Film Pioneer Gordon Parks Retrospective in Chicago This Fall
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Film Pioneer Gordon Parks Retrospective in Chicago This Fall

nullLet me start by saying that there is something I hear a lot of black filmmakers today say which sort

of annoys me: when they’re asked what past filmmakers inspired them, they almost all inevitably say Spike Lee.

Now I realize

this is more of a generational "thing" as it were, but I feel that it does give

the idea that there were no black filmmakers before Spike came on the scene. I’d like to believe that people know that this isn’t true, but I suspect there are those

who really believe that.

Of course

there were many black directors long before Spike started, even

before he was even born; and without a doubt the most important, successful and

influential of those directors was Gordon Parks.

The definition

of a true 20th century renaissance man, Parks was involved in many

artistic fields, from being one of the great photographers of the last century, chronicling world events, celebrities, fashion

models and black life in America, a novelist, a music composer, and as a film

director. Though his output was small compared to directors today, it was

quite wide-ranging, from documentaries, commercial Hollywood films, personal projects

and independent films. And despite the fact that, before he made his first

film, he had little to no experience in filmmaking, he was a

complete natural. It was in his bones (his son Gordon Parks Jr., who Parks is sometimes confused with, made

his own mark in films directing classics such as "Super Fly" and "Three the Hard Way" before his untimely early death in a plane crash).

And like so

many endeavors he was involved with, Parks was “the first,” including being the first black director

to make a feature film for a Hollywood film studio – his first feature narrative

film "The Learning Tree" based on his semi-autobiographical book about growing up

in rural Kansas in the 1930s for Warner Bros in 1969.

And yet, surprisingly,

considering his importance and ground breaking status, at least to my knowledge, there has never been

a retrospective of Parks’ film work. That is until now.

Starting next

month in Chicago, the Doc Film society will screen, every Thursday, starting on

October 1 through mid-November, a 10 film retrospective of all Parks’ films, from his

early documentaries to his last feature film.

Not only are

his more popular films, such as "Shaft" and "Shaft’s Big Score" being screened, but

also two rarities – his 1976 Paramount film "Leadbelly" about the life of the legendary

blues singer Huddie Ledbetter, which the studio practically buried, releasing it

in very few theaters. It’s possibly Park’s finest work for the screen.

Also his

last film, the 1984 PBS drama "Solomon Northup’s Odyssey," starring Avery brooks, which is the first film version of the book which was remade as the better

known "12 Years a Slave" by Steve McQueen 28 years later.

All the

films will be screened at the Max Palevsky Cinema, located at Ida Noyes hall, at

the University of Chicago campus. The screenings are open

to the public.

For more

info go HERE.
 
Below is the complete screening list of films and dates

"The World of

Piri Thomas"

Thurs, Oct

1, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

This film

program consists of Gordon Parks’ three early documentary films: Flavio (1964),

Diary of a Harlem Family (1968), and The World of Piri Thomas (1968), all

presented in 16mm. The films explore the lives of individuals separated by

location—Black Harlem, Brazil, and Spanish Harlem—but all unified by their

impoverished environments and struggles to survive for a better future. The

screening is free and open to the public.

Free

Presented by

Doc Films

"The Learning

Tree"

Thurs, Oct

8, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

The first

major Hollywood studio film directed by an African American, Gordon Parks’

feature debut is a coming-of-age story based on Parks’ semi-autobiographical

novel of the same name. The Learning Tree follows two black teenagers, Newt

Winger and Marcus Savage, as they grow up in rural Kansas and confront racial

discrimination in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The film was among the first

25 films included in the National Film Registry in 1989. (Gordon Parks, 1969,

107 min, 35mm)

General $5,

free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by

Doc Films

"Shaft"

Thurs, Oct

15, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

One of the

best known and most influential blaxploitation films ever made, Shaft made

Parks a legend and Richard Roundtree, in the titular role, a star. Hired by

gangster Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) to find his kidnapped daughter, Shaft finds

himself caught in a dangerous crossfire of violence with the police, the mafia,

and Harlem’s underworld all out for blood. With its pulsing action and its

beautifully shot NYC vistas, Shaft thrills and delights. (Gordon Parks, 1971,

100 min, 35mm)

General $5,

free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by

Doc Films

"Shaft’s Big

Score!"

Thurs, Oct

22, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

The second

Shaft film, Shaft’s Big Score!, is bigger, bloodier, and even better than the

first. After his friend is killed, Shaft is out for justice, and what he finds

is his old nemesis, Bumpy Jonas, this time in an underground war to control the

NYC numbers racket. Car chases, explosions, shoot-outs and sex fill every

moment, and Roundtree, the best James Bond we never got, dominates the screen.

(Gordon Parks, 1972, 104 min, 16mm)

General $5,

free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by

Doc Films

"The Super

Cops"

Thurs, Oct

29, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

Parks’

strangest and perhaps best film, The Super Cops tells the vaguely real-life

story of Dave Greenberg and Robert Hantz, two rookie NYC police officers who

were so legendarily successful—a 97% conviction rate on their 660 arrests in

just four years!—that they earned the nicknames of Batman and Robin. A weird

mixture of gritty verité and comic-book stylization, the film agilely and

expertly crafts a paranoiac comedy of police corruption and extra-legal crime

fighting. (Gordon Parks, 1974, 90 min, 16mm)

General $5,

free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by

Doc Films

"Leadbelly"

Thurs, Nov

5, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

Roger E. Mosley

plays Huddie Ledbetter, the brilliant blues guitarist and singer, better known

as Leadbelly. In a series of flashbacks, the film tells the story of

Ledbetter’s early life and how he emerged one of the greatest musicians in our

nation’s history. ‘They chased him down with dogs, chained him in iron, beat

him with rawhide, slammed him in the sweatbox. They tried to bury Leadbelly,

but Leadbelly wouldn’t lie down. You can’t bury a black legend like Leadbelly!’

(Gordon Parks, 1976, 126 min, 35mm)

General $5,

free with quarterly pass ($30)

Presented by

Doc Films

"Solomon

Northup’s Odyssey"

Thurs, Nov

12, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

The first

film adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiography Twelve Years a Slave,

Solomon Northup’s Odyssey tells the true story of a free black man kidnapped in

1841 and enslaved for 12 years in Louisiana. Choosing to film in parts of the

Deep South for added realism, Parks also selected a film crew of mixed races in

order “to show Southerners how Whites and Blacks could work peacefully

together”. This screening is free and open to the public. (Gordon Parks, 1984,

115 min, DVD)

Free

Presented by

Doc Films

"Half Past

Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks"

Thurs, Nov

19, 7 pm

Max Palevsky

Cinema, Ida Noyes Hall

This program

consists of two documentaries. “The Weapons of Gordon Parks” (1968, 28 min,

16mm), part of Warren Forma’s “Artists At Work” series, tells the story of Life

photographer Gordon Parks in his own words. Craig Laurence Rice’s Half Past

Autumn (2000, 91 min, DVD) presents a larger picture of Parks’ life: from his

early experiences with racism to his successes as a writer, composer,

filmmaker, photographer, and humanitarian. The screening is free and open to

the public.

Free

Presented by

Doc Films

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