Film and Media Experiments


The Film and Media Experiments Research Guide highlights Amiri Baraka’s interest in forms of media and mass communication beyond the textual practice for which he is perhaps best known. Artifacts in this set include recordings of televised programs, such as former President Nixon’s resignation speech, as well as footage of Baraka performing interviews for Newark news stations. This collection also features an important set of Baraka’s experiments in filmmaking, publicly available for the first time. The most extensive of these artistic endeavors consists of a series of film reels titled “Cellar Vigil,” which depict scenes from an unfinished experimental film. The imagery of this film is striking––at times, viewers should note, even disturbing in its graphic violence––and yet it also underscores a playful relation between the actors and Baraka: an actress grins at the camera in the middle of rehearsing cries of anguish, for instance. Alongside the other experiments in this collection, these reels underscore a facet of Baraka’s artistic output not commonly discussed in scholarship, and will be of interest to scholars of Baraka, Black Arts, and media and film.

Selected Audio/Visual Materials

I. Experiments in Film and Audio

II. Media, Mass Communication, and Broadcast Culture

III. Home Recordings: Drama and Generic Experiment

I. Experiments in Film and Audio

  1. Practice Tape Malaika WaChanga Na Super Simba & CWYECP-(Police Cars) (video, undated) Many shots of street scenes in Newark, NJ, with a particular focus on police vehicles; an unidentified woman appears to be operating the camera. Video quality distorts in the latter section of the tape. “Malaika WaChanga” and “Super Simba” refer to the names for female and male youths in Black Nationalist education programs.

  2. Practice Film – pool game etc. Footage of players at a pool hall, some exterior building shots, audio not synced perfectly to video; unidentified man discusses Black history, Black Studies programs, interspersed with images of famous historical figures, both white and Black; third part documents dancers rehearsing a performance; fourth part comprised of footage of sidewalks (in New York?) with voiceover discussing Black demand for “reinterpretation of society” and white obliviousness to poverty.

  3. Self Test Experimental audio tape; voice over, piano, layers of unconventional sound effects, and poetry; audio involves a woman discussing her musical performances.

  4. Kids Working Film footage of a group of young boys moving furniture, boxes, and equipment around an abandoned apartment with Black Nationalist, Black Panther, and Harlem Peoples’ Parliament posters on the wall.

  5. H. Armstrong-Negative Duplicate Reel #3 Film footage of children playing, rubble on a sidewalk, a family (?) posing for the camera, children dancing and hamming it up for the camera; shots of streets and stoops from different angles.

  6. Cellar Vigil Several short reels of a film in progress; includes scenes of men in trench coats and paper bag masks doing jumping jacks, a woman exploring a darkened house before getting abducted and lynched, exterior shots of homes and the sky, and different test takes of the actresses screaming and sobbing. These reels contain scenes of simulated violence that may be disturbing to some viewers.

  7. For Trial Auto Shots, P77605-17059 Two identical reels depict Baraka(?) and another man interacting with a large van; repeated shots of Baraka attempting to pull the other man out of the van, as well as footage of the two of them taking measurements of the van's interior and width of the door opening; Baraka shines flashlight into the van's windows; handle of the van's doors move as they are opened from the outside. In its repetition and duration, this footage underlines Baraka's interest in working a camera and experimenting with the process of filming.

  8. Color Dub, 'Projects,' Double Xposure Film footage of streets, people, apartment buildings, and Black Panther posters; appears to be an experiment with filmic effects, ranging from double exposures to different forms of coloration.

II. Media, Mass Communication, and Broadcast Culture

  1. The Spirit of Jazz by Telecom Japan International (video, undated) Japanese documentary on jazz; Baraka reads around 19:45 (a version of “AM/TRAK”?); interview with him follows: poetry as music, “music comes from the spoken word,” Black music and speech.

  2. News people and Ford’s speech (video, 1974, August 8) CBS news coverage of Nixon's resignation with speech by Gerald Ford upon Nixon's resignation; date must be circa 8 August 1974. Footage consists of the filming of a broadcast on a TV screen. Voices heard in the background.

  3. Nixon’s Farewell Address (video, undated [1976?]) Recording of Nixon's farewell address, taken from filming a TV screen. Begins with Gerald Ford’s speech. Voices heard in the background commenting on the program.

  4. Local TV news interview: Amiri Baraka on Newark housing project (video, 1974, January 1) Baraka discusses Kawaida Towers; racism in Newark, segregation; vacant lots in Newark, “this place looks worse than Hanoi,” raising consciousness around housing; Anthony Imperiale’s accusation that Baraka wants a riot.

  5. Imamu’s Interview with channel 52, (video, undated, circa 1972-1976) Footage of interview being filmed, includes shots of channel’s crew. Baraka describes Black organizing in Newark, criticism of Afrikan Free School, obstructions to Kawaida Towers; white left-wing’s treatment of Black struggle as “prelude” to “real struggle”; asked where he sees Newark in 10 years, responds: “If the United States exists in 10 years, then Newark should be one of the bright spots”; common ground with white people against capitalist class, white people not the enemy, but big business and banks; American fascism; local vs. national.

  6. Muhammad Ali-Floyd Patterson boxing match (video, 1966, February 25) Recording of boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Floyd Patterson.

III. Home Recordings: Drama and Genre Experiments

  1. “Life and [illegible] of Bumpy Johnson” (audio, 1986) Rehearsal / read-through and discussion of dramatic work, title and author unknown.

  2. “Baraka house” (audio, c. 1993) Group conversation; discussion of black culture, music and poetry scene; poems in response to current events; unidentified participants.

  3. “Rutgers Site, Burning House” (audio, date unknown) Performance rehearsal of dramatic work.

  4. “Amiri Baraka Opening Night” (video, 1987) Basement party: poetry reading and musical performance. Concludes with Baraka reading poems to jazz.

  5. Black drama (audio, 1986) Panel discussion

Author note: Connor Spencer is a graduate student in The Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.