August 4, 1959
The other day Robert Frank was threatening me. He went to see “Anatomy of a Murder,” and the movie was so boring that he had to walk out of it. “Why did you go see it?” I said. “I gave it a very bad review.” “So, your review wasn’t bad enough,” said Frank.
There I am. My next review of a big Hollywood movie will consist of adjectives only, such as bad, horrible, boring, disgusting, stupid, ridiculous, etc., etc., interspersed with a few four-letter words. Our old generation of film-makers is so boringly bad and so outdated that all their current films, all unanimously acclaimed by New York reviewers, could be perfectly described by such a collection of adjectives.
The two most modern and most intelligent American films, John Cassavetes’ “SHADOWS” and Robert Frank’s and Alfred Leslie’s “BEAT GENERATION,” are still not released, and my praising them here wouldn’t amount to much, since you cannot see them. But these two movies are so far ahead of all Hollywood and independent films that once you’ve seen them you can no longer look at the official cinema: you know that American cinema can be more sensitive and intelligent.
The Simple Truth
Let us be frank: if Hollywood films are boring and outdated, it is not because our “geniuses” are being kept away from the cinema; not because the scripts are being ruined by the producers; the truth is more simple: the horrible fruits we eat through our eyes and ears are just what their makers are capable of; what we see is their finest work at the top of their intelligence. And the sensitivity? Allen Ginsberg: “These media are exactly the places where the deepest and most personal sensitivities and confessions of reality are most prohibited, mocked, suppressed.”
As I’ve said many times before, my hopes are in the young generation. Last week I saw a short film, “CRY OF JAZZ,” by Edward Blank, from Chicago. This picture only proves my point again. The new generation did it again. It took new and young and inexperienced (in cinema) people to get us, after two long decades, out of the vapid, commercial, pale, official documentary. For the first time in a very long time we can see an American documentary which is temperamental, passionate, angry. Made by a group of young Negro intellectuals and artists in Chicago (Mark Kennedy, the writer, has meanwhile moved into the Village), it is an essay on jazz and the Negro condition in America. They know what they want to say, and they say it with passion.
For what the movie says, and how it says it, it will be attacked equally by Negroes and Whites. But nobody can deny the importance of what they say: the emotional-tragic richness of the American Negro.
As I hear, the film will be shown next season by Cinema 16, and since I don’t think anybody else will show it, you will have to see it there.