Category Archives: James Ivory

The Olive Trees Of Justice (1962)

Recoiling from the approaching death of his father, the reduced economic circumstances of his family, and the chaos of civil war, Jean, the son of a French colonialist, retreats to memories of the years he spent growing up on the family farm on the Mitidja plain outside Algiers. One childhood friend, Said, is now a revolutionary. Another childhood friend, Boralfa, is his mother’s kitchen servant. At his father’s funeral, Jean argues with Boralfa over the future of Algeria, but refuses to relinquish his childhood bonds, or his identity as an Algerian.

James Blue made The Olive Trees Of Justice as a collaboration. Jean Pélégri, the author of the semi autobiographical novel on which the film was based, co-wrote the screenplay and plays the dying French colonialist, a character based on his own father. The closest thing to a professional actor in Blue’s cast, Pélégri had recently played the role of the Inspector in Robert Bresson’s Pickpocket.

The rest of the actors were non professionals. All Algerian. James Blue cast shrewdly, choosing the son of a colonialist to play the son of a colonialist, the mother of a friend to play a mother, and three young Algerian boys to play, basically, themselves. Shot entirely on location, the war torn urban landscape of Algiers is another important character in the film.

Maurice Jarre shoehorned the score for The Olive Trees Of Justice into a year which saw him composing five (5) film scores, including Lawrence Of Arabia.

Shot under pretext it was about the wine industry, smuggled out of Algeria and edited in France, James Blue showed The Olive Trees Of Justice out of competition at the 1962 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Critics Prize. It was his first feature.

Here’s the young artist in New York, just before his triumph:


And a confession: I like Olive Trees because it does not have James Blue voiceover.

The narrator is not omniscient. He is guilty, nostalgic, self loathing, resentful, respectful, and open to personal transformation. He is an adult child, wandering the streets looking for – what? For Said? For some idea of how to resolve the conflict between what he knows he should do and what he fears he will do? Throughout the film, he wears the mournful expression of someone who has been asked to stand in a corner.

His movements through Algiers are shot newsreel style, allowing us to see, in real time, on the real sidewalks and streets, the volatile mix of European and Arab culture constantly ready to explode. By contrast, the scenes of his remembered childhood on his father’s farm are shot as classic Hollywood cinema. Lyrical, orderly, concise. The dilemma is not just that Jean wants to live in the past. He wants to live in a movie.

But Jean’s memories, however nostalgic, also contain the seeds of war. The holy man who tends the graves of departed saints curses Jean’s father for not respecting Muslim religious tradition. The same holy man, when Jean’s father is threatened by a group of hungry Arab men, appears and disperses the crowd. He defies categorization, and cannot be reconciled into European worldview. Jean grew up learning both cultures. He watches the holy man celebrate Muslim holy days, and he watches his father set off fireworks to celebrate Bastille Day. He speaks Arabic and he speaks French. There is no space in Algiers which is off limits to him. Yet all he wants is to flee.

James Blue, in interview:

Pélégri and I wanted to show the complexity of any such situation; that it can’t be reduced to villainous people and good people – the good guys and the bad guys. These people were in the grasp of a colonial system which was bad. How can a past, which seems so happy, produce this present which is in such chaotic form?

The Olive Trees Of Justice, James Blue’s first narrative feature, was also his last. From this point on, all his work would be in documentary. Yet a theme he returned to throughout his career – that of working with a community to express itself on film – is in full display in this, his least characteristic work.


One of the few surviving 16mm prints of The Olive Trees Of Justice was screened on February 12, 2014 at the Schnitzer Museum of Art as part of the University of Oregon’s James Blue Tribute.

That same fragile print was screened at the Hollywood Theatre on Oct. 11, 2014 as part of the Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series. Richard Blue, James Blue’s brother, and James Dormeyer, Blue’s classmate at IDHEC, introduced the film. Blue’s former student and longtime colleague Gill Dennis joined them afterwards for a panel discussion.

