If The Gatekeepers is a documentary worthy of a time capsule, then King: A Filmed Record ... Montgomery to Memphis essentially is a time capsule.
This monumental three-hour documentary, which screens at the Brooks Museum of Art on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, in conjunction with the art exhibit "Romare Bearden: A Black Odyssey," follows King from his 1955 ascendance as a leader of the Montgomery bus boycott to his 1968 death during the Memphis sanitation strike and subsequent funeral.
A part of the National Film Registry but little seen since its 1970 premiere, King: A Filmed Record was recently restored by the Library of Congress. It was conceived and produced by Ely Landau and co-directed by Sidney Lumet and Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The film consists primarily of documentary footage — and, in some cases, just audio — of the major events King touched as part of the civil rights movement: the Montgomery boycott, the Birmingham movement (including the church bombing that took the lives of four little girls), the March on Washington, King's Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Selma march, the Northern campaign in Chicago, King's increasingly outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War, and on to Memphis.
This material — all shot in black and white — is presented chronologically and without narration — broken up occasionally by theatrical readings from celebrities (Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee, Paul Newman) who were active in the movement. For the most part, it isn't a commentary or a lesson on King's life or the movement he partly led but an immersion in it. And in addition to the historically familiar highpoints — the speeches, the marches — the film's camera routinely finds moments which say as much.
There's a black soldier, returned home to Alabama and in uniform, who walks by a casual gathering of Klansmen, hoods up, congregating along a busy city street. There are swastika posters held up by suburban Illinois teens. And, of local interest, copious footage from the streets of downtown Memphis, including shots from the vantage points of Army vehicles patrolling downtown in the wake of King's assassination.
King: A Filmed Record ... Montgomery to Memphis
Brooks Museum of Art
Thursday, April 4th
7 p.m., $8 or $6 for members