The Film Society of Lincoln Center's retrospective, James Brown: The Hardest Working Man in Show Business is devoted to the film work of the great musician and performer and running from August 29th to September 1st 2014. The retrospective provides an exciting opportunity to see the rarely screened, early 1970s gangster drama, Black Caesar, starring Fred Williamson, in a pristine 35mm.
Included in the retrospective is the 1965 Frankie Avalon vehicle, Ski Partywith James Brown doing a spectacular number while being accompanied with a curiously invisible backing band. Also included is Jeffrey Levy-Hinte’s 2008 documentary Soul Power. Set against the backdrop of the music festival Zaire '74, Brown's music bookends the film's undercurrent of political turmoil.
Black Caesar was the first blaxploitation film directed by the fascinating Larry Cohen, one of the last, truly great directors to emerge from the Hollywood system. Although he has always been located somewhere on the margins of American commercial filmmaking. Cohen's work has been singled out for praise by some of the most eminent Anglophone auteurists, such as Dave Kehr, Fred Camper, Robin Wood, and Tom Gunning.
Cohen's somewhat wild, morally ambiguous screenplay has, expectedly, an abundance of interesting ideas as well as much of the radical content that made the director a darling of Marxist critics such as the inestimable Wood. Although Black Caesar is considerably cruder stylistically than the director's most satisfying works, it nonetheless possesses much of Cohen's characteristic anarchic energy and visual chaos, while maintaining a high level of emotional intensity throughout its length, recalling the bold sensibility of Sam Fuller whose films Cohen admires.
If Black Caesar doesn't ultimately rank with some of Cohen's most aesthetically noteworthy efforts — such as It's Alive!, God Told Me To, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover, or Special Effects — it is, at the very least, an intriguing curiosity, replete with instances of the director's compelling deployment of New York locations and carried by Williamson's confident and charismatic, star performance.
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James Brown: The Hardest Working Man in Show Business
Aug 29 - Sept 1, 2013
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street
New York, NY 10023