In the audience was Sheldon Renan, who served with James Blue on the NEA’s first media funding panel in 1970, and Brooke Jacobson, who worked with Blue on an NEA survey of regional film resources in the mid 1970s.

Larry Bissett and James Ivory, two of Blue’s University of Oregon classmates, traveled to the screening from Seattle and New York, respectively.

James Ivory rose from his seat during the discussion which followed the film to describe his wonder at Olive Trees‘ visual elegance and unsentimental approach to story. This film, he said, is so French.


Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance,  a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.

Are All Oregonians Secretly French?

How French is Oregon?

I addressed this question in 2009, during the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival. Here is the abbreviated version of my argument.


James Blue (1930-1980) won the Critics Prize at Cannes in 1962 for his French language feature, The Olive Trees Of Justice. He was a graduate of Jefferson High School ’49 in Portland, University of Oregon ’53  in Eugene and L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC) ’59 in Paris.

mise en scen

Currently, four Oregon directors are beloved by French audiences.


James Ivory (Klamath Falls), 6 nominations for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Winner of Cannes 45th Anniversary Special Award for Howard’s End (1992).

US director Gus Van Sant poses 21May 200

Gus Van Sant (Portland), 3 nominations for the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Winner for Elephant (2003). Winner of the Cannes 60th Anniversary Special Award for Paranoid Park (2007).


Bill Plympton (Oregon City), 2 nominations for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. His Idiots and Angels (2009), received theatrical release in France, and was seen all across that country. His Cheatin’ (2014) just won the Jury Award at Annecy


Penny Allen’s (Portland) latest film, En Retard Pour L’Enterrement De Ma Mere (Late For My Mother’s Funeral), is a French language feature length documentary-narrative film hybrid. Like The Olive Trees Of Justice, it was shot entirely on location in Algeria, and features a cast of non-professional actors.

How French is Oregon?


Oregon is so French, Bill Plympton says that everyone in France accepts without question the immediate assumption that Pink Martini is a French band.


This post first appeared on Anne Richardson’s Oregon Movies, A to Z, during the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival at Maryhurst University in 2009. It has been amended to include James Blue. I learned of James Blue from James Ivory during his appearance at that festival.


James Blue‘s French language feature, The Olive Trees Of Justice, will be presented at the upcoming Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, Oregon. Non French language films in the series are by Harry Smith, James Ivory, and Homer Groening, the senior member of the two generation Groening dynasty.


Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute. The six month long Tribute celebrates the bequest of James Blue’s films to the University of Oregon by the James Blue Alliance, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue.

Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.

The Importance Of Being Famous: Joaquin Miller, Gary Snyder, James Ivory, James Blue, Bill Plympton & Gus Van Sant As Oregon Artists


Joaquin Miller (1837-1913) Oregon poet/liar/literary sensation. 

Writing about Oregon film history, I have encountered a strong headwind of resistance to the idea that Oregon’s film history is in any way exceptional. Presenting the case quantitatively does nothing to soften the resistance.

How can you appraise a film history with no standard of comparison? What about, Richard Blue asked me, Minnesota? All American filmmakers have to come from someplace. Minnesota, for example, produced the Coen Brothers.

I have learned from experience that people are not impressed by the length of a list of names. They want to understand the situation qualitatively, and here we come to the heart of the matter. We don’t claim Oregon artists because qualitatively we do not know what that means.

What’s “Oregon” about them? Their subject matter? Their street addresses? Their birth certificates? Their historical moment?

We are comfortable calling Gary Snyder a Pacific Rim poet because he translates Chinese poetry and practices Zen Buddhism. We know what Pacific Rim means, and he fits. We don’t know what to call Snyder’s mixture of Wobbly/Reedie, anthropologist/poet, logger/social visionary which pre-existed his first trip to Japan. There is no word for this extremely regional set of characteristics, so it goes by the wayside, as if it doesn’t exist, or is important only insofar as it helped prepare Snyder to be a Pacific Rim poet.

