Headshot of La Cieca

Cher Public

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There ought to be a new word for camp

glum_janetTyler Perry‘s… For Colored Girls does feel like a ghoulish joke, a dated horror show bordering on parody. It’s both operatic and tone deaf, with explosions of hysteria that include a drunken Macy Gray performing a back-alley abortion and the conversion of a poem spoken by [Ntozake] Shange‘s Lady in Purple into an actual opera by Perry’s regular composer Aaron Zigman (called La Donna In Viola). During the opera, the film cuts back and forth between a doomed couple silently watching the performance (the husband is on the down low, unbeknownst to the wife) and another character being savagely date-raped.” [Time]

77 comments

  • Pelleas says:

    I suppose we’ll need to see how it’s staged before deciding whether it lives up to this, either.

  • paddypig says:

    Pheonix, I believe the mezzo you are talking about is barbara conrad. saw her sub for zajick once in the last act of AIDA at the MET, sadly her voice simply wasn’t big enough for the MET

    • phoenix says:

      paddy, you remembered her name. Thanks. but Barbara Conrad was so frightened that night, i don’t know whether you could tell or not, I could. she was was almost paralyzed with fear in that she could hardly get around the stage. Of course her voice tightened up to half of what it would have sounded if she had been relaxed. That’s not the way she sounded when I heard her as Azucena in Tulsa… although the Tulsa house was of course much smaller, her voice was much fuller in volume. It wasn’t her volume, however, that was so wonderful, it was her perfectly balanced legato line that never shred or went out of control… she literally sang the entire role, no histronics necessary.
      -- a friend of mine who knew Barbara Conrad at that time told me she didn’t really want to do it anymore so she went into something else.
      -- Thanks again for reminding me of her name.

      • Gualtier M says:

        Barbara Conrad was recently the subject of a documentary about racism “When I Rise”:

        http://www.statesman.com/news/austin-filmmaker-gives-life-to-singers-story-340862.html?cxtype=ynews_rss

        It actually was a fairly respectable career. I believe that recently she was working as a coach. There was a documentary on Marc Deaton, gay heldentenor “Becoming Tristan: A Tenor’s Journey” and it showed him coaching with Conrad.

        As for this movie -- it looks like they took something real, personal and raw and turned it into “women’s picture” soap opera. “Best of Everything” or the Douglas Sirk “Imitation of Life” type glossy bullshit (which I love with Lana Turner -- Lana we love you -- get up)

        • phoenix says:

          -- oH Lana at Juanita’s deathbed! Imitation of Life … I’ll never forget watching it for the first time at the Palm Theater on Central Avenue when i was just a little kid, poor Lana just cried & cried & she was sincere, not a fake. She may have had tremendous mood swings from here to hell, but she was what she was when she was it … she may have worn her heart on her sleeve & her private life on her peroxided bouffant, but she was SINCERELY bizarre!
          -- Thanks for the link to Barbara Conrad! i had heard later on that she went into teaching (again from the same friend who knew her… well, you know you need a pension in old age to supplement your social security, & from what i understand that was the major determining factor in her decision to “go into something else”, i.e. teaching). But no matter what anyone says, I still found her to be as great a singer as they say she is a teacher… it was just a bad night she had at the Met as Amneris in the Judgement Scene; she obviously wasn’t in the best of moods even as she entered the theater.
          -- As to what Mme. Conrad says in that particular article you were so kind to link me to … she knows that prejudice, like any contrived, corrupted twist of competition, will always be with us … it may change it’s designee, depending on the times, but someone will always try to pull it out of the hat particularly in hard times at another’s expense. Manipulation is an old human game, mundane existence seems to make people think that in order to preserve their own status quo they have to bring down somebody else’s.
          -- All we can do is to try not fall into the trap of doing it ourselves to someone else. You know racism is always exclusionary against someone, even if you think your are the victim, you are the one in the minority …

        • Thanks for the Conrad info, didn’t know of her and also the Marc Deaton piece. And look like any self respecting gay man I LOVE the Lana Turner Imitation of Life. I can not resist camp, its in my blood. What bugs me, and what La Cieca’s headline alludes to is the transformation of something like Shange’s play *into* a particular kind of unintentional camp. I probably would’ve been much happier had a collection of drag queens had done a revival of 4 colored girls and camped it straight to heaven instead of this monstrosity.

