Sometime around this day in 1818, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born. Given that he was born a slave, we don’t know exactly what day he was born. He only managed to escape after many attempts at the age of 30. His autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, is an amazing book. It shows the complexity of the slave-owner relationship without whitewashing its absolute brutality. I especially remember his discussion of what all the slaves considered a “good” plantation manager as one who would not take pleasure in whipping them. I always remember this when I come upon slavery apologists. And sadly, I come upon slavery apologists quite often. There are a lot of people, in the south especially, that while claiming that slavery was wrong, still want to argue that slaves were treated well. Other than having watched Gone With the Wind, I don’t know of any actual evidence they have to support their claims. On the other side, we not only have the testimony of escaped slaves like Douglass, we have the treatment of Nat Turner and countless testimonies of freed slaves after the Civil War. In this last category, I recommend Andrew Ward’s The Slaves’ War: the Civil War in the Words of Former Slaves. And you definitely should read Douglass’ autobiography.
Other birthdays: inventor of the typewriter Christopher Latham Sholes (1819); inventor Margaret Knight (1838); meteorologist Charles Thomson Rees Wilson (1869); painter Nina Hamnett (1890); comedian Jack Benny (1894); labor organizer Jimmy Hoffa (1913); actor Edward Platt (1916); mathematician Herbert Hauptman (1917); actor Vic Morrow (1929); actor Florence Henderson (80); dancer Gregory Hines (1946); magician Teller (66); radio host Terry Gross (63); actor Meg Tilly (54); and actor Simon Pegg (44).
The day, however, belongs to Alan Parker who is 70 today. He is one of my very favorite directors. And he hasn’t made a damned thing in over a decade! I don’t know why. Anyway, he is one of the most varied filmmakers ever. And yet, he has a clear visual style and storytelling perspective. To give you some idea, he directed Midnight Express, Mississippi Burning, The Commitments, and Evita. My personal favorite is Angel Heart, which I think is a perfect film. Sadly, Parker seems to regret doing the film because it doesn’t have an important message. If bringing important messages to the screen means more things like The Life of David Gale, I beg Parker to bring me more melodrama! Regardless, I don’t think Parker has ever made a film that wasn’t at least worth a try. And of his 14 films, 13 of them are definitely worth watching.
Happy birthday Alan Parker!