Black and Tan, more fully called Black and Tan Fantasy (1929), is a musical short film written by Dudley Murphy that exhibits the ideas and thoughts of the Harlem Renaissance Movement. Duke Ellingtons musical talents along with Fredi Washingtons extrao...
blackandtan, dudley, murphy, duke, ellington, fredi, washington
Dudley Murphy’s artistic, simple, and musical film classic has a tragic plot that features the talents and famous musical prowess of Duke Ellington and His Orchestra. Throughout the film, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra play noteworthy and famous Ellington pieces such as "Black and Tan Fantasy", "Black Beauty", "The Duke Steps Out", and "Cotton Club Stomp" (uncredited)", as an artist to artist tribute for a fellow great African-American performer, Florence Mills, who died in 1927.
The film starts with a scene in which it is established that Duke Ellington’s band is struggling to book any sort of gig or venue in order to make money and save his possessions such as his piano and apartment, due to the failure of making payments. Two heavily racially stereotyped black men arrive to take possession of Duke's piano.
In the fictional story, Duke Ellington’s wife, Fredi Washington, who is a dancer, achieves fame and great acclaim way beyond the acknowledgment for the band. She walks in and offers the movers ten dollars. The movers refuse the payment so the lithe and stunning Fredi Washington offers them gin instead, and the movers are persuaded to speak nothing of this and act completely unaware of the piano.
Recently landing a dancing job at a club, Fredi offers the solution to solve all of Duke Ellington’s problems by offering a venue for him and his band to perform at, but requires herself to perform with her star presence and dancing expertise in order to land the pending contract that the club is offering.
Unfortunately the famous and deeply in love dancer has a heart condition that will become more detrimental if she continues to dance. Being warned to give up her career, Fredi boldly ignores her health issues and selflessly assures Duke that she is healthy enough to perform, which ultimately leads to her dancing herself to death to the Duke Ellington’s tune, “Black and Tan Fantasy”.
In the film there is a heavy emphasis on the music and symbolism of African American influence on jazz, the struggle and rage of the Harlem of the 1920s, and the realities of the era for the African-American people.
Some of the noteworthy compositions of Duke Ellington that are played throughout the film are “The Duke Steps Out”, which features the talents of Arthur Whetsel, who performs an aweing melodic tone with a trumpet solo (although in the actual recording, Bubber Miley performs the solo). During the main part of Fredi’s dance, “Black Beauty” is played, but rather than a sexually appealing performance there is a more profound symbolism found in her dancing. She dances as a contained artistic soul in rage wanting to exhibit her talents fully, which greatly portrays her struggle to shine and perform on film but unfortunately cannot due to her unique skin tone which therefore prevents her from solidly landing traditional Hollywood roles.