Tag Archives: protest art

So Sad When the Daws Pick at a Scarecrow

An appreciation of an Outsider Artist

 Scarecrow A new work 9.26.15

     ________

We are the children of concrete and steel
This is the place where the truth is concealed
This is the time when the lie is revealed
Everything is possible, but nothing is real

Vernon Reid, Type (Living Colour)

Scarecrow5

Running parallel through his arteries is Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Romare Bearden and Andy Warhol. These are his bare bones influences and they helped to liberate what he had held inside.

“Art is my outlet, connection, retreat, my pleasures jumbled with my pain, art is my therapy”.                       – Scarecrow

Crayon Meltdown, 2014

Crayon Meltdown, 2014

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A scarecrow in the traditional sense is a figure made up to resemble a human being set up to frighten crows and other birds away from a field where crops are planted. A scarecrow may be frightening, but it’s not literally dangerous. The same can be said for works of art that exceed the boundaries of our imagination, erase them altogether, or simply remind us that no matter how horrifying the world is – it is our lack of inner vision and reflection that makes it all the more ugly. A bomb destroying a tent of doctors, pregnant women and sick children is loathsome. But to not acknowledge this horror inside of us to begin with is even worse. To turn away, ignore, pretend – is the greatest of sins. And in our times we are all in collusion, we’re all guilty of seeking refuge away from not only the horror but anything that may make us tick and writhe as deeply feeling human beings. Only art can sustain man’s senses and humanity in a rapidly eroding society that is full of aggression and hostility towards all things affirming, conscious, loving, honest, celebratory, and rebellious. The governments of the world no longer need to lift a finger to oppress or imprison: we do this for them – to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters around the world. The tiny moments we don’t are often initiated by taking in a work of art or allowing ourselves to be humbled.

The work of an artist aptly named Scarecrow (Cro Dadi) does both.

*

Cro’s painting A Joyful:

Upon seeing it, I immediately felt that it was as if someone, something, somehow – fell in between the hard resilient lines of a chalk drawing and a tenuous floating dream…What is most compelling about Cro’s work, aside from its seemingly effortless quality (great art is like breathing my wife always reminds me, no matter how dense it always leaves the impression that its creator is one with the work, that they could literally not do anything other than the work itself) is the fact that there is so much going on. But it’s rendered ‘simply’. I use ‘simply’ in the Charles Mingus sense – Mingus always wanted complex aspects of life succinctly reduced into sober and clear notions and feelings, so this way no matter how cacophonous or multitudinous a work of jazz might be, its meaning would always shine through– for the spaces within it would allow light in. Sometimes we don’t see the rationale or the thought behind complex works that may look like a mess to an untrained (or “un-initiated”) eye. But there is a crack in everything as Leonard Cohen tells us. And that is how the light (art) gets in.

These artworks are eternal vistas into a whole other world, a complex web into a deeper understanding of ourselves…

A JOYFUL

Overjoyed

Watercolor

Playground
CRO
ENJOY

A JoyfulFor several months I kept an outsized, zoomed-in rendering of this piece above as a screensaver. Blown up, the flower in the center of the image comes to resemble a strange creature, an insect perhaps, or is it a tragic face awash in water behind bars? It may be sad, but it is not a despairing image. It is an affirming one.  And it is all the more affirming that a living artist created it and that a living artist can still breathe life into a canvas.

Art in general – great art, in particular – always rejuvenates some aspect of the human condition while illuminating the parts we may have forgotten — but when a contemporary living artist who still breathes and sweats on the planet as we all do – manages to cut through the gel that is beginning to harden upon the crust of the zeitgeist – it is something we should celebrate. When art can still give chills it is cause for celebration. Especially since it is wrought by an artist who has not been bought by the establishment or some venal Capitalist gallery whose prime objective is to remove the artist from the very people who initially inspired or understood his work, to begin with.

Scarecrow is an Outsider Artist. Not just because he has no formal training, but because he has, what he creates, what it means to create, and who his audience is. (If you go on online or visit his Facebook page you will be astounded to see the variety of people taken by his work and his fan base is a genuine arsenal of individuals including myself who can only, without blinking an eye, give in to this modest phenomenon that has captured our hearts and minds). He’s an Outsider Artist because his values are outside the realm of corporate art galleries and his reasons for creating have nothing to do with being jaded or cynical. He’s truly independent because (unlike the “Independent Filmmakers” – an innocuous term) he has an and catalogs and sells his own artwork himself, without the bureaucracy or pettiness of a curator or agent. No one has held his hand or tried to broker high-end deals for him at any of the Art Basels. No. That would be beneath him. And while those people give him their money – it is the support of the near-to-the-ground people of all colors and stripes – that Cro’s own network of support has been built upon. And while he is humble about this, it is no small task. The Cro appreciates the people who have taken the time to write him, comment on his artwork, share one of his images, purchase one of his paintings, and gaze into one of his drawings…He does what he does for reasons no NYC gallery or sneering art dealer would ever understand. Artists everywhere should take note and follow his example.

Ever so loud was his silence…

Ever so Loud was his Silence

(October, 2014)

2

There are many creative people on this planet, but very few are artists.  There are many paintings and novels and plays being done — but very few of them are works of art.  There are far too many deluded wanna-be Rappers and Actors. And sadly there are numerous creatures on this planet who have usurped and perverted the term “artist” to such an extent that the real artists no longer want anything to do with “art” or “the arts” for fear of losing themselves, becoming infected by the dilettantes and the culture of irony that has made its mark on our world. (Scarecrow himself has stated that instead of the hackneyed term “artist”, he thinks of himself as a Creative Portal, a conduit in which endless creative expression flows. This intrigues me because if memory serves me right, the great theater director Peter Brook once wrote that even the term “Director” should be replaced by something else, it was not only inaccurate – but a frustrating term to begin with!)

