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!
To my mind, this is a MAJOR film event, and I’m thrilled to be involved–I’ll be moderating the panel, and Troublemakers will screen with its predecessor, the short but remarkable We Got to Live Here (1965), for which the filmmakers shot silent footage, screened it for local residents, and recorded their commentary to use as the narration. Huge props to the Clement A. Price Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience for sponsoring this.
So, this is a knocked-out blog post, but it will be a great screening, and I’d urge people to join us. Here are a few neat archival documents to set the stage—one some NCUP material housed at NYU; another from Jack Hirschfeld, a member of the agitprop documentary Newsreel collective that developed a few years later, and for which Troublemakers was a formative film; and a newspaper clipping from the shoot that I found at Newark Public Library.