Filminformation 58: Blues People

Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakadamie Berlin (DFFB) – Filminformation 58


A Film by Skip Norman

Camera: Carlos Bustamante

Cast: Li Antes, Skip Norman

Voices: Callen Maden, Ingrid Gelerson

Texts from LeRoi Jones Dutchman

Production: DFFB 1968

16mm black and white optical sound

17 min.

Distributor: Filmmacher Cooperative, 2 Hamburg 1, Rosenstrasse 18

The filmmaker on his film: Blues People examines two aspects of America’s social structure:

1. The development of an art form amongst oppressed blacks. This art form, the Blues, always displays the relationship of blacks to American society.

2. The sexual myth, which has contributed to the oppression of black people and white women in American society. Both the black man and the white woman are witnesses to this sexual myth, created by white patriarchs (the capitalist = the chauvinist), in order to maintain control of social development and people’s fate.

Blues People attempts to show that the origin of the sexual oppression of non-white men and white women is of the same character. In the majority of racist societies (Occident) the sexual relationship between non-white men and white women is one of the gravest crimes.

There are four main elements which mediate the film’s intentions: music, text, stills, and black film.

a) The music is a classic example of the extent and the development of an art form which was developed as a reaction of the blacks to racist America. This music reflects the precise scale of the psychological, sociological, cultural, and political dependency on American society, and it documents the politico-economic conditions and aspirations of the blacks. There are four songs in this film: A “Field Holler” which was sung by slaves when working; a “Prison Song,” which was sung by the black prisoners on the galleys; a Blues, which represents the blacks’ confrontation with industrialization.

Sung by the “Queen of the Blues”: Bessie Smith.

b) The text expresses the typical helplessness that a non-white man and a white woman experience when they fail to understand the myth of oppression.

c) The stills of the victim are evidence which documents the crimes of the white patriarch.

e) The passages of black film engage directly with the viewer. They have the task of heightening the viewer’s receptiveness for the film’s statement.

Although each element stands on its own from time to time, in combination they carry the core of the message.

With Blues People an attempt has been made to give cinematic expression to the various layers of non-white psychological, sociological, cultural, and political dependency on white America. (Skip Norman)

Festival: Blues People was screened at the XVth West German Short Film Festival Oberhausen in 1969.

Press quote: “This is a black-and-white film in every respect. Its problem is the problem of black and white (the races), it shows black and white people (more precisely: a black man and a white woman), and it shows what it shows in black and white images, not in the usual black-and-white, but literally in black and white.
… Norman grabs the race problem where it is rooted: between the legs. And he is no longer willing to sublimate the centuries-long, sexually rooted oppression of his race by the whites, in art (= Blues). His film employs the most effective means, pornography (which in this case is exactly the right means) to call for ‘Black power.’
It is rare that a film is so dialectically correct.” (Jochen Schmidt in “XVth West German Short Film Festival Oberhausen 1969 – Report”)

“For me the strongest film, not just of the German program but the festival as a whole, was Blues People from Skip Norman. … (He) has succeeded where even great filmmakers such as Murnau or Eisenstein have only succeeded in rare cases. Norman juxtaposes contradictions, not in order to sublate or resolve them, but in order to make an age-old injustice and a great divide sensuously and concretely understandable. The sound and texts of the Blues provide the film’s atmosphere, giving it an aura of mourning and melancholy. With his film Norman performs an operation: he releases the aggression residing in the Blues. To do this the director employs an advanced symbol: the relationship between a black man and a white woman. This has nothing to do with pornography, Norman could not have selected any other images, they are legitimate through and through. It is only through this radicalism that it is possible to make clear that even the union of two people cannot resolve the socially and politically determined divide between the races. Blues People can only be an agitational film. However, the call to action is formulated with exceptional lyrical power and sensitivity.” (Ulrich Kurowski in Jugend Film Fernsehen, issue 2/69)

Personal details: Skip Norman, born in 1933, studied German philology and medicine, studied at the DFFB from 1966 to 1969. Films: Riffi 1966, Blues People 1968, Strange Fruit – graduation film – 1969, On Africa (WDR) 1970, Washington D.C. (WDR) 1970, Cultural Nationalism (1971).

Filminformation – published by the Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakadamie Berlin, 1 Berlin 19, Pommernallee 1.

Editorial Board: Eva Orbanz, Hans Helmut Prinzler. November 1972.

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December 13th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 03 / Docs

The Reconstruction of Ukraine. Ruination / Representation / Solidarity, online symposium, September 9-11, 2022. “The Reconstruction of Ukraine: Ruination / Representation / Solidarity” devotes particular attention to cities, architecture, art, culture and psychological trauma – but the scope of the conversations it aims to start is broader. In due course, the discussions held during the symposium may coalesce into myriad projects, initiatives and experiments undertaken by government institutions, municipalities, educational and cultural bodies and other more interstitial actors. The ambition of this symposium is to establish a platform for dialogue, facilitating communication, collaboration and constructive argument between diverse actors and initiatives.

