A film editorial and review blog dedicated to the made up stories to matter to us today. New content every Tuesday and Thursday at 10 am EST.
(Sorry for the temporary break. My increasingly-busy schedule is making it harder to write 2 of these each week as summer ends. This one in particular, though, was worth the extra work and, hopefully, worth your wait.)
So here’s something new about me: I am a huge fan of musical theatre. I’ve had so many memorable experiences, met so many awesome people, and learned from some pretty incredible arts teachers that wonderful and meaningful dramatic storytelling can unfold on a stage through musical numbers, dance routines, and live acting. Having seen, heard, and done it on countless occasions all throughout my life, it’s something I certainly believe in. Stories told on stage are as valid as stories told on screen as far as I’m concerned, and Ragtime, a story of justice, racism and classism, all set to the backdrop of turn-of-the-century America with beautiful and entertaining show tunes and a level of theatrical charm is a story that deserves being talked about, now more than ever, in light of recent events surrounding social justice.
Ragtime follows three families who each represent three different sides of American life in the early 20th century. An upper-class White family, consisting of Mother, Father, Grandfather, Mother’s Younger Brother, and Mother and Father’s young son, Edgar, live well-off, provided for, and protected from any strife in picturesque New Rochelle, New York, as a model all-American family. Moving to America is a Latvian man Tateh (meaning ‘Father’ in Yiddish), who searches for his own slice of the ‘American dream’ for his young daughter through finding success as a silhouette artist. Finally, a young black woman, Sarah, along with the rest of the African-American subculture in New York, all revel in happiness to the sounds of the newest musical sensation, rag, the namesake of the era, played by pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Harlem, who Sarah believes plays just for her.
Each of the three families believes their lives are meant to be warm and fair, with proper separation between class and race. However, complications naturally arise, and the issues that privileged characters in the musical once skirt around soon meet them face to face. The three distinct groups are forced through circumstance to interact with each other as the world becomes more than just black and white.
Ragtime begins with Father leaving his family periodically on an amateur expedition to the North Pole. A plot emerges as Mother discovers Sarah’s abandoned baby in her garden, and, in making perhaps the first independent decision in her marriage, inadvertently allows the issues of a black family to enter her white neighborhood by welcoming Sarah and her child to stay with them. Sarah had conceived the baby with Coalhouse before discovering both her pregnancy and Coalhouse’s disloyalty, running away and abandoning the baby in her sorrow. Coalhouse discovers he is a father and where she is staying, and courts her each Sunday for weeks begging for her forgiveness. Father returns from his trip to find his home and world is a changed and, surprisingly, much more tolerant place. When Sarah forgives him, Coalhouse believes he has found his dream for equality in America when he is able to own a car, raise a child, and build a life with his fiancée Sarah.
Tateh cannot say the same as he descends into the poverty so many immigrants face, simply trying to scrape by as an artist to care for his daughter as his belief in America steadily wanes. Both he and Mother’s Younger Brother interact with political activist Emma Goldman, as Brother becomes impassioned and joins her cause for justice after being unable to find meaning in his life, and Tateh begins to understand her stance in defending workers’ rights.
Sarah and Coalhouse face prejudice when Coalhouse’s car is vandalized by a group of severely racist firemen, led by bigot Willie Conklin, and when Coalhouse’s pursuit of action against the discrimination only leads to dead-ends, he puts a hold on his wedding until he receives the justice he knows he is entitled to. Act One reaches a catastrophic climax when Sarah, wanting to take matters into her own hands by finding help in higher authorities, attempts to reach out to a vice-presidential candidate at a campaign rally, only to be beaten to death by the Secret Service, believing she is an assassin only because of the color of her skin.
Coalhouse sacrifices music in his life, and turns his pursuit of justice into that of violence and vengeance, burning down firehouses, shooting civilians, and demanding Willie Conklin, who in his mind instigated the crime, be brought to him for his justice. African-American rights activist Booker T. Washington, a center of moral reasoning in the musical and idol to Coalhouse, deplores his actions of turning civil rights into violent rampages.
In attempting to escape from the chaos that has erupted in their once simple lives, Father moves his family to Atlantic City, after realizing the world that has changed around him may never be the same again. There, Mother meets Tateh, now nicknamed the Baron, who found his American dream after making flipbooks, inventing a projector, starting a profitable a movie corporation, and becoming the capitalist he and Emma Goldman once riled against.
He shares with Mother his story, and Mother realizes the world around her was not the only thing that changed; her view of it did as well. When Father is called to New York to help authorities end the madness with Coalhouse once and for all, he shares with her the possibility of everything changing to the way they were before such issues plagued them and before their eyes were opened to anything beyond their perfect upper-class lives, but Mother realizes she does not want to go back to her life as a passive and compliant housewife, now living as a strong and empowered woman aware of the diversity in the world, the struggling and oppression surrounding it, and what she can do about it.
