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In a Different Light

Thursday, March 23, 1995
Looking for Langston
Isaac Julien (U.K., 1988)

Preceded by film clips from Julien's other works (or by an extract from Julien's new project, Testing the Limits.) A videotape of Julien's film The Attendant (1993, 8 mins) is on view in the Theater Gallery this evening.

Less a portrait than a meditation on Langston Hughes, this film "looks for Langston" in the worlds evoked by his poetry. Like the poems, the images are infused with the Blues. But their bluesy text, along with compositions by poet Essex Hemphill, is what might be called a Ballad of Black Gay Desire. Julien conjures up the Harlem renaissance of the twenties-of which Hughes was perhaps the key figure - in moodily re-shot newsreels and clips from race movies. It is Harlem viewed from a gay vantage. Imagined sequences bring the subject of black homosexuality into the present and infuse it with a libidinal lyricism. For U.S. copyright release, negotiations with the Hughes estate turned into a contentious attempt to silence the history of a culture and its icons. We present the uncensored version, with Hughes's poetry intact.

• Written by Julien. Poetry by Langston Hughes, Essex Hemphill. Photographed by Kina Kellgren. With Ben Ellison, Matthew Baidoo, John Wilson, Akim Mogaji. (45 mins, B&W, 16mm, From BFI)