Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

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domino harvey
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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#51 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 10, 2016 7:52 am

That's a big charge to lob at anyone. Is Harry Shearer practicing minstrelsy when he voices Dr Hibbert?

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#52 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 1:42 pm

I don't think I'm the first to bring it up. And without getting off topic, I would absolutely not be the first if I voiced concerns about racial presentation and stereotypes in the Simpsons if I were to do so. Just one example. But I was hoping to talk about this film, in part because my partner in a film project wants to screen it, and wanted to do as part of a program on black cinema... which I absolutely declined. Robert Downey Sr. is not a black voice (although he made himself one, literally, in this film). I was, however, surprised to find that in my city it DID in fact screen a few years ago as part of a major black cinema program.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#53 Post by carmilla mircalla » Sun Jul 10, 2016 2:19 pm

tartarlamb wrote:I don't think I'm the first to bring it up. And without getting off topic, I would absolutely not be the first if I voiced concerns about racial presentation and stereotypes in the Simpsons if I were to do so. Just one example. But I was hoping to talk about this film, in part because my partner in a film project wants to screen it, and wanted to do as part of a program on black cinema... which I absolutely declined. Robert Downey Sr. is not a black voice (although he made himself one, literally, in this film). I was, however, surprised to find that in my city it DID in fact screen a few years ago as part of a major black cinema program.
May I ask if you yourself are African American?

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#54 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 2:24 pm

carmilla mircalla wrote: May I ask if you yourself are African American?
Of course! I am white.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#55 Post by knives » Sun Jul 10, 2016 2:36 pm

My question and point was that I did not find his performance to be exaggerated in the way you're claiming. Senior more or less uses his speaking voice, just a few octaves lower. Can you find a black critic who thought the performance was offensive?

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#56 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 2:44 pm

Fair enough. It certainly made me cringe at numerous points, although I suppose it is debatable how exaggerated it is, or whether or not that's important.

Mark A. Reid (a black writer) criticizes it as a "negotiated form of hybrid minstrelsy" in his book Redefining Black Film. Another writer, Nicholas Sammond, takes it to task as full on minstrelsy in his book Birth of an Industry: Blackface Minstrelsy and the Rise of American Animation.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#57 Post by cdnchris » Sun Jul 10, 2016 2:52 pm

I can't find this set and a couple of others after I moved a few years ago but I'm sure the notes mentioned that Downey didn't think that Johnson's voice was deep enough (or as deep as he wanted) so he dubbed his own, lowered a bit as Knives said.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#58 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:11 pm

Since a black actor said all of the lines first, and acted the part, it's more than a little absurd to equate dubbing with blackface. And I got the same two academic notices above when Googling "putney swope racist" and, man, I wouldn't be bolstering any arguments on either of these sources based on the excerpts I'm reading-- calling 30 Rock racist is about as low-effort missing-the-point reactionary as... well, I guess actually agreeing with my Shearer example above

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#59 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:15 pm

cdnchris wrote:I can't find this set and a couple of others after I moved a few years ago but I'm sure the notes mentioned that Downey didn't think that Johnson's voice was deep enough (or as deep as he wanted) so he dubbed his own, lowered a bit as Knives said.
Which is even weirder to me, if true. He essentially dubbed over his actor because it wasn't the right black voice.

The more I think about it, the most troubling aspect is he is in effect using Johnson as a sort of living, black puppet. It's fairly disturbing in a way that, for instance, animation is not.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#60 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:19 pm

tartarlamb wrote:Which is even weirder to me, if true. He essentially dubbed over his actor because it wasn't the right black voice.

The more I think about it, the most troubling aspect is he is in effect using Johnson as a sort of living, black puppet. It's fairly disturbing in a way that, for instance, animation is not.
Was Johnson forced to participate in the film? Are black men allowed to hold differing views on what is or is not racist for them? Must we at all costs make a black man out to be a victim in this transactional relationship?

EDIT: For the record, I think Putney Swope is a pretty lousy film, and I find its satire facile and ineffective. I don't think it's clever or funny or particularly well-made. But the film still tells us a lot about how the black power movement was seen and processed by some liberal whites at the time, and has some contextual interest in this regard. It seems that a more interesting conversation would be taking place at your film screening series if you did show this, unless black experience on-screen is only valid if black voices are telling it (and if so, better toss away all films about women created by men and so on, all the way down this line of reasoning)

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#61 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:28 pm

domino harvey wrote: Was Johnson forced to participate in the film? Are black men allowed to hold differing views on what is or is not racist for them? Must we at all costs make a black man out to be a victim in this transactional relationship?
Hey, I don't know where you're coming from, but I am not lobbing the charge of racism at white people or trying to hurt your feelings. I'm asking about an element of a nearly 50 year old film that I find problematic and unusual. I get that you do not see it the same way. None of your questions really seem relevant to me.

