The Belcourt Theatre's exceptional "Visions of the South" series concludes in spectacular fashion 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, with Oscar Micheaux's intense, bleak and powerful 1925 silent epic Body and Soul. The screening would be noteworthy just for the element of its original score — composed by Roy "Futureman" Wooten and arranger Gil Fray, to be performed live by Futureman & the Black Mozart Experience. But it also gives viewers a rare big-screen encounter with two controversial and much-discussed figures whose stature has grown over the decades.
One is the movie's star, the great actor and singer Paul Robeson, in his first film role. The other, far less known, is Micheaux, the so-called king of "race" films and a pioneer in American independent cinema. An early black filmmaker whose work is in some cases impossible to find, Micheaux made 44 movies from 1919 to 1948 in a wealth of genres, from dramas and gangster productions to westerns, musicals, religious fare and mysteries.
Body and Soul, the 11th work Micheaux also wrote and produced, would be deemed complex even by contemporary standards. For an early 20th century piece, however, aimed at an audience most movie studios dismissed as incapable of appreciating or understanding any hint of cinematic sophistication, it was revolutionary. Body and Soul reflected Micheaux's insistence that black audiences deserved, and demanded, just as much thematic variety and quality as any other.