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Hallelujah

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Was late getting around to watching Tuesday's lecture video, but it was about the movie 'Hallelujah'.  It was described as a very interesting and wonderful film and students were urged to watch it when it was shown.  The fact it was scheduled to be shown at 3:45 a.m. (in eastern time) probably gives you a better idea of how interesting or significant a film it was.   

I want to edit this post because I think that some people are going to read this and think I'm downgrading this musical because it's African American, and that's not at all what I meant.  Films at the time were almost exclusively white, just as major league baseball was... though the negro league players were just as good.  I think that's an important reason for this film being featured in the course, and I was hoping I it would be shown at a more convenient time.  I also want to mention Dr. Ament's comment about seeing the film through the values of the time, as there are racial things we would view as being quite insensitive today.  It's a very good point, perhaps the most important of the lecture.  It's true of a lot of things, and I'll give you two more examples.  You can't view Al Jolson as being racist because he sang in black face.  It's the way the minstrels of the time performed.  Jolson's style was inspired by the jazz music of the African American clubs of New Orleans.  He made it popular with white audiences, and felt that black face put him in the spirit for singing it.  Jolson also did a lot to help the cause of African Americans on Broadway.  As another example, when 'Showboat' came to Toronto back in the 80's, there were people who thought it should be banned because it contained the 'n' word, and they called lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II a racist.  This was the same man, however, who wrote the lyrics to South Pacific, including the song 'You've Got to Be Taught', which shed light on the reasons for racial intolerance back in the early 50's, and helped win the show a Pulitzer Prize for Drama.    

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Do you think the scheduling was intentional during these very neurotic and polarizing times? There isn't anything particularly obscene about it, despite it being an all-black drama made in 1929 with some brief sequences without dialogue (a transitional talkie). Although I also like The Green Pastures made seven years later, that one seems more "dated" than Hallelujah! because it is more blatant in its rural setting with the characters coming off as less educated and too jovial and there are more questionable scenes such as the always stereotypical dice throwing. Here we see a bit more variety among the citizens, including a preacher who has desires he must control, not unlike today's televangelists of multiple races.

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Thanks for your comments, Jlewis.  I hope my revised post sheds more light on my thoughts.  I suppose the only thing really curious about the scheduling is that they'd feature a movie in a lecture, then show it at a time that's inconvenient for most people... unless you can record it.  I would have expected a featured movie to be shown in prime time. 

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I think it is a groundbreaking film because all-black films were usually seen mostly by all-black audiences prior to this time, but this one did good business in many upscale Loews theaters that were still segregated since it was a grade "A" MGM production.

I view Al Jolson like I do Elvis Presley, one who enjoyed performing "black" music, depending on how one defines it. Unlike Presley, Jolson came from an earlier time when most white performers were required to "black up" just to perform something that "soulful". Of course, Jolson's major "sin" was keeping the blackface going a decade or two longer than necessary since others like Sophie Tucker, just to name one example, had stopped early on. Yet, to be fair, you also had Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and others also doing it on screen even later than Jolson. It took WW2, and all of the concern about prejudices on the home front as well as abroad, to end it in popular entertainment unless it was shown in a historical sense like The Jolson Story. Intriguingly, British TV shows often featured minstrel entertainment well until the 1960s, probably because fewer there fussed much about the less-than-savory 19th century roots of minstrel.

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Since I do not have a way to record movies, I went to YouTube and was able to view a few scenes from “Hallelujah”. Talk about stereo typing!  Oh my gosh!  I know it reflected the time period and the status of the African American people, but what an insult. I am glad it was on at 3:45 a.m.  The tone and singing quality of one of the main male characters was wonderful. The female -not so much. When they were rolling the bales of cotton onto the boat and singing while they did it was amazing and reminded me of “Ole Man River” from Showboat. Having seen only bits and pieces of this one, it is impossible to give an overall review of the movie. But, it was a groundbreaking movie and has been preserved for posterity. 

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Well... I didn't exactly say this was Guess Who's Coming To Dinner either. Yes there are... problems... with it. Many, many problems. I would NOT recommend you watching Green Pastures, although that film too might be spared for midnight airing in this highly charged era as well. I guess it depends on how it is introduced.

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I enjoyed the movie. My opinion on racism within the time period the film was made: if a viewer watched this film and knew only that African- Americans were slaves, and this was the viewers only exposure to African-Americans, and believed this was representative of ALL African-Americans, then I see the racism. However, some white and and some African Americans had these experiences.

My first question is, how did African Americans feel about the film?

2nd Question: how do African Americans feel about the film now?

I enjoyed “Let My People Go”, as a beginning for movie. This movie takes place after the civil war and when slaves had established land ownership. Most of the characters certainly would have a memory of being slaves themselves, but are definitely poor but chasing the American dream of freedom. 

