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The man who gave us the Maple Leaf Rag and the Entertainer, Scott
Joplin, once said that he would not become known until fifty years
after his death.
He wasn't off by much--it took fifty-six. In 1973, Marvin Hamlisch used the then-largely unknown Joplin's music in the movie "The Sting," spurring a ragtime revival and a renewed interest in Joplin specifically. Joplin's work received long-overdue attention from music scholars, and he was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer for his body of work, some fifty known rags, waltzes, marches--and one opera, Treemonisha.
This movie rode the wave of his renewed popularity, but plays so loose with the facts of his life that we end up knowing little more about him. Billy Dee Williams is a superb Joplin, as is Art Carney as his publisher, John Stark. But the movie either ignores or glosses over certain details, such as Joplin's longtime friendship and collaboration with Scott Hayden. Hayden is not even mentioned in the film, which prefers to focus on Joplin and the tragic, unsung musical genius Louis Chauvin, who Joplin barely knew. Chauvin in his prime would compose beautiful rags on the spot, never to be heard again, because he could not write them down. The movie implies they were friends from the earliest days, which they were not. They did collaborate on one piece, "Heliotrope Bouquet", when Chauvin was dying and no longer able to play--this the movie gets right.
It also touches on the growing animosity between Joplin and Stark, but this too is sugarcoated. The movie implies they reconciled, which in reality never happened.
Yet the movie is worth seeing if only for one thing--the wonderful, brooding music of a man for whom recognition was long overdue.
I agree with the previous 2 reviewers, but I feel Joplin is still
largely unappreciated within the USA. His music will last like that of
Chopin, Verdi and the other sublime masters. I have been a professional
musician for over 50 years and find Joplin's music as addictive as Bach
or Mozart, especially since I am an American with classical, jazz and
Any producers that can read this might consider a movie of Joplin's opera, which I have heard live and still get chills from thinking about it. In the same vein, the great American composer, Louis Gottschalk is also not widely known and appreciated. Gottschalk out ranked Chopin in Paris, France at one special time in the history of music. Perhaps the Indie film folks might also consider a film on Gottschalk, who was larger than life as was Joplin.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It has been written that the TV movie of Scott Joplin played loose with the facts. However, the most important aspects were emphasized: That this Master of Classical Ragtime Music wanted to be taken seriously and not have his music debased with improper playing and dismissed as low-class. He literally gave every ounce of his life's blood to the composing of his opera, Treemonisha and died in despair, feeling his music was never recognized the way it deserved to be. However, the movie omitted that the European musical establishment DID recognize his music as an indigenous, classical art form, akin to waltzes by Brahms, or mazurkas by Chopin.
"Scott Joplin" is an unusual made for TV film in that it was, briefly,
released in theaters just before it aired on TV. It stars Billy Dee
Williams as the famed composer. It's also unusual for its choice of
Joplin as a subject for the film because the guy died from syphilis
(something folks RARELY talked about in 1977) and his later years were
spent deteriorating more and more--a tough sort of film to put over to
the viewing audience. However, the film DID find an audience and won a
Writer's Guild award.
The film picks up with Joplin an adult and playing music in brothels. Soon he meets and befriends Louis Chauvin (Clifton David) and they come to the attention of a music publisher/promoter (Art Carney). For a while, things look great--Joplin marries and he achieves moderate success. But because of his syphilis (which was pretty much untreatable at that time) his career and marriage slowly spiraled downward. His final years were A LOT worse than they show in the movie and his decline lasted far longer--but regardless, he died young in a mental institution--committed due to his dementia.
If you think this movie is a giant downer, you are right. The first half is quite enjoyable and I loved the music. The second half was a chore to watch--and the music portion of the film suffered because Joplin was no longer functional. Well done but hard to watch.
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