Saturday, July 28, 2012

The United States of Hoodoo (2012)

Playing at the Eiszeit-Kino last night was The United States of Hoodoo (2012). To describe this is an Oliver Hardt film is to invite a serious throat-clearing by its writer-narrator, Darius James, who, along with Hardt, was present at the screening.

The plot: after the death of his father, James returns to the family home in Connecticut (from Berlin), where he forces himself to deal with both dad's ashes and his substantial collection of Africalia. In order to sort through what this collection meant to a man who said it meant nothing (religious), James and a film crew embark on a multi-city tour of the United States (New York City, Glendora, New Orleans, San Francisco, Chicago, etc.) looking for the roots of that distinct blend of European, Indigenous American and African mysticism known as Hoodoo.

While I enjoyed what James opens up on his travels, particularly the Santeria cult in New Orleans (where one of its members, Sallie Ann Glassman, gives a lucid dissertation on the difference between the visible and the invisible), I found his hard-boiled style and camera-mugging sometimes hard to take. Indeed, it was during Sallie Ann's segment that I wondered if the film would be even more compelling (Harald Schmuk's camera-work is exceptional) had James not appeared in it, that it unfolded less through his visible presence than through his invisible (off-camera) provocations.

James is the author of That's Blaxploitation and Negrophobia: an Urban Parable, someone we read in the early-1990s, a successor, we supposed, to Ishmael Reed, who himself was a presence in the late-1960s, when the New Yorker regularly published eccentric short fiction by him and Donald Barthelme. Reed was certainly on my mind as the crew travelled to San Francisco, where sure enough we meet him, and listen as he talks about his writing in relation to collage, relating it less to a modern U.S. literary tradition (Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner...) than to Jazz. (Just as Barthelme was supplanted by Alice Munro as a New Yorker mainstay, Reed was supplanted by Alice Walker as an integral voice of African-America.)

Another voice worth mentioning is one we meet early on -- Val Jeanty, a DJ/drummer originally from Haiti. Jeanty tells us about the presence -- the sustained presence -- of frequencies, how they swirl around us, remain in the room long after the gesture that brought them from one time and place to the next is complete. On that note, the Original Music (Arto Lindsay & Rabotnik) neither drives the film nor determines it. The Sound Mix (Oliver Achatz) is excellent as well.

1 comment:

  1. you really need to check out my site get your facts right. i never published a short story in the new yorker. ok ishmael reed