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Cynique

Queen Bessie

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I've been looking forward to the much-hyped HBO bio starring Queen Latifah as the legendary Bessie Smith who was known as the "Empress of the Blues."  I am drawn to movies and books about the 1920's and 30's and this was why I was such a fan of HBO's "Boardwalk" series. Altho I was a young girl during the decade of the 30s, I totally relate to the on-screen depictons of this time period. I remember my Daddy had a car that looked like the ones in these old movies, and my mother wearing clothes of the style women wore back then. Our house even resembled the settings the way it was decorated with flowered wallpaper, and furnished with the wing-back chair,  club sofa and fringe-shaded lamps that occupied the living room along with a big floor model radio.  I also remember my parents talking about Bessie Smith and I'd later heard scratchy old vinyl records by her, amused by these renditions of the blues sung in her powerful voice.

 

Well, I finally caught "Bessie" on cable and although I appreciated how well her era  was recreated and captured by the camera, I wasn't that impressed with the story line. The actors, who included Monique in the role of Ma Rainey, another well-known blues singer,  did the best they could with their roles but the movie itself was just a series of episodes. There wasn't a lot of flow or character development. Personally, I didn't find this portrayal of Bessie's life that compelling. There wasn't even much footage devoted to her singing. And I'm curious as to why her tragic death following a car accident at the relatively young age of 43 was omitted from the story-line. One part I did like, however, was Bessie's encounter with the Harlem Renassiance literati, replete with brief appearances by black poet, Langston Hughes, and white author, Carl Van Vechten and someone who could've been Zora Neal Hurston. But - I'm going to give "Bessie" another shot and watch it again. Maybe it will resonate better with me the second time around and inspire me to upgrade my 2 star rating to a 3 star one.

 
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I just watched Bessie again and, as is often the case with me, when it comes to movies, I really need to see them more than once to get  the full effect.  Which is to say, I liked this film better after a second viewing, even if I did have to make certain assumption about the uneven story line. And upon reconsideration I would concede that Bessie Smith's life although maybe not compelling was at least hectic. I  liked the performances of all the supporting actors, particularly Monique, Charles Dutton, Mike Epps, and especially Khandi Alexander, the actress who played Bessie's sister, but -  I don't think the star of the movie ever transcended her own persona. She didn't become Bessie Smith.  She was Queen Latifa,  playing the role of Bessie Smith. - a girl from New Jersey, affecting the accent of a down home woman from the South, sounding more "street" than "country".  Out of a possible 4 stars, I now give the movie 3!

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