25 March 2000 | Aw-komon
The Raging Bull of the 1960s
Here's an American neo-realist masterwork that captures the temper of black consciousness in the south just prior to the mass upheavals of the era. Long before Scorsese made "Mean Streets" and "Raging Bull," Michael Roemer had made this great film. No other film dramatizes so profoundly the plight of a man whose basic human pride will not be compromised under any circumstances. Ivan Dixon as Duff gives one of the greatest performances in the history of cinema and Abbey Lincoln as Josie, the preacher's daughter he tries to settle down with, is just about perfect in control of nuance. These characters are extraordinary "ordinary" people, truly heroic; yet the tragedy that stalks them may or may not be hopeless at this time in history, due to an apparent shift in black consciousness, a general "fed-up-with-it-all" attitude that needs men like Duff to inspire itself. The entire cast is uniformly excellent and there are too many classic scenes to mention here. The film seems cut directly from the fabric of real life in semi-documentary-Rossellini-style. It is pure. "Little Fugitive" and "Medium Cool" are the only other pre-70s American films I've seen that feel this real. In terms of the subtlety with which racial politics and power relations are exposed through simple gestures and acts rather than rhetoric and melodrama, Martin Ritt's "Sounder" and Paul Schrader's "Blue Collar" are the only films I've seen that come close. Charles Burnett's "Killer of Sheep," also comes to mind. There are a lot of lessons to be learned here, especially by directors like Spike Lee, who I'm sure has seen this movie, and who has made decent films in the past (Do the Right Thing, She's gotta have it), but now wastes his time making laughable, "really hardcore," "I want to transcend puny barriers with overloads of style" cartoons like "Summer of Sam." "Nothing but a Man" is light years away from the nonsense they call "realism" these days. Over and out.