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Black Snake Moan

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This Film Society of Lincoln Center review of Black Snake Moan contains rather explicit language and description... and it promises that this could become one of the more volatile subjects onscreen in 2007.

It's from the director of Hustle and Flow.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Wow. I actually shed a tear.

And I enjoyed the depiction of religious faith, such as it is, much more than I thought I would.

But oh, my, yes, there are exploitation elements here. And some strange shifts in tone, even after we think things are moving towards some sort of resolution. And yet somehow I can accept that it all fits within an authentic, if somewhat exaggerated, concept of "the South". And I can definitely appreciate that the film kept me on my toes. It all felt very unpredictable. It felt like a film where you really want to celebrate when things go right (which is not to say that they always do...), because you were all too convinced that things could go very, very wrong.

I am very curious to see how this film will fare when it comes time to vote on the year's "spiritual" or "redeeming" films NEXT year.

I guess I'll have to see Hustle & Flow finally, huh?

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Well, I won't be going around recommending this one too much, but wow... I cannot deny that the conclusion is really powerful.

At first I thought the film's morality-tale framework was just an excuse to turn Christina Ricci loose in a skimpy outfit. But in the film's last half-hour, it suddenly turns into something much more ambitious and artful. Poetic, even. And I agree with Peter, the ending is surprisingly unpredictable. I was sure I knew where it was going, but it went somewhere so unexpected that... well, I'd better not say any more.

The film's last sequence, which includes a series of rapid-edit imagery drawn from flashbacks, weaves certain visual elements together into a powerful expression about "the ties that bind" ... not just in terms of marriage, but in terms of the freedom we can find while living in the care of a strict father figure... or God, frankly. Chains of two different kinds suddenly fuse to represent not bondage but safety, not imprisonment but the love of a devoted father figure.

The film's already getting just what you'd expect from certain corners of Christian film reviews. And man, let me tell you... if you're going to have a hard time dealing with Ricci in her traces of clothing... let's just say she makes Daisy-Duke look modest... well, it's not going to be a good idea to go see this. Further, I'm not sure that the film deals very fairly with men and women--while a woman is condemned as a "slut" for sleeping around, the men who take advantage of her get sent home with a rap on the knuckles, and that really bothers me.

But there are things in this film that I really really loved. Samuel Jackson's blues performances are searing and soulful, and I'll have those guitar licks resonating in my head for a long time to come.

Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: The film's last sequence, which includes a series of rapid-edit imagery drawn from flashbacks,

: weaves certain visual elements together into a powerful expression about "the ties that bind" ...

: not just in terms of marriage, but in terms of the freedom we can find while living in the care of a

: strict father figure... or God, frankly. Chains of two different kinds suddenly fuse to represent not

: bondage but safety, not imprisonment but the love of a devoted father figure.

Yes, and isn't it interesting how this is foreshadowed by that stuff with the watches at the beginning? Methinks the "chains" are much more powerful because they root the characters in a past that is, admittedly, problematic, but also in a past that pulled them out of those problems, at least to a degree. The "chains" speak of a HISTORY, in other words. Whereas the synchronized watches live completely in the PRESENT, and that isn't enough, apparently.

: Further, I'm not sure that the film deals very fairly with men and women--while a woman is

: condemned as a "slut" for sleeping around, the men who take advantage of her get sent home

: with a rap on the knuckles, and that really bothers me.

Which men should have been punished, and how? And was the film really about them in the first place?

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I did the initial review at HJ and will tell you, I am catching some flack from, you guessed it, Christians who haven't seen the movie. I thought the film was great and was very pleased with it.

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: The film's last sequence, which includes a series of rapid-edit imagery drawn from flashbacks,

: weaves certain visual elements together into a powerful expression about "the ties that bind" ...

: not just in terms of marriage, but in terms of the freedom we can find while living in the care of a

: strict father figure... or God, frankly. Chains of two different kinds suddenly fuse to represent not

: bondage but safety, not imprisonment but the love of a devoted father figure.

