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A Black and White Lap Dissolve

There is a darkness in the balcony of a theater in a small Southern town [I wrote eleven years earlier, fall 1960, my senior year at Putney, a month or so before the theaters were sold. Dad phoned me long distance, and I had no one to talk to afterward, knew no one at Putney who could be more than polite, who cared at all ]. A darkness that is usually silent, but occasionally laughs.

Downstairs, the people watch only the white warm incubator screen and never think of looking back. Over their heads are the beams of light coming from the movie projector that mix with the smoke of a hundred cigarettes [the image was a romantic one for me at the time, like jacket photos of James Agee and Albert Camus, because I'd started to smoke earlier that year; today in Hoboken—November 6, 1979, where Sandy and I moved a little over seven weeks ago, after discovering in September that we couldn't afford Manhattan rents; and a little over thirty-six weeks after smoking my last cigarette, in SoHo—I find it singularly repulsive, and decidedly inferior to the sudsy blue sky on Washington Street that I can see from my desk ] to form a river of intertwining mist that quietly drifts toward the screen; behind them is the soft drone of the projector, occasional quiet laughter, yet they look neither up nor back, but only straight ahead.

The movie is over; the audience spills out of the lobby like a rush of pebbles from an overturned aquarium. [I was reading Anaïs Nin that year, along with Agee, Camus, Joyce, Updike, and Warren .] They chatter about many things in voices that grow louder as they reach the sidewalk, they laugh, but they do not think about the darkness.

A quiet summer night: the darkness leaves the theater by a side exit and walks slowly down the neon-tinted sidewalk, moving steadily from color to color, proceeding through the town that whirrs and sighs like an enormous mechanical toy left running by a negligent child. A member of the downstairs audience passes by the darkness, and for a split second sees one of the faces in a red blink of neon, and sees the eyes—but this he forgets until an hour later, when the last light of night is turned out and he, himself, is trapped in darkness.

Sometimes I think that I know this darkness [I wrote at Bard my senior year, in 1965, adding the first four words to the sentence I wrote at Putney ]. I know him by the quiet click of his steps and the orange end of his cigarette as he


passes by on the sidewalk in front of my house. [There was no sidewalk in front of my house .] In the stillness he whispers a soft tune.

But this is all I can ever know about him [I wrote at both places ]—for who can bear to turn on a light, late at night, and look into his eyes? Who can see more of him than the angry orange eye of his cigarette as he walks to the dark side of town?

I see the darkness stop at a street corner and pause to look up at the stars. I wonder how he must feel, looking at the white dots sprinkled in a sea of black, knowing the black is only empty space.

"Not 'A darkness that, '" said Phil Petrie, creative writing instructor at Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee, who hailed from Harlem, the following summer, when Jon submitted some version of the above to the mimeographed Highlander Journal . "'A darkness who .'" Another sensible editorial change that Phil made was to cut "can ever" from the first sentence in the next-to-last paragraph.

The Highlander Folk School Youth Camp was "an interracial experience in the creative arts of high school students" that Jon had asked (and received) Stanley's permission to attend, the summer after he graduated from Putney, despite some seriously felt (yet scrupulously unvoiced) misgivings on the part of Bo and some more-than-mild warnings about subversives and blacklists from the likes of Dr. Brown and David Darby. It was where Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mrs. Rosa Parks had hatched their strategy for the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the mid-fifties (in the thirties, when Highlander was getting started, there was more concentration on organizing labor) and where Guy Carawan, music appreciation instructor and leader of the folksinging, had recently decided to refurbish an old church hymn called "We Shall Overcome" as a civil rights anthem. Now he was using us as guinea pigs and future disseminators (three dozen campers, more than half of us Negroes, and a dozen more staff members), making sure that we sang it two, three, even four times a day. And it was here that I first encountered films by Buñuel, Dreyer, and Fellini.

Here is the complete list of movies shown at Highlander, July 1 to August 12, 1961, which I copied into a ledger:

Highlander film made by Elia Kazan in the 30's [The People of the Cumberlands, 1937]
The Nashville Story (TV program)
Death of a Salesman
Grapes of Wrath
High Noon
Night of the Hunter
La Strada
The 39 Steps (battered print)


Lust for Life
Citizen Kane
The Young and the Damned
On the Waterfront

(Please note, Dr. Brown: No Potemkin.)

