Tuesday 9 March 2021

On Blu-ray - David Hare pillages the extras to discover Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington in SYMPHONY IN BLACK (Fred Waller, USA, 1935)

For a mere one minute of screen time Billie Holliday (above) sings "Just got those lost my man blues" with Duke Ellington accompanying.

Screen is from the Ellington Band Paramount musical short subject, Symphony in Black. It and over a dozen more one-reelers occupy premium ground on Cohen's Blu-ray restoration of the abysmally conceived Wiliiam Dieterle "birth of jazz" picture, Syncopation  in 1942, in which the history of jazz has been turned inside out to end up crediting those loveable honkeys, Bonita Granville and Jackie Coogan into the folks who effectively "created" America's greatest art form. The movie is worthless, but the fifteen or more jazz short subjects from the Paramount vaults are worth more than the price of the disc.  

The previous year, 1934, Mitchell Leisen (in Murder at the Vanities) also slipped Ellington and the band through a precode mixed race cranny, to perform a daringly mixed white and black suite, "Rhapsody in Black", in which one side machine guns the other side after 15 minutes of astonishing bravura. After watching the white girls dance you would too. The suite opens with that dweebesque exemplar of the white race in the person of Carl Brisson, (he of the shock combover and smudged lippy) who opens the set while murdering one of Brahms' Hungarian Rhapsodies. 

How often does the Duke save the day from such abysmal decrepitude!

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