Who owns the inheritance, anyway?

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Despite being an African American born into poverty in 1931 in rural Texas, picking cotton as a young boy alongside his single mother, Alvin Ailey has lived a life of artistic genius as a dancer. and choreographer and has achieved phenomenal and revolutionary success. By the 1970s, his New York-based Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Ailey School were internationally recognized and appreciated. He remains a beacon for emerging black talent – talent that was largely ignored by mainstream institutions during Ailey’s lifetime.

Alvin Ailey was an exciting dancer and budding choreographer in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater)

But, like the sensitive and clever documentary by Jamila Wignot, Ailey, reveals, his rise to fame in the dance world came with a lot of personal turmoil. Ailey was gay and largely closed off, having no lasting relationship. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1980 from alcohol and cocaine abuse and what was then called manic depression. He died of AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58, a year after receiving the Kennedy Center Honor for his lifelong contribution to American culture.

Ailey had moved with his mother to Los Angeles in the early 1940s, and it was in California that he was drawn to dance and eventually devoted himself to it professionally. Moving to New York City in the 1950s, he developed his own style of choreography, true to his African-American roots, and formed his own company in 1958. Through classic and visionary works, such as Blue Suite, Revelations, and River – and incessant tours, he made the company a powerhouse of modern dance with a vast repertoire.

Ailey (available to stream via watersedgecinema.org) intersperses the company’s current rehearsals at its sparkling new Manhattan headquarters with archival footage and captivating testimonials from Ailey’s colleague Bill T. Jones and his muse and successor Judith Jamison, among others.

There is an earthly dream at Ailey that suits his subject. Likewise, there is enormous seriousness in Mohamed Ali, Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon’s four-part 7.5-hour PBS documentary portrait of the heavyweight boxing champion, a treatment he richly deserved. (The series is available on request via cable and at pbs.org.)

Although Ali, the self-proclaimed “greatest”, was known as much as a showman and celebrity as for his athletic skills and achievements, he was also a political and inspiring hero – a hero who was even more plagued by racism than he was. was his. African-American ancestor Saintlier, Jackie Robinson.

Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali is seen here training in London. (Photo courtesy of the BBC)

Instead of being recognized for his genius, he was looked down upon as a quick-talking trickster. His self-awareness was seen as selfishness. His adherence to the Nation of Islam and his religious refusal to serve in the army in Vietnam were seen as corrupt and hypocritical, and not as principled and revolutionary choices of which he accepted all the personal and legal consequences. Overall, the contempt he endured had more than anything to do with being a black success story.

Ken Burns and his team conduct exhaustive research into Ali’s life, from his early years in Louisville, Ky., As Cassius Clay, through his historic and spectacular fights, to his old age and debility. due to Parkinson’s disease. The imagery and storytelling (by Keith David) is dramatic and unwavering, not neglecting bad behavior – Ali’s feminization, his dehumanizing treatment of Joe Frazier, his flippant rejection of Malcolm X – but without dwelling on it either. .

Ali’s unlimited and permanent charisma shines through, as does his essential clarity.

Burns’ attempts to right America’s wrongs, especially in racing (in his series Baseball and Jazz, for example), give meaning to his work. This becomes especially clear in comparison to other well-documented historical documentaries, such as Citizen of Hearst, a special two-part, 220-minute presentation of PBS American experience (available on demand and to stream at pbs.org) which covers the life and legacy of media mogul William Randolph Hearst.

It’s not that Citizen of Hearst does not recognize the outrageous practices that Hearst invented or perfected. They are presented in great detail, with the on-screen participation of his heirs.

William Randolph Hearst was a pioneer of yellow journalism and the modern media empire.

WR, or Will, as he was called in his youth, was the only child of George Hearst, a fabulously wealthy Western mining baron. After his expulsion from Harvard, the young Hearst became interested in the newspaper business, ultimately transforming the New York Newspaper in journalism’s first yellow rag, beating Joseph Pulitzer at his own game and single-handedly forcing the United States into the Spanish-American War by falsely reporting a deadly explosion on the USS Maine as sabotage. The war was a totally unnecessary Imperial escapade, but it launched Hearst into the media stratosphere.

He had no problem fabricating facts, and although he ran for office as a Democratic politician on populist platforms, he was brutally anti-union, viciously racist and xenophobic, an early supporter of Hitler and a great supporter of the confinement of Americans of Japanese origin in internment camps. during the Second World War.

He bought himself a vast media conglomerate – the first of its kind – gobbling up dozens of newspapers, launching magazines, creating a Hollywood studio, and shooting and distributing newsreels. He lived with his mistress, actress Marion Davies, and built her a castle on the Pacific in San Simeon, California. All of this was satirized in Orson Welles’ classic 1941 film, Citizen Kane, and, as a result, the Hearst Empire avoided the film and helped destroy Welles’ career.

What Citizen of Hearst does not, as Ken Burns certainly would, is to provide viewers with a moral compass. The contemporary parallels with Murdoch and Trump are obvious and unsaid. Instead of focusing on Hearst’s life as a nihilistic and narcissistic exercise, the documentary “balances” its destructive character with a tribute to his risk-taking and empire-building as a businessman. And that is, to use the current jargon, not OK.


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