Two or three of these titles had been suggested by Jon—Citizen Kane (his favorite film, which he'd first encountered the previous year, at Putney), The Night of the Hunter , perhaps The 39 Steps —suggestions made to Blanchard, a Sewanee student who ordered the films, and who let him borrow the current Esquires from the Highlander office to read Dwight Macdonald's movie columns on Breathless and Elmer Gantry . So Jon was tickled pink (you might say) when, upon asking Harry Wood from Atlanta, perhaps the blackest member of his tent, which movie he had liked best that Summer, Harry replied, the one with the white preacher, Robert Mitchum—because he liked to go to movies that had adventure, and that one probably had the most.

I saw every one of these movies with the rest of the camp—except for the last one, which was shown when I was laid up with a bad cold, reading Durrell's Alexandria Quartet . Then word got around that Rosenbaum was "in" Shoeshine. (Or "Rosie," as Elmo G. called me, another loser named Elmo, my bête noire that summer in more ways than one—a very big and very black crony of Harry's from Atlanta who seemed annoyed by the attention being shown me by Ruth Israel from Cincinnati [who had written a poem for Phil's class about the day Hemingway died]; Big Elmo, a football player with a chipped front tooth who thought I was hilarious, like some character he had seen in Shoeshine, shortsheeted my bed on a regular nightly basis, and on the last day of camp emptied a plastic waste basket full of water on my head, which finally led me to retaliate, with the help of Edgar, a light-brown counselor enrolled at Swarthmore, by propping up his entire bed next to the campsite on the lake and writing "Hi, Elmo!" in shaving cream across the top blanket—which led in turn to his public apology that night at the same site, in front of the entire camp, for having given me a hard time all summer . . . just a few months before I ran into a white Highlander staff member named Ann one night in a New York subway, and she told me just before she got offal the next stop that Elmo had been killed by a cop in Atlanta, while trying to hold up a grocery store.) So I knew I had to see Shoeshine . And as soon as the projectionist (and who was that? a nameless spear carrier I no longer remember whom the Conquistador blithely squishes under his boots as he proudly treks forward, totally unfazed, clearly aiming for the finer things in life) offered to run it through for me one afternoon before the print was sent back, we set a date.


How then could I possibly give a dispassionate account of De Sica and Zavattini's Sciuscia , when I was ostensibly looking for my own reflection there, mon semblable, monfràre? (And what were you looking for, by the way, if you saw the flick?) There was no mistaking him when he finally appeared, a Jewish-looking kid with curly hair and glasses (except that my hair isn't/wasn't curly; the glasses were more like my brother David's than mine; and some people say I don't look very Jewish) who is always reading and who looks a bit like Huntz Hall in the Bowery Boy movies.

But I'm not really playing along with the Conquistador or even paying him the "protection" that he usually demands and exacts. Most of you haven't seen the film, and I'll bet that a good many of you who have will not remember this apparently nameless character (nameless at least to readers of subtitles) who gets only slightly more play in Shoeshine than, say, Cora Claypool does in On Moonlight Bay . So let's backtrack: The movie is about two little boys in war-torn Italy who buy a horse named Bersagliere, are arrested for selling black market American blankets, and land in a lice-ridden prison where one of the kids is coerced by the authorities into betraying and squealing on the other one. Jonathan's distinct impression, when he sees Sciuscia again at the Bleecker Street Cinema (late afternoon, March 15, 1979), is that this post-Fascist movie may conceivably be as obsessed with informing (tattling) as On the Waterfront is.

The kid who Elmo G. said was exactly like Rosie turns up in the prison, where he says things like, "Because they're illiterate, you ignoramus" and "At least he had the guts to shoot his father" (whatever that means). Once he is seen reading a comic book in the yard; on another occasion a hidden file is found by the authorities, this kid asks an official a question about it, and the official takes off his glasses and slaps him hard.

