April 27, 2011
Campus Whits went to a screening at MOMA last week. Canadian cinemaster Guy Maddin introduced a series of shorts made by Dziga Vertov, a 1920s avant-garde filmmaker who crafted collages of Worker and Peasant life after the Russian Revolution. In Kino-Pravda No.22, a throng of Peasants lines up to spectate Vladimir Lenin’s Tomb, allowed into royal chambers which previously were the exclusive spaces of the Monarchy.
The Worker is an intellectual armed with the knowledge to farm and build machines. The Worker is a speech-stumper, a friend to zoo animals, and often a smoker.
Instead of baptism, the Workers “Octoberize” their children, and instead of Jesus, they raise Lenin from the dead.
In 1969, Civil Rights activist and organizer James Forman issued the “Black Manifesto.” Forman interrupted a church service at Riverside Church in Upper Manhattan and fired off the text of the Manifesto. Riverside Church is an ecumenical house of worship built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the late 1920s, just when Jr. was signing the lease on the land in midtown for Rockefeller Center. Riverside Church claims to be the tallest in America, and in the belfry hangs what is said to be the largest tuned bell in the world. Martin Luther King spoke out against the Vietnam War at Riverside a year before his assassination. The Church is right down the block from Grant’s Tomb, where lay the General who won the War of Rebellion in 1865, ending slavery in the United States. In 2011, at the 150th anniversary of the War’s inception, the promenade before Grant’s Tomb serves as a meeting place for weekend unicyclers, whereas 100 years ago the bustling crowds equaled the magnitude of those in Red Square for Vertov’s Kino-Pravda.
The Black Manifesto called for Christian churches and Jewish synagogues nationwide to pay $500 million in reparations for slavery. Forman, with wry militancy, estimates the cost at “15 dollars per nigger.” Black Americans, disenfranchised since 1619 at Jamestown, VA., “have helped to build the most industrial country in the world.” Backed by the National Black Economic Development Conference, Forman indicts the Judeo-Christian complex as culpable agents in the suppression of blacks in Africa and America. Forman details a budget plan for the money, including a Southern land bank, a publishing and printing firm, and a National Black Labor Strike and Defense Fund.
In Kino-Pravda No.22, the Worker is sublimated as the educator of the Peasant.
Likewise, the Black Manifesto will form training centers in research and “futuristic” audio/visual communications skills, and calls “upon all our brothers and sisters” who can teach subjects like engineering, electronics, physics and military science. Hope and faith lie in the brain and the hands. Nonviolence is asked of the churches and synagogues, but Forman asserts “we have been dying too long for this country,” and that “the new black man… must not… merely believe in self-defense.”
Read the full text of the Black Manifesto at the New York Review of Books, where it was published July 10, 1969, the Summer of Love.
There is something disingenuous about Vertov’s lionization of Vlad Lenin. Marxist ideology promotes the group over the individual. All the Workers and Peasants are bewhiskered and dress in dark wool, and uniformed officers are shown to step in time before the Kremlin. It would seem, to keep with the program of mass consciousness, that Lenin should be read, quoted, put into action, rather than exhibited as if in The Henry Ford Museum, in Dearborn, MI.
Vertov shows the iron pail Lenin used to cook with while in hiding, like any presidential Americana artifact.
Contents of Abe Lincoln’s pockets at Ford’s Theater:
In James Forman’s 500-plus page memoir, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman describes his work as executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which agitated for the voting rights of black communities in the South persecuted by white vigilantes, like Public Safety warlord “Bull” Connor in Birmingham, AL. Forman stresses that all his acts support the group, otherwise the Movement fails, and he criticizes the NAACP and SCLC as victims of self-aggrandizement and pandering to the Justice Department. “We were not spokesmen, interpreters, or philosophers. We existed to serve the field.” Forman’s memoir is layered with oral histories, sworn Affidavits, prison journals, unpublished manuscripts, and many more textual voices of fellow actors in the Movement. A similar palimpsest of text is found in the FBI file on Forman, where memos, literary excerpts, informant summaries and redacted medical records are assembled and indexed to portray the individual. The FBI opened a file on the Black Economic Development Conference, and cast the BEDC’s demand for slavery reparations as a crime of extortion against religious groups.
In 1832, a congregation of black Protestants incorporated St. Peter’s Church in Brooklyn Heights. At the time, five years after New York State abolished slavery, oppressed free blacks could use “the legal commonplace of a certificate of incorporation” to claim “the rights of citizenship regardless of race” and assert “equal rights under the law.” Read a revealing article by Larry Weimer, project archivist at the Brooklyn Historical Society, on the early leap in civil rights which incorporation laws afforded blacks in Brooklyn, one year after Nat Turner’s Slave Rebellion in Virginia.
The MOMA screening opened with a short movie by Guy Maddin, The Heart of the World, which dramatizes the creation myth of cinema as a cataclysmic sci-fi newsreel romance… watch its whipcracking six minutes here.