Gordon Parks, 1912-2006

Gordon Parks died yesterday at the age of 93. Not only as the author of a book on ’70s Hollywood, but simply as a lover of great film, I was familiar with Parks’s movies, but they were only one facet of his amazing talent. He was a photographer, a novelist, a memoirist, a magazine editor, a composer…just about whatever he needed to be to express himself from moment to moment.

After the early cinematic successes of The Learning Tree and Shaft, Parks ended his big-screen directing career in 1976 after Leadbelly, starring Roger E. Mosley as blues pioneer Heddy Ledbetter, flopped with critics and audiences alike. I tried very hard to track down a copy of the film, which doesn’t appear to be available in any video formats, as I was researching my book; I suspect that in many ways it would counter the much more widely-known Bound for Glory biopic of Woody Guthrie and that, like many commercial “failures” from that era, it would have much to offer us upon a second viewing.

8 March 2006 | obituaries |