A black and white, fantasy-like recreation of high-society gay men during the Harlem Renaissance, with archival footage and photographs intercut with a story. A wake is going on, with ... See full summary »

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Cast

Credited cast:
Ben Ellison ...
Alex
Matthew Baidoo ...
Beauty
Akim Mogaji ...
James
John Wilson ...
Karl
Dencil Williams ...
Marcus
Guy Burgess ...
Dean
James Dublin ...
Carlos
Harry Donaldson ...
Leatherboy
Jimmy Somerville ...
Angel
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Stuart Hall ...
British voice (voice)
Langston Hughes ...
Himself (archive footage)
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Storyline

A black and white, fantasy-like recreation of high-society gay men during the Harlem Renaissance, with archival footage and photographs intercut with a story. A wake is going on, with mourners gathered around a coffin. Downstairs is an elegant bar where tuxedoed men dance and talk. One of them has a dream in which he comes upon Beauty, who seems to reject him, although when he awakes, Beauty is sleeping beside him. His story and his visits to the jazz and dance club are framed by voices reading from the poetry and essays of Hughes and others. The text is rarely explicit, but the freedom of gay Black men in the 1920s in Harlem is suggested and celebrated visually. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

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Biography | Drama

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R | See all certifications »
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1 October 1989 (USA)  »

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Look for this film
22 April 2010 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

A lush, seamless integration of exquisite footage into a cinematic meditation revolving around the alleged homosexuality of Langston Hughes. Whether it was so or not, is harmlessly irrelevant; Essex Hemphill and Isaac Julien also offer us a powerful short-circuit between beauty, art and politics. How much Langston Hughes was involved into this gives more relief to the inquiry.

And such electric charge between the muse (Beauty, a staggeringly handsome man) and the poet. Watch that kiss, and you'll know this is a rare example on screen of tenderness and engagement contra the usual hastiness that surrounds such encounters, reminding us that passion is not a lustful precipitated affair only, but takes on a rhythm that is as political as poetic. (Perhaps Essex Hemphill's verses are more ambitious than inspired here, compared to the ones in "Tongues Untied," but the reciting is again exemplary.)

Add to that a pinch of triangulated passion by a white rival. (Or is it not a rival, since his presence obscenely suggests Beauty is rent, making all the more ambiguous and powerful the meditation?) And contrast to it the serene, exquisite presence of the actor portraying the poet, and the jazzy poet himself reciting with a terrific sense of rhythm some of his verse, ambivalently resounding in the end; matching his voice, the gripping voice of Toni Morrison reading James Baldwin in the beginning for great effect. And affect.

The cinematography is superb, evoking George Platt Lynes, a voyeur of the Harlem Renaissance.

A film on a par with Jean Genet's landmark "Un Chant d' Amour" and Derek Jarman's poetic studies.


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