Monday, June 8, 2015

Film Capsule: Spencer Williams's The Blood of Jesus (1941)


The Blood of Jesus (1941)
Directed by Spencer Williams

A key document in the evolution of the race film, this epochal sophomore feature by pioneering actor-turned-filmmaker Spencer Williams is just as equally an important piece of early independent filmmaking proficiency. Starring the director himself as a spiritually wayward Southerner who accidentally shoots his devoted wife Martha (Cathryn Caviness), the film takes as its subject nothing less than the transmutation of the spirit and the journey, even after death, of the soul from purgatory to eternal sanctity. Integrating a variety of forward-thinking visual effects—from superimpositions to sourced footage from obscure religious films—to animate the series of trials and temptations Martha undergoes as she approaches the afterlife, Williams pushes accepted aesthetic values even as he prompts provocative questions regarding not just mortality, but of the price of redemption and the rich, complex history of religion in black culture. (June 3, 6:45pm; June 6, 2:30pm at MoMA’s “A Road Three Hundred Years Long: Cinema and the Great Migration”) [The L]

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