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Shaft (1971) @ Alberta Rose Theater/Nov. 20, 7:00 PM/Harvey Garnett launches Tuesdays at the Alameda screening series

November 17th, 2012 by Anne Richardson · No Comments · News

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“Hotter than Bond! Cooler than Bullitt!”

A fantastic idea! If you love revival programming, neighborhood movie houses, and curated series introduced in person — Tuesdays at the Alameda combines all three.

Here’s the press release:

From 1966 – 1978 the Alameda Cinema was the first African-American-owned theatre in Portland. The proprietors were Ron Leverett and Harvey Garnett. With guidance from Portland cinema-owner and mentor Charles Nakvasil, they made the Alameda a neighborhood movie house, complete with Saturday matinees, strawberry soda and a special popcorn recipe. They played cool music, all kinds of movies and they played important African-American cinema, too – Shaft and Superfly and other “blaxploitation” movies. It was the only place in Portland that you could see “Shaft” when it was released in 1971.
People who grew up in Northeast Portland in the 60s and 70’s remember this place fondly. We hope to recapture the spirit of the old place and invite people who used to come here to enjoy it.
Harvey Garnett has helped curate the series. He will be on hand to tell stories about the Alameda and his personal and business struggles and triumphs as a groundbreaking African-American business leader in the 60’s and 70’s. He will be honored and will introduce the film.
The movies in this series include: Shaft, Superfly, Wattstax, Uptown Saturday Night, Cotton Comes to Harlem, and more.

Kudos to the Alberta Rose for this salute to the Alameda Cinema.

Here’s my personal connection to this event.

The first time I saw a movie poster for Shaft, it was on display outside the Alameda Cinema. I stopped in my tracks, dumbstruck.  I studied the poster, trying to make sense of what it said. A film had come to town and I knew nothing about it. A theater had opened very close to my neighborhood and I knew nothing about it. I was on the outside, looking in.

That was in 1971.

How racially polarized was Portland in 1971? I never dreamed of setting foot in the Alameda Cinema. It took the tutelage of a distinguished Paris educated film scholar from a Third World country to get me to see Shaft.

In 1998 I took a class from Manthia Diawara on The City as seen through the eyes of African American filmmakers.  He showed a wide range of films, but Shaft was an especial favorite because it was the first American film he saw which had an African American hero. While I was walking past the poster for Shaft on Alberta in Portland, Diawara was watching the actual film – in Mali. It inspired him to become a filmmaker and film scholar.

In Shaft, Richard Roundtree occupies all Manhattan. He moves easily from Times Square to Greenwich Village to Harlem. He has dealings with cops and with gangsters. He beats people up. He has a girlfriend. He does all the things Humphrey Bogart does, or Steve McQueen. Imaginatively, Gordon Parks was reclaiming ground which had been off limits to black audiences. John Shaft couldn’t be stopped. He could not be contained or controlled.

I didn’t “read” the film this way until I was told to, because to me all detectives are mysterious and slightly deranged, and I wasn’t seeing Richard Roundtree as a black detective, just as a detective.

I was slow to realize that my inability to see Roundtree as a black man was itself a racialized point of view. Growing up in segregated Portland, where racial tension was part of everyday life, had prepared me for a life of unexamined racial prejudice. If you don’t understand race as a narrative thread in Shaft, you don’t understand the film. The way I had been raised, to be cluelessly and fully committed to denying that race was ever an issue to me and always and only an issue for other people, directly interfered with understanding this film. Being taught to see this film,  in Manthia Diawara’s class, was one of my first experiences unwinding this deeply buried self defense.

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