EDIT:
EDIT: For the record, I think Putney Swope is a pretty lousy film, and I find its satire facile and ineffective. I don't think it's clever or funny or particularly well-made. But the film still tells us a lot about how the black power movement was seen and processed by some liberal whites at the time, and has some contextual interest in this regard. It seems that a more interesting conversation would be taking place at your film screening series if you did show this, unless black experience on-screen is only valid if black voices are telling it (and if so, better toss away all films about women created by men and so on, all the way down this line of reasoning)
I agree with a lot of that, and have made similar arguments for other programs.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#62 Post by cdnchris » Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:32 pm

tartarlamb wrote:
cdnchris wrote:I can't find this set and a couple of others after I moved a few years ago but I'm sure the notes mentioned that Downey didn't think that Johnson's voice was deep enough (or as deep as he wanted) so he dubbed his own, lowered a bit as Knives said.
Which is even weirder to me, if true. He essentially dubbed over his actor because it wasn't the right black voice.

The more I think about it, the most troubling aspect is he is in effect using Johnson as a sort of living, black puppet. It's fairly disturbing in a way that, for instance, animation is not.
Not sure admittedly, but it sounded as though Johnson was too soft spoken, not necessarily the wrong voice. He didn't think it was working when putting it together and used his own voice, I'm going to assume because it was cheaper.

Though it was another white woman dubbing over a white woman and not really the same thing, Soderbergh did the same with Haywire and it's been done many other times as well.

You can look at it today and judge with today's eyes I guess, but it sounds like it was the fix he came up with at the time. Whether right or wrong I don't know but that's what he did with what he had to work with.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#63 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 3:42 pm

cdnchris wrote: You can look at it today and judge with today's eyes I guess, but it sounds like it was the fix he came up with at the time. Whether right or wrong I don't know but that's what he did with what he had to work with.
Totally. I had assumed from other things that I had read that it was out of some kind of necessity, and that's the fix he came up with. And of course he probably gave it little thought at the time, or imagined what it would look like to audiences several decades later. Part of what troubled me was honestly the combination of some of what domino was talking about (the white liberal view of black power) but containing an uncomfortable racial device that is fairly common in any ordinary Hollywood film. I can't think of examples in 1969, but forms of blackface (redface, etc.... the dressing of white actors as people of color) were probably still in use in more mainstream film.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#64 Post by carmilla mircalla » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:02 pm

tartarlamb wrote:
domino harvey wrote: Was Johnson forced to participate in the film? Are black men allowed to hold differing views on what is or is not racist for them? Must we at all costs make a black man out to be a victim in this transactional relationship?
Hey, I don't know where you're coming from, but I am not lobbing the charge of racism at white people or trying to hurt your feelings. I'm asking about an element of a nearly 50 year old film that I find problematic and unusual. I get that you do not see it the same way. None of your questions really seem relevant to me.
those questions, while possibly rhetorical seem pretty logical and relevant to me.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#65 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:07 pm

carmilla mircalla wrote: those questions, while possibly rhetorical seem pretty logical and relevant to me.
They seemed like straw men to me. I wasn't questioning whether or not Arnold Johnson was forced to make the film and victimized, nor did I question whether or not black people can come up with different conclusions about racism.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#66 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:16 pm

You referred to the actor as a literal "black puppet" of a white director, do you really not see where those questions came from?

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#67 Post by carmilla mircalla » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:21 pm

tartarlamb wrote:
carmilla mircalla wrote: those questions, while possibly rhetorical seem pretty logical and relevant to me.
They seemed like straw men to me. I wasn't questioning whether or not Arnold Johnson was forced to make the film and victimized, nor did I question whether or not black people can come up with different conclusions about racism.
I was afraid you would say this. Whenever I've tried to discuss racism lately with someone who finds something problematic regarding race portrayals in media the actual relevant response questions always get avoided. They are not straw men questions especially not the second one because one could interpret your entire argument as a white person deciding what is racist to a race of people you are not a part of.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#68 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:26 pm

domino harvey wrote:You referred to the actor as a literal puppet of the director, do you really not see where those questions came from?
Honestly, no. I think you were going somewhere else with it. I was hoping for a discussion about the appropriateness of white presentations of blackness, and I think you were concerned that I was portraying the white director as racist and the black actor as a victim. Possibly you misunderstood my remark, or personalized it. Your question about Dr. Hibbert seemed similarly diversionary, but gave me a little bit more to think about.

