Slow Fade to Black: A Review
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 7, Number 3, September 1977
- pp. 42-44
- View Citation
- Additional Information
with a passive crowd, soothed by the music, acquiescent in their delusion. Both the music and the final image are overwhelming, and Altman's link of pop culture with mass sleep-walking carries a great deal of truth. However, some core of meaning continues to be missing. Can pop artifacts and images have the power to spontaneously and independently enslave us? Here Altman needs some perspective on the way institutions operate. What interests and forces lie behind political sound tracks and recording sessions? Altman has provided us in the film with a drunken monologue on the Kennedys, references to race and Vietnam, a dangerously manipulative and mesmerizing popular culture, but no synthetic vision to make sense of it all. But that's no matter-his images are rich, exciting and suggestive, and if his ideas boldly stated seem flat and unoriginal (an America all fetishes and tawdry illusion)-there is genuine pain and anguish at the heart of the film. SLOW FADE TO BLACK: A REVIEW7 Weldon D. Jolly Weldon D. Jolly is a Ph.D. candidate at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In February 1917 he presided over a workshop on Blackfilm at the annual O.S.U. Filmathon. Until recently, there were only three substantial studies of Black participation in the American film industry: Peter Noble's The Negro in Films ( 1 947 ): Donald Bogle's Toms, Coons, Mulattoes. Mammies, and Bucks ( 1973); and Daniel Leab's From Sambo to Superspade ( 1975). Now there is a fourth, which, by virtue of its accuracy, attention to detail, and profuse documentation, seems destined to fill the gaps left by the currently available histories. Indeed, Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film, 1 900- 1 942 by Thomas Cripps is a veritable feast of information. Engaged in some twelve years of research, Cripps seems to have made use of sources and information unnoticed or at least unnoted by his predecessors. With each added detail, eyewitness account, or iconoclastic anecdote, he seems to have gone that extra mile, investigated that unlikely lead, or simply asked the right question. A specific comparison should prove illuminating. All four historians examine two films which served as long overdue showcases for some of the biggest black talent of the era, the Fox release, Hearts in Dixie ( 1 929), and MGM's release that same year, Hallelujah! Likewise, all four supply basic data about the two uniquely ethnic and essentially experimental ventures, i.e. information about the directors, principal players, plot, critical reception and artistic worth. But beyond those staples, the historians part company. Peter Noble notes that in addition to Hearts in Dixie, Lincoln (Stepin Fetchit) Perry's credits include The Country Chairman, when in fact Perry was cast in The County Chairman. One might dismiss such an error as insignificant were it no-t for yet another on the same page. According to Noble, Bill (Bojangles) Robinson was cast in Steamboat Round the Bend, which was not the case (p. 63). Onecould go on: Noble Johnson was not in a 1922 film release, Robinson Crusoe as Noble claims, but rather in a film called Little Robinson Crusoe, released in 1924 (p. 179). To be sure, there is much in Noble's book to recommend it, but given such errata, one is hesitant to place much trust in the 42 material contained within without first verifying it at another source. That source could very well have been Donald Bogle's book, were it not for his failure to supply a bibliography and, in some key instances, any documentation at all. And though Bogle's admittedly personal approach to the history ofblacks in the cinema makes Toms. Coons. Mullatoes. Mammies, and Bucks immensely readable, it also makes much of its pertinent information difficult to pursue. Leab and Cripps both offer numerous citations to substantiate their assertions, and it would be fruitless here to speculate about the net worth of their different perspectives concerning the history of blacks in the motion picture industry. However, the differences are there and may serve to explain why Cripps' Slow Fade to Black provides generally a more detailed account than From Sambo to Superspade. Leab often spends too much...