A film by Thom Andersen
2015, 30 minutes
No. 051

In Juke, Thom Andersen, director of cinematic masterworks like Los Angeles Plays Itself and The Thoughts That Once We Had reconsiders the films of Spencer Williams, the pioneering African American screenwriter, director, and actor whose 1940s melodramas centered on sinners and saints—Beale Street mamas and storefront preachers, crime bosses and upwardly striving lawyers and soldiers—who are tempted by jazz and sex and then set back on the glory road to salvation.

“I began to notice a remarkable documentary record of black life in the 1940s in these films,” Andersen observes. “There are the nightclub scenes, of course, but there is also a precious recording of residential spaces, from the shack in The Blood of Jesus to the comfortable middle-class rooming house in Juke Joint."

"[My] film brings out these documentary qualities by looping shots of empty interiors and showing actions freed from the plot. I am not trying to make some new meaning from these films; I am striving to bring out the meanings that are there but obscured by the plot lines: the dignity of black life and the creation of dynamic culture in the segregated society in small-town north Texas. I regard my movie as akin to Walker Evans’ photographs of sharecroppers’ home in 1930s and George Orwell’s essays on English working class interiors.”

Commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, Juke is an essential work of historical excavation.

* Official Selection, Viennale Film Festival
* Official Selection, Rotterdam Film Festival

"A work of enraptured advocacy. It is at once a threadbare epic of mysterious narrative following the dancing, despair and sins of a swathe of 1940s African American characters, an essential documentary on African American cultural specificity of the era, and, of course, a tantalizing teaser and incentive to track down these astounding productions." - The Notebook