Looking for Langston (DVD)

Isaac Julien

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Amoeba Review

Eddie Vegas 04/05/2008

A beautifully photographed film on various aspects of black male sexuality in western culture is revealed within the “pseudo-documentary exploration of the life of Langston Hughes” [note to self: don’t believe the hype], Looking For Langston.


It’s a short film but it rushes headlong and moves easily and quickly between archival television footage of Langston Hughes reading with jazz combo accompaniment, archival photographs/footage of Harlem and various Harlem Renaissance figures (and some non-Renaissance figures such as Robert Mapplethorpe) along with faux-archival footage and images which are interspersed, broken up, explained and explored with readings from the works of poets Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin and Essex Hemphill visually mated to scripted black & white fantasy sets of nightclub, bedroom and outdoor scenes populated by black men (and a few white men) as a means of touching on, and exposition of, the effects of racism, classism, desire, exploitation and threats of violence and STDs in relation to Anglo/American gay black men.


Beautiful monochrome black & white is the order of the day for director (and noted painter/film/installation artist) Isaac Julien and cinematographer Sunil Gupta. The set design on the movie, as well as the film restoration undertaken, I believe, by the British Film Institute, is magnificent; I spent several minutes freeze-framing scenes just to look at the backgrounds and detail. Although overall the movie’s themes and visuals (nude black men rolling around, oh my!) might not be to the interest or liking of your everyday “Joe Six-Pack,” I found it quite engaging and interesting as an artistic statement on the director and his sexuality within and without the context of previous gay artists.


Award-winning British filmmaker Isaac Julien's film is both critically acclaimed and controversial. The film is a lyrical and poetic consideration of the life of revered Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. Isaac Julien invokes Hughes as a black gay cultural icon, against an impressionistic, atmospheric setting that parallels a Harlem speakeasy of the 1920s with a 1980s London underground nightclub.


Extracts from Hughes poetry are interwoven with the work of cultural figures from the 1920s and beyond, including Essex Humphill, Bruce Nugent, and Robert Mapplethorpe, constructing a lyrical and multilayered narrative. Julien explores the ambiguous sexual subtexts of the period of rich artistic expression, and the enduring cultural significance of the pioneer's work.


Shot in sumptuous monochrome, the film combines archival footage with the newly staged set pieces, fantasy sequences, and an imagined love story. The result is a beautiful and ultimately celebratory piece about artistic expression and the nature of desire.

Product Details

  • Starring: Ben Ellison, Matthew Baidoo, Akim Mogaji, John Wilson, Dencil Williams
  • Format: Black & White, Dolby, DVD, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Rating: Not Rated
  • Label: Strand Releasing
  • Release Date: 07/31/2007
  • Run Time: 60 minutes

Special Features

  • Commentary
  • Photo Gallery
  • The Acclaimed Short Film by Isaac Julien: The Attendant
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