Yet all this is small potatoes next to the education in images, image making, and spectators that Highlander was giving me outside of movies almost daily. On a trip (the entire camp traveled in eight cars) to attend a meeting at a black church, I had my first direct experience of racist hate stares, the looks that could kill, the expressions of sweet lady shoppers with their kids and kindly-looking men in downtown Chattanooga, who called us "dirty fucking Commie nigger pigs" simply because we were sitting together in a convertible on that particular summer day (in the year of the Freedom Rides), Negro and white, male and female. I had the sensation that these strange pedestrians were looking not at us, or at me, but at some loathsome monster, like Gregor Samsa as an insect, who happened to be occupying precisely the same space as I (or as we). Later that night, on the ride home, we experienced real danger, fear, and panic when we stopped at a Dairy Cone and some hood asked Darrell, the camp director, "Whadaya doin' wid all them niggers?" Darrell, who was from Illinois, said something like, "They're human beings, what are you?" This led to the hood's rounding up more hoods, and before long they


were ahead of us, at the side of the road, throwing bricks and bottles at us as we passed. (Another night, at camp, Darrell lectured us on the advantages of nonviolence while we waited to be raided and beaten by some irate segregationist citizens of Monteagle, who apparently changed their minds at the last minute only because it started to rain.)

The lesson of becoming part of a we that included members of an endangered species (not only Negroes, but civil rights demonstrators, unlike the comfortable liberals, myself included, who had formed a chapter of CORE at Putney and decided last May, one night after Friday Night Singing, to picket the Woolworth store in nearby Brattleboro on Saturday morning—a demonstration that I was not allowed to participate in, despite my pleading, because I was a white Southerner, a decision that my Southern Negro friend Helen Quigless, who was allowed to participate, agreed was pretty unfair ) was not truly learned until the day after camp ended—a hot, clammy Saturday afternoon in mid-August when Dad and Alvin drove to Monteagle to pick me up (along with Malcolm, a white camper in my tent who was spending the night with us in Florence before taking a bus for Florida) and drive us home.

Malcolm and I hadn't slept much, if at all, the night before; there was still too much emotional shock to overcome. Early that morning we had seen off Oscar, a Negro friend from Mississippi, at the Monteagle bus station. When Ruth Israel began to cry and hug Oscar, I saw an elderly white woman who was waiting to board the bus look at both of them—and at me, too—with so much loathing that I thought I would vomit, knowing that Oscar was stepping perhaps forever out of one world and into another the moment he boarded that bus, that he would have to go to the back of it and stay there, all the way back to Mississippi. (it was Oscar who at seven every morning had wakened the camp by ringing a metal gong that hung between two trees near the badminton court; a habitual early riser, Oscar had volunteered to take the job on the second day and then executed it faithfully and enthusiastically all summer. For the rest of each day he was a walking cipher, shy, silent, and moody, speaking only when spoken to and then with a soft-edged lilt, self-effacing and embarrassed. But come five of seven he was a thundering extrovert: he would leap out of bed like a healthy warrior, take the shovel from under his bed and charge across the baseball field in his bare feet, and then with seven or eight vigorous strokes beat holy hell out of that gong—exuding a euphoric bliss that expressed itself each time he returned from the gong with his shovel and began to stalk each of the three boys' tents like a restless panther, pounding the base of each wooden platform as hard as he could, and calling out in a voice too clamorous for any sleeper to survive, "Seben-a-Clock People, Break-Fas-Tahm—Tahm to Git Up You Lazy People, You Silly Muhvas, I Said It's Break-Fas! Break-Fas, Man—Hot Griddle-Cakes an Frahd Eggs, Toast, Grits"—pounding the platform—"Onj Juice, Milk an Coffee-Mmm Mm Mm . . . " "Hey man," would groan Gerry, the youngest Negro in our tent, from Louis-


ville, "doancha 'predate the rights-a others?" "The rahtsa othas," Oscar would insist, "is that it's tahm fo you to git up this mornin'." ) The six-week movie that was Highlander still burned too brightly in our brains.

