Sunday, 29 July 2007

Black Snake Moan

I'm a bit torn by this interesting movie. It was a different kind of experience. The world it creates has been criticized by some as southern cliche, but it felt like an intriguing and somewhat believable world, even if it's necessary to grant some poetic license. The music helps makes the movie and the casting seems perfect. At the same time, I want to be consistent and point out that it's probably worthy of some of the same criticism that I aimed at Perfume, even though I didn't find it as disturbing.

(Mild spoiler warning). When I first heard about the basic premise of the movie, I wasn't sure how they could pull off such a crazy plot (decent old black man - Lazarus played by Jackson - chains up hot young nymphomaniac - Rae played by Ricci - to save her from herself). But they do work at making it somewhat believable. It's rural enough to believe there aren't eyes watching every move. He feels he's already at risk simply by the fact that he's a black man on his own finding a scantily clad, beat up, spaced-out white girl. They're both crazy enough, passionate enough and impulsive enough to somehow make you think it could happen. In another words, it's not like either character is meant to have much good judgment, so why wouldn't you think they would do something stupid?

What's a bit of a tougher sell is that the chains could accomplish for a sex addict the equivalent of what going cold turkey accomplishes for a narcotics addict. Bringing in the pastor helps provide a little more context for a believable healing. And the pastor is an excellent character - fearless and earthy as Lazarus is, but with a little more good sense.

But I criticized Perfume:Story of a Murderer for combining naked female bodies with murder in a way which could too easily stimulate some sick connections in some viewers. The sensual aspect at least could have been easily avoided. In a somewhat lighter way, Black Snake Moan could be guilty of the same thing. In fact, judging by the poster which I've included in this blog, they're even guiltier of being intentional about using the erotic appeal to sell the movie (based on the layout and the caption, 'everything is hotter down south').

It's hard to applaud the movie-maker's obvious exploitation of the scantily clad girl in chains, even when it's pretty clear that Lazarus is not doing it for his own gratification. (And I think they played his own temptations at just the right level.) Yet, somehow - perhaps because it is so obvious - it comes across as a more forgivable and less twisted exploitation than I felt was true of Perfume.

Maybe, the difference is also that in this film the element of exploitation is over-shadowed by the theme of redemption. As a viewer, instead of being drawn into the darkness of murder, you vicariously experience the resistance of temptation leading to the life-giving possibilities of self-control. Or, maybe I'm just trying to justify enjoying the movie.***

1 comment:

  1. I finally got around to watching Black Snake Moan. If you had liked it as much as I did, I probably would have done so sooner (i.e. your review made me want to give the film a chance but not make it a priority).

    I really like this film. It's far from perfect and the film does indeed feel like it has far too many cliches, but it is also a profoundly humanizing film (and I like humanzing films) that deals with pain and guilt and brokenness in unique ways. The redemption seems a bit simplistic but, for a raw independent film like this, with its unusual use of music (the "Black Snake Moan" scene was my favourite in the film and a classic film moment) that was somewhat forgivable. The "making of", which is excellent, describes the film as a fable and I think that puts things into perspective a little.

    The acting is great, the cinematography appropriate and the writing often very good. There is a deleted scene between Laz and the woman from the drug store that I wish had been kept in the film (though I can undersand why it was left out) and there is a great commentary on this scene about sin, salvation and community. There is another deleted scene in which Laz reads at length from the Gospels to a cooling Rea in the bathtub which also could have been left in the film.

    I certainly understand your concerns about the exploitation factor of having a semi-naked woman in chains at the heart of the film. The special features make it clear that the writer/director (Craig Brewer) was aware of this and that it was a careful and deliberate part of the fable, and I suspect the distributors were mainly to blame for the way this was used in advertising, but it does seem to push the boundaries of decency (for lack of a better word) a little too far. To put it another way, I don't feel comfortable with the audience which might be attracted to the cover and some of the content of this film. Nevertheless, I think the message of the film, cliched as it might be, is an important one and that this too might get through to whomever is watching it.

    A fascinating, weird, raw and different kind of film that gets ***+ from me.