George Edwards (Zetkin Collective) on war, nationalism and the “anti-climate lobby” (via Arts of the Working Class): “The latest prognosis of this particular war was spelt out in a flurry of reports from the IPCC; the most recent, described as ‘an atlas of human suffering’ by the chief of the UN, demanded ‘rapid, deep and immediate’ emissions cuts in all sectors to ensure an inhabitable planet for all. In step with the science, many wish this conflict to mark the beginning of an intensified programme of decarbonization, ridding economies of not only Russian, but all fossil fuels, wherever their geological source. But whilst political leaders scramble abroad to secure new sources of fossil fuels – sweet-talking sheiks and summoning LNG terminals from the ground – a resourceful and committed cohort, let’s call them the anti-climate lobby, refuse to accept this diagnosis. The partakers in the fossil industry have seized upon this crisis, sensing it as an opportunity to enlarge and entrench economic interests rooted in fossil fuels. As the course of action prescribed by the IPCC imperils this line of business, the attempts to secure fresh investments in fossil fuel infrastructures, to lock-in production and secure profits for the coming decades may feel all the more pressing. The solutions they pose also fit within the national frame and it is with nationalist political forces that they find their most ardent allies.”

July 31st, 2022

The fundamental difference that we face in Europe at the moment between the Western approach characterized by the pursuit of peace and the Eastern one focused on liberation and independence poses a dramatic challenge – in order to survive and progress, democracy as a political regime has to be capable of defending itself also in a military way.” Armed Democracy revolves around the concepts of imperialism, liberation, fascism, autocracy, revolution, and militarization in pursuit of the world to come on Europe’s burnt out land. Conceived by the Kyiv Biennial and Biennale Warszawa from the East Europe Biennial Alliance, this special public program, curated by Vasyl Cherepanyn within the 2nd edition of Biennale Warszawa, the program is a first part of the series organized by the East Europe Biennial Alliance discussing Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine and taking place in Warsaw, Prague, Kassel, and Riga over the summer and fall of 2022.

Olena Lyubchenko on Whiteness, Expropriation, War, and Social Reproduction in Ukraine (via LeftEast): “[…] when we hear on the news that ‘Ukraine is fighting a European war’ and ‘Ukraine is defending Europe’, amid images of fleeing ‘poor white’ women with children prioritized over racialized ‘Others’, ‘Ukraine’ is being made ‘white’ in the global imaginary. That is, “the injunction to ‘return to Europe’ by way of Europeanization is enabled and conditioned on the mythologies of Western civilization, and that Europeanization at once marks (promulgates) and unmarks (naturalizes) racial whiteness” [Nadezhda Husakouskaya and Randi Gressgård]. The paradox is that Europe’s existence as such has only been possible precisely because of the exploitation of global working peoples through expropriation of resources and today neoliberal economic reforms and reproduced by feminized labour.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn about the “inertness, hiding behind the European Wall” (via L’Internationale): “Many Western institutions that have been claiming ‘radical political engagement’ for years, have simply resorted to a white cube radicalism and self-satisfying humanitarianism, too afraid of acting politically beyond their comfort zone and unsettling their publics and authorities by attempting to affect the decision-making process regarding the Ukrainian cause.”

May 28th, 2022

Tatsiana Shchurko on the War in Ukraine, Entangled Imperialisms, and Transnational Feminist Solidarity, via LeftEast (May 2, 2022): “[An] uneven knowledge production and the many implications of the war against Ukraine reveal the dire need to develop a feminist anti-capitalist critique of multiple imperialisms. This language should grow from within the occupied and suppressed communities of Eastern Europe and Eurasia. An anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist feminist positionality grasps that the local is part of a global in an effort to build transnational connections of mutual aid and support against state and corporate violence. For example, statements of solidarity with Ukraine expressed by the International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia and Native American communities along with the anti-war feminist march in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) on March 8, 2022, pointing out that the war in Ukraine should be of concern for a broad transnational community, may serve as instrumental examples of alternative anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist solidarities that stretch beyond state regulations and macro-politics and foreground decolonial perspectives, necessary in addressing entanglements of multiple imperialisms. Such solidarities also bring to light hidden interconnections of the past that allowed for distant communities to survive and support each other against the violence of imperialist intervention and its attendant capitalist exploitation. Thus, the march in Bishkek reminds of the socialist roots of the International Women’s Day to call for internationalist, intersectional, class solidarity against imperialism and militarism.”

Vasyl Cherepanyn on that “It’ll take more than tanks to ease Germany’s guilt” (via Politico): “Since the Soviet Union’s collapse, Germany has been imposing neocolonial optics on its Eastern European ‘peripheries,’ and on the post-Soviet space in particular, where Ukraine was long considered a gray buffer zone about which the EU was ‘deeply concerned.’ Germany didn’t bother itself much with differentiating between former Soviet countries’ pasts. Even until recently, any Ukrainian agenda in Germany was often ‘balanced’ with a Russian perspective, so as to not exclude the latter by any means.”

An unnamed anarchist and art scholar, who joined the Territorial Defense Forces, quoted by Olexii Kuchanskyi in an essay on “Digital Leviathan and His Nuclear Tail” (via Your Art and e-flux notes): “At dawn, Dima and I talked about cinema. Dima believes that cinema is inferior to literature as a means of expression because you spend much more time with a book than a film. It’s a really interesting point, something to dig into. I studied at the department of art theory & history and I never thought of it. Dima served in the military after school and worked at the factory all his life. He listens to rap, smokes pot, and tries to have fun. He is thirty-eight, his child was born last year. He likes Wong Kar-wai and is a fan of Asian cinema in general. Dima communicates by quoting Omar Khayyam, Confucius, and other awesome guys.”

April 20th, 2022
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