That Old Black Magic
Canadian Broadcasting Company
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema February 22, 24 and 25th
Review by: Larry Thomas
Sometimes, happy accidents result in the discovery of long missing film footage that is just a joy to behold. Such is the case with the documentary That Old Black Magic. Someone found eighteen cans of film behind a brick wall in a Toronto home. The cans contained kinescopes of musical variety shows aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Company from 1955 through 1960. and had been unseen for decades. None of these performances ever aired in the US. Many black artists found it difficult to get television exposure in the United States due to segregationist policies, but were extremely welcome in Canada.
The footage was restored by CBC’s archivists, and comprises the bulk of That Old Black Magic. You’ll enjoy highlights of performances by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr. Dinah Washington, Cab Calloway, Della Reese, Billy Eckstine and Marion Anderson. The appeal of such a pastiche is of overwhelming interest to jazz lovers everywhere. Granted, since these were all originally live television broadcasts, there’s little production value. It’s basically a camera or two turned on while these stars do what they do best. There’s some introductory footage setting up the age of segregation in America, but most of what you’ll see in this short feature is one dazzling musical performance after another. This is a rare opportunity to step back into unseen history, with Ella’s scatting, Duke’s piano styling, and Calloway’s magical moves. This is one of those times when you’ll wish the movie were twice as long…maybe even three times longer.
Presented by Cincinnati World Cinema, there’s also more to enjoy than just the film. Cincinnati saxophonist Bruce Menefield will share historical perspective after each screening, and then lead a set of songs in tribute to the featured artists.
There are three screenings scheduled: a Sunday matinee on February 22 at 3 pm, which also offers a buffet and cash bar, with vocalist Brenda Flowers and bassist Eddie Brookshire joining Bruce Menefield. The 7 pm showings on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 24 and 25 will be followed by live jazz from Menefield and keyboardist Erwin Stucky.
But wait…there’s more! Proceeds from the showings will benefit Phi Psi Omega’s scholarship fund for college bound students from the Cincinnati metropolitan area.
It doesn’t get much better than this: an opportunity to be among the first in the country to see previously lost material, live jazz from local performers, and a chance to benefit college students.
Cincinnati World Cinema will be showing That Old Black Magic at The Redmoor, formerly the Mt. Lookout Theatre, on Mt. Lookout Square.