Michael Bergeron
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The Black Panthers & A Hard Day

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution follows the formation, dominance and eventually fracturing of the Black Panther Party. What started out as a natural reaction to oppression from racism quickly escalates into an ego fueled contest of alpha males acting out some sort of mythical tale of the king being killed by his successors, golden bough style.

Leon casino, You’re glued to the screen with the constant barrage of facts and archival footage. Much of the footage is previously unseen. Former members of the Black Panthers as well as the FBI are interviewed about the events that went down in the late 1960s.

The Panthers started as a kind of grass roots organization publicly protesting police brutality. It’s as if they took the 1967 equivalent of open carry laws to surreal effect by brandishing shotguns in front of the California state capitol while then governor Ronald Reagan was giving a speech. The news film crews switched coverage to the Panthers and their notoriety was born.

Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton (1942 - 1989) (center) smiles as he raises his fist from a podium at the Revolutionary People's Party Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early September 1970. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)

Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton (1942 - 1989) (center) smiles as he raises his fist from a podium at the Revolutionary People’s Party Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, early September 1970. (Photo by David Fenton/Getty Images)

FBI director Hoover had instituted a wiretapping and surveillance operation against the Panthers under the auspices of COINTELPRO. Eventually the FBI spearheaded a covert assassination mission with the assistance of an undercover operative and the Chicago police. The end result was a bloodbath where Frank Hampton was gunned down in his bed in an early morning raid.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution puts faces to events as we trace the paths of Bobby Seale, (Free) Huey Newton, and Eldridge Cleaver. In a bizarre twist of fate Cleaver, who had jumped bail and escaped first to Cuba and then Algeria, is heard calling into a white bread Bay Area morning television talk show and denouncing the American branch of the Panthers.

A subsequent sequence has an audio playback of the follow up personal call between Cleaver and Black Panther leaders. Gore Vidal never wrote dialogue as satiric or filled with pathos as what goes down in this long distance phone call. There was a schism between more violent action versus typical lawsuits and peaceful protest.

For those old enough to remember the times this movie sparks memories of a truly revolutionary era. If you were born after the 1970s the flick will be an eye opener.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution opens in an exclusive engagement at the River Oaks Theater.

Another exclusive unwinds at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston this weekend. From South Korea, A Hard Day ups the ante for hard boiled police actioners.

On a side note, there is never a year when South Korea or other Asian cinema doesn’t release a cult genre masterpiece. In recent years, think The Host, or I Saw the Devil, or Drug War, or even though it’s in English in its heart it’s an Asian film Snowpiercer. Not to mention this year’s South Korean produced epic Assassination that finds intrigue involving Korea, Japan and Chinese agents in the early 19th century, or Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin (itself playing at the MFAH in late November).2014 - A Hard Day (still 2)

A Hard Day manipulates familiar tropes that we know and love from Coen Brothers and Hitchcock films. Specifically, the protagonist hides something in an air conditioning duct and there are plot twists revolving around blackmail and third parties who saw the initial crime that sets the plot in motion.

A detective, having the proverbial hard day of his life, hits a pedestrian on the way to his mother’s wake. Rather than heed to the situation he hides the body and after a game of subterfuge, that includes the aforementioned air condition duct, we observe the body occupying space inside his mother’s casket.

Only security cameras as well as an insider witness have the goods on what really went down. Not to mention an Internal Affairs subplot that only complicates matters. A Hard Day should be your first choice on new releases this weekend.

— Michael Bergeron