But if memory serves, Malcolm did finally manage to doze off a bit during the ride back to Florence; and perhaps he was still asleep when Dad stopped downtown briefly, probably to run some errand at the Shoals, and Alvin and I got out and went around the corner to see what was new at Anderson's Newsstand. It was Saturday afternoon, and the streets were full of shoppers. But why were there so many Negroes shopping downtown, so many more than I had ever seen there before? I must have pondered the possible causes of such a sudden influx for several minutes before I realized with dismay that there were no more Negroes in downtown Florence today than there were on any other Saturday, that the difference was entirely one of vision (mine) and what informed it. Before I went to Highlander there had been no reason, practically speaking, for me to have looked at Negroes on the sidewalk in the same way that I might have kept my eyes open for white friends and acquaintances. And now that in theory there was a reason, it was little more than theoretical. In less than one month, I would be starting college at NYU (just as Dad would be starting to teach at Florence State), and whatever happened to me at Highlander would soon become irrelevant.

In any case, it was something unresolved, as unresolved for me as the South, a place I've never understood. Seriously; I have never been able to comprehend more than a fraction of what Stepin Fetchit says in The Sun Shines Bright , all three or four times I've seen it, at home and abroad, just as I could never understand why the colored soldier in Home Of The Brave (at the Princess on August 22, 1949, its first showing in Alabama—when "colored" was still the usual term, not Negro or black ) was called "yellow-bellied" by a white soldier when that wasn't his color at all; or why the all-white audience at the Norwood in mid-December 1958 for The Defiant Ones laughed uproariously, hysterically, as though the film were a Three Stooges comedy.

It was much easier to grasp the ambience of, say, Jazz On a Summer's Day at the 5th Avenue Cinema or a play called The Connection at the Living Theatre, both seen on the same Saturday in succession on the way back to Putney from Florence, April 1960, only two weeks after seeing The Magician on the way down (both topheavy exciting trips—not unlike the visiting relationship with Manhattan that I have today, a tourist from Hoboken ), where the relative acceptance of colored Negro blacks seemed like typically sophisticated New York. (At the avant-garde drinking fountain in the upstairs lobby of the Living Theatre, one of the Negro actors, John McCurry, actually begged money from the audience during intermission, still playing his role of a junkie.) Traces of city smarts may have even registered at a 16mm screening of The Quiet One , held one night in the living room at home in Florence, for a meeting of the integrated Council on Human Relations, circa 1949 or 1950,


a year or two after Bo donated $35,000 (the same amount that it cost to remodel the Princess for its silver anniversary in August 1944) toward the building of the Florence Public Library, which Dad integrated. Most of all, there was the sentimental, pulsing, humanist New York warmth of a movie called Shadows , with music by Charlie Mingus, in which words like "colored," "Negro," "Caucasian," "black," "white," and even "racist" were never used—a movie I saw again and again during an entire spring vacation spent in New York in 1961, my senior year at Putney.

I suppose it was the same New York sophistication that led me, in an unconscious but unmistakable fit of one-upmanship and sadism, to take David Darby to see The Connection when I was a freshman at NYU, during the fall term, after Highlander. (The resulting shock was so great that he fixated on a musical comedy actress he thought he recognized a few rows away; it was all he could talk about afterwards.) When Claude Winfield—a Negro friend from Harlem by way of Putney—and I saw Shirley Clarke's film of the play the following October, after the New York censor had finally passed it, it was at a theater called the D. W. Griffith, located right next to several legitimate theaters off Times Square. So Claude and I laughed when we heard an out-of-towner behind us, some hayseed, ask at the box office if it was Mars Mary he was buying a ticket for—only to discover much later, at the climax of The Connection , when Leach overdoses on heroin, that the same out-of-towner was causing an unusual commotion in the balcony by having a heart attack.

"This man's just had a heart attack!" some woman screamed, to be answered by, "Will you please shut up and let us watch the picture?"—a classic New York exchange. It reminds me of the loud, plaintive query, aimed at no one in particular, that Calvin Green said he once heard in the balcony of the 42nd Street Apollo, during a pregnant pause in an art film like The Seventh Seal : "He's sahry? He just vomits all over my wife's brand new coat and he says he's sahry? "—one more measly item in a long chain of cinéphiliac legends stretching from here to doomsday. (I used to hear of a man in Paris, a critic on one of the French film monthlies and a Cinémathèque habitué who, it was said, had recently returned from Switzerland, where an unspeakable operation had been performed on him so that whatever it was that had been distracting him from cinema had been swiftly, efficiently, and permanently removed. Then there was the more modest legend about one of the regulars at Howard and Roger's [a former ciné-club in Manhattan], who, according to Carlos Clarens, took a shower and smoked a joint before every film. A fabled figure of my personal acquaintance went AWOL from his army base one night in the early sixties in order to see a double feature of The Big Sleep and To Have And Have Not , and was subsequently reported as dead to his parents. Meredith Brody, a Californian whom I met at the Cinémathèque, thought nothing of going to four or five movies in one day, hopping from one Left Bank cinema to the next like someone delivering the mail. Finally, another


