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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Filmmaking > African American > A Century Of Black Cinema

A Century Of Black Cinema


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: B



In recent years, the early, hidden years of African Americans in cinema have found themselves being rediscovered, uncovered, restored, and debated in a whole new light.  Though it covers it early on, the two-part A Century Of Black Cinema (1997) is a very well-rounded, entertaining, and loaded with great trailers, behind-the-scenes footage and film clips.  You also get exceptional interviews done especially for this program.


After the early, alternate Black cinema is covered, the program goes full swing into the specific presence (especially lack thereof) in the actual Hollywood studio system.  It begins with the many problems of the films of D.W. Griffith, continues with films before and after Gone With The Wind, then figures in the effect of the rise of Rock Music and the Civil Rights movements and how TV responded.


Just based on the purely mechanical, referential cinematic content alone, this is a great collection that copyrights will not allow us to see too often anymore.  Also, some of the stars here have become even more popular, successful, and hit even newer artistic highs.  Add all the people who are discussed and contribute vital information and you have a solid archival DVD.


The best part of this involves films that have been too forgotten, namely daring films that are already getting some revisionist thinking like Richard Fleischer’s Mandingo (1975) and the interesting Horror genre contributions and appearances (though they missed Ganja & Hess).  When all is said and done, you realize how vital African American contributions to cinema (outside of whatever was highjacked and both parts skip that type of analysis) were.


The image is a mix of color and monochrome, with some letterboxing of film materials towards the end of Part Two.  Otherwise, this is a full screen presentation and some of the film footage starting in the mid-1950s is not letterboxed correctly, but that is typical of all such documentaries, because many film prints used for promotion (especially on TV) were often disregarding of such accuracy.  That is also the norm for most of TV history.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound is essentially monophonic, though later films were multi-channel by the 1950s!  The audio is fine for a documentary and there is never a problem understanding spoken words.  There are no extras, but the two-parts are so packed with information, it will not matter as much.


The result is one of the most well-rounded programs about the slow, long road to success and glory in the cinema.  It also proves how undervalued and influential African American contributions to film have been beyond explicit revival interest spurred on so well by Quentin Tarantino.  A Century Of Black Cinema is great history at its most entertaining.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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