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
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 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.