Every SHOCKtober you’ve gotta watch an anthology horror… this played at the Plaza this month, but I didn’t feel like going out during the apocalypse so I watched the blu-ray at home.

Three drug guys have heard that there’s a package for them at a funeral home, but before he’ll give them “the shit,” the mortician shows some bodies and tells how each met their demise. So far, so anthology-horror, but the difference here is that the framing story is the best part, due to an incredible performance by mortician Clarence Williams III (Prince’s dad in Purple Rain, a lead on The Mod Squad, and hey, this is my second movie in a row with an actor from The Cool World). He plays it big and campy, with a comic unpredictability without losing his menacing edge, and whenever the three guys ask for their shit, he repeats “the shit” in the craziest way.

Anyway, story one: Anthony Griffith (of Panther the same year) is a rookie Black cop whose white partners beat a Black political rival (Tom Wright, also star of an anthology segment in Creepshow 2) to death while “Strange Fruit” plays – so it’s gonna be an unsubtle social issues movie. Anthony can’t take the heat and leaves the force, but that’s not good enough. “Where were you when I needed you?” After hunting down and killing the three cops as brutally and ironically as possible, the vengeful ghost frames Anthony for their deaths. One of the white cops was in The Crow, another in Texas Chainsaw Massacre III.

The next story involves extreme domestic abuse mixed with It’s a Good Life. I dunno what made them cast David Alan Grier as a violent monster stepdad, but it works out. The writer/director plays a concerned teacher who comes to student Walter’s house, meets his hot mom (Paula Jai Parker of She Hate Me and Friday), and they all get tormented by wicked Grier until Walter (who later played Young Michael Jordan in Space Jam!) takes his psychic revenge.

A racist white southern politician named Duke (heh) is running on an anti-affirmative action platform while living in a house where a lot of bad historical shit went down, until a small army of stop-motion dolls imbued with the souls of murdered slaves take him out (this has better puppetry than the Puppet Master movies). Corbin Bernsen (between Major League II and The Dentist) is the main racist, and Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing‘s Smiley) is his image consultant (who is also murdered).

Starting to bring things home for the framing-story boys, the fourth body is a guy they knew. Jerome (Lamont Bentley of TV’s Moesha) is a crazy murderous gangster paired up with a klansman in prison by “experimental” doctor Rosalind Cash (Buckaroo Banzai, The Omega Man) under the logic that they both killed a lotta Black people. Jerome is tormented, but won’t repent, and all this turns out to be a years-long dying fantasy as he’s killed in the street in the first, pre-prison scene.

Cash died of cancer just months after this film’s release:

Obviously at this point the three dudes are gonna discover coffins of their own in the funeral home, though I didn’t need the mortician to turn into a literal demon, he was fine as he was.

Rusty also directed Chappelle’s Show and made Fear of a Black Hat, which suddenly seems essential. One of his two belated sequels stars Keith David in the mortician role, which could work, and the other stars Tony Todd. Rusty’s cowriter on all three films is Darin Scott (also: Vincent Price anthology From a Whisper to a Scream, Danny Trejo anthology Mr. Malevolent, and he directed Jeffrey Combs in Dark House).

“She was extremely fearful that america would replicate nazi Germany,” so these things come in cycles. Marion started recording the news during the late ’79 Iran hostage crisis, didn’t stop until her death in 2012, and this doc was made years later so we get interviews (with her two families and the nurse and chauffeur) and re-enactments. Most of the tape footage shown is news highlights of major events, not necessarily something you’d need a comprehensive archive for, but a couple of obscure gems are thrown in. Centerpiece of the doc is a split-screen of four networks in real-time watching the WTC disaster. Marion produced a talk TV show in Philly – her favorite topic was the open exchange of ideas, though at home she was extremely controlling. Guess it’s hard to fit the life of a complicated person and 30+ years of news coverage into ninety minutes, but I look forward to the projects that’ll come out using the digital archive of her tapes.

Choice footage of this guy getting scolded for being racist:

Louisiana and Mississippi, cutting between different threads. After the lovely and gentle Stop the Pounding Heart led to the intimate look of The Other Side led to the racist militia at the end of that movie, it’s nice to reset and spend time with the New Black Panther Party. And after a month of watching movies on the laptop screen, it’s nice to see this on the big(ger) screen, experiencing as close as I’ll get to cinema this summer.