Nevertheless, having something to say is the fundamental ingredient for being an artist, but having a compulsion to express it is what seals your fate.

The Scarecrow is such an artist.

Born in Harlem in 1965, the artist lovingly referred to as Cro Dadi (that’s how he signs his work) – is an autodidact and a self-healing individual who came to art through a burst of pain. In 1997 he had a terrifying brush with death and nearly saw the other side as a result of a car accident. “The torch was lit” as he proclaimed in his Artist’s Statement on Tumblr.

The more he created the healthier he got. And as his health improved, so did his desire…to be…more creative.

Gordon Parks stated it is a ‘choice of weapons’ in what we choose to fight with. Some of us turn to guns, some the Bible, others the instruments of creativity. And Scarecrow himself knows this well. For it was pens, pencils, paint crayons, markers and scissors. And saying it this way – this litany takes on an almost biblical implication. He painted, he drew, he cut, he blurred. And people liked the work and people bought the work. And the curse of the car accident became a blessing, unlocking a well of creativity and vision…giving birth to the Scarecrow: an artist who would defy the demons of his world with a combative and compassionate art.

 A near-twenty year span of creativity consumed him and with every day objects – pens, pencils, paint, crayons, markers and scissors – the Cro expresses the impressions and textures he remembers from his earlier NYC days. The swirls, the dynamic movement, the urban luster of those heady days of Pop Art’s last sigh and Hip-Hops golden age: somewhere in his veins is the pulse of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five and Krs-One. Running parallel through his arteries is Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Romare Bearden and Andy Warhol. These are his bare bones influences and they helped to liberate what he had held inside. Cro Dadi is a prime example of an artist being born out of his responses and unique sensitivity to the stimulants of his environment and the aesthetic responses of a particular atmosphere – which can go on to shape and influence how one filters and sees the world and processes their own experiences internally.

” I never even considered being formally taught about art…just traveling the boroughs of NY exposed me to all that creativity had to offer… My New York experience manifests itself through my art. Abstractly I assign, define and interpret color, shape, line, space and time.” — Scarecrow

                                                     *                                  

LITERARY ACTION PAINTING

What is most interesting to discover is that Scarecrow is actually mostly known for his “conversation peace” collection of collage works and the when the opportunity arises for a live performance, in high volume with inexplicable velocity scarecrow redefines the words Art and Show. After seeing his work or a live performance, Scarecrow really makes you “re reevaluate” that item so common to us all, a pen.                                                               

                                                                                                       — from Tumblr

While I myself have never been blessed to witness one of Scarecrow’s live ‘Art Shows,’ it must be noted that his works have a literary dimension which defies the separation between word and image and which imbues his own artwork with a literal poetic alliance: his titles are poems themselves. And while not actual haikus, they work on the soul in a very similar way. Swift, like jackknives in the air, they are direct without giving up their mystery. The title of one of his masterpieces:

“Start of a sleepless nite
Insomniacs playground”

Insomniacs Playground, 2015

Insomniacs Playground, 2015

instantly sets the tone and mood and yet works so powerfully on its own, simply as a phrase. I quite like how the title itself feels like the mood being expressed. Neurotic lines, a spindled tone. The drawing itself is a black ink orchestra of faces, half-faces, eyes all enmeshed over figures and musical signs, notes, what have you…But even if one were blind, one could appreciate the emotional and intellectual scope of Scarecrow’s work just by hearing one of his title’s read aloud. This endows his work with a different dimension, a new sort of cub-ism in some respects.

“My art is as an act of protest against the preconceived notions of what art is…” — Scarecrow

BLESSED 
TO BE
 
CHOSEN
BY
 
SELECTIVE
ANGELS
THE ONE THEY
PROTECT
AND SOLELY 
BY THEIR HAND
I THUS STAND
BLESSED 
AND 
ERECT
CRO

A New Work, 2015

A New Work, 2015

*

Scarecrow’s works are like the expressions of objects going through crisis or celebrations (he uses “meltdown” in titles as quickly as he’ll inject “playground”); they exist in states of extremes (as all art should, despite the west’s misunderstood alliance with notions of subtlety) and they come alive as nervous breakdowns, epiphanies, psychedelic confessions, and electric rays and squiggles that exist in the night – as if neon signs had exploded into the air and then re-assembled themselves to not advertise for vacancies but partitions of the soul. His art consoles and provokes; it is unapologetically Black American and righteous and it seeks to do many things at once.

Scarecrow’s collages are haunting and literal revelations: they present jagged and ripped shards of paper and the images beneath them. Morphed faces, obscuras, blunted perceptions, crunched-in, pushed-down, crackling stories that announce themselves in an urbane blast of truth. I’ve always seen collages as the city man’s version of the countryman’s wood-carvings. Cro’s collages are more akin to some torn notebook rather than an effete presentation of multi-layered artworks.  In the best tradition of collage art (one of the hardest things to do in my unschooled opinion), Cro gives you a few moods and ideas at once.  Like the best jazz a great deal is implied but the message is quite overt.  There are overriding themes in his collages and of course his texts (which, in case I have not made it clear, are now becoming almost as famous as his paintings themselves) help to define his works and the impulses behind them.

