Friday, February 5, 2016

Talking Out of Turn #42 (Podcasts): Dr. G. William Jones (1987) and James Earl Jones (1987)

James Earl Jones in John Sayles' Matewan (1987).

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts at CJRT-FM in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to artists from all fields. In 1994, after I had gone to CBC, I had an idea to collate an interview anthology from some of the more interesting discussions I'd had with guests from that period. Since they all took place during the Eighties, I thought I could edit the collection into an oral history of the decade from some of its most outspoken participants. The book was assembled from interview transcripts and organized thematically. I titled it Talking Out of Turn: Revisiting the '80s. With financial help from the Canada Council, I shaped the individual pieces into a number of pertinent themes relevant to the decade. By the time I began to contact publishers, though, the industry was starting to change. At one time, editorial controlled marketing. Now the reverse was taking place. Acquisition editors, who once responded to an interesting idea for a book, were soon following marketing divisions concerned with whether the person doing it was hot enough to sell it.

Tom Fulton, host and producer of On the Arts.
For a few years, I flogged the proposal to various publishers but many were worried that there were too many people from different backgrounds (e.g. Margaret Atwood sitting alongside Oliver Stone). Another publisher curiously chose to reject it because, to them, it appeared to be a book about me promoting my interviews (as if I was trying to be a low-rent Larry King) rather than seeing it as a commentary on the decade through the eyes of the guests. All told, the book soon faded away and I turned to other projects. However, when recently uncovering the original proposal and sample interviews, I felt that maybe some of them could find a new life on Critics at Large.

After the murder of Martin Luther King Jr, in the late sixties, the momentum of the Civil Rights movement seemed to wane. No leader could fill that vacuum and black voices in the eighties became fragmented. Often the question of black identity and culture came up during interviews. The chapter entitled Black Legacies included conversations with figures like author Toni Morrison, film archivist G. William Jones, and actor James Earl Jones. With the Academy Awards approaching and the controversy over the dearth of black talent among this year's Oscar nominees still heating up and February being Black History Month, it is timely to bring together the latter two interviews, both conducted in 1987.

In 1986, Dr. G. William Jones, a film archivist from Texas, discovered in an abandoned box what were probably the first films ever directed by black American filmmakers, with black actors, and for black audiences. In this conversation, conducted over the phone, Dr. Jones discussed what they were, and what the films reveal about contemporary attitudes.

When we sat down together, James Earl Jones had just filmed Matewan with director John Sayles. At that point, Jones was likely most known for being the voice of Darth Vader, but had already had a film career spanning two decades his first starring film role, in 1971's The Great White Hope, earning him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In this interview, Jones speaks about the dearth of mainstream films about black culture, and the kind of political interference that continues to hinder efforts for change.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Dr. G. William Jones as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1987.

Here is the full interview with James Earl Jones as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1987.

Kevin Courrier is a freelance writer/broadcaster, film critic and author (Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of Zappa, Randy Newman's American Dreams33 1/3 Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask ReplicaArtificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles Utopian Dream). Courrier teaches part-time film courses to seniors through the LIFE Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto and other venues. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism.  

No comments:

Post a Comment