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Dennis Leroy Moore is a “guerilla” filmmaker in New York. He himself is a self-taught renegade artist

who has freely experimented in both theatre and digital video. Moore has an impressive

theatrical background and his education has been wide and varied.

 

 

The Pushkin Effect

Contemporary African American & Russian Avant Garde Cinema

An essay on master Alexander Sokurov and newly-arrived auteur Dennis Leroy Moore                

An Essay by Rome Canaal

A Cinematic Awakening

 

I was first introduced to Russian cinema when I was eighteen years old. My roommate in college had a modest, but eclectic, movie collection and I borrowed Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin during a Thanksgiving weekend and watched the film over and over and over. I was an immediate convert. Up until then the only movies I had watched were standard Hollywood fare and commercial movies. With the exception of Godard’s Breathless and Haile Gerima’s Sankofa – I never had even seen or touched an “art” film or a foreign motion picture. I was even unfamiliar with American directors like Charles Burnett, John Cassavetes, and Julie Dash.  The positive thing about this time, however, was that I was getting heavily into the writing of Amiri Baraka - many of his poems and plays - and beginning to understand the basic tenets of Marxism. With Baraka and Eisenstein – the whole world opened up to me and I realized how complex and layered and inter-related many things are in this world. What I find interesting is that I did not yet consciously put it together that there was some sort of intrinsic connection to the brooding cold Russian authors and the angry sharp African-American authors.

Cornel West once remarked in a lecture at Colombia College that he was working on a comparative study of the art of Anton Chekhov and that of John Coltrane. He said that the Russians understood the blues, they knew how to express their pain and joy at the same time similar to the avenues of creativity that Black Americans have rode down. Every culture and race have its own blues. What is most fascinating about Black Americans and their art is that it is the basis for American statement. When the slaves were heard singing spirituals it was all over. A staple had been pressed. Pop music and all of its forms are direct descendants from the early African Peoples.  However, perhaps the most radical creation was that of Jazz, which is now referred to as America’s only truly original art form. 

What some of the Russian authors and dramatists did with fiction and text, like Dostoevsky and Gorky, could be easily compared to the ground-breaking introspection of musical mavericks such as John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk. Where Tolstoy is wide and epic we have Duke Ellington. Where Dostoevsky is deep and probing we have Miles Davis. There is also a new parallel I have seen between “those white people in funny hats”  (that’s what my grandmother used to say) called Russians and their art and the black artists in North America. The wonderful parallel lies in the world of cinema.

Spirituality & Cinema of Oppression

For those of you who do not know, in Russia there is a filmmaker by the name of  Sokurov [photo right] is perhaps the greatest living Russian filmmaker and one of the most uncompromising, honest, and perceptually challenging filmmaker. Sokurov is considered to be a disciple of Russian master Andre Tarkovsky, and has even had his works banned in Russia. His work is extremely off-balanced, too volatile politically, emotionally, aesthetically that it not only scares the public, it also frightens the powers that be. Whenever people can’t assimilate to a new work or instantly size up a work of art, they recoil. Sokurov has been around for years and is hailed by critics and artists alike throughout the world, yet many do not know who he is. Writers from Susan Sontag to Paul Schrader have celebrated Sokurov’s work constantly.However, any one outside of NY living in America probably has no clues who he is. This is a man who screens his new pictures at local libraries in Russia and calls it a day. Public acclaim and ticket sales were never his bedfellows.

Sokurov is an artist concerned with the inner landscape of man and the effects of physical and emotional isolation. He investigates the spiritual struggle of the soul to be whole and content with itself when placed in a state of oppression.  Many filmmakers have delved into these same exact themes and Sokurov’s work has often been compared to the work of other ‘spiritual’ filmmakers (or ‘Transcendental’ to use Paul Schrader’s term) such as the French master of austerity Robert Bresson and the Japanese filmmakers Ozu, and Mizoguchi. However, stylistically speaking, Sokurov’s work and style are of a different meter and seem to wallow in the doldrums of repression and existential angst. He’s Gogol, Chekhov, and Dostoevsky all in one. His work is overtly darker than the filmmakers mentioned above, but like those artists concerned about the metaphysical and the spiritual state of man, Sokurov’s work is also meditative and ponderous. This is the hardest aspect of Sokurov’s style to describe. His excessively long, static shots, minimal plot (storyline means absolutely nothing to Sokurov) and probing feel have become known as the ‘stare.’ I credit Donato Totaro for being the first writer I’ve read to point this out so clearly about Sokurov’s films. Schrader coined it as ‘stasis’ in his classic book “Transcendental Style” and I use the terms interchangeably.

