Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom refers to a particular song, rather than a part of her anatomy, and after a brief early scene, seeing Ma Rainey (Viola Davis – Suicide Squad) play in a couple of clubs, the action, so to speak, moves to the recording studio where they’re about to take part in a recording session.
Before it starts, though, there’s a hell of a lot of chat between the band, cracking wise, etc., but I was left wondering when the meat of the session was actually going to begin. Ma Rainey – who refers to herself in the third person as ‘Ma’, takes forever to turn up, and even when she does, she’s not the most easy person to get along with, so it did make me wonder just how productive this recording session was going to be.
And while I know this is based on a true story, even when they do get started, there’s problems recording the song down to getting a man with a stammer to read the intro, resulting in a lot of time and vinyl wasted… making me wonder why they didn’t just pick someone else?!
This was the final film for Chadwick Boseman (Avengers: Endgame, top pic), as trumpeter Levee, following his untimely passing in August this year from colon cancer, during the post-production phase. He’s certainly the one to watch in this movie, and I can see he has a glint in his eye, showing him throwing himself into the role, with Levee describing how he went through hell with his father as a child, whilst also playing the maverick who gets on everyone’s wick. Hence, I wonder if he knew this would be his last foray onto the screen. Then again, perhaps he did, and he knew he wanted to go out with a bang (well, a blow of the trumpet)? What followed makes it even more of a tragedy, as he clearly had a lot more to give.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is based on the play by August Wilson, and the way this is shot certainly gives the impression as if they’re acting out a play in front of the camera, as is shown with the positioning of the cameras just filming everyone providing little but inconsequential chit-chat before and after the session. If that’s your bag, then this film is for you. Note also, there’s constant use of the N-word between the cast members at times, if that’s a concern.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is on Netflix from Friday December 18th, but isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD.
Check out the trailer below:
Running time: 94 minutes
Release date: December 18th 2020
Format: 2.00:1 (X-OCN ST (6K))
Director: George C Wolfe
Producers: Todd Black, Denzel Washington, Dany Wolf
Screenplay: Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Based on the play by: August Wilson
Music: Branford Marsalis
Levee: Chadwick Boseman
Ma Rainey: Viola Davis
Toledo: Glynn Turman
Cutler: Colman Domingo
Irvin: Jeremy Shamos
Dussie Mae: Taylour Paige
Sturdyvant: Jonny Coyne
Slow Drag: Michael Potts
Sylvester: Dusan Brown
Policeman: Joshua Harto
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.