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Parent Issue
Day
14
Month
June
Year
1974
OCR Text

Directed by John Berry, Produced by Hannali Weinstein, Original Screenplay by Tina and Lester Pine. Director of Photography, Gayne Rescher, A.S.C.; Music and Lyrics Composed by ( urtis Mayfield. Music Performed by Gladys Knight. Cast: Claudine - Diahann Carroll; Roop - James Earl Jones; Charles - LawrenceHinton Jacobs; Charlene - Tamu. Released by Twentieth-Century Fox. Playing at the Michigan Theatre through June 20 CLAUDINE cuts through the "rules" of American feature film making like a scythe running through very tall dry wheat. It allows for the fact that the life and struggles of being poor are neither romantic nor sordid, and that being black is something quite other than being white. Equally rare is the fact that CLAUDINE has a woman protagonist, a woman producer, and a married couple wrote the script. The crew as a whole includes a large number of women, who are normally allowed no more than the jobs of editor and costume director. The core of CLAUDINE's production staff are far from the Hollywood norms. Director John Berry left America as a victim of the McCarthy hysteria of the early 1950's. He subsequently made a number of films in F ranee, none of which (I believe) have been released in the U.S. The producer, Hannah Weinstein (the only female film producer I have ever heard of), left the U.S. for England at about the same time because, according to Penelope Gilliatt in The New Yorker, "she hated the political atmosphere at home and because an English TV series that she was to produce gave her the chance to use a lot of blacklisted compatriots." This band of exiles and feminists definitely leave their mark on CLAUDINE. The film has an elusive quality of uniqueness, with characters, situations and a point of view remarkably different from the run-of-the-mill commercial movie. It is amply evident that men and women worked together on this film, and that the thrust of the movie goes towards making us understand the frustrations of our societally and biologically imposed sex roles. The film has a definitely feminist, though not separatist, point of view. The women's movement has been attempting to grow towards fuller artistic expression of female perceptions, and to my mind, no movie has achieved the goal as fully as CLAUDINE. We all know that women and men see the world and act upon their perceptions in different ways, but it is difficult to pin down and develop these differences in art. The goal has long been achieved in literature- Gertrude Stein, Anais Nin and the recent renaissance of feminist poets and novelists and theoreticians. But movies are something else, because they involve enormous amounts of capital, which is controlled by men, and in the U.S., by large corporations. CLAUDINE possesses an intimacy and understanding of daily struggle which has long been the trademark of feminist literature. CLAUDINE takes you inside the life and the home of a very likeable but terrifically frustrated and cornered poor black mother. You come to understand and sympathize, but not pity. Her love and devotion for her children grows throughout the movie, as the six kids become remarkable individuals, rather than social liabilities. The pain, limitations and responsibilities of black motherhood is the major theme of CLAUDINE but the problems of raising kids within the confines of Harlem and the welfare system are depicted with love and understanding rather than censure. CLAUDINE is remarkable because it avoids the pitfalls that have crippled black films since the beginning of movies. Films made by sympathetic white liberáis, present black people as a people not really understandable, . but odd, and certainly a number of film makers have regarded blacks as inferior and primitive. The first all black film, King Vidor's 1930 Hallelujah saw blacks as primitive, or religous and musical at best. Recent black films of the Superfly and Sweet Sweetback sort have praised the black stud, the man who can conquer any woman and any rival drug dealer, all to the tune of good music. The fatal flaw of movies like this is the underwritten presumption that the stud is the best aspect ofcontemporary black life, because he is the man who succeeds within a white dominated economy. There are also the curren t white liberal films, like Sounder, that make you cry your heart out over the poor black family in the awful South. All true, but it is gauged to get you at a level of sentimentality rather than say anything of value about black people. But CLAUDINE does not apologize, nor does it brandish studly flash as heroism. CLAUDINE, unlike any other of these other black movies, sees black life from the point of view of an honorable woman who confronts the limitations of her and her children's and her lover's lives as best as possible. Love, personal support, and sharing are the best answers she can provide, though she comes to copes with the revolutionary approach her oldest son takes. CLAUDINE comes to grips with the societally imposed sex roles through a marvelously well selected series of incidents and story developmentsin sum, an excellent script, loaded with realistic yet dramatic twists of fate. Claudine is lonely and takes a lover, Roop, the Riverdale garbageman played so well by James Earl Jones. They both acknowledge that the romance can only be a passing sweet thing-she h.as six kids, and welfare is her husband. Welfare, through the insidious social worker Miss Kabak, claims that anything a man gives her must be deducted from the welfare check. A lover is acceptable on welfare rules, as long as he does not live in, nor provide anything, including food or rent. But for a woman with six kids, those rules mean she can barely have time to see her lover, particularly because she has an "Ilegal" day job as a maid to supplement the measly $30 a month the welfare state allots for her six kids. The contradictions of this welfare trap grow through the movie. Roop does move in, and they have to teil the welfare office. The visit yields a great ironie speech by Roop: "If I marry this lady, I want to make it better for her. But if I spend a dollar you gonna continued on page 27 Movies conti nued f rom page 25 deduct it from her. ..And I better report every penny I spend, because if I don't tlien I am a crook. Now you say if I lose my job I must apply for welfare, because I can't be sitting around eating the government's biscuits. That's fraud. If I do go on welfare, then there's another lazy-ass nigger living off the taxpayers. O.K., fine. Now let's say I do not marry this lady, just sleep with her. Then she's a whore. If I do move in and don't teil you, then we're crooks. If I do teil you, then we're back to the income and the outcome and the deducting. You'd drive me to drink, then come screaming fraud if I spent seven dollars on a bottle ofwhiskey. We can't win." Roop and Claudine stomp out of the bureaucratie chambers while hepounds on desks and yells "FRAUD!" The friction-ridden romance plugs along, told through the eyes of both Claudine, who must care unremittingly for her kids, and through Roop, who gets his paycheck garnished for increased child support to his distant but beloved kids. Claudine's childrens' problems are as great as hers, and the film allows you to know them and their frustrations as well as those of the adults. 0ne son believes he is invisible- things are easier to handle that way. The fourteen-yearold daughter Charlene is immersed in a most painful adolescense, and diñe futilely tries to protect her from the doom of pregnancy that is bound to come when she starts sleeping with her boyfriend. There is an incredible scène in which Claudine learns Charlene is pregnant, and she beats her, and then the two hysterical women cry and scream and hold each other and try to come to terms with the situation. The scène ripped me apart, filled me with the terror of being fourteen, black and pregnant in Harlem, in a situation where abortion is apparently not considered an alternative. Claudine's oldest son Charles is involved in neighborhood black revolutionary activities, and greets his adulthood with a painful and pervasive pessimism. He gets a vasectomy so that he will not be responsible for bringing any more black children into the world. The gloom and pessimism of CLAUDINE is thankfully not pervasive, and does not consider its characters doomed. The first two thirds of the film is really funny, and all of its twists and turns of tragedy and humor point out that those close to you will help, and that love between people is of immeasurable worth. The Curtis Mayfield score, performed by Gladys Knight and the Pips keeps the movie uplifting and vibrant throughout. CLAUDINE's conclusionwhich I must not ruin by telling you- is a volcanic eruption of exultation for love and support among family, friends, men and women. That conclusión also presents one of the most brilliant means possible of achieving political and economie goals, but you must see for yourself. WWW HOT MOVIE TIPS: A STAR IS BORN at Cinema Guild, Saturday, June 22. This 1954 George Cukor film offers Judy Garland in her best role and the ultímate "Hollywood is Decadent" movie.