Chameleon Street

Saturday, Nov 13, 2021 - 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Color still of actor with hair spray can pointed at two figurine dolls

UCLA Film & Television Archive presents free screenings at the Billy Wilder Theater at the Hammer Museum.

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Los Angeles restoration premiere!

Chameleon Street
U.S., 1990

Chameleon Street... deserves to be appreciated by a new generation sure to delight in its rich palette of cinematic reference, humour and formal invention.”—Ashley Clark, Sight & Sound

“The epitome of Black independent vision.”—Ed Guerrero, Framing Blackness

The sole directorial feature film effort from polymathic Black writer-director-actor Wendell B. Harris Jr., Chameleon Street portrays the extraordinary true story of Detroit-based con man William Douglas Street Jr., who, in the 1970s and 1980s, posed as an Ivy League student, magazine reporter, gynecological surgeon and corporate lawyer in an unbelievable stint of socioeconomic climbing. Street’s confession in the film’s opening minute—“I think, therefore I scam”—is a wink to Descartes that affirms this beguiling character’s singular, sociopathic psyche, one brilliantly realized by Harris in a deft and nuanced performance. Formally striking and structurally inventive, Chameleon Street’s critical lens on race and authenticity stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the prolific output of New Jack Cinema of the 1990s—however, unlike John Singleton, Robert Townsend or Spike Lee, Harris’ is not yet a household name. Though beating out Charles Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1990 Sundance Film Festival, Harris’ idiosyncratic film never found wide theatrical distribution in its day and has since become an inaccessible legend to those hungry to witness its beguiling voice and nuanced narrative power. Newly restored from the original camera negative by Arbelos Films under the supervision of Harris, the Archive is proud to present the Los Angeles theatrical premiere of this nearly-lost masterstroke of independent Black cinema.

DCP, color, 94 min. Director-screenwriter: Wendell B. Harris Jr. With: Wendell B. Harris, Timothy Alvaro, Renauld Bailleux.

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