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Library of Congress to preserve indie production featuring Sun Ra and racial arguments

“The Cry of Jazz” named by National Film Registry

Dec 29th, 2010 | By

Ed Bland’s “The Cry of Jazz,” a low-budget semi-documentary made in Chicago in 1958 with original music by Sun Ra performed by his Arkestra, is among the 25 films named this year to the National Film Registry, a catalog of movies to be preserved for the ages in a program run by the Library of Congress. There are now 550 films in the registry.

Bland’s black-and-white film, a labor of love created by a crew of 65 people who worked without pay, is a  34-minute treatise set mostly at an interracial party, where attendees discuss the origins of jazz, essentialist theories regarding its basis in African-American (then referred to as “Negro”) culture, and the music’s structural elements.

The Cry of Jazz, part 3 of 4

Voice-overs drawn from Bland’s book The Fruits of the Death of Jazz are intoned over footage of Chicago backyards and streets, a basketball game, a gospel church service, the inside of a ghetto apartment, a white woman trimming her poodle’s fur, and players in Ra’s Arkestra. The film is now available directly from Bland’s website, but can also be viewed in its entirety on Youtube.com, or here.

The Library of Congress’ description of the film, which it calls “seminal,” includes the statement “‘Cry of Jazz’ is a historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins.” Bland’s thoughts on “the death of jazz” and “the burden the Negro has trying to teach white Americans to be human” may seem, depending on the viewer, either outdated or still relevant. In his film, the arguments polarize party-goers along racial lines, but conclude “Where else does America’s imagers of world power reside but in the dark soul of the Negro, whose salvation has now become in the world’s watching eyes the vindication of America’s posture.”

Other jazz-related inclusions this year include Spike Lee’s feature-length “Malcolm X,” with a soundtrack that included tracks by Arrested Development, Big Joe Turner, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, Erskine Hawkins, Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane and Aretha Franklin, and “The Pink Panther,” with a score by Henry Mancini based around the titular song with a memorable saxophone lead played by Plas Johnson. Earlier inductees into the National Film Registry include “Jam Session” (1942), “Jammin’ the Blues” (1944), “Jazz on A Summer’s Day” (1959) and “The Jazz Singer” (1927). The entire list is posted here.

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