A Few Words About A few words about... Unforgivable Blackness

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Robert Harris, Jan 17, 2005.

  1. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    Unforgivable Blackness, the latest documentary offering from Ken Burns' Florentine Films tells of "The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson," possibly the greatest heavyweight boxing champion in history.

    Beginning his career as a means toward economic and (hopefully) racial success and equality during the early years of the twentieth century, Jack Johnson tread a rough road.

    The word "unforgivable" in the title refers to two "problems" which Johnson created for himself.

    First, he went after the heavyweight boxing title, something that an African American was not even supposed to consider, and second, after his win from Tommy Burns, the heavyweight champ in 1908, he publicly dated and later married a white woman -- something unheard of at the time -- the cause of race riots across the country, and ultimately Johnson's arrest on false charges via the Mann Act.

    This is a film about a man of many layers, who fought his way to success in a white-run society, and then rubs peoples' noses in that fact. Had he lived a slightly quieter existence, he may have had an easier time, but then would not have been the man that he was.

    I've always been a fan of the Florentine productions, which have taken a slow and sometimes meandering path to tell their stories. Unforgivable Blackness not only picks up the pace, has better (more detailed) production values than the earlier films, but also has arrived in a widescreen 16:9 anamorphic format via PBS and Paramount Home Video.

    After watching the film, I couldn't help but to see this story being re-played 95 years later for the very similar reasons, as individuals and governments take the position that it is illegal, improper, or against the concepts of mankind that people who wish to marry, should not, for the simple reason that others might not agree with their personal life decisions. While I don't wish to get into politics here, one cannot ignore the similarities between 1910 and 2005 America, which adds another very interesting layer of historical resonance to this film.

    This is a superb documentary project. Ken Burns and company are at the top of their form.

    Unforgivable Blackness is very highly recommended.
     
  2. Jim Barg

    Jim Barg Second Unit

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    Just caught this tonight on the local PBS station, and saw that the city newspaper dedicated the majority of the lifestyle and arts section's front page today to their review.

    Fascinating stuff, though the correlation between now and then hadn't occurred to me while watching (it seems a bit more obvious now). I'll be sure to check out the DVD release.

    Are there any decent extras?
     
  3. Andy Patrizio

    Andy Patrizio Stunt Coordinator

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  4. GlennH

    GlennH Cinematographer

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    Just checked the listings and it's being broadcast several times this week (in two parts) on PBS-HD. Think I'll set the Comcast HD-DVR.
     
  5. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    One thing I can't understand is how in interviews and articles on this documentary, they keep refering to Johnson as a "forgotten champion". When it comes to pre-Joe Louis fighters, the only names that really ever stuck with me are Jack Johnson and John L. Sullivan. I'm glad that his story is getting told, though, I look forward to seeing the documentary myself, and I fully support the efforts of the filmmakers to pursue a posthumus presidential pardon for Johnson.

    Regards,
     
  6. Walter Kittel

    Walter Kittel Producer

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    Watched a portion of the 1st half on Monday evening and was fascinated by the depicition of the time. Quite frankly I was shocked at some of the rhetoric taken from (op-ed pieces?) at some of the nation's major papers. Very disappointing, but not that surprising. (And yes Robert, you raise a very salient point about how little some things have changed in the intervening century.)

    I will be looking for the DVD release this week.

    - Walter.
     
  7. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    What I found incredibly shocking was how openly racially biased publications such as The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times were in their reporting of events, and for their distaste for not only Johnson, but the majority of people of color.
     
  8. Thommy...M

    Thommy...M Stunt Coordinator

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    I agree with Ken up above. Why the documentary refers to Johnson as a "forgotten champ" or as the greatest boxer "you never heard of" is puzzling. Jack Johnson along with Jackie Robinson are the two most important athletes to ever participate in American sports. I give the nod to Johnson as the most important because he was before Jackie Robinson. He certainly is not forgotten.