I'm really not trying to kick a hornet's nest. I know anytime you bring up race, you're gonna get a lot of defensiveness. I only brought the subject up here because I thought that it might develop a discussion that centers more on film and a reading of this one in particular. Those I had asked before coming here gave me an unqualified "No, that is not acceptable and don't play it" response, but were not exactly cinephiles and likely had not seen the film.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#69 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:29 pm

Honestly, it sounds to me like you wanted to hear a different answer than what you're getting and are deflecting other interpretations as somehow irrelevant to the conversation. You've also accused me of "personalizing" the matter several times, which strikes me as a rhetorical low blow, as though an objection to your posts has to be emotionally influenced by a strongly held personal bias or "hurt feelings"

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#70 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:31 pm

carmilla mircalla wrote: I was afraid you would say this. Whenever I've tried to discuss racism lately with someone who finds something problematic regarding race portrayals in media the actual relevant response questions always get avoided. They are not straw men questions especially not the second one because one could interpret your entire argument as a white person deciding what is racist to a race of people you are not a part of.
Sure, one could interpret it that way. In my defense, I began the discussion by soliciting the reactions and opinions of others. But I get what you're saying. I am not trying to write the book on what is or isn't racism. I'm only trying to navigate my own reactions to this film, and my problems with screening it.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#71 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:37 pm

domino harvey wrote:Honestly, it sounds to me like you wanted to hear a different answer than what you're getting and are deflecting other interpretations as somehow irrelevant to the conversation. You've also accused me of "personalizing" the matter several times, which strikes me as a rhetorical low blow, as though an objection to your posts has to be emotionally influenced by a personal bias or "hurt feelings"
Sorry, that could be unfair. I just sensed that your tone was immediately, out-of-gate, heated and potentially un-civil. I wanted to talk about the film, not play an aggressive game of rhetorical whack-a-mole. I actually don't really understand why you're upset, particularly since you don't seem to have any attachment to this film.

I really didn't come here wanting to hear any answer, I don't think. And, like I said, I did at least pause on your point about Dr. Hibbert and animation, and agreed with a lot about what you said about screening a film (not necessarily this one) for historical context and to generate discussion.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#72 Post by carmilla mircalla » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:38 pm

tartarlamb wrote:
domino harvey wrote:You referred to the actor as a literal puppet of the director, do you really not see where those questions came from?
Honestly, no. I think you were going somewhere else with it. I was hoping for a discussion about the appropriateness of white presentations of blackness, and I think you were concerned that I was portraying the white director as racist and the black actor as a victim. Possibly you misunderstood my remark, or personalized it. Your question about Dr. Hibbert seemed similarly diversionary, but gave me a little bit more to think about.

I'm really not trying to kick a hornet's nest. I know anytime you bring up race, you're gonna get a lot of defensiveness. I only brought the subject up here because I thought that it might develop a discussion that centers more on film and a reading of this one in particular. Those I had asked before coming here gave me an unqualified "No, that is not acceptable and don't play it" response, but were not exactly cinephiles and likely had not seen the film.
Defensiveness from where? the person making the argument or the person trying to respond? if you bring up race in any context it's going to become a discussion about race. I don't see the point you're trying to make, that this would just be a discussion about the movie. You seem to be backpedaling hard because you either don't want to face or don't know how to respond to actual questions towards your argument.

What does being a cinephile have to do with discussing race in movies?

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#73 Post by domino harvey » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:44 pm

carmilla mircalla wrote:What does being a cinephile have to do with discussing race in movies?
I assume his point with that comment was that he asked non-film lovers about it and they disliked the idea of the film's methodology out of hand without considering its other virtues or contextual qualities, like a cinephile might. Kind of like how now there's a whole vocal group of people arguing for Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind to be eradicated regardless of cultural positives and non-racially-divisive virtues these films hold

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#74 Post by tartarlamb » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:47 pm

carmilla mircalla wrote: You seem to be backpedaling hard because you either don't want to face or don't know how to respond to actual questions towards your argument.

What does being a cinephile have to do with discussing race in movies?
Yeah, I don't know the answer to my question. That's why I asked it. And I'm not backpeddling because I really didn't set a hard position other than that a certain part of this film made me uncomfortable. And it still does.

I also don't understand your second question... wouldn't having an interest or knowledge in film be an asset in discussing movies?

EDIT: Yes, thank you domino. That is exactly what I meant.

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Re: Eclipse Series 33: Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.

#75 Post by Gregory » Sun Jul 10, 2016 5:40 pm

One thing I've read several times in various places (including here on this forum, a decade ago) is that Downey dubbed his own voice into the film not because Johnson had forgotten too many of his lines but because Downey thought Johnson didn't sound "black enough," though I've never been sure whether this statement came from Downey himself or was instead just a falsely ascribed motive.
Whether or not Downey ever stated that as his motive, it kind of a puzzling statement because, to my ears anyway, the dubbed Putney voice is gruffer (and probably funnier) than Arnold Johnson's voice, but not even a little more "black"-sounding. He just sounds like a crusty old New Yorker, so it seems like playing up stereotypical blaxploitation inflections in the voiceover was a pitfall Downey avoided.

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