“Here ’tis, Mama’s Favorite 285 lbs of Jam, Jive and Everything!”ūüé∂

Fats suffer

Fats Waller 

(May 21, 1904 – December 15, 1943)

The title sums it up. “Jam, Jive and Everything!.” ¬†Thomas Wright “Fats” Waller is one of the most charming, talented and prolific artists to ever tickle the ivories of a¬†stride piano.

We share a birthday РMay 21st.  His last recording session was in Detroit, Michigan Рhome of my birth. I guess it was destiny that his music and spirit would come to bring me such joy!

What excites me about Fats?

When I was a kid and first saw the groundbreaking musical Stormy Weather (1943) I was familiar with its star Lena Horne because my father loved him some Miss Lena. But for me, the wonderful surprise of the film was Fats Waller.

Fats Waller and Lena Horne

When you see him you’re totally invested. ¬†His personality jumps off the screen. ¬†People talk about presence. ¬†Fats created “presence!”

Fats is credited with advancing the musical style – stride piano. ¬†Although known for his two most famous compositions: ¬†“Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, he penned many more uncredited hits such as “I Can’t Give You Anything but love, Baby” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street”.

Waller copyrighted over 400 songs and began his professional career as a pianist at the age of 15, working in cabarets and theaters.

His life and artistry became the Broadway musical revue “Ain’t Misbehavin‘ produced in 1978. ¬†(The show and star Nell Carter won Tony Awards.)

Aintmisbehavin

Recordings of Fats Waller were inducted into the¬†Grammy Hall of Fame¬†which is a special¬†Grammy Award¬†established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have “qualitative or historical significance”.

 

Here ’tis, a tribute to Fats’ brilliance¬†and charm:

 

Fats Waller – Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Stormy Weather (1943)

 

This song cracks me up!

Fats Waller – Your Feet’s Too Big! (1936)

 

Fats Waller – Honeysuckle Rose (1929)

 

Thanks, Fats for the jam, jive, and everything!

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A Century of Black Filmmakersūüéě

PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA

Directed by Richard Norman, Richard Maurice, Spencer Williams and Oscar Micheaux

This collection of the works of America’s legendary first African-American filmmakers is the only one of its kind. Funded in part by a highly successful Kickstarter campaign, the packaged set includes no fewer than a dozen feature-length films and nearly twice as many shorts and rare fragments. Subject matter includes race issues that went unaddressed by Hollywood for decades.

Spencer Williams Films

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Spencer Williams

Spencer Williams (July 14, 1893 ‚Äď December 13, 1969) was an American actor and filmmaker. He was best known for playing Andy in the Amos ‘n Andy¬†television show and for directing the 1941 race film “The Blood of Jesus”. Williams was a pioneer African-American film producer and director.¬†(Wikipedia)

The Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection includes new digital restorations of over a dozen feature films, plus shorts, fragments, trailers, documentary footage, archival interviews, and audio recordings.

This clip is a scene from Richard Maurice’s ELEVEN P.M. (circa 1928). It is regarded by historian Henry T. Sampson as one of the most outstanding black films of the silent era and is Maurice’s second and only surviving film.

Eleven P. M is one of more than a dozen feature films showcased in Kino Lorber’s five-disc collection PIONEERS OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN CINEMA, now available at KinoLorber.com and Amazon.com. Music is by Rob Gal. Mastered from 35mm film elements preserved by the Library of Congress.

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Oscar Micheaux

Oscar Devereaux Micheaux¬†(January 2, 1884 ‚Äď March 25, 1951) was an African American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 films. Although the short-lived Micheaux Book & Film Company produced some films, he is regarded as the first major African-American feature filmmaker, the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the 20th century¬†and the most prominent producer of race films.¬†He produced both silent films and sound films when the industry changed to incorporate speaking actors. (Wikipedia)

These films and filmmakers deserve to be remembered, honored and explored. Their contributions play a significant role in the development of the American cinema.

For more on the history of African-American Cinema:

 

Jesus Christ Superstar 1973

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The film, Jesus Christ Superstar opened on August 15, 1973, and was just as controversial as the stage production in October 1971. Even though some thought it to be sacrilegious, I found the experience to be both moving and thought-provoking for a whole new generation.

In the 1970’s generations were challenged to reimagine religious and cultural themes. Hair, Godspell, and Jesus Christ Superstar productions were revolutionary ideas but they opened the eyes of a whole new audience and have stood the test of time.

As an 18-year-old, these films spoke to me as refreshing, breaking down barriers; bringing Jesus out from the pages of the Bible to visualize him as a real man who walked the streets and felt all the pain and emotions we can all relate to. In that way, I thought the film was immensely powerful!

Jesus Christ Superstar brought Jesus to life in a way I’d never seen. And, it emphasized the fact that the story of Christ was just as relevant as ever.

