90120 DOPE Program Notes

90120 DOPE Program Notes

Black history and future connect with this synchronized film created by young
African American filmmaker Michael Silva Bryant. Bryant combines footage from
documentaries Cry of Jazz and We Work Again, animation from The Legend of John
Henry, and modern visuals to create a story of an artist growing and chasing his

Undeniably. The film’s opening sequence evokes the unbridled energy and chaotic
hustle of urban life. Against this backdrop Bryant offers a powerful series of
historical clips documenting life in black America in the mid-1900’s. Shots of
African American jazz musicians punctuate street scenes of both hardship and
community, always vaguely implying that music serves as an escape from the harsh
realities on the street. In the midst of this sequence we meet the young artist,
represented visually as a silhouette, observing his musical and cultural heritage and
trying in vain to fit in with the more established jazz players. As this section of the
music concludes a close-up allows us to consider more deeply the young man, his
heritage and obstacles.

Unapologetically. During this more musically introspective section Bryant explores
the acute loneliness, monotony, and self-doubt familiar to aspiring musicians. The
young artist is making progress in his ambitions, as represented by silhouettes
being replaced with monochromatic cartoon filters. During a long and restless
night he struggles with his hopes and dreams that are still just beyond his reach. A
new day dawns and with it comes a new transformation from monochromatic to
full-color imagery; our young musician has finally found his artistic identity.

Undisputedly. The aspiring musician is now on the move, writing music, working
hard and continuing his transformation into full-color realism. But in spite of his
growth and early successes, his life in music remains a constant battle. Bryant uses
imagery of the folk hero John Henry to great effect, compelling us to watch as the
steel-driving man continually hammers away, fights against the machine, and finally
breaks down the barriers that held him back. In the closing moments of the work an
outstretched arm grabs hold of the hopes and dreams that proved elusive for so

©Scott Winters, 2023
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