12108754_1049467888418093_3956734314050865179_n

Reflections of a Past Self
“So much blues earned/Without an instrument to play” – Cro Dadi

Pianoless Man, 2014

Pianoless Man, 2014

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Before “recycling” became fashionable Scarecrow, for years, was using found objects as a catalyst for his art…

Some of Scarecrow’s work has a stop-motion effect. His Bo Diddley, collage, for example, proudly proclaiming the rock and roll revolutionary’s evolution from a “nothing into an American something” is a prime example of this near-animation effect.  Everything from the ragged microphone patch to Diddley’s now-iconic cigar box homemade guitar – registers the ‘down home’ tradition of Do-it-yourself-frame-by-frame manual illustrative-filmmaking and a sort of nostalgia that may very soon end up becoming part of the American Establishment’s property.  The Powers That Be – corporations, governments, architects of the New Mass Media Pop Culture Zeitgeist and their offspring who now run museums — will, one day, take all the owned memories of artists such as Bo Diddley and will try to pretend as if rebels like Diddley did not actually create himself.  Success stories are often re-woven by the establishment; but its the artworks created by the outsiders and the underdogs that best cultivate, capture, retain, and reiterate the majesty and importance of men like Bo Diddley.  For only an outlaw artist can pay real homage to an outlaw musician:

BO DIDDLEY
ROCK ROLL SOUL

INNOVATOR

FROM NOTHING 

TO AN AMERICAN

SOMETHING

Bo Diddley, 2013

Bo Diddley, 2013

*

Perhaps Cro’s best works, however, are his seemingly most urgent ones.  A solitary masterpiece like “Insomniacs Playground,” has this quality as well as his pen and ink marker pieces such as “Stained People Through Stained Glass” which has an immediate power and enough for the eye to linger upon repeatedly, allowing Cro’s perception of stained people (the afflicted?) to become ours.

VIEWING 
STAINED
PEOPLE

THROUGH
STAINED
GLASS

Stained People Through Stained Glass [pen, ink, marker, 2015]

Stained People Through Stained Glass [pen, ink, marker, 2015]

I could not help but see the colorful mélange of figures as mangled birds as witnessed through a kaleidoscope.  And this is such an integral part of experiencing and understanding an artwork:  allowing our perceptions to change and then becoming one with the artist’s work. Even if what we see isn’t intended. It’s still a correct assessment of his vision. For when all is said and done, it is myself I learn about when viewing a work of art. Even when I think I’m learning about the creator himself.

*

The artist and his mask

The artist and his mask

________

“Is it 5 o’clock yet?”

SO MANY MOODS AND ATTITUDES INTERTWINED/BUSY IS THE WORKPLACE ENDURING A NINE TO FIVE [Pen ink crayon marker watercolor, 2014]

SO MANY MOODS AND ATTITUDES INTERTWINED/BUSY IS THE WORKPLACE
ENDURING A NINE TO FIVE [Pen ink crayon marker watercolor, 2014]

3

Pen and Ink, 2015

Pen and Ink, 2015                                            

________

 

[On] Dec 31 2015

Scare Cro
will be retiring
from
Visual art

Thank you all for your continued support throughout
With love

There is always something humbling and mysterious when an artist – perhaps even at the peak of their powers – removes himself from the spotlight.  Or respectfully washes his paintbrush and leaves them to dry – and to be doused by someone else. The reasons for retirement can sometimes be as enigmatic as one’s suicide or why people fall in love with the people they do.

But it is also so delicately conscious and generous because when an artist says goodbye – he is letting you know in his own way that he may no longer have much to share with you.  He may have things he wants to express – man will always express – but he may not necessarily share them.  And that’s okay, too of course.  Because he has already given himself to you.  Sometimes an artist needs to keep a piece of himself in his own pocket.

Nervous systems are passed along through every canvas, and there is a time when that must stop. Whether it is because the Artist wants to move on or spend concerted energy on family or raising animals or building a woodshed or feeding the poor or devoting himself to a God in a whole other way or…picking his fingernails.  It doesn’t matter.  Remember Miles Davis retired several times. And his final retirement was due to the fact that he “couldn’t hear the music” inside his head anymore.

*

A new & final phase has begun for the Cro: a harmonious collaboration with Jerry Ray Orr, a fine artist in his own right, proving again that two artists can jointly create a singular piece.  They recently had a successful joint-exhibition in North Carolina (birthplace of Romare Bearden). One of the hardest things to do for a painter or a novelist is to create a work with another artist of the same medium.  Collaboration is much more common and welcomed in music or theater — but the “lonely arts” such as painting or photography or poetry are not as open to collaboration and this is partially based on the dynamic and construct of those arts itself.  The lonely artist, no matter what type, is confessional.  And his pain or joy or struggle is often entirely his own or his own perception or reflection of something outside of him.  He doesn’t need or necessarily want help in transmitting his vision – he simply wants to vomit and be done with it.  Collaboration, however, even when painful is less grief-stricken and assertive if done in the right way.  When it isn’t, wars break out and lives (sometimes literally) can be lost.  It is not child’s play.  And yet – it requires a child’s devotion…to play.

Dynamic Duo: Cro & Orr working eyeball to eyeball…

Dynamic Duo: Cro & Orr working eyeball to eyeball…

As someone who has gratefully accepted his strengths as a collaborator and the desire to work in conjugal with someone I trust (in my case, creating directly with my wife) — I look upon Cro and Orr’s collaborations as signs of love and hope.  Although sleeker than his solo material, this new work is emotionally robust and penetrating and just might even contain more elements than Cro’s solitary pieces; on one hand this is to be expected as Orr brings a new energy – the buzz of the Rastafarians and the texture of pop cosmology of great graphic novels and illustrations.  Their collaborations are thicker, palette almost denser, colors bolder – and it reminds me of both the great children’s books, comic poster art, and some of the classic LP sleeve art of the 1970’s and 1980’s.  And as poorly stated as I have just expressed that, I mean it with all my heart. There is something nostalgic about the new work’s visual muscularity…yet something forward-looking. For it is not mere sentiment or kitsch they are after or concerned with.  It is the four corners of the mind.  They still want to make sure you shed a light on at least one of them…

As we approach
The 31 days of October
Beware of the things…
That go bump in the night

Cro Dadi & Jerry Ray Orr, 2015

Cro Dadi & Jerry Ray Orr, 2015  

*

Cause while Mingus composed it. And Henry Miller wrote it. Nobody drew it…quite like the Cro.