Similarly, we don’t know what to call a Portland raised Dust Bowl refugee/filmmaker/actor/journalist/educator who could not make heads or tails of Madison Avenue or Hollywood. James Blue’s French film school education and his awards, the accomplishments for which he is most well known, give no sign of the intensity of his commitment to the classroom or to regional film. They leave out any accurate sense of his background. In fact it would be easy to mistake Blue for an international playboy or blueblood, based on the most skeletal reading of his life. Until the NARA restoration of The March triggered national reevaluation of his career, James Blue was most famous for having achieved fame.

Creating film artists who are independent, internationally known, writer-director-producers is Oregon’s regional specialty.

James Blue and James Ivory marked this trail. Bill Plympton and Gus Van Sant followed it. Each of these film artists placed such an emphasis on maintaining control of his work that it shaped his entire career. Are we supposed to ignore their independence, and the international scope of their careers, because to acknowledge those traits is to invite charges of exceptionalism?

I have come to believe that we do this to make real the image we want to have of the West. The West of our imagination is a frontier. It has no history. By refusing to write about, think about, and understand our history we actively keep alive for ourselves the wide open pristine emptiness of the “second chance” Western landscape we want to believe is our home.

Joaquin Miller, Oregon’s first internationally acclaimed author (and a man who knew a thing or two about second chances, having survived multiple scandals of assorted size), knew that the empty, pristine West was a fantasy.

His first book, Unwritten History: Life Among The Modocs, addresses the issue right in the title. If Joaquin Miller, who experienced the wide open frontier, could relinquish the idea of Oregon as a history free zone, why can’t we?


I dedicate this post to Walt Curtis, Oregon poet and literary historian, who insisted I read Joaquin Miller. Thank you, Walt!

Stay tuned for films of Harry Smith, James Ivory, James Blue, and Homer Groening which will be screened at the Hollywood Theatre during the upcoming Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series.


Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute, a six month retrospective at the University of Oregon.

Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.

What Do Pictures Want: Oregon Artists In Diaspora, 1972

“Analysis shows that a relation (always social) determines its terms, and not the reverse, and that each individual is a locus in which an incoherent (and often contradictory) plurality of such relational determinations interact.” Michel de Certeau

Analysis of Oregon film history shows that the incoherent plurality of relational determinations occasionally recedes to reveal unexpected unity.

For example, the collective decision far-flung Oregon filmmakers made in 1972 to undertake and/or interrogate and/or horse around with anthropology.


Kenya Boran (shot in 1972/completed 1974), dir. by James Blue & David MacDougall in Kenya. (Blue in headphones.)


Adventures Of A Brown Man In Search Of Civilization (1972) dir. by James Ivory in London. (Ivory in headphones.)


Savages (1972), dir. by James Ivory in Tarrytown. (Actors in mudface.)


Mahagonny (shot 1970-1972, completed 1980), dir. by Harry Smith in Manhattan. (Image as ritual.)

Bonus 1972 Oregon film:


Drugs: Killers Or Dillers (1972), dir. by Tim Smith & Matt Groening in Portland. (Groening in ferns.)

If I was on Twitter, I would tag this post #crosscultural #transnational #transcultural #transmodernity #postmodernity #altermodernity #postcolonial #neocolonial #decolonial #pluriversal #borderstudies #migratoryaesthetics #whatdoimageswant

We need to reckon with, not just the meaning of images, but with their silence, their reticence, their wildness and nonsensical obduracy. We need to account for not just the powerfulness of images, but their powerlessness, their impotence, their abjection. We need, in other words, to grasp both sides of the paradox of the image: that it is alive – but also dead; powerful – but also weak; meaningful – but also meaningless.

W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images


Films of Harry Smith, James Ivory, James Blue and Homer Groening, the senior member of the two generation Groening dynasty, will be screened at the Hollywood Theatre during the upcoming Mid Century Oregon Genius screening series.


Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to document her own learning curve as she attends the 2014 James Blue Tribute.

Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue. All thoughts, opinions, and errors belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.

How To Read James Blue

Where did James Blue come from? Here are some way stations I visited on my own journey to understand his work.


John Winthrop’s City On A Hill


“for we must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill, the eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world…”

Winthrop’s concerns prefigure those of public diplomacy, the arm of filmmaking which gave James Blue his professional start, first in Algeria and then in the US.


William Blake’s Little Black Boy


My mother bore me in the southern wild/And I am black, but O! my soul is white. The ironies and double meanings of this poem, which, tellingly, Blake vacillated between placing among his Songs Of Innocence or among his Songs Of Experience, are essential to the understanding of Kenya Boran, the ethnographic film which documents the learning curve of James Blue and David MacDougall as they discover how little they understand about the impact of the 20th century on the Boran people in Kenya.


Henry David Thoreau’s Walden


“Thoreau’s Walden is a capital reading, but very wicked and heathenish… After all, for me, I prefer walking on two legs”. John Greenleaf Whittier

Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond in 1844, doubling down on locavore everything, just as the Oregon Trail was getting underway.


Joaquin Miller’s Unwritten History: Life Among The Modocs


Joaquin Miller arrived in Oregon in a covered wagon. He dedicated his most famous book, Unwritten History: Life Among the Modocs, “To the Red Men of America”. Like Blue, Miller went to college in Eugene. Like Blue, his career began overseas.


Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail 


“We can’t turn back. We’re blazing a trail which started in England!” Raoul Walsh made his 70mm Oregon Trail epic in 1930, the year James Blue was born.


H. L. Davis’ The Honey and the Horn


Two orphaned lovers keep secrets from each other in the barren anti-Eden of Oregon’s sagebrush interior, in H. L. Davis’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel.


Roberto Rossellini’s Open City


Non-professional actors + war ravaged city + illegal production, all elements which reemerge in James Blue’s The Olive Trees Of Justice.  Blue might have seen Rossellini’s masterpiece at the Guild Theater in Portland.

James Ivory told me he remembered traveling to Portland from Eugene to see films at the Guild. That’s a two hour drive, four hours round trip!


Carl Barks’ Only A Poor Old Man


Richard Blue told me James Blue and his mother fought a running battle over James’ love of comic books. Carl Barks, who wrote and drew all the comic books in which his irascible miser duck appeared, was born and raised in Oregon.


Anthony Mann’s Bend Of The River

bend river - sneer finally

Arthur Kennedy plays the role of the snake in Anthony Mann’s despoiled Eden. The long list of 1950s Oregon Westerns includes Bend Of The River, shot on Mt. Hood, and James Blues’ 16mm Silver Spur, shot in his parents’ NE Portland backyard.


Thomas Vaughan’s The Last Salmon Ceremony

The vitality of this Native American community testifies to the Pacific Northwest pluriverse in 1955.


Tom McCall’s Pollution In Paradise


Oregon elected Tom McCall governor five years later.


Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest


“They’re out there. Black boys in white suits….”

Kesey’s first novel begins with these words. Chief Bromden, the mute mental patient whose interior monologue narrates Cuckoo’s Nest, is half Native American and half European American.


James Blue’s The Olive Trees Of Justice

James Blue dedicated The Olive Trees Of Justice to the people of Algiers.


The Kingsmen’s Louie Louie & Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Louie Louie



Lead singer Mark Lindsay remembered Paul Revere and the Raiders as a “bunch of white-bread kids doing their best to sound black”. The Raiders and The Kingsmen covered Richard Berry’s faux Jamaican ballad within a week of each other at a recording studio in downtown Portland.


James Blue’s The March

On the opposite side of the social justice universe, James Blue documented Marian Anderson commanding the hushed attention of 200,000 demonstrators with the spiritual “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands” just before Martin Luther King Jr preached the sermon of his lifetime “I have a dream.”


Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute. The six month long Tribute celebrates the bequest of James Blue’s films to the University of Oregon by the James Blue Alliance, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue.

Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.

Understanding Blue: Politics, Pluraversality, and the Muse of Form

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks never met James Blue, but she is a member of the pluriverse he loved.

She lives in Utopia (true!). I saw her on the internet, where I also saw this:


Both videos are examples of regional film.

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks addressed her remarks to a live audience in Australia. Toni and Candace first deployed their withering lack of respect for logic in a no-budget web series, Thunder Ant, shot in Portland, not far from the house where James Blue grew up.

Blue believed that regional film = democratized media = increased diversity of voices being heard. As a member of the NEA’s first media funding panel, he voted to fund a network of regional film centers, all four of which still exist today. One of them is the Northwest Film Center, where The  March and A Few Notes On Our Food Problem screened on April 25, 2014 as part of the James Blue Tribute.

Blue believed stories could change things. He was fascinated by the exercise of power which came with access to a camera, and never resolved his ambivalence about his privilege as a gifted filmmaker. His awareness of privilege fueled his activism as an educator. It drove him to leave Hollywood. It inspired him to place cameras in the hands of his subjects. He incorporated it into his work.

Was James Blue a political filmmaker?

In the discussion which followed the screening, Brooke Jacobson, an NEA colleague of James Blue, was startled to hear the audience conclude he was not.

There are, it seems, two muses: the Muse of Inspiration, who gives us inarticulate visions and desires, and the Muse of Realization, who returns again and again to say, ‘It is yet more difficult than you thought.’ This is the muse of form. Wendell Berry


Blue shot Who Killed Fourth Ward?  on 8mm with a two person crew for community television. By contrast, he shot The March, fourteen years earlier, on 35mm with seven two person Hearst Metrotone newsreel crews and the mandate of the President.

The March and A Few Notes On Our Food Problem, made by Blue for USIA and USIAD respectively, deliver a sense of the world as troubled but benign. In Who Killed Fourth Ward? and The Invisible City, made for KUHT community television, that surety is gone. In them, Blue, following a new muse of form, relinquishes his duties as omniscient, unseen narrator, and enters the film as a participant. He is asking questions, and bringing along a camera to make sure he gets answers. It is easy to imagine if the same Northwest Film Center audience had seen those two later documentaries, they would have had no trouble labeling Blue a political filmmaker.

But was Blue, in Houston, a newly political filmmaker?

The full title of the March On Washington was March On Washington For Jobs And Freedom. Employment, voting rights, the elimination of Jim Crow – these are not minor demands. The organizers had been preparing for this event for decades. In Blue’s voice over narration, he speaks about the potential for violence, and shows the steps the organizers were taking to keep control of the crowd. Feed people, use walkie talkies, maintain a chain of command.

Blue understood what could happen if thousands of citizens squared off against police. He knew what it was like to live in a world where violence had overtaken the civic order. He had directly experienced the war behind the recent Paris Massacre. Disaster, for Blue, was within the realm of the possible.

The narrative Blue chose for his coverage of the March focused on the arriving marchers. It focused on the leadership, including young black men, who, at that time, were never seen in media as being calm, purposeful and in charge, but in Blue’s film are shown to be just that. They were entrusted with keeping safe the 200,000 Americans who had arrived to exercise their constitutional right to assembly. Blue leaves out guest speakers Burt Lancaster, Charlton Heston, Bob Dylan and Harry Belafonte and shows us the politically engaged nobodies who came to walk, talk, listen, sing, and cool their feet in the reflecting pool. He photographs them as if they are a miracle, because to him, perhaps, they are.

the march 3

They are the pluriverse he has come to recognize as valuable.

The March is about them.

Is that political?

For perspective, James Ivory, James Blue’s friend and near exact contemporary, when asked which of his own films he thought was most political, retorted that they all were, or at least he hoped they are all were.

