The Blood of Jesus (1941)
Directed by Spencer Williams
A key document in the evolution of the race film, this epochal sophomore feature by pioneering actor-turned-filmmaker Spencer Williams is just as equally an important piece of early independent filmmaking proficiency. Starring the director himself as a spiritually wayward Southerner who accidentally shoots his devoted wife Martha (Cathryn Caviness), the film takes as its subject nothing less than the transmutation of the spirit and the journey, even after death, of the soul from purgatory to eternal sanctity. Integrating a variety of forward-thinking visual effects—from superimpositions to sourced footage from obscure religious films—to animate the series of trials and temptations Martha undergoes as she approaches the afterlife, Williams pushes accepted aesthetic values even as he prompts provocative questions regarding not just mortality, but of the price of redemption and the rich, complex history of religion in black culture. Jordan Cronk (June 3, 6:45pm; June 6, 2:30pm at MoMA’s “A Road Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration”)
The title of La Ultima Pelicula, which plays for a week at the Film Society of Lincoln Center for a week starting Friday, can be translated as The Last Movie, a la Dennis Hopper’s legendary/notorious Heart of Darkness-ish Easy Rider follow-up, an experimentally, elliptically achronologically edited and expressionistically photographed film starring Hopper as a cowboy stuntman who stays on in Peru after a Western shoot, and ends up starring in a postcolonial passion play shot with wooden cameras. (The film’s troubled postproduction is addressed obliquely in Lawrence Schiller and L.M. Kit Carson’s rare Hopper doc The American Dreamer, including much drug-addled rambling, nude massage, and target practice; American Dreamer also screens at the FSLC, on Saturday.) The title could also be translated as “The Last Film.” Indeed, the film stars filmmaker Alex Ross Perry (of NYU, Mondo Kim’s, Park Slope, the New York Film Festival, and many features in these pages), as a denim-clad director in unfamiliar Mexico to shoot a feature film on all the world’s remaining celluloid film stock, on a shoot coinciding with the purported Mayan apocalypse of 2012. Perry will be on hand to introduce the film on Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th, and he answered a couple of questions from me over email earlier this week.