“And when the clown cries, the towel dries/All the smeared blood & crimson lies/Clowns don’t cry. They merely wipe their faces with the colors that dripped & smeared/ the silence left after laughter/Clinging in their eyes.”  – Dennis Leroy Kangalee

One of Cro’s Dalicasso watercolors, 2014

One of Cro’s Dalicasso watercolors, 2014

And with that, good people, I leave you with the Cro’s forever motto:

Like what you like

Share what you love

Be a blessing

Remembering too

That you too

Are truly blessed 

Cro Dadi resides in Orlando, Florida and can be found on Facebook. Please visit his page, explore his art work.  He encourages anyone – anywhere – to reach out and connect.\ https://www.facebook.com/cro.dadi

The Scarecrow himself...[photo: Everett Spruill]

The Scarecrow himself…[photo: Everett Spruill]Prints of are available at

Prints of Things That Go Bump in The Night are available at http://fineartamerica.com

Visit Scarecrow’s Tumblr archive: http://crodadi.tumblr.com/

Listen to the Artist in JB Webb’s Interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBFlKmnkxYU

Lyrics from “Type” by Vernon Reid, from the Living Colour album Time’s Up © 1990         The title for this essay ‘So Sad When the Daws Pick at A Scarecrow’ came from the song “SoHa” by Dennis Leroy Kangalee, © 2011 from the performance poem Gentrified Minds.
© October 15, 2015 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee
Black Rebel Publications/New Poet Cinema, LLC
Nina Fleck, Editor
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I Want to Hear the Sound of Capitalism Dying

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599) by Caravaggio

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1599) by Caravaggio

I want to hear the sound of Capitalism

Dying

As it takes its last breath

I want to hear Angels – not singing

But flapping their wings

As they commemorate the end of a

Wicked carnival

A station-agent’s sunrise

As he tip-toes into a new orange glow

Of possibilities

I want to hear the death rattle

Of the Unconscious

And the shimmer

Of their warped souls

Taking leave of their lovely

But contorted bodies

Hands that could not help

Legs that could not jump

Mouths that could not

Utter words of love

Eyes that could not see

No matter where they looked

I want to hear

The beating

Of hearts

Instead of the vulgar

Clichés

And expected yarns

Of Self-Hatred

And all that makes

The Ghettoes

Glow

With ripe ideas

For a Television series

That will cash in

As it pushes out

All that I’ve sworn to fight against

I want to hear the shovel

Kiss and hug the dirt

Before malevolent coffins

Are lowered in

Just barely deep enough

To be covered

But close enough that the wild dogs

Will have something still

To find

When we have vacated this

Awful experiment

Called the 21st century

I want to hear my lover’s morning stretch

Her smooth sigh

That sends the only real vibrations

I am still able to feel

Straight up my spine

Between the yawling drone of

Ambulances at 1AM

And young women

Who should know better

Cursing

Not like drunken sailors

But the way a 17 year old boy

Might

Convinced

That his mother won’t hear him

I want to hear my darling’s wishes

Not her fears

But the gentle breathe of her desires

Still healthy and fertile

But beginning to show

Just a tiny bit of dust

I want to hear them released

And fulfilled

Instead of a motorcycle

That thinks

My city block

Is a suburban

Parking garage

Or Caribbean Island

I want to hear the sound of Hollywood

Dwindling

Not crashing down

But receding

Slipping into the earth

Like quicksand

Incurring the politicians

To realize that

Their days, too,

Are numbered

I want to hear my thoughts

In a language

Only I can claim

As my own

As the rage in my head

Calms down

And

Numbered like a lithograph

Takes stock of itself

I want to hear the sweet sound of demolition

So I can pray

That the next city

Built

Is one we can

Be proud of

Or one

We gladly

Wait

To rot

*

Originally published on Thomas Vaultonburg’s Outlaw Poetry blog, Zombie Logic.

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My Latest Poem For The Screen: ‘Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World’

And the world is oh so brutal…

“Tubman, Turner, Truth…”

POETRY.  MUDRAS.  MEMORIES.  

Numa Perrier as the 'Awareness Addict' haunted by America's sins...

Rebel internally in order to reconstruct the world externally.

Mesh the words, the worlds, the pain, the laughter…find where the horror lives and exorcise it. But always breathe.

Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World is a whisper in the dark.  A long slow murmur that exemplifies the spiritual condition of being at war with one’s self…and the merciless racism that exists — in past, present, and future tenses.  This film is the interpretation of a poem whose feeling and zone of consciousness is one on its last leg trying to break through the icy surface of all that oppresses.

Click here or on the image below to see the trailer…

New Poet Cinema's new film...

a poem for the screen by Dennis Leroy Kangalee

 

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A Cinematic Protest Returns to the Screen!

Thursday, November 6, 2014 @ 7:00pm!

” The Best Black Film of The Year!”  – Kam Williams, 2002, The NJ Herald

After more than a decade, the 2002 cult classic AS AN ACT OF PROTEST will finally get its Chicago ‘premiere’ at the Studio Movie Grill Chatham Theater, 201 West 87th Street, courtesy of Floyd Webb and Black World Cinema.

A cinematic “line in the sand against racism,” it is provocative, disturbing, and emotionally arresting at times – this is a movie unlike any other made in the early part of the 21st century as it signified a new type of “protest art” within the dramatic arts, linking the political consciousness of 1960’s-1970’s radical theater with the cinematic urgency and simplicity of the “Dogme 95″ Digital Video revolution in world cinema.

