Passing Through (1977, Larry Clark)

Wildly multilayered movie, both in its ideas and plot elements and its visuals, with great use of dissolves and multiple exposures. Clark says the look was inspired by jazz record covers. Fantastic color (fades to red or blue instead of black) and clarity, using Japanese 16mm film stock. Jazz music guides the plot and the film’s own style. Some of the story elements don’t come together perfectly, but there are so many ideas that the movie feels revolutionary, so being a slave to plot wasn’t Clark’s top concern.

Warmack gets out of jail, hitches a ride home from Maya, a disillusioned designer who soon quits her job and hangs out with Warmack instead. He returns to his friends in a jazz group but can’t find his mentor Pops, tries to track him down. I had a hard time telling which characters were blood relatives and which were close friends or surrogate families. If Pops is the grandfather of Warmack, why does Warmack only find out about his death and funeral from a tarot card reader?

Warmack finds the music industry even more hopelessly corrupt than when he left it. His buddies are happy scraping by with the money the label boss gives them while he gets filthy rich selling their music. One guy snitches for the boss, another gets hooked on drugs and overdoses. Warmack was originally locked up for killing a dude who blinded bandmate Skeeter, later kills the label boss and his toughs for killing Skeeter. Poor Skeeter. Maya goes full-on revolutionary, helps with the murder revenge plot. Movie is interested in purity of expression, the black experience, the Attica riot and other recent events, and Africa and its leaders.

Cowriter Ted Lang became a TV director and Love Boat actor. Pops was played by Hollywood veteran Clarence Muse. Julie Dash did sound, Charles Burnett was a cameraman, and Pat O’Neill provided optical effects. Legend goes the film was studied by future Spike Lee cinematographers Arthur Jafa and Ernest Dickerson until they wore out their university’s print.

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