Los Angeles times
Saturday, November 13, 1982
This review is based on
only Part One of the original show. Since then it has been vastly improved
IMAGES AND DESCRIPTIONS ON THE U.S. POVERTY
By KEVIN THOMAS,
Times Staff Writer
In Part I of the awe-inspiring "American Pictures," which deals
with the South, Danish photographer-film maker Jacob Holdt asserts that
slavery thrives, and he backs up that assertion with images and descriptions
of terrible poverty and despair among black Americans.
("American Pictures" was shown at the last Filmex as a four-hour-plus
film. Now it is on tour in its original form as a slide presentation accompanied
by a sound track containing Holdt's narration and protest songs. Part I
was shown to a rapt, stunned audience last week at the Fox Venice. Both
parts will be shown tonight, Sunday and Monday at 7 p.m. and at 1 p.m.
Sunday at the Santa Monica Retail Clerk's Hall, 1410 2nd St. They also
will be shown at 7 p.m. Friday at Monarch Hall, Valley Community College,
Van Nuys. The combined running time of both parts is less than four hours.)
Holdt spent more than five years photographing America's poor
-- and some rich too. Nothing he captures on film should really startle
anyone with pretensions to being informed.
What makes "American Pictures" so disturbingly powerful is the
cumulative effects of Holdt's photographs combined with his outsider's
analysis of the dynamics of poverty and oppression in the United States.
Even so, much of what Holdt says is so shocking as to strain credibility,
but then so does what he has to show us; therefore, his words and images
tend to validate each other, sweeping us along in the process.
You believe Holdt -- who says he lived hand-to-mouth during his long
odyssey-when he talks of risking his life to infiltrate farm labor communities
in Florida and in crossing the color line to ingratiate himself with poor
blacks living in shacks no better than those of their slave ancestors.
What Holdt puts across most effectively is the self-perpetuating nature
of poverty, compounded by inadequate nutrition as well as ignorance and
racism. Holdt declares that poverty in America is actually crueler than
elsewhere because it exists alongside so much affluence -- and that the
all-American credo of success only intensifies feelings that the poor,
especially the poor white, have only themselves to blame for their plight
even though the conditions creating and maintaining it stretch back through
Somehow, Holdt managed to gain the trust of hundreds of impoverished
people, mainly blacks, who shared their homes and their feelings with him.
Sometime Holdt's determination to trust one and all - and that includes
the occasional rich person too - becomes irresponsible. For example, he
stays with a pretty young black woman and her child only to provoke a firebombing
of her home that costs her young brother hie life. It's all well and good
for Holdt to emphasize, as he does, how often his life was endangered,
but what of his endangering the lives of others? He doesn't seem to address
This curious detachment in regard to the consequences of his actions
upon others aside, Jacob Holdt has created in "American Pictures" an experience
not to be forgotten by anyone who submits to it. Yet Part I is so overpowering
that it makes one eager to see Part II, which deals with urban poverty.
Copyright © 1997
AMERICAN PICTURES; All