Herbert Danska – Right On! (1971)

Vincent Canby – April 9, 1971: “… Most poets are preferably read alone, in decent tranquility. Some can be tolerated on the platforms of the Y.M.H.A.’s of the world —word celebrities greeting their fans. Usually, however, they are good gray personages whose bland exteriors seem constantly at odds with the verbal echoes of the madnesses within. An occasional few are genuinely well equipped for public performance. It is the virtue of ‘Right, On!’ that Gylan Kain, David Nelson and Felipe Luciano, who call themselves The Original Last Poets, have the hard‐driving, evangelical performance style of a rock group of ages. The 78‐minute film, which opened yesterday at the New Yorker, Evergreen and Roosevelt Theaters, is a spokenblues concert, a poetry recitation with bongo accompaniment, incantation of black soul (and brown), presented as cinema‐of‐the‐rooftops. Ordinarily, film is not, I think, an ideal medium for the spoken word, especially poetry. Extraneous images, like gnats, keep getting in the way and bothering the thought. ‘Right On!’ was shot mostly on a brownstone rooftop in what appears to have been on the lower East Side of Manhattan—from the placement of the towers of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings, seen in the distance. In the foreground, the three poets perform (rather than recite) 28 works of their own composition, and because theirs is such a physical performance, ‘Right On!’ works much of the time as a movie. However, as archy, the cockroach, liked to say: ‘The main question is whether the stuff is literature or not.’ Frankly, I’m not sure. I’m not familiar with the poets’ work and because this is not a reading but a performance, a presentation in which words and wordimages are often blurred and almost unintelligible (at least to my ears), I can only comment on the dynamic grace of the physical presentation. … It seems so isoiated so removed, that I began to wonder if anybody was listening. The poets talk revolution, invoke revolution, and even though Herbert Danska keeps cutting away to show montages of ghetto street scenes, I had the feeling that the real revolution was taking place somewhere else.”
NY Times
MoMA: Herbert Danska’s Right On! (Video)
ARTFORUM: Poetic Justice

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