Friday, February 19, 2016

I Do Want Change

How about Wednesday?
I can not go.
Okay, do you want to do something any other night?
Thursday or Friday?
How about Cinema Noir? 
OK, cool!
So we're on for Thursday?
Okay, so I want to stop by the opening of the new exhibit at the Branch Museum before the movie. If you want to join me for that, we can go somewhere first to eat.
You are such a party animal! I'm off at 2, so sounds all good to me!

You read right, I got called a party animal for wanting to go to an architecture museum and eat dinner before a movie. Whoa, things are getting crazy here.

Say, what happened to late nights, excessive drinking and wild behavior...or is that so party animal 2015?

Doesn't matter, I suppose, since we had a fine time at dinner, seat-dancing to the '80s and stuffing our faces for the sake of my livelihood (he's good about always taking home the leftovers so I don't have to) while talking about life.

It was important to him to bring me up to speed on the hilarious SNL "The Day Beyonce Turned Black" video  - "Kerry Washington can't be black! She's on ABC!" - once we finished eating.

Apparently he worries about others mocking my lack of cultural literacy and he's here to save me from that.

Judging by the sedate-looking crowd at the Branch Museum, I certainly didn't need to be up to speed before the opening of "The Historic American Buildings Survey: Documenting Virginia's Architectural Heritage," not that I didn't find it fascinating.

Turns out that HABS was yet another brilliant New Deal initiative in 1933, implemented to begin the important preservation process as it pertains to the built environment, engineering technologies and landscape design.

An architecture nerd's wet dream, in other words.

Using large-format black and white photographs and detailed architectural renderings, the exhibit displayed the work of countless people who painstakingly recorded specifics about important buildings, such as the Rising Sun Tavern on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg (a street I know well), erected before 1781, and Bacon's Castle in Surry County, built before 1676.

Equally familiar to me were Menokin on the Northern Neck, the Jefferson Memorial in Washington and Monticello, although the specificity of details was far greater than any average Joe would know, or even any art history fanatic.

When we left there, it was for me to get a hot fudge sundae at Bev's - where we were alone since ice cream is not the most popular sweet in February - while my friend explained his lactose intolerance and sipped a cup of coffee, his drug of choice.

In no hurry, we took the alley on our way out, resulting in a couple of fun discoveries. The first was a mural on a garage door of the "Spy versus Spy" characters expertly rendered and the other was a discarded mattress on which someone had spray-painted, "Nothing else mattress."

Dyslexia humor is a wonderful thing.

Eventually, we made our way over to Manchester's Browne Gallery on Hull Street for Cinema Noir where I found myself back on the same stretch I'd walked a few weeks ago, discovering Croaker's Spot and Sweet Fix Bakery in the process.

The gallery was filling up quickly, so we nabbed seats in the second row and another friend showed up to sit just in front of us. One of the great things about this event is the pre-film music and tonight's was especially good, all Earth, Wind and Fire in tribute to Maurice White's recent earthly exit.

Several EWF album covers were placed around the gallery as visual reminders, a couple next to a classic classroom turntable, inspiring my friend to ask, "Where's the slide projector?" like the AV Club geek he probably was.

Tonight's short film was director Pete Chaimon's "Blackcard," a subtly scathing look at a world where a group called The Commission makes it their job to check on infractions by African Americans of the "black code."

The audience was cracking up within the first two minutes of the film.

It began with Commission staff raiding a woman's refrigerator, nodding in approval at malt liquor, sniffing a pitcher of ice tea to determine if it was sweetened and ultimately discovering unacceptable items such as kale and, later, a book by Malcolm Gladwell.

"Malcolm Galdwell?" the agent asks. You'd have thought he found "Mein Kampf."

It's these kinds of things that cause our heroine Lona to lose her black card, a fact that doesn't bother her boyfriend because he thinks self trumps race. She's not so sure.

Interrogating another man about his blackness, the guy admits to voting for Romney. Incredulous, the Commission investigator, asks, "You didn't want change?"

The films' leitmotif - whether to chose oneself over one's race - provided much of the post-film discussion with director Pete, looking very hip perched in a director's chair at the front of the room.

"Black is not a genre," he said, explaining why he thought of the term as pejorative. A film made by and/or with blacks can be any genre a white film can: romance, sci-fi, western, comedy or drama, a fact which should be obvious to anyone.

Although his film contained much to laugh at, he saw the comedy as being in service of the dramatic element, namely Lona trying to get her black card back and, ultimately, Leonard laying his on the ground and opting to follow his own path rather than the prescribed racial one.

Pete pulled out metaphors galore and a recent eating example -questioning his own meal of quinoa in Los Angeles as "un-black" - to explain the importance of making individual calls about what kind of black you choose to be.

Many of his tight, slightly awkward camera angles owed a debt to Terry Gilliams' "Brazil," he explained, saying, "You're going to turn me into a film nerd now."

Truth be told, that's the absolute beauty of these Cinema Nouir evenings. As intriguing as it is to get to see a contemporary black film short, it's always the discussion afterwards that makes them such compelling evenings.

I'm far more interested in the day Richmond becomes successfully multi-racial than I am the day Beyonce became black. What's cool is that Cinema Noir and the Afrikanna Film Fest are chipping away at that every single month.

And if I have to be a party animal to be a part of that, well, that's the way of the world.

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