31 years after it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance Film Festival, Wendell B. Harris’ Chameleon Street has been restored in 4K. The film tells the true story of William Douglas Street, Jr., a con artist who successfully impersonated a Time Magazine reporter, a Yale student, and a working surgeon. Written, directed by, and starring Harris, Chameleon Street is an exploration of race, class, alienation, and role play. Harris’ style is also shown throughout the film.
Originally, the film could only be watched on VHS as the DVD was out of print. Though the film received high praise at Sundance when it was originally released in 1990, it never got proper distribution.
“When it was released—only scantly—in 1991, it was met with largely uncomprehending and snooty reviews,” Richard Brody wrote in The New Yorker. “Shockingly, outrageously, it’s Harris’s only feature film to date—and not for lack of trying. After the film’s success at Sundance, he moved to Hollywood and sold remake rights to Warner Brothers (they never remade it), but he couldn’t get a deal to make a second film. In a 2007 interview, he said, “I went to a million of these meetings. I pitched and I pitched until I was hoarse. I remember belly aching to Soderbergh, ‘I’m pitching and pitching and they’re nodding and showing me the door.’”
However, since’s it’s been rediscovered, Chamelon Street has been called, “A lost masterpiece of Black American cinema.” Time Out London said that it was “One of the most provocative and adventurous American movies ever made.” It has also been called both inventive and original”
Amid the 2021 New York Film Festival, it has been restored to the glory in which it was intended for the Revivals section. Now, it is set to debut at BAM on Oct 22.