The ‘stare’ relates to Sokurov’s ability to place the viewer in a state of semi-consciousness. Half sleep, half awake. This is known as the hypnagogic state and in film it works as an artistically induced trance. What is interesting is the correlation between an experienced master like Alexander Sokurov and the formal experimentation in movie-making by a very young, ambitious, African-American filmmaker named Dennis Leroy Moore.

Dennis Leroy Moore is a “guerilla” filmmaker in New York. He himself is a self-taught renegade artist who has freely experimented in both theatre and digital video. Moore has an impressive theatrical background and his education has been wide and varied. He studied at the Sanford Meisner Theatre, attended The High School of Performing Arts, and even got a scholarship to the Julliard Conservatory. He trained as an actor and then realized his talents as a director, which he says he is more comfortable doing.  Moore’s investigation into the canon of Black American Drama has been similar to Alexander Sokurov’ obsession with 19th Century Classic Russian Literature. Moore has explored and staged the complex works of Amiri Baraka, Marvin X, and James Baldwin – all heavy black writers who defined a portion of the twentieth century called the 1960’s. Although Baraka and Marvin X still write and are active, their immediate contributions and their artistic legacies stem from the work they achieved in the 1960’s. To a degree, Moore seems obsessed with the Black cultural and political movement of the 1960’s in very much the same way that Sokurov is concerned and interested in 19thcentury European culture.

Sokurov is a genius, a master of his art. Moore is young, raw, and innovative, but of course he is still trying to find his voice. What is exceptional, though, is the maturity and spiritual quality achieved, or at least alluded to, in his first motion picture As an Act of Protest.

As an Act of Protest is an extremely disjointed, yet urgent, film about a black actor named Cairo Medina and his “rite-of-passage-stations-of-the-cross” journey to find the meaning of his life and destroy the crippling racism that surrounds him. This racism comes in many forms – both psychological and physical. Whether we call it gentrification or police brutality, it all boils down to the same thing because it manifests from, and was birthed by, a single social illness we call racism. And the effects of slavery still haunt and continue to destroy Black Americans in more ways than one can imagine. How does one get this “monkey off his back” ? How does one remain calm and rational in an insane environment? How does one feel whole and positive when he cannot express himself and simply be the man who he is without any of society’s impositions? What does it take for the Black Male who has been oppressed to reach a spiritual plateau?  To regain himself back again? These are some of the questions that Moore surveys in his film. The film is a clear “line in the sand,” as Antonino D’Ambrosio of New York City’s La Lutta New Media Collective described, and it takes a healthy and brutal stand against racism – but I’ve come to realize as of late that there many other dimensions to this film that should be discussed - one of them being the spiritual quest of the main character.

My first piece on As An Act of Protest was written for my editor Sharon Gates of BlackAuteur, a newly formed guerilla film internet zine and publication that we hope to release in September. The review however was generously published in Rudolph Lewis’ wonderful online-African American arts journal ChickenBones. I wrote that review that very same night I saw the film. My editor had seen it and she had given me her comments and then I just fleshed out all the emotions I had about the film. It was a heavy film, and I thought my review was well written, but reflecting further upon it, a major component I left out of the review was the spiritual dimension of the movie.  As an Act of Protest is a very elusive film. Although it is not subtle in any way and is one of the latest contributions to what are known as “Rage Films,” it encompasses a great deal of things that most films, for obvious reasons, do not. The spiritual matter in Moore’s film is where I saw the Alexander Sokurov connection. At this time I want to point out some interesting parallels between my favorite Sokurov film Mother and Son and Moore’s provocative As an Act of Protest.

An obvious element to a filmmaker’s work is his visual style, his cinematic language. One’s visual language is an extension of his or her thoughts and emotions and how that artist sees the world. I have read that Miles Davis preferred “clean” sounds and melodies you could whistle versus the schizophrenic soundscape of John Coltrane or the early meanderings of Charlie Parker, for instance. Each artist’s sound represents his internal voice. Likewise, in film, the gritty dramatic spill of John Cassavetes was of course not the same traditional cinematic vocabulary of most American filmmakers – the majority of which were all Hollywood hacks. The styles of Cassavetes and Sam Fuller, for example, were completely different and should be different. Directors like Fuller and Cassavetes created their own work, honed their own style. The awfulness of Hollywood movies is that they are mass-produced. Art does not work the same way Coca-Cola does and of course an artist like Sokurov understands this. He remains true to his vision and then tries to include others in it, all the while only trying to please one person: Himself.

