The Cotton Club was a famous Harlem nightclub. This is the story of the people who visited this club as well as the people who ran it, and the film is generously peppered with the jazz music that made the Cotton Club so renowned in the 1920s and 1930s.Written by
Colin Tinto <firstname.lastname@example.org> with corrections by BSmith
In the original version, the opening credits were intercut with dancers performing "The Mooche." In the 2019 revision, the dancing is eliminated and the credits roll straight through, but have been joined with straight cuts rather than dissolves. Additionally, Coppola has changed his billing from "Francis Coppola" to "Francis Ford Coppola." Finally, restoration credits have been added after the end titles. See more »
In 2019, Lionsgate released a director's cut running 139 minutes, titled "The Cotton Club Encore". This version gave more space to the Williams brothers and Lila Rose, restoring three full musical numbers and extending others, and trimming scenes with impersonations of 1920s celebrities. See more »
As a New Yorker who happens to be steeped in the lore of New York in the prohibition era, this film represents a bold attempt to capture the dynamics of the period. At times it succeeds. At other times it falls way short of the mark.
What I really admire is the fact that it deals with racial and ethnic friction honestly. The racial slurs in the dialog were part of the reality of that time. Relations between blacks and whites are not idealized. Richard Gere and Gregory Hines are neighbors and acquaintances, but are not portrayed as close friends. When Gregory Hines prevents Dutch Schultz (James Remar in a vivid characterization) from killing Richard Gere, he does it out of basic decency. Mercifully, there are none of the sentimental relationships between blacks and whites that seem so patently false in other films.
Gangland New York during the prohibition era has rarely been portrayed accurately. A worst case example was a 1991 disaster called Mobsters (a.k.a. "Young Tommy Guns"). The Cotton Club deals with real life chracters like Owney Madden (has he ever been portrayed in another film under his real name?), Big Frenchy DeMange, Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer, a Vincent Coll standin, Charlie ""Lucky" Luciano, "Trigger" Mike Coppola, and (at least in an early shooting script) Jack "Legs" Diamond. Richard Gere's character was loosely based on George Raft.
They were fascinating characters. At times, The Cotton Club tries to play fair with them. It almost succeeds.
On the whole, this should have been a better film. Personally, I would have preferred a film that focused on the real life gangsters with the music simply as background. The attempt to elevate the black characters to a position of equal importance in the narrative is the flaw that undoes the film. It's difficult to follow characters who have no power and little chance of gaining it. Obviously, that is not politically correct. However, I prefer for historical films to deal with life the way it really was, rather than the way some people think that it should have been.
All in all, an interesting and honorable failure.
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