Friday, February 24, 2017

Steve's Top Ten Films: The Color Purple

The first time I learned to separate a movie from its original source material came when I had to finally read Alice Walker's The Color Purple for a class years after having seen the film.  The novel is epistolary, told in letters Celie writes to God, her sister, and finally herself.  It has a very clear narrative voice and an emphasis on an extremely uncinematic main character.  The film version remains largely faithful to the novel, but it strikes its own narrative beats and finds different areas upon which to focus.

Maybe I benefitted from having the seen the film first because I have never felt that one is diminished by the other.  It's just that the film allows us to see the same story from a different angle.  Some things are lost in the translation, certainly, but there is a strong emotional depth to the film, and the characters come to life in way that the book never quite manages to pull off.

Part of the reason for this is due to the direction of Steven Spielberg.  The Color Purple was his first real foray into straight drama, and it gave him an opportunity to truly grow as a director.  His signature moves as a director are there: one or more of the characters looking at the sky at some celestial orb, camera-shots that pull into tight close-ups, long training shots that make up the majority of a scene.  But, here he finally employs them to tell a mature story dealing with emotional truth.

Although The Color Purple is one of the biggest all-time Academy Award losers (it lost all nine of its nominations, and Spielberg wasn't even recognized with a nom), it made Hollywood take notice of Spielberg as more than a genre director of very stylish popcorn flicks.

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