Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Vintage Black Cinema’ Movie Poster Stamps Highlight African-American Cultural Experience

From the official USPS press release:
WASHINGTON, DC —Vintage movie posters highlighting various facets of the African-American cultural experience as represented in early film return on postage when the U.S. Postal Service issues the Vintage Black Cinema stamps. The 42-cent commemorative First-Class stamps will be dedicated July 16 at the Newark, NJ, Museum during the Black Film Festival and will go on sale nationwide that day.

Explained U.S. Postal Service Vice President and Consumer Advocate Delores Killette: “Whether spotlighting the talents of entertainment icons Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Fredi Washington, Louis Jordan, Daniel L. Haynes, Victoria Spivey or King Vidor, or documenting changing social attitudes and expectations—these posters now serve a greater purpose than publicity and promotion. They are invaluable pieces of history, preserving memories of cultural phenomena that otherwise might have been forgotten.”

Scheduled to join Killette at the 10 a.m. dedication ceremony Wednesday are Emmy-Award winning Actress Lynn Whitfield who played the leading role in The Josephine Baker Story; Josephine Baker’s son Jean-Claude Baker and his brother, Jarry; Louis Jordan’s widow, Martha Jordan; Paul Ellington, grandson of Duke Ellington; Newark Mayor Cory A. Booker, and Gloria Hopkins Buck, chairwoman of the film festival.

“My adoptive mother, whose theme song was ‘Two loves Have I, my Country and Paris,’ would be delighted, thrilled and deeply moved by this wonderful tribute to African-American culture,” said Jean-Claude Baker, one of Josephine Baker’s adoptive sons. “Her legend was global and her heart embraced the world. But, despite the acclaim in films like Princess Tam-Tam she never forgot that she was, at heart, a daughter of St Louis.”

The Vintage Black Cinema souvenir sheet includes 20 stamps in four rows with five different commemorative stamps featuring posters advertising movies produced for African-American audiences prior to 1950. Stamp Art Director and Designer Carl T. Hermann of Carlsbad, CA, intended to evoke a strip of film with perforations, or sprocket holes, running down the left and right edges. This souvenir sheet also includes selvage text.

Remembered as the first screen appearance of Duke Ellington, the 1929 film Black and Tan features three songs by Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra. In this 19-minute short, Ellington, playing himself, is in danger of having his piano repossessed. When his fatally ill girlfriend dances at a nightclub, she saves Ellington’s music—and asks to hear his “Black and Tan Fantasy” on her deathbed.

In the 1921 silent film The Sport of the Gods,the family of a wrongfully convicted man flees disgrace in Virginia only to face immorality and temptation in New York City. Based on a novel by Paul Laurence Dunbar, the film was produced by the short-lived Reol Motion Picture Corporation, which made several movies for black audiences.

One of only four movies to star American-born entertainer Josephine Baker, Princess Tam-Tam tells the story of a novelist who discovers a simple African woman, played by Baker, and presents her as a princess to Parisian society. Released in France in 1935, this French-language feature remains a rare film showcase for Baker’s singing and dancing.

Highlighting the talents of singer, saxophonist, and “jump blues” bandleader Louis Jordan, the 1945 short Caldonia is often cited as a precursor of today’s music videos. The four musical numbers featured in this 18-minute film also appeared as individual “soundies,” short films shown on video jukeboxes at nightclubs and restaurants during the 1940s.

Released in 1929, Hallelujah was one of the first major-studio films to feature an all-black cast. This dramatic story of a field laborer who is seduced away from his community by worldly temptations was filmed primarily in Arkansas and Tennessee. Noted for its portrayal of the rural African-American religious experience, Hallelujah earned King Vidor a nomination for Best Director.
For a synopsis of each film and the significance of the artwork on each poster, check out the USPS website and be sure to grab some at your local post office. Don't see them on display? Be sure to request them!

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