Hopefully we can get some folks in the windy city to brave the weather and get a chance to see Dennis Leroy Kangalee’s seldom seen “missile from his youth”!

'As an Act of Protest' design by Benn Starr (2014)

‘As an Act of Protest’ design by Benn Starr (2014)

Thursday, November 6, 2014 at 7pm, Adm. $6.00

Black World Cinema @

Studio Movie Grill Chatham Theater
210 W 87th Street

Additional information:

Click here for video excerpts or more information on the film itself.

Contact: Black World Cinema, 9 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602

Curated by: Floyd Webb, floydwebb@gmail.com

Visit http://aaaopfilm.wordpress.com/screenings/ for more information. 

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Black Film & The Underground Spirit: 3

It all boils down to what is your weapon. If the pen is mightier than the sword, and I do believe it is, directors must respect their talents and their tools…It is very easy and horrifying to kill a man. It is much difficult and courageous to supplant a perversion with a transcendence; the true act of destruction carries the desire to create within it… You can only make a sex, drugs, and rock and roll movie so many ways. Within this barrage of images assaulting you – TV, newspapers, films – the only way to compete and battle America’s freaky web of pop culture, blatant racism, not so blatant racism, and that beast called television is to align your own self behind a series of images, tie them to a missile, and set it off. And if constructed correctly, no matter how small, missiles will destroy.
— from “Towards a Black New Wave & Notes from the Underground,”
(Harlem, August 26, 2000)

The Author, DL Kangalee, NYC, 2004 [photo by Nina Fleck]

The Author, DL Kangalee, NYC, 2004 [photo by Nina Fleck]

([copyright 2000, 2014 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee)

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Black Film & The Underground Spirit: 1

Kangalee by Hallstrom

“…the new breed of American filmmakers need to turn a blind eye to the Reservoir Dogs of the American Beauties and express themselves. Black people will play Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” blast Wu-Tang’s most innovative tracks, and spout the poetry of Amiri Baraka or Sonia Sanchez and yet will still think that a film like “The Best Man” or “Shaft” is good enough for them. I know there are a lot of talented, radical, sensitive people out there. But where are they? Certainly not behind the cameras…”

— from “Towards a Black New Wave & Notes from the Underground,”  (Harlem, August 26, 2000)

 

(c) August 26, 2000; April 14, 2003; August 25, 2014 by Dennis Leroy Kangalee

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Weaving Rugs and Building Floors: Some Pier Paolo Pasolini and Samuel Fuller, But Completely Alessandro

Afghan Hound
Written & Directed by Brian Alessandro

"Afghan Hound" (2010)

“Afghan Hound” (2010)

A New Director has made a powerful motion picture, which is now available to audiences on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Brian Alessandro’s 2010 Afghan Hound opens with a shot of garbage. An indication of the mess that slowly forms when a white American war veteran and an Afghani carpet weaver’s lives intersect. Although understandably perceived as a film about a PTSD and a Vet’s struggle to come to grips with the horror he inflicted in Afghanistan at the start of America’s invasion shortly after September 11, 2001 — the film is less a portrait of PTSD and more an illustration of the warped relationship America and historic white racism have with the Oppressed and colonized. It is set in the here and now, within the fray of the 21st century circus and the themes of white guilt, war crimes (an oxymoron if there ever was one), revenge, and punishment could be applied to just about any time period in modern man’s consciousness. Chris Leeds (Adam M. Griffith in an impressive performance) is a veteran trying to resolve and accept the horror he inflicted and experienced as a soldier in Afghanistan. He is reflective, introverted, and fragile when we meet him and yet at least he seems to be able to support himself – he’s a carpenter. And while he may not be Jewish, he is a Catholic and the suffering he must endure is rite of passage ritual into a state of grace. He is 33, like Christ was when he was crucified. Although it is not a primary aspect of the film, it is wholly un-subtle. Is Alessandro implying that Americans (i.e. “white people”) must suffer to the depths in order somehow be reborn, be cleansed, be…treated for their institutional philosophy of militancy and imperialism? Whether at home or abroad, white America has its nose in everything and dictates to everyone under the sun. Except to itself.

Enter: Zemar – spookily interpreted by Lavrenti Lopes. Zemar is the Afghanistan-American (he grew up in Flushing) who initially befriends Chris (they swap trades, Zemar teaches Chris about rug weaving, who in turn gets lessons in carpentry). Their exchange of energies and ideas is affirmative and creative as they both build things…and yet, as Zemar reminds us: “Everything begins with philosophy.” Which, of course, means that there is an inherent idea behind any organized act or decision. And how we render those actions is based on ones philosophy. It is quite clear that the director wanted it to be known that America’s treatment of “the other” and its own soldiers – is quite a conscious act.

I wrote earlier that Afghan Hound is not really about PTSD in my opinion – as that skirts the issue. It is about the recognition of guilt and admission of sin. And how a white man willingly accepts his punishment – even if only it allows him to feel something stable and “real.” This is no coincidence or something to be taken lightly. The white man – cut off from his own center, his own “soul” as it were must always go to the “natives” to feel something. He must always be led, taught, entertained, or forgiven by a person of color in order to be free of his burden, his shame. He has been going to the black man for his music for centuries now – because it enables him to feel. But what he can’t seem to do is actually forgive himself. People of color throughout the world do nothing but forgive. It’s not that the colonized don’t know who they are — it is perhaps that the colonizer doesn’t know or can’t admit who he is. And the Chris Leeds of the world wouldn’t know where or how to begin to forgive…themselves. Their world is too unstable.

