2019 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Fifteen – THE APOLLO
The closing day of the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival brought snow to Milwaukee. In considerable, wet, heavy quantities. Judging by the attendance on closing night at THE APOLLO, the snow didn’t dissuade many people from making the journey to close out the film festival.
The Apollo Theater in Harlem is, of course, a cultural landmark of African-American entertainment and expression. And that’s the focal point of the film by Roger Ross Williams. He goes beyond the expected history lesson to delve in to whether it still is and will continue to be a vital institution by focusing on the rehearsals and staging of live readings of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me” to suggest an answer to that question.
There’s nothing really innovative about THE APOLLO as a film. You can guess that it will focus heavily on clips and anecdotes about the legendary entertainers who played the stage and sure enough it does. But, it doesn’t make those clips any less electric, entertaining, and enlightening. Sometimes the story doesn’t need a lot of bells and whistles. And THE APOLLO has quite a story to tell.
It’s a story that’s thoroughly documented. It covers the cultural importance of amateur night, the inner workings of the theater, it’s closure in the 1970s and reopening in the 1980s, SHOWTIME AT THE APOLLO gets its due, and anecdotes by many celebrities that are acutely aware of how important The Apollo Theater is and appreciative of having played there. Sure, you could dive deeper into the myriad of subjects and issues raised, Barack Obama’s decision to choose the theater as a venue for a speech probably is a documentary in itself, but the documentary itself is a good overview.
And, judging from the audience reaction, THE APOLLO is a real crowd pleaser, regardless of race. The music and comedy of the 20th century often ran right through The Apollo Theater and it’s a wonderful overview. And there’s no mistaking that the film taps into the vibrant history and meaning of the icon often. It sent the 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival out on a high note.
THE APOLLO will be premiering on HBO on November 6, 2019.
The 2019 Milwaukee Film Festival ran from October 17, 2019 to October 31, 2019. The film festival may be over, but Milwaukee Film stages events throughout the year. Information and tickets can be found at Milwaukee Film’s website mkefilm.org.