Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Movie of the Week: St. Louis Blues (Review)

St. Louis Blues (starring Bessie Smith) was the featured movie for the week of Feb. 17-24.

In this all-black cast short, legendary blues singer Bessie Smith finds her gambler lover Jimmy (played by Jimmy Mordecai) messin' with a pretty, younger woman (Isabel Washington); he leaves and she sings the blues, with chorus (Hall Johnson Choir) and dancers. [IMDb]


I have a whole lot of positive things to say about this short film. I really did love it. I found it heartbreaking, soul-stirring, inspiring, and powerful.

From NPR

There was nothing particularly special about the direction or the cinematography (that stood out, anyway), but it really didn't any special camerawork--not even set/costume design. The entire look of the film was pretty simple and simplicity is all it needed. 


The first performer who stood out to me was Isabel Washington as "Jimmy's girlfriend". Ms. Washington wasn't in the film for long, but those few moments immediately made me wish for more acting roles from her. 

"Jimmy" and his "girlfriend" (Jimmy Mordecai & Isabel Washington)

Now, either Jimmy Mordecai was an extremely good actor (and deserving of more acting credits to his name, but you know how that goes) or he was a bit too familiar with the role of "Jimmy the Pimp". I won't assume the latter, however. Mr. Mordecai didn't give the most memorable performance, but nonetheless, it was still memorable. 

After a tussle with "the girlfriend", Bessie confronts Jimmy

Now, onto the performers and performances that really moved me emotionally, mentally, and physically (there's a big grin on my face as I type this)...

From the little bit of footage that we have of Bessie Smith--this film--I will say that the "Empress of the Blues" wasn't the best screen actress. HOWEVER, the woman could interpret and perform a song like no other! Her performance of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" with the Hall Johnson Choir nearly moved me to tears. I was mesmerized. I felt Bessie's pain.

Ms. Smith and the Hall Johnson Choir complemented each other beautifully. The choir gave their all and sang as powerfully and passionately as Bessie Smith, yet, they didn't overpower her, and the exact same thing could be said about her as well. If perfection could be heard, Bessie Smith and the Hall Johnson Choir singing "St. Louis Blues" is what it would sound like. 

Overall Thoughts

Whether they were great actors, great singers, great musicians, or great dancers--St. Louis Blues (1929) was running over with talent. Like I said before, I have very few negative things to say about this film and I highly recommend that you check it out. Immediately.

(The film is also available in parts on Youtube - PART I - this video (and its second part) is the source for the GIF images created above)

Also, please check out my Reflection on St. Louis Blues.

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