screening The New-Ark

Just a quick postscript here:

Our screening of The New-Ark at Rutgers-Newark this week was really one of the more exhilarating things I’ve been involved with in any university capacity, ever. There was an amazing, really diverse crowd that included students, faculty, community members (many of whom remembered the film from 1968, or personally knew Amiri Baraka!), and activists, and the screening was followed by a great panel discussion with historian Komozi Woodard and longtime local activists Becky Doggett and Larry Hamm. Truly, it was an honor to be a part of.

Looks like The New-Ark might make the rounds–it’s coming up at the Anthology Film Archives as part of a very cool Baraka series, and things look good for a Philly screening in the fall. That’s great–the film deserves an audience (and played better with an audience than I expected it to, honestly–though we did have a home-field advantage showing it in Newark, with several great moments of audible recognition from the crowd of people and places).

Brief link-dump, too: I was interviewed by the Star-Ledger about the screening, and also by WBGO, Newark public radio. I was also able to contribute a more substantive piece to Bright Lights Film Journal, which was a lot of fun to write. Finally, Liz Coffey at Harvard Film Archive (without whom we never could have pulled off the screening) wrote a really interesting and generous piece about The New-Ark and archival film recovery just this very morning.

Anyway, it was wonderful to use my blogging about Newark on film as a springboard to an actual event, and to see such a sizable and engaged turnout for the film. I suppose it’s back into utter blog-obscurity for me now, but here’s my best effort to capture the feel of the screening:

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Oh, and a big ummmmm/LOLwut:

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premiere of the lost Amiri Baraka film The New-Ark (1968) at Rutgers-Newark, Tuesday, April 22!

Here is something I’m very excited about: next Tuesday, April 22, we’ll be premiering the restored version of Amiri Baraka’s The New-Ark (which he wrote and directed as LeRoi Jones), at Rutgers-Newark:

The New-Ark_Flyer

The New-Ark had been almost entirely forgotten until Lars Lierow discussed it in his recent Black Camera article about lost Black Arts filmmaking (even Baraka himself, so far as I can tell, made but a passing parenthetical reference to it in his autobiography). The only known print in existence is at Harvard Film Archive, in the collection of cinematographer James Hinton.

Here are some glimpses from it (courtesy the James E. Hinton Collection, Harvard Film Archive, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University):

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I’ve been doing some archival digging on the film, because I’ll be introducing it with some brief comments about Baraka’s film work—much of which has gone nearly as overlooked as The New-Ark. The 1967 adaptation of Dutchman (which you can watch on YouTube!) is probably the best-known, but other films, such as the 1971 adaptation of his play Slave, which went under the titles A Fable and Goin’ Down Slow, have completely disappeared (it’s on Temple of Schlock’s well-documented Endangered List, nearly the only source of information on it that I can find).

Until now, The New-Ark has joined that film in utter obscurity, but we’re hoping to help revive its visibility—however untrained as a filmmaker Baraka was, he was one of the very few to film Newark right as Black Power entered city politics (this film depicts the early organizational work of the Committee for a Unified Newark and United Brothers, which would ultimately bear fruit in the 1970 election of Kenneth Gibson, Newark’s first black mayor). As such, any aesthetic shortcomings it may have pale in comparison to its sheer historical value as a rare cinematic documentation of this critical moment in Newark–and African American–history. It also contains valuable footage of Spirit House, the Black Arts headquarters (featured a few years later in Godard’s Pennebaker-edited 1 PM.) Continue reading

I wrote a thing for Salon!

I have not exactly reached a mass audience with my scholarly work (I actually thought maybe my first book would, given the presence of the word “pornography” in the title, but perhaps I just failed at self-promotion, I’m not sure), but when Charles Keating died the other week, it seemed an opportune moment to weigh in.

Keating is remembered primarily for his central role in the Savings & Loan debacles of the 1980s, where he and other unscrupulous financial schemers took advantage of deregulation to defraud tens of thousands of investors (and ultimately, the American public) of billions of dollars. Keating was rightly convicted for his fraudulent activities, though his (reduced, of course) time served was drastically less than it should have been, IMHO.

But I spent a good chunk of my twenties investigating Keating’s earlier career, as the most prominent anti-smut activist in the United States. As founder and leader of Citizens for Decent Literature, he presided over a moral empire from the late 1950s through around the mid-70s, when his interests really shifted toward junk bonds and other shady investment rackets. I’ve written about Keating before, pretty extensively–in Perversion for Profit (named after CDL’s most famous film), in the guest post I did at Temple of Schlock about their lost 1968 anti-Supreme Court film Target Smut, etc.

So this weekend I wrote a piece for Salon about Keating’s moral activism, and how it played a central role in modernizing conservative sexual politics. As a wonky academic, I think I work best in 10,000-word increments, so looking back at it, I can see several places where I’d happily expound further. But altogether, it’s a neat opportunity to reach a wider audience–I’ve even begun receiving my very own troll email, informing me that my piece is a “hatchet job” and helpfully telling me about very relevant things like reapportionment in the 1920s. And for a glorious moment yesterday, there I was, almost right next to Thomas Frank…

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Industrial booster cinema on the brink of post-Fordist dystopia: Camera Eye on New Jersey (1960)

One post begets another, further down the wormhole into the history of Newark’s cinematic representation: investigating John Dunnachie, director of Sightseeing in Newark, led me to this exciting periodical, inside of which was an ad for Henry Charles Motion Picture Studies, where Dunnachie served as VP:

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Camera Eye on New Jersey (Public Service Electric & Gas Co., Newark)” caught my eye. Surely such a marginal film wouldn’t be available anywhere, though, right?

Well, bless Rick Prelinger and his crazy ephemeral-film preservation work, because there it was on the Internet Archive, even looking pretty vibrant.

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Camera Eye (I can’t stop humming Iggy Pop when I think of this title) is mostly an undistinguished, if professionally done, industrial booster film from 1960, with a barebones semi-narrative in which a bunch of corporate dudes get together to discuss the burning question, where should we locate some new plants?

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The answer, of course, is the Jerz: #1 producer of chemical products, 4th in electrical machinery, “fifth in miscellaneous manufacturing,” and high-ranking on a list that drones on a bit interminably. A major selling point is “modern, rapidly growing” Port Newark:

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Continue reading