Blu-ray Review: Nationtime | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, May 22nd, 2024  


Studio: Kino Lorber

Feb 19, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

That Nationtime, William Greaves’ document of the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Indiana, seems far more visceral and poignant than it does arcane is unsurprising, but still unsettling. It’s a testament to just how much the civil rights movement has been aggressively stymied, if not outright reversed, since those heady days.

The film’s gut impact is also indicative of both the power of the event itself and of Greaves’ expert capturing of it. Declared “too militant for television broadcast” upon its completion, Nationtime (originally known as Nationtime-Gary) circulated in a truncated 58-minute form for decades; this edition, restored by IndieCollect, is the first to restore the film to its intended 80 minute runtime. This occasionally means that the pace feels like that of a raw capture of a full convention, but one’s patience is rewarded many times over. Every burning second of the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s righteous call to arms is here, as wel as the full standing ovation received by Coretta Scott King, the wounds of her husband’s assassination still fresh in the public memory. It’s not all solemn and heart-rending, though: the crowd lets loose when Richard “Shaft” Roundtree takes the stage, and Isaac Hayes takes the crowd in the palm of his hand for an exuberant performance. Any fans of spiritual/radical jazz will thrill to the brief, exhilarating appearance of AACM co-founder Phil Cohran’s ensemble, one rarely captured on film. Sidney Poitier’s narration at times feels tacked on, but his skill as an orator means one is hard put to be bothered by as much.

Nationtime also captures the considerable tension of the event in real time. The conflict between Black nationalists and Black moderates is perennial, but the National Black Political Convention was founded on the idea of establishing common ground. Many walked away from Gary feeling that the convention had failed in this central mission, and many still would later bemoan the “takeover” of future iterations of the event by the moderate Congressional Black Caucus. Still, watching the likes of Amiri Baraka, Dick Gregory, Betty Shabazz, and Bobby Seale doing their damnedest here to work together, despite sometimes clashing ideologies, is inspiring, even if knowing the immediate aftermath is disheartening.

Anyone wanting to educate themselves on recent civil rights history would do well to give Nationtime an airing or two. While not the most uplifting moment in the quest for civil rights, it is ripe with teachable moments, important historical perspective, and inspiring righteousness.



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