Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Movie Review - Stormy Weather


I’d never heard of this film until my dad stumbled across it on ebay – since it was fairly cheap and he loves jazz, he got it. And I can’t tell you how glad I am that he did!

20th Century Fox and MGM took quite a risk producing and releasing a film with an all black cast back in the monochrome days (although the entire female cast actually look more white than black), and for this alone it deserves a place in film history. But this is also great entertainment.

You mean there’s a plot? Well… nearly…

That’s right – it’s great entertainment, but not a great film. The plot (very loosely a biopic of the star Bill Williamson (whose stage name is Bill “Bojangles” Robinson) is rather haphazard and corny. But that’s not important – even the blurb on the back of the video says that the thin storyline is really just an excuse for lots of singing and dancing. (And although a lot of humour shines through, I’m not quite sure how much of it was actually intentional!) Oh there’s an angle on a love story too, with singer Lena Horne (playing singer Selina Rogers). Most of the film is told in a series of flashbacks, with Bojangles relating his life to a bunch of kids. Don’t expect much in the way of characterisation or plot development, that’s all.

What it’s really all about

So much for the plot. But what matters here are the songs, the music, and the dancing. If you like jazz you’ll love it. There are some tremendous musical performances here, from the sultry Lena Horne’s rendition of the title song (accompanied by an impressive visual sequence), to the rather scary trousers of Cab Calloway. Even scarier (but very funny and musically brilliant) is Fats Waller, whose performance of “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is just wonderful. There are many other great performances (in fact I can’t think of a bad one), but Fats Waller was the one that really stood out to me.

The dancing is also brilliant and some (particularly by the unnervingly flexible Nicholas Brothers) brought tears to my eyes. (Well how would you feel about watching two guys leap over each other down some stairs – doing the splits on every landing!). Bojangles does a fair bit of dancing as well, and boy can he dance!

Serious bit

Well, so far this review reads like a list of songs, singers and dancers. Which is as it should be, since that’s what the film itself is. Though it features an all black cast, I’m really not too sure what the black population itself would think of this. It portrays them as real people (as far as there is any characterisation at all), but the stereotyped images are all there. It tends to put them across as happy-go-lucky, talented individuals but not too bright. (Okay this sort of film rarely makes anyone look intelligent…).

But that’s really being analytical. The film is really about jazz, and it was the darker-skinned portion of our race that invented this wonderful music form. And I, among many other members of the lighter-skinned portion of the human race, am eternally grateful for that.

Jazz fans only though

If you like jazz, you’ll love this. I love jazz so I thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, if you don’t like jazz this may hold merely a vague interest to you as an example of the attitudes of the time it was made.

Video Clips from Stormy Weather - hear Lena Horne and Fats Waller sing, see BoJangles and the Nicholas Brothers dance.

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