This American musical drama film was directed by Norman Jewison and co-written by Jewison and Melvyn Bragg and based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera of the same name.

The film, featuring a cast of Ted Neeley, Carl Anderson, Yvonne Elliman, Barry Dennen, Bob Bingham, and Kurt Yaghjian, centers on the conflict between Judas and Jesus during the week before the crucifixion of Jesus. (Wikipedia)

Neeley and Anderson were nominated for two Golden Globe Awards in 1974 for their portrayals of Jesus and Judas, respectively. Although it attracted criticism from some religious groups, reviews for the film were positive.

I’m looking forward to the NBC live¬†production with John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and Alice Cooper Easter Sunday night.

Wonder what the reaction will be to this updated version.

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas: Hark the Herald Angels Singūüėá ūüĆ≤

charlie brown christmas

Premiered December 9, 1965

A Charlie Brown Christmas will always have a special place in my heart for its honesty, faith, humor, and appreciation of a child’s intelligence. I’ve watched every year since its premiere in 1965. I fell in love with Charlie and the Peanuts gang, relating to the familial relationships we all had as children.

 

charlie brown

Charlie’s sad little Christmas Tree

Charlie Brown is the quintessential “nice guy.” Sweet, awkward and sincere. All the traits that guarantee a life of hell for an 8-year-old boy on the playground. In this musical special, Charlie is depressed about the commercialism of Christmas and seeks ways to enjoy the true meaning of the season; the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Charlie confides his feelings to his best friend Linus who’s also sweet, but also philosophical.

 

 

After Linus tells him to stop being so ” Charlie Brownie,” Chuck seeks the advice of his nemesis Lucy (aka Dr. Lucy). We’ve all had a Lucy in our lives. The kid who takes tremendous pleasure in the humiliation and torture of the sweet, awkward and sincere kid on the block. You know – Charlie Brown.

 

 

Charlie takes Lucy’s advice to become involved in a Christmas project and becomes the play’s director. However, his vision is the complete opposite of Lucy’s vision of becoming the Christmas Queen. (hey, don’t judge; what’s your fantasy?) ¬†The result, my favorite scene:

 

 

OMG!! The dance scene is hilarious. Everybody who’s ever seen this has their favorite dancer. I see myself as one of the twin girls with their head and individual hair strands swinging side to side. They look so happy and diggin’ the groove. I love it! My other fave is the little boy doing what I call the Frankenstein. His arms are out in front of him and he’s doing some sort of “running man” dance move. Go ahead baby, get your dance on!

charlie brown christmas dance

For Charlie, the play’s a disaster. His decision for a Christmas tree being even worse; failing to bring any of the holiday spirit to Charlie Brown.

But ever faithful, his best friend Linus tells him what Christmas is all about and gives the most memorable soliloquy of my young life. (the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2, verses 8 through 14 from the Authorized King James Version)

I was raised in the church and heard this passage before but never in the context of a cartoon or animation. Quoting the bible in this realm was a bold move but is one of the reasons why I have such respect for the creator, Charles Schultz, and this project.

It reminds me, to this day, don’t forget the reason we celebrate Christmas; it’s the birth of Christ.

 

 

Even though Charlie’s day started with doom, gloom, and humiliation (including his dog Snoopy laughing in his face); in the end, he finds joy and empathy from his friends.

Let the choir sing:

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing”

 

 

I raised my children on this timeless classic and they continue the tradition. A Charlie Brown Christmas touches my heart in so many ways. The innocence of childhood, the unbridled excess of commercialism on what is a holy holiday. But also the friendships, experiences, and faith that shapes our lives forever.

 

 A Christmas Miracle РThe Making of a Charlie Brown Christmas

Gratitude of the HeartūüíĚ

The Wizard of Oz (1939) – “There’s No Place Like Home”

 

WIZARD_OF_OZ_ORIGINAL_POSTER_1939

Yes, it’s that time of year again with Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and everyone running around like crazy, gearing up for the big day – Christmas! But, it seems every year when I read about shoppers nearly killing each other over a 12-pack of socks or the last $10 cashmere sweater; my heart sinks with the realization that too many of us forget what the holidays should be about; Gratitude.

To quote author Melody Beattie:

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”¬†

 

A classic film I think¬†represents gratitude and appreciation for what we already have is, “The Wizard of Oz”; it’s overflowing with gratitude! Dorothy (Judy Garland) accompanied by her little dog Toto, leaves home seeking a better place, but her journey becomes a revelation of what home really means.

Dorothy and her compatriots РThe Scarecrow (Ray Bolger), Tin Man (Jack Haley), and The Cowardly Lion (Bert Lahr) wishing to be more than they perceive themselves to be, learn to appreciate their unique gifts. The Great and Powerful Oz (Frank Morgan) realizes the blessing and value of truth and in this case, the truth truly does set him free.

 

¬†It all starts with a wish to be “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and results in unexpected consequences – the terror of being caught up in a twister, inadvertently dropping a house on the sister of the Wicked Witch of the West (oops) and inheriting both the wrath of said Witch (Margaret Hamilton) and a pair of coveted ruby slippers.

 

Sadly, “Over the Rainbow” doesn’t materialize into the idyllic place of which Dorothy sings, her personal vision quest. Dorothy’s longing for home dovetails with the desires of The Scarecrow, Tin man, and The Cowardly Lion. These three, also wishing for what they believe they don’t have – a brain, a heart, and courage – join the quest to the Emerald City to finally have their dreams realized through the power of the omnificent Wizard of Oz.

The trio’s perilous journey to get Dorothy home leads to the self-realization that they possessed the traits they sought all along and didn’t really need the wizard to bestow these attributes upon them.

Dorothy also learns a valuable lesson we all tend to forget, “there’s no place like home” and if we can’t find what we’re looking for there, then we won’t be able to find it anywhere. Home exists within us and it’s our outlook and attitude that dictates whether it’s a black and white existence filled with worries and that ole Gulch “heifer” or a technicolor world filled with musical munchkins and the love of three very special friends.

 

 

 

With Gratitude, we can appreciate and give thanks for the joys and blessings in our lives because the truth is we could be far worse off. My spiritual goal every day is to be mindful and thankful for the bounty which I’ve already received.

 

wizardofozhome

 

Always remember!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Director’s Cut – The Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)ūüéÉūüĆ∑

 

IN THEATERS OCT 29th, OCT 31st

 

Warner Bros. Entertainment Presents

 

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut

Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut

 

Business is bad at Mushnick‚Äôs Flower shop. Shy Seymour and brave Audrey will soon be unemployed. That is until Seymour pricks his finger and a sickly little exotic plant gets its first taste of human blood. The plant spurts ten feet tall. As horticultural interest in ‚ÄúAudrey II‚ÄĚ sprouts, Mushnick‚Äôs business takes off. But fresh blood must be found‚ÄĒand people start disappearing. Love and business bloom at a hilarious yet bloody cost. (Fathom Events)

I’m so excited to see one of my Halloween favorites back on the big screen. And, fascinated to see ¬†Frank Oz‚Äôs restored original dark ending, staying true to the play.

 

 

‚ÄúIt will be very interesting to see if, in this new political and cultural climate, if there will be any association with that, with the plant. Let‚Äôs just say that,‚ÄĚ says Oz. The original ending, he acknowledges, ‚Äúmay still be too dark for people, and I accept that.

It may not be as satisfying emotionally, and I accept that. But on the other hand, the reason ¬†screenwriter Howard Ashman and I wanted it was that it is the Faustian legend. Seymour does have consequences for his actions. We needed to omit those consequences to keep the audience happy, which I agreed with, by the way. I think we had to do it. But now it will be very interesting to see.‚ÄĚ (Yahoo Entertainment)

Fans will not want to miss Little Shop of Horrors: The Director’s Cut, which features the rarely-seen original ending and an exclusive introduction from Frank Oz.

Purchase Tickets here.

 

The 1986 Frank Oz film is a remake of the hit Broadway stage production which was a remake of the 1960 movie.

 

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The original 1960 film was a ¬†black comedy horror film directed by Detroit-born (my hometown) and celebrated¬†B-movie legend, Roger Corman¬†and written by Charles B. Griffith. The film is a farce about an inadequate florist’s assistant (Jonathan Haze) who cultivates a plant that feeds on human flesh and blood.

The film stars Jonathan Haze¬†(Seymour), Jackie Joseph¬†(Audrey), Mel Welles¬†(Mr. Mushnick), and Dick Miller, all of whom had worked for Corman on previous films. Produced under the title “The Passionate People Eater”.¬†It was a lot creepier and darker than either the 1986 film or Broadway production.

 

 

For a true Halloween treat, I highly recommend screening the original! Check out Jack Nicholson in one of his first film roles.

Check out this previous post for background and trivia on the Broadway stage production and the original 1960 film.

 

 

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Happy Halloween!

Before “Cabin in the Sky” – Early Black Films of the 1920’s

 

Believe it or not, I appreciate being corrected and kept on my toes about the facts and details of film history.

Thanks to the observant eye of one of my fabulous readers, I’m making a correction to a previous post about¬†“Cabin in the Sky”. I labeled it as the first all black cast and musical which it was not.

 

 

To make sure of my facts, I did some digging and discovered that the first all black sound film was The Melancholy¬†Dame (1929). An early two-reeler, it starred Evelyn Preer¬†(known for her 1920 role of Sylvia Landry in Oscar Micheaux’s “Within Our Gates”), Roberta Hyson, Edward Thompson, and Spencer Williams.

