"Within Our Gates Revisited and Remixed" opens Black History Month at Ithaca College on February 2 with a newly commissioned score by local artist Fe Nunn '80. This landmark silent film will feature live music from a quartet and performances by the ensembles "Body and Soul" and "Ida B. Wells Spoken Word." The screening and performance begin at 4:00 p.m. in Park Auditorium on the Ithaca College campus.
"Within Our Gates Revisited and Remixed" is a historical first for Ithaca College: a commission to a local composer to score a silent film for live performance.
An interactive event
Silent film was never silent. In fact, it was loud, interactive, improvisational, collective, and topical. It was always accompanied by live music -- either a solo piano or organ, a live orchestra, or a small trio. For some spectators, the music and live performance were more important than the images on the screen.
In the first half of the last century, commercial movies houses were segregated, with African Americans often confined to the balcony so they would not interact with white spectators. However, black cinemas emerged in cities of the great migration in the North like Chicago, Detroit, and New York, where movie going was not about sitting quietly in your seat. Instead, it was about participating in the jazz, blues, and improvisations of extraordinarily gifted musicians who knew how to work the house and create a black cultural oasis.
D. W. Griffith changed film language and film form in The Birth of a Nation (1915). He also produced a film that celebrated the Ku Klux Klan and racism, playing off white fears about African Americans, black male sexuality, and white women. The NAACP organized protests about the depictions of African Americans at theaters around the country. Five years later, as a retort to The Birth of a Nation, African American independent filmmaker Oscar Micheaux produced Within Our Gates.
The film combines an unflinching portrayal of the gross violations perpetrated by whites against blacks with a determined call for black idealism. Repeatedly recut by censors who deemed the harrowing sequences of lynching and rape too incendiary in the wake of the Chicago race riots of 1919, few saw Micheaux's film as he intended it. Lost for 70 years, Within Our Gates was rediscovered at the Filmoteca Espanola in Madrid and restored by the Library of Congress in 1993.
A powerful and enlightening cultural document and landmark film, Within Our Gates is no less relevant today than it was in 1920. It resonates and reverberates with the current moment.
Cooperation across campus
This special Ithaca College screening features a large collaborative team of faculty historians, sociologists, film theorists, media and film historians, filmmakers, and performers working with Fe Nunn Musical Productions to rescore this silent film. This team includes faculty from the Roy H. Park School of Communications, School of Music, Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies, and musicians working with Ithaca musical legend Fe Nunn.
The performance evokes the improvisational, immersive experience of black theaters on the south side of Chicago in the 1920s. In these theaters, black music drove the film and spectators through counterpoint, references, explosive solos, and audience participation, inverting the Hollywood film music conventions of supporting the narrative.
The world premiere of this newly composed and arranged score features live music with a jazz quartet and spoken word performances. This combination creates a fluxus and jazz-inspired happening that mixes digital and analog, music and spoken word, live VJ mixing of images from black cultural and political history, African drumming, piano and oboe, drum and saxophone, digital loops, a dance performance, light show and movie screen, lynching and liberation, rape and resistance, history and the present.
Within Our Gates Collaborative Project and Performance has received major support from the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Cinema on the Edge. Additional funding was obtained through DIIS, the Schools of Music and Communications, and the Department of Health Policy Studies in the School of Health Sciences and Human Performance.
For further information, contact members from the collaborative team: Dr. Patricia R. Zimmermann, (cinema and photography) producer and co-artistic director via e-mail or 274-3431; or Fe Nunn, co-artistic director and musical director, 227-5882. Also contact Stephanie Adams, assistant director of OMA and project executive producer, at 274-3381.