My goal has always been to be a director. I decided to hold out, to use my reputation as an editor as a kind of lure. I sold things for my independence That way I could say no to editing jobs and still eat.21 Hugh A. Robertson
If one particular technical position were chosen as the best preparation for directing a film, it would be that of the film editor. Besides the physical organizing of a film's sequences, the editor must have a creative appreciation for the potential of the film, as well as a practical understanding of how to get the desired, maximum effect from the actual pieces of film that have been shot. Hugh Robertson came to film directing as an editor, having worked on the films 12 Angry Men (1957), The Fugitive Kind (1959), The Miracle Worker (1962), Lilith (1964), and Shaft (1971). In 1960 he became the first African American member of the IATSE Motion Picture Editors Union after eleven years of applying for acceptance,22 and he was nominated for an Academy Award for editing the film Midnight Cowboy (1969).
Born of Jamaican parents in Brooklyn in 1933,23 Robertson began working in films when he was seventeen, studying at New York's New Trade Institute for Motion Pictures and the Sorbonne in Paris.24 Though he gained some experience directing television shows, he used his editing on the film Georgia, Georgia (1972) as leverage to gain the opportunity to direct some of the additional footage on that film. MGM approached him with the script for Melinda (1972), and Robertson was more than interested. In this action piece, a black romance serves as one of the center points of the story, but beyond that point Melinda, by plot alone, serves as another example of the fare being offered during the early 1970s. The story follows a popular disc jockey, Frankie J. Parker (Calvin Lockhart), a swinging bachelor who ends a relationship with publishing executive Terry Davis (Rosalind Cash) to get involved with the mysterious Melinda (Vonetta McGee). When Melinda is murdered in Frankie's apartment, he becomes the main suspect for the killing. But more threateningly, Frankie becomes the target of a mob boss (Paul Stevens) and his thugs because Melinda has taped the mobster confessing to killing a union official. Having learned the martial arts from a local master (Jim Kelly), Frankie decides to go after the crooks himself to avenge Melinda's death. Along the way, Frankie and Terry connect again as a romantic item.
Shot in less than a month on a $650,000 budget,25 the film grossed $5 million by the end of 1972.26 Some critics saw it as a distinctive movie, while others placed it on the shelf with its action counterparts. In an off-handed praise for the filmmakers and the film, one critic remarked: "[Tjhree of the most outspoken black talents around—director Hugh Robertson, writer
Lonne Elder III, and actress Rosalind Cash—took one look at MGM's original script for Melinda and plunged into a battle that ended with the conversion of hopeless trash into stylish and diverting trash.''27
Melinda was the only Hollywood feature that Robertson directed. In 1974, he moved to Trinidad, where he formed a film company that included a training program for young black filmmakers. While there, he directed a number of documentaries and two additional features for his company— BIM (1976) and Obeah (1987). At the age of fifty-five, he died of cancer in his adopted country.28
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