Yes, and isn't it interesting how this is foreshadowed by that stuff with the watches at the beginning? Methinks the "chains" are much more powerful because they root the characters in a past that is, admittedly, problematic, but also in a past that pulled them out of those problems, at least to a degree. The "chains" speak of a HISTORY, in other words. Whereas the synchronized watches live completely in the PRESENT, and that isn't enough, apparently.

: Further, I'm not sure that the film deals very fairly with men and women--while a woman is

: condemned as a "slut" for sleeping around, the men who take advantage of her get sent home

: with a rap on the knuckles, and that really bothers me.

Which men should have been punished, and how? And was the film really about them in the first place?

Peter an interesting point, especially with the comment about the men. I am not sure that was nessecary as the men were not the focus. Instead the redemtption of Lazarus and Riccis character, and in some part, the Justin Timberlake character is what the film is largely about. I think the continuation, the what if's and so forth regarding the men who had also done wrong is wonderful debate and thought, but not required for the overall themes and concepts.

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From the Relevant review:

I was a little disturbed when a mother came in with her young, teenager-ish son and sat next to me. They were right there, two seats down from me on the left: a pre-pubescent boy and mom, and I knew we were going to be seeing a lot of skin, illegal drug use and good Southern gospel cussin
Edited by Jeffrey Overstreet

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Kristen Tobey at Sightings:

We're not supposed to gawk at religion, or at a naked woman beaten and in chains. But Brewer gives us license to gawk at them in tandem by making us think that we're gawking at the other one, each in turn. And in the battle for thematic supremacy, we end up taking neither wild sexuality nor wild religiosity seriously. The film sets itself up to present sex and religion as pervasive and powerful forces, responsible for who people are and who they become -- but ultimately Black Snake Moan deals with an ambiguous, tenuous kind of redemption that has little to do with either.

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Just saw this movie. It always strikes me what movies end up on the stands here in Bolivia - this wasn't one I expected to make it here, yet it's had a prominent place in nearly every DVD stand I've walked by the last few weeks. Took me a second to connect it to this thread, as I didn't really take the time to read the Spanish title until last night when I bought it. Anyway, let me just say that I was blown away. The scene about halfway through when Laz first pulls out his electric guitar during the storm and sings to Ray ranks among the most intense film sequences I have ever seen.

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Interesting that you "shed a tear," Peter. Me too - and I sat there thinking it had been some time since that's happened in a movie. I felt a tad manipulated in getting there, but... Not entirely. What part got you, Peter?

For me, it was on the porch just before the wedding, when Rae holds on to Lazarus and says "I don't want you to let go of me." And then when they move on to Corinthians 13, and then, of course, that chain. And then the realization that he ended up with the daughter he wanted, and she with the father she needed. (I say "manipulated" because that's just where the music comes in behind, which feels a bit calculated to nudge us over the edge, but hey - I would have done the same. It's a rare piece of art that doesn't do something like manipulating, somewhere along the way.

Big challenge figuring out just how to approach writing this one up. In the context of what I'm writing, it's not so much being nervous about praising the film in the face of reader outrage: I don't think I'll face that, or if I do, I don't much care. It's more about figuring out what to tell and not to tell, and not over-praising, but laying out a solid appreciation of a pretty unconventional film that really does aim to be (in that over-used term, these days) "redemptive." Also, to try and get some clarity about the way it careens all over the road, tone-wise.

A bit of a sense like the movie gets almost sentimental in the last act: the majority of the film has such an audacious edge, but when it starts moving toward resolution, it maybe gets just a little too nice? I mean, I'm glad it found the resolutions it did, but I would like them to have had at least a bit more of a note of darkness still there: it Hollywooded, a bit, for me. Softened. Almost, compromised? Wimped out? I'm not saying it should have had a tragic ending: only that the resolutions aren't always in keeping with what came earlier. Sytlistic qualms, more than anything. Can't quite put my finger on it. I know the recent Sight & Sound is critical of it for those reasons, but I don't want to read what they have to say until I've gone a bit further figuring out my own angle. I bet they disliked the abortion angle to the story, which I quite liked. Hmmm... I think a real problem for me was that it went a bit too far into "explain it all" psychology - I could have done without some of the "she was abused and that's why she's a nymphomaniac" psychologizing: the flashes of images of her father, the cigarette, etc would have been enough for me, without the things that actually ended up in dialogue. And I did feel qualmy about the pastor's counselling session with the two of them: just not a tough enough way to get that stuff said, not in keeping with where the film had been living. Though I also think that scene was brave, in its own way. I don't know...

