Ten Minutes to Live (1932):

Oscar Micheaux's abysmal sepia potboilers so blur the lines between wretched hackdom and radical experimentation that they often pulverize conventional notions of "good" and "bad." This one, toeing particularly close to avant-garde, consists of two thong-thin pulp fiction strands colliding on the main floor of a jumpin' Harlem joint dubbed "The Lybia." The first, tricked out with 25 minutes of chorine bump 'n' grind and paralyzing blackface shtick before a frozen camera, barely sketches in a token moll-getting-even plot. The second one, however, is fascinating -- using as launchpad the title threat scribbled on a note to dancer Willor Lee Guilford, the director pulverizes time by recklessly splintering temporal narrative, paving the way for a barrage of disruptions, both visual (info dispatched through a haze of intertitles, letters, telegrams) and aural (hubhub inexplicably swells into Beethoven as the heroine makes her way up her door steps). Micheaux's defiant gaucheness (at one point two takes of the same scene follow in succession) should raze the movie to ashes, yet it often builds up into baffling lyricism -- a shot following Guilford in the backseat of a cab bristles with mysterious, lovely vérité snapshots of Westchester circa 1932. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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