Frame by Frame I: A Black Filmography

Frame by Frame I: A Black Filmography, by Phyllis R. Klotman, is a magnum opus of Black film study. Out of print since its initial release in 1979, over 3,000 films are represented in a filmography spanning the years 1900 to 1977. The criteria for inclusion in this book was not strictly limited to Black films for Black audiences. Films were included if they presented Black themes or subject matter or featured substantial participation by Black artisans who wrote, produced, acted, composed or collaborated on any given film nationally and/or internationally. Features, shorts, documentaries, newsreels and even cartoons are represented. The premise of this fantastic undertaking was a desire by the author to “acknowledge the contribution of Blacks to film – whether in bit roles in primarily white vehicles, or as major stars, directors, writers, or producers in Black films – it is important to have a research tool to facilitate serious study.” Out of this ambitious project Frame by Frame I came to be.

This compendium was created in the mid-1970s from the vast research data compiled for a course called “Images in Black Film” offered by the Afro-American studies department at Indiana University-Bloomington. The general public was afforded the opportunity to benefit from this research when the first edition of this book was published. The layout of this massive filmography includes production information with annotations and/or synopsis on many of the films. Each entry was transferred to a computer from individual file cards. The resulting printout is not professionally typeset and looks unrefined on the page. However, Frame by Frame I is easy to read and easy to use. Aside from the filmography, there are five helpful appendices that cross-reference the films by performer, authors, screenwriters, producers and directors.

Frame by Frame I is much more than a filmography. It was designed to be a complete resource for Black film research. There is a generous appendix that lists valuable listings of distributors, archives and other sources for the viewing and acquisition (if available) of the films in the book. Because this is a work in progress, Ms. Klotman provided contact information to the Black Film Center/Archive, a major artery of Black film study on the Indiana University Bloomington campus. This is a facility where scholars, students and researchers can view films and have access to research materials. The archive welcomes questions regarding current access to films or other films that may have resurfaced since publication.

This entire network of information, outlined in detail in Frame by Frame I, is film preservation at its finest: an active and interactive archive, hardcopy publications and a Web site staffed by dedicated preservationists. The Silents Majority is encouraged that a system like this will prove to be a model for film study and cultural enrichment. Highly recommended.

Madison Morrison