DER Documentary

The Films of Bess Lomax Hawes


by Bess Lomax Hawes, DVD produced by John Bishop
black and white, 107 min, 2003




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Bess Lomax Hawes (1921-2009) - Member of the Almanac Singers with Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, wrote the song "Charley on the MTA", folklorist, musician, author of three books, professor in Anthropology at San Fernando Valley State (CSUN), first director of the Folk & Traditional Arts Program at the National Endowment for the Arts, and to the many people whose lives she touched, so much more.

She also made four films, and supported anthropological and folklore film and video production. These four films are included on this DVD:

Georgia Sea Island Singers (1964, 14 min) - 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, 6 min) - 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, 18 min) - looks at continuity and change in girl's playground games at a Los Angeles school.

Say Old Man - Can You Play The Fiddle?
(1970, 20 min) - 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.

The films were made in the Anthropology Department of San Fernando Valley State College (now California State University at Northridge). Edmund Carpenter founded the department with the intention of moving anthropology beyond the book. He felt that the realities and insights of anthropology were often better represented in the arts than in scholarly texts and between 1957 and 1967 he led a flourishing and experimental department. In addition to cultural anthropologists, physical anthropologists and linguists, his faculty included folklorist Bess Lomax Hawes along with artists, musicians, animators and filmmakers. It was in this context that Bess Hawes made these works. After leaving CSU-Northridge in 1976, she became the first director of the Folk and Traditional Arts program at the National Endowment for the Arts. Though she did not make other films, she has been an ardent supporter of filmmakers who present traditional artists with dignity and enthusiasm.

There were no outlets for these films. They were too specialized for theatrical or television release and not specifically geared to the educational market. They mostly languished, known only to a few aficionados. This release on DVD brings the four films together in a single package with supplementary notes written at the time.

The DVD comes with a booklet about the films.

View more photos on www.flickr.com

Related Films
A Sigh And A Wish: Helen Creighton's Maritimes
Water From Another Time
Tough, Pretty or Smart
Rhythms of Earth: The Choreometrics films of Alan Lomax and Forrestine Paulay



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