Sunday, March 6, 2016

You Go for Me

I'm white and gobsmacked.

As someone living in the era of #OscarsSoWhite, how is it even possible that in 1954, Hollywood made an all-black film with Otto Preminger directing and Darryl Zanuck financing, using Bizet's score and Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics?

How, how, how?

I didn't go for any of those reasons, I went to Bowtie's screening of "Carmen Jones" because I'd never seen a  Dorothy Dandridge movie and I wanted to correct that. What I hadn't expected was a film without a single white face, not that I'm complaining.

But for all the CinemaScope films I've seen, for all the '50s musicals, for all the Hammerstein lyrics I've heard sung over the years, never have I seen it done with a black cast.

It felt audacious just watching it 62 years later.

Yet, in many ways, it was also refreshing seeing an Eisenhower world occupied solely by something other than whites. The army base was all black, as was the bustling neighborhood in Chicago, the parachute factory, the attendees at the big prize fight.

I'm talking about a world where patrons at a backwoods North Carolina bar go crazy for a drum solo, hollering, "Go, Max, go!" and it's Max Roach playing the drums.

Just as startling were the usual outlandish conventions of the Hollywood musical, such as Carmen working at a factory wearing a black off-the-shoulder blouse and a fitted orange skirt with a major thigh slit in it. Prisoners on the army work gang toil shirtless, their oiled well-muscled torsos gleaming in the sun.

But who minds skimpy outfits and half-naked men when you're watching beautiful people like Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge?

Far more disconcerting was watching them sing and hearing other people's voices come out of their mouths, voices of people who could sing the operatic score with 20th century lyrics ("You Talk Just Like My Maw") that apparently they couldn't.

Ah, but that's old-school Hollywood, where characters such as Pearl Bailey say things like, "I hate it when hip chicks act like dumb clucks" and mean it.

But the best advice comes from none other than hot tomato Carmen herself, who gives meek, little Cindy Lou the best advice on men.

"Bait your hook for fish you can fry." Amen, honey. There's no point in going after any other kind.

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