Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Intellectual Copyright

Got a call from the lawyers for the Fall River, MA "heirs" to the Count Dante image, name and trademarks for the "Black Dragon Fighting Society."

Images used in a film have to be paid for. Distribution of a dramatic film or doc is contingent upon how diligent you have been at clearing rights of all images and music, releases, etc. I am down for clearing everything and paying reasonable fees for licensing. There are issues of ownership in the event of a deceased personality that have to be resolved of course. Hopefully this will no be too painful. We all have to deal with it.

After the 1970 Dojo War, Keehan was excommunicated from martial arts, He ended up in Fall River, MA.

Fall River is the city that the crooked broker, Luigi DiFonzo, of the 1974 Purolator Armored Car Vault Robbery, was born and raised in. The city of Tauntaun, MA, not far from Fall River, is where the infamous Death Matches were held in March, 1975 two months before John Keehan died reportedly of "bleeding ulcers."

Keehan was suspected of being involved in this robbery by Art Petaque of the Chicago Sun-Times, but was cleared by the Grand Jury of Cook County after he passed a lie detector test. Keehan was closely associated with William Aguiar in Fall River. This is where Dante was going to make his come back from according to Black Belt magazine writer, Massod Ayub. I have not even began to deal with the Puralator Robbery yet, that is a film of it's own. Was Keehan actually involved? I asked his former attornet Robert Cooley that very questions on video tape, he replied "Absolutey!"

BAck on the ride again.....

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Back on Track

I have been away from the blog for a few weeks. Time flies...In the midst of working on the film I have become partner in a new media company, 3to1 Studios, here in Chicago, while trying to maintain my duties as a part time staff member of the Jazz Institute of Chicago and doing programming for the ICE Theaters Black World Cinema program. Is this crazy? Well a brother gotta eat, cause it's hard out here for an independent filmmaker..

Sometimes it all gets to be too much. So one day I took off and disappered to the darkness of a movie theater. I saw Tsotsi and V is for Vendetta. Both wonderful films in my opinion. V asks some serious questions of us. Questions that are not really so hard in light of our history as a revolutionary country who fought for independence against the British. V was an elegant examination on the nature of what we percieve as "terror." Bottomline to me is simple. All war is terror. If you hit me and I cut you, who am I to claim you are violent. All I can say is I defended myself. Now the levels and degrees of my self defense is dependent upon the kind of human being I am.

Add ideology. Fred Hampton said when I was 16, "You can kill the freedom fighter, but you can't kill freedom fighting." It is the idea that is the thing. The idea trumps everytime. Coming out of the historical period that shaped who I am, I was able to really relate to the film. One wide awake, one half asleep. Yet some of us were never allowed slumber. Some us were never allowed the illusions of freedom and only knew , were fed and oft-times accepted those limitations we were subjected to.

Rebellion is part of the American consciousness, repression is the creeping cancer we must collective remove. The Warshowski Brothers are from the same Chicago neighborhood as John Keehan, Beverly. Their first film in Chicago was Bound, a lesbian love tell where the girls just wanna take off with come Mob money. Beverly is in an Irish Catholic parish, St. Mary of Scotland. I wonder if they went to Mt CArmel also. Their worldview in not so different than Keehan's in their acceptance of diversity in their expressive ideologies. Their embracing of the writings of Cornell West is really interesting. As interesting as the underground internet claims that a black woman was the writer and real "Mother of the Matrix." (Please don't ask me, go Google it)They have engaged the issue of race in American in their own way and artfully responded to the creeping cancerous facsism that is rapidly becoming "US" at present.

I read Tsotsi when I was staying in London in 1982. I bought three books that affected me greatly during that stay, Tsotsi by my favorite playwright at that time, Athol Fugard, a book about Lagos, Nigeria titled Jaguaa Nana, by Cyprian Ekwensi, and Indaba, My Children, by Credo Mutwa.

These were all books that ran in my head as films back then. They came to life for me as I rode the Northen Line to Brixton and on the train to Croydon. I sat reading in Cafes in Camden Town and early mornings on weekends devouring these three books over a 3 week period. I long for that simple joy of reading today.

As much as I like the film, Tsotsi, it is as all films adapted from novels are, lacking, in the texture that connects viscerally. I the adore the film, but I love the book. What Fugard gave my 28 year old mind was a way to understand, to contiue to learn about African and myself. Having been to African but not to the South it helped my understand the expatriates I knew, gave me questions to ask, showed me ways in which we were so simlar in experiance. Fugard is white, but he was the voice speaking to me at that moment. I had seen his plays, I saw Boesman and Lena in London, I think a friend of mine we called T-Bone was in it.

