From Civil War battlefields to vast Western frontiers, from bustling urban New York neighborhoods to a small-minded Illinois town, May’s Twilight Time titles cover a lot of cinematic ground, historically and personally. Pioneering, influential D.W. Griffith, one of the seminal definers of the purpose and function of feature-film directors, delivers one of the most ambitious yet disturbing movies ever made, recently restored by England’s Photoplay Productions to a thrilling replication of the primal experience that filmgoers first beheld 103 years ago. Filmmakers Philip Dunne, Walter Hill and Paul Mazursky, all successors in one way or another to the traditions passed down from Griffith, offer movies that eloquently and dynamically speak to, respectively, the clash between an independent woman’s need for personal freedom vs. societal norms of propriety, a defiant Native American warrior’s last stand against a U.S. government prone not to honoring its agreements with other cultures, and the hard times and heady atmosphere of a young artist’s breakout from the family nest into the soul-crushing uncertainty of aiming for big-time stardom. Preorders open today at 4 PM EST/1 PM PST for the May 22 TT hi-def Blu-ray premieres of The Birth of a Nation (1915): The Centennial Photoplay Productions Restoration 2-Disc Set, Geronimo: An American Legend (1993), Hilda Crane (1956) and Next Stop, Greenwich Village (1976) at www.screenarchives.com and www.twilighttimemovies.com.
Forty years ago tonight marked the Broadway opening of a “stompin,’ struttin,’ high-hattin’ smash” (Time), the jubilant and unexpectedly moving revue Ain’t Misbehavin,’ billed as “the New Fats Waller Musical Show.” A carefully curated assemblage of tunes which Waller either wrote himself or works by others he indelibly popularized in recordings, all brilliantly rendered by five top-notch performers, it would go on to win three Tony® Awards including Best Musical and rack up an impressive 1,604-performance run as “quite simply the best show based on one composer’s material that I’ve ever seen,” WNYC Radio critic Alvin Klein proclaimed. Though none of the singers actually impersonated the beefy, bug-eyed Waller, “the spirit of this extraordinary man is conjured up by the content, the exuberance, the musical wit, the pure energy and the joy of 30 show-stopping numbers,” William H. Evans wrote in the cast recording’s album notes. “‘To find an evening of Fats Waller’s songs a delight in no surprise,’ wrote John Wilson in The New York Times. ‘But to feel the immediacy of his presence that this performance conjures up is a startling experience.’” The genial giant (1904-1943) made only three movie appearances, but the last of those is a keeper, and a terrific a record as any of him performing his most indelible song. Also starring Lena Horne, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Cab Calloway, Dooley Wilson, the Nicholas Brothers and the Katharine Dunham Dance Troupe, Stormy Weather (1943) is a brisk and bountiful decades-spanning show-business cavalcade of African-American song-and-dance superstars in which the wonderful Waller is one among many “genuine articles” of emphatically singular talent. Not only does he warble his signature song but he also provides keyboard accompaniment and philosophic commentary to Ada Brown’s sassy rendition of the Nat King Cole/Irving Mills number That Ain’t Right. It’s been nearly 75 years since Waller’s premature passing from this world five years after the Andrew L. Stone-directed musical debuted, but thanks to this one indelible song, the overall legacy celebration of his prodigiously melodic gifts in Ain’t Misbehavin’ and his priceless few minutes on screen in Stormy Weather, all gorgeously gussied up on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, his memory lingers mightily and happily. One never knows, do one?