Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Lime Kiln Club Field Day (Edwin Middleton, T. Hayes Hunter, 1913/2014)

Many of the recordings of the great Bahamian American vaudevillian Bert Williams survive but precious little of his material was preserved on film. Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator in the Department of Film at MOMA, has edited footage received by MOMA from Biograph Studios in 1939 for an abandoned, white-produced film called Lime Kiln Club Field Day about an all-black fair outing. Shot in the Bronx in 1913 and featuring popular Harlem performers, the film was never released and exists as unedited takes. So with no continuity script as a guide, Magliozzi has assembled the footage in approximate narrative order. But because he retained several takes, the film (assemblage? nay, film!) has a stuttering art cinema quality, breaking the narrative illusion with multiple repetitions of a scene. And the remarkable piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin only heightened that effect. Instead of always papering over an edit with smooth, continuous sound, he just as often stopped playing briefly at the end of a shot and restarted once the next take began.

And the seven minutes of outtakes edited by Joshua Young was a de facto avant-garde masterpiece - rapid-fire shots punctuated with flare ups and a history-rattling closeup of Williams staring directly into the camera. It recalls such parallax-view-of-celebrity classics as Pere Portabella's Cuadecuc, vampir and Bruce Conner's Luke.

As for why the project was abandoned, Magliozzi suggested that perhaps the film just wasn't racist enough for 1913. I myself kept wondering what the white guy running the carousel thought of the black people assembled for the fair experiencing unbridled joy. And I wondered if any itchiness transpired behind the camera as Williams shares a long kiss with his love interest in juicy, world historic closeup. 



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