“King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis” from The Richard Kaplan Papers

220px-King_a_filmed_record_montgomery_to_memphis new size
Scanned image of an original screening poster from the film’s opening on March 24, 1970.

The Richard Kaplan Papers, 1905-2010, document the career of Richard Kaplan, a spirited filmmaker/ producer of documentary and feature films. This extensive collection is home to print and pre-print materials for Mr. Kaplan’s documentary projects, as well as records of his educational films and work for television.

The papers of Mr. Kaplan are rich in information concerning the nuts and bolts of documentary production. This is largely due to Mr. Kaplan’s detailed record keeping of logs and correspondences from his projects from conception and research, to funding, pre-production and into final distribution.

One of the many dynamic records in this collection is the documentary feature, King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis (1970). Produced by Ely Landau, with Mr. Kaplan as Associate Producer in charge of production, the film documents the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his non-violent campaign for civil rights and social justice from the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955, to the assassination of Dr. King in 1968.

The film consists of raw, original unedited black and white newsreel footage and other primary material, assembled to create a chronological record of Dr. King’s fight for equality. The film documents both well and lesser known events, with a wealth of candid moments between Dr. King, his friends, and detractors. The result is a powerful record of the American struggle for civil rights.

The feature opens with a poetic introduction from Harry Belafonte, whom King calls his “good and endearing friend.” Footage is framed with readings from celebrity activists Ruby Dee, Ben Gazzara, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Quinn, and Clarence Williams III. The film moves organically without narration. It instead boasts a powerful sound design, peppered with a soundtrack of gospel, spiritual and folk songs that document the triumphs and defeats of the civil rights movement.

The film was heralded upon its release, and was nominated in the Best Documentary category at the 1970 Academy Awards. In 1999 the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry.

The 1970 release was marked by a one-time only screening in more than 600 theaters across the country. Although the film and its related materials have been well preserved in the WCFTR Archives, it has been out of circulation for home video use and has gone mostly unseen for many years.

But King: A Filmed Record…Montgomery to Memphis has a contemporary presence under its current revival by Richard Kaplan, in partnership with Kino Lorber.

In 2008, Mr. Kaplan set up A Filmed Record Inc., a non-profit company to produce and re-release the picture using archived master elements. Profits from the Special Commemorative Edition from Kino Lorber are used to support the legacy of Dr. King.

The print elements and extensive records for this historic film, alternate versions, and Mr. Kaplan’s efforts in the picture’s re-release are available for research at the WCFTR. Browse the catalog for the Richard Kaplan Papers in the Finding Aid.

Read more about the Kino Lorber Edition on their website.