Kudos to Red Bank’s exquisite Two River Theatre for introducing me to the brilliance of August Wilson and his 10 play series over the years.
The majestic use of lots of words, homegrown people and rich culture, I quickly became enamored with each of these special Pittsburgh stories.
So when Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, set in the 20’s, came to the big screen recently, I was all over it. Add to it that it stars one of the worlds top 5 actors , Viola Davis (winner of an Academy Award, a Tony & an Emmy), it had to be very good. In recent years, she was in another August Wilson Film Fences with Denzel Washington which was spectacularly powerful.
Love August Wilson’s simple story lines and settings allow for deep digging into most characters. Don’t expect to be distracted by some special effects, setting or soundtrack. Simply turn on your ears and enjoy.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place just 1 day in a white Chicago studio with her band there to record an album. Ma’s band was composed of lifelong musicians and friends with the most marvelous of unique nicknames : Levee, Cutler, Toledo & Slow Drag. We get to know them so well and revel in their individual & and collective stories
This film features the last performance of the iconic bound actor Chadwick Bosman in the role of Levee. He slaughters it and is guaranteed at least a Best Supporting Actor nomination. He looks much skinnier/younger in this role and who knows the influence of the brutal cancer that took him earlier this year. Yet he does not look sick here at all and steals the film. This piss & vinegar musician is the youngest of the band by far, thinks he knows and is better than all. Has no real respect or interest in hearing the experienced words of wisdom from the older experienced black musicians surviving that very racist world. There are plenty of hints that he burns and crashes in short.
Shout out to the uber-talented Ruben Santiago-Hudson who wrote the screenplay and Brandon Marsalis composed the music. What a team!
Back to Miss Davis as Ma Rainey. Ma is REAL. She is not really pretty, definitely overweight, gold gapped team and more. But even in the caucasian, world she knows her talent and influence in the industry is near unmatched. She demands from all, black and white, loyalty and absolute respect for her wants & needs. She is the Queen and lets everybody know that it is her well earned right. And her singing style and power is elite.
This is my kind of movie. Not as good as the play but that is not a slight at all The magic and power of words presents on a stage unlike no other. Really hope the industry continues do more of Mr. Wilson’s historic plays.
Lots of powerful emotion in words and some action. Great stuff