Fugard's works were powerful connections to a place I was related to through friendships in London and Tanzania. I practiced partial arts on the beach in Dar Es Salaam with members of the ANC, guys my age and younger, they were going to war for real. Sad, I don't remember any of their names except for Pookie. In London I still missed Mongezi Feza, a jazz Trumpet player I knew from the 100 Club when I first arrived in London in 1974. He was playing with Dudu Pakwana. I fell in with the the South African expatriate community when I got to London becuse we all loved jazz. By 1975 Mongezi was dead of questionable circumstances and untreated pneumonia. Like Hendrix, he was a victim of perceptions and assumptions because they were black musicians and were "probably drunk or on drugs." Buth those are other stories for other times.

I met the director of Tsoti, Gavin Hood, at the London Film Fetsival in 1999 when he showed his first film, A Reasonable Man. He was writer, director and star. I was extremely inmpressed with his film. He was a South African filmmaker trying to some to terms with who he was in realtionship to the new reality of an a free South Africa. He was part of a new generation of white South African who were at last free to express themselves and their acceptance of ALL South Africans. We had a chat at the reception held at the South African embassy near Trafalgar Square. This was a place quite a few of us used to chant slogans at back in the 1970s. It was my first time inside. Ahhhh progress. Gavin was very forthright and anxious to meet people to hear what they thought about his film. A very down to earth guy. It was very easy to see he was going places. He had the craft and he had an different kind of heart.

I met Gavin again in Chicago at the Facets Children's Film Festival, in 2002, when he presented a rather odd Polish film, In Desert and Wilderness. Not his best, but a filmmaker needs to be always working like a horn palyer has to keep playing. I was not at all surprised that Tsotsi got the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. And oh boy, it is playing in 23 theaters nationwide. So does this mean Academy Awards do not make you economically viable? You are not worth the risk of a generous marketing campaign and like maybe 15o theaters. I guess if you don't get the "right" distibution this is how it is.

Interesting it was not offered first run to ICE Theaters which is a black owned theater chain. I guess since Ice Cube or 50 Cent is not in it they assumed the black audience might not like a foreign with subtitles.

So...That was my one day's vacation.

Back to the Count...

I have been getting a lot of help from people out there in the ether regarding Count Dante. People have responded to my blog with others to provide information, lodging should I go to their town, names of key individuals they think might be significant to the film.

Most notably is Jim Quattrocki, a student of Doug Dwyer's back in the late 1960s. Jim is assisting me with shooting of some interviews. We are going to do a recreation of the Dojo War based on Dante's account. A real basis montage of action to use in the 10 minute trailer.

Graham Nobel of the UK has been very helpful. He send me a video tape of an interview with Joe Lewis talking about Keehan as well as an article he wrote in 1980 for Fighting Arts magazine as well as a 1962 article about Keehan and Trias.

This John Keehan guy, Chicago Catholic Irish...classical singer, Marine, Army Ranger, martial artist, promoter, hairdresser, used car saleman, pet lion walker, porn shop owner, bouncer, brawler, criminal mastermind?? The challenges of doing this story justice seem overwhelming at times.

Now I got guys on the East Coast I am talking to who have these wierd stories about him. I am building an all-star cast of martial arts characters for this project. That is a good selling point. In case you are wondering, no, I am not telling it all.

I need to call the Fall River Lawyers about some stock footage and see what they want for it, if they really have anything, that is.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Reconciling memory...

John Keehan had a lot of identities and interests as a young man. As I prepare this film, I find I have delved deep into my own changes through his story. I am amazed at how quickly my own ideals and focus changed in a short timespan during this volatile historic period from 1960-1975. The year 1968 is when it all seems to happen. This memory may seem far out of place for an already fantastic story. But it comes back full circle.

Dec 4, 1969...Fred Hampton, a 1966 graduate of my high school, was murdered in his bed by the Chicago Police under the direction of the FBI. Why do I say murdered? He was asleep in his bed. 89 shots were fired by police and most likely ONE shot was fired by the occupants of the apartment Fred Hampton was in. Mark Clark died that morning also, he may have fired that one shot in response to this early morning attack.

I mention this now because there is a controversy boiling in over a street being named for Fred Hampton.

The summer of his graduation he was president of the NAACP Youth council. He lead a demonstration for a swimming pool in Maywood in 1967, I think. Black youth were forbidden and discouraged from going to the pools in surrounding suburbs. We got the pool in Maywood. It was named after Fred Hampton in 1970.

Fred had one conviction and he served his time. He was accused and convicted of stealing ice cream off an ice cream truck and distributing it to the neighborhood children. It happened on the block he had grown up on. It was not Fred as far as I know.

Fred never shot anyone and was never accused of violence. Did the Black Panther Party advocate violence? If self-defense is considered violence, yes. Did they advocate the killing of policemen? If the policeman was an individual who had no regards for the law, justice, and the rights of an American citizen and unlawfully attacked them, it seems that those citizens, being armed, would expect to defend themselves against such violence in the name of self defense.
The original name of the party was the "Black Panther Party for Self-Defense."

In November, 1969 there was a shoot out between the police and several Panthers. A Policeman was killed. The police claimed they were ambushed. The Police wanted revenge. The word on the street was the Police "vamped" on the Panthers not expecting them to defend themselves. These were violent times. I was not there, I do not know what happened. I had spent enough times on my knees with my hands up to know the hazards of being a young black man in America in the 1960s. Did I take it personal, yep!

What do I remember about Fred Hampton besides his being an alum of my high school and Black Panther. He was a brilliant young man. He was a union member, UAW I think at International Harvester. Maywood was a working class neighborhood. I remember the first Black Panther office opened in Maywood the summer of 1968, then moved to the West Side. Fred left his lower middle working class neighboorhood to go to engage the "lumpen proletariat" on Chicago's West Side. Many of us never felt good about that move. I was engaged that summer of 1968, a lot happened, Grant Park happened, Vietnam was a major issue. I saw Bucky Fuller speak at Circle campus I think talking about whole systems, maybe it was downstate. It was a year of movement for me. How did so much happen so fast. I was new to Maywood, my father in the war we were protesting.

Fred built the party's reputation in the community by establishing free medical clinics, legal aid and free breakfast for children programs. This is what most of us who want the street named for Fred remember. I can hear the right wing replies to that statement now...."Just like Hamas.."

The street will be named for Fred. No big deal. People are just making it a big deal. Save the comments on this, I am just venting. I will not be engaging dialogue on this one.

Eugene Cernan was a 1952 graduate of Proviso East also, remember him? He walked on the moon. I am just talking alums...reconciling memory. No controversy there right?

The first full fledged African-American astronaut, Robert Lawrence Jrwent to my elementary school in Chinatown, Haines. This is probably why I was in the Science Club, Robert was my role model. Malcolm, Martin and Robert Lawrence, all killed.

Robert was killed in "the line of Duty" in the crash of an F-104 fighter during a training exercise on December 8, 1967. I was still a bit perturbed from his death when Fred got killed. It was enough to turn a brother to irrational conspiracy theories. Chronic Paronia...but hey they all died within several years of one another...but what do I know??? Just that these brilliant, daring courageous men who shattered every stereotypical idea of who we were as African Americans prevelent in apartheid America, within and without the system were dead. All mysterious , unresolved and conflicted circumstances?????? Damn. Including Robert Lawrence, the Astronaut??? I am lucky I did not want to retreat to a bunker somewhere looking back at this.

I did not remember the Science Club. I do remember writing for Gideon's Babble, our underground school paper. I remember working and writing for, distributing the People's Voice, a Revolutionary Union(RU) Paper. I did this at factories before I went to school at Proviso. RU is now the Revolutionary Communist Party, still led by "Chairman Bob" Avakian. Bob was my neighbor in Maywood for awhile. The Maywood House is in his book, "From Ike to Mao."

I was not a member, in case you or the NSA/FBI/CIA are wondering. No new confessions to make 36 years later. Fellow traveller???? Who cares? My intelllectual relationship to Bob was similar to my relationship with most preachers I knew. I looked at him out of my left eye seeking clarity. I like Bob though, he is a funny guy and absolutely dedicated to his world view wheather I agree with all he says or not. Bob likes to party get drunk and talk shit like a lot of people I know. We were not best friends, just passing acquaintances. The RCP comes across like a far left Amway to me these days. Network marketing commmunist revolution, it had to happen. (Opps one more group of folks to get mad at me...will I ever learn???) At least I know Bob has a sense of humour, his acolytes seem not to. They might surprise me. In a democracy Bob deserves to be heard also. So there. I made up and pissed off some more conservatives and fence sitting liberals.

