The story of a black policeman whose tenuous grip on reality is threatened by the pressures of institutional racism, Top of the Heap challenges one-dimensional characterizations of black characters and flouts mainstream storytelling tropes: some characters sing their dialogue, and the main character’s barely repressed rage manifests as psychedelic, sometimes hyper-sexualized fantasy sequences in which he’s a black Tarzan or a black astronaut. It was both a critical and financial success: it raked in millions at the box office and was recognized (at least in Europe) as a work of art, earning a nomination for the Golden Bear at the 1972 Berlin Film Festival and an invitation to screen at Cannes–an invitation that the distributor declined, dismissing the film as just another blaxploitation film. But it’s so much more than that: it isn’t always successful, but its relentless creativity is still exhilarating even 40 years later.
Presented as part of the Return of Blacklight Cinema series, which shows highlights from the Blacklight Film Festival, which started at Chicago Filmmakers in 1982 and ran at various locations through 1993. Floyd Webb, Blacklight’s founder and programmer, will join us to reminisce about the films and the festival. This series is co-presented with Chicago Filmmakers.
Top of the Heap
Christopher St. John, USA, 1972, 92 min.
**Christopher St. John in conversation via Skype!**
Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave.