Once Upon a Time In Hollywood
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pretty cool old black power film
Well worth watching, but too much like (all-black) Shakespeare. And what's the point of trying to make us sympathize with a traitor/informer, a proletarian who turns lumpenproletarian and away from revolution? Discipline!
Uptight shoots first and asks questions later. It's not a perfect film but it does an interesting job of reflecting the tensions felt around the country at the time it was made. Uptight serves as a fascinating historical document for an era where race relations were precipitously poised to devolve into outright anarchy.
i remember this, don't you? I also seem to remember that I was very disappointed with the ending. It might be worth viewing again, just to help with royalty payments to the artists (if that was part of their deal!).
Filmmaker Jules Dassin (Night and the City, Rififi, Topkapi) returned to the United States after a nearly twenty year absence (being blacklisted, he fled the country in the wake of the notorious HUAC trials) to make this riveting portrait of betrayal and guilt set amidst the Black Power movement in the days following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Working from the Irish novel The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty, published in 1925 and ten years later turned into an extraordinary film by director John Ford, and transplanting the action from 1920s Dublin to late 60s Cleveland, Ohio, the film follows Tank Williams (Julian Mayfield) a down-on-his-luck unemployed steel-worker who, desperate for money, decides to turn his close friend Johnny (Max Julien), who is wanted for a botched robbery and the murder of a white security guard, over to the police for a $1000 reward.
What follows is a portrait of a guilt-ridden man who feels, and is, dejected by his younger peers. They view him as being a drunken relic; a man past his prime, ineffective to fight along side them in their revolution. Tank's betrayal of his friend could be viewed as either the last act of a desperate man or a retaliation to being shunned by a community that once showed him respect.
No stranger to witnessing first-hand, the fighting and violence during the Civil Rights era, Mayfield's performance as Tank, while somewhat rough around the edges and a bit broad at times, is nevertheless very effective. He imbues in Tank a sad humanity that the audience can sympathize with despite the fact that he sold his friend to the cops.
It is this theme of betrayal and being cast out by ones peers that probably hits closest to home for director Dassin. It was, after all, his close friends and fellow filmmakers like Edward Dmytryk and Elia Kazan who informed on him to HUAC which ultimately led to his exile from Hollywood and America (Dassin did find steady work in Europe as a filmmaker, directing several highly regarded pictures like Rififi and Never On Sunday). Dassin displays an interest in his examination of a turncoat, he even puts him on trial by his fellow Black Militants (reminiscent of Peter Lorre's trial in Fritz Lang's M) and has another character who is against violence as the means to an end (Frank Silvera) argue in Tank's defense, but ultimately never lets him off the hook.
And it is this kind of duality that Dassin demonstrates throughout the picture, shifting between the gritty, honest reality of Cleveland's ghettos and the powder keg of anger and frustration of it's black inhabitants (Dassin co-wrote the script along with co-star Ruby Dee and lead actor Mayfield so the dialogue has a palpable urgency and ferocity that rings true, as well as powerful visuals such as a scene where the tenants of an apartment building rain glass bottles from their balcony's down on the police below, who have come to take Johnny to jail) and Tank's point of view which is an off-kilter hyper-reality represented by a vivid color-palate, the use of painted studio back-drops of the city-scape rather than on-location photography, the groovy-yet-melancholy score by the great Booker T. and The MG's (the film's theme Time is Tight was appropriated by The Blues Brothers as part of their intro music) and an overall stylized direction.
It's the sort of delicate balancing act that would hamstring a lesser filmmaker, but not Dassin has always been a maverick willing to take extreme chances, such as when he decided to shoot his 1948 film, The Naked City, entirely on location in New York City rather than shoot on a studio back lot and in sound stages. Here he found a story that not only spoke the truth about tumultuous era of the late 60s, he also found a story that resonated with him and his own personal experiences. What a terrific homecoming it was.