Saturday, June 28, 2008

COTTON COMES TO HARLEM

We'd like to ask you a few questions

In addition to being a fast moving crime comedy, COTTON has some fairly deep political and cultural content. Author Chester Himes has constructed a story and characters that are built on classically African and pan-African modes of storytelling. It's a community story, with the instruction subtly woven into the fabric of entertainment. By the way, when we discuss African narratives, words like fabric, weaving and thread continually emerge but this takes us more deeply into the fractal and polyrhythmic underpinning of the African story than I am qualified to go into - hopefully someone smarter and darker complected than me will take up the subject.

Cotton is by nature raw and unprocessed, as is the thrust of my argument but isn't that what blogs are for? It is apparent when you see such scenes as Coffin Ed and O'Malley's fight backstage at the Apollo, amid the giant blown up photos of Stevie Wonder, Duke Ellington and other luminaries that this is film has more than meets the eye. Add to that the fact that a bale of cotton filled with currency is central to the story about racial exploitation from within. I particularly love the way the cotton narrative is cleaned, combed and refined into the stage act also called "Cotton Comes To Harlem" complete with the mob enforcer intruding in blackface and minstrel show garb.

As director, Ossie Davis does a fantastic job with the performers. The tone is all over the place from absurd comedy to serious social commentary, but that is very faithful to the fictional source. It's so unfortunate that Godfrey Cambridge (who always seems to be sharing a joke with the audience) and Raymond St. Jacques (who makes a great tough guy) both died young. Calvin Lockhart has never been better or better-cast as the crooked but undeniably charismatic preacher and it was great that Red Foxx' character got such a cool coda. I am really eager to see the sequel COME BACK CHARLESTON BLUE and read the Chester Himes novels I haven't gotten to yet.

2 comments:

Wiley said...

I looooove Calvin Lockhart. So glad we got to see this instead of a sex comedy.

George said...

I was thrilled to see this, especially after seeing the amazing trailer repeatedly.

It exceeded my expectations.