        • Nerva Nelli says:

          Next we’ll be hearing that Vicki Livengood is the Dixie version of Schumann-Heink. Miss Conrad had some powerful experiences, and I’ve heard worse mezzos ( one of them is singing Azucena at the Met currently) but I heard Conrad’s Carmen at NYCO and Preziosilla at the Met and she was not remotely distinguished in either role.

          • phoenix says:

            never saw Barbara Conrad as Carmen at the City Opera, nor as Preziosilla at the Met. Was she better/worse/about the same quality as what we heard last nite?
            -- Off topic: you mentioned Schumann-Heink… she settled in San Diego early in the 20th century and donated her land to what became the San Diego Zoo (first great zoo i visited as a toddler), so I am forever grateful to her. The story of her taking the train from her native Moravia to Dresden to sing one performance of Azucena at the SemperOper recalls Zajic’s days in NYC. Schumann-Heink had an early AM piano rehearsal so she had to take the evening train the day before, but she didn’t have enough money for a hotel in Dresden & had to sleep under a tree in the SchlossPark nearby SemperOper.

  • NYCOQ says:

    OK people why are we even doubting the fabulousness of LA JANET? She has survived that wacko-assed family of hers to become her own idividual self as an artist and human being. Let us not forget that when she signed her 80 million dollar contract with Virgin she was the highest paid female pop star at that moment. She is not a half-bad actress. Despite my severe dislike of Tyler Perry if it were not for his movies we wouldn’t even have the opportunity to critique her acting and those of most of the women who star in his movies. To be a 45 year old woman and still be relevant within pop culture is a feat unto itself. God bless her.

  • Camille says:

    Why does she have such a short hairdo?
    Is it necessary?
    She is such a gorgeous girl but she looks best with a longer ‘do.

    Why, indeed, has this taken so long to come to fruition? My spouse has been repeating this query endlessly the past week--he doesn’t have an answer, do you? And, after all these years won’t the original import be drastically changed and viewed through quite another gauzy lens? I mean, did they do it because now the topic can be neutered enuf to appeal to a broad box-office to sell adequately? I mean to say, I just don’t know.

    Anyways, in a world where Taylor Swift has just sold over a million records in the last week and there is a movie coming out about Elliott Spitzer’s sexploitation aventures and the Republicans are taking over again and Sarah Palin is a joke that may very well be ON us, and the possibility of her White House ambitions are no longer dismissed out of hand, WELL, hell, what can anyone expect to happen?

    • La Cieca says:

      “fruition”

      heh.

      • Camille says:

        I do not understand, Cieca.
        Perhaps I should have first read the article, which I now have.

        Also, I have just returned from your Musical American blog piece. Cannot say anything as I don’t know this work, except tangentially, through TiT, but I have a strong intuition you may be right. Martin Bernheimer, eminence grise that he has now become, has effusive outbursts about stuff, like Bubbleina’s bel canto in the late 60′s, that I’ve learned to distrust, albeit some great qualities as a critic, I take him with a grain of salt.

        I don’t know if you are right or if you are wrong, and I will not be able to see this production, but I have a sneaking suspicion you could be, at least in part, right on target.

        In spite of the fact La Cieca is blind she often sees further than all those one-eyed kings populating Gotham, strange to say. Guess that’s what started all this, huh?

        • phoenix says:

          Is she truly blind or is that just a rumour? Do you have any proof? If she is truly blind, then obviously that is source of her insight.

          • Camille says:

            Of course, phoenix, she is blind, that is the source of her insight. I know,because I’m her daughter, “Son La Gioconda!”.

            Two of the most sighted persons I’ve known are blind: one’s a composer and a musician and the other was my dear departed nonna, who could sense from the way the air stirred around them when they walked in, what kind of person they were.

            Gotta go.

