much if not more dexterity than he did the football field; and the ways the media, professional athletics, and even police collude to ignore and enable violence against women. Continue reading

The Sticky Floors of History at the Little Theater (Pornography in Newark, Part 4)

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The other month I wrote an article for Vice about the Little Theater, Newark’s last and finest theatrical den of smut. It was nice to share the story of Newark’s rich sexual and cinematic subculture with a much wider audience than this humble blog reaches, but it came at the cost of paring things down to 1200 words, sacrificing some of the history I wanted to present. I get it: Vice readers might be interested in the fact that men are still attending porn theaters and curious about what goes on inside; they are less likely, collectively, to hold a deep interest in the Little Theater’s development from ethnic grindhouse to multicultural cruising spot or its role in Newark’s cultural history. Continue reading

Sidney Lumet’s Newark Pitstop: Find Me Guilty (2006)

To the best of my knowledge, Sidney Lumet only ever shot in Newark once, and not, lamentably enough, for his remake of John Cassavetes’ Gloria (whose Newark Penn Station scene I wrote about here)–a remake whose omission of Cassavetes from the credits still perturbs me.

Instead, it was for this Vin Diesel mediocrity:

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Now, I really enjoy Sidney Lumet as a filmmaker. I always think of him as the pre-Soderbergh, reined in by a classical Hollywood leash that prevented any wildly idiosyncratic swerves like Schizopolis or Bubble, but still committed to an almost experimental craftsmanship in his willingness, eagerness even, to jump genres. We tend to remember Lumet for his gritty NYC canon, but dude made westerns, musicals, a really good and overlooked British spy thriller (The Deadly Affair, y’all!), a romcom, etc.

Of course, they weren’t all good. Continue reading

Curt McDowell, with Love and Leather

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I’ve just finished a feverish four-day run of attending “Loads of Curt McDowell” at the Anthology Film Archives, truly a cinematic highlight of 2016 for me; I love McDowell’s work, and much of it is near-impossible to see, hence the exhausting commitment. McDowell arguably captured the queer, freewheeling sexual currents of 1970s San Francisco better than any other filmmaker, and the features and shorts included in “Loads” range from outright smut to ethnography, surrealism to musical to melodrama. It’s a beautiful, dizzying mixture, and I’m posting this fast and artlessly in the hopes of inspiring someone, anyone, to go check out the series as most of it repeats in the next few days.

As well, I’m posting some documents I came across in the archive on the very days of the screenings, a serendipity too delicious to pass up: Continue reading

Archive Fever: New Jersey Lesbian Cat Poetry of the 1970s (and a brief election rant)

I hate everything about this election. I hate the candidacy of a garbage-monster fascist, and I hate that I’m related by blood to people who will vote for him. I hate the neoliberal emotion-management of the DNC, and the fact that brilliant, progressive people I know and admire seem genuinely enthused about a warhawk candidate whose loyalty to the international 1% is so strong that she had to be shamed into supporting a $15 minimum wage (and ecstatic too about Cory Booker, who has made a remarkable career in government without doing much in the way of actually governing). I hate that she and her VP are pretending not to support the TPP until after the election, when they will most assuredly support it (“oh, we didn’t support it as then written; now we fixed that semicolon, all good!”). I hate the third-party-shaming by friends who in some cases actually teach and write about the concept of hegemony but still insist on the need to be reasonable, and I hate the futility of supporting third parties, which I have done since I cast my first vote against Bill Clinton’s reelection. I hate that Facebook is cracking down on dank memes, which often feel like the only worthwhile political commentaries out there. I hate it all.

So what better relief, I ask you, my fellow Americans (and others, of course!), than previously undigitized lesian cat poetry from the 1970s? Continue reading

Pornography in Newark, Part 3: Hello, Hardcore!

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I had intended to write this a while ago, but then got distracted writing a piece on Utah’s asinine declaration of pornography as a public health crisis last month; that ran on Salon, which has a vastly larger audience than this humble blog, but the truth is, I find writing here more fun. So, back to Newark. Continue reading