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Movies Revisited: Mo Better Blues

June 19, 2009


Even though this movie was highly anticipated when it came out, and I did indeed see it then, there were only a few details I remembered…the beautiful clothes, how pretty everyone looked, slightly crushing on Wesley Snipes (long gone, of course). But watching it again brought me a bit past my original superficial thoughts on the film.

For those of you who don’t know, the plot synopsis is this (from IMDB–not a very good one, sorry):

Opens with Bleek as a child learning to play the trumpet, his friends want him to come out and play but mother insists he finish his lessons. Bleek grows into adulthood and forms his own band – The Bleek Gilliam Quartet. The story of Bleek’s and Shadow’s friendly rivalry on stage which spills into their professional relationship and threatens to tear apart the quartet.

Like many of Spike’s films, I found parts of Mo Better Blues to be pretentious and cartoony, edging on corniness–the dialogue of the children in the scene where Bleek Gilliam, the main character played by Denzel Washington was a child, the overly studied and propped shots of “the hood” that would even be too much¬† for a photograph, the very familiar moving dolly shots that were part of Spike’s trademark.

For some reason this time around they were endearing to me, maybe because it was a woeful reminder that there is a severe absence in trademarks or style in today’s Black Cinema. There are some up and coming directors that are notable, to be sure, but none of them have established a familiarity of like, say, a Spike, Tim Burton, or Wes Bentley. Earnest Dickerson, the cinematographer on this film, was also on top of his game here–the colors, the crisp, professional look of the film, the surreal atmospheres, the intimacy of the jazz club, the way he made everyone look so lush and beautiful…even Spike almost had a handsome look in this one.

I got lost in the beauty of the movie, and wondered why I never crushed on Denzel back in the day. When I worked for The Studio That Will Henceforth Remained Unnamed, Denzel’s production offices were right downstairs, and I was never even remotely curious. After viewing this film, I wondered for the rest of the day what planet I must have been on….yes, he was deserving of the sex symbol hype he garnered in the 90’s–Denzel was hot as fish grease on the sun in this.

If this film were made today it would do gangbusters–the different moods of the film, from brooding, to comedic, to romantic flow very well together. The storylines–Bleek’s sometimes acrimonious relationship with his right hand and sax player Shadow (Wesley), the shenanigans and gambling issues of his manager, Giant (Spike), the two timing love relationships that he had with his women, Clarke (Cynda Williams) and Indigo (c’mon, really, Indigo?) played by the one mega-weak link in the film (besides Cynda’s anticlimatic “big” singing debut), Joie Lee, Spike’s sister…the storylines mesh and never overwhelm each other.¬†

I understand Spike has love for his sis, but I believe this would have been an infinitely even better film if a stronger, or at least more interesting actress would have been cast in her role. Joie’s personality (and I use that term loosely) seems to fade into the background; her look is different and while attractive in it’s own right, is not particularly big screen worthy. In her love scenes with Denzel she has zero sex appeal–she made kissing on him look like a chore…what was up with that? Maybe she was uncomfortable with her brother shooting her that way…if that was the case, someone really should have let the Assistant Director step in.

I must admit, because of the dearth of interesting Black film (interesting to me, anyway) I have found that lately, rewatching film that are 10, 20, 30 years old, that I have a much deeper appreciation for the work, time, and creativity for movies such as this one. Mo Betta Blues has moved up more than a few notches in my book–if you haven’t seen it, rent immediately–if only to reminisce on the comedic stylings of the late Robin Harris, the house comedian in the jazz club and to enjoy the jazzy score. Here is the trailer:

10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 19, 2009 11:14 am

    Yeah, I dug this one. Everyone seemed so damn cool.

  2. lenoxave permalink
    June 19, 2009 8:36 pm

    I dug this film big time. I’d never seen Black Folk represented in such a sophisticated manner at that time. Sh*t, it’s hard to find this level of sophistication today. I point to the same things as you and that’s the lighting, music, the relationships (as annoying as they were) and Denzel. He was just walkin’, talkin’, breathin’ sex back then. As for Joie, the less said the better. As with all Spike productions, heavy handedness abounds, but I still dig this film to this day.

  3. Rocky Horror permalink*
    June 20, 2009 10:05 am

    @max: didn’t they? i mean the absolute epitome of cool.

    @lenoxave: like the name! yeah, there was some typical spike heavy handedness, but for some reason there was only one semi-twitch of annoyance this time around…i like the way it just told a story, and was free from a bunch of heavy messages. And you’re right, it was pretty sophisticated Black Cinema…i’m longing for more!

  4. June 20, 2009 7:56 pm

    Why does everyone always knock Joie Lee. I think she is kinda sexy in a little Spike Lee lookin’, troll like sort of way. Is there something wrong with me?

    • Rocky Horror permalink*
      June 21, 2009 6:59 am

      Ummm..Spike Lee lookin troll? Do I need to answer? LOL

      No really, I think she’s very attractive, and in real life she is kinda hot (have seen her around a few times). But she is too low key in her acting, there’s no real personality going on, and the camera doesn’t really flatter her uh, “unique” attributes. Hopefully she is still working with Spike behind the camera…she really does look like a female version of him, doesn’t she?

  5. Sergio permalink
    June 21, 2009 3:21 pm

    Mo Better has always been one of my favorite Spike Lee films and you’re absolutely right. It makes an even bigger impact now with its cool sophitication when compared to the out right coonery in black films today. Why in the hell have we regressed instead of moving forward?

    Though I would definitely cut that “giving birth” shot in Mo Better. It’s always jarring how many you see it and uneccessary. What the hell was Spike thinking then?

  6. Sergio permalink
    June 21, 2009 3:26 pm

    P.S. And I always though Joie Lee was kinda hot too. I saw a picture of her taken just a few months ago at a fashion show and she’s still a looker but now with some grey in the huge mane of hair of hers that makes her even hotter.

  7. Rocky Horror permalink*
    June 23, 2009 3:17 pm

    @Sergio: I guess the birth shot was showing the evolvement of their life and family, but I have to admit it was my least favorite part of the movie, that montage.

    I would LOVE to be a fly on the wall on a date between you and Joie–I would pay money! lol

  8. May 19, 2010 4:04 pm

    Why are Softballs hard?

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