Spencer Williams was an early Black filmmaker, a protege of the legendary Oscar Micheaux. Williams eventually became known as a TV actor on the early sitcom Amos & Andy. His directorial works were mostly 1940s “race films” (made by black creators for black audiences on shoestring budgets) in the Christian fable genre.
This short, sponsored by New York’s MOMA, assembles clips from several of Williams’ films into a short introduction to his visual language and identity. His knack for basic but effective compositions pops off the screen in nearly every shot we see; interior shots in particular have a pleasing sense of space and geometry to them, especially for a cinematic forum and budget that expected nothing beyond rudimentary visuals.
Easily the best moments are clips of Black dance halls from the 1940s, with young people dancing to blues music. Williams’ lens lingers on bodies in motion with hypnotic rhythm and vibrant energy.
I enjoyed dipping my toe into the works of a historical filmmaker I’ve never encountered before and would like to seek out one of Spencer Williams’ films at some point in the future.
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.