Looking for Langston

Looking for Langston

Looking for Langston is an experimental or avant garde, or whatever you want to call it, forty-five minute film from the low point of the AIDS era, nominally about Langston Hughes, but more about homosexuality, to the extent that this sort of film is “about” anything, at least anything discernible to me.

Which is to say, this film is largely incomprehensible to me. I just don’t have the aptitude for these stylistic, impressionistic, mood-oriented pieces with no logical substance or structure to them.

The jazz and smoky blues are pleasant. The visuals are interesting. Well, it would be more accurate to say I’m pretty sure the visuals would be interesting to someone who “gets” this kind of stuff; they were only mildly, occasionally interesting to me. (It would also help to be gay, since there are a lot of shots of guys with little or no clothes on, gazing meaningfully at each other and such.)

It’s black and white, a mixture of Harlem Renaissance-era film clips, and actors recreating idealized gay bars and beach encounters and the like, I think meant to evoke that same era, but maybe meant to be more timeless. Different voices make disconnected comments about that historical period or Langston Hughes, or more often read poetry. I assume some of the poetry is from Hughes, but I’m guessing some is more modern, given the sometimes explicit sexual and homosexual content.

One of the few things that drew me in a little bit was late in the film, when (in a vague, ambiguous, artsy way) there’s a scene suggesting a mob accompanied by cops busting their way into a gay bar to create mayhem. That connected a bit with me in that it put me in mind of how frustrated and sad I get when I contemplate how common blind idiotic hatred and violence is against gays, or just against any people who are perceived as somehow objectionably “different.”

Many of the things Looking for Langston touches on in its poetic, avant garde way could potentially be quite interesting to explore in some more direct, literal, understandable way. I care about issues of race, sexuality, art, politics, etc. (e.g., what it was like to be a closeted homosexual black man decades before Stonewall), and in principle could enjoy a movie about them, but, as I say, this style of film mostly doesn’t get through to me.

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