Repertory Picks

A “Race Film” Revival in Philadelphia

On Film / In Theaters — Feb 8, 2018

Next Wednesday evening, as part of the ongoing series Reviving and Reviewing the “Race Film,” the International House Philadelphia’s Lightbox Film Center will host a screening of Kenneth Macpherson’s 1930 silent film Borderline. Produced in Switzerland as a vehicle for the African American performer and activist Paul Robeson—then well known as a singer and stage actor, but relegated to the margins of the film industry in his attempts to cross over to the screen—Borderline tells the story of an interracial affair that scandalizes a small European village and threatens to tear apart two couples. British film theorist Macpherson infused the melodrama, his first and only feature, with a startling degree of intensity, merging the montage style of Sergei Eisenstein and the psychological realism of G. W. Pabst to convey the devastating emotional effect of racial prejudice and sexual oppression. In the words of the modernist poet H. D., who costars in the film alongside Robeson and his wife, Eslanda, the director “sculpts literally with light. He gouges, he reveals, he conceals.”