La Noire de… (Ousmane Sembène, 1966) // Anna (Alberto Grifi, Massimo Sarchielli, 1975) // Out of the Blue (Dennis Hopper, 1980) // Streetwise (Martin Bell, 1984).
Diouana, Anna, Cebe and Tiny, the respective protagonists of these four films, share some typically anti-heroic traits, such as alienation, individualism, questionable morality and an implicit critique of society. Yet they also share some extraordinary virtues, similar to those of epic heroes, and although there is no altruistic motivation in what they do, their courage and determination are exemplary.
Besides being women, they are also minors: Tiny is 13, Linda Manz was 19 but her character Cebe is just 15, Anna is 16 and Mbissine Thérèse Diop, who plays the role of Diouana, was 17). They live on the margins of society and they have no family or their families are poor or dysfunctional. Each of them suffer some type of objectification, sexualization and abuse. All of this makes them particularly vulnerable.
Yet the fascination they have for the viewer is overwhelming, as is their strength and rebelliousness. Tiny prostitutes herself because she loves her freedom above all else, and making money allows her a certain amount of control over her life. Cebe refuses to settle for the role of a girl and she confronts her father’s violence. Anna is ruthlessly used, but her revenge will be final. Diouana’s heroism is worthy of a Greek tragedy, as is her final emancipation. This rejection and disobedience of a system and a society which exploits and marginalizes them makes their mere presence on screen a critical and subversive act.
They are all also a reflection and consequence of the socio-political and economic context in which they live. Diouana’s story reveals the complexities of post-colonialism. Anna provides us with a foretaste of the changes in the European left in the late 70s. Cebe embodies the nihilistic sentiment of the end of an era and Tiny questions the economic prosperity of North America in the 80s. Enhancing all this still further is the time-capsule feel to these four films, which may derive from the fact that these films were forgotten and hidden for decades or that they are largely unknown to most people
Another characteristic feature of these films is the importance of the street. The street is an antagonist but also a liberating space. There is a memorable sequence in which Cebe wanders through the capital, fleeing from paedophiles and other dangers, and which ends with a glorious immersion in the city’s flourishing punk scene. The ecstasy is unbounded. Tiny likes being in the street: she can do what she wants there and does not have to put up with her alcoholic mother or her boyfriend. Anna also prefers the street to the institutions she has been stuck in all her life, and she also rejects the possibility of a family, which in the end is just another institution. In contrast, after Diouana arrives in France we never see her in the street again, since the house in which she works has become her prison.
As with all cult films, there is a something of myth and mystery about them, and even some rather sordid stories. Anna seems to have been particularly cursed. The protagonists became cult figures only to disappear again. Nothing more was heard about Anna: Mbissine Thérèse Diop never made another film, apart from a cameo appearance in Ousmane Sembène’s Emitaï, in 1971. Linda Manz played some minor roles for a few years, going largely unnoticed, although in 1997 she reappeared in another cult film, Harmony Korine’s Gummo. Thirty-two years after Streetwise, still on the edges of society and mother of ten children, Tiny was the subject of a sequel Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, also directed by Martin Bell.
Although these films’ protagonists are women, they are directed by men. Given that the seminar this year concerns feminist criticism, it would be appropriate to reflect here on the representation of women from the dominant male perspective.
I cannot guarantee that you will come out unscathed after watching these films, but what I can say is that there is no happy ending.
Sara García Villanueva
Editing: Alberto Grifi
Cinematography: Alberto Grifi, Raoul Calabrò, Mario Gianni
Cast: Anna, Massimo Sarchielli, Vincenzo Mazza, Raoul Calabrò, Terry, Louis Waldon, Jane Fonda (less than ten seconds), Annabella Miscuglio, Alberto Grifi.
