GREEN BOOK (At the Multiplex: March 2019)

Green Book (2019)
D. Peter Farrelly

Minus the cursing, Green Book is one of those movies that could have been made in the early 60s when its story takes place. As such, the reaction to it has been more interesting than any mere movie can be in a cultural landscape reduced to rubble, where everyone is bound to be judged by the color of their skin and anyone who suggests character might have content is probably a fascist.

By modern (meaning primitive) lights, Green Book gets everything wrong, suggesting bad people are redeemable, that almost anyone can grow and learn given the opportunity, and Utopian ideals might be harder lived than dreamed.

Simple stuff, but nearly everyone who commented for a mainstream media outlet felt the necessity of preaching to their chosen choir. And the movie winning best picture at the Oscars just made them double down on the makeup of the Academy (too white, too old, too male–all the wins in recent years for black actors–including Mahershala Ali here, taking home a second consecutive win–and Mexican directors having been wiped out in a single instance of nostalgia for Driving Miss Daisy ethics and Martin Luther King’s old-fashioned New Testament “dream,” now as outmoded as the Founding Fathers whose creed he dared to summon).

But you’re here so you know all that.

How was the movie?

Excellent and glad you asked. Green Book goes after its simple targets with gusto and hits every single one. I’m grateful to my nephew and his wife for suggesting it when they visited because I probably wouldn’t have gone to see it on my own and I would have hated to have missed it. It makes me wonder if the ability to make a fine entertainment about the old, aspirational America is more common than I assume. It’s not every day a movie makes me feel like I should get out more.

The acting of the two principles (Ali, as the cultured black man and Viggo Mortensen as the vulgar white dude) is as good as advertised and, since it’s essentially a two-man drama, all it needs is a good script to give the project wings.

It’s a good script and the result is a grand popular entertainment that gets its messages across without making you feel you’ve been doused in holy water.

It’s the last that grates on the intelligentsia of course. One can almost hear them wrestling with the dilemma in the dark night of the Crit-Illuminati’s collective soul: People might enjoy something like this and be led astray by the temptation to feel as though we’ve reached the mountaintop–how can we put a stop to it!

If you want to see a good movie about race relations in the south during the last days of Jim Crow, and how two men dealt with it in a tricky, realistic situation, this is one I highly recommend. It’s better made and less tract-like than In the Heat of the Night or Do the Right Thing, and, oddly enough, feels more contemporary.

Beware, though: You might emerge from the experience thinking our problems are not insurmountable. It’ll be a good feeling, but take care who you share it with, lest Spike Lee be tempted to give some cross-burner your address.

DRILLING DOWN…BLUES AND ELVIS (Found in the Connection: Rattling Loose End #58)


Blues isn’t really a narrow form. Sometimes it can seem that way, but any proper definition of blues singing would, for instance include not just the likes of Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and Bessie Smith, but  Louis Armstrong, Hank and Lefty, Haggard and Jones, Ronnie Van Zant, Teddy Pendergrass and Marvin Gaye, Patty Loveless, Otis Redding, sixties’ era Charlie Rich, Percy Sledge, not to mention Jimmy Rodgers and Elvis. My own favorite unlikely blues LP is the soundtrack to Young Man With a Horn, a collaboration between Harry James and Doris Day which is as It’s-Always-3:00 A.M.-in-the-Dark-Night-of-the-Soul as any record you can name even if you go way further than I’m going here and drill down deeper than the top of your head.

That being said, any collection from the Bear Family titled The Roots of it All: Acoustic Blues is bound to be as thin as a hatpin stylistically. When the set runs to four 2-disc volumes that contain about twelve hours of music, you might think it would slog a bit.

I didn’t find it so.

I didn’t find it so, even though the set wasn’t quite what I thought I was getting when I picked it up cheap a while back. Having only perused the set list on the first two volumes to see what I was getting into, I assumed “the roots of it all” meant sticking to the narrow form’s heyday of the twenties through the mid-forties after which even the Delta moved to the city and electric guitars took center stage. Boy was I wrong.

Turned out the eight discs are dedicated to the decades stretching from the twenties to the nineties, with each decade treated in roughly equal measure.

And here’s the really amazing thing. Except for a small stretch at the end of disc seven, when Taj Mahal’s version of  “Fishing Blues” (not as warm or engaging as the Lovin’ Spoonful’s light-electric version from back in the sixties) ushers in a stretch of blues academia that isn’t entirely ushered out until Keb Mo’s “You Can Love Yourself” (a first cousin of Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party” speaking of unlikely blues) starts a strong closing run nine cuts later, it never, ever flags.

There are too many highlights to mention. If you like classic blues, you should just track down the sets and carve out some time and space to fully engage. I found the scariest stuff on Volume 3, which had versions of Muddy’s “Feel Like Going Home” and Skip James’ “Sickbed Blues” I hadn’t heard before plus a live version of John Lee Hooker’s “Tupelo” from his appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1960, whence the “no electricity” rule was evidently still in full force!

So I was going to hook you up with that, at least, (and I will), but when I went looking, I also found this…

..and was reminded that, until Spike Lee and Chuck D came along, it was almost never the artists who said stupid stuff about Elvis.

And, in case you think the world was ever simple, here’s the version from 1960….

,…with Hooker being accompanied by Spike’s dad on acoustic bass.

That’s just in case you ever wondered whether Spike actually has good reason to know better.