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    Historic Weather

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    To celebrate Black History Month, many screen projects come to mind that chronicle the past, glorify heroes and reenact harrowing, even tragic events on the road to civil rights advancements. But rare is the movie that is a jumping, jiving, downright joyous jubilee gathering – and exclusively focusing on – many of the greatest and most influential African-American singing, dancing and musicmaking talents of all time: Stormy Weather (1943). Across 78 brisk minutes, 20 musical numbers and a slight plot about show-business rivals crisscrossing paths in the period between the two World Wars, historian Kartina Richardson of mirrorfilm.org, in her acute dissection of the film that covers both the “safe, white-friendly” fantasy aspects in its character depictions as well as its explosive array of glamorous artists, finds that “seeing African-Americans in something other than a service role, in a film before 1955, is powerful. You don’t realize how powerful the absence of a thing is, until you are moved by something as insignificant as a group of black women talking to one another, or a black couple sitting in a nightclub. They aren’t saying anything particularly interesting or profound (and this is the problem), but they are there. On screen. Black faces, black bodies.” Those bodies include “a roll call of the greatest dancers and musicians of the 30s and 40s including Bill Robinson, Lena Horne, Fats Waller, Ada Brown, Cab Calloway, The Nicholas Brothers and choreographer Katherine Dunham.” (For good measure, Dooley Wilson, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Emmett “Babe” Wallace are also on hand.) The songs they perform come from the pens of white and black creators alike: Harold Arlen, Calloway, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Fields, Langston Hughes, Ted Koehler, Jimmy McHugh, Clarence Muse, Robinson and Waller. The explosions of shimmering emotion and graceful movement abound: Horne incomparably singing and Dunham and her troupe sinuously dancing Stormy Weather; Robinson in peak form stepping out in Rang Tang Tang, African Dance and I Can’t Give You Anything but Love; Waller’s definitive performance of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and his playful pianistics supporting Brown’s superb rendition of That Ain’t Right (Waller would sadly be gone just five months after the film opened); Calloway’s Cotton Club Orchestra bringing down the house with Rhythm Cocktail and Geechy Joe, capped by the whirlwind acrobatics of the nimble Nicholas siblings on the astonishing The Jumpin’ Jive. Directed by Andrew L. Stone, Stormy Weather, as impeccably restored and remastered in gorgeous black-and-white by the wizards at Twentieth Century Fox, is an unending Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray delight, just like the Kritzerland soundtrack CD [available here: http://kritzerland.com/stormy_weather.htm] that also boasts terrific Bonus Tracks of unused songs. They are history to watch, hear and savor. No qualifying adjective needed.