In 1972, actor Massimo Sarchielli met a sixteen years old girl in Piazza Navona. She was eight months pregnant, sick, homeless and on drugs. Her name was Anna. Sarchielli took her to his apartment with the intention to make a film about her and called the underground filmmaker Alberto Grifi. The film was meant to be a sort of social experiment, where Anna, rescued from the streets by her saviors Grifi and Sarchielli, was the guinea pig. But life took completely over cinema and Anna became something else. Probably one of the most controversial and haunting films ever made. After its premier, the film fell into oblivion for unclear reasons over 4 decades.
Director: Ousmane Sembène
Producer: André Zwoboda
Cinematography: Christian Lacoste
Editing: André Gaudier
Cast: Mbissine Thérèse Diop, Anne-Marie Jelinck (Madame), Robert Fontaine (Monsieur), Momar Nar Sene (Boyfriend), Ibrahima Boy (Boy with mask).
Diouana (brilliantly played by Mbissine Thérèse Diop), is a young Senegalese woman who moves to France to work as a nanny for a middle-class white family. Soon she will realize that she has been mislead into a form of slavery. Diouana’s struggle against her growing dehumanization becomes an allegory of the complexities of post-colonialism, posing larger questions about gender, race, identity, class, cultural dominance and exploitation. Combining traditional African “storytelling”, neorealism and experimental film, La Noire de… (The Black Girl of…) is regarded as the first feature length film made by a black African in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the first with a woman in a leading role. This magnificent and highly-praised debut film, directed by Ousmane Sembene, won France’s prestigious Prix Jean Vigo in 1966.
*Restored in 2015 by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Sembène Estate, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, INA, Eclair laboratories and Centre National de Cinématographie. Restoration carried out at Cineteca di Bologna/ L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory.
Producers: Jean Gontier, Paul Lewis, Gary Jules Jouvenat, Leonard Yakir, Aaron Sadovnick
Writters: Dennis Hopper (sin crédito), Gary Jules Jouvenat (sin crédito), Leonard Yakir,, Brenda Nielson
Cinematography: Marc Champion
Editing: Doris Dyck
Music: Neil Young, Elvis Presley, Pointed Sticks, Tom Lavin
Cast: Linda Manz, Dennis Hopper, Sharon Farrell, Don Gordon, Raymond Burr
Directed in 1980 by Dennis Hopper, this profoundly disturbing and inexplicably overlooked masterpiece, is considered the greatest accomplishment of Hopper as a director and the ultimate film about the punk rock era. Taking its title from the Neil Young song My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue) the film centers on Cebe, a rebellious teenager (unforgettably played by Linda Manz), obsessed with Elvis Presley and punk rock music; her ex-convict father Don Barnes (played by Dennis Hopper in one of his wildest performances ever); and her drug addict mother Kathy (played by Sharon Farrell). Out of the Blue competed for the Palme d’Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival and caused a great sensation, but having an unsuccessful distribution, the film remained nearly forgotten. Today Out of the Blue is still a little-known cult film and an absolute wonder.
Producer: Cheryl McCall
Cinematography: Martin Bell
Editing: Nancy Baker, Jonathan Oppenheim
Music: Tom Waits
With: Erin Blackwell (Tiny), Rat, Lulu, Dewayne Pomeroy, Munchkin, Shadow, Baby Gramps, Kim, Shellie, Lillie, Patti, Tom Waits.
Inspired by the 1983 Life magazine essay “Streets of the Lost” –photographed by Mary Ellen Mark and written by Cheryl McCall–, Martin Bell’s raw, mesmerizing and unsentimental documentary, chronicles the lives of a group of street children in Seattle, centering on Tiny, a “beautiful, engaging and impossible to forget” 13-year-old prostitute. This superb classic, beautifully shot in 16mm and featuring music by Tom Waits, got an Oscar nomination in 1984 and was never seen again for over 25 years, except on VHS. Streetwise, that has been digitally remastered just now, has never been released in Spain before, so you’d better not miss this opportunity. This film is a true gem.