Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dreamgirls

Finally got around to watching Dreamgirls. Pretty good, if a little too feel-good-y towards the end. Eddie Murphy is just amazing in this. Probably the best thing he's ever done.

Seems the biggest complaint I hear about the movie is that it distorts the history of Motown and defames Berry Gordy, which seems pretty silly to me. It's obvious that the characters are not direct representatives of any real people, since James "Thunder" Early seems to be James Brown, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye at different points in the movie. So unless you think Aretha Franklin was one of the original Supremes, it should be pretty clear that this is a fictional narrative.

But I think it does express a larger truth about the history of soul music, the fact that the rough edges needed to be polished off in order to reach a wider audience. This isn't an exclusively black phenomenon (punk rockers need to smooth out their edges if they want to get on the radio, too), and I think you're on shaky ground when you start thinking of Otis or Aretha as "blacker" than Diana Ross or Smokey Robinson, but it does have an extra layer of meaning in the world of black musicians. There's so much to explore in this theme, and the movie was doing such a good job of exploring it, that I don't understand the decision to go for a warm, "We Are Family" ending.

My other complaint would be the songs. I think the songs are all very well executed in their arrangements and performances. They all sound great. But I don't think any of the songs actually ARE great, and only 3 or 4 of them are really good (I can only remember the words or melodies of two of them, and that includes the title song from the finale, which I think is a pretty bad song). A few of them sound more like show tunes than soul music, but even the ones that sound authentic aren't exactly memorable. For a musical, this is a pretty signifigant weakness, and keeps it from acheiving the classic status it might have if the songs were half as good as the classic soul music they're imitating.

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