Took Kate to her first PG-13 movie over the weekend — “Dreamgirls.” I was willing to risk the corrupting influence of bad language, drug use and some sexuality for her to get a sense of what Detroit was, once upon a time. I don’t know if the lesson sunk in; I suspect for her it felt the same way it did for me when my parents brought up James Thurber. Yeah yeah, the night the bed fell, it fell in Columbus, but…yawn. Thurber didn’t come alive for me until I read “Newspaperman,” his essay on Gus Kuehner, city editor at the Dispatch. I don’t think Detroit will be Motown for Kate until (and if) she falls in love with “Dancin’ in the Streets.”
Whenever we go into Detroit, there seems to be a moment to discuss the 1967 riots. They’re depicted in “Dreamgirls” in sort of a montage-y way, using old news footage and stills. Last night at dinner I said, “Did you get a sense of what the riots were like?” and my little media consumer said yes, she did, but “I don’t know how they could set a whole block on fire. Did they use green screen?” Green screen. I ask you.
No, I said, that was a real news clip of an actual city block on fire, but I kept thinking about green screen. I avoid those “making of” documentaries; I want to preserve what little magic moviemaking still has for me, and knowing that some actor spoke all his lines to an empty soundstage later peopled with aliens and a 25th-century city skyline just makes me sad. If only the Detroit riots had been green screen.
“Dreamgirls” was OK. It’s hard to catch lightning in a bottle once, let alone try to duplicate it with Broadway versions of Motown songs. It’s one of those movies where you’re supposed to spend the first few beats of every scene marveling at the clothes and hairdos, and you do, but little moments I liked best are not the ones in the trailer — most involving Eddie Murphy, who can really really sing. I got a little tired at how heavy the roman a clef stuff was — naming the Florence Ballard clone “Effie” just for starters. And how amusing to see Murphy’s character turn from James Brown to Marvin Gaye, and just in case you didn’t get the message, they gave him Marvin’s knit skullcap. Still. A worthy holiday musical, green screen or not.
Only one bit o’ bloggage today, because it’s such a long read: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the government isn’t trying to beam voices into your brain.