Passing Through. 1977. USA. Directed, produced, and edited by Larry Clark. Screenplay by Clark, Ted Lange. Music by Horace Tapscott. With Clarence Muse, Nathaniel Taylor, Pamela Jones. Digital preservation courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive. 104 min.
A landmark of American independent cinema, Passing Through cannot be seen anywhere but a movie theater, and even then only very rarely. Clark’s intensely kinetic drama (“an invaluable film-outcry,” critic Albert Johnson observed) follows an African American saxophonist, recently released from prison, who struggles to preserve his artistic integrity against the profiteering forces of the white-led recording and broadcasting industries. He is awakened to racial consciousness by the elderly jazz legend “Poppa” Harris, played by veteran actor Clarence Muse, who deepens his understanding of jazz’s rootedness in the African soil and the spirits of community and ensemble collaboration. The film’s score, arranged by Horace Tapscott, features music by Eric Dolphy, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Sun Ra, as well as a live performance by the Pan African Peoples Arkestra.