Michael Sicinski on Mubi via letterboxd:

As with Minervini’s previous films, there is something both startling and a bit disconcerting about the degree of access he achieves, as well as the fact that his camera crew is almost never acknowledged. How does he get so close, capturing key emotional moments like Judy’s cousin Michael finally visiting his mother’s gravesite, or Judy herself meeting a fellow addict and describing her years of abuse? One of the things that Minervini accomplishes in What You Gonna Do…, both with these scenes, the New Black Panther meetings, and in some consciousness-raising moments in Judy’s bar, is a careful depiction of free black discourse, the kind of discussion about identity, politics, and culture that a community can have when they are not worried about how outside listeners will misconstrue their words.

Satire about the limited/terrible roles for black men in hollywood movies – Townsend’s directorial debut, a few months before his film of Eddie Murphy Raw (and containing some hilarious Murphy impressions). Sometimes it’s clunky and low-budget, but overall a winning comedy. There’s a main plot, where aspiring actor Townsend gets cast in a demeaning role and takes the moral high ground by walking out, but half the movie is sketches and parodies, reimagining Hollywood hits with black actors. This was a couple years before cowriter Keenan Ivory Wayans would create In Living Color. Townsend’s girl is played by Anne-Marie Johnson of Robot Jox, and Paul Mooney plays the head of the NAACP.

Love is the Message, the Message is Death (2016)

Watching the Alsarabi youtube bootleg since this is only playing in museums. It’s a news and history dance video to a Kanye West song, footage sourced from all over, some with TV station and Getty Images watermarks. Lots of new-to-me clips with some very familiar images interspersed. Really great, powerful montage though (and I don’t call movies “powerful” often, search the blog and see).


Ms. Hillsonga (2017)

A minute of still images set to a fast beat by Jeff Mills, cut almost too quickly to be identifiable (including the shot my letterboxd avatar is from), then the images repeat but motion video footage is added, then it repeats again with new clips or stills substituted to keep things lively. More great montage, again full of imagery of Black freedom and oppression, the footage replacement reminding me of Zorns Lemma in a good way.


Deshotten 1.0 (2009)

Another one with repetition and variations. Young man gets shot in a busy street scene, ends up in hospital with friends and family, then it keeps rewinding and playing out differently, maybe just in his own mind. I love the music, sounds like a Squarepusher song heard from a couple blocks away. Codirected with his TNEG film studio partner Malik Sayeed (TNEG has a lofty mission statement)


Dreams are Colder Than Death (2013)

Artists comment in voiceover about the risk of losing black culture and connection… where things stand on “the goals and ambitions of the civil rights movement in the United States… does the dream live on?”

Statements range from the personal to the academic – I liked the bit comparing jazz musicians to the tension between legality and criminality – a low, constant doom-rumble on the soundtrack beneath the words.

Much more calmly paced than his other work. His most Khalik Allah-like movie, what with the street photography and unsynced sound. Stock photography (that red-sun image I’ve seen in all his films, MLK, war and slavery scenes) and slow-mo shots of the speakers (who include Charles Burnett).


One gallery says Jafa’s artworks “question prevailing cultural assumptions about identity and race,” which is pretty generic – they also say “he is a filmmaker with a unique understanding of how to cut and juxtapose a sequence to draw out maximum visceral effect,” which sounds right. Aha, he has shot Spike Lee movies and Daughters of the Dust and some music videos. I was just the 26 millionth person to watch Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” video, and all those people are onto something, this is good.


I tried listening to the ICP panel discussion, but academics are hard to listen to while at work, so I skipped ahead to Jafa shitting on 12 Years a Slave, haha. He outlines a script he’s written tying together the Birmingham church bombing, Coretta Scott and Michael Jackson through alternate timelines.

On Daughters of the Dust: “There’s an alternate universe in which Julie Dash is the Toni Morrison of film. It’s not this one, cuz this one is kinda fucked up.”

“We have to transform the understanding of the real” through film.

Funniest movie I saw all year. Excitable white boy Adam is “studying” battle rap for a thesis (Anthony Michael Hall is his professor, also his dad), starts to hang out with the participants, including Behn Grymm (Jackie Long of Idlewild). Adam rhymes with mixed results, until he goes full-racist, destroying the competition in battles, drunk with power and success, alienating all his new friends. Ends with a crushing/triumphant battle against Behn then a jaw-dropping cut from homeless Adam to credits, implicating both Kahn and producer Eminem.

