Monday, July 02, 2007

Black And Tan

In the Documents exhibition in the Hayward Gallery in London - the exposition which breathed life into this blog - the 1929 jazz film "Black And Tan" was projected as a part of the multimedia extravaganza. Duke Ellington plays himself in the lead role of the film, which was set in the legendary Cotton Club.

The Surrealist magazine Documents, which Georges Bataille edited, regularly featured articles on Jazz, amongst others an interview by Jacques Fray with Ellington (published in the 6th 1930 issue).

An article by Simon Baker in the Documents exhibition catalogue ("Undercover Surrealism") is critical of the use the surrealists of Bataille's little coterie made of Jazz as a Black Music. Baker is a Lecturer in Art History at the University of Nottingham, who has written extensively on Surrealism. In the catalogue, he writes that "(...) Bataille, Leiris and Rivière were neither willing nor able to engage with, or reflect, anything like an authentic 'black' perspective".

I feel I must take issue with this sentence. First of all, there's something odd about putting the word ' black' but not the word 'authentic' in parenthesis. One cannot both have one's cake and eat it, one cannot distance oneself from essentialism by putting the b-word in parenthesis while calling for authenticity of perspective at the same time. Second, Baker 'forgets' (now it's my time to use parenthesis) that Michel Leiris was an professional anthropologist who participated in many expeditions to Africa, whose work played a vital role in the abolition of slavery in French colonies and who was one of the first to sign the ‘Déclaration sur le droit à l’insoumission dans la guerre d’Algérie’, the 1960 manifesto supporting the fight against the colonial powers in Algeria - now if that's not engaging with a 'black' perspective, I don't know what is. And even if Bataille, Leiris and Bataille did also use the physical and intellectual excitement of Jazz as a weapon against the dreary utilitarian world of the French bourgeois, there can be little doubt their appreciation of the music was genuine.

Be that as it may, here is Black And Tan on YouTube. The three videos together form a complete 19 minute version.

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