            Lots of fun you are, phoenix. I’ll keep La Sonnambula and you keep Khovanschina if we ever get a divorce.
            Camilly

    • NYCOQ says:

      Camille: It speaks volumes that the only person who could get this movie made was Tyler Perry, but it also speaks to the fact that for 40 years Hollywood did not see the need to bring this story to light. I can not even begin to speculate on the conversations that have taken place over the past 4 decades concerning this movie. I can only assume that until Tyler Perry ponied up some of his own cash the general consensus was that “that nobody wants to go see a movie about abused black women”.

      • Well they greenlighted Precious, Beloved and The Color Purple though. And that speaks volumes as well doesn’t it. 4 Colored Girls doesn’t feature black men victimizing black women in the horrific ways those movies do. And I speak as a huge fan of those books and movies.

        But why hasn’t a book like Octavia Butler’s Kindred, for example, made its way to the big screen? Why did we have to watch Halle Berry in a marginal TV version of There Eyes Were Watching God? And why do we have to accept this Tyler Perry soap opera-ization of Shange’s work. For whatever reason Hollywood is willing to greenlight heart wrenching stories of intra-racial violence and abuse, a constant theme in Perry’s work, but has little to say about the black women’s experience in other contexts. I think they underestimate white audiences though. Kindred would be a hit.

        • Camille says:

          Very true and point well taken, ON.

          Why has Goldberg not gotten more dramatic parts? I am not so keen about her comedic talent as I was of her portrayl in the Purple film, which impressed me and greatly moved me. She should have won the Oscar, just my three cents.

          • NYCOQ says:

            If you look at Whoopi’s first decade or so of work she alternated drama with comedy every other film. She did some very good work, but her more minstrely roles seemed to have gotten more attention. It’s show business people -- whatever makes money gets made or remembered. Tyler Perry has a net worth of 350 million and his movies cost 10 to 20 million to make and usually gross 60 to 80 million dollars. Lets just hope that this phase in Hollywood opens up opportunities for other more subtle directors to come to the fore.

        • NYCOQ says:

          “They” greenlighted Precious? It was a very small budgeted movie that did not get major national attention until Tyler Perry and Oprah became involved with the marketing and distribution. I might add that the director of Precious has been around for decades making highly intelligent, artistically challenging movies that don’t resort to buffoonery and cliche. Oprah financed Beloved 100%. There was a major outcry when Steven Spielberg first broached making the Color Purple. He also got Amistad made and that’s pretty much it for historical or serious issues movies of the past 30 years. Oprah was involved in the financing, acting or marketing of all of the movies that you mentioned.

          Parterre is probably not the place to go into media and racial politics in America, but I will admit that I haven’t seen this movie yet, but I will on Saturday. I am casting stones, but the least I (and those who are critiquing the movie) can do is see it before making sweeping judgements. Who here has seen the movie?

      • Camille says:

        Well, I would, and I’m a very old white lady.

        Thank you for your response, NYCOQ, as I always enjoy your reasoning.

        Once, years ago, I had a friend whose father was from Ghana and mother was a jewish girl from Venezia. She was born is London, natch, as both her parents were there on scholarship. She was also lesbian. So, for her, the dilemma was: whom do I belong to, which side should I take, and basically, WHO AM I? (Oh yes, that’s where I learned about Shirley Bassey!). Well, one day Audrey said something to me which was stunning and incomprehensible at the time but which later I have come to understand and deeply appreciate, one day she said she had finally solved the enigma, she said “I’M COLOURLESS”. I’m sorry and apologize if I ruffle anyone’s agenda but we all do bleed red blood, don’t we?

        • NYCOQ says:

          And Camille that’s a beautiful summation: we all bleed red blood.

        • oedipe says:

          Sorry, people, but “universalism” is one of those utopic notions that, like communism, look good on paper but should not be put into practice.
          Universalism simplifies and distorts. The world is still composed on one hand of big, powerful countries with strong cultures and, on the other hand of small, weak countries whose cultures are unfamiliar to people outside their borders. When the levelling force of “universalism” is applied, whose Weltanschauung comes out on top, do you think, and what happens in the long run with the small cultures?
          And I don’t believe either that idiomatic singing and interpretation in opera has somehow become irrelevant, that there exists some sort of universally good interpretation. Just try imagining ideal casts for Billy Budd or Boris Godunov and see how many Italian or French singers, past or present, come to mind! The scarcity of good “native’ singers at any given time doesn’t change the reasoning.