Adam’s soon-to-be-ex girlfriend: “Do you really want to be another white guy shamelessly appropriating African-American culture? I mean, we don’t need Macklemore, we need Mackle-less.”
Kahn has been a music video director for 20 years, has also made a high-school horror and a biker-gang action movie, both with Dane Cook. Writer Alex Larsen works on battle-rap series Drop the Mic. Adam is Calum Worthy (a former Disney TV star), and most of the supporting cast is composed of celebrated battle rappers, including violent villain rapper Megaton (Dizaster).

Devine, Prospek, Behn, Che, Adam:

Adam Nayman:

It’s almost beside the point to say that Kahn’s direction and staging are wonderfully fluid (like Edgar Wright, if he gave a shit about anything beyond his own iPod), or that the actors are all great, or that the raps are dazzling and appalling, but all the provocation in the world is worthless if it isn’t put across with some skill. In this case, it is…

Steven Shaviro, in the Cinema Scope cover story that made me track this down:

His self-imposed formal challenge in Bodied is how to make a kinetic and dynamic movie from a screenplay that is word-heavy, largely composed of one-on-one verbal exchanges. I have never seen a movie that does so much with that old staple of narrative cinema, the basic shot-reverse-shot setup … these sequences also feature flips of perspective (often by the deliberate flouting of the 180-degree rule), confusions of address (when trying to hold two conversations at the same time), expressionist camera movements used as emotional punctuation, and textual and sonic interpolations (words appearing on the screen, or voices booming within a character’s head). All these devices are sometimes deployed for comedic effect; at other times, they underline the rappers’ strategic moves during the battles; at still other times, they work to amplify the stakes of everything the characters say and do.

Yes, I’m stealing twice from Cinema Scope, but somehow they’re the only publication that noticed this movie? Guess it doesn’t help that it got no distribution and after playing fests in 2017 it showed up on the paid version of Youtube for a year before finally coming out on blu-ray a couple months ago. Also watched Swiped, Kahn’s short from the same year. It’s a one-joke premise about a guy who matched himself on a dating app, but only three minutes long with lots of fx, so it doesn’t get tiresome.

It’s a good thing Criterion is releasing the slow-moving serious-art early Dumont films on blu-ray, because I need to catch up, and this also gives me auteurist justification for absolutely loving this goony miniseries where aliens visit the town of Lil Quinquin and start duplicating the residents. The twitchy racist cop is given more screen time than ever, but I’m into it this time. Random resident Mr. Leleu gets copied, then Coincoin’s brother Dany, his ex-girl Eve, D’nis, then the captain himself. The Captain and Carpentier find out about the clones, are on the case, guns drawn, with the kids at their side, and then instead of solving the alien mystery, the “Cause I Knew” girl returns as a zombie and the series ends with a full-cast singalong.

John “son of Denzel” Washington is Ron, a rookie cop who gets himself invited to a Klan meeting by being friendly with David Duke (Topher Grace) over the phone, and has to send his white (ahem, Jewish) coworker Adam Driver to the in-person meetings while working behind the scenes to bust these guys, which they kinda manage to do when a Klan wife accidentally bombs her husband while trying to murder Ron’s girlfriend. Spike has righteous cop protagonists but doesn’t entirely let the police department off the hook. His main point is made clear by the Charlottesville news footage closing the film, and even if he changes no modern minds, the movie is fun and inspired a good article about “the cruel sucking nullity of whiteness” in the dying days of the Village Voice.

Our second Black Audio Film Collective film after Testament, this one a collage-style doc about the 1985 Handsworth riots – with at least one scene from the 1977 Handsworth riots, the country having failed to solve racism during the intervening years. A good mix of music and sounds, collaged like the visuals. Interviews with community members about mistrust of cops because of bad policing, combined with the story of an innocent woman shot by police in her own home give the sense that nothing has changed between Handsworth Songs and Crime + Punishment. Racism remains unsolved.

I’d been wanting to see this for ages, it having appeared on some list somewhere of great films, and am glad I held off on the bootleg VHS copies to see it properly projected in a theater. Not that there are such splendid visuals – it’s mostly news and interview footage – but there’s at least one innovative move in here: lit photographs hung in a dark room, the camera slowly moving through the room in 3D like an early version of the Ken Burns effect.

Vikram Murthi:

Akomfrah sought to redefine blackness in British culture for a new generation as a reaction against conservative Thatcherite policies along with the respectability politics of their immigrant parents. In turn, the Collective demonstrated that the best way to examine the noxious ideologies in the culture was to trace their historical lineage. As a middle-aged black woman tells a British reporter, “There are no stories in the riots. Only the ghosts of other stories.”