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It's your basic touch that makes the roll... ain't all that hard... - Reverend Gary Davis, on how to pick like Blind Blake

Author Topic: Bessie on HBO  (Read 2867 times)

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Offline waxwing

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #30 on: May 10, 2015, 10:58:03 AM »
(and I for one contend there's never been one)





This truly great "blues" movie was discussed at length on Weenie Campbell here: http://weeniecampbell.com/yabbse/index.php?topic=8223.msg66826#msg66826

Wax
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Offline Stuart

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #31 on: May 10, 2015, 11:24:03 AM »
Here's the link to the entire film:



I'm interested in the "whole person" as well, but my question is will the HBO film be an accurate portrayal of Bessie's life as it was lived or that of the imagination of the screenwriters, film crew, et al, for the purpose of entertainment on commercial TV? Or some combination of both? To be fair, I'll wait and see.

Wax: Ever since I first saw the film at UVM  in the early 70's, I've been an aspiring tray spinner--Not there yet, but one can still dream, I guess...

Offline waxwing

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #32 on: May 10, 2015, 11:36:27 AM »
I noticed that, too, Stuart. That film is just such a celebration of spirit on so many levels and it amazes me that a film of black musicians was made at this time in history at all, but also that it seems to be of such better quality artistically than other films of the time. I posted on that thread, which was active while I was in school and too busy, just now so maybe it'll get a little more discussion.

Wax
"People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it."
George Bernard Shaw

“Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

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Offline iwbiek

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #33 on: May 10, 2015, 12:54:40 PM »
I stand corrected, and I am aware of that film, though I haven't yet seen it.  I guess I was thinking along the lines of a more recent feature film that truly does justice to the blues.  Or prewar blues, at least.  While I found it problematic in some ways, I did enjoy "Cadillac Records," but of course it's not about prewar blues.

Offline Stuart

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #34 on: May 10, 2015, 04:10:00 PM »
I  have  "St. Louis Blues" on the Kino "Hollywood Rhythm V.1: Best Of Jazz And Blues" DVD, which is unfortunately out-of-print. It contains many other excellent performances that are worth watching if you can find a copy.

http://www.venerablemusic.com/catalog/TitleDetails.asp?TitleID=4576

All of the "shorts' were made for the movie theaters and my guess is that they were not thought to be of great historical value when they were made. It's been a long time, but when I saw it at UVM (by accident), it was part of a film class and I vaguely remember the prof. pointing out and discussing the technical aspects of the film (as mentioned by Wax in the other thread).

Other films that may be of interest are those by Spencer Williams (Jr.). Some are available on Youtube and other sites. IMHO, the quality of the films is can be somewhat uneven, but worth watching nonetheless.

Offline jpeters609

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #35 on: May 14, 2015, 08:20:38 AM »
A review of the HBO Bessie Smith movie, from the Village Voice:

http://www.villagevoice.com/2015-05-13/film/hbo-bessie-review/
Jeff

Offline Suzy T

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #36 on: May 24, 2015, 09:35:35 AM »
So, did anyone see this movie and if so, what did you think?

Offline Mike Brosnan

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #37 on: May 24, 2015, 10:19:14 AM »
I struggled to make it through about an hour or so... I'll probably finish watching it someday while I'm cooking or cleaning or practicing. My low expectations were met. :)
I guess it could help expose more folks to good music, so that's positive. I'm not very knowledgeable about Bessie Smith, so I had to go to google to gauge historical accuracy. There seems to be a predictable amount of embellishment, but I did learn a couple things about her that I didn't know. Your mileage may vary.

Offline frankie

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #38 on: May 24, 2015, 10:49:54 AM »
I couldn't get through the whole thing in one sitting, either.

It was kinda forgettable. I forgot I saw it at all until this thread popped up again!

It seemed as if the movie suggested at the end that she actually performed at the Spirituals to Swing concert...  that would have been wonderful, but I'm pretty sure she had passed away before the first one took place. Admittedly, my attention had woefully flagged by the time the movie got to that point.

Queen Latifah's Bessie was not uninteresting, anyway (she can clearly sing, to boot, and spent some time with the source material), and it was fun to see Ma Rainey portrayed dramatically. Boy would they ever have got my attention if they had managed to squeeze a nod to the Pruitts, Papa Charlie Jackson or Blind Blake in there, but rabid country blues nerds are clearly not ANYONE's target audience. :) At least not anyone who expects to make rather than lose a buck.

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #39 on: May 24, 2015, 12:07:34 PM »
I was tired when I watched it, and like Frank and Mike note, this didn't do a great job waking me up, though the first 15-20 minutes did manage to get my attention, mainly because they hit you with a lot of music, Ma Rainey, and a brisk pace to the storytelling and editing -- the latter ultimately failing the movie in the end.

Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique were both very good in their roles and the music was not overly modernized. They didn't have the Pruitt Twins or nothin', but from what I recall,  it didn't sound like a bunch of contemporary jazz cats who couldn't give a rat's ass about the 1920s either. Chris Albertson gave the thumb's up to Latifah's interpretations of the songs in the NY Times, saying, "it's the closest I've heard anyone come to Bessie Smith."

The main problem with the film, like many biopics, is that there is just not really enough time to tell the story well in a two hour movie. I'm not even talking about the "right" story, whatever that is, just a properly paced interpretation that's able to develop some of the many threads that get introduced. It would quite possibly have been more interesting as a 2 or 3-part miniseries, something where the HBO format can really shine. Early versions of the script were supposedly based on Albertson's book, but how much of that remains is not clear, since it has been kicking around for decades. I suspect not a lot, but it doesn't mean his work was being ignored (or not known).

BTW, Queen Latifah was a producer who seems to have been calling many of the shots on this, the director is Dee Rees, a relatively young black woman, and the large cast is 95% African American, so as an example of racist Hollywood, the film is something of a failure.

It did make me curious to check out Rees' film Pariah, and I will probably watch at least some of Bessie again when less tired.


Offline Mike Billo

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #40 on: May 24, 2015, 01:14:17 PM »

   I too, couldn't get all the way through it.
   I have nothing good to say about it.

Offline Gumbo

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #41 on: May 25, 2015, 09:41:27 AM »
Watched it in one sitting and enjoyed it. I haven't read Chris' book so I guess I could suspend disbelief long enough to get into the story being told. It seemed to be making an effort to get all the highlights in, so i agree about the "too much in too little time' critique. I also enjoyed the scenes with Queen Latifah and Mo'Nique the most. They really got across a feeling of two strong dynamic people willing to have friendship and friction.The rest of the movie somehow didn't get the same edge. I felt the music was treated with respect and although I'd have loved more detail and songs I realise there would have been a risk to attempting that.

EDIT one thing that did bug me was how clean everywhere looked. Did they have no dust back then?

Uncle bud is your comment about racist Hollywood in response to something earlier in the thread? it seems an odd way to phrase it. I'm curious what you mean.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2015, 10:09:44 AM by Gumbo »

Offline uncle bud

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #42 on: May 25, 2015, 03:06:38 PM »
Hi Gumbo - yeah, just a reference to something earlier in the thread. Not to deny Hollywood's race issues (and sexism issues, and ageism, and ageism that leads directly back to the sexism). Just that with a black producer, director, and mostly black cast, this probably isn't a great example of it.

Offline stevedenver

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #43 on: May 26, 2015, 06:38:02 AM »
i watched it last night and enjoyed it.
i am fine with license to make a subject more entertaining.

i dont expect musicology 101.
it did give me great feel as to the impact of the blues in the era , as it became more widely available to white audiences.

i thought the vocals were great , but not bessie or ma.
i thought it conveyed the social environs for blacks as i percieve them...the wild west if you will. and a great period piece in terms of costumes etc...the us version of masterpiece theatre...with a bottle of hootch and a straight edge razor...

some of the scenes were gorgeous, one remniscent of r johnson in the hotel, in feel furniture and angle.

i look at this as another great way to bring a taster to a much broader audience, especially whites, young, and non blues listeners.

« Last Edit: May 26, 2015, 06:43:11 AM by stevedenver »

Offline CF

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Re: Bessie on HBO
« Reply #44 on: June 10, 2015, 06:08:03 AM »
Finally got around to this, I'm a big Bessie fan.
Yeah not much to say. Very standard story telling. Focusing on Bessie's alleged lesbianism (Ma's too). It has what I call a suffocating reality, the world translated comes across kinda small, scenes feel like they're happening on sets, the audiences seem overly receptive & movie 'on'. also, I'm pretty sure they conflated Ma Rainey with Gladys Bentley?? Ma Rainey didn't wear a man's suit & perform, do we know?
I'll never watch this again, I'd say.
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