In one of the film’s most genuinely moving scenes, Chris announces to his friends and family — after imploring them for their American nationalism in which he excoriates everything from the A Bomb to Britney Spears – “at least the sunset is trustworthy.” He knows it’s the only thing man can rely on, the one constant that may never change and it is an emotional sunset or sunrise that he needs, he needs something to lean against that he can rely on. Zemar becomes his sunset.

It is when Zemar begins pursuing revenge on Chris that the film takes a surrealistically absurd turn. Alessandro powerfully crafts elements of Sam Fuller and Pasolini into what emerges as a kind of delicate ‘Theater of Torture’ – all executed and inflicted by Zemar who shows himself to be quite the guerilla sadist. And this is the power of Alessandro’s directing – he expresses the terrifying fact that even the oppressed’s ability to enact a reasonable or rational act of revenge – has been corrupted!

Maya Angelou once wrote that she did not believe that blacks would treat whites the same if they were in positions of power and if their roles in western society had been reversed. She wrote this in reference to Jean Genet’s play “The Blacks” (which she appeared in originally) and while she may or may not be right, in the case of Afghan Hound – revenge is something Chris wants Zemar to have and, once again like a good sacrificial lamb – he offers himself and exposes himself to Zemar’s bizarre, yet benign, S&M fantasies (the scene where Zemar rubs his hands over Chris’ combat uniform as if to indicate the homo-eroticism of Fascist military fatigues is excellent). Zemar wants this white imperialist to suffer, to be punished, to be abused…and yet for all the debasing he does – it is Zemar who comes off appearing more warped than Chris, thereby endowing Chris with more sensitivity, almost in a strange way letting him (the white audience) off the hook, since the empathy is given more to him than to Zemar. If there is a criticism I have of Afghan Hound it is that.

Lopes bothered me half way into the film, he was too cocky and his cat like prancing was off-putting at first. I also was uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons. As an African-American, I was delighted to see another man of color play a role that was complex and off-kilter. However, the “bitchiness” of the character bothered me, and at times bordered on a strange shifty eyed Arab stereotype via Peter Lorre – and yet in the last 10 minutes of the film Lopes finds a way of redeeming Zemar – not as a person – but as a character in the film. Because no matter no matter how “true to life” some movies’ people seem – one must not forget we are watching characters. And behind every character…is a philosophy.

Griffith did well as Chris – it’s a role Viggo Mortensen would’ve craved had he been 25 years younger. Griffith is a better actor, but there were times I did not believe his brooding. It would have been even more powerful if Griffith was more like his delusional white friends and had still been PRO-America and then gradually lost himself in Zemar’s Velvet Underground revenge games – discovering his own status as a racist imperialist and as a ‘pawn in the game’ but these are minor points and only ones I speak of in order to be fair and honorable to the film. To not be tough on a tough movie would be to dishonor it. And all works of art are flawed. It’s just that there are times when the artist must speak to his fellow artist and tell him exactly how his work stirred him and what questions it prompted. That’s how we all grow. It took great courage and talent to make Afghan Hound. For all his absurd “spiritual suffering” ethos, Scorsese couldn’t do it (he lacks the courage – plus he’s too busy making sure DiCaprio is brushing his teeth or God knows what) and neither could Aronofsky or any other establishment director who supposed to be known for taking risks and being honest.

American cinema does mirror the American society in that it is a socio-pathic, self-aggrandizing world that does little to change, challenge, or reflect on our history, mores, and accepted values. For this alone, Alessandro must be commended.

Final Note: Brian Alessandro’s use of wide-angle masters and subtle shifts in acting styles (look at the white American family the movie with that of the Afghani family, even the styles – within the perceived Naturalism – is different!) is effective and bristle with tension and a strange un-reconciled understanding. I am not sure how he achieved some of the things he did (which I am grateful for) but I know his work beckons repeated viewings and I hope he is a director who will continue to make honest and penetrating films.

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Flowers for Gunn: Remembering an Outlaw Artist

If John O. Killens was the soldier of darkness, James Baldwin the prophet of darkness, then Bill Gunn was the prince of darkness…
– Ishmael Reed, Airing Dirty Laundry (1990)

Bill Gunn: A revolutionary writer & filmmaker

Bill Gunn: A revolutionary writer & filmmaker



After reading Tambay Obenson’s reaction to Spike Lee’s vampire film, Da Blood of Jesus, a part of me sighed in accordance with Obenson’s exasperation as he simply implored audiences to just see Ganja & Hess instead.

Obenson is one of the most honest and dynamic critics and supporters of independent filmmakers, especially Black filmmakers, that I have ever read. He does not mince words and he expects a lot from filmmakers. His honesty is refreshing.

I have not seen Da Blood of Jesus and I doubt if I will for some time. I already wrote last month when I went public with development plans for Octavia that I felt it was odd that Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee had both released vampire films as I was just about to start one. I thought I might have gone the way of “fashion.” But of course I realized that vampire films and vampires themselves are as different to dramatists as the gangster or romance genre might be. Everyone has their own idea of vampirism and what that could mean. And that’s a good thing.

However, I write this because Obenson knows cinema and he’s right to acknowledge one of the greatest films ever made: Ganja & Hess. A film so overlooked that most people are unfamiliar with it, and the ones that are think its some exploitation film. These people are shocked to hear its back-story that, already, has accrued a mythic status. And I’m often perplexed as to why more filmmakers don’t reference him or acknowledge his contributions publicly. What’s even more shocking is that Lee’s Blood is a remake of Gunn’s masterpiece and I find this all the more confounding. Instead of remaking a haunting delicate film into a virtuosic, ironic “art film,” why not simply acknowledge the original? Is a remake necessary? Spike Lee would have done us all a favor if he had simply written a monograph on Ganja & Hess and called it a day. The world needs to know more about Bill Gunn. And if artists want to pay homage to the masters, we should express what we know about life as opposed to cinema – and that would be enough…All the great masters express and teach us what they themselves know about life. And that’s what Gunn did.

