Top of the Heap (Christopher St. John, 1972)
A raucous, stunning feature debut that is a major discovery of 1970s Black cinema.
Apr 24, 2022, 7:00 PM
Los Angeles, 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057, USA
Top of the Heap
directed by Christopher St. John
1972, U.S., 118m, DCP
A raucous, stunning feature debut, Top of the Heap is a major discovery of 1970s Black cinema. Written, directed by and starring Christopher St. John in his lone feature film to date, the film was unseen theatrically since its release until it was revived by Floyd Webb at Chicago’s Black Cinema House, and is now presented in a new restoration. A Black cop (St. John) in Washington D.C. faces many indignities while on the beat: racism, profiling, and word of the death of his mother. When he gets passed over for a promotion, his only method of coping is having visions of becoming the first Black astronaut. Like the greatest of genre films, the film starkly examines still-prescient social issues while indulging in dynamic formal flourishes, taking a surreal head-trip to confront many of the motifs that would define the commercial Black cinema of the era. Co-starring Paula Kelly and Allen Garfield.
L.A. premiere of a new restoration, courtesy of Shout! Factory and the American Genre Film Archive
Official Selection: Berlin Film Festival, Main Competition, 1972
“A fascinating, volatile blend of police melodrama, Afrofuturism, counterculture satire, and sheer cri de coeur.” -Nicholas Rapold, Reverse Shot
“As replete with zappy flashbacks as an Alain Resnais production, [the film] is stabilized by its fiercely alienated central performance [by St. John]…George’s dreams of escaping Earth are almost a metaphor for the movie — the only commercial feature that St. John would ever make. If this intimation of Afrofuturism suggests that the “Top of the Heap” was a bit ahead of its time, so, too, was its critique of blaxploitation, delivered even before the clichés had hardened.” -J. Hoberman, The New York Times
“A crucial work of Afrofuturism... The teeming artistic inventiveness, emotional frenzy, and political critique that St. John brings to what could have been a conventional genre story should have catapulted him to the forefront of filmmaking.” -Richard Brody, The New Yorker