I believe James Blue would give the same answer.

The March and A Few Notes On Our Food Problem were screened at the Northwest Film Center on April 25, 2014 as part of UO’s James Blue Tribute. Brooke Jacobson, co-founder of the Northwest Film Center, was in the audience.

So was Sheldon Renan, the author of the proposal that the NEA fund a network of four regional film centers, of which the Northwest Film Center was one. Sheldon Renan, Brooke Jacobson and James Blue all share two distinctions. They all came from Portland, and each one served as an advocate for regional film at the NEA.

Richard Blue, who advised James Blue on A Few Notes On Our Food Problem, and Gill Dennis, who wrote the voiceover narration for A Few Notes, participated in an onstage panel discussion following the screening as did Christina Kovac, who led the NARA restoration of The March, and Gerald O’Grady, a long time Blue colleague and friend, who is an historian of films of the Civil Rights Movement.


Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute, organized by the University of Oregon.

Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.

The March (1963)

All the past we leave behind;
We debouch upon a newer, mightier world, varied world,
Fresh and strong the world we seize, world of labor and the march, Pioneers! O pioneers!

Walt Whitman

I don’t care how many times I see The March. Every time I see it, I am in it.

I am there, getting on the bus, getting off the train, stapling signs, following directions, listening to Ossie Davis, Joan Baez, Odetta, Marian Anderson, and A. Philip Randolph. When Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have A Dream speech enters public domain in 2038 (fingers crossed), and is returned to the soundtrack, I will hear him as well. I know all the songs. I know them by heart.

It is impossible to watch The March, and not go on the March.

James Blue brings us into the mix, and we find ourselves at home in the crowd, walking, talking, laughing, singing. Waving to our friends. We have found each other! We are together. This is Woodstock without the mud. James Blue, who, in 1963, had never heard of a rock concert, much less attended a rock concert, shoots and edits The March as if it was one. Swap out Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech for Jimi Hendrix’s electrified national anthem. Swap out the Lincoln Memorial for a cow pasture, and a short haired crowd for a long haired one. “We shall not, we shall not be moved” they sing, “Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.”  Who are these people, who traveled long distances to stand in the sun and sing together? They are us. James Blue makes sure we understand this. The swell of joined voices we hear on the soundtrack is counterpointed by closeups of individual participants.

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday.”

When James Blue began working for USIA in 1962, he was asked to create a film about race in America which would address international criticism of our very evident hypocrisy. The argument Blue made, in an extraordinary memo which is now part of the James Blue Collection at the University of Oregon, was that the best way to disarm the critics would be to honestly confess the problem. He advised against concentrating on the problem of integrating black Americans into the social fabric of their own country. Instead he articulates the real problem: the difficulty of reeducating white racists.

That’s one half of the origin story behind The March.

The other half of the story began when A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin announced plans, in 1941, for a massive grass roots demonstration in Washington calling for the desegregation of both the military and the war industry. Roosevelt said no on desegregating the military, but yes to desegregating the war industry. The full origin story behind The March is that A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin were prepared to create a multi racial mass demonstration on the Washington Mall a full 20 years before they actually did it.

Their successful push for desegregation of the war industry resulted in Portland’s first black population which did not work as janitors, maids, waiters or red caps. African American workers  arrived to work in the shipyards during the same wartime boom year as Harry Blue, James Blue’s father, arrived in Portland to work as a housing inspector for the Federal Housing Authority. The city, accustomed to decades of institutionalized racism, did not adjust quickly to forced change. In the movie theaters James Blue attended, black ticket buyers were directed to the balcony. He likely sang the state song, which enshrines the vision of white supremacy, and all but name checks the deified missionaries, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, whose deaths at the hands of Native Americans finalized statehood.

Land of the Empire Builders,
Land of the Golden West;
Conquered and held by free men,
Fairest and the best.
Onward and upward ever,
Forward and on, and on;
Hail to thee, Land of Heroes,
My Oregon.