Bill Gunn was a triple threat – an actor, writer, and a director. Chiz Schultz was familiar with Bill Gunn’s work,(he had written Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, for instance) and he produced Ganja & Hess in 1972 for a small amount of money. Gunn wrote a “double script” which led Kelly-Jordan distributors to believe he was making a “blaxploitation” picture — but instead made his own personal film. He was not out to “sell” blackness or capitulate to stereotypes for a buck. He wanted to make his own “cinematic poem.” One must understand the sheer guts it took to do this, to play the “spook who sat by the door” and say “yes, yes, yes” to the money men and run off and make a serious work of art that did not care or concern itself with any of the commercial interests of the filmmaking business enterprise. That’s righteous!

When Kelly-Jordan requested an exploitive commercial re-cut Gunn threw a chair through the window leading Kelly-Jordan to call him “crazy.” Gunn quipped, “I have more craziness in the top draw of my bureau than you will ever imagine.”

Now that took balls. If a white man had done that, they’d have branded him “passionate.” Because it was an African-American – a brilliant one at that – they had to dub him “crazy.”

Well, I always felt at home with Gunn’s fervent vision and his idiosyncratic approach to writing and directing. He is another example that filmmakers must be personal and unique in the way that a musician or painter is.

Directors Haile Gerima and Mario Van Peebles gave me permission to be angry and politically upfront, the absurdist Wendell B. Harris inspired me to be cerebral, but it was the “The Mighty Gunn” who affirmed my aversion to orthodoxy, who inspired my work to reflect the non-linearity, the odd rhythm, the surreal tones of life’s phases (past, present, and future), and who made me realize that a vampire film does not have to be sensational. Like Antonin Artaud, Bill Gunn knew the horror is not what is imagined, but in what is real. And Gunn’s vampire film is horrifying because of the layers and themes it weaves and does not resolve – colonization, cultural displacement, addiction, etc. Bill Gunn inspired a legion of underground and avant-garde painters and dramatists to be as strange as they actually were. The freedom in that alone is revolutionary. And quite dangerous to the Powers That Be since no system has been as aggressive in their approach to homogenize black artists as much as Hollywood.

I can immediately see how Ishmael Reed (who published Bill’s work and produced his Personal Problems) and Gunn may have connected as artists – as they both eschew rules and are informed by a multitude of things, bearing a collage aspect to their work. It was this that I always identified with as an artist and in the case of Gunn – his unabashed mixing of the impenetrable with the aggressively obvious. It was as if he blew his trumpet and muted at the same time. Those tones not only resonate within Ganja & Hess a film that will leave you haunted well after having watched it (even if you don’t like it) but are also implicated in his writing. After all, the man was a poet of the theater. I encourage everyone to read his brilliant “Rhinestone Sharecropping,” a chilling, Kafka-esque account of a black screenwriter’s experience in Hollywood and the hell that swallows him up. The actual ‘vampires’ in Bill Gunn’s book are the rich gangsters who of course don’t view themselves as racist and are quick to drain the artist of his soul and integrity. They need soul and integrity to suck on…because they don’t have any of their own.

My vampire film shall be quite different, as it should be, but I hope it bears the uniqueness and honesty that Gunn’s brought forth. My vampire is an outcast, a marginalized “alien” caught in between her past and future, as well as America’s. My vampires are artists – some are even literal artists. But they are all sensitive – almost too sensitive. And there is no blood that can sustain them. For man’s blood is tainted. Including Jesus’. And there is nothing to be addicted to – except truth. And that is what ultimately kills.

The fact that punk music as an artistic ethos plays a part in my work is no coincidence. All those who dare to be honest and to be themselves are “punk.” And Bill Gunn was creating his crowning achievements with the actual rise of punk and hip-hop; the first known black punk band Death were recording only two years after Ganja & Hess had been made. And Gunn died at the end of the 1980’s – when Hollywood’s Suits had already returned with a vengeance against all of the creativity set forth even by their own “establishment” pop star directors like Warren Beatty and Francis Ford Coppola nearly a decade before. (The Empire did, in fact, strike back didn’t it?)

In memory of Bill Gunn, I post this remarkable letter written to the NY Times in 1973 as he was defending his art and trying to teach a few lessons in the process. Of course they probably had no idea why he was so “ornery” and they probably smirked and called him “just another bitter crazy black man.” And of course not even the great liberal East Coast critics could admit that THE ONLY AMERICAN FILM SHOWN IN CRITICS WEEK AT CANNES IN 1973 WAS “GANJA & HESS.” (Not other classics like Mean Streets. Not Serpico. But Ganja & Hess. Now that says something!)

I’m not shocked. Of course they labeled him “crazy.”
Somehow they don’t, and never will, understand not only the Black consciousness of the Diaspora, but the genius inherent in a handful of living artists. Why? Very simple: the establishment prefers their artists dead.

I love you Bill.

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This is the text of a famous letter sent to the NY Times from Bill Gunn in 1973. Gunn was the legendary director of the cult classic “Ganja & Hess”, “Stop,” and the post-modern domestic drama “Personal Problems.”

To the Editor: (NY Times)

There are times when the white critic must sit down and listen. If he cannot listen and learn, then he must not concern himself with black creativity.
A children’s story I wrote speaks of a black male child that dreamed of a strong white golden haired prince who would come and save him from being black. He came, and as time passed and the relationship moved forward, it was discovered that indeed the black child was the prince and he had saved himself from being white. That, too, is possible.

I have always tried to imagine the producers waiting anxiously for the black reviewers’ opinions of “The Sound of Music” or “A Clockwork Orange.”
I want to say that it is a terrible thing to be a black artist in this country – for reasons too private to expose to the arrogance of white criticism.
One white critic left my film “Ganja and Hess,” after 20 minutes and reviewed the entire film. Another was to see three films in one day and review them all. This is a crime.

Three years of three different people’s lives grades in one afternoon by a complete stranger to the artist and to the culture. A.H. Weiler states in his review of “Ganja and Hess” that a doctor of anthropology killed his assistant and is infected by a blood disease and becomes immortal. But this is not so, Mr. Weiler, the assistant committed suicide. I know this film does not address you, but in that auditorium you might have heard more than you were able to over the sounds of your own voice. Another critic wondered where was the race problem. If he looks closely, he will find it in his own review.

If I were white, I would probably be called “fresh and different. If I were European, “Ganja and Hess” might be “that little film you must see.” Because I am black, do not even deserve the pride that one American feels for another when he discovers that a fellow countryman’s film has been selected as the only American film to be shown during “Critic’s Week” at the Cannes Film Festival, May 1973. Not one white critic from any of the major newspapers even mentioned it.

I am very proud of my ancestors in “Ganja and Hess.” They worked hard, with a dedication to their art and race that is obviously foreign to the critics. I want to thank them and my black sisters and brothers who have expressed only gratitude and love for my effort.

When I first came into the “theatre,” black women who were actresses were referred to as “great gals” by white directors and critics. Marlene Clark, one of the most beautiful women and actresses I have ever known, was referred to as a “brown-skinned looker” (New York Post). That kind of disrespect could not have been cultivated in 110 minutes. It must have taken a good 250 years.

Your newspapers and critics must realize that they are controlling black theater and film creativity with white criticism. Maybe if the black film craze continues, the white press might even find it necessary to employ black criticism. But if you can stop the craze in its tracks, maybe that won’t be necessary.

Bill Gunn
Author and director of “Ganja and Hess”
New York, 1973

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Limits of the Imagination…

An actor who auditioned for my latest film Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire just balked at our offer to participate in the film (I offered a part!) The actor interrogated my partner: “How much and when will I get paid?  What are you shooting with?  And what do you intend to do with the film after its made?”

We wanted to reply to this lost soul:

“We’ll pay you what that silly television show paid you to shake your ass for a bunch of rich gangsters in “cool” 1920’s gear. Sound good?  We’re shooting with AK-47’s (we no longer believe in cameras). And we intend to hide the film in an insane asylum until it burns down and someone can find it in 50 years.”

I have no idea what has happened to the Actor.  There is a strange new breed of actors that have come of age in the new millennium, actors reared on proxy, business kits, the internet, American Idol, and marketing showcases.  Actors have always been a strange, insecure, odd breed of artists.  They are, actually, the odd man out even among artists themselves – because their art is inextricably bound up with social systems, the zeitgeist, the ebb and flow of capitalism and getting ahead, etc.  And I understand this.  It is a harsh world and one must be crazy to be an actor.  The rejection, the disappointment, the nutjobs who manhandle your career, the evil back-stabbers who thwart a good audition, the jealous types who make sure you never get a good role or opportunity — I know it happens.  I’ve seen it.  I’ve experienced it.  But that’s also why I stepped back and away from the tide of Show Business and why, at the tender early age of 21, decided completely that mainstream Entertainment Industrial complex wasn’t for me.

I have no tolerance for actors who aren’t artists and I really don’t know what to say to actors who actually care about Hollywood.  I look and crave for the actor who wants and NEEDS to act – to save his or her soul.  Not to feed a mortgage or dignify his parents greed or justify their own egotistical cravings.

I have swept floors and worked in warehouses in 100 degree weather in the middle of New Jersey to feed my own habit as an artist and to ensure that I could remain true to myself.  I don’t judge others who do what they have to do – either for money or for the proclivities of their soul — but I cannot for the life of me understand the sad pathetic insulting requisitions and inquiries made by actors who APPROACHED ME and submitted to our ULTRA-LOW BUDGET SAG film only to try to play “Mr Hollywood Big-Shot” when we offered them a part.  

For all you lost in the wilderness:

I am Dennis Leroy Kangalee.  I am not Darren Aronofsky.  I am not Steve McQueen.  I am not Kelly Reichardt.  I do not say this to disparage these talented individuals, I say this to clarify:  even if I had the support and access to money that they do, I’d still make my films the way I have always approached cinema and theater and I would still be only concerned with expressing my own madness and trying to find some peace within.

Actors are emotional athletes.  They should not be Corporate Soldiers.  If your concern is “what camera” a director is shooting with and NOT about the character or the ideas of the director, etc – then something is wrong with you.

There is utter transparency with my work, my reputation as someone who has NEVER EVER sold out, bought in, copped out, or stood down. I’ve had my work screened in Burkina Faso, Paris, Berlin, and New Orleans when the establishment at the NY TIMES refused to acknowledge my work or that of any other ‘African American art’-filmmaker’s work. I am a man who has wiped down counters and cleaned fridges in order to pay my actors, musicians, etc.  And I am proud of that.  And I take great offense when I post what kind of union film this is (they are even lucky I am dealing with a such a corrupt organization such as SAG), and yet get treated like my work is not as “important” as the mainstream independents’ is.  My work is actually more important. And, frankly, we need directors and writers and actors and producers who challenge ALL status-quos and try to make films that are less like a real estate deal…and more like a poem. Here’s my suggestion: When you walk into an audition and ask Spike Lee or Martin Scorsese what they intend to do with their films and get a response, then I’ll reconsider my righteousness.

But only a little.

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