KUSP Film Review

Two Films: The Girls in the Band & Particle Fever


Listen to David H. Anthony’s review, above.

The Girls in the Band
This has been quite a fertile post-Oscar film season, illustrated by two well-paced documentary films to be screened locally for short stints of one week each. The first is The Girls in the Band, by Judy Chaikin. The Girls in the Band begins with a shot of the famous photo called A Great Day in Harlem, in which the principal living legends of the jazz tradition assemble for a historic photo in front of a Harlem Brownstone. The shot was taken by Art Kane, a freelance photographer, for Esquire magazine in 1958. It was so important that it later became the basis of a 1994 film.

If you have ever seen this portrait it is one you will not easily forget, as it contains a veritable who’s who of modern jazz luminaries, from Thelonious Monk to Henry Red Allen, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Young and three female subjects, pianists Mary Lou Williams and Marianne McPartland and singer Maxine Sullivan, out of the total of 57. Here in a voiceover the late pianist, composer and educator, Dr. Billy Taylor is heard stating that many glimpsing the image may not have known who these women were. This provides the point of departure for The Girls in the Band, situating women in the jazz tradition as having literally and figuratively played a role in its evolution and elaboration as a uniquely American art form which has had and continues to have global reach. In a tightly edited 83 minute work, Judy Chaikin offers a survey of the emergence and travails of women instrumentalists, composers and arrangers who contributed to but were often blocked and ignored by male contemporaries and critics including their peers, but who nonetheless left an indelible mark on the edifice of improvisational music. The Girls in the Band follows on the precedent of films like International Sweethearts musicians in jazz, like bassist Carline Ray, trompetiste Clora Bryant, Julie Rogers,
Viola Smith, Roz Cron, Peggy Gilbert, Helen Woods and Jessie Bailey, among others.

Particle Fever
The second limited engagement film with an intriguing local hook is Particle Fever, the search for the Higgs Boson, directed by physicist turned filmmaker Mark Levinson. The rationale behind the Higgs boson and the great significance its discovery holds for science is nothing less than finding a key to the mystery of the universe. As such it is connected to the recreation of conditions that may have existed in the aftermath of the “Big Bang.” The film details the biggest, most expensive experiment in history: to activate the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN facility in Switzerland. CERN is The European Organization for Nuclear Research. Billions of dollars and countless hours have been poured into this international undertaking, in hopes of discovering some of the most basic elements that make up the universe, chiefly, the Higgs boson particle.

Accordingly, on opening night, this Friday, March 14 the Nickelodeon Theater in Santa Cruz will be sponsoring a 7pm special screening of Particle Fever with the participation of SCIPP, the Santa Cruz Institute of Particle Physics. Following the screening SCIPP faculty Howard Haber, Jason Nielsen, Stefano Profumo and Alexander Grillo will field audience questions. Both films are noteworthy.

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