I am a bit pissed off as you can probably tell. This all seems far afield of The Search for Count Dante. But Dante has been accused of teaching self-defense to the SDS and various sundry demonstrators during the 1968 Grant Park Summer of Love Demonstrations according to an email sent to the website of the rock singer Count Dante by the notorius Ashida Kim. He was also said to have taught the Blackstone Rangers street gang. The man seems to have been everywhere.

Mike Schremp found a 1963 picture of John Keehan sitting next to John Cheetam. a future Black Panther leader, at a Toronto Karate Tournament(Looks like Doug Dwyer standing behind Cheetham. A true urban myth.

Well that is enough of that. I have vented, and fit Count Dante into the matrix while I was at it. How about that?

I am simply seeking the truth about this man's life. Oddly, the journey is beginning to give me some truths about my own life.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How far do we fall?

1970 was the year of the Dojo War and the year I left High School.

I went back to my old high school. I was thinking about how we change from who we are. I looked for evidence of myself in the year book and the school papers. 1968 is a pivotal year.

This film has become a real journey of self discovery. I saw something in the year book I did not remember. I was in the Science Club at Proviso East High School in 1968. I wore a tie for the group photo. I was just 2 months out of Ft Benning, GA where my father was stationed before he was shipped off to Vietnam for the second time. Where I was in ROTC contemplating West Point as a career move.

6 months from this point I would be part of the social outrage at that war, already being pissed off at the asassination of Kennedy 5 years before and more heavily policized after the death of Martin Luther King. Kennedy was a problem for me, because we though castro was bad mahaflicky. We knew in our youthful wisdom, Castro would trounce Kennedy one on one, but we had to appreciate what it seemed Kennedy was doing for civil rights. He just needed to keep his hands off Cuba.

I would meet John Keehan again, this is the year he challenged Muhammad Ali supposedly, I was a sucker went there probably really expecting to see Ali knocking Keehan out. Ali was the GOD of all things Fistic. Keehan was out his damn mind, so we thought. But, hey, it got mea and a few thousand others there.

In the January 22, 1970 school paper, I found a picture of me doing a Karate demonstration. This was one month after the murder of the Black Panther Chairman, Fred Hampton, an alumni of my high school. He was killed Dec 4, 1969.

How I pulled this off after all the riots we had at Proviso, I do not remember. We were a school that experienced seasonal race riots. I had already been suspended for a nose breaking in my first two weeks at Proviso in 1968.

I was on the "white side" of the cafeteria talking to my chess club companions. They were white and seemed nervous. But they were nerds, they were always nervous, and they were my first friends at Proviso. I had a computer class with two of them. Someone threw some food at us. I confronted the offenders, I was not a nerd, we just shared the same interests. I did not want to be seen as the new nerd in town. But I was outnumbered, mad and full of Kyukoshinkai. Oyama was my hero of that moment. I was working on my "godhand." I was punching candles, tissue paper, making my Gi snap like any serious testoserone drive teenager. I was developing speed and penetration. The power was a result of the velocity of the mass(my fist).

The word "nigger" passed his lips in the north after I had never heard it in a year in Georgia, at least not to my face, I lived on a military base. The "Greaser"(nomenclature for blue-collar working class white kids of union factory workers and skilled craftsmen) got smacked, head snapped, nose broke, I was not proud. It shocked the hell out of me too. I had no love for hurting people.

He was rising up, I threw the first punch, I was outnumbered. I did not see me hit him, they did not see me hit him, he did not see me hit him. We took it to the bathroom. Word spread a black guy entered the toilet with 6 white guys in pursuit(we actually walked). A dean came in and intervened(thank God!). I had backed to the wall, was stretching, scared to death, breathing deep and calming my mind like a samurai, like I had a patua bless by a Mae de Santo in Bahia. Young foolish and ready to rumble, secure in mind that we had not reached the time where everybody had a gun, like they do now. :-)

I got tossed out for a week. I never had a real fight at Proviso East again. But I was never proud of this. I thought it might mean more fights for that top of the heap thing.

After years of fighting in school for not being this or that, being a person who stuttered or read too many books, hanging with the wrong people or whatever, I admit, it was liberating. I could get on with just being me, any me I wanted to be. I found no satisfaction in fighting. Avoided it whenever I could. In the long run Count Dante had no real influence over me, I don't think. After I advanced to Taoist study I was trying to run the selfless route and focus on tantric kumite, chasing that Taoist poonani.

That is me, in the photo, blocking my fellow club member and jazz flute player, the late Dennis Ledbetter. We wore black Gi's with red black and green patches. I forgot about all this. I rarely think about this stuff. I am now.