friend reports that when Jonas Mekas was informed in 1970 that Nasser had just died, his initial response was to wonder aloud: Is this a good or bad thing for cinema?)

I digress? Very well then, I digress. And hold your breath even longer, if you possibly can, as I explain that it wasn't until the fall of 1963, the year after I saw The Connection with Claude, when I wrote a paper on race prejudice in the South for Heinrich Bluecher's seminar at Bard, on Metaphysical Concepts of History and Their Manifestations in Political Reality, only a short time before John F. Kennedy was shot (and a week more before Thanksgiving vacation, when I took the train to New York and went to see Miles Davis at the Village Vanguard, an electric night; the place was packed, it was one of Miles's big comebacks after a long absence; even Charlie Mingus was there, at a table, and he got so carried away by the beginning of one of the ballads that he did a phrase just like Miles's opening phrase with his voice—"DEEDOPA DOODA DOOPEE DAY"—so loud, sudden, and brilliant that it stopped Miles dead in his tracks, then stopped the band when Miles motioned to Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams to quit. Then in his sinister foghorn voice, Miles whispered, right next to the mike, real testy-like, "Do it again, Mingus." "NO, MILES," Mingus bellowed, "YOU DO IT AGAIN!" And Miles started the ballad a second time, this time did it even better, played his solo, and then left the stage, crossing most of the club's perimeter on his way to Mingus 's table. Every eye in the Vanguard seemed to be trained on his tense, angry body, and a crowd quickly surrounded them, making it impossible to see what was happening until a moment later, when some people moved away and the two men could be seen hugging each other; and later that night the three wonderful New York strangers I was sharing a table with, three older guys and a gal, one of the guys black invited me to their place on Sullivan Street—oh nostalgia, dirty, rotten, reactionary nostalgia—and we all smoked dope until nearly dawn, even if the president was dead ) that I was able to formulate what so much of the problem had been for me, a matter of metaphysics: that "white" people weren't actually colored white any more than "colored," "Negro," or "black" people were colored black. The abstraction was a verbal one that effectively replaced and overwhelmed the colors that people actually saw—because there was so much psychic and social energy (time, effort, money) invested in that absurd so-called dialectic whereby black was chaos, the unknown, and dirty evil, while white was familiar, virginal soap—a myth that became even more questionable once it was imposed on people whose colors were indeterminate varieties of pink and tan. Furthermore, I concluded, "It is impossible to realize that one is part of a pattern without first breaking away from the pattern in order to view it as an outsider."

Among all of my liberal friends in Alabama, I cannot think of a single one (and I would include myself) who has developed any real conviction about the reality


of Negro persecution without having first become dissatisfied with some other aspect of the South. Perhaps it is impossible for one to recognize selfishness in others unless he has selfish reasons for doing so; but since this fact appears to be a universal one, there is hardly any reason for finding it more distasteful in the South than anywhere else. It would hardly advance a liberal argument to assume that Southern whites are basically inferior to other people.

Was there a contradiction between the attempt to reject such a cosmology of black and white as politics, and the impulse to embrace a comparable kind of metaphysics, in Sunrise and Alphaville , as poetics? (When Alpha-60 asks Lemmy, "What transforms the night into day?" the answer might also have been "politics." Or perhaps even "cinema.") Not really, for one person's poetics are bound to be another person's politics (and vice versa, no doubt). And what is politics, really, but the application of art to a nonabstract realm?

