Preview: "Regeneration: Black Cinema"
|Melvin Van Peebles, 1971. Photo by Pix/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images|
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures' second big temporary exhibition opens Aug. 21. "Regeneration: Black Cinema, 1898–1971" is a deeply serious though accessible survey evoking the shows MOCA once did, excavating new history from movements that turn out to be utterly relevant to the present moment. Curated by AMMP's Doris Berger and the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery's Rhea L. Comber, "Regeneration" sprawls over 11,000 sf on the museum's fourth floor. This is the space that formerly held "Hayao Miyazaki" (and will feature a John Waters retrospective next year). "Regeneration" is further proof that the Miracle Mile Deathstar isn't just a shrine to movies that win Oscars.
|Installation view with clip of Carmen Jones (1954). Photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures. (c) Academy Museum Foundation|
|Something Good—Negro Kiss (1898) and Glenn Ligon's Double America 2, 2014. Photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures. (c) Academy Museum Foundation|
The exhibition brackets a history spanning a recently rediscovered silent short, Something Good—Negro Kiss (1898) and the blaxploitation classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song (1971). The former plays in the entry gallery. In 20-some seconds vaudevillians Saint Suttle and Gertie Brown meet cute and make a public display of affection. The film was already a parody, referencing Edison's Kiss, with a white couple. Oddly enough, two copies of Something Good are known, from USC and Norway, and they differ in the positions of the two leads.
The doubling is echoed in Glenn Ligon's Double America 2. It's one of a group of contemporary artworks incorporated through the show. These works (which postdate the 1971 terminus of the film objects) at times seem tacked on. The most directly relevant is a Gary Simmons' Balcony Seating Only, based on a period photo of the entrance to a segregated theater.
|Gary Simmons, Balcony Seating Only, 2017. Photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures. (c) Academy Museum Foundation|
|Kara Walker, The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven, 1995. Photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures. (c) Academy Museum Foundation|
A Kara Walker, The End of Uncle Tom and the Grand Allegorical Tableau of Eva in Heaven, was lent by Jeffrey Deitch, no less.
|Race film posters and camera. Photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures. (c) Academy Museum Foundation|
The camera here is from the Norman Film Company, a studio based in Jacksonville, Fla. It produced Regeneration, the 1923 film that supplies the exhibition's title. Black castaways find themselves on a desert island, discover buried treasure, and are rescued. Norman Film advised exhibitors to promote the film by filling their lobbies with sand. Jacksonville's film industry was known for corner-cutting (pulling fire alarms to film fire trucks for free). This led to a backlash against the Jacksonville movie industry and to Norman's demise.
|Music and film gallery. Photo by Joshua White, JW Pictures. (c) Academy Museum Foundation|
|Mills Panoram movie jukebox, about 1939|
|Tap shoes of the Nicholas Brothers (Harold and Fayard)|