Definitely one of the most original films I've seen this year. Gutsy. And don't you love that poster! Sure evokes the trashy exploitation paperback / grindhouse ethos.

snakes.jpg

Further thoughts, anyone?

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Okay, a couple further thoughts.

Actually, I didn't find the ending "surprisingly unpredictable." At the 1:30 mark I jotted "For a film as out on a limb as this one is for the first 2/3, it looks like it's going to get pretty conventional/safe (or relatively so) with an obligatory Hollywood ending where everything works out. (1:30:56

Edited by Ron

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Here's what I ended up with...

BLACK SNAKE MOAN (2007, USA, Craig Brewer)

You can

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A.G. Harmon on Black Snake Moan for Image.

Maybe the only way to make films set in places that people have too precise an idea about is to indulge that idea, make it even more precise, to the point where it becomes a caricature of itself. In other words, go ahead and give them what they expect, so that something larger and more important can be said. At times, the only way to transcend the common milieu is to be totally immersed in it.

Craig Brewer, whose masterful first film Hustle and Flow took years to find its way to the screen, grew up in Memphis and knows the Mississippi Delta. Better still, he knows what people think of the area. His follow-up, Black Snake Moan, consists of sweat-soaked, blues tortured, Jesus and the Devil, whisky-and-smoke gutter trash slopping through a steamy existence in the red dirt.

In a way, the clich

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Man, I don't know what took me so long to see this. This is a powerful, powerful film. The interactive struggle of all the characters made this feel like a community version of The Apostle. I would nominate and vote this in our Top 100.

Now to read through the thread.

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Well, I won't be going around recommending this one too much, but wow... I cannot deny that the conclusion is really powerful.

At first I thought the film's morality-tale framework was just an excuse to turn Christina Ricci loose in a skimpy outfit. But in the film's last half-hour, it suddenly turns into something much more ambitious and artful. Poetic, even. And I agree with Peter, the ending is surprisingly unpredictable. I was sure I knew where it was going, but it went somewhere so unexpected that... well, I'd better not say any more.

The film's last sequence, which includes a series of rapid-edit imagery drawn from flashbacks, weaves certain visual elements together into a powerful expression about "the ties that bind" ... not just in terms of marriage, but in terms of the freedom we can find while living in the care of a strict father figure... or God, frankly. Chains of two different kinds suddenly fuse to represent not bondage but safety, not imprisonment but the love of a devoted father figure.

The film's already getting just what you'd expect from certain corners of Christian film reviews. And man, let me tell you... if you're going to have a hard time dealing with Ricci in her traces of clothing... let's just say she makes Daisy-Duke look modest... well, it's not going to be a good idea to go see this. Further, I'm not sure that the film deals very fairly with men and women--while a woman is condemned as a "slut" for sleeping around, the men who take advantage of her get sent home with a rap on the knuckles, and that really bothers me.

But there are things in this film that I really really loved. Samuel Jackson's blues performances are searing and soulful, and I'll have those guitar licks resonating in my head for a long time to come.

I don’t quite agree with the “promiscuous girl = slut” picture of condemnation and “boy will be boys” attitude in this film. The film depicts every man that has sex with her as an offender. Plus, she also preys a bit on the weak and innocent as well.

I love the blurred, semi- perceptive flash backs. We are not always sure exactly what happened but somehow we know precisely what happened.

The blues music is epic and universal to creating tension, sorrow, regret, hope, loneliness, and community. This music drives the unpredictability of the film.

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