Mother and Son is a 73-minute ‘chamber film’ dealing with the complex relationship, and the final tender moments, between a dying mother and her son. The film presents the final moments in their lives as mother and son in an out of the way remote part of Russia. We never understand why the Mother lives far away from the city or ‘civilization,’ but this is part of Sokurov’s concept. The Mother and Son are loners, perhaps they were fringe thinkers or rebels of some kind who were forced into exile. Or perhaps it was something simple like having a desire to live by the roaring ocean. Sokurov does not explain much, exposition is not his forte’ or something he believes in. He presents us with a situation and the rest of the work is up to us.

Dennis Leroy Moore’s As an Act of Protest is full of youthful zealousness, jagged edges, and full of nerve. It is, as the director said, “a missile from the youth.” The film rips and roars for two and a half hours and evokes the impression of a gradually building nightmare rather than a ‘story.’  Playwright and poet Marvin X remarked that the film captured the agony and ecstasy’ of what it is like to be black artist in America.( And as Sokurov is a disciple of Tarkovsky, so Moore is a disciple of Baraka) And while it does this it seeks for a more spiritual definition of what it means to be a revolutionary. I wrote elsewhere that the film was a collection of endings. This is true and there is a strange gloomy, almost apocalyptic, tone to the film. And even though the film is extremely loud – the bluntness of dialogue and thought, a raging soundtrack of the NYC Mayor defending police brutality, constant blaring police sirens throughout – there is a remarkable sensitivity that Moore gives to each scene. The rhythms of the scenes and how they are put together sometimes seem convoluted and rushed and other times they slowly bleed into each other. This is a rather Sokurovian technique, as is the moments of ‘stasis’ that abound throughout the film.

An interesting moment of stasis in As an Act of Protest takes place in a beautifully simple scene late at night in a theatre between Cairo (Luis Laporte), an actor, and Abner (Dennis Leroy Moore), his director. In a nutshell: Cairo remarks to Abner that he can no longer do plays knowing that police brutality and manifestations of racism rise and still exist. It is a rather purile argument. Of course we know that racism exists, so what? Abner basically represents the counter-argument of the audience, he acts as a chorus in a way. He tells Cairo that the masses need artists so that they can survive the pains of the world. For all his fanaticism, Abner is absolutely correct. Because if you don’t create you end up destroying or being destroyed. Being creative is the only way to live and Abner seems to believe in the theatre like St. Peter believed in Jesus Christ. However, Cairo has already dripped into a spiritual winter…

In perhaps the best moment of the film Cairo asks Abner what would happen if a black man killed a white man in protest of racism. In order to rid the world of this plague called racism. Whether this is to be taken literally or metaphorically is not the point – that is for the viewer to decide. What must be noted is that Moore actually gives us time to dwell on the notion of violence and ‘revenge’ by cross fading and dipping to black back and forth between Cairo and Abner in slow motion. It is as if the entire movie is put on pause. Cairo then takes a breathe and this breathe can be seen as a release of some sort. A spiritual happening. Of course to slow everything down and dwell is not what the average American viewer wants or is used to. But artists don’t give you what you want, they give you what you need. To ponder on the idea of killing a police officer who shot your black son 41 times is a very normal thing to do and actually a healthy one. It is a normal reaction. This moment is an expression directly out of real black Americana. And although there is nothing "realistic" about the movie, the film reveals certain honest truths. It's truth is emotional. It's truth is spiritual, if not literal, and it reveals a deeper nature than most think exists.

Black Americans know the depth of their thoughts and their real pain, but seldom honestly express it. And if it is expressed it is rarely expressed directly.  What would happen if we did not have art? Would we directly express ourselves through violence? This is what the film ponders on. And either we will express ourselves outwardly or we repress it and divert all our aggression onto ourselves. Interestingly enough in the beginning of the movie the filmmaker himself as Abner says to the camera that Cairo’s disinterest in art led to “an artistic suicide and a slow death.” Indeed the racism of the world has affected Cairo so deeply that he has developed an ulcer. Reminds me of the character in Sartre’s book “Nausea,” and, of course in a very different way, the type of internal erosion Scorsese tried to show in Taxi Driver.  Cairo is dying slowly, basically, yet no one seems to be able to help him. He’s emotionally unstable and appears almost manic depressive. (A result of “manic oppression” as Dr. Nathan Hare and Marvin X have pointed out) Cairo has lost his faith (art is religion in this case) He can no longer sleep with his girlfriend. He has lost all social skills. The poor kid hardly smiles. He is a character Dostoevsky would have loved.

