Here’s the truth: this is my fifth post this week. We only did our Criterion Month draft a week before this marathon started. I’m lazy (in general, but especially when it comes to watching good, complicated movies). There was basically no chance Daughters of the Dust was going to get anything but one of my signature late night hot take. Which was frustrating when I went to watch it earlier tonight, as I was so hyped up by how often it and producer-writer-director Julie Dash came up in my research into the other movies I covered this month. It became maddening when the credits finally rolled and I discovered this is exactly the type of film that demands you spend some time dwelling on it. But it’s already after midnight and there’s nothing I can do, so here’s my ill-advised first impressions of Daughters of the Dust.
And I thought it was hard to avoid comparing Bless Their Little Hearts to Bicycle Thieves! Sidewalk Stories has so much in common with Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid it might as well be a remake. Both are silent black and white movies about a lovable but destitute man whose life changes for the better when he takes responsibility for an abandoned child. The nearly 70 years between these movies did create some gulfs that differentiate them, but the joy both bring seems a bit more universal.
One of my favorite Letterboxd reviews is Filmspotting producer Sam Van Hallgren’s blurb on the 2017 horse drama Lean on Pete. It’s barely more than a sentence: “You’re either the kind of movie person who doesn’t mind waiting around a couple of hours for a kid to burst into tears – or you’re not. Simple as that.” Without providing any details or real spoilers, he told me everything I needed to know about the experience of watching that movie. So I am proud to follow in that tradition with Bless Their Little Hearts: Either you’re the kind of person who can wait an hour for a couple to have an explosive fight – or you’re not.
Like so many of the movies I’m writing about this month, Cane River is unique and ahead of its time and was so close to being a big deal, but ended up being lost for decades. Its easy to imagine an alternate reality where a movie about a Romeo and Juliet-esque forbidden romance deeply steeped in an interesting, under-explored part of American history from a Black director and cast and crew could have set the world on fire. Indeed, it sounds like Cane River was a hit in its few screenings in 1982, when taste makers like Richard Pryor and Roger Ebert raved about the film. But writer-director Horace B. Jenkins’ sudden death put a stop to Cane River‘s planned 1983 release, turning this potential landmark into myth until it was restored earlier this year.
I’m happy to bring our weekend of women directors to a close with Kathleen Collins, a trailblazer whose second film, Losing Ground, is considered to be the first feature-length movie directed by an African American woman. Although that credential is somewhat debated, as some point to directors of the silent era while others say it was the commercial distribution of Daughters of the Dust (which I’ll get to in a few days) that made Julie Dash the one to finally brake that glass ceiling, nonetheless it is obvious and irrefutable that Collins had an immense talent and her career was cut tragically short.
A jazzy Miles Davis score rolls out over Central Park, where a husband chases after a wife. When they meet, they continue an argument they were already having: she accuses him of not loving her, of forcing her to have many abortions, of being gay. The exact location, as well and the man and woman, change as we see this same fight play out again and again. Different places, different people, different camera angles, same argument. This is “Over the Cliff,” the film within a film within Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, a truly bizarre and exciting cinematic experiment from William Greaves.
“For me, France is the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and my bedroom.” Those lamentations of Diouana (M’Bissine Thérèse Diop) resonate in the entirely new context of 2020, as we’ve all been sheltering in place for more than four months now. Personally, this COVID mess started shortly after I got my own apartment for the first time and started trying to branch out and become a better person. Instead, a global pandemic and a bridge failing have left me feeling as isolated as I’ve ever been, my worst fears of living alone not only realized, but exceeded far more than I had thought possible. I wasn’t expecting to find a movie that so completely captured this vibe, but the 1966 French/Senegalese film Black Girl might just be the film for this moment.