Coalhouse, who has since targeted J.P. Morgan, a white icon of upper-classed consumerism and wealth in America, by apprehending and threatening to blow up his Morgan Library, is confronted by Booker T. Washington due to Father’s advice. Washington, after hours of negotiations, convinces Coalhouse to think of his late wife and son, now living with a white family, urging him to shape his legacy, to participate in a fair trial and go proudly to whatever the verdict may be, knowing he was heard and respected by all decent people of color, and, more importantly, his son.
Coalhouse agrees, urging his disgruntled followers to share his story of oppression and battle for justice to all those who will listen across the ages. Once his followers are then safe and Washington shares the news of his submission to the police, Coalhouse steps outside the library with his arms raised, only to be met with a barrage of gun-fire, ending his life and, soon after, the musical.
We’ll get back to the ramifications of that ending in a second.
The music in Ragtime is wildly engaging, with many tracks boasting a cinematic flare that I had never quite experienced through listening to any other show-tunes before. Like, for example: “Journey On”, a grand and impressive number sung between Father and Tateh, who both see each other far off on passing ships, as Father salutes the immigrants he admires as brave and welcomes him to America, and Tateh finds Father foolish, struggling to understand why anyone would ever want to leave such a country as wonderful America, his new home. I found song had an epic might that matched the might of the ships they sing it on, and it was the first song I listened to that began my infatuation with Ragtime. “The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square”, a number depicting a riot lead by Emma Goldman in the name of worker’s rights and narrated by Mother’s Younger Brother, and “Coalhouse Demands”, a montage of New Rochelle’s decent into panic at Coalhouse’s hands also have the same cinematic qualities that sets this musical apart so well.
Other more soft or sorrowful songs can be deeply moving through simplicity, as well. What deserves recognition above nearly all else is Sarah’s ballad lamenting her the tragic circumstances that lead to her abandoning her baby, sung by the magnificently talented Audra McDonald in the original Broadway recording, is “You Are Your Daddies Son”, as she figuratively begs both God and her son for forgiveness and tells her son of his father’s piano playing. It’s a heart-breaking song that is equally beautiful, and a gem in the show’s track list. “Gliding”, the lullaby Tateh sings to his daughter during the worst of their poverty, and “Our Children”, the song he and Mother sing while bonding and watching their children play as a mixed-race pair in Atlantic City are also both touching tracks.
But the show tunes do well to serve another purpose entirely, which is carrying the themes and ultimate meaning behind the show, the meaning that might just be the reason I wrote this editorial today to begin with. Reading just a summary of the show, you’d be able to find parallels between current events and fictional events originally written in 1960s, taking place in the early 20th century. Parallels concerning the injustice and prejudice that face millions of African-American people and people in minorities, specifically parallels to Sarah’s death and those who are murdered only because the color of their skin deem them some sort of threat. The events transpiring in Ferguson, and events like them that have been going on for decades, are prejudices that are depicted clearly in Ragtime. “’Till We Reach That Day” is the song sung during Sarah’s funeral, which includes the internal monologues of Mother, her Younger Brother, Emma Goldman, Tateh, and Coalhouse, all condemning the country and racism that allowed the crime to occur, with lines like “it will happen again”, “why dose nobody care”, “she was only a girl/somebodies child”, all lines that evoke similarities to campaigns in Ferguson and all around the US. All throughout the song, and behind the solo lines, a chorus of mourners sing about wanting a day of peace and pride, which contrasts starkly with Coalhouse’s violent grief. It’s some pretty powerful stuff, because this stuff doses happen again and again. It has for decades, and Coalhouse’s perusal of the justice he knows he deserves, not as an African-American or as a man, but only as a human being living a century before our time, is reminiscent to the perusal of justice we see on Tumblr, online, and in peaceful protests and demonstrations demanding change in places all over the world.
The second to last song in the show, “Make Them Hear You”, is sung by Coalhouse to his followers in the Morgan Library, pleading for his story to go on, and that what he stood for and how he stood by it does not go down in history as mindless violence. He pleads that his acts are instead seen for as what they are, and what I find so powerful about this one song, this musical, and live story-telling in general, is that Coalhouse literally demands the audience before him to hear him, his struggle, and to open their eyes to seeing his acts as what they were in truth: an oppressed minorities timeless perusal for justice, one continues to this day.
Simply said, this show is incredible. I would encourage anyone to listen to only a couple of songs, maybe look up more of the story, just to experience the sceptical that is Ragtime.
So this is a bit of a heavy topic today.
