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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

October 6, 2009
RATING: 9/10
Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr. is a man of contradictions. Kennedy is an outspoken, politically savvy, black artist who insists on being called "a humble Negro printer." Internationally, among fellow printers, Amos is considered to be a man to know - even while he is actively working to avoid being known. His prints are stirring up the art world, but one would do well to avoid calling them "art" in Kennedy's presence. The radical, often shocking images and slogans that jump from the surface of Kennedy's prints belie the layered, meticulously machined nature of his letterpress printing. Brown Finch Films' Proceed and Be Bold! documents these contradictions with a relish inspired by its subject, a man who embraces life's beauty and complexities with all his creative energy.

The contradictions in P&BB! begin immediately, with a clip from a WASP-y 1940s Iowa State College vocational film. The reel, designed to encourage young people to enter production industries like printing, shows not only the modern and mechanized ways in which printed media is created, but also the format's utility in the vast array of finished products that require some degree of printing application before hitting the market. The highly automated printing process depicted in the film contrasts starkly with Kennedy's letterpress style, inspired by a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, which involves typesetting and the use of an antiquated printing machine that rolls out a single poster at a time.



Printing is an exact science, where even the slightest misstep can smudge or smear a print. Ironically, Kennedy's students often note the craftsman's near total abandon when working, and joke about his carefree attitude toward the occasional inky fingerprints and oddly mixed color layers on his work. Proceed and Be Bold! is about a lot more than Kennedy's printing though. It is a documentary about an iconoclast who refuses to sit down for injustice and who uses art as a weapon to combat what he considers to be injustices in the world today.

In person, Kennedy initially comes across as quiet and reserved. When facing injustice, racism or hypocrisy, however, the man becomes a superheroic hunter--complete with his super suit (overalls and a pink shirt) and heroic catch phrases ("Coffee Will Make You Black" or "Affirmative Action Is A Joke" or "Post Racial Is The New Racism")--carefully selecting the right typeface and message, like arrows in a quiver, and then firing off printed materials at his prey. One university Kennedy worked for was so offended by a series of letters he mailed to various departments, dubbed "Nappygrams," that the campus police investigated and interrogated the artist and his family. Kennedy's friends and family are often caught up in the drama surrounding his work and P&BB! makes clear that, despite their immense love for the man, sometimes his battles are not ones they would necessarily have chosen to fight. The videotape of the Nappygram interrogation is a highlight of the film, the footage showing the nature of race relations in academia and Kennedy's inflammatory way of confronting it; first by holding up a mirror to its hypocrisy and then mercilessly mocking it. The use of the "found footage" of the interrogation, which simultaneously seems like an exploitative episode of COPS and some incredible hidden video capturing the raw reality of race relations, adds an interesting layer to P&BB!.



The film itself is gorgeously shot and the colors and lushness of the locales, from Kennedy's vacation in Italy to his grimy print shops, only serve to enhance the interviews and action that takes place in those locations. Stylistically speaking, Brown Finch has put together a strong effort with P&BB! in other areas as well. One particularly funny series of interviews with Karen Weeks, a friend and apprentice of Kennedy, is conducted while Weeks bounces her newborn baby to sleep on her lap. A subtle juxtaposition, every shot of the soft-spoken Weeks also features her frenetically bouncing child, yielding a visual effect not dissimilar to conducting a formal interview next to a paint mixer. There are also a number of animations throughout the film, featuring a cartoon Amos heroically meting out justice by way of his mobile press. Also of note is the printing homage to A Fistful of Dollars, a nice little feature not to be missed in the DVD extras.

Proceed and Be Bold! is a thoroughly entertaining and interesting independent documentary, created by a talented trio of young women based in Chicago. The ladies at Brown Finch Films have crafted a nuanced and flowing film that highlights a remarkable artist in particular while addressing the broader topics of work, art and race relations in America today. Through interviews with family and friends of the printer, Amos Kennedy's art and worldview are laid bare; due in no small part to numerous thought-provoking contradictions, the result is spectacular. While the film is most often subtle in approach, Kennedy's charisma, when combined with the production crew's visual style, adept camerawork and sharp editing, makes for an immensely enjoyable viewing. Proceed, be bold and seek out this documentary. You will not be disappointed.

TRAILER: www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9NRCcRSLcE

SEE ALSO: www.proceedandbebold.com
SEE ALSO: www.brownfinchfilms.com

--
Jon Burke
A contributing writer and a Chicago resident who will not be goaded by LASís editor into revealing any more details about his potentially sordid affairs.

See other articles by Jon Burke.

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