  • sfmike says:

    The real question is where this movie is on the camp scale? Is it boring camp like “The Wiz” or “The Bodyguard” or is it fun camp like “Waiting to Exhale” or “Showgirls,” or what Jon Waters once called the most outrageously offensive camp ever distributed by Hollywood, namely “Mandingo,” which came out about the same era as “Colored Girls…”

    It was obvious that the combination of Tyler Perry and Shange’s 1970s period piece was a marriage made in hell before he even filmed a frame. I personally can’t wait for the DVD, and hope to have a viewing party with really smart, mean people of all colors, creeds and sexual preferences.

    • phoenix says:

      Oh that Mandingo! My roomate read that paperback the film is based on over and over again until it shredded like Mandingo did when they cooked him up at the end of the book. Roomate couldn’t shut up about it, he talked about it almost every night. When the finally movie came out, he was there the first day to see it. I wouldn’t go because I really didn’t like the whole premise of it & most of all the gory details (i mean like if it was a genuine romance without the societal prejudices & Mandingo actually wanted to get cooked up as an act of passion, i would not have minded it, but that’s not how the story went).
      -- I don’t know what my roomate was expecting (after all, it was a Hollywood movie in the early 1970′s) when he came home he said it wasn’t as good as the original paperback… “Blackula” he said (which we had both seen) was much better.

      • phoenix says:

        correction! it was about 1977-78 that movie Mandingo came out, not in the early 1970′s, so it actually postdates “For Coloured Girls” — and yes, john water’s correctly termed it offensive, but almost everybody i know except me went down to see it.

        • Harry says:

          The IMDb Film Directory lists Mandingo’s release as 1975.

          • phoenix says:

            sorry, i guess i was wrong on both estimates. it came out at the same time as “For Coloured Girls” (coincidence or just timeliness?)… but what a difference between the two!@&$!#!

      • Harry says:

        How Time marches on and things are forgotten.
        I had friends who went to the premiere opening of that sickening shocker, Mandingo… down in the Deep South. They said they felt very uncomfortable with the nasty generated mood from some of the audience, in parts of the theater. The moment it finished, they felt they needed to high -tail it out of there as quickly as they could go.

        Who remembers the ‘rot’ that went on with 20th Century Fox’s ‘Island in the Sun’ back in the 50′s? Harry Belafonte and Joan Fontaine sharing a polite kiss….or the Joan Collins daughter character being told ‘re-assured’ by mother that it was alright to marry Stephan Boyd….that she was not ‘mixed blood’ after all. (What a fucking blatant safe / smug plot device to use!) Due to Mother having conceived her whilst having ‘a quiet affair’ with a different man instead of James Mason the supposed father( his character having hidden mixed blood).
        And Deep Southern theater exhibitors were actually threatened with a $1000 fine, (big at the time) if they showed the film for fear of stirring up the red necks!!!!!

        Take Richard Rodgers’ musical of ‘No Strings’ at the start of the 1960′s, containing mixed race romance with Richard Kiley and Dianne Carroll. One reviewer cleverly remarked “Things are looking up……at least this time around. For once, such lovers are allowed to walk away …in one piece, without someone dying!”

        Every time on the screen, I see people of mixed race in a equally based relationship situation then have a ‘loving rip roaring free for all sex go’ ..I want to stand up and cheer!

        • armerjacquino says:

          Well, who *doesn’t* like a ‘loving rip roaring free for all sex go’, that’s what I should like to know.

          I wonder which language it was in before it went into Google Translate.

  • NYCOQ says:

    Are we really comparing Mandingo to the Pulitzer Prize winning play For Colored Girls?

    • CruzSF says:

      Consider the source.

    • phoenix says:

      well, what can i tell you? that’s the way it was in those days.

    • ….today I’m working on calmness and understanding.

