Odd Tuesdays Cineclub presents…Chameleon Street (1989)

The story behind this film is a familiar one: Independent filmmaker actually completes the Sisyphean task of creating a feature film.  Said filmmaker gets this film into a major festival.  Film wins top prize.  Filmmaker, high on victory, decamps for Hollywood.  And is never heard from again.

In 1990, before the Sundance Film Festival became the grotesque industry clusterfuck it is today, that filmmaker was writer, director, and star Wendell B. Harris, Jr.; his film was Chameleon Street, a milestone of both independent and African-American cinema.

Why is this film still so underseen?  Why didn’t it propel Harris towards a rich filmmaking career like that of, say, fellow early Sundance winner Steven Soderbergh?  Let Harris himself tell it: “You take a look at the work of Tyler Perry and you take a look at [my] unproduced work… and I think that you can put together your answer.”

With uncommercial levels of wit and intelligence, Chameleon Street explores how race, social class, and most other forms of identity are performed in America– and how those performances can be manipulated.  While based on the real story of a Detroit con-man, Harris also draws on a deeply American tradition of using slippery characters to examine society’s highs and lows, one that goes back at least to Herman Melville’s novel The Confidence-Man.


Chameleon Street screens Tuesday, April 8th at 7PM.


Curated by Joshua Buursma, EMP’s Odd Tuesdays Cineclub is dedicated to a proposition: That not all films are created equal; that some are weirder, sweeter, kinkier, and crankier than others; and that among these films are established cult favorites, essential art house classics, and more recent work that’s only begun to gather a following.  In an age when media too often atomize us rather than bring us together, when we’re more likely to watch movies (especially older movies) alone on our devices rather than with a flesh-and-blood audience, it’s more urgent than ever that we deliberately come together and make seeing movies a show again.  Odd Tuesdays Cineclub: Come and See.