Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Like "Rocky" but with words instead of fists

Really loved watching "The Great Debaters" at the theater at Northgate recently. (The seats are super-comfy, btw.)

As most know by now, "The Great Debaters" springs from actual events in the early to mid-1930's when the African American debate team from tiny Wiley College in Texas defeated scores of teams from larger schools, and also defeated debate teams from prestigious white universities. What a moving story to bring to the screen, and in support of that sort of film--African American cast, great story, not a blow-'em-all-up--I had to lay my bucks down at the theater and vote with my money. Give me more of that sort of film, please.

The cast was intense and compelling (Forest Whitaker and Denzel Washington among others), the cinematography beautiful, the score powerful, the wardrobe and setting perfect. It was, as all good period films should be, like being put in a time capsule and fired back to 1935. There are some quibbles by reviewers that the movie leans toward being formulaic, but like "Rocky" there is some familiar satisfaction in that. Good guys triumphing! Lord knows I need a little of that considering the last few years in this country. There are some harrowing moments in the film and we get a small but awful taste of what it felt like to be in the cross-hairs of random violence and hate in the Jim Crow South.

One scene that stuck with me was the father (Forest Whitaker) of one of the debaters waiting up late for his teenage son after his son fails to come home at night on time. Take the horrible things that most parents imagine could've happened to their teenagers and then wonder how that would've felt back then under those circumstances.

Below the actual winning Wiley debate team that the movie focuses on, and an article full of the history of the Wiley Debate team here:

Melvin Tolson, center, is the Debate Coach played
by Denzel Washington in the film.

Durham Bull Pen gives "The Great Debaters" 2 horns up.


Jackson said...

I liked the film a lot. The acting was superb.
I knew some of what to expect going in, but to be honest I never expected to feel some of the emotions that I did. I could feel my fists tighten up in a few of those scenes where there was racial tension.
Also, a couple of the scenes seemed almost like they could have been filmed in Louisiana. Swampy, Spanish moss covered cypress trees weren't what I expected to see in rural Texas. But seeing that TX and LA share a border, I guess that I shouldn't have been surprised. Maybe I need to travel more.
Kudos to Oprah and Denzel.
And to the locals, if you don't frequent Northgate's movie theaters, you're missing out on a good thing. Huge screens and very comfy and roomy seats. That place looked like a ghost town on Tuesday night, and that's a damn shame.

Durham Bull Pen said...

I agree about the scenery. Looked it up just now and "Caddo Lake" is in/near Marshall, Texas and apparently looks like this:

That's very much like was depicted in the film, and breath-taking to be sure.

There are some places in NC sort of like that. Down in Sampson and Bladen Counties on the Black River, the bald cypress stand in the water like that, hundreds of years old.

In_Transit said...

We're looking forward to seeing "The Great Debaters" now even more so. Thanks for sharing