    • Harry says:

      No different to comparing it to say the empowered figure of Cleopatra Jones. As time goes on with changing enlightenment,looking back we may see plays, books and films once regarded in their time as ‘worthy breakthroughs’ of one sort or another, on then particular pressing subjects. Now, that they have become historical objects, upon reflection they may or can become unintentional ‘ forms of self -stereotyping’ on their very same subject matter, FOR their Time. .

      Take Westside Story..it is 53 years old: its original premise is dated to buggery. If we were today looking at it (as when it was new in 1957) we time-wise, would now be looking back at that musical -- in a historical perspective -as if it was first composed in 1904! Simple arithmetic! It is ‘dated in every sense -well and truly’.
      I.E: How uncool, how unhip today is Westside Story?… Is the saying “Hey, Cool… Man!” or its full flared frocks on the girls, and its mambo rhythms, modern by any chance?

  • Harry says:

    amerjacquino: Ha! Who but the reticent minded British would have a play and film ridiculously titled “No Sex Please, We are British’ or originate that saying “Just look up at the ceiling instead, and think of Mother England”? I personally also equally found their qualified attitudes to all things sexual: just boring and but mere honed C- teasing exercises.
    Jeepers the rest of us then must be, lusty dirty minded unashamed types who love it ‘lights on’ with no posturing qualms about getting down to business.

    • armerjacquino says:

      I was talking to a Greek chap from Faliraki the other day. He doesn’t go home any more, because of ‘all the British, always drunk, always fucking in the streets’.

      That’s one extreme. Your mental frothing is the other. You really do yourself no favours every time you reveal the extent of your bigoted hatred for a country you clearly know naff-all about.

      • Cocky Kurwenal says:

        LIKE

      • Harry says:

        I don’t have to defend any charge of ignorance. Since they have exported enough representative samples, for anyone elsewhere to probe and profile the many recurring attitudes, in too many of the samples provided.

  • NYCOQ says:

    Forget the Tyler Perry movie. Have any of you seen the play? Read the play? Cleopatra Jones? Blackula? Aside from these things starring black people in the 70′s I am still trying to make the connection between blaxplotation films and serious theatre.

    • I’ve seen the play three times and own it. I haven’t seen C. Jones or Blackula, but I have seen and enjoyed some Pam Grier movies including the women in prison ones. And the connection between black feminist theater and blaxploitation films only works for people who have no ability to see beyond the presence of black bodies on the stage/screen. Its like when people act as if Verrett and Bumbry were somehow mutually exclusive of each other. There’s about as much relationship between Shange and Shaft as there is between Arthur Miller and WWF, but don’t ask some people to ever understand that.

      • sfmike says:

        Dear Neophyte: You’re confusing your genres. Blaxploitation films were cheap indie B-films while “Mandingo” was a Dino de Laurentis big-budget movie with stars like james Mason in it. The latter, which was breathtakingly terrible and offensive, was based on a series of pulp novels that were sort of gory-porno versions of “Gone With The Wind” with lots of miscenegation. I never read one but remember seeing “Falconhurst Fancy” in drugstore book sections everywhere in America. I also have never seen “For Colored Girls…” nor have I read it. 70s feminist theatre, from any race, has never been one of my favorite genres, so to speak.

        So let’s take the black comparisons out of it, and get to the heart of the question. Is this bizarre movie combination of Tyler Perry and Shange as campy as “The Joy Luck Club,” for instance? See it yourself and tell us.

      • NYCOQ says:

        ON I will confess to absolutely loving the Cleopatra Jones movie series, but that comes from being a gay kid in the 70′s and worshipping strong female characters like Cleo and Wonder Woman. What is increasingly irritating is that pretty much no one on this blog but me and you even know what a travesty it is that Tyler Perry was allowed to get his hands on For Colored Girls. Our hostess has pointed it out, but I guess it’s cultural. I grew up knowing about this play. We did excerpts from the play in our Humanities class in high school. Every black girl I knew in thetare in college was dying to do this play because of the varied roles in this play in a landscape of pretty much nothing for black women in 80′s & 90′s.