That was what it felt like, more or less, on the last laps of the Historic March from Selma to Montgomery a year and a half later, March 17 and 18, 1965, the same spring I was learning about grass from Bruce II and having my first nonproblematical affair at Bard (with a drama major whose classmates and cronies included Chevy Chase, Blythe Danner, and Kenny Shapiro, three jazz performers—drums, vocals, and piano and vocals, respectively—with whom I loved to jam on piano). But the fact that it felt so Historic while it was happening also helped to make it seem like it wasn't really happening at all. Alvin and I and three other Bard students got special permission to miss three days of classes, flew from New York to Atlanta, rented a car from Avis (the Hertz people, overhearing what we were up to, said they had no car available, but, being hospitable Southern folk, they drove us to their competitor a few blocks away), and headed straight for St. Jude on Highway 80, a Catholic school and hospital complex on the outskirts of Montgomery, where the marchers from Selma were arriving and camping out, before the triumphant march to the state capitol the following day.

We arrived in early afternoon, when the rain that had persisted for most of the day was beginning to slacken. While Alvin went to park our rented car, the rest of us were carried in an overcrowded staff car to the end of a procession of about two thousand people who were still marching toward St. Jude, where we joined a burgeoning and boisterous cross-section of the nation, a veritable Norman Rockwell portrait of all-American diversity that was practically the reverse of the group from Highlander which drove through downtown Chattanooga three and a half years before. Unlike those crackers who hated us, we were a euphorically self-satisfied and fulfilled bunch of stand-ins for Everyone, the American People, who were incidentally flanked and protected by federalized state troopers as we sang our triumphant songs. (The troopers were there at the express order of President Johnson, who had actually said "We shall overcome" before a joint session of Congress on Monday,


thereby making the Selma March Historic, like a movie on dope, which made us only that much more eager to freeload happily on a grand celebration that belonged first of all to those who had started from Selma on Monday—and those among them, like King, who were reaping the fruit of some of the seeds planted years ago by the Montgomery Bus Boycott.) The troopers looked like inhabitants of another planet as they stood stiffly and stolidly, determined to suppress all signs of emotion. (And how many killing looks were directed at them, from us, the conquering crowd? )

Marching with all those Negro schoolkids, Michigan lawyers, Brooklyn housewives, New England teachers, West Coast college kids, white Southern ministers, Midwestern businessmen, and all the other middle-class Everyones was a giddy kick all right. And the monster outdoor entertainment rally that night in St. Jude's muddy field, which we watched from our sleeping bags and blankets, offered a better lineup than you could get any night of the year in front of George Wallace's state headquarters—a Biblical (or at any rate De Mille) spectacular that featured Joan Baez, James Baldwin, Harry Belafonte (as emcee), Leonard Bernstein, Mai Britt, Sammy Davis, Jr., George Kirby, Peter Lawford, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Tony Perkins, Nipsey Russell, Nina Simone (singing "Mississippi Goddam"), Frank Sinatra, Shelley Winters, and many others.

Was it the collective high of the event that made the experience so oddly unreal to Jonathan? Apparently not, because the experience of unreality started only after the March had left the Negro ghetto (where Jonathan and the others had tried to sleep that morning, after the rain had started again at 3 or 3:30 A.M., and they had been taken in a truck down a dirt road to a Negro church where a rooster in the adjacent yard was already crowing, and where the pews and aisles were already filled with sleeping marchers, bodies who seemed to have been dropped there in diverse postures like so many handkerchiefs ). The March's route toward the state capitol had been shrewdly plotted not via Highway 80 but through the Negro section instead, which gradually became working-class and then middle-class white, before reaching the main street downtown; and each step forward seemed a little more abstract.

Could this have been because the media took over at the very moment the March entered White Territory? It wasn't so much the TV cameras as it was the painfully contracted stalemates between hostility and approval that was apparent in so many of the faces of the white spectators, observers who seemed so aware of the national media coverage that their features, like those of the troopers, twisted into deliberately noncommittal masks that translated themselves into media blandness. It was as though Jonathan and the other marchers were looking directly into the TV cameras while the troopers and the spectators were all looking away, neither side daring for an instant to look too closely at the other, or even to establish eye contact. Whatever it was, it took all the placeness out of Montgomery, made the city into a prop,


an abstraction, a soundstage remodeled (like a political candidate) for instant transmission. Thus Jonathan began to entertain the fantasy that if he stepped off the street, crossed the line of state troopers, and walked around to the backs of those middle-class clapboard houses—subjected himself to a reverse angle, as it were—he would find Hollywood scaffolding and supports behind all those façades, perhaps even discover that the real Montgomery was located somewhere else (certainly not here, in front of those cameras, in front of company).

