Saturday, March 17, 2007
Black Snake Moan
Those of you familiar with my sordid past know that I was practically required by law to see this movie. It was twenty-five years ago, in fact, that I published an article about backwoods books in The Journal of Popular Culture, illustrated with b&w photos of some wonderful titles. Although the writer and director of Black Snake Moan probably never saw any of those novels, his movie would fit right in. Allow me to quote a few blurbs from the books, all by Harry Whittington under a couple of names.
From Cracker Girl (Harry Whittington): "Yet in the end this proved her salvation, her only escape from the angry passions and degrading emotions which enslaved her."
From Backwoods Shack (Hallam Whitney): "There was Lora, beautiful, vibrant and desirable, but trash."
From Shack Road (Hallam Whitney): "Callie May . . . just couldn't help being friendly to strangers . . . a warm friendliness that was forever attracting strangers to her. . . ."
From Backwoods Hussy (Hallam Whitney): "Her woman's instinct had made her suspect what she could do to a man -- now she knew what men could do to her. . . And she was lost -- lost in the grip of desire . . . ."
Those books were published around 55 years ago, so we all know promised a lot more than they ever delivered. Black Snake Moan delivers, and of course it's completely ridiculous. A black man, former blues singer, chains up a young white woman in his backwoods shack to save her from "the angry passions and degrading emotions which enslaved her," as the blurb writer put it back in 1952. Throw in a boyfriend who has serious problems of his own, have the blues singer in a real snit because his wife's run off with his younger brother, and you pretty much have the plot.
Could anybody but Samuel L. Jackson have pulled off the role of the blues singer? I can't think of anybody, but he makes it believable. It's a towering performance. Christina Ricci plays the young woman, and she's Jackson's equal. John Cothan, Jr., is fine as a preacher who's Jackson's friend, and S. Epatha Merkerson is also very good. Justin Timberlake plays the boyfriend. I'm less enthusiastic about his performance, but he's adequate.
This is a movie that absolutely shouldn't have worked. That it does is a credit to the performers, not to mention the soundtrack, which is the best of the year. Best of several years, if you ask me. The movie might not be for everyone (lots of sex, violence, and cussing), but the soundtrack is. Check 'em both out.