The Old & The New Search For Truth

Sokurov of course is a master of all this. Whereas Moore is just beginning to discover his wonderful talent, Sokurov has for years explored his “annoying eccentricities” of cinema. It is very much a cinema of denial since there is so much held back and not given. But it is within these sparse moments that lead us to a spiritual awakening. Moore has used stasis as means of reflection, to make a point, to indulge us in an emotion or idea and see if there is any sacred meaning within it. He juxtaposes rhythm and that is the jazz inherent in his work and style. Sokurov’s still camera and long ellipses change perception and setting of the dramatic personae completely. Sokurov pushes and plays with time and temporal experience. Donato Totaro referred to it as  “a time-flux-condensation of Sokurov’s surreal landscapes.

Spiritual matters seem to be negated from modern thought and popular art, particularly here in America. Have we become so cynical, that we can no longer reflect and take time to meditate? Have we become so jaded and money-hungry, that all we can do is hope to make it to the next Jennifer Lopez concert or Quentin Tarantino movie? Kitsch is pleasant and pop may serve a purpose, but it has reached its remarkable zenith. What is now pop is unequivocably stagnant. Empty. Trite. Does it have to be this way? No, not at all. I should know, I'm from the Star Wars generation. But what is miraculous is that although I hated going to Church as a young boy, I was keenly aware of the spiritual side of "the force" in Star Wars movies, and later came to accept many Eastern philosophies. Without sounding too spacey, I hope I can inspire and convince folks that in order for man to grow outwardly, he must cater to his needs inwardly. Each of us has a plant inside and if it is not tended to, it shrivels. It dies.

Pop is not the menacing destructive specter that some think it is, but it certainly may become that. In such dark times - in the midst of war, corporate scandal, racial paranoia, Religious anarchy, and love not even being a word on anyone's lips - art is the life raft that we must cling to and follow. No one ever said that going to temple would be fun. Not one ever told me that visiting the dentist would be exciting. And perhaps we should have this feeling towards real art. What may at first taste awful can sometimes be the best thing for us. True experience may be traumatic like an exorcism or actual spiritual experience like meditation or "scream" therapy. Allow artists to lead you towards truth, not falsehoods.

It is a very healthy thing when we get not always what we want, but what our souls need . . .

As An Act of Protest was written & directed by Dennis Leroy Moore and produced by Melissa Dymock, A John Brown X Production

More info on Alexander Sokurov visit www.sokurov.spb.ru/island_en/mnp

posted 29 June 2002

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AALBC.com's 25 Best Selling Books


 

Fiction

#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

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King of the Mountain

The Nature of Political Leadership

By Arnold M. Ludwig

“People may choose to ignore their animal heritage by interpreting their behavior as divinely inspired, socially purposeful, or even self-serving, all of which they attribute to being human, but they masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps and apes do, so they should have little cause to get upset if they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too."—from the book King of the Mountain presents the startling findings of Arnold M. Ludwig's eighteen-year investigation into why people want to rule. The answer may seem obvious—power, privilege, and perks—but any adequate answer also needs to explain why so many rulers cling to power even when they are miserable, trust nobody, feel besieged, and face almost certain death. Ludwig's results suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule. Profiling every ruler of a recognized country in the twentieth century—over 1,900 people in all­­, Ludwig establishes how rulers came to power, how they lost power, the dangers they faced, and the odds of their being assassinated, committing suicide, or dying a natural death. Then, concentrating on a smaller sub-set of 377 rulers for whom more extensive personal information was available, he compares six different kinds of leaders, examining their characteristics, their childhoods, and their mental stability or instability to identify the main predictors of later political success. Ludwig's penetrating observations, though presented in a lighthearted and entertaining way, offer important insight into why humans have engaged in war throughout recorded history as well as suggesting how they might live together in peace.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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 update 12 March 2012

 

 

 

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Related files: Dennis Leroy Moore Bio      The Pushkin Effect     Kam Interviews Dennis