Former BFC/A Student Assistant Elijah Pouges is now a writer, rapper and music producer based in Brooklyn, New York. He is often thinking about simulacrum and the interactions between sonics and image. You can find his music at brzraps.com.
In this essay Pouges examines the many worlds contained extra-textually Michael Schultz’s films.
The films discussed in this post are scheduled to screen at IU Cinema with director Michael Schultz present. Check out events in the “Young, Gifted and Black” series HERE.
After watching several Schultz films, I began to realize that there’s an extratextual component to be found in many of his works. Perhaps film is a medium of extratextuals via “speaking by showing,” but something about his films strike me as particularly moving as it pertains to what they say beyond the screen. In an another post on this blog, I spoke about how the tryptic of films, when viewed in chronological sequence – Cooley High, Car Wash, and Krush Groove – serve as forms of sonic documentaries. In these films, the prevalent extratextual component is obviously the music. However, in the The Last Dragon, I found that the movie rests entirely upon the extratextual in order to exist.
It’s important to note that the The Last Dragon was initially written for stage, as stated in an article by Ashley Burns and Chloe Schildhause. The theatrics of the film reflect this idea; the decision for Schultz to direct and the outcome of the film’s production both allude to Schultz’s extensive background in theatre. Schultz explained in an email, “I directed the inaugural play for an off-Broadway company called The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). It puts the company on the theatrical map and, in 1969, I won an OBIE award for best director for the play, The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey.” Schultz’s college years were devoted to learning all aspects of the theatre, including dance, lighting, and acting. The same energy used in this instance transfers to his direction of The Last Dragon. The theatrics read as uncanny, and make me feel like the film is self-aware of its origins, and in this self-awareness, the film can exist comfortably and extratextually.
The lead character, Leroy Green, played by Taimak, illustrates the idea of extratextuality due to Taimak’s real life occupation as a martial artist. The film’s cast is a bricolage of experience and backgrounds; the spaces occupied by the actors in reality are also occupied by the roles they play. Taimak had been doing martial arts for years but had never acted. Laura Charles, played by singer and actress Vanity had been doing film for about 5 years. Schultz’s direction of non-actors cements The Last Dragon’s dependency on extratextuality, the world beyond the film.
The Last Dragon is and isn’t a martial arts film. By positioning itself as a martial arts film, The Last Dragon enters, if even only in a cursory way, into part of a larger genre-oriented canon in which citing external text is a part of creating a new one. Within the film, clips of Bruce Lee films are interspersed in a music video like sequence. The most immediate connection the viewer could make is an allusion being made to Leroy’s admiration of Lee as a martial artist, however, these clips also highlight the nature of the actor-martial artist position occupied by both Taimak and Lee. The use of Lee’s image makes sense not only as a recognizable pop icon to viewers, but to reinforce the film’s independence on external text.
The Last Dragon is a peculiar film for a number of reasons – cultural bricolage, uncanny sensibilities, martial arts in the middle of New York – but the nature of its existence strikes me as its most fascinating attribute. Schultz’s background in theatre is integral for how the film is constructed; it creates and exhibits an awareness of self and creator. The actor’s off-screen lives reflect that of their roles, and films cited serve not only as inspiration within the fictionalized universe, but also as a reassertion of the film’s extratextual qualities from preexisting works in the martial arts genre.