Tuesday, March 13, 2012

March Madness March of the Day: "Fruit of Islam" from Malcolm X by Terence Blanchard

'My, that's a pretty flag. It'd make for a lovely tablespr... Oh no, what's happening?! Oh my God. They're burning it! And this fat gentleman keeps getting beaten! I don't like this Spike Jones fella! He's too angry! That's it! I'm leaving!'--every blue-haired Midwestern homemaker during the first two minutes of Malcolm X back in 1992
Today is Terence Blanchard's birthday. His epic Malcolm X score--the second one he wrote for Spike Lee--is the first score that made me sit up and take notice of the sounds of the trumpeter/film composer (and now, stage play composer, because of his work in Chris Rock's Broadway debut The Motherfucker with the Hat).

The centerpiece of Blanchard's Malcolm X score is "Fruit of Islam," a fiery march written for a pivotal sequence that recreates the Nation of Islam's outcry over the police's treatment of an NOI member named Johnson Hinton, which catapulted Malcolm (Denzel Washington, in a nuanced performance he should have won the Best Actor Oscar for, not for his much showier and less subtly written turn in Training Day) into the public eye in 1957.

Assisted by the NOI's Fruit of Islam security force, Malcolm and other NOI members march to the hospital where Brother Johnson (stand-up comic and Do the Right Thing cast member Steve White in a silent role), a badly injured victim of police brutality, is being looked after to ensure that Johnson is given proper medical care. After Malcolm is assured by a resident physician that Johnson is receiving the best care possible, an NYPD captain (Peter Boyle) orders the crowd of black protesters outside the hospital to disperse. But they won't listen to the surly-looking white captain. They'll listen to Malcolm, who, in one of my favorite bits of acting by Washington in the film, flashes a smile at the captain and then turns to the crowd and gets them to quietly disperse with a simple hand signal.

"Fruit of Islam" is also notable for being--along with the Chariots of Fire theme and "Duel of the Fates" from The Phantom Menace--one of the few film music instrumentals to receive airplay on music video channels. The "Fruit of Islam" video that ran on BET in 1992 interspersed Malcolm X clips with footage of Blanchard and his orchestra. Blanchard also has a cameo in Malcolm X as a trumpeter who performs with Billie Holiday (R&B artist Miki Howard).

"I kind of wish I wasn't [on-camera]. I thought I was going to have this big line, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Billie Holiday,' but no, Spike said, 'Just stand in the corner and play your horn, and we'll tell you action and cut,'" said Blanchard to the Associated Press while promoting his Malcolm X Jazz Suite arrangement of his score in 1993. "And Denzel had the most fun, especially after Mo' Better Blues when I was behind the camera watching him. Now our situations were reversed and he kept saying, 'Now you know what it feels like.'"

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