I enjoyed the theatrical Zeke riding on a donkey as Jesus did when arrived in Jerusalem. Zeke was there to save his people, and Hotshot and Chick were there mocking him, same as Jesus’ arrival. And we got the moneychangers biblical anger and explosion by Zeke towards Hotshot and Chick. Which again built tension bc Zeke did become irrational earlier when he accidentally shot and killed his brother.

i loved how “Swing Low” was perfectly and beautifully put into perspective! The scene was a mirror of what the full meaning and interpretation of the song. Excellent!!

There is plenty of tension building throughout the film. Will Zeke go for Chick as he’s asking Missy to marry him? Did he ask her to avoid his true sexual desires for Chick? Is Chick really not with the devil and saved? Hotshot shows up, will Chick go with him? Has Chick killed Hotshot? Then BOOM! Spoiler Alert: Zeke leaves with Chick after great sermon. The tension just seems to build and build. Chase scene, jail time, and a happily ever after end. 

Great movie and glad I watched. I’ve steered away for years bc of the film being racist. 

I’m interested in the stories of the desciminated African American stars, and how they were obviously classically trained musicians and actors.

 

 

 

 

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8 hours ago, Jlewis said:

Do you think the scheduling was intentional during these very neurotic and polarizing times?

Quote

I suppose the only thing really curious about the scheduling is that they'd feature a movie in a lecture, then show it at a time that's inconvenient for most people... unless you can record it.  I would have expected a featured movie to be shown in prime time. 

I think so! TCM tends to schedule films that contain things which could be considered too sensitive for today's audience before/after prime time. This is why other great films, such as Holiday Inn, Swing Time, etc. are scheduled at odd times, if at all during regular programming. It's important to remember that we absolutely cannot view these films through a modern lens lest we do them an injustice historically and culturally. But do record them or watch them on another platform! They are fantastic.

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Although you had all-black films made by black directors such as Oscar Micheaux, the mainstream Hollywood features were fewer and farther between. They also age quite a bit because the white directors and producers wanted them to earn a profit and, thus, fell into a what-worked-before pattern.

However there was always variety among short subjects running just 6 to 20 minutes that were shown before the main features. As early as 1923, you had Lee De Forest Phonofilm's early talkie of Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake just giving a musical performance that sounds as modern as anything shown today. Paramount had some great shorts like Symphony In Black (1935) with Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday, although one of their two Louis Armstrong shorts, A Rhapsody in Black And Blue (1932), might raise a few eyebrows, with the jungle leopard skin get-up... or not?

Vitaphone/Warner Brothers put out some interesting material, some that has aged very nicely and some not. Norman Thomas Quintette In Harlemania (1929) is essentially a pre-rock & roll performance with Freddie Crump drumming away with all of this gusto. Then there is the slightly polarizing Yamekraw (1930) which resembles Hallelujah! in its rural versus urban setting and will make some viewers squirm with the brief watermelon shot, but the special effects and bizarre camera work is so dazzling in its creativity. Of course, the many "Melody Master" shorts age better than other shorts since you essentially had a jazz band performing a memorable tune with no need for any ethnic jokes.

With the short films, there was so much variety of social classes and personalities that spanned multiple races. For example, the On-Wah Troupe acrobats in 1934's Vitaphone Reel No. 4: All Star Vaudeville wow you so much with their skills that you aren't thinking they are Chinese-American. You are just grateful certain performances were preserved on film.

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11 hours ago, Lover-o-Classics said:

The fact it was scheduled to be shown at 3:45 a.m. (in eastern time)

Hallelujah! is available on Movies on Demand.  While it is there, you can see it any time that is convenient for you.

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I think the very reasons folks site for why it would have been put on the schedule for airing when most wouldn't see it is why most should see it. If we are looking at the history of musicals, and we know Black Americans influenced jazz, swing, and the blues, it is important to see not only the exclusion of their presence on the stage but also the stereotypes informing current roles or tropes expected to be played by actors of color. Vidor was trying to do something progressive, and I think he furthers the musical genre as well as makes the time capsule we need (as our teacher is so fond of reminding us) that reflects culture at that time.  We live in a time when folks are denying prejudicial history as fact, so to have this as a piece of cultural history, art, and evidence is most important. From that perspective Kind Vidor's progressive agenda actually ended up being fulfilled. 

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I was struck by the realism in this movie. In the lectures, we've heard them talk about how many of the musicals tended to mirror the theatrical stage, but this was filmed on location, in a gritty style. My mom watched it with me, and she commented that it looked like the way that directors use hand-held cameras to convey a gritty, realistic feeling.

I wonder if one of the things that TCM though might not make it ideal for prime time was the centrality of religion to the story. I can see churches taking groups to see it. I can even see a pastor showing it to a youth group today and asking them to discuss repentance and salvation in the movie.

So many talented actors here. It's a shame that they didn't do more movies.

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I just finished watching Hallelujah.  Wow.  I'm so glad I didn't skip this one.  What a contrast from the other two movies I've so far for this course - Born To Dance and Broadway Melody.  I know this just narrowly pre-dates the Depression but there was certainly no hint of the opulent escapist fantasy and lighthearted humor that was presented in the musicals with white casts at that time.  

