Go back  October 24, 1981, San Francisco Chronicle 

Review of the movie during the San Francisco Filmfestival. (Please note: The movie is not available any more as it was too expensive to constantly update and revise). 
American Pictures 
by Peter Stack 
This documentary is a remarkable photographic study if America, concentrated largely on the poverty of black Amerieaqs. It is a very long film, composed of more than 3000 still photographs strung together with a personal narrative by Holdt, a young Dane who took the pictures while on a five-year journey through the U.S. as a hitchhiking "vagabond." 

On this journey, which Holdt financed by selling his blood at health centers, he lived with poor families and roamed the squalid tracts of the American landscape, snapping pictures and making tape recordings of his subjects. The length of this film (280 minutes, shown in two parts with an intermission) only serves to strengthen the far-reaching portrayal of its subject -- poverty in America, its pathos and humor, its irony, its immense impact on the national psyche. All these e1ements are looked at in very human terms, tracing some of black history from slavery days to the present. 

Holdt has brought to his film the "wondering innocence" of a European, whose native land is generally lacking in black culture. In an interview earlier this week, he said he originally had no intention of visiting the United States and was on his way to South America, but because he was hitchhiking, he accidentally wound up here. He immediately became enthralled with black culture, as if it "peered at him through all the doorways and windows," quickly altering every notion he had ever learned as a white European about life in America. 

The photographs, many of them utterly stunning, evolve into a comprehensive story of America's racial scene, a story that is at once powerful and disturbing. Holdt has tracked down this story among the poor sharecroppers of the South, in prisons and in ghettos of northern cities, now and then venturing to elite white neighborhoods for contrast. Many scenes were shot in San Francisco's Fillmore, Tenderloin and Bayview-Hunters Point districts. The impact of the troubling revelations in "American Pictures" is heightened by the conversational tone (in English) of the narration. 

Today's screening of "American Pictures" will be the first time the film has been shown publicly in America. It has been playing to packed houses in Europe for several years. Holdt plans to shorten it somewhat, for use as a multimedia educational presentation in theaters in New York and Boston (and possibly the Bay Area), and also for schools. Holdt is expected to be present at today's showing of "America Pictures" -- an unusual, powerful document.   -- Peter Stack 


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