P R E S S R E L E A S E S 2003
January 9, 2003
Double Feature on Famed Protest Songs at MASS MoCA
Strange Fruit and The Internationale
(North Adams, Mass.) On Thursday, February 6, at 8 P.M. MASS MoCA will screen two extraordinary documentary films about the creation and strangely lasting lives of two poignant and emotionally charged songs - songs that are among the first mass-market protest songs ever written. The subject of the first film is Strange Fruit -- the song Billie Holiday made famous -- a haunting depiction of a lynching which referred to black bodies as "strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." The song was written by a Jewish teacher in the 1930s. Influential jazz writer Leonard Feather called Strange Fruit "the first unmuted cry against racism," and Time magazine recently named it the best song of the 20th century. The second film takes as its subject The Internationale, a rallying cry calling any oppressed people to action, which has been adopted by a range of causes from labor movements, to Communism, to the students at Tiananmen Square. Both these polished, well-structured films combine carefully chosen newsreel footage with intriguing interviews and emotional performances to explore complicated issues of race and politics through song.
Originally conceived as a poem with spine-chilling lyrics depicting a lynching, the song Strange Fruit was written by a Jewish public high school teacher from the Bronx, Abel Meerapol, under the pen name Lewis Allan. The documentary film Strange Fruit, directed by Joel Katz tells the story of the song and its author, and includes rare footage of Billie Holiday singing it for a BBC television broadcast just months before her death. The film screened at this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Festival director Janis Plotkin called it "a totally perfect film! It's about a song, but it's also social history." The San Francisco Examiner called it one of the "must-see" films of the festival. The film traces the impact of the song and its relevance to a variety of racial conflicts including the hard-fought victories of African-American musicians in the 1930s, the Jewish struggle in the '40s, McCarthyism (in a strange twist of history, Meerapol and his wife adopted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg's children after they were executed for treason), and the Civil Rights Movement. The film encompasses current events, including images like a sign reading "Save USA - Kill a Muslim" and references to Matthew Shepard.
The Internationale's emotionally charged lyrics were written in 1871 at the fall of the Paris Commune by ex-mayor Eugene Pottier and later set to music by French factory worker Pierre Degeyter. The popular song quickly spread in France and throughout Europe. Translated into dozens of languages, it became a rallying cry for the exploited to rise up and overthrow their oppressors. It unified workers of different nationalities and diverse backgrounds during a number of strikes. It was sung by the students in Tiananmen Square and was the official anthem of the Russian revolution in 1917. The documentary film The Internationale is narrated by Pete Seeger, well-known folk guitarist and activist, and includes an updated version of the anthem by Billy Bragg. The film won the Official Selection award of the 2000 Margaret Mead International Film and Video Festival.
The Cinema Lounge series is sponsored by Berkshire Gas and supported by Holly Angell Hardman.
Tickets for Strange Fruit/The Internationale are $5.50. Total run time for the double feature is 2 hours. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located on Marshall Street in North Adams from 11 A.M. until 5 P.M. every day but Tuesday. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours or online at www.massmoca.org at any time of day.
MASS MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings.
MASS MoCA 1040 MASS MoCA Way North Adams, MA 01247 413.MOCA.111 www.massmoca.org
For Immediate Release