I'm wondering, as the Depression era went on, were there any escapist fantasy musicals that had all African American casts?  Or were the "race movies" musicals always more gritty, serious and dramatic?

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Hallelujah! wasn't On Demand on the TCM website when I checked Tuesday, but it was there on Weds, so keep checking those titles you want to see. I do understand that not everyone has the speed to stream movies on their computers.

At the beginning of Hallelujah! when the couple Adam and Eve (with 11 kids) gets married; do you think the groom could be the same actor who calls all aboard (in closeup) in the train station sequence in The Broadway Melody of 1929? I think he's Sam McDaniel. He's listed for Hallelujah! on IMDb but not for Broadway Melody. He also appears in Going Hollywood (1933).

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Thanks to you all for your comments.  And while I wasn't able to see the movie, thanks to Dr. Ament for featuring "Hallelujah" in this course... for making us aware of the talent of African American performers, and some of the issues surrounding race films.  As in negro league baseball, there was so much much talent there that white folks never got to see or appreciate.    

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I saw this movie a few years ago. It made me cringe. I couldn’t watch again. All of the stereotypes were there. The acting was terrible and storyline too implausible even for a musical. There are not many musical choices with minorities in the lead throughout the decades. Great talents like Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, Lena Horne and Nina Mae McKinney did not have many options. All of them had more talent than anyone in the Broadway Melody of 1929. Did you know Lena Horne was suppose to pla Julie in Show Boat, but Ava Gardner got the part instead? 

 

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On 6/6/2018 at 4:56 PM, NeverGonnaDance said:

I think so! TCM tends to schedule films that contain things which could be considered too sensitive for today's audience before/after prime time. This is why other great films, such as Holiday Inn, Swing Time, etc. are scheduled at odd times, if at all during regular programming. It's important to remember that we absolutely cannot view these films through a modern lens lest we do them an injustice historically and culturally. But do record them or watch them on another platform! They are fantastic.

I think TCM schedules according to what films viewers will find most popular. I know these folks and they are not bigoted or prejudice. They proudly show all of these films. In fact, they want to promote diversity. The issue is always what films should be placed in prime time for all of the time zones.

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10 hours ago, jawz63 said:

I saw this movie a few years ago. It made me cringe. I couldn’t watch again. All of the stereotypes were there. The acting was terrible and storyline too implausible even for a musical. There are not many musical choices with minorities in the lead throughout the decades. Great talents like Ethel Waters, Paul Robeson, Lena Horne and Nina Mae McKinney did not have many options. All of them had more talent than anyone in the Broadway Melody of 1929. Did you know Lena Horne was suppose to pla Julie in Show Boat, but Ava Gardner got the part instead? 

 

Remember that the role of Julie needs to be played by someone who is passing as white. Lena Horne was already known as African American so the surprise that she is part black would not work in the storyline. Again, it is so important not to impose our perspectives onto the times, or to make assumptions onto those who made the films. There is plenty of bigotry to go around and it is very easy to jump to that conclusion. However, critical thinking can allow us to try another perspective.

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9 hours ago, Dr. Vanessa Theme Ament said:

Remember that the role of Julie needs to be played by someone who is passing as white. Lena Horne was already known as African American so the surprise that she is part black would not work in the storyline.

One can see Lena Horne perform in an abbreviated version of Show Boat at the beginning of the Jerome Kern biopic Till the Clouds Roll By. She only sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (in the Show Boat section of the film.)

To me, in this clip, she seems just a touch too dark-skinned to pass for white (for the time period, when deliberately getting a tan was not the custom), but I suspect more could have been done with make-up and lighting if so desired.

 

For those interested, here's the entire public domain film of Till the Clouds Roll By, which climaxes with Frank Sinatra providing a non-traditionally hued rendition of "Ol' Man River":

 

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I loved this movie!  

Of course, it's hard not to be anachronistic when analyzing a film from the past.  Today we can see not only the negative stereotypes, but crucially the impact these stereotypes had on audiences.  Perhaps things would have been different if the production team were all black as well as the cast.  

That being said, I liked it more than Broadway Melody.  Not only were the songs better, but there were way more of them.  I liked the fly on the wall approach as opposed to the straight on stage view. It's hard to believe the actors were mostly untrained.  

This film was placed on the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.  I do find it an important document and am thankful to see a film with an all black cast-as opposed to so many with all white casts.  Thanks to the people who posted more examples with African American casts. 

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I had a family vacation this past weekend and am getting caught up. I was able to watch all the recommended core movies on time, but wanted to watch some of the others, including this one. I am fascinated by it, the history, and will catch up on all the commentary here. I will also add, I have Sling, so the movies are kept "On Demand" of sorts for at least a week after they air.

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I was able to view the film on You Tube, and I am happy to know that the pathway was initiated by determination, and supported the cultural differences to be viewed as an experience of how life existed for that time.

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