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Updated: 4:52 p.m. Monday, June 11, 2012 | Posted: 1:07 p.m. Monday, June 11, 2012

Film series, lecture explores Black vintage movies



By Nedra Rhone

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A dinner conversation sparked an idea in Jeffrey E. Bellamy's mind.

One evening, as the family gathered for a meal, Bellamy's father, 92 -- a man notorious for succinct conversation -- talked for hours about the films he saw as a young boy. He described going to the movies as an occasion for which one dressed up. It was, his father said, a big to do.

Bellamy decided to take the conversation beyond the dinner table. After doing some research, he founded the Black Vintage Movie Series, which is holding its inaugural event Saturday at the Balzer Theater at Herren's.

"I thought it would be interesting to focus on films that our parents and grandparents would go see," said Bellamy of Atlanta, who plans to make the daylong series an annual event.

And so, Bellamy elected to show two films: "Carmen Jones," the star-studded 1954 classic headlined by Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte; and the 1959 remake of "Imitation of Life " featuring Lana Turner and Juanita Moore.

Between the two films, Donald Bogle, culture critic and professor at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts will discuss the real-life African-American experience in Hollywood from theearly teens to the mid-1960s. Bogle will end his lecture looking at the career of Dandridge, who died in 1965. She is, he said, the link between old and new Black Hollywood [Bogle wrote a 1997 biography of Dandridge].

Keeping these historic films alive is important, he said.

"People think the history of African-Americans in the movies started with Halle Berry and Denzel Washington and that is not the case," Bogle said. "There are these pioneers that came before and cleared the way."

"Carmen Jones," said Bogle, is an all-star production that caught Belafonte just as he was reaching his stride. The movie is a film version of the Broadway musical based on Georges Bizet's opera, except the timing is circa World War II and the characters are African-American. The on-screen energy is as rich for audiences today as it was when the film was released, Bogle said.

The 1959 remake of "Imitation of Life," -- a movie that debuted in 1934 about the conflict between a black mother and her lighter-skinned daughter -- was released when the world was going through great change, Bogle said.

Though many viewers may have seen the films on television, watching them on the big screen promises to be a very different experience.

"Dandridge is large than life," Bogle said. "The work can still entertain us today."

Event Preview

First Annual Black Vintage Movie Series. 2:30 p.m. Saturday. $15-$34. Balzer Theater at Herren's. 84 Luckie Street. 877-725-8849. www.blackvintagemovies.com.

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