The Color Purple Reviews
Now at that time Spielberg had only directed (hugely successful) films in the main about fish with sharp teeth, aliens and 1930s archaeologists!
The Color Purple was perhaps his first seriius feature about a black community in the early twentieth century.
The film was notable not only for Spielbergs change in film directorial path but the screen debut of Whoopi Goldberg, the acting (yes acting) presence of Oprah Winfrey and other great performances from the likes of Danny Glover who I had only associated with the Lethal Weapon franchise.
The film is based on the novel by Alice Walker about a poor black community in particular the character of Celie (Oscar nominated Whoopi Goldberg).
Celie is a shy woman bullied by her mean husband Albert (Danny Glover) and long since split from her beloved sister and children (who were forcibly taken from her at birth).
Spielbergs first foray into more serious cinema is a success and would pave the way for the likes of Empire Of The Sun and Schindler's List perhaps his career zenith thus far which for such a successful director is no mean feat!
The film was also notable for being nominated for 11 Academy Awards and winning none! A record matched I believe.
Even so a good film none the less and one who's 150 minutes or so running time seems to fly.
Some parts are a bit too loud and off tone, the childish parts of Spielberg's imagination in conflict with his attempt to make a more grown up film. Loud red and yellow spilling across the wall as the tray comes flying out. The absurd way all the 'white folk' crowd around Sophia, diminishing the effect of that horrible moment she's butted with a gun. The Harpo barroom brawl. One moment that seriously works is the end musical, Shug returning to her father yet again, the usual crowd at Harpo's following, all singing that glorious tune "Maybe God is Trying to Tell You Something."
The question is raised whether or not God is vain as Shug suggests God would want his beauty admired, and would be upset to find people not admiring the color purple [as they walk through fields of purple flowers, same as Celie and her sister used to]. We're coming full circle, at once two young girls walking through life's beauty innocently, just being, and now with wisdom, intellect, a deeper sense of appreciation for their position in this place and time. Sets up our forthcoming empathic mixed emotions we'll experience for Albert, moving us in inexplicable ways amidst the drama of Celie's family reunion.
Empathy for Albert as he gets older and can't take care of himself. His father pays him a visit and starts going on about how he needs a woman. But Albert has learned something, he hears this echoing in his head, attributing to a mentality which has led to his dependence and ultimately this. He wants his father out of there, he's tired of him filling his head up with these ideas. This is a theme that's reverberated earlier with Harpo, who was fine being a loving husband towards Sophia until his father got in his head. Once that happened, it was ping pong abuse before Sophia took off with the kids, and we can thank daddy Albert for giving the first push that a man needs to declare his dominance in a household. We see this generational echo and it speaks to our evolution as a species, what gets passed along and carried over into the future, for better or worse.
The image of Shug walking towards the church as Celie's VO says she's more like honey and I was like a bee has stuck with me in the 12 or more years I haven't seen this film.
Train track to trailer wheel transition, very smooth. I hope she didn't really waste all those chocolate gold coins during some hallucination!
Montage, Celie reading Nettie's letters, seamless transitions. Looking at the sunset, seeing giraffes in silhouette; cut back and it's Albert and Harpo asking her to get them a cold drink. Sitting by the river, turns the other way, an elephant comes through the foliage. Celie sitting in church, which fades away as camera continues towards her reading letter; reverse angle, church is bulldozed by a company looking to build a 30 mile stretch of road through schools and churches, wrecking the society Nettie had previously mentioned was building.
Parallel montage between boys getting ceremoniously pierced and Celie prepping for a Sweeny Todd on Albert. Might've been too contrived for a purely cinematic moment, unnecessary as the cutting between Shug trying to stop her and Celie anticipating the act was enough. But I imagine in the book, this is probably another story from Nettie's letters that Spielberg and Mejes cleverly associated with the act of cutting and couldn't help but put their creative genius to action. I don't know that it adds any more tension or meaning, but it's kind of clever.
A reminder that Spielberg's best days were with the similar styled, and similar looking people, Allen Daviau (E.T., Empire of the Sun) and Dean Cudney (Hook, Jurassic Park). Daviau shot Color Purple and the use of full colors, vibrant palette, and painterly quality is ever present.
End shot of sisters playing their clapping game in silhouette of sunset as Albert walks past them in foreground.
Well acted and beautifully shot, The Color Purple delivers a sweet, poignant, and occasionally funny movie.