In thinking what I wanted to write about this time around, I though back to my last two posts about The Maze Runner and The Giver, two topics that brought up issues in the young-adult fiction genre, and noticed a subject I mentioned in both, however briefly. The Hunger Games basically stands as the identity of the young-adult fiction in mainstream pop-culture, and as I’ve said before, my feelings for the genre are complicated as they are, seeing as I am a young-adult. I am a huge fan of The Hunger Games franchise and have been following it faithfully for years, reading the books, looking forward to every new film, and being impressed by each as they came out. However, taking into account the baggage that comes with The Hunger Game’s being a pop-culture phenomenon; there are some complications that, after a while, lead me to realize an astoundingly ironic hitch.Read more
I have been looking forward to The Giver movie since I read the book two years ago this summer. Surprisingly, I didn’t find out this film was even in production until I saw the first trailer, but I remember seeing it some months back. It was one of the first things I really wanted to write about for a blog, this blog specifically, so naturally, this movie has been a long time coming for me. The Giver, as I’m sure anyone who was in an elementary-grade English class will know, is based off of a critically acclaimed novel of the same name written in 1993. Its intellectual themes about the nature of the human condition and the fine lines between utopia and dystopia, to name a few, were hard-hitting in the text and left the novel as renowned as they were controversial. It was a success then and a classic know, still read by thousands to this day. It has basically been destined movie-adaptation since.Read more
Like it or not, filmmakers are always finding marketable demographics through young-adult literature adaptations. Nowadays, films classified as teen-lit adaptions, like Vampire Academy, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, Beautiful Creatures, or Percy Jackson, the list goes on, are all vying to be the next Harry Potter, Hunger Games or Twilight, looking to mimic the franchises that have found success through becoming pop-culture phenomenons. The result of which leads to a lot of unoriginality in the genre of film and literature, so much so that this repetitiveness has become pretty recognizable and criticisable, which, to put it simply, sucks as hard as Edward Cullen (I promise that will never happen again). This dispute in the genre affected me so much; that I strayed far away from teen-literature for years; me, a fifteen year-old and member of the intended audience of such movies or books. However, recently, I made an exception, just one; so I could see what all the fuss was about surrounding this single franchise and its upcoming motion-picture release, and hopefully have my hope in young-adult literature redeemed in the process. Unfortunately, The Maze Runner novel did not impress.Read more
Three staples of my childhood, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Robots, were helmed by Robin Williams, a man who, to quote his wife, was one of worlds most beloved artists and beautiful human beings.
Mrs. Doubtfire, specifically, was a movie that spoke to me beyond jokes and wit. I was a child whose family-life was shaken by divorce at a young age, that movie helped me laugh and relate, it taught me some whole new sides to humour, aswell the grim reality that, unfortunately, the couple doesn’t always make it in the end. However, above all, Mrs. Doubtfire, the person and the film, taught me that despite that, heart and family can always be found and will always be there to love and support you.
Mrs. Doubtfire was a made up story that mattered so much to me, and still dose to this day, and so I would like to acknowledged and pay my own respects to Robin Williams, who gave laughter and heart to so many people around the world, and will be deeply missed for his talent and compassion.
So this is something I just really wanted to share and discuss, however briefly, simply for the chance to get both this and my thoughts on it out there, as a bit of an extension of the editorial on monologues I wrote a few weeks back.
This is an awesome short film/spoken work poem, when all is said and done. There are just so many things I love about it.Read more
Anybody following me will notice the drastic change in content in the last couple hours. Clearly I have to pay better attention to when in reblogging to the wrong blog. Won’t happen again 😅.
Like any good superhero, Marvel is an entity full of charisma and charm, making the daring decisions that could surely risk defeat but, in the end, lead to their ultimate success. If you compare the studio to DC, you see one side making the incredibly serious, grounded-in-reality, dark and gritty films centred, while the other flares with colour and personality, with a broad spectrum of movies that covers, literally, an entire universe of source material and characters. Marvel, I’m sure I don’t even have to say it, is the later. Any Marvel film, be it the darker, reality-centric Captain America: Winter Soldier, the witty action-comedy that is Iron Man 3, the wildly successful Avengers Assemble film that appealed to both mainstream audience and long-time Marvel fanatics alike, or the recent Guardians of the Galaxy, has a certain identity to it only obtained through being a Marvel film, something DC simply cannot match. It’s this identity that’s trademark to the Marvel cinematic universe that is best found in Guardians of the Galaxy.Read more
Lucy is the first movie I’m talking about since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes that I saw in a theater. Being surrounded by forty-plus people, all reacting to the same thing I was reacting to, helped make my job of formulating an opinion much easier. We laughed at the funny beats, squirmed at the gross stuff. It’s being a part of this rare type of community, forged in silence between a mass of strangers all experiencing the same thing. So, let me tell you, there’s a real sense of communal spirit leaving a theater when that mass of strangers you find yourself sitting with all share the same feeling of “so what exactly did I just watch?”. If there was one thing I felt through watching Lucy with a crowd, it would have been that.Read more
I’ve been looking forward to seeing Noah since it came out five months ago. I didn’t even see it when it was out in theaters (it was this or Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Chris Evens won me over), and yet the differences between this movie and other religious films of this year, like, say, Son of God or Heaven is for Real, were strikingly clear, even from the standpoint of someone who had only seen trailers for all three. Noah seemed different the second I discovered it was in production, and after watching it recently, I can say it very much is.Read more