Category Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

Four On Blue: Brian Lindstrom, Michael Palmieri, Donal Mosher & Penny Allen Discuss James Blue

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Four On Blue took place on Saturday, April 26, 2014.

Brian Lindstrom was called away unexpectedly – his son collided with a baseball – so he was at the ER instead of the panel. (Things turned out well at the ER.)

Here’s Brian’s thoughts, by email:

I really hated to miss the panel. The March had a profound impact on me. I think the first time I saw it was in the early 90’s. I was struck by Blue’s moral clarity and his narrative chops. He was able to build a palpable sense of tension as the buses headed toward the march. I loved the way his cameras lingered on faces, creating patient and loving portraits. I was also deeply impressed that none of him images ever feel like “b-roll”–never feel like visual afterthoughts limping along to support narration. Instead, his is a muscular film language with each image pulling its weight. I swear you could watch the filmsilently and it would make perfect sense.

As I understand it, he was given the assignment to make the film just a few weeks before the march. Many filmmakers facing that tight of a timeline would have just followed A. Phillip Randolph and/or MLK, Jr. and told the story from a leadership perspective. But Blue showed real vision in following “the people”. I love the shots of people in the mall presumably after the march, with litter all around them, the implication being: “Now what?”

Amazing that he was able to make such a challenging film (i.e., challenging the audience: “Will we realize the promise of our constitution?”) under the auspices of USIA. I can only imagine what hell he and Rowan had to endure to maintain their artistic vision and integrity. Bless them for doing that.

As it turned out, Carl Rowan’s appearance at the beginning of The March was added after objections were raised about sending a film overseas about citizens rallying for civil rights. The decision to shoot the March On Washington, according to Chris Kovac, was made by George Stevens, Jr., James Blue’s boss at USIA.

But Brian is correct that the decision to focus on the anonymous marchers was made by Blue, no one else.

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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 and Richard Blue Foundation, 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 Foundation.

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.

1630

John Winthrop’s City On A Hill

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“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.

1789

William Blake’s Little Black Boy

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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.

1854

Henry David Thoreau’s Walden

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“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.

1874

Joaquin Miller’s Unwritten History: Life Among The Modocs

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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.

1930

Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail 

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“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.

1935

H. L. Davis’ The Honey and the Horn

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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.

1945

Roberto Rossellini’s Open City

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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!

1947

Carl Barks’ Only A Poor Old Man

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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.

1952

Anthony Mann’s Bend Of The River

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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.

1955

Thomas Vaughan’s The Last Salmon Ceremony

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

1962

Tom McCall’s Pollution In Paradise

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Oregon elected Tom McCall governor five years later.

1962

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

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“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.

1962

James Blue’s The Olive Trees Of Justice

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

1963

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

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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.

1963

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.”

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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 and Richard Blue Foundation, 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 and Richard Blue Foundation. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.

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 MISSION OF A UNIVERSITY

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.

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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 and Richard Blue Foundation, 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 and Richard Blue Foundation. All thoughts, opinions, and errors, however, belong to Anne Richardson, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Foundation.