Arbelos announces a new 4K restoration of Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s nearly forgotten landmark of Black indie cinema, Chameleon Street. Winner of the 1990 Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Chameleon Street tells the caustically hilarious, stylistically audacious, and true story of William Douglas Street, Jr., a con artist who successfully impersonated a Time Magazine reporter, a Yale student, and a working surgeon. Written, directed by, and starring Harris, Film at Lincoln Center just announced the restoration will have its World Premiere at the New York Film Festival in their Revivals section.
Chameleon Street garnered critical acclaim during its limited release in 1991, with Vincent Canby of The New York Times notably heralding Harris as “a triple-threat new filmmaker of original and eccentric talent.” The film has remained largely unavailable aside from an out-of-print VHS edition and a DVD released in 2007 (now also out-of-print), which nevertheless sparked a rediscovery by a handful of contemporary critics and programmers. Writing for the BFI in 2020, writer and programmer Ashley Clark called it “A lost masterpiece of black American cinema,” while Time Out London lauded the film as “one of the most provocative and adventurous American movies ever made.”
The long-overdue 4K restoration of Chameleon Street was completed from the original camera negative and sound materials by Arbelos and supervised by Harris himself.
“For over 30 years Chameleon Street has been kept on life-support by supportive critics and film festivals,” said Harris. “Arbelos has masterminded an outstanding 4K restoration of CS from original elements. And I want you to know that Chameleon Street has never looked or sounded so resplendently beautiful.”
The restoration is the latest bold re-discovery from Arbelos, the boutique distributor and restoration company behind recent 4K restorations including Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971), Béla Tarr’s Satantango (1994), Nina Menkes’s Queen of Diamonds (1991), and The Juniper Tree (1991) starring Björk.
“Chameleon Street is an undeniable masterpiece that by all rights should have had its moment in the sun long ago,” said David Marriott, Arbelos co-founder. “The film is every bit as relevant and accomplished today as it was in 1990 when it won Sundance. This gorgeous new 4K restoration is primed to bring the great Wendell B. Harris Jr.’s landmark film to a new generation of audiences.”