This was my second march in Montgomery; Jonny made the first as a clarinet player in the Coffee High School Band, at the gubernatorial inauguration of John Patterson. (January 1959, if you have to know, another wretched band trip in those silly gold and black uniforms, marching to nonsense songs in the cold; more fun perhaps than doing Busby Berkeley formations to the same Sousa marches at halftime during Coffee's football season, but not one hell of a lot.) John Patterson's father Albert had said he was going to clean up all the crime in Phenix City, had been elected attorney general of Alabama on that platform, and had been shot dead by gangsters on the night of Friday, June 18, 1954, when I was spending the night at Bo and Grandma's. Bo and I were drinking grape soda floats when an announcement of the murder interrupted the program we were all watching—Our Miss Brooks or The Life of Riley or Ozzie and Harriet —frightening and upsetting Bo for the rest of the evening. (The murder was immortalized the following year in Phil Karlson's The Phenix City Story , a neorealist film noir thriller in the tradition of On The Waterfront that turns up at the Shoals in October, and which I show at Bard almost exactly nine years later—the most authentic-looking and authentic-sounding seedy movie shot in Alabama that I know, even though I don't know Phenix City.)

Although my second march in Montgomery is a lot more satisfying than the first one was six years before, the placelessness of both events seems strangely equivalent. Like the Advent screen in a spacious living room in Hidden Hills, an L.A. suburb, where Sandy and I sat watching the evening news just after the last New Year, it was something bigger than we were, automatically more important than who or what or even where we were—History, no less ("And that's the way it is," said Walter Cronkite, the Big Brother who was watching us, with the comforting finality of a Walt Disney or a March Of Time or a Charlie Chaplin, all twiddling the globe beneath their smooth thumbs, speaking grandly of apocalypse)—which made us belong to the image, rather than ensure that the image belonged to us. So, like illicit sex, it didn't much matter where it happened or who we were: places and faces were equally expendable in the serious pursuit of abstract, eternal truths.

Which is also to suggest, as I approach the end of this abbreviated survey, that it mattered whom I saw movies with—which was always a part of the


places where I saw them. And the race of my companions affected this too: Cabin In The Sky with Mickey Schuler (black) at the Palais de Chaillot Cinémathèque, October 1970; Slaughter with John Thompson (white) at the Shoals, November 1972; the last show of Super Fly with Jill Forbes (white) at the Cinéma Bonaparte on Place Saint-Sulpice, March 1973; Car Wash with Maryanne Conheim (white) in a mainly black audience in downtown Philadelphia, Christmas 1976; Richard Pryor Live In Concert , alone amid a mainly black audience at the National in midtown Manhattan, March 1979, where Pryor's

intuitions about my own insecurities were so acute that I was immediately won over. In point of fact, his impersonations of whites are probably more hilarious and accurate than any "equivalents" offered in white minstrel shows. It was refreshing to learn, contrary to the incessantly hammered-in xenophobia of so many recent Hollywood packages—from Sorcerer and Star Wars to Midnight Deer Hunter Express —that political ties can still be found, renewed and/or tested among diverse groups inside an auditorium, not broken up and subdivided on the way in by diverse forms of racism and class distinction.

The political issue is basic: Are commercial movies today public forums and community meeting-places, or private sites of narcissistic pleasure, figurative or literal porn images to masturbate to? (A tasty bit of aggressive agit-prop like The China Syndrome falls neatly between these categories.) There's no question that Pryor belongs to the first camp, because his comedy is a matter of recognition, not confirmation. He lets it all hang out, including how he works. When he falls to the floor in his heart-attack routine, or impersonates his grandmother beating himself as a child—one word per stroke as he sculpts a staccato, crablike chain of blows given and received across the stage, oppressor and victim maniacally encased inside the same voice and body—it seems to be his body thinking, remembering, and speaking as much as his mind. But of course, as Yvonne Rainer reminds us, the mind is a muscle—a lesson demonstrated constantly by Pryor, along with Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis (in contrast to, say, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen).[*]

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