DIARY: SPARKLE (1976) at The Cinema Museum [28.10.18]

With so many indie venues under threat across London, RADIANT CIRCUS is proud to be supporting the campaign to Save The Cinema Museum. Last night’s fundraiser screening of SPARKLE (1976) was introduced by The Celluloid Sorceress, Rebecca Nicole Williams, in conversation with Samira Ahmed (28.10.18). Here’s our writeup.

SPARKLE (1976): A Save The Cinema Museum Fundraiser presented by the Celluloid Sorceress (28 OCT).
SPARKLE (1976): A Save The Cinema Museum Fundraiser presented by The Celluloid Sorceress, Rebecca Nicole Williams (28 OCT).

Last night’s fundraiser screening of SPARKLE (1976) at The Cinema Museum benefitted from a great introduction from what we hope will become a regular double act: Samira & The Sorceress. It was one of those generous ways-in that really opened the film up rather than tossing it carelessly into a spoiler-ridden corner. Archival clips – of screenwriter Joel Schumacher, the original cast, and soundtrack LP artist Aretha Franklin – helped the audience take two steps back in time: to 1974-76 when the film was in production, and the late 1950s when the story was set.

Taking Samira’s lead, it’s hard from present-day perspectives to imagine the early 2000s as ‘history’ (even if Hollywood is busily remaking more recent films…). Looking only over its shoulder, SPARKLE’s period 1950s setting really does feel like another time and place. Flipping that around, the story – of talent and success undone by drugs, domestic violence, organised crime and family break-ups – continues to ring tragically true (R.I.P. Whitney…).

Marking Black History Month, the rich discussion focussed on themes of black representation on film and deeply segregated movie marketing: what would 1970s Warner Bros do with a “black” movie musical? Not much it would seem from the Sorceress’ extensive research into the movie’s meagre marketing… Fascinatingly for geeks like us, crew-connected CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972) was also referenced as another 70s genre-grapple with the politics of oppression.

SPARKLE itself is a little patchy, struggling to add character detail to industry archetypes despite strong performances and emotional moments. Through no fault of its own, it’s also denied urgency by our now over-familiarity with versions of this story. The musical performances themselves – particularly Irene Cara and Lonette McKee – are a serious highlight, bolstering Curtis Mayfield’s songs. The decision to “recast” the soundtrack LP with sure-fire Franklin stands out as a commercial as well as a creative decision (and the jettisoning of the original cast voices a still-brutal footnote…).

Projecting at The Cinema Museum from a rare 16mm print, SPARKLE’s beautiful colour-aware cinematography by Bruce Surtees (CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES – that link! – PALE RIDER, PSYCHO III…) could only be estimated here. Instead, the legacy format gave the screening considerable intimacy, as if we were witnessing a rather too-honest home movie where a protective layer of cinematic sheen had been artfully removed. This was exactly the kind of expert archival event we have come to expect from The Celluloid Sorceress, presented in an iconic London venue.

And that’s the meat of it…

SPARKLE (1976): A Save The Cinema Museum Fundraiser presented by the Celluloid Sorceress (28 OCT).
SPARKLE (1976): A Save The Cinema Museum Fundraiser presented by The Celluloid Sorceress, Rebecca Nicole Williams (28 OCT).

Remember: until a lease is signed with the new owners of the site, The Cinema Museum remains under threat. By supporting fundraisers – indeed, buying any ticket – you will continue to prove the venue’s considerable worth. You simply won’t see events like this anywhere else (and we should know…).

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