Film Response: Through a Lens Darkly
"A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY," on a huge banner, reads like a headline suspended above the streets of Harlem in the 20th century.
The film is always absorbing to watch, but only once it’s over do you begin to grasp the extent of its ambitions, and just how much it has done within a packed, compact hour and a half. Mr. Harris begins on a personal note, with an anecdote about his father, depicted in old snapshots as a handsome man with a distinctly melancholy, distracted air. We never learn too much about him, but we do travel back through the generations, spending a fair amount of time looking at formal and candid photos, many of them taken by the filmmaker’s maternal grandfather.
In addition, when photographer Jamal Shabazz explains his struggles by saying “the gun was more readily available than the camera,” Through a Lens Darkly is at its strongest in eliding the more trite inclinations driving Harris’s personal digressions, voiceover, and largely cloying sense of dramatic aesthetics.