Juke: Passages from the Films of Spencer Williams. 2015. Directed by Thom Andersen. 30 min.
MoMA presents the world premiere of a newly commissioned moving-image work, Juke, in which Thom Andersen (Los Angeles Plays Itself, Red Hollywood) reconsiders the films of Spencer Williams, the pioneering African American screenwriter, director, and actor whose 1940s melodramas centered on sinners and saints—Beale Street mamas and storefront preachers, crime bosses and upwardly striving lawyers and soldiers—who are tempted by jazz and sex and then set back on the glory road to salvation. “I began to notice a remarkable documentary record of black life in the 1940s in these films,” Andersen observes. “There are the nightclub scenes, of course, but there is also a precious recording of residential spaces, from the shack in The Blood of Jesus to the comfortable middle-class rooming house in Juke Joint. [My] film brings out these documentary qualities by looping shots of empty interiors and showing actions freed from the plot. I am not trying to make some new meaning from these films; I am striving to bring out the meanings that are there but obscured by the plot lines: the dignity of black life and the creation of dynamic culture in the segregated society in small-town north Texas. I regard my movie as akin to Walker Evans’ photographs of sharecroppers’ home in 1930s and George Orwell’s essays on English working class interiors.”
Movies of Local People (Chapel Hill). 1939. USA. Directed by H. Lee Waters. 29 min.
Between 1936 and 1942, the itinerant photographer and filmmaker H. Lee Waters travelled throughout North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and South Carolina to produce his Movies of Local People: 252 extraordinary film portraits of ordinary small-town America during the Great Depression. The entrepreneurial Waters encouraged local audiences to “See Yourself in the Movies,” convincing local theaters to screen his “home” movies as an added attraction before the Hollywood feature (and, naturally, taking a cut of the profits). The selection presented here was made for the Hollywood Theater, a segregated cinema in Chapel Hill reserved for African American moviegoers. Courtesy H. Lee Waters Film Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.