Land of the rose and sunshine
Land of the summer’s breeze;
Laden with health and vigor,
Fresh from the Western seas.
Blest by the blood of martyrs,
Land of the setting sun;
Hail to thee, Land of Promise,
My Oregon.

The yearbooks for James Blue’s four years at University of Oregon contain hundreds of pictures of white students. But black skin? The only black skin I saw in UO’s yearbooks, for the years James Blue attended, was from black makeup applied to white skin for a student minstrel show. Later, Ken Kesey himself wore blackface for a student skit at the university. Blackness in Oregon was something which we performed. Blackness was a white thing in Oregon. We did black. We owned black. In other words, black didn’t exist.

By 1963, the year of the March On Washington, Portland’s Albina neighborhood, where James Blue had attended Jefferson High School, was redlined. We all knew the boundaries. I grew up eight blocks away from the street which divided black from white. At high school dances, we had two bands, one white and one black. We would take turns dancing. White and black students sat separately in the lunch room. All of this was unofficial, and enforced by custom. The one black grade school classmate I had lived directly across the street from the front door of the school. It was as if his parents, determined not to have a line redrawn to exclude them, moved as close as humanly possible. We all knew their house was rented, not owned.  No black family could own in a white neighborhood. When I ventured into Albina, as a teenager, on a bike, rocks were thrown at me.


The university process +++ is a social process that does not stop short of transforming men +++ to achieve such profound results it must utilize the principle of all for each and each for all directed to the highest ends of life +++ its organization must evoke the most intimate interplay of thought and purpose it must amount to a life process fully socialized ++ from now on it must be a climb if our nation is to hold its position among the nations of the earth ++ it means conservation and betterment + not merely of our national resources but also of our racial heritage and of +++ opportunity to the lowliest +++ this must be our passion +++ and the universities must be its prophets +++

Frederick George Young BA LLD, 1858-1929

Professor of Social Science and Dean of Sociology, 1895-1928

I include the full text of this message, permanently engraved onto the walls of the very beautiful 1937 University of Oregon building now known as the Knight Library, because it conveys the exact tone of our regional racism. “We” are white. The nature of “our” racial heritage is assumed. Non-white Oregonians are forgiven for their shortcomings, and generously extended honorary whiteness. This is how we keep Oregon white. If a non-white person has, due to circumstances beyond their control, failed to be white, we, the mighty majority, will extend to that person the privileges of citizenship anyway. In spite of their skin color. Because we are kind. Because we see beyond skin color to a non-white person’s essential, inner, whiteness.

James Blue calls out this racism in his USIA memo about the film he wishes to make. 

The March On Washington For Jobs and Freedom was always conceived as a media event. The organizers, a tense coalition of labor, civil rights and church leadership, knew they were orchestrating an enormous photo op, so primary credit for the images which are so powerful – the peaceful assembly of 200,000 freedom loving, politically empowered, human beings – belongs to them.

But what does it take to create the filmmaker who can cover that event with Zen like simplicity? One who conveys, in every image, his high regard for the nameless marchers?

“Keep your eyes upon the prize, hold on.”

I will write again about The March. Too much to say in one post!

Coming up in the James Blue Tribute:

At 8:00 PM on April 25, 2014 at the Whitsell Auditorium, Richard Blue, Gerald O’Grady, Dennis Gill, and Christina Kovac will introduce The March and A Few Notes About Our Food Problem.

Tickets can be purchased here.

More information about other James Blue Tribute events can be found here.


Notes On James Blue is a blog kept by Anne Richardson, of Oregon Movies, A to Z, to cover the 2014 James Blue Tribute. The six month long Tribute celebrates the bequest of James Blue’s films to the University of Oregon by the James Blue Alliance, a 501 c3 non profit organization dedicated to preserving the legacy of filmmaker and film educator James Blue.

Notes On James Blue is supported by the James Blue Alliance. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Alliance.