Thursday 30 July 2020

The Negro Soldier (Stuart Heisler, 1944)

An African American artist in The Negro Soldier

This film is considered a “watershed in the use of film to promote racial tolerance”, and Heisler had previously handled the subject with surprisingly fine results in his 1940 The Biscuit Eater. Hollywood showed little interest in the subject of race, apart from work by those communist writers such as Lester Cole (None Shall Escape) and John Howard Lawson (Sahara) who gave African Americans a voice as agents of democracy in the fight against fascism. However, The Negro Soldier was perhaps the only film in that vein written by an African American, Carlton Moss. Films about the black experience were either ‘churchy’ or ‘bluesy’ (a rare exception, King Vidor’s 1929 Hallelujah! was both). The Negro Soldier is churchy (even if it does include a fleeting shot of the father of the blues, W.C. Handy), adopting the form of a sermon, in which the history of African Americans’ involvement in the making of America is recounted to an entirely black audience. But when the familiar image of the church minister at the pulpit arrives, it delivers a twofold punch: it is Moss himself – and the book in his hands is Mein Kampf, from which he reads Hitler’s perspective on the black race. The church form finds new urgency, as the film’s writer merges roles with that of the minister. Heisler makes his point visually, to avoid preaching: at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the German and Japanese athletes fail and an African American wins; a black conductor leads a mixed orchestra through Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. 

Tuesday 28 July 2020

André Breton on Sadegh Hedayat's The Blind Owl

Sadegh Hedayat

Nasturtiums Purple

Of Sadegh Hedayat, who committed suicide in Paris on April 9th, 1951, reached us, in the beautiful translation of Roger Lescot, The Blind Owl, a hopeless sign in the night. Never more such a dramatic apprehension of the human condition has aroused such an examination  of our shell, nor such a knowledge of  timeless struggle in a maze of mirrors, with the attributes that are our common lot ... The acuity of the sensations and the violence of the impulses which like  Wölfli, make a confounding use of certain stereotyped images, gasping from one end to the other, those that Hedayat excludes from the world of the "scoundrel". A Masterpiece if any! A book that must find its place near the Aurelia of Nerval, the Gradiva of Jensen, the Mysteries of Hamsun, which takes part in the phosphorescence of Berkeley Square and the prisons of Nosferatu. (Jose Corti Library). A. B. [André Breton]

Albert Maltz on This Gun for Hire

This Gun for Hire (Frank Tuttle, 1942) [Photo: LIFE Magazine]

Interviewed by Joel Gardner between 1975 and 1979 for an oral history series by the University of California. As a part of Guns for Hire: Frank Tuttle vs. Stuart Heisler retrospective, This Gun for Hire will be playing at Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, August 26, 9:15 AM, Cine Jolly.


The financial squeeze that I [was in] became too great in the spring of 1941. My friends Michael Blankfort and George Sklar had gotten work in Hollywood, and we made the decision that I would try also. And as soon as teaching was over, I went out to Las Vegas, New Mexico, because my mother-in-law was ill and my wife had taken our son out there earlier. And then after a few days I went overnight by bus to Los Angeles. And I, for about ten days, slept on a couch in the tiny cottage that the Sklars had. Although he was working, they had not yet accumulated enough money to move into anything better than the very simple little quarters that they had. 

By luck I got a job very quickly. The film director Frank Tuttle had a piece of material--had a novel, actually, by Graham Greene called This Gun for Hire which had been owned by Paramount, and he had worked out a way in which the story might be done which was acceptable. He wanted a  writer just at the time that I came into town and heard about me and knew my work, and I got the job at $300 a week.