Nov 5, 2010

SO GLAD I DON'T HAVE TO SEE*: For Colored Girls

"A thunderous storm of a movie. The film is based on Ntozake Shange’s electric play, the self-described choreopoem “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf.” Inspired by “our mothers,” including Isis, Zora Neale Hurston, Anna May Wong and Calamity Jane, the work, first staged in 1974 as a work in progress and performed ever since, including on Broadway. It is a classic of its unapologetic feminist era, consisting of some 20 poems accompanied by choreographed movement and music, including a blast of Martha and the Vandellas. The characters are seven chromatically differentiated women (brown, yellow, purple, red, green, blue and orange) from points across the country, who recite “dark phrases of womanhood” (the first words in the play) involving infanticide, incest and other horrors. (Mr. Perry adds two more women.)"
A play? A choreopoem? Dark phrases of womanhood? Infanticide, incest "and other horrors?" Someone is surely pulling our leg, but no. This film — or adapted choreopoem — actually exists.

"Throughout the film the characters move among realisms (kitchen sink, sudsy soap, exaggerated theatricality), connecting and separating, initially alone, though increasingly in synchronous harmony... Juanita picks up the pieces and with dry eyes and musicality recites some of Ms. Shange’s signature lines (“somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff”) to a room of women chiming in with sisterhood — woman to woman — that is the play’s heart. There are roughly managed patches, including a rape that Mr. Perry crosscuts with an opera performance being watched by another character. The editing muddles his intentions, yet the assault, however awkwardly framed, contains an astonishing detail of the flailing victim fixing her eyes on a clock, waiting for an eternity to end. It’s a brilliant encapsulation of how life sometimes freezes in time."

Moving between realisms? A room of women chiming in with sisterhood? A rape cross-cut to an opera? Any one of these things, on their own, would be enough for me not to see this movie, but all together like this, condensed into one non-ticket? I'm tempted to make this my proudest miss off the year. Yes, Dinner with Schmucks and Book of Eli snuck through my defenses (one I had to review for Slate, one I saw on a plane, so they don't really count), and The Last Airbender, Jonah Hex, The Bounty Hunter and Killers all delighted me by staying resolutely unseen. The trouble is that most of those movies were consensually bad, thereby robbing the process of ducking them any real tactical skill. What makes For Colored Girls such an intensely pleasurable near-miss is the respectful raves it is drawing, thus bringing one's highest counter-critical faculties into play. It is the film I am most grateful, on a daily basis, for not being forced to watch this year. I will go about my day — go to Kinkoes, then to lunch, before rejoining my wife for tea — at all points grateful not to be suddenly catapulted into a movie theatre in which Tyler Perry's opus is playing. It may be the end of the weekend before this one starts to wear off, as it will, of course: no matter how hard you try, the gratitude never lasts. Thank God for You Tube, where I've just found the trailer, which features the line "brown, braided woman, become yourself", some sawing cellos and a shot of someone vomiting into a trash can. Do they want anyone to see this film? Oh Joy Unbounded that there is no law to make me.**

* An occasional series devoted to one of the most important aesthetic decisions a movie-goer can make. It is this blog's contention that the swampy substrata of hints, intimations, and precognitions sent off by a film in advance of its arrival, as imbibed via reviews, posters, and TV spots, allow viewers to reach conclusions every bit as rich as those they make within the movie theatre.

** The estimable James Wolcott offers a heads-up on the forthcoming Black Swan:—

"If Tom thinks that's daunting, just wait until he gets wind of the gruesome scene in Black Swan in which Natalie Portman, crushed backstage beneath a collapsed set for 127 hours, saws off her own leg and triumphs as the first peg-leg Odette/Odile, accepting an Academy Award at the curtain call. At least that's what I hear happens, though my source may not have been the most reliable, given his or her record of narcotics."


  1. Ha! Totally agree.

    BUT: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger? Surprisingly entertaining!

  2. point taken — maybe a TV watching lies ahead

  3. Since the whole point is you haven't seen the movie, seems what you're reacting against is stuff WRITTEN about the movie, which the filmmaker bears no responsibility for. Whose to say the film actually does "move between realisms", whatever that means?

    What you've actually hit on here is the way criticism intended to make something sound appealing can have the opposite effect.

  4. Should read "who's to say", obviously...

  5. I'm reacting to both the review and the film. I wasn't saying that the review was no help at all. I'm not so mistrustful of Dargis that I would risk buying a ticket. There are reviews out there which don't allow me to form nearly so clear an idea of what the experience of watching the movie would be like. But Dargis was uncannily helpful in her evocation of that experience. I'd just flip the adjectives through 180 degrees, and use "wretched" where she uses "thunderous."