Small Screen Berkeley: ‘John Lewis: Good Trouble’, ‘King: A Filmed Record’ and ‘Cupid in Quarantine’

The life of the Alabama farm boy who went from preaching to chickens to being a liberal hero; the story of Dr. King; and 10 minutes on smallpox.

John Lewis: Good Trouble. Photo: Courtesy Larsen Associates

Congressman John Lewis is a liberal hero, and understandably so: a lifelong civil rights activist, he was beaten by police as he lead a march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965. Indeed, he spent most of the 1960s getting arrested while engaging in non-violent protest against the Jim Crow laws of America’s apartheid South.

John Lewis: Good Trouble (now screening as part of Pacific Film Archive’s Watch From Home series and via Rialto Cinemas Elmwood) relates the life of the Alabama farm boy who went from preaching to a congregation of chickens to sponsoring significant legislation in the United States’ House of Representatives.

Director Dawn Porter’s film is more hagiography than documentary, but it’s still a worthwhile watch and a worthy tribute to this gentle, unassuming, and resolute gentleman. It’s also determinedly bipartisan: in addition to interviews with middle-of-the-road machine Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Beto O’Rourke, Porter has also included all four members of The Squad. And in the interest of fairness, we shouldn’t overlook the onscreen presence of longtime Republican congress critter Jim Sensenbrenner.

The film does briefly touch on the one truly awkward moment of Lewis’ public life: his take-down of fellow activist Julian Bond during 1986’s Democratic primary for Georgia’s 5th Congressional District. Accusing Bond of taking cocaine — and claiming to have taken and passed his own drug test — Lewis chose to sunder a decades-old friendship in exchange for the seat he still holds today. Even in the context of the ‘just say no’ era, it remains a shocking example of bare knuckles politicking.


Footnote: completed in 1940, the Edmund Pettus Bridge bears the name of a Confederate general, United States’ Senator, and Ku Klux Klan leader. Though the film doesn’t mention it, there is a movement afoot to rename it the John Lewis Bridge.

‘King: A Filmed Record…From Montgomery to Memphis’

For a more in-depth review of the Civil Rights Movement, readers can surf over to Kino Lorber, where the three-hour  thedocumentary King: A Filmed Record…From Montgomery to Memphis is currently streaming gratis. Nominated for the 1971 Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, the film (directed by Hollywood bigwig Sidney Lumet) does exactly what it says on the tin, blending generous excerpts of Dr. King’s speeches with contemporaneous newsreel footage.

‘Cupid In Quarantine’

Finally, I’ve previously recommended Fritzi Kramer’s top-notch Movies Silently site, and she’s still doing great work. A recent column drew my attention to a wonderful and timely piece of 100-year-old cinematic history, a one-reeler from 1918 entitled Cupid In Quarantine, recently restored from a sole surviving print found in the Netherlands.

Surprisingly, the film isn’t about the Great Influenza of 1918, but about smallpox (Fritzi’s done the research; there were virtually no films made about the flu). Shockingly — especially considering the subject matter! — it’s a comedy, and a clever one at that. Only ten minutes long, Cupid in Quarantine can be viewed for free at the National Film Preservation Foundation, along with hundreds of other rare and/or forgotten films.