Spencer Williams was an American actor, writer, director, and producer whose early pioneering work in African-American or “race” films was eclipsed in fame by his role as one of the title characters in the equally pioneering and also controversial 1950s sitcom¬†The Amos ‘n Andy Show¬†(1951). (IMDb)

Directed by Arvid E. Gillstrom, the plot of “The Melancholy Dame” involves a nightclub owner’s wife (Evelyn Preer), jealous of his attentions to his star singer, scheming to get her fired. The look on the wife’s face from the opening frame says it all!

 

I can’t believe I found a copy of the film (20 min.) on YouTube.

The first two full-length films with all black casts were “Hearts in Dixie” (1929) starring Daniel Haynes, Nina Mae McKinney, and Victoria Spivey and “Hallelujah” (1929) which starred Clarence Muse, Stepin’ Fetchit, and Mildred Washington. “Hearts in Dixie” was also the first all black-oriented all-talking film from a major company. (The Chronical History of the Negro in America)

 

“Hearts in Dixie” celebrates African-American music and dance and was released by Fox Film Corporation just months before Hallelujah,¬†produced¬†by¬†competitor¬†Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The director of¬†Hearts in Dixie¬†was¬†Paul Sloane. Walter Weems wrote the screenplay, and¬†William Fox¬†was the producer. (Wikipedia)

“Hearts in Dixie”¬†unfolds as a series of sketches of life among American blacks. It featured characters with dignity, who took action on their own, and who were not slaves.¬†The plot focuses on Grandfather Nappus (Clarence Muse), his daughter, Chloe (Bernice Pilot), her young son, Chinaquapin (Eugene Jackson), and her husband, Gummy (Stepin Fetchit).

To make certain his grandson Chinaquapin does not end up like his father or become tainted by the superstitions that dominate the community, the grandfather decides to send the boy away.

 

“Hallelujah”(1929), was the first all black musical and was directed by King Vidor and produced by MGM studios. It was intended for a general audience and was considered so risky a venture by¬†MGM¬†that they required King Vidor to invest his own salary in the production.

Vidor expressed an interest in “showing the Southern Negro as he is”(whatever that means)¬†and attempted to present a relatively non-stereotyped view of African-American life.

“Hallelujah!”¬†was King Vidor’s first sound film, and combined sound recorded on location and sound recorded post-production in Hollywood.¬†King Vidor was nominated for a Best Director¬†Oscar¬†for the film.

It was the first major studio musical and the first of its kind in Hollywood history.¬†In 2008, “Hallelujah!”¬†was selected for preservation in the United States¬†National Film Registry¬†by the¬†Library of Congress¬†as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

 

Vidor thought the time was right to test the waters of racial tolerance with a tale of sex, murder, religion, and music enacted by a black cast. He also wanted to take advantage of the emerging sound technology that was revolutionizing the film industry.

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These 3 films were some of the first race talkies ever and despite the stereotypes, these films are important as they were made with black actors for black audiences (thus ‘race films’).

African Americans produced films for black audiences as early as 1905, but most race films were produced after 1915. As many as 500 race films were produced in the United States between 1915 and 1952. As happened later with the early black sitcoms on television, race movies were most often financed by white-owned companies, such as Leo Popkin, and scripted and directed by whites, although one producer, Alfred N. Sack, made some films written and directed by black talent such as Spencer Williams (actor).

 

Many race films were produced by white-owned film companies outside the Hollywood-centered American film industry such as Million Dollar Productions in the 1930s and Toddy Pictures in the 1940s. One of the earliest surviving examples of a black cast film aimed at a black audience is A Fool and His Money (1912), directed by French emigree Alice Guy for the Solax Film Company. The Ebony Film Company of Chicago, created specifically to produce black-cast films, was also headed by a white production team.

Some black-owned studios existed, including¬†Lincoln Motion Picture Company¬†(1916‚Äď1921), and most notably¬†Oscar Micheaux‘s Chicago-based Micheaux Film Corporation, which operated from¬†1918‚Äď1940. On his posters, Micheaux advertised that his films were scripted and produced exclusively by African Americans.¬†Astor Pictures¬†also released several race films and produced¬†Beware¬†with¬†Louis Jordan.

 

 

Race films vanished during the early 1950s after African-American participation in World War II contributed to black actors in leading roles in several Hollywood major productions, which focussed on the serious problems of integration and racism, such as Pinky with Ethel Waters; Home of the Brave with James Edwards; and Intruder in the Dust, all in 1949; and No Way Out (1950), which was the debut of the notable actor Sidney Poitier. The last known race film appears to have been an obscure adventure film of 1954 called Carib Gold. (Wikipedia)

Thanks to my original error, I ended up learning so much more about the history of black ‘race’ films and the long, rich history of African American artists.