Condensing 85 years of a storied Harlem theater’s historical past into a characteristic documentary isn’t simple, and “The Apollo,” directed by Roger Ross Williams, makes a typical however entertaining go of it.
The enchantment of the film — which premiered on the Apollo itself in April, opens in Los Angeles on Friday, airs on HBO on Nov. 6 and returns to New York on the Metrograph on Nov. eight — is primarily rooted in its showcase of nice clips. We see Billie Holiday singing the protest music “Strange Fruit,” which she carried out on the theater when it stood aside within the metropolis as a welcoming house for African-American audiences. We hear concerning the impression that James Brown’s 1968 anthem “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” had on the Apollo. President Barack Obama sings Al Green at a 2012 fund-raiser.
Williams additionally delves into much less starry points of the theater’s historical past, like its democratic novice nights at which aspiring artists can go earlier than a vocal crowd, for higher or worse. These nights have led to breakout stars, as when Ella Fitzgerald won in 1934. We hear of the theater’s closure in the 1970s, its reopening in 1985 and its current status as run by a foundation.
Toggling back and forth in time, the movie touches on a question raised by the academic Farah Jasmine Griffin: Will the Apollo simply be a shrine to past achievements, or will it be a site of continued black expression? Suggesting the second option, the movie shows preparations for a stage version of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between the World and Me,” first performed last year.
While “The Apollo” itself might have taken a more inventive approach, it derives its power from the artistry it captures.
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 38 minutes.
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