Archive for the ‘Bess Lomax Hawes’ Category

The Films of Bess Lomax Hawes

July 12, 2013



GEORGIA SEA ISLAND SINGERS (1964) Shot in 35mm film with multiple cameras on a soundstage when the Sea Island Singers were visiting Los Angeles, this program presents a small part of their repertoire of sacred music, including the songs- Moses, Yonder Comes Day, Buzzard Lope (Throw Me Anywhere Lord), Adam in the Garden (Picking up Leaves), and Down in the Mire (Bright Star Shinning in Glory).

BUCKDANCER (1965) Featuring Panaloa County fife player Ed Young with Bessie Jones. Ed Young does the Buckdance, demonstrates making a fife, and plays a tune on the fife.

PIZZA PIZZA DADDY-O (1967) looks at continuity and change in girl’s playground games at a Los Angeles school.

(1970) Virtuoso fiddler Earl Collins, born in Shawnee, Oklahoma, moved to Southern California in the Depression. He plays Say Old Man Can You Play the Fiddle, Dry and Dusty, Sally Goodin, Bull at the Wagon, Black Mountain Rag, and Billy in the Low Ground. Additional tunes not included in the edited film are on the DVD.

These films were unique in their time and could not be made now. They developed as opportunities arose, using borrowed equipment, volunteer crews, small budgets, and a great deal of learning and experimentation in the editing room. The films concentrate on performance and by implication how the performers’ aesthetics both inform and reflect societal values. The films strive to make a pleasing and engaging record of small moments from the vastness of American expressive traditional arts; neither exhaustive nor statistically representative, but survivals of a time now past. (more…)


Georgia Buck (2)

January 24, 2013

by Bess Lomax Hawes:

The work [making this film] went slowly. The heat was incredible and, one after another, both performers and film crew had to retreat briefly out of the blazing sun. There was no water closer than ten miles and that only a luke-warm trickle out of a gas station tap. We were buzzed continually by small planes.

The Islanders, their ears less affected by the noise-pollution which had desensitized the California crew, invariably heard the planes long before the rest of us and would stop dead in the middle of an otherwise perfect “take”, while the technicians cursed. “Plane coming,” John Davis would announce laconically, and we would all fall silent; minutes later, it seemed, we would hear the faint buzz approaching.

So it was late in the day before the film crew got around to the shots that Dr. Carpenter and I wanted, and we had to work fast, for the daylight was fading. The three “takes” that make up the film Buck Dancer are, in fact, all that we were able to shoot. Fortunately, it proved possible to string them together later into a reasonably coherent statement, but this was due more to the vitality and consistency of Ed Young’s tradition than to any special foresight on our parts.

In this film Ed Young should have been accompanied by his brothers’ drums, rather than by the Sea Islander clapping (though it should be noted that the unfamiliar combination gave none of the participants any trouble at all, indicating that they shared a common cultural underpinning). The picnic context too, in which the fife music would more normally be heard, was impossible to create, and we didn’t even try.

In the corner of Mississippi that Ed Young grew up in the fife and drum band  was the main attraction at local rural picnics. Since Alan Lomax first recorded Ed Young’s band in 1959, other similar groups have been discovered in the general area by David Evans and others; and it is becoming clearer that the Mississippi country picnic was — and still is, to a degree — an institution of real stability and cultural importance.

Picnics are generally held on a Saturday and attract black families from all around; even white politicians, sensing the convenience of having so large a group of voters in one place, have begun attending in recent years. There is food and visiting, but the main attraction is the band which plays, primarily for dancing, until midnight. Ed told me, “We start out in the middle of a field and the grass is sometimes up to your waist, and when we’re through, it’s all gone. They just dance it right on down to the ground!”