“Y’all was rotten kids. You was, you was rotten kids. Made my life here hell.”
The Color Purple has stirred a lot of controversy in its time. The book, when it came out, had a lot of angry reactions. The movie had the same, much of it for different reasons than the reaction to the book. Haven’t seen the musical, but I’m not a fan of those, so I doubt I’m missing anything there.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read the book or seen the movie. I have issues with Spielberg in general, although I think he has the potential for mastery—Jaws and Schindler’s List being two very different examples of this.
One thing about The Color Purple that always impressed me is that in this film rest a few shining jewels of scenes. The below is lengthy, but there’s so much within it. I’ll post the link and then my reactions below that.
There is so, so much meat for an actor and a filmmaker here. Gotta say I am a total sucker for good ensemble work, and this is a great example of that. The writing allows for several front-and-center speeches, that’s true. But there’s also a great balance of personalities and the natural cadence of conversation around a heavily-populated dinner table.
Exchanges of tension and psychological breakthrough are very condensed here, but also move quite naturally. I would be willing to bet this went through several rounds of rehearsal, just to make sure the timing was right. Goldberg speaks, sitting, Winfrey follows. Goldberg stands during her outburst, pounding her fist on the dinner table. Chong squeals and squirms out of her partner’s grasp, standing, and Goldberg sits back down as Chong stands up. Written out in direction it sounds contrived, but it’s pretty natural when acted out in this scene.
There’s also lighter touches. The young boy next to Goldberg who gets a scornful smile on his face as he watches Glover berating Goldberg is a disturbing touch that was probably pretty visible on the big screen. Shug’s husband, a genial, well-groomed man who is pretty much the antithesis of Glover’s character, accepting of every dynamic but ready to navigate it and get out while the getting is good. I enjoyed that performance here.
The editing is also pretty impressive. For some reason the moment that strikes me most, other than some of the close-ups, is the scan of faces towards the end of Goldberg’s angry outburst, hearing the last pound of her fist while not seeing it. It’s almost as if we’re sitting at the table too, looking away from her but still hearing her rage.
One last thing—the music. I find it annoying, especially early on in the clip. Most of the scene is without music, and I think it’s more effective that way. The clink of knives and forks on plates, the ambient chatter, laughter at things people say—all that is accompaniment enough, as there's plenty going on in this scene as it is.