In 1943, Oscar Hammerstein Jr. took Georges Bizet's opera "Carmen," rewrote the lyrics, changed the characters from 19th century Spaniards to World War II-era African-Americans, switched the locale to a Southern military base, and the result was "Carmen Jones." Otto Preminger directed this Cinemascope retelling starring Dorothy Dandridge as the temptress Carmen, a worker in a war plant, and Harry Belafonte as her soldier lover. Although both Dandridge and Belafonte were singers, their opera voices were dubbed by Marilyn Horne and LeVern Hutcherson. Otto Preminger's realist sensibility often seems contradictory to the whimsical nature of a musical, but some strong elements survive the segregationist context. Exceptionally liberal in its time, Dorothy Dandridge's performance in the lead is a reminder of the kind of African American films that might have emerged if given the chance.Movie posterAdditional image
Elaine May became the first woman to write, direct and star in a major American studio feature with "A New Leaf." Critics loved the comedic confrontations of the film's two cartoon-like eccentrics, played with uncommon understatement by May, as a socially inept but wealthy botanist heiress, and Walter Matthau as a conniving and murderous misanthrope in pursuit of her fortune. Their encounters reminded reviewers of the droll sensibility that made the legendary Mike Nichols and Elaine May satiric sketches created years earlier for nightclubs and records so appealing. For "A New Leaf," May drew on classic Hollywood comedy traditions of Depression-era screwball comedy and slapstick. Despite a failed lawsuit by May to have her name removed from the credits because the released version did not match her vision of the film, audiences flocked to it and the film has become a cult classic. May's conflicts with Hollywood studios continued, eventually ending her career as a feature film director in 1987. After recently winning a 2019 Tony Award for best actress in a play, she has been slated to direct a new feature film at age 87.
Jim Jarmusch has emerged as a leading figure in independent cinema, and this, his first major film, reflects his non-traditional style. From an earlier version of a script written with his punk rock musician friend, John Lurie, Jarmusch fashioned the piece into a three-part black comedy set in New York, Cleveland and Florida. His main characters, three disillusioned young people played by Lurie, Eszter Balint and Richard Edson, do little more than watch TV, go to movies and play cards. Citing inspiration from the works of Andy Warhol, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, Jarmusch has adopted a minimalist approach to his work that often straddles several languages and cultures.
Often called the "Black Woodstock," this documentary from Memphis' Stax Records stands as far more than simply a great concert film. "Wattstax" chronicles the renowned 1972 LA Memorial Coliseum concert and celebrates the Los Angeles' black community's rebirth after the tragedy of the Watts riots a few years earlier. Richard Pryor's knowing monologues frame and serve as a Shakespearean musing on race relations and Black American life, alongside the incisive comments from people on the Watts streets. "Wattstax" also features dazzling music highlights from artists such as Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers, capped by Rufus Thomas dancing the Funky Chicken in hot pants. Expanded essay by Al Bell (PDF, 209KB) Inductees' Gallery - Al Bell, executive producer 2b1af7f3a8