Presented by the Melbourne Cinémathèque
Within Our Gates
Sylvia, an educated African America woman, travels from the Deep South to the northern states in order to raise money for a school for poor black children, only to find herself involved in a web of gambling and crime that eventually forces the reveal of her own traumatic past.
Informed by Micheaux’s life as a labourer in Chicago, the film faced censorship and banning due to fears its portrayal of a lynching and an attempted rape would incite interracial violence amongst viewers. Idiosyncratic and unflinching, Within Our Gates is an important cinematic expression of African American life after World War I, as well as of Micheaux’s non-linear and ambiguous style, identified by modern-day cinematographer Arthur Jafa as “something equal to the aesthetic coherency of jazz”.
Micheaux’s groundbreaking film screens with two other silent films made by outsiders to mainstream American filmmaking. H2O, (Ralph Steiner, 1929) won it’s photographer-turned-director author the first prize in the non-dramatic category of Photoplay’s 1929 “amateur film’ competition. The short presents increasingly abstract images of water, eventually becoming a reflection on the properties of moving images themselves. Eaux d’artifice (Kenneth Anger, 1953) is masterful exercise in kinaesthetic experimental cinema by the original enfant terribles of the US avant garde. In it, a man adorned in 18th century women’s clothing makes his way through the beautiful Villa d’Este, its famous fountains filmed in double exposed close-ups or as silhouettes against the night sky. A clear nod to his first film Fireworks (1947) (the french term for fireworks is ‘feux d’artifice’), the film is arguably an antithesis to Anger's earlier work: instead of stewing in sexual repression, its fountains represent a celebration of the filmmaker’s homosexuality.
– Andréas Giannopoulos and Jacob Agius, Melbourne Cinémathèque, committee member
22–28 Nov 2021