Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom ★★★

In general, I have found that play-to-movie adaptations have not been to my taste. When the essence of a film is the different shots, composed differently during the same scene, and the freedom to move ahead and back in the story easily, the play to film adaptation should take advantage of that different type of storytelling. That said, I do not think Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom successfully made the stage to film transition smoothly. The difference in the vibe of the studio vs the musicians warm up room is stark, but how could that difference have been shown better than just long, emotive, artistic conversations by the band (Similarly, see Fences (2016)) vs the unpleasant demeanor of the white studio owners? Instead of how a play must change sets in order for scenes to change, a film can intersperse shots to show similarities or differences between them. Chadwick’s beautiful monologues seem out of place in a film that passes them by, that doesn’t invest more in his character. What if his lines were backed with other images of music, of craftsmanship? 

All’s to say, this film could have given us way more. RIP Chadwick.

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