Sunday, July 22, 2007

Film: "Black Snake Moan"

Are you familiar with this film? This is the one with the poster featuring a smouldering Samuel L. Jackson holding a chain restraining a somewhat underdressed yet coquettish Christina Ricci. One look at that had me thinking that this could be my kind of film. Subsequently I read things about it, and was struck by how much of the discourse* around the film dealt with how it did not really deliver on the schlock value of the poster and was basically all a bit tame and conventional at the end of the day. Now, there definitely were aspects of the film that bear relation to the kind of films your mother likes, but let's get some things out of the way first. The film does indeed feature Christina Ricci chained to a radiator in her underwear for much its duration, with the Samuel L. Jackson character restraining her like this to "cure" her of her nymphomania; basically if that's the kind of thing these critics consider to be a bit tame I really dread to think what the extreme films they prefer are like.

Black Snake Moan is an odd film, though as it does pull in two directions. Some of it goes down a well-trodden Southern Gothic route (albeit with a new trailer trash twist), and the whole radiator-chain-nymphomania thing feeds into this, with Ricci's non-stop shag lust being more like demonic possession than what you get with a woman in control of her own sexuality. The other strand of the film, though, is to do with heart-warming Southern values of folks being all friendly and looking after each other and stuff like that – the kind of thing you might have seen in minor Robert Altman film Cookie's Fortune. I think the previously mentioned critics found this whole aspect of the film deeply annoying and resented its very presence in a film that could otherwise have featured much more chain-radiator-nymphomania action. I think they also found the whole "curing woman of nymphomania" aspect of the film deeply offensive and an example of the patriarchal world we live in (these critics implicitly would have preferred if Ricci's character was chained to the radiator because Jackson's was keeping her as a sex slave).

I really liked the film РI thought the dark and the light aspects worked well together, providing a nice contrast and so on. I liked the whole sense of it being about damaged people attempting to overcome their limitations and become stronger and more functional people. The d̩nouement (oh no, spoilers) suggested that while Rae (Ricci's character) and her man (played by a creditable Justin Timberlake) retain their separate psychological scars, they can help each other to overcome them. That is a nice message to hear if you are feeling a bit fragile yourself.

The music in the film is most enjoyable, being mainly Blues based, with Jackson's character turning out to be one of those Blues players. There are two very memorable musical scenes in the film, one where he plays a song called 'Black Snake Moan' during a thunderstorm while trying to keep Rae's demons at bay, and then latter a performance of 'Stagger Lee' in a club.

Man, the South is great, I wish I lived there.

*By "discourse", I mean something I read in Sight & Sound

**Oh noes I R laugh at po' people.


Anonymous said...

What you say about critics reminds me that I had a similar but opposite reaction to a recent review by Mark Kermode of Captivity. He described it as sick and misogynistic. You know if Mark Kermode describes as film as sick and misogynistic it must be pretty fucking sick and pretty fucking misogynistic!

I reckon what you read in Sight and Sound exemplifies the jadedness a lot of critics suffer after a while.

ian said...

God, Mark Kermode. His stupid face always shows up whenever I find myself watching a film programme.