    By the way, some inaccuracies in Burns' desire to paint his picture of Johnson the way Burns wants to have crept into the piece. Burns will discard and throw away facts about Johnson that do not fit into the story the way he wants to tell it. (One example: After Jim Jeffries retired as heavyweight champ he organized a box-off to determine who will be next champ. A man named Marvin Hart won and Burns points out that the top contender Johnson wasn't even considered. Burns failed to point out that Jack Johnson got the Holy Hell knocked out of him by Marvin Hart and lost the fight and that is why Jack Johnson was not in any way deserving of a shot at the title at that time. Hart beat Johnson. It appears Burns is afraid to let his audience see that Jack Johnson was not indestructible.) I enjoy Mr. Burns' documentaries, but now I wonder how many inaccuracies were put in them.

    Having said that, I still will be purchasing the DVD -- the fight footage alone is worth the price.
     
  9. oscar_merkx

    oscar_merkx Lead Actor

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    Thanks for pointing this out to me as I have not heard of this before.

    Another blind buy
     
  10. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Caught flashes of this on my HD PBS feed yesterday (though I was watching my college BBall team lose so I didn't devote the time I should have to this program). What I saw was absolutely fascinating. Thanks for pointing out that this is on DVD, I'm going to buy it.
     
  11. Paul.S

    Paul.S Producer

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    I read the Daily Variety review of the docu weeks ago and was mos def immediately interested. Was happy and surprised to see the DVD already at Costco more recently.

    Disappointing (but not entirely surprising), Andy, that--at least according to your comments--there's been little interest in the titles you mention from (your sector of?) the online reviewing community.

    Ergo, thanks very much RAH for your comments and attention to Unforgiveable herein.

    -p
     
  12. Gary->dee

    Gary->dee Screenwriter

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    I'm glad I was lucky enough to catch this in the two-part PBS presentation recently. It's an amazingly good and eye opening documentary on not only Jack Johnson, but the times in which he lived and fought.
    I'm not sure if this is related but I found it interesting in the documentary that Johnson was approached by other black fighters and he refused to fight them, claiming something to the extent that people want to see a black man fight a white man, not a black man fighting a black man. Some of those black fighters looked like they could easily take on Jack Johnson and probably offer him a helluva fight. Maybe he was aware of that and didn't want to take any of them on?

    Also interesting how Muhammad Ali's life would partially parallel Jack Johnson's for a time in the 60's and as a result Ali was drawn to James Earl Jones' portrayal of Johnson in The Great White Hope.
     
  13. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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    And wouldn't it be ironic if the current president were the one to pardon Johnson?
     
  14. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I don't know about "ironic", but it would be nice to see the pardon come from a fellow Texan. [​IMG] At the time of Johnson's prime, the Democratic party was a loooong way from being progressive on issues of equality for African Americans, so it doesn't really add anything to the discussion to try to frame the issue in the context of modern political ideology.

    Regards,
     
  15. Johnny Angell

    Johnny Angell Played With Dinosaurs Member

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  16. Dennis Castro

    Dennis Castro Second Unit

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    How he beat Johnson seems to be debatable. I have found once source indicating that the fight went 20 rounds. The decision was controversial. The ref gave to decision to Hart who reportedly seemed surprised at the decision.


    http://www.antekprizering.com/johnhart.html
     
  17. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Political: yes to a degree Social: no

    I was just pointing out that from a 19-teens perspective it would have seemed much more ironic for Johnson to be pardoned by a Democrat than a Republican. However poltical ideologies, perspectives, and ideas have changed since then, bringing ones views about where those ideologies are in 2005 for the pourpose of a quip about irony doesn't really add anything to the discussion and sends the thread dangerously in the direction of moderator intervention.

    Regards,
     
  18. Robert Harris

    Robert Harris Archivist
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    The intent of comparing the Johnson situation with our modern civilization, was, as Ken M noted, sociological and not politically motivated.

    It would be a nice gesture. Doesn't matter where the gesture might come from.

    RAH
     

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