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1950. Rural Alabama. Cotton harvest. It's a make-or-break weekend for the Honeydripper Lounge and its owner, piano player Tyrone "Pine Top" Purvis. Deep in debt to the liquor man, the chicken man, and the landlord, Tyrone is desperate to lure the young cotton pickers and local Army base recruits into his juke joint, away from Touissant's, the rival joint across the way. His plan to hire a guitar legend go awry and Tyrone is forced to take drastic action in a final scheme to save the club. Written by
I was able to see this wonderful little film at a special screening prior to its release in New York. I was charmed from beginning to end by the characters, situations, and John Sayles' great ear for dialog. It is 1950 in a small town in the South. Segregation is still the norm except for the recently reopened Army base nearby, which has integrated its barracks in response to Presidential order and is preparing young black and white soldiers for the newest war, in Korea. Danny Glover, in an understated, effective performance, plays Tyrone,the owner of a small blues club on the outskirts of town. A former blues pianist himself, he stays loyal to the old blues musicians who still perform there, to an almost empty house. You see, the times, they are a-changing, and the young people are drawn to the hot music available on the juke box at the bar next door. Broke and desperate, already stealing electricity because he can not pay the bill, Tyrone and his loyal friend Maceo (Charles S. Dutton) come up with a crazy plan. Advertise a Saturday night appearance by Guitar Sam, the local musical icon, charge admission, sell all the drinks he can, pay his debts, and retire into the night. Simple, right? At the same time, a young drifter wanders into town carrying a new fangled electric guitar, and sets about wooing Tyrone's lovely innocent young daughter. Add the corrupt local sheriff (Stacy Keach) who smells profit: Tyrone's tired, disappointed wife, flirting with evangelism to salve her unhappiness, and a wise and witty blind musician who comments on the action like a bluesy Greek Chorus, and the stage is set for a very eventful Saturday night. John Sayles has always excelled at portraying his characters as real people with real lives. His dialog rings true without clichés born of racial stereotypes. His men sound like real men, his women authentic. The film takes its time but is never boring; the music throughout and the highly entertaining acting are all the more enjoyable for being leisurely. Sayles is evoking a different time, and does so with wit and precision. The critics missed the boat on this one, and that is their loss. See it early and often.
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