Friday, November 27, 2020

Movie with Abe: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Directed by George C. Wolfe
Released November 25, 2020

Musicians are usually talented, and bring with them a great deal of creative energy. While some are happy to be directed by others and defer to their artistic notions, many have strong opinions about their craft and the way that they should express it. Having more than one person who feels that they are right and things must be done in the manner they believe is correct can lead to friction during collaboration, which may help the process by infusing that much more passion into their work but can also lead to considerable delays and tension that adversely impacts it.

In 1927, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is coming in to a Chicago recording studio to sing her classic “Black Bottom” with her band. Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) and Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne) anxiously await the late arrival of their star while trumpet player Levee (Chadwick Boseman) argues with Cutler (Colman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) about whether he can use his arrangement instead of Ma’s. When she finally shows up with her girlfriend Dussie (Taylour Paige) and her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown), things only becoming more tense and complicated as dueling egos cause considerable frustration for everyone in the studio.

This film is based on the 1982 play of the same name by August Wilson, whose “Fences” was adapted several years ago and won Davis an Oscar for her performance. Its rhythm does very much resemble that of a stage production, but there is a tremendous amount added in this cinematic version, including vivid colors, backdrops, and camera angles that make it a dynamic story well worth viewing on any screen. The dialogue and the music work in concert to create an involving experience that, through casual conversation and comments that lead to deeper contemplation, reveals a great deal in a short period of time about the personalities depicted.

This film’s small ensemble is formidable, giving excellent supporting roles to underappreciated actors like Domingo and Turman. Davis makes an immediate impression in the film’s first scene as she sings her signature song, and the performance only gets better when she gets a chance to speak and make it known to anyone in her orbit that she doesn’t care what they think because she knows better. Boseman crafts a character just as sure of himself but with far less power to make anyone listen, and there’s something so sincere and confident about the way he carries himself and defends his opinions. It’s a career-defining turn for the actor, who sadly died at age forty-three this past August. This film should keep its audience captivated for the entirety of its ninety-four-minute runtime, actively interested in the discussions, motivations, and interactions of these characters, representative of a generation of influential artists intent on success despite the pervasive prejudices of their time.


No comments: