The 1927 Mississippi River Flood displaced thousands of sharecroppers, who left plantations and migrated to northern cities. Their migration fueled the evolution of the blues, R&B, rock and jazz—a story told with archival footage and a searing original soundtrack in The Great Flood, a film by Bill Morrison and composer/guitarist Bill Frisell.
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The Mississippi River Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history. In the spring of that year, the river broke out of its earthen embankments in 145 places and inundated 27,000 square miles. Part of the flood’s legacy was the forced exodus of displaced sharecroppers, who left plantation life and migrated to northern cities. The “Great Migration” fueled the evolution of the blues, notably by artists who witnessed the flood such as Charley Patton (“High Water Everywhere”) and Memphis Minnie (“When the Levee Breaks”), and in cities like Memphis, Detroit and Chicago, which became wellsprings for R&B, rock and jazz.
Join filmmaker Bill Morrison for a screening and conversation of The Great Flood followed by a conversation with Mary Sweeney, the Dino and Martha De laurentiis Endowed Professor in the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Using minimal text and no spoken dialogue, Morrison and composer/guitarist Bill Frisell have created a powerful portrait of a seminal moment in U.S. history through a collection of silent images matched to a searing original soundtrack. Much of Morrison’s work in The Great Flood is based on actual footage of the 1927 flood, including source material from the Fox Movietone Newsfilm Library and the National Archives. All film documenting this catastrophe was shot on volatile nitrate stock, and what footage remains is pockmarked and partially deteriorated. The degraded film stock figures prominently in Morrison’s aesthetic, with distorted images suggesting different planes of reality in the story—those lived, dreamt or remembered. In The Great Flood, the bubbles and washes of decaying footage are associated with the destructive force of rising water, the film stock seeming to have been bathed in the same water as the images it depicts. Frisell’s contemporary music connects the story to the present. The Great Flood’s imagery is visible through history’s